Do book cover artists get royalties?
In publishing, the cover art is a separate intellectual property from the book. Ownership of the cover art and how the art can be used is controlled by copyright and contract law.
Authors who have their books published in the traditional way will usually have their cover art designed by their publisher. It’s not very common for them to source their own cover art.
Self-published or indie-published authors don’t have access to an in-house designer and will need to find their own cover art, either by creating it themselves or by hiring an independent designer.
Self-Made Cover Art
The simplest option from the perspective of an ownership and copyright perspective is cover art created by the author, with original assets. Assets are the photographs or other design elements that the cover design uses, including layout, composition, graphics, and fonts.
The copyright is held by the author when the cover uses original assets and a distinctive arrangement of the individual elements. The creator can reproduce, distribute, and create derivatives of their original work as much as they want.
You can reproduce your cover art as much as you want, on things like t-shirts or coffee mugs, for promotional use or to sell. Copyright law gives you those rights, and using original assets frees the art from contractual constraints.
However, most authors aren’t designers. While this option gives you the most legal freedom, it might not be the best choice for you.
In this case, you are already earning royalties from the book, so you won’t earn extra royalties for your art.
Cover Art Created Using A Service
Some authors create their own covers with a service called Canva. Canva has a dedicated section of the service for creating book covers. Canva has formatted cover layouts using stock photos from sites like Period Images and lets the author customize their title and author information.
The copyright to book covers that are made on services like this doesn’t belong to the author who created it. The copyright is still owned by the service and is just licensed to the author. The downloaded file comes with terms that can limit how the art can be used. With Canva, the license covers only one Canva design, allows the art to be used on online or electronic publications with a maximum of 480,000 total pixels per stock media file, permits the use of prints and posters for promotional use but not for resale, cannot be used in a design made outside of Canva, and cannot be reproduced more than 2000 times. Read the fine print carefully.
With the entry-level license from Canva, you can create a mug with your cover art on it and give it away as a promotional item, but you cannot sell it. You can’t use the design as part of a larger design, such as a collage of all your cover art. You can’t print more than 2000 physical objects with the art on.
Canva does allow designers to use their cover art designs for both ebooks and printed books. If you make a cover using only elements that you uploaded or created yourself, you can use the design as much you like.
Creating designs for ebooks to resell online is covered by the one-time use license, as Canva views the sale as because of the contents of your book, and not due to the cover design.
However, if you decide to use any design elements or images from Canva’s own media library, there will be some limits on how you are allowed to use the designs you create, even the elements are free. The limits will depend on what kind of license you choose, whether you are going to print the design and other factors. What you are allowed and not allowed to do with your design will be detailed in the license.
If you have more budget, Canva does offer licenses that will allow a broader range of use. There are always some limits though, no matter what you pay.
Once an author has used the work of another as part of the book design, the copyright no longer belongs to the author and use of the work will be limited by contract and by a license. Make sure you understand the limits of this license, or you could accidentally infringe this allowed use.
If you use a service to make your cover art, this service would not earn book royalties.
Cover Art Made By An Independent Cover Artist
Most experts will always recommend that a self-published author hires a professional cover artist, or uses a specialist stock photo website like Period Images to create their book cover.
There are two categories of professional cover art. The first is a cover that has been created with assets that are original to the artist, and the second is a cover that has been made using stock art or photography licensed from a third party.
In both cases, the copyright does not belong to the author who commissions the cover, unless the cover artist is the holder of the copyright and chooses to transfer the copyright, in writing, to the author. Just sending over the digital file is not transferring the copyright.
Cover art is seen under copyright law as a supplementary work, which means that it is secondary to and assists in the use of the book. It can be considered a work made for hire, because of this. If the cover artist owns and transfers the copyright, this is the only case where the copyright of the cover art belongs to the author.
A work-made-for-hire agreement must be signed before the work is created. If you want the rights after that work has been finished, you will need to get a transfer agreement or a copyright assignment.
The author of the book doesn’t have unlimited rights to the cover just because they commissioned it. The author just bought the cover, not the copyright, unless there is a written transfer. How this cover can be used if there isn’t a copyright transfer will depend on the contract between the author and the cover artist.
If you hire an artist to create your cover, then you will need to agree between you whether the artist will be paid a flat fee for the job or whether they will earn a portion of the royalties from sales. A flat fee is more common.