Do Cover Models’ Ethnicity Affect Publisher’s Bottom Line?


Having Trouble Finding Cover Models for Your Cover?

I just completed Valley of Dry Bones, the first novel in my Dry Bones Romantic Suspense series.  I’m shopping it for an agent and, of course, I’m dreaming of VDB’s cover.  My protagonist, Biara Movradi, a philologist who studies First Century BCE Hebrew culture, is part Hebrew and part Greek.  Have I had trouble finding Hebrew cover models?  You bet.  Hebrew’s don’t like their pictures taken: it’s against Torah, or at least that’s my Goyish understanding. 

Whitewashed Cover – The Gorgeous White Girl Protagonist Who’s Actually Black

But lets say I could find a willing Hebrew cover model.  Would publishers want an ethnically accurate photographic representation of Biara Movradi on the cover of Valley of Dry Bones?  This question gets begged a lot in the publishing world.  It’s time we paid attention because, in future, there is going to be more demand for ethnic accuracy. As librarian, Annie Schulte, points out (she’s discussing YA lit, and I’m writing RS, so make note of the distinction), “I get sick, tired, and embarrassed to be working with YA books for a living,” when “[I] see a gorgeous white girl staring back at [me] from the covers of an upcoming release” (Para. 1, It Matters If You’re Black or White). 

Ms. Schulte isn’t incensed over covers with gorgeous white girls if the protagonist is actually white.  But when the novel has a “protagonist of color,” she calls on us to pay attention and protest this “whitewashing,” a form of racism. 

Publisher Changes Cover of Justine Larbalestier’s Novel, “Liar”


Schulte provides an example of whitewashing, using Justine Larbalestier’s YA book, Liar.  Kudos, Justine, because your publisher made the right call.  Liar’s protagonist, Micah, is black, yet the advanced reader’s copy (shown) had a Caucasian on the cover.  After outcry, according to Schulte, the cover was changed to include a black cover model.  For me, this was not just the right thing to do, but an artistic improvement in the cover itself.  Will the change have an impact on the publisher’s bottom line? I’m hoping for the better.  I’m also betting readers love the cover as much as I do, and they’ll connect with Micah because they can better visualize her.

A “RGB” Commendation to Annie Schulte

I commend Ms. Schulte for calling attention to whitewashing.  It’s at best dishonest and, at worst, as Schulte points out, it’s a money-driven form of racism that needs to end. 

Where Is My Hebrew Cover Model for Valley of Dry Bones?

As for my dreams of a Hebrew cover model, I can’t even find one.  It’s a problem I didn’t anticipate when I wrote my novel, but one I must now manage.  I’ll keep looking.  Meantime, if you have any thoughts on whitewashing, if you’ve encountered any issues in this regard, or if you simply want to comment, I’m excited–as always–to hear from you. 

Source: Schulte, Annie.  It Matters If You’re Black or White.  2012. 

Copyright, 2013.  Mary H. McFarland.


7 thoughts on “Do Cover Models’ Ethnicity Affect Publisher’s Bottom Line?

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  2. Pingback: Novel Reviews | My Malevolent Maelstrom

    • Thanks for the tip on “The Lewis Man.” I’ve added it to my list of books to buy and read. Will do that, and somewhere down the line, follow up with a post. I think the issue I’ve raised in this blog post deserves a lot of attention. Looks like it might be getting it.

  3. Pingback: Do Cover Models’ Ethnicity Affect Publisher’s Bottom Line? | Romance Global Bound

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