How to Get Your Photo on a Book Cover


When I discovered the world of books at a young age, I was positively overwhelmed by the beauty of covers. In the childrens' section, most books were adorned by vibrant illustrations and sketches. The covers that really caught my attention, however, were photographs of people, nature, and abstract worlds that resided in the library's adolescent corner. I didn't judge the books by their covers; instead, I treated them as masterpieces, works of art independent of the pages they safely held.

Photography entered my life later on, but only then did I begin to view the breathtaking covers as products of other artists' hard work. In bookstores, I'd hungrily search for the creators of the images, hoping I could find their portfolio online and discover even more inspiration in their current work. It seemed so otherworldly, this process of creating photographs for book covers. The more covers I fell in love with, the more eager I was to find my creations on a book one day. However, not being aware of the process – and feeling much too inexperienced to try – prevented me from being ambitious in this area of my life.

A few years later, I was asked to join a stock agency that did exactly what I dreamed of doing: selling photographs of all kinds to book publishers. Soon after, one of my images became the cover of a historical French novel. I was beyond elated, oui, though I couldn't help but wish that I had listened to my creative urges earlier. Even at the beginning of my artistic life, I could've been an active stock photo contributor. At the same time, not listening to my creative self taught me a great lesson: if you want to find yourself on a book cover, familiarize yourself with the guidelines and be as ambitious as possible. Doubts, ever-present as they are, don't have to control your actions.

So, what are the guidelines? You probably already know that one of the first steps involves joining a stock agency. Beyond that, you might have a very vague (and unappealing) idea of what the process is like. If you're the kind of person who enjoys experimenting with compositions, being inspired by stories, and keeping up with literary trends, then the book cover world is ideal for you. Where should you begin? Read the tips below.

Be aware of current (and timeless) literary trends

Fortunately for us, hundreds of books are published each month. As a result, there's a high demand for all kinds of photographs. Amongst those demands are very specific requests for themes that perfectly complement a current literary trend. Though there are many timeless themes that never cease to be popular (such as friendship), there are lots of subjects that come and go. Catching them at the right time will increase your chances of selling your photos. A few examples of current trends are:

  • against larger forces
  • forbidden passions
  • running away to a better life
  • trapped
  • everyday life

Find the perfect stock agency for you

Photographers' preferences can vary greatly, so certain communities might appeal to you but not to others. This is why, when reading reviews, it's important to carefully figure out what exactly someone likes or dislikes about a stock photo agency. Some artists only want their photos to be published regardless of profit, while others prefer to earn money in addition to getting published. Be aware of each website's offers, as they can be either very specific or too vague. A community like Almay will provide you with 60% of each sale, while Fotolia will offer a range: 30-61%. Other websites, like 500px's Marketplace, offer more money if you sell your photos exclusively on their website. Select several agencies – the more communities you get in touch with, the likelier it'll be that you'll find a great home for your stock images.

Leave your comfort zone

Some of the themes mentioned earlier may not have appealed to you. You might not enjoy taking simple photos of everyday objects because you're more comfortable with conceptual photography. You might be a portrait photographer who doesn't have much experience with other genres. If you feel that a theme is out of your comfort zone, don't be afraid of experimenting with it. Stock photo agencies love diversity, so the more different your shots are, the better.

Experimenting with a variety of genres will provide you with a significant amount of interesting shots. In addition to that, it'll challenge you to familiarize yourself with new ways of shooting, observing, and seeing the world in general. While photographing a family member for a specific theme, you might develop an interest in portrait photography. While photographing nature, you might fall in love with macro photography. The possibilities are limitless, exciting, and mind-opening.

Quality and quantity

Stock photo agencies appreciate both quality and quantity. If you upload very few images, your chances of landing on a book cover will be quite small. Thus, it's highly important to be conscious of both quality and quantity. If you're a picky photographer like me, you might be tempted to delete most of your results after a shoot. While this might help you enhance your own portfolio, it won't help you sell your stock photos. If you're photographing for a stock agency, don't listen to that temptation. Instead, collect decent outtakes and upload all of them to your website of choice. This will provide the community with a great selection of images and will increase your chances of building a great stock photo portfolio.

Once you're a part of a community, you'll have the chance to develop a stable and healthy relationship with it. Stock photo agencies enjoying featuring specific artists – this allows potential clients to focus specifically on those people and purchase more of their work. Thus, the more work you submit, the more options the client will have. If you want to be noticed, work hard, be fearless, and remember: quality and quantity.

With time, your relationship with your agency will grow significantly. You'll be familiar with the endless trends and requests, both of which will challenge you to remain creatively imaginative. In addition to thriving as an artist, you'll be able to earn money. Eventually, the stock photo world might become a stable part of your life, one that provides you with extra finances, inspiration, and challenges.

Good luck!

To learn how to shoot book covers, check out this article.

About Author

Taissia is a professional photographer and educator.

Having sold many book cover stock photos over the years, I find it interesting that- #1 Every example photograph that you posted is horizontal- and- #2 you didn’t talk about the fact that books are primarily vertical and 9 times out of 10 – the Art Director will likely select a vertical image. Sure… they can crop a horizontal image. However, if there are several images in the running, and they are all close creatively, they are likely to select a vertical shot (for print anyway). eBooks- probably doesn’t matter as much. Experience has taught me- The number one rule for selling book covers- Shoot Vertical.

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