I recently published my first superhero hero book after having spent five years writing, reading, and living in the world of YA Contemporary literature. Even though my writing background is in lovey-dovey teen romance, I fell hard and fast for my superhero story and then proceeded to genre-hop. I had a unique situation when I published Powered five months ago. Powered is a superhero story through and through – there’s no denying that.
It’s also a Young Adult book.
I needed a cover that portrayed both of these things. I didn’t want to abandon my YA readers and scare them off by producing something with a cartoon comic book style cover, but I also didn’t want the cover to come off as too juvenile. I wanted my audience to be a hybrid of superhero fans and YA fans. I was thinking along the lies of The Hunger Games and The Matched Trilogy. Something that said, “Yes, the MC is a girl but this ain’t Twilight. This MC is a badass.”
(Or well, ya know…This MC turns into a badass by book 3.)
Here’s where the problem started. I did a thorough search on every stock image site ever. I had these grand visions in my head of the perfect teenage model wearing a sleek hero eye mask, with stunning long hair flowing in the background.
Here’s what I got:
Not a single usable YA-slash-superhero-slash-contemporary photo.
Several months, one cover artist scam, and lots of pulled out hair later, I had given up on the hope of finding the perfect stock image.
I settled for a powerful (get it?) flaming font and went with this simple cover:
It’s nice. It’s clean and it works. But it portrays absolutely nothing about my genre. Would you look at this cover and think the protagonist is a 16 year old girl?
So after even more hair pulling and stock image searching, I sought out advice from other indie publishing professionals and came up with what I consider to be an excellent revision. (Credit goes to Sophia Feddersen at Scarlett Rugers for finding this image & helping me.)
The cover still has powerful typography that alludes to my superhero genre.
But now it has a GIRL on the cover that fits in with other YA books on the market.
Sophia taught me a very important lesson when it comes to searching for the perfect stock image: Search for images that contain clues that fit your genre. In this photo, the girl’s hair is all crazy. It could be because she just had her hair styled and can’t wait to show it off. But in my case, it’s because she’s a superhero and the movement in the photo symbolizes her heroic fight scenes. This is a character who is coming into herself and finding her place in this world of supers. I think this image helps portray that. [Also, hair color will be important come book 2 and 3, but for spoiler reasons I can’t talk about it now.]
Using stock images as cover art doesn’t have to be a brutal experience. An important rule is to always know your audience. Choose an image that fits with the genre and will appeal to the people who want to buy your book.
And don’t be afraid to think outside the box.