Open Discussion: Who/what should be on the cover?

Happy Saturday, my friends!

Thanks for stopping by Diversity Between the Pages. I’m excited to jump start today’s open discussion. My co-contributor, Alexis, and I were discussing this and voila, a discussion post was created.

Today’s question is “who/what should be on the cover” of an ethnically diverse book? Sure it seems like the obvious answer would be an ethnically diverse character, but is it?

What if a cover such as this one (yes I used my own) prevents a non-minority reader from picking up the book because she thinks she won’t be able to relate to the characters?

Sure, it’s nice looking, but does it scare away readers who are not African American? Would some publishers even considering putting people on the cover or would they automatically use one without in the hopes that it’ll reach more readers?

Cecelia Dowdy is an Indie (independent) publisher. She chose to use silhouettes on the cover of her Bakery Romance series. Her characters are ethnically diverse, but will a reader realize that? Sure, she’ll describe the characters in the books, but will a reader pick up on that or automatically assume they’re Caucasian?

Indie authors have the choice to choose what goes on the cover, but they still have to look at the marketing aspect. Google romance covers and you’ll see the majority of them have people on the covers. Some readers want the picture to clue them in how the character(s) look(s).

But are covers without people bad? Ms. Raney doesn’t have a couple on her cover. In fact, this book features an interracial couple. However, it is important to note that none of her covers in the Chicory Inn series have people and that is the main reason they went without people. In fact, the Dutch versions all have the female lead. But I’m curious, would a publisher get backlash from readers if they used an interracial couple on the cover? After all, in some parts of the United States, interracial relationships are still frowned upon. Just a couple of years ago, there was a huge uproar when a commercial for Honey Nut Cheerios featured an interracial family. Are publishers (Indie or traditional) not being “honest” when they choose to not depict the faces?

So what is an author to do, if she has a choice? What is a publisher supposed to do? Put ethnically diverse people on the covers or not? If they chose not to, are they hurting the opportunity for minorities to see more books that feature people like them?

What say you? Who or what should be on the cover of ethnically diverse books?

Post written by Toni Shiloh

14 thoughts on “Open Discussion: Who/what should be on the cover?

  1. Personally I really love reading about different cultures, so something or someone from that culture would naturally catch my eye. I am not a huge fan of pictures of people on a cover (because I like to imagine them myself) but I do like painted covers (think “Like Water for Chocolate” or “The Bluest Eye”). I think most people read the back cover blurb before buying a book, so they shouldn’t be surprised if the main character is ethnically diverse, especially if that is a main topic of the book. But I also think it would be strange to try to surprise the reader by having a cover not at all related to the character or theme. Like if an Amish book didn’t have hay field or a quilt or buggy (or the typical bonneted blonde girl looking into the distance) or something, but just had a horse on the cover. Now if the book was straight up all about that horse, okay, that’s cool. But otherwise it is maybe deceiving.
    At the same time, if your book has ethically/culturally diverse people but the book isn’t really about that, I’d say don’t have that as the main theme of your cover. Like if there was a fan fiction for The Big Bang Theory, it wouldn’t really need to prominently portray an Indian character, it could have a picture of the Big Bang or the universe or something. So, I think it would mainly depend on the theme of your book, what fits with the cover.
    My friend, Regina, has an awwwwwwesome book coming out soon that has to do with Egypt, and the cover is super Egyptian and very cool, and that’s a main theme of her book, so it makes sense. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts! I do know that genre plays a big role in what is on the cover. Like you, I’m not a fan of people on the book, just because I like to imagine the people. However, I have been drawn to covers with people when they’re really well done.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My hubs just painted a pic for my book coming out and there is a person but only the back (for both the room the imagine reason and the fact that he can’t really draw people accurately!) 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Toni and Alexis.This discussion reminds me of a discussion we had in our Christian authors FB group recently about whether some authors market themselves as inspirational fiction rather than Christian fiction authors…because the label “Christian” would prevent some readers from picking up the book in the first place. I struggle with that myself when certain people ask me about my book. I know if I say it’s “Christian fiction,” they won’t consider it. When our labels or covers put limits on who will read, we miss the opportunity for our stories to be heard and for others to see we can connect in spite of our differences…and even because of our differences…and that so often, the differences really just don’t matter! But at the same time, it feels like we’re being disloyal to our beliefs or to who we are if we are “hiding” religion, race, etc. It’s a tough decision!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I realized while reading your response on the blog, that for me, I need to make a decision that will please God and not man. I write to glorify Him. If I pick a cover for the sole purpose of earning more money, then I’m making the wrong choice. God made me AA for a reason and maybe it’s so others can see books that are like them and reflect their image. And maybe I’ll widen someone’s perspective in doing so. Not only that, but I’m going to stop faltering about what I write. If I make real connections with others, maybe they’ll desire to see what CF is all about. I’ll let them make the choice after I tell them I write Christian fiction.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You make some good points. I was going to say I don’t like faces on the cover (even though my first book has a couple in profile) but showing that the characters are of certain ethnicities might be a good marketing strategy. And as you said, it might help people find books!
    I guess I missed the Cheerios incident. Ridiculous.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Going by what I’ve learned and observed over the years, I do tend to think that, unfortunately, depicting ethnically diverse characters on ChristFic book covers can be an obstacle to attracting a broad Christian audience. It may or may not even be a conscious choice to a lot of readers, as “white” has more or less been the “default race” in Christian Fiction publishing for so long.

