So you want to be on a book cover. Maybe you’ve seen other photographers accomplish this, but never really knew how. Maybe you walk through the stores peering and studying every book. I know I did.
I’ve always dreamed of being on a book cover. Growing up, I was very shy and never had many friends, so I read instead. Getting lost in each character was a comfort. I lived for the smell of old paper pages.
My favorites were textbooks and poetry because you could get such an understanding of the previous owner from the writings in the margins.
So how exactly do you get your work on a book cover? When I started, I went through my book collection and made a list of publishing companies so I could start emailing them one by one. I wanted to see if there was an opportunity for me. I sent almost thirty companies my portfolio and asked them for advice. Those who responded said all of their covers were licensed through a stock agency.
I’ve always tried to live by the philosophy that if the opportunities don’t come your way, go get the opportunities. If you are now at a point where you don’t have much exposure and haven’t started getting license applications on your own, joining a stockbroking agency is a fantastic way to get a license. relatively quickly for your work.
If I have thousands of photos lying around on my hard drives, why not release them to the world and see if they will make me any money? Since signing with my agency in 2011, I’ve been featured on nearly 30 book covers internationally.
A stock agency is an intermediary for you and the customer. You give the agency the license rights to your photos for you. Unlike self-licensing where you have to be your own advocate, negotiator and collector, the agency provides all of that for you.
An agency is responsible for providing customers, contracts and prices. All you have to do is upload your photos, tag them, and wait for an email with an invoice for your payment. Easy stuff! However, they take some of the proceeds of their labor unlike self-licensing where you get 100% of the profit. But with self-licensing, you have to wait for the customer to find you.
Choose the right place
There are a few things I consider when trying to determine if an agency will work for me. How many cuts will I make? I’m not going to want to choose an agency that’s going to give me 15% of the profits. I will go with an agency that will give me half or better.
When you join a stock agency, you give an agency the right to license your images on your behalf. In this, once your images are uploaded, you have no say in what they are going to be used for as long as the agency, and subsequently you, get paid.
I’m more of an art photographer who’s taken a lot of weird self-portraits. I’m going to choose an agency that specializes in book covers, album covers, etc., instead of choosing more of an “everything is fine” situation where my face might be used on a billboard advertising the latest scientific advancement in feminine products (or something equally embarrassing).
…unless you don’t care. So more power for you.
Does your portfolio correspond to the agency’s clientele? Are they selling for high-end advertising? Do they sell to publishing houses for the covers? Are they looking for snaps of the latest news? What kind of work are they looking for? I want to maximize my profit potential by putting the right photos with the right agencies.
I want to work with an agency that won’t take the rights to my photos. Just borrow them temporarily to lay them off for you, usually on a three-year contract. Stock agencies should allow you to sell prints of your work, feature it in galleries, appear in a magazine with your portfolio, and do merchandising.
To ensure exclusivity with clients, most agencies ask you not to authorize an image via self-licensing or upload images that are the same or similar to other agencies.
If you have uploaded a photo, you cannot sell that photo by yourself or with another agency. This is to assure the customer that when they purchase an image, it will only be on that book in their country.
Do you get a lot of your own licensing requests for a particular photo? Don’t download it. If it’s a personal room you’d like more control over. Don’t download it.
I’m always concerned about uploading my concept work with an agency, as I get licensing requests myself. So I started uploading my travel and candid photos. Some agencies even take photos with a smartphone. Point being, if you have photos lying around, why not see if you can put them to work more efficiently.
How well does the agency market your work? Is your work accessible? I like to stick with smaller, more specialized agencies because my work is more likely to be seen in an agency with 600 photographers than in an agency with 60,000.
So, after careful consideration, you’ve chosen an agency that will give you a fair share of the profits, work well with your wallet, and let you retain the rights to your photos! Fantastic! Now, how do you increase your chances of your work being chosen by clients?
How to increase your odds
The bigger your library, the better you will do. You want to saturate the market. This will show the client and the agency that you are continually updating your portfolio. The agency is going to want to market a photographer who is constantly bringing in new work. You will have a more diverse portfolio for clients to choose from.
Keywords are the best opportunity you have to get your work seen by customers. Increase your chances of discovery by using effective keywords. If a customer has a book about a girl on a swing, he’ll get a girl on a swing. If your photo is of a girl, put girl. Is there a swing?
What is the mood of your photo? For example, if I had a photo of a girl in the woods in a blue dress in the winter. I will use keywords like: girl, alone, woman, alone, young, nature, forest, brunette, scared, strange, spooky, blue, dress, snow, ice, frost, winter, dark, brooding, mysterious. Anything I could use to describe the photo.
Do your research
Go to bookstores, check out what’s new and see what’s selling. Keep up to date with the latest trends and be aware of what your agency is going to want.
Keep your publications at your fingertips
You can upload photos without permission, but it may deter the customer due to liability. They don’t want a model coming at them with a women’s product billboard lawsuit as much as you don’t. So make sure your permissions are online before downloading.
There aren’t quite exact words to describe the feeling of walking into your local bookstore and having a little scavenger hunt to find your latest book cover. I love being able to hold something tangible in my hands and say I played a part in it.
It’s really fun when a book is doing well and you can see some of the promotional material. One of my self-portraits has been licensed for a bestseller which has sold over 140,000 copies in the UK. I have licensed photos on books sold at Walmart. Posters of a book were life-size in a metro station in the Netherlands. It’s kind of a fun little thing.
And one book even became a Kindle Fire ad!
About the Author: Sarah Ann Loreth is a photographer based in New Hampshire. You can visit his website here. His work can also be found on Flickr. This article originally appeared here.