I judge books by their covers. I admit it. In a perfect world, I could spend all my time in a bookstore picking up books, reading synopses, and finding the gems behind the really ugly design. But I work 60-80 hour weeks and unless I get a great recommendation from someone, I'm on my own. This means I use heuristics to find books I'll like. And that heuristic is often great cover design. This won't be news to most of you, because we all do it. And if the cover looks dull, poorly photoshopped, or cheesy, then I'm likely to assume that the pages inside aren't so great either. It's not fair. It's business.
So in an industry that's so judged by the cover, why do even top publishing companies persist in making covers that look exactly like every other damn cover? If you're an indie author, come with me as I traverse some of the biggest bookalike signs, that you may avoid these pitfalls. If you're a reader, come discuss with me what you think of bookalikes.
Some of these covers might be a combination of sins, but I tried to place them where they seemed most appropriate.
Sin #1: SSDD, or SIDC
If you've read Stephen King's Dreamcatcher, you'll recognize the first acronym as "Same shit, different day." I've adapted it for this sin: "Same idea, different cover." Some motifs are really eye-catching and make a great point. The problem is, if another book already used that to great effect, yours is going to look like a hafhearted replica. At best, you might get a few looks from people who think they're getting the other book. At worst, you'll look unoriginal and derivative. (I could have added every bad passionate-embrace romance cover ever, but I'll spare you.)
Sin #2: Tales from the stock photo graveyard
This is easily the most common of the sins. I actually had to reign myself in because I could make an entire post just on this. I can't believe how many people fall prey to this. Including the Big Six. Stock photo sites are great, especially if you're making your own cover on a budget, but they're also used by everyone. And there are always a handful of photos that are used all the freaking time. Maybe your cover uses it in a really cool, different way. You'll notice that some of these are more successful in being unique than others. Or you could just go take your own pictures, people...
Sin #3: Okay, now that's just plagiarism
I was inspired for this sin (and this post) by the look-a-like cover below for a book called Paradigm. This is a special sign, a little worse than SIDC. It's almost as though one artist were trying to recreate the first cover with a few little edits thrown in. (To be fair, I have no idea which came first.) My only word for this sin? Psh.
Redemption: How to "steal" ideas
There's nothing wrong with being inspired by a cover. There are plenty of ideas that are the same at their core. Nothing is new. So, how do you do it well? You take the core piece, the thing that grabs you, and you make it your own. Here are some covers that have similar concepts but would never be mistaken for one another.
What are your thoughts on very similar covers?
Have you noticed any bookalikes?
For more book cover discussion, check out: