Cover Yourself by Knowing Your Cover Rights

Okay, so your publisher has commissioned a beautiful book cover, and you think the artwork is exactly right. It’s what a designer needs to get started on building your author website. You know that the cover art will look lovely on the homepage, and the designer can build the site around various elements based on the overall color, textures and theme. That’s fine, right? Maybe. Or maybe not.

Typically, the publisher commissions the art or photography for a specific use: the book cover. Any further use may incur additional fees, and most publishers aren’t going to cough up the extra money, not so you can use it as a website design theme. (You might want to pay for the use, but you’re almost always better off developing a complementary design theme.)


We learned the “check first” lesson the hard way many years ago after designing a website for a debut author at a major publishing house. The site integrally used the cover art in the design theme. The author loved the site. The publisher loved it too. At the last minute, however, someone from the publisher’s art department weighed in and said, “no can do.” Not without paying a hefty fee for the additional promotional usage.  So we redid the site (the publisher kicked in a few extra bucks) using the palette and some of the textures reminiscent of the cover’s artwork (that’s fair game). Problem solved . . . but that was a close one!

Since then, the disposition of the cover art usage is one of the first items we discuss during the pre-design phase of a new project. We specifically ask about using the art as a design theme and get the answer in writing. About a third of the time the rights are limited to the book cover. The rest of the time we’re free to use the art however we choose. (Even if we do have rights clearance, we don’t always incorporate cover elements into the site design. The design should complement the book cover, but first and foremost, it needs to reflect the author’s brand.)

If you’re self-publishing the book cover and your cover designer has used royalty free photos or art, photos that you’ve taken yourself, or has created an original piece of art for you, you’re probably home free (more on photo rights in a future blog post).

There are many instances in life where it makes good strategic sense to ask forgiveness rather than permission. Cover art usage is not one of them. Find out first where you stand, and then you’ll more than cover yourself.


  1. I am loving this site and the articles on it! They are VERY helpful. I learned of this site after I bought a copy of Steve McClatchy’s “decide” and checked out his website (which happens to be here at Author BYTES). I like what I see and may use this service myself as I will be writing and self-publishing a book about the journey my wife and I are taking this spring/summer 2014. We are bicycling across the country from Yorktown Virginia to Florence Oregon, for a total of 4,233 miles.


    Phillip Cardinal

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