Nadia Lee | NYT and USA Today Bestselling Author of Contemporary Romance » Carnal Secrets: Creating a Cover with Non-White Characters

Carnal Secrets: Creating a Cover with Non-White Characters

CARNAL SECRETS by Nadia LeeOriginally posted on Monkey Bear Reviews in March 2011.

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 uber-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?