Stock Photos and Diversity
Posted by AndreaJWenger
(Trigger warning for racism.)
One of the most fun (and sometimes frustrating) things about indie publishing is searching stock photo sites for book cover images. If all my characters were straight white people, this would be way more fun than frustration. There are thousands of images to choose from, for heat levels ranging from sweet to erotic.
But I also write gay and multicultural romance, and it’s like banging my head against a rock.
Clinch photos of gay men don’t exist. The men may be side by side, back to back, front to back, gazing at each other, holding hands, or kissing—but the traditional romance cover pose? No. Forget about it.
Also, it’s no secret that man chest and ripped abs sell romance novels. If you want a guy alone who’s got that going on, it’s no problem. But if you want two guys in a photo looking like they’re attracted to each other? They’re like, dude, what’s a gym? Or they’re well-muscled and over 40, while my characters are in the new adult range.
As annoying as all that is, the situation is even worse when it comes to multicultural couples. Stock photos of romantic couples featuring Asians of all ethnicities are scarce. And as you might expect, the number of photos of blacks is disproportionately lower than for whites.
In fairness, many of the photographers who contribute to stock photo sites are in Eastern Europe. So, if your photos feature mainly Caucasians, but you live in Caucasia, you get a pass. Otherwise, no.
As Courtney Milan wrote on her blog, even more shameful than the limited number of photos of blacks is the content. The black women in “romantic” stock photos are much more likely (on a percentage basis) to be nude or topless or wearing sheer fabric that leaves little to the imagination.
Also, black women in “romantic” poses are far more likely than white women to be holding a gun on their partner. As in, among the handful of images of black women, there were several showing them holding a gun, but none among the thousands of images I’ve found of white women.
Saddest of all is how little any of this surprises me. I’ve lived long enough to expect this. I’ve also lived long enough to be running out of patience. This situation is unacceptable.
But it’s also a huge opportunity for photographers, especially those just starting out. If you know a photographer, spread the word. Indie authors need more images of gay men and people of color (and gay people of color).
People of all ethnicities read romance. They all deserve to see images of people who look like them on book covers. Fifteen years into the twenty-first century, this should not continue to be an issue. We can do better, and we should.
Have you noticed a lack of diversity on romance book covers? What do you think authors and readers can or should do about it?