Scams & Scandals: How to not get duped by a Cover Designer

I want to start this off by saying that I love cover designers. There are many professional, and talented designers out there, many of whom are affordable or offer affordable options such as font treatments, and pre-made covers. This post will in no way disparage cover designers in anyway.

However, this post is a cautionary tale for those of you who are just starting out. While many of you who are looking to publish your first book, or are very new to the publishing world, you need to realize that your cover isn’t something you should skimp on. Your cover is what moves the reader to click for more information, your blurb is what entices them to click on the buy button, and your story keeps them coming back for more. The cover arguably the most important marketing tool you have.

If you do decide to skimp, you could potentially end up in the following scenarios:

  1. You end up with a cover that looks decent, but doesn’t really grab people’s attention. (Result: You will lose sales)
  2. You end up with what you think is a great cover, but it’s really not, and people are afraid to tell you because they know you spent money on it. (Result: You will lose sales, but you won’t know why).
  3. You end up with what you think is a great cover, but it doesn’t match your genre because your cover designer isn’t experienced. (Result: You will anger readers because they thought they were getting one thing and got another, and then you will lose sales).
  4. You end up with a fantastic cover, but it was made with stolen images or stolen completely (Result: You may sell some books, but you can also be sued… big time.)

Yes, there are wonderful, and rare unicorn stories I’ve read about where people can get professional, legitimate, and cheap (there is a difference between cheap and affordable) covers that fit genre expectations, and look polished and professional. These are very rare instances, and if this has happened to you, I’m happy for you. I really am. However, this is the exception and not the rule. It’s not impossible, it’s rare.

I’m not generalizing here, not all cheap designers are bad, and there is nothing wrong with working within a budget for your books. I have a tight budget as well. However, if you decide to go this route, you need to take extra steps to protect yourself.

Before I get into the steps you should take to protect yourself, I want to tell you a little story. It’s a story about a young woman who was running a cover design business on Facebook. She frequented a lot of the same groups I was in, and honestly, I didn’t notice her. It wasn’t until a friend of mine saw a few covers she posted claiming they were hers. My friend, a well known, and talented designer knew right away she was lying. How? My friend, knows the business. She’s friends with many other designers, and knows their work. This led us down a rabbit hole and eventually to an author this scammer just worked with. He had no idea about image licensing and how to protect himself. He was duped into paying a sum of money for what he thought was an amazing cover. In reality, it was a stolen image off of Deviantart.

I joined this scammers group to see how far the deception went.

  1. She stole images off of the internet and added text to them.
  2. She stole entire covers of published books, and altered them with new text.
  3. She stole pre-made cover designs from other designers and tried to pass them off as her own.

Let’s get back to this poor author who paid good money for the cover. He’s currently shopping around for another designer. His “cheap cover” is now costing him twice as much as he had planned. Lucky for him, this was caught before he was sued. It can and does happen.

What could he have done differently?

  1. He didn’t educate himself on licensing. You don’t need to read a ton of books, or articles on the subject. You just need to know the basics. A reputable designer will know the rest. However, one basic rule to follow is this: You cannot take any image you want off of the internet and use it on your book cover. This also applies to free stock sites. Just because you are getting it off of a stock site, does not mean you are protected. In fact the reason why there are stock sites that charge higher fees is because they employ people to review each submitted image, they obtain and keep track of model release forms, and they will pay a portion if not all of your legal fees in case they slip up. You or your designer are paying the fee to LICENSE the image. You do not own the image, unless you pay a photographer or artist for a commissioned artwork. Then and only then will you own the image. More info on this can be found here:
  2. He didn’t vet his designer. You have the right to ask your designer where he or she obtains their images from. You can ask around to see if anyone else has worked with this particular designer. He should have looked at her portfolio and reverse image searched the covers. The only place those images should trace back to, if at all are reputable stock sites. You may find that other covers feature one or two of the same images, or that the image was used in an article. That’s just the nature of stock photography. However, if there is a cover out there that is EXACTLY the same, run. Actually, report and run.
  3. He paid via PayPal friends and family option. NEVER do this. If your designer is reputable, they will want to keep things above board, and use the proper options.

If you stick to these three things, you should be covered. Another layer of protection you can add is crediting your cover designer. Always credit your cover designer in your book, not only is it the right thing to do, it can potentially add a layer of protection if they used illegally obtained images. It shows intent. You intended to do the right thing, and now you’ve proved it.

I have much more to say about covers, that’s another post for another day. Seeing yesterdays events unfold angered me. I was angry for the new author, and I’m angry for the designers that the scammer ripped off. Thankfully, her group has been shut down for now, but I’m sure she’ll be back in action under a different name soon enough. She’s also not the first one to do this, and won’t be the last. Hopefully I’ve armed you with enough information so that you can protect yourself. That $35 cover might end up costing you much more in the end.

That’s all for now! Stay tuned as I’ve resumed Indie Author Spotlights, and will be posting more in the next few days.

If you would like to continue your education on the fair use of images click the link below!

P.s. All images on have been licensed for use. I have a account.

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