Recently I've been developing my own fantasy RPG setting, and doing my best to get people to check it out through a series of smaller, bite-sized releases. And it has been through this that I have a piece of wisdom all authors should keep in mind. Namely that most people do not double-check a source for cover art, and if the art you have is more famous somewhere else (a common issue for those of us who use stock art for our book covers) then the conversation surrounding the cover is quickly going to eclipse the product itself... and in the worst possible way.
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The Conversation You Don't Want To Have About Your Cover
The idea behind Sundara: Dawn of a New Age is that the setting, as a whole, is about embracing progress in a world that's moving forward. Rather than a lot of fantasy that latches onto a Tolkien-esque longing for a lost, mythic time, Sundara is about finding new methods, new resources, and new solutions to the problems people are facing.
As an example, Moüd was a ruined, dead city that had been abandoned due to an unspecified cataclysm that has left the city shunned, and actively dangerous to the living. It was only through the efforts of an entire guild of necromancers that the remnants of this damage were pushed back, and contained. Despite being abandoned for so long, the City of Bones was in an advantageous location for trade, if people could cross the dead wastes of the desert. Normal beasts of burden often couldn't, but the undead beasts raised by the Silver Wraiths could. As such the necropolis has become a metropolis once more, and is a center of trade, arcane learning, and delves into the history that lies beneath, waiting to be discovered.
The guide is available in Pathfinder 1st Edition format, as well as a Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition format, and it has a pretty baller cover if I do say so.
|Seriously... look at how pretty that is!|
If you're not a big fan of RPGs, then you've probably never seen that gorgeous painting before. However, if you are part of that scene then you might be scratching your head and wondering, "Hey, why does your game have the cover art from Godbound on it?"
The answer to this question is because the creators of the game, Sine Nomine Publishing, put out the Godbound art pack for free, usable for anyone who needs bitching artwork for their games, books and other projects. And because my publisher is on something of a shoestring budget (and I don't have a massive fan base of thousands eager to eat up everything I release to justify paying an artist for individually-commissioned work), using these resources seemed like something of a godsend (pun very much intended).
And it worked like a charm for the first installment, Ironfire: The City of Steel (also available for Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition).
|It still makes me smile looking at this.|
While the first cover sailed by mostly unremarked on (it's from the same art pack, but didn't feature anywhere nearly as prominently in the original game), the second one generated a constant string of throat clearing, less-than-helpful comments, subtle accusations of plagiarism and art theft, and not-so-subtle accusations of the same in a lot of groups and forums.
On the one hand, you could argue there's no such thing as bad publicity, and every comment made or accusation flung still boosted the signal. While there is some truth to that, the bigger issue I ran into was that the conversation quickly moved from, "Why is this product a good one to add to my gaming shelf?" to "Are you a thief, or an idiot?" And even when I did correct people on their misconceptions (some of whom apologized once I shared the link and showed my receipts), there was no getting the conversation back on track after that. Once I explained where the art assets had come from, and that I was using them with permission rather than stealing another, more successful game's art, the conversation just died.
A Lesson Learned
I can't say at this point whether or not the negative aspects of this decision outweighed the positive ones. Because while there was a lot of outrage from people who didn't check to make sure the art was free to use, the Godbound pack did allow my publisher to create a smooth, universal look to the series in order to make them feel connected. And while the number of comments and arguments did boost the signal, that doesn't seem to have done anything for the bottom line when it comes to sales.
However, there is something I didn't mention in Looking For Cover Art For Your Book? Try Drive Thru RPG! that I feel applies to all of us who use stock art for our projects. In short, even if you think you have the perfect image for your project, take a moment to do a reverse-image search. Consider how many other folks have used that art, and what the reaction to your use is likely to be (as well as what sort of overlap you can realistically expect from your target audience, and the audience who may be more familiar with it).
You might decide to use it anyway... but it's something to consider. Especially if you want to avoid the headache of explaining something two dozen times a day while you're just trying to do a bit of promotion.
Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!
That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my noir thriller Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife as well as my recent collection The Rejects!