So you want to be on a book cover. Perhaps you’ve seen other photographers accomplish this but you’ve never quite known how. Maybe you walk through the stores scrutinizing and studying every book. I know I did. It has always been a dream of mine to be on a book cover. Growing up, I was very shy and never had a lot of friends, so instead I read. Getting lost in each character was a comfort. I lived for the smell of the old paper pages. My favorites were used text books and poetry because you could get such an understanding of the previous owner by the writings in the margins.
So how exactly do you go about getting your work on a book cover? When I was starting out I took to 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 nearly thirty companies my portfolio and asked them for tips. The ones who did reply said all of their cover art is licensed through a stock agency. I’ve always tried to live under the philosophy of, if opportunities are not coming to you, go seek the opportunities. If you are at a point now where you don’t have a lot of exposure and you haven’t started receiving licensing requests on your own, joining a stock agency is a fantastic way get your work licensed relatively quickly. If I have thousands of photos laying around on my hard drives, why not put them out into the world and see if they will make me some money? Since I signed on with my agency in 2011, I have been published on nearly thirty book covers internationally.
A stock agency is a go between for you and the client. You allow the agency to borrow the rights to your photos so they can license them out for you. Unlike in self licensing where you have to be your own lawyer, negotiator, and collector, the agency provides all of that for you. An agency is responsible in providing the clients, contracts, and pricing. All you have to do is upload your photos, keyword them, and wait for an email with an invoice for your payment. Easy stuff! However, they take a portion of the proceeds for their work unlike self licensing where you get 100% of the profits.
Picking the right gallery.
Percent - There are a few things I consider when trying to figure out if an agency will work for me. How much of a cut am I going to make? I’m not going to want to choose an agency that is going to give me 15% of the profits. I’m going to go with an agency that is going to give me half or better.
Selectivity - When you join a stock agency, you are giving an agency the right to borrow and license out your images on your behalf. In that, once your images are uploaded you don’t have a say on what they are going to be used for so long as the agency, and subsequently you, are paid. I’m more of a fine art photographer who has taken a lot of weird self portraits. I’m going to choose an agency that is going to specialize in book covers, album covers, and the like, instead of choosing more of an anything goes situation where my face could be used on a billboard advertising the latest in scientific advancement in feminine products or something equally as embarrassing. Unless you don’t care. Then more power to you.
Portfolio – Does your portfolio fit with the agency’s clientele? Are they selling for high end advertising? Are they selling to publishing companies for covers? Are they looking for shots of the latest news? What kind of work are they looking for? I want to maximize my potential for profit by putting the right pictures with the right agencies.
Your rights – I want to work with an agency that isn’t gong to take the rights to my photos. Just temporarily borrow them, generally in a three year contract. Stock agencies should allow you to sell prints of your work, showcase in galleries, appear in magazine with your portfolio, and merchandising. To ensure exclusivity with the clients most agencies ask that you do not license an image via self licensing or upload same or similar images to other agencies.
Exclusivity - If you have uploaded a photo, you can not then sell that photo on your own or with another agency. This is to ensure to the client that when they purchase an image it will be only on that book in their country. Are you getting a lot of your own requests to license a particular photo? Don’t upload it. If it’s a personal piece you would like to have more control over. Don’t upload it. I’m always concerned about uploading my conceptual work with an agency because I get licensing requests on my own. So I’ve taken to uploading my travel and candid photos. Some agencies even take smart phone photos. Point being, if you have photos lying around, why not see if you can put them to work more effectively.
Marketing – How well does the agency market your work? Is your work accessible? I like to stick with the smaller more specialized agencies because my work has a better likelihood of being seen in an agency with 600 photographers, than an agency with 60,000.
So after much careful consideration you’ve decided on an agency that is going to give you a fair share of the profits, is going to work well with your portfolio, and you are keeping the rights to your photos! Fantastic! Now, how to you increase your chances of your work being chosen by clients?
How to increase your chances.
Upload often – The bigger your library the better you’ll do. You want to saturate the market. This will show the client and the agency that you are continuously updating your portfolio. The agency is going to want to market a photographer that is constantly bringing in new work. You’ll have a more diverse portfolio for clients to choose from.
Keywording – Keywording is the best opportunity you have to get your work seen by the clients. Increase you chance of discoverability by keywording effectively. If a client has a book about a girl on a swing, they are going to search for a girl on a swing. If your photo is of a girl, put girl. Is there a swing set? 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 keyword like: girl, alone, woman, alone, young, nature, forest, brunette, scared, eerie, scary, blue, dress, snow, ice, frozen, winter, dark, moody, mysterious. Anything I could possible use to describe the photo.
Do your research – Go to the book stores, check out the new releases, and see what is selling. Keep up with the latest trends and be aware of what your agency is going to want.
Keep your releases on hand – You can upload photos without a release but there is a possibility it will dissuade the client due to liability. They don’t want a model coming to them with a lawsuit for the feminine product billboard just as much as you don’t. So make sure you have your permissions in line before you upload.
There are no words quite accurate 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 had a part in this. It’s really fun when a book does well and you can see some of the promotional material. A self portrait of mine was licensed for a best seller that has sold more than 140,000 copies in the UK. I have photos I licensed on books being sold at Walmart. Posters of a book was life-size in a subway station in The Netherlands. It’s kind of a fun little thing. And a book even made it into a Kindle Fire commercial!
Vanguard Professional Sarah Ann Loreth is a fine art photographer from New Hampshire, who specializes in self-portraiture and conceptual portraiture. She is a founding member of The Wild Ones, an annual summer traveling workshop tour and not-for-profit organization set up to aide in the growth of photographic artists by providing education in both photographic techniques and business consulting, while providing a supportive and ongoing global community. You can read this post in its original form on her blog, here.