kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
[personal profile] kaigou
[FYI/note: all images are SFW, so no fears there.]

Sometimes I've seen (usually anonymous) comments from (traditionally) published authors about covers they've been, well, less-than-enthusiastic about. Which is going to happen; on the law of averages, not every cover can be the grand spectacular head-turner. I mean, you want it to be, natch, so does anyone with financial stake in the venture, but there are head-turners, and there are... head-turners.

And boy, are some ebooks head-turners, and I don't even mean the ones we could really snark about, like the ones created with Poser, which are just plain bad. There's just no way to make Poser look real. But, I don't mean head-turning because you can't believe something that bad got made into a cover. Perhaps an illustration will work a bit better. Ah, right, here's one, from a small private group who does the ventures on their own books (or so I gather; the business model isn't entirely clear from the site, but whatever).

Right-o. That's one row in the online catalog. Go ahead. Process. I'll wait. Ready, now?

First, for those of you not familiar, it's common in some ebook-series (or theme-based series) to use the same cover or a style of cover. This isn't new. They probably get it from all the other genres in trad-publishing, where Louis L'Amour's covers were always the same basic layout, or all of those D&D-whatever books had the same font, similar title, same branding, and so on. Ebooks are a bit simpler about it, is all.

Frex, two different series in this row. Not hard to identify at all.

Or over at Loose-ID, one of their thematic series:

Or the really stripped-down version, like at Torquere, which goes with a theme of drinks, shots, etc, depending on the length of the story:

Would ever author like a personalized cover for their story? Sure. Can the cost really justify it, when the story itself is only a buck-fifty or so? Probably not. Besides, once we readers get used to the design-conceit, it's not that much of a problem. You look for the picture, it tells you -- within some basic gist -- what you're getting. The important thing is that all of these examples have similar title styles, and the image is exactly the same, repeated for each title in that series/theme/style etc.

Now that's cleared up, here we be taking another look at Cowboy-Guy:

... And I have no earthly idea whether or not these are books from the same series. The images aren't the same, after all. One is flipped, and one is semi-transparent, and while the fonts are sort of the same, they're not identical enough for me to say, ah-hah, must be a series. Instead, it just looks like three differnt authors' book designers all saw the same image and said, yep, we'll use that!

(I shudder to think they were all done by the same cover-designer. Man, there should be, like, laws against that.)

Which would've been a forgettable, if mildly mockable, situation.


Last week I was another epub's site, and what did I see?

Hunh, I said. That seems familiar. Where have I seen that before?

A few days after that, I ran across this one. Different epub, again.

And then today, I was browsing and found these. Okay, now it's starting to get ridiculous. We're on the fourth epub, at this point.

And on the very next page from the same epub...

Dude. This guy like, totally gets around.

Not that he's alone, of course. There's this guy, who at least hasn't been doubled on any one epub. (Though, honestly, I think he has for at least one of the epubs -- I just couldn't be bothered to go through every single page to find more, though I'm positive I've seen him on at least two covers not pictured here.



At least one of them had the decency to make it a little different, with some judiciously-skillful adjusting of garb to make him look like he's something other than the same image repeated and pasted. Not exactly the most subtle version, but trying. Fine.

Some do try harder than others, though. Like this progression of images, of which the first two are from the same epub. That pose is pretty distinctive, especially in a world business where ninety-nine percent of the guy-images on the 'covers' are of shirtless chests, sometimes with faces but just as often without. (Here, have a headless torso, readers!)


Plus, compositionally, I find the first version to be the most pleasing. It comes closer to the rule of thirds than the other two, which try to split the non-visual parts of the cover into two, which is just not that easy to do. You end up with an image that looks like it wants to be symmetrical (matching halves, at least) but if it's the least bit off in terms of weights, it just looks... pasted-together. Which is probably is, but that's kinda not the goal, to be so obvious about it.

Well, unless you're cowboy-guy. Then you're already so obvious by book four that by book seven, the reader's greeting you by name. Hey, cowboy-guy, I see another cover-designer thought you'd be nifty! Just how much are you making in royalties on this stock image, anyway?

Then you got the images that are harder make really different, if duplicated. They kinda jump out. Like these two (also different publishers, but same stock image). Of the two, I prefer the cropping on the b/w version. Much more intimate, while the second just seems like, uhm, stock image. Plus the font/layout on the first is more elegant, fitting with the soft-grays of the image, rather than competing like in the color version, and maybe I should stop there and get back to the point. Right.


Besides, everyone looks better in b/w. I have no idea whether anyone could measure if a b/w cover sells way worse or slightly worse or no worse than color cover, but given the rarety of b/w covers on trad-books, I guess it's moot. Color is here to stay, even if Kodachrome is now lost with the dinosaurs. (Sigh.) But still. Ain't nobody don't look better in shades of gray, nicely contrasted.

Moving onto next:

So, first we got this image, which is one I rather like; I think the lighting and the contrast of the black of the shirt creates some nice shadows and lines. Plus, the graphics styling feels like a good match with it, instead of competing or getting lost. (Then again, I like strongly graphic and simple but elegant design, anyway, so I'm probably not the best judge of things in everything. Yes, shocker, I know.)

A good year after that book came out, I saw a new release (different epub) with this cover.

It wasn't an immediate connection, not like with Cowboy-Guy, who has two strikes against him: distinctive pose and accessory (thick band around wrist, white-embroidered cowboy hat that no decent cowboy would probably be caught dead in, I'd bet). Shirt-Guy is easy to recognize for the same reason: he's one of the few models with shoulder-length (or close to it) hair, plus, wearing a shirt (gasp! dressed!). Slave-Boy blends in a little more, which means he's actually on three additional covers other than the ones shown, but they were subtle enough that I let them pass, since it was Cowboy-Guy I was mostly picking on. But still, distinctive pose means you can pick out Slave-Boy.

Those two covers, above, with Bare-Chest-Guy, get different treatments, and the addition of someone else (done pretty well, too, I think, nearly seamlessly) do make them look like different images. They're the same, but that's some good use of stock modeling photography. Just enough of a change in enough different ways that if you don't see one image within seconds of seeing the next, you'd probably let them go right on past.

However, note that Bare-Chest-Guy has these strange buttons on the shoulders of his shirt/jacket, whatever that thing is that's barely covering him decently. Those are kinda like a form of the 'distinct accessories,' such that when they're hidden in the second image, you might have to look a bit harder to measure that it's the same image.

But! At the same time, it means if you got the details of the first image -- black shirt, the pose, those strange white buttons -- then it's gonna leap out at you, same way Shirt-Guy and Cowboy-Guy do. Like, say, this.

Ayup. Same image. Yes, really. Need them side-by-side, to compare? (FYI: I believe the third book has a set of clones or twins in the plot.)


So the cover-designer took two different images but put the model's head on both. Whether the model's hair was more of the photoshopping or the images were two different ones of the same model, beats me. But it's a skillful re-use of a stock image without looking like an obvious re-use.

Yeah, epubs are often running on much smaller budgets, I get that. But still. Anytime you purchase an image, would it be that hard to ask whether some other epub has also used this image? Or maybe just have one of your staff be familiar with other pubs' offerings to know that an image has been used just one too many times? I mean, all four of these -- with possibly the exception of Bare-Chest-Guy -- should probably be retired by now. Cowboy-Guy should have been retired about book three. If you ask me.

But if an epub would insist that it couldn't possibly track all the other publishers out there (which is BS, I think, since it's not that hard for me to do it and I'm only browsing sites every now and then, or maybe I just have a better memory for imagery or something, but I can't be the only person on this planet like that), the least it could do is track its own use. I mean, Slave-Boy's on at least four covers from the same publisher; Cowboy-Guy is on two from the same publisher and they bloody well didn't even try to significantly recrop (ala Slave-Boy or the Two-Headed-Close-Up), just a slight crop-down, set off-center, and lay a few PS textures over it. Cripes, people.

