The advantages of using your own photos in your books

One of my blogging friends asked me, yesterday, why I’d picked a Japanese flag to feature on the cover of my reissued book Pacific War: New Zealand and Japan 1941-45. Why not a New Zealand image?

Wright_Pacific War 200 pxThe flag picture featured originally on the back cover of the 2003 Reed print edition. Now it’s in full glory on the front cover of the 2015 Intruder edition.

To use it was a practical decision. It’s one of my photographs, and I own all the rights to the image, which shows an artefact – a Japanese inscribed flag, a hinomaru yosegaki – that’s been in my family possession since 1944, and which was itself created by persons unknown over 70 years ago.

Getting my photos on my book covers is something I’ve been doing for years – since the golden age of trad publishing, in fact – and the reasoning hasn’t changed. It’s to do with the hidden pitfalls of using licensed photos – and I’m not sure whether people really think about that too much these days, though it’s always been important.

The first major book I wrote with my own photos on the cover.
The first major book I wrote with my own photos on the cover.

When my military books came out originally, I usually supplied my publishers with archival pictures I’d licensed, which (after a bit of to-and-fro discussion, because the right to control the cover rests with the publisher) their designers usually incorporated into the covers. Usage permissions were limited to that use – print and sale distribution in New Zealand. This meant getting permissions again if a new edition came out. But that wasn’t the main cause of grief. New Zealand’s archives don’t allow designers to work their magic with screens or cropping because it destroys the integrity of the original image, and there were reasonably frequent arguments between publisher and archive over doing so (I was cc’d into the debates but usually left them to it…).

One way around it, even then, was to find photos that didn’t have that problem – my own, for instance. So a number of my books ended up with my own photography on the cover for purely practical reasons.

The original edition cover
The original edition cover

It was also cheaper for me. By contract, authors have provide all material to their publishers free of impediment, and must bear all license costs. Sometimes my publishers would meet the cover licenses, but not always, and cover-usage fees were always a premium by comparison with internal licenses.

All that still applies – and more, because these days, books appear in all sorts of formats and into different markets. And I still had the photo I’d taken in 2002 for the back cover of the original.

The background ocean and palms are another of my photos which I took one afternoon while sitting in a bar in Rarotonga.

This new edition is available at an introductory price of $US 4.99 and marks the first time it’s been available in over a decade. It follows the re-issue of six earlier titles in my military history series. Don’t forget to check ’em out – here. If you haven’t got a Kindle, you can get a reader for whatever device you own, here.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


9 thoughts on “The advantages of using your own photos in your books

    1. It’s a practical answer to a problem that the information age has made all the more complex. Now if only I could send a camera back in time (and across space) to get modern quality pix of those old events… ☺

  1. My original covers for the Herbert West Series were all homemade. For the first book, The Friendship of Mortals, I took a picture of my husband and a friend, wearing hats, on the steps of our legislative building here in Victoria, BC. It was supposed to be Herbert and the narrator, Charles, at Miskatonic University. There’s even a version (associated with one of the 2 rather amateurish book trailers I put up on YouTube) that I tinted sepia to make it look like an old photograph, complete with a rusty paperclip mark on one corner! Yes, they were amateurish, but I had fun creating them. In the end, though, I bought professionally designed cover images.

    1. Yes, the reality for writers is that they’re not designers – though, equally, designers are not writers! I’ve seen occasional ‘publisher drafts’ of covers for my books with some of the most diabolical typos on them – you’d swear that the written word was just another abstract pattern for the designer.

  2. Over a year ago I’d had enough of trying to navigate through the photographic minefields and virtually ended my using photos for my blog that weren’t my own (the only exceptions are unrestricted and extremely old pictures). It had reached a point where finding the right picture was taking longer than the writing each week. Where’s the point in that? Now I use my own no matter how shaky the connection. It also gives me a reason to go out and take pictures.

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