    In some (perhaps too many) cases, people of color have had to start their own publishing companies because other companies continually declined to publish diverse authors and books. Or publishing houses would publish books by or about diverse people under separate imprints. This contributed to creating a divide between “white Christian publishers/imprints” and “black Christian publishers/imprints.” Publishers, bookstores, and advertisers have (and sometimes still do) group, shelve, and market ChristFic books separately, along color lines. Not all of the books will even always be placed under the “Christian Fiction” category, making it less likely for Christian readers to find them.

    So although people of color have been used to reading ChristFic books by and about Caucasian people (largely because that’s all that’s been available or most visible in the ChristFic market for years), many Caucasian readers have been unaccustomed to seeing or reading ChristFic books by or about people of color. Sometimes people will say that more diverse people need to start writing and publishing (which isn’t untrue) without realizing how many diverse people are *already* doing just that but have trouble getting exposure or gaining the interest or confidence of a wide audience. And when some Caucasian readers do come across novels with diverse characters depicted on the front, their natural conscious or subconscious thought is “those books aren’t for me” as they pass the books by, since the books look different from what those readers are used to seeing and enjoying from mainstream Christian publishers.

    Now, I don’t mean to make generalizations about all Christian publishers or all ChristFic authors or readers of any ethnicity. There are a lot of factors that play into when, where, and how books are published and marketed and who will find or choose to read them.

    Still, while there are benefits and drawbacks to all book covers, whether they have human beings pictured on the covers or not, I think ChristFic authors and publishers shouldn’t shy away from depicting people of color on book covers any more than they should shy away from depicting Caucasian people, whenever the cover designs call for pictures of people. 🙂 There’s nothing wrong with brown skin any more than there’s anything wrong with white skin. There may be benefits to making book covers ethnically neutral, but I believe there’ll be greater benefits when a wide Christian audience gets accustomed to seeing diverse characters on ChristFic covers. It may take time for more readers to adjust, but I think the more common we make such book covers for readers of all colors, the more common it will become for readers of all colors to, well, read the books.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The divide in Christian Fiction is so heart breaking. I think it’s awful that so many readers don’t realize that there are diverse books, we’re just in a different section of a book store. I think you’ve inspired me to write another open discussion. 🙂
      I agree with your last thought, we need to start depicting diverse characters so that is more common to readers. Maybe then they won’t hesitate to pick it up.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I give thumbs up to just about every comment made here, but I’ll add that marketing to a target audience has a lot to do with book cover choices. I’ve looked at plenty of covers and (as Nadine said) thought, “Those books aren’t for me.” I look at a cover with an army dude holding an M16 and think “man book, not for me” or a bloody knife in a bathtub and think, “horror, not for me.” A wise publisher knows that in order to sell a book, she has to market small, narrow down her target audience and market specifically to that group of people. Why? Because it works. Partly because that’s how our brains respond to stimuli, and partly because that’s what we’ve been conditioned to. Americans at large have been trained to see an Asian couple (for example) on a novel as having been written specifically to that ethnicity. Should we be faulted for this? Maybe, maybe not. But if we want change (and we really should), it will be a long, slow reconditioning process that will require much patience and grace toward those who have never considered reaching outside what they’ve been trained to respond to. I think many well-intentioned readers (especially Christians) are simply responding out of instinct. They just don’t think about it and need to be told, which is why this blog is so important. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, April. You’re comment about how we are conditioned is very interesting. As a Black woman, my conditioning is a lot different than others. Since I’ve been able to read, covers have predominately featured Caucasian characters, so I pick them up and read, because what else is there? As I’ve grown and entered the world of writing, I still pick up any book that captures me based off what I believe the genre is about. If I see a book with two people who look like they fall in love, I’m going to grab it because I love romance. Maybe if others didn’t get to see people who looked like themselves all the time…they would explore other ethnicities…just a thought.

      Liked by 1 person

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