Book Covers Using Similar Stock Images: Confusing or Not?

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Have you ever shopped for a book and run across unrelated book covers that appeared eerily similar? So similar they appeared to be part of a series? This issue is cropping up more and more in self-publishing and with alarming regularity. But does it really matter?

Using images is not new when creating advertising. In my “younger days”, we had to set up the shot and hire a professional to shoot the exact image required for our project. Today, stock images houses abound with millions of professional and unique images at our fingertips. With so many choices the odds of choosing the same image is nearly impossible…. or is it?

The Hooded Man Appears… Again and Again.

The Emperor's Knife by Author, Mazarkis Williams


Meet Mazarkis Williams, Author of The Emperor’s Knife. A fantastic book cover design, using light and dark to direct the viewer’s eye.  But then…. the hooded mad reappears…..

Sarmin’s Corner had this to say about four books that used the exact or very similar images.

He was Mark Charan Newton’s hooded man first on “The Book of Transformations”, he turned left and suddenly found himself striding the Cerana sands bearing “The Emperor’s Knife” on my cover. With an about turn to the right he menaced the world from Saladin Ahmed’s “Throne of the Crescent Moon” and found himself talking in Polish. A beat later and the man’s spouting fluent Spanish from Robin Hobb’s excellent “Assassin’s Apprentice.”

Who is this masked hooded man? Where will he turn up next? Where else has he been already?

Putting to one side the issue of this stock-character-of-easy-virtue I hope that the fact four such varied and fine (though I say it myself) novels lurk behind his menace is a fact that puts fresh shine on the well-worn directive never to judge a book by its cover.


The hooded many isn’t the first to lurk on a variety of books, and he won’t be the last. Others have been spotted, skipping from cover to cover such as the scantily clad woman in a flowing red dress, or the menacing hit-man in the rain. The question is, where will they strike next?

If you truly believe imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then do not worry. Your work will speak for itself.

I recommend, however, to think out of the box. Don’t accept canned images but strive to create book covers as unique as your own writing.

Consider the clean, less “obvious” image in the re-release of Oscar Wilde’s classic book “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. The peacock feather is the “perfect summation of Gray’s pride and arrogance about his appearance.” (Zoë Triska, “PLEASE: No More Insulting Classic Book Covers For Teen Girls”). I personally would have used a black-and-white closeup of a real feather, with hints of fading color a black field – but that’s me.


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