Plus, Cowboy-Guy is further way obvious because cowboy hat? Pretty much marking him for use in Western-themed stories, and maybe the rare contemporary, but mostly gonna be for stories with... cowboys. Ayup. So he's an image that will be seen over and over by the same group of people browsing the same types of books at various publishers -- or worse, maybe, at any distributor sites that will then group all epub similar-genre stories together. Now it's not just your own double-use that'll get you, but all the other pubs who've used, as well. And no good only using once, in this case, if your book-cover ends up plastered right next to six other epubs who've used the same. It still ends up looking chintzy, no matter how nice a job you did, individually.

At least the rest of them -- Shirt-Guy, Slave-Boy, and Bare-Chest-Guy -- are generic enough to be reused in a variety of genres. As demonstrated.

But come on, it can't be that hard. Like, build a database or something. Or ask the stock footage company whether the image has been purchased, and if so, by whom, so you at least have some idea of how much exposure (and in what style) before re-using.

Because otherwise you end up with a lot of Cowboy-Guys, and that makes the baby reader cry.

Just say no to Cowboy-Guy!

Date: 26 Jun 2009 10:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] moffit.livejournal.com
This whole thing had me cracking up. I'm going to pay more attention to the book covers near the checkout line now, just to see if the rows of raunchy romance novels pull the same stunt so often.

Date: 26 Jun 2009 03:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaigou.livejournal.com
I can forget numbers within a split second of seeing/hearing them (and transpose the ones I do remember), and I can barely remember song lyrics (though I used to have good memorization skills even if it required a huge amount of effort), but when it comes to images... no problem. Hell, we have more CDs than the law should allow and I still don't know band names or album names, only covers. Kinda puts the extra laugh in all the times -- as a bookstore owner, of all things! -- people would ask for a book by describing the cover. Seeing how I pretty much do that myself.

I 'spect most cover-designers figure I'm only .01% of the reading population. Which is probably true. I'm just a very LOUD .01% of the population.

Date: 26 Jun 2009 01:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ktoth04.livejournal.com
This post was great >.>

Date: 26 Jun 2009 03:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaigou.livejournal.com
Hey, not as snarky as normal, but I was busy trying to convince a kitten not to use me as a climbing post. Several times. Had me distracted, but glad you enjoyed!

Date: 26 Jun 2009 02:40 pm (UTC)
ext_141054: (Default)
From: [identity profile] christeos-pir.livejournal.com
Re the picture in the middle of the row: Isn't a steer a castrated bull?

Date: 26 Jun 2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaigou.livejournal.com
Holy crap, you're right. I had no ideer. Bwah, that just makes it perfect, IMO.

Date: 26 Jun 2009 03:36 pm (UTC)
ext_141054: (Default)
From: [identity profile] christeos-pir.livejournal.com
Well, the nickname of Dianabol, a steroid commonly (ab)used by bodybuilders, is "D-ball." As in, a reference to the effects of longterm use being a "feminization" of men and a "masculinization" of women who use it.

Date: 26 Jun 2009 04:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cosplayeriori.livejournal.com
Wow....thank you for a good friday morning read. *laughs* and wow the titles. Again I don't expect people to be amazing but the one that sticks out. St. Nachos? all I can think of now is like some beefy oiled up guy eating Nachos. Not what I think the author had in mind. *SNORT*

Date: 26 Jun 2009 09:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] falknerin.livejournal.com

Date: 23 Aug 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
berrie: (Default)
From: [personal profile] berrie
Late comment, but, oh god, oh god, oh my god D:
I notice these kinds of things too, it's depressing.

The first row of covers, the first, third and fifth cover: the title font is called Bleeding Cowboy (you didn't mention that so I'm assuming you don't know) and it's been used like EVERYWHERE. I bitched about it here: berrie.dreamwidth.org/12266.html.
And further googling showed that yes, I'm not the only one who's noticed.

Btw, I like your posts, I'm going to stalk you.