The photo for my newest book comes from Shutterstock. It’s not a perfect photo. It’s a little dark, a little blurry and out of focus. But no other image worked for the book. When I saw it, I knew this was the image I wanted for my cover. Authors get funny that way, which is why publishers rarely let us anywhere near the cover.
Thankfully, O’Reilly’s Director of Brand Management and expert on all things book covers, Edie Freedman, kindly volunteered to help me pummel the photo into shape. She also helped educate me on what makes a good book cover. For instance, I didn’t know about needing to leave space on all sides of the cover page. I also wasn’t aware that when you’re a relatively unknown author, as I am, you want to put your name at the top of the page; get a little name recognition going. She helped polish away many of the photo’s distractions, and find a font that, I think, really makes the cover snap—especially in smaller sizes, which is what shows up on Amazon pages.
The cover image is probably the only photo I’ll be using from Shutterstock in my book. Most of the images will come from the court case and investigations the book covers. The others are coming from photos at Flickr made freely available for use with a Creative Commons license. You can use a photo in a book, as illustration, if the CC license permits noncommercial use.
Some of the photos are from folks who have attended the Ringling Brothers circus or the associated animal walks. Others, though, come from the Circus collection of the Boston Public Library. This wonderful institution has not only uploaded extraordinary graphics and photos to its Flickr account, it kindly allows people like me to use the photos in a non-commercial setting (such as within a book for editorial or illustrative purposes). My favorite set of theirs is, of course, the one related to the circus.
I’ve always been reluctant about the Creative Commons license, not the least of which, the licenses are a bit confusing. For instance, it took me the longest time to figure out that using a photo as illustration within a book that isn’t focused on selling said photo is not a commercial use of the photo. Or at least, that’s the interpretation I’ve seen most frequently given, and the one I’m sticking with.
I can now see, though, why having a licensing scheme such as the Creative Commons is so helpful. It wasn’t necessary to have older photos and circus posters in the book…but the added color and history makes it more lively.
I was so grateful to the Boston Public Library that I decided to upload all of my photos to my new Flickr account and offer them for use. The CC license I picked is very open, other than I restrict commercial use because I don’t have model releases for people and buildings and don’t want to hassle with the potential content copyright issues.
I’ve already had one of my photos used in a Missouri Department of Tourism pamphlet, for illustrative purposes. I don’t claim to be the best photographer in the world, and most of my photos are ordinary. But you never know when one of your photos might help someone, so I just uploaded them all, let folks use them or not.