UPDATED 2ND JULY 2014
For many authors, writing erotica is the easy part. But books need covers, and dammit Jim we’re writers, not photographers! (Other than those writers who are also photographers. I declare shenanigans. Being multi-talented is cheating).
If you’re even slightly au fait with Photoshop, GIMP, or another image manipulation program then half the battle is already won. But you are going to need some pictures to put under the title and author’s name, and finding them can seem pretty daunting to the new erotica writer.
You may feel the temptation to pinch pictures off the internet. Do not do this. Why not?
- Theft is bad. You don’t need me to tell you this, do you?
- The photographer and / or model may not have intended their work to be used for erotica.
- If someone stole your book you’d be up in arms. Don’t steal other people’s work either.
If you intend to write professionally, behave professionally.
Free Erotic Stock Photography
There are some sites which offer stock images for free. Largely you get what you pay for, and the majority of these free images are either of amateur quality (not necessarily bad, but don’t expect Victoria’s Secret models or breathtaking composition) or are so heavily overused around the world because they are free. With that caveat in mind, let’s see what erotic stock photography you can get for the grand sum of zero moneys!
stock.xchng: Now owned by Getty Images, this site offers premium results first, but scroll down a little to find free images.
MorgueFile: This is the granddaddy of free image sites. All images are for reference only, meaning that you must modify them in some way before using them for your covers. Still, if your digital image editing skills are pretty sharp, this is a very handy resource.
DeviantArt: DA has a Stock Images section, but every artist’s licensing agreement is different, so you must read the licensing information carefully before using any image that you find.
Flickr: This is another needle in a haystack option, but there are images on Flickr waiting for you with the right licensing options if you have the time and patience to search for them.
Paid-For Erotic Stock Photography
If you cannot find what you need for free, you’re going to have to pay for it. That’s just a fact of life, let alone a fact of stock photos, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise. Prices vary widely, and again you tend to get what you pay for. There are authors who double as photographers, sneaking off to their BatCave at 3am with sexy-as-hell models and snapping absolutely flawless shots because, as writers, they already know what you are looking for. Then there are photographers who hire cheap models who don’t take direction well, and upload their flat-eyed, bored-looking images to every stock site out there. You’re going to be doing a lot of searching, I’m afraid, but to help you get started:
Erotica-Specific Stock Photography Sites:
Save time by going to a site that sells exactly what you need. The trade-off, of course, is that these images are what you’re looking for, so will cost you a price which reflects that (not that $10-$35 an image is actually bad value at all – it’s incredibly good value). But if you’re just starting out you might not actually have the funds to throw at this just yet. Once you get off the ground, though, the time you will save will be of far more value to you than the extra bucks each image costs.
I should hope it goes without saying, but the sites in this part of the list are very NSFW.
Erotic Stock Photos: By an erotica author, for erotica authors. Here you can find BBW models, gay couples, BDSM gear and more for $10 each.
Hot Damn Stock: Beefy chaps and busty ladies, for $20-$30 per image.
Jenn LeBlanc: A wide variety for $20-$35 each, with exclusivity as a $400 option. Jenn will also discuss custom photo shoots if you require something not on her site.
XXXstockpics.com: There are a lot of images here which are just flat-out blockable if you try to use them as a cover on Amazon, B&N, and some other storefronts, but there is a great selection. Use common sense. If you are unfamiliar with Amazon’s ever-changing cover rules, I wouldn’t go here until you’re more aware of what is and isn’t likely to get accepted.
Adult Stock Photo: Extremely high quality images, and many of them will pass muster at Amazon! Again, use your knowledge of Amazon’s reviewers to see what you can get away with before you buy.
DirtyPlace: A good variety of erotic images. Caveat emptor: If you don’t know what Amazon will allow, learn before you buy.
General Stock Photography Sites:
More generic stock photography sites can be tremendous bargains, but they’re a bargain for a reason. Needle in a haystack doesn’t even begin to cover it. Most of these sites offer photography which is uploaded by the creator, and the photographers don’t necessarily use English as their first language, so often mis-spell their keywords. Even worse, most of them will slap any old keyword on a photo just to get hits. While you can’t really blame them for this, it does make it frustrating when a search for “handsome male model” turns up a ninety year old bearded lady. It’s up to you whether your time is worth the money that you save. You’ve also got to be extremely diligent with the monthly subscriptions – they’re relying on you forgetting a day or two.
I strongly recommend that should you choose to use from these sites, you work hard to obscure the identity of the model. There is a reason so many erotica books are faceless or headless torsos: do not risk upsetting a model by letting his or her family see their face on the cover of “Werebadger Gangbang”. Also see the comments section below: both Bumbi and Kyla Li have been extremely helpful in finding out which sites do and do not allow use of images for erotica covers.
CanStockPhoto: Great for the newbie erotica author, CanStock offer a $39 1-week subscription which allows you to download 10 images a day.
iStockPhoto: Also owned by Getty Images, but not nearly as expensive as using Getty Images themselves. iStockPhoto have confirmed via email that their images may be used for erotica so long as the image is tagged as sexy / erotic, and so long as the book contains a disclaimer stating that the model does not endorse or condone the book’s contents.
ShutterStock: Shutterstock’s cheapest subscription is over $200, but that is 25 images a day for an entire month.
DepositPhotos: Mid-range, both in price and quality. However, every few months there is an offer on MightyDeals where you can purchase an image pack which will last an entire year for a very good price.
Fotolia: Pretty nice pricing, and their download limits are per month, so no need to remember to log in every single day.
Dreamstime: Dreamstime offer both free and paid-for images, but are a little on the pricey side.
ingimage: Another “you get what you pay for” example – a little pricey, but if you search for “erotic” your results aren’t a page of bored models or naff vector images.
Ready-Made and Custom Covers
“But Scarlet,” you cry, “I suck at design!” Have no fear. There are plenty of people out there who don’t, and some of them specialise in creating book covers for the erotica market. These may seem an expensive option, but these covers are phenomenal. There are some very talented people out there waiting to help you!
Cover Design from PubYourself: The extremely talented Aubrey Rose has been designing erotica and romance covers for authors for a long time, and she has serious skills!
eBook Indie Covers: Melody Simmons designs all kinds of covers, including erotica and romance, and some of her earlier designs are available for only $16!
GoOnWrite: Another very versatile designer who offers erotica covers among a far wider portfolio. Stunning designs with an extremely professional look.
Indie Author Services: A very nice selection of covers across several genres – including erotica and romance. $30 each.
Fantasia Frog Designs: $40 for pre-made covers, $50 for custom requests. Fantasia Frog also offer website banners and buttons.
Alice Xavier: Alice is a professional graphic designer who creates covers for traditionally published books, and also offers erotica covers from $30, or $25 if you are providing your own stock photo already.
I need more options!
Heavens above! Well, thankfully there are more options. This is a subject others have blogged about, and you will find many more stock sites, pre-made covers, and custom cover designers out there. Here are a couple of excellent lists to get you started:
* Warning: I would warn anyone – not merely erotica authors – away from BigStockPhoto. Their business practices are questionable, and I have heard one too many tales of their “free trial” charging you for a full month after only three days of the trial, and the subscription not being cancelled despite repeated attempts to do so. They cancel your free trial the second that you cancel the automatic “renewal” onto the $49 monthly subscription. This leads you into a “free trial” which does not last the full seven days, because you are charged only three days into it and if you cancel in under three days to prevent this happening you don’t get the free trial at all. In short, you get at most three days of the seven day free trial.
Let me know if you have a favourite site that I’ve missed out on!