GUEST POST: Creating a Cover with Non-White Characters by Nadia Lee

by Sarah on March 15, 2011 · 13 comments

Creating a good cover can be very difficult.  I compare having a good book cover to having a good suit for a job interview: it creates the first impression and signals readers that they really want to pick up your book and check out the blurb.  But unlike business attire, there are no set rules or formulae for a good cover.  What one person thinks is fabulous, another considers mediocre or worse.

Now add the fact that I have a non-white heroine in the story and I want her on the cover.  I remember seeing blog posts about how books featuring non-white characters get white-washed.  Authors caught in such unfortunate circumstances can at least blame their publishers for the cover, as authors have zero control over their covers.

But if you’re putting a book out yourself?  It’s ALL on you.  So with that in mind, I approached the Carnal Secrets cover with a bit of trepidation.  I didn’t want the heroine to look white.  I didn’t want readers to go, “Wait a minute!  There’s no way this model can be Asian!”  On the other hand, I didn’t want it to have fetishized or exaggerated ethnic features either.  That just seemed ridiculous.

So when I hired über-talented Frauke Spanuth from CrocoDesigns, I specifically told her that the heroine was Asian with long black hair.  But since she was an office worker, her skin needed to be on the pale side (for an Asian).  Finally I asked Frauke to crop the face if she had to.

Then I waited.

Though I knew I had 100% control over the final cover, I was a little bit nervous.  What if Frauke couldn’t find any decent stockphotos with Asian women?  What if the models weren’t quite what I had in mind?  What if the cover looked weird with cropped faces and so on?

Then when Frauke delivered the draft, I actually squealed with happiness.  She got the tone of the story just right:  sensual and romantic without being over-the-top erotic.  And the heroine on the cover?  I thought she worked.  She had black hair, and her skin tone was slightly sandy but not overly pale (like something you might see on a blonde Caucasian).  When I showed it to Hero Material, he said, “Yep, looks Asian to me.”

Of course, some may still think that the model looks white and believe that I white-washed the cover.  And that’s totally out of my control, just as reader response to my story is totally out of my control.  The only thing I can do is create the best visual representation of the couple I can, label my book correctly and hope that readers find the cover as attractive as I do.

Do you have any questions about the cover process for indie publishing and/or small presses?  (I’ve done both as I published a romance novel under another name with an epublisher.)  What do you like to see on a cover in general?

P.S.  For those of you who missed my earlier guest blog posts on how Carnal Secrets came about, please feel free to check out “Read the Fine Print”, “Walking Away Can Be Hard”, “Small Press v. Self-Publishing” and “Distribution: the Issues of DRM and Geo Restrictions”.

About Nadia Lee:

Bilingual former management consultant Nadia Lee has lived in four different countries and enjoyed many adventures and excellent food around the globe. In the last eight years, she has kissed stingrays, got bitten by a shark, ridden an elephant and petted tigers.

She shares an apartment overlooking a river and palm trees in Japan with her husband, an ever-changing collection of winter white hamsters and an ever-widening pile of books. When she’s not writing, she can be found digging through old Asian historical texts or planning another trip.

Carnal Secrets is her latest work.  You can find the blurb and excerpt on her website, or purchase a copy from All Romance eBooks, Amazon Kindle US , Amazon Kindle UK, B&N Nook or Smashwords.


SusiSunshine March 15, 2011 at 14:09

Hey ladies! I have to say your cover is great. I love it and I don’t think it will be mistaken for whitewashed.
I really like the womans pose. Looks awesome.
Great job!

Nadia Lee March 15, 2011 at 14:36

Thank you so much, Susi! Frauke did a great job! :-)

Black Velvet March 15, 2011 at 16:54

Great post. Carnal Secrets has a great cover and I didn’t think white when I first saw it, but I thought “hmmm, I think she’s asian, yay for cover control!”

Sarah March 15, 2011 at 17:14

What do you like to see on a cover in general?

While I don’t need every romance novel to feature the characters on the book’s cover, if they are depicted, I like it to be accurate. I’ve read so many books with blond heroes which have dark-haired cover models, for example. It makes no sense.

Your cover is beautiful. Well done to both you and Frauke.

Thank you for the wonderful guest post!

Jeannie Lin March 15, 2011 at 17:19

I think the cover looks lovely. I wouldn’t think she was Asian upon first glance, but upon finding out, if I look back, then it works. I was reading Kelly Hunter’s Red Hot Renegade and told my husband about it. When you look at the cover, all you see is the heroine’s hair from the back. So she “could” be Asian, but they’re definitely masking it.

Wondering if you were trying to purposefully not make your cover look obviously Asian and whether you thought that would affect sales if she did? I’m not asking this to challenge your cover. Just wondering if it was important to pass as Asian, but not advertise for sales purposes.

Nadia Lee March 15, 2011 at 17:51

Thanks, Black Velvet. :-)

Sarah — Oh…I can tell you some horror stories. It happened to me once. Thank you re: cover, and thank you for having me.

Jeannie — To be honest, the sales aspect didn’t really affect my cover decision. The book is tagged as interracial on Amazon, BN, ARe, and Smashwords (done by yours truly). And the heroine’s ethnicity is revealed in the 1st scene, which people can sample from any e-book vendor plus my website.

My biggest concern was that there might not be a stockphoto with the right models and right mood / tone I wanted for the story. I couldn’t afford to have a custom photo taken for the cover. (Not enough $, alas.)

And I’m not sure if you saw my other covers, but I tend to prefer covers with semi-cropped faces, esp. eyes. (It’s because I’m really particular about eyes. There are Hollywood actors who people think are gorgeous, but I think are meh because I don’t like their eyes.)

I just googled Hunter’s cover. I don’t know if it’s really masking the racial identity of the heroine. If it had been a blonde or a brunette in that pose, would you still think it was “masking”? (curious)

Savannah Chase March 16, 2011 at 00:55

I think the cover looks fantastic…..I know having a cover that you like and one that represents the story makes a huge difference…

Nadia Lee March 16, 2011 at 14:19

Savannah — That is true. Also it makes a big impact on you mentally. It’s hard to promote or feel happy if your cover looks horrific or doesn’t represent the story or characters, etc. I think that’s more likely to happen when you don’t have any control v. being an indie author, though.

Jill Sorenson March 18, 2011 at 17:26

I’ve seen this cover somewhere else and loved it. I don’t care what ethnicity the characters are (I’m okay with it being vague or obvious, either way)–what appeals to me is the sensuality and textural contrasts. Hero’s stubble, the lace top, even her earrings bring to mind a physical sensation. Great body language. Very sexy and romantic!

Nadia Lee March 20, 2011 at 18:51

Thank you, Jill! Maybe you saw it on Kait Nolan’s blog…? (Perhaps Pearl’s World of Romance or Love Romance Passion…?) :-)

what appeals to me is the sensuality and textural contrasts. Hero’s stubble, the lace top, even her earrings bring to mind a physical sensation. Great body language. Very sexy and romantic!

That’s the effect I was going for with the cover. Thank you for your kind words! :-)

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