Use stock art to create cover inexpensively

When creating a cover for your self-published book, you’ll probably need a single, striking photograph or illustration that draws in readers. Since you’re a writer, not a photographer or illustrator, this can pose a problem. Where will you get such an image? Purchasing stock art can be a low-cost effective solution.

Stock art are photographs and illustrations that others have created and sell online through an agency. BigStock and Shutterstock are just a couple of more than a dozen companies that sell photos online. They can be downloaded directly to your computer.

Such collections of photos and illustrations literally put hundreds of thousands if not millions of images at your fingertips. Most can be purchased individually or for a subscription that come in well under a hundred dollars; this will a lot less expensive than hiring a photographer or illustrator to come up with a cover or you.

On the downside, you can spend quite a while searching for just the right image, and sometimes the photo you fall in love with won’t work for a cover. In addition, some stock art can look quite campy, as it was intended for advertisements rather than a book cover, but this was more true a decade or two ago than today.

When selecting stock art for your book cover, consider the following factors:
• Size – First and foremost, the stock art must be large enough to work as a cover. If you purchase a photo that is too small and enlarge it, the result will be a grainy or pixilated cover. Only purchase art that is larger than the space it needs to occupy on the cover. In addition, make sure the photo is 300 dpi.
• Shape – Just as you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole, so you’ll have great difficulty placing a photo whose horizontal side is longer than its vertical side (unless the photo is intended to wrap around the spin onto the back cover. Purchase a photo that is shaped the way it will be positioned on the cover. Of course, you always can crop the photo, but then the original must be much larger than the actual cover size.
• Text placement – Know in advance where you plan to place the book’s title and your name as author on the cover. Those spots should be fairly free of the stock art’s main subject. For example, if the photo is of an eagle in flight, the part of the photo where the title would go should be sky. You don’t want your title covering the bird.
• Color – You’ll want to coordinate the colors in the stock art with those used for the text. A good rule is to pick up a secondary dark color in the photograph or illustration and use it for your title. If your cover photo is of a fire engine and the text is the same primary red, the title and photo will wash out rather than complement one another.

Finally, always check usage guidelines before purchasing the photo. There also may be limitations on how you can use the stock art. Often using a stock photo or illustration for a cover requires paying for an extended license, whereas using it inside a book or a website page costs less.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.