For my first novel, American Zeroes, I licensed an image from Shutterstock and used it as the cover art. The image perfectly matched the idea I had for the cover: an image of the american flag that was composed of ones and zeroes. This captured the major theme of the book, of how our thinking about laws and our dealings with fellow citizens has become binary, that politicians are trying to paint everything in black and white for their own divisive agendas. I felt the image was a bargain at $15, and I was very happy about the way the cover turned out.
Today, my wife received an email from a mutual friend who forwarded her a link to a BBC article that used the same image (Personal details of nearly 200 million US citizens exposed). My initial reaction was one of validation, that because someone at the BBC used the same image it proved that the image was good. But after thinking on it a bit, that initial feeling gave way to one dominated by a more pragmatic concern. A book cover should be unique. It represents a book more than anything else, like a company’s brand.
Even before this happened, I had decided to hire an artist to create original cover art for my next novel, Traffic Girl Wars. Now, I am convinced this was the right call. True, you can find many excellent images on sites like Shuttershock, and they’re really inexpensive, but I think it’s worth it to shell out the extra money and market your novel with a truly original cover.