Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Covers & Questions

Lately I've been noticing a lot of discussion going on in the blog world about the marketing and promotion of books by black authors. The most recent discussions have to do with book covers and how they can affect a black author's mainstream appeal. From what I've been noticing, since becoming published myself, black authors seem to be solely marketed and promoted to black readers. Books by black authors, no matter what genre, are usually shelved together in one section of the bookstore, and almost always have black people on the cover.

When the cover for The Company You Keep was in the process of being designed, my editor asked me for a description of my main character, Kendra Clayton. I gave her one. But I also told her I didn't want any people on my cover. Why? Well it honestly wasn't because I was thinking about the mainstream appeal of my book. Don't get me wrong, I want mainstream success just like the next author. Mainstream success is going to allow me to quit the old day job and write full-time. I didn't want people on my cover because I wanted readers to use their own imaginations when it came to visualizing what Kendra might look like. I didn't want them getting some generic stock photo stuck in their minds. I was very worried about what my cover was going to look like. But I was pleasantly surprised. My cover depicts a pair of women's eyes and a telephone receiver. Very simple and, no pun intended, eyecatching. I get a lot of compliments on that cover and have been told by some readers that the cover is what, again, no pun intended, caught their eye.

But if my book had images of black people on the cover, would that affect my sales? Would non-black readers pass the book up and if so, why? Author Monica Jackson has a poll on her blog about Donna Hill's book Getting Hers. There are two covers designed for Getting Hers. One cover has a woman's lips against a black background and the other cover shows two black women. Getting Hers is a mystery, and while I like the cover with the lips the best, neither cover looks very mysterious to me. Which leads me to another question. Why aren't books by black authors cross promoted by genre? Don't publishers think that non-black mystery lovers will read a mystery by a black author? One just has to look at authors such as Walter Mosley, Paula Woods, and new kid on the block Kyra Davis to get the answer to that question. I think readers of all races will read books that appeal to them IF they know about them.

But no matter how unhappy an author may be about how their in-house publicist is handling the publicity of their book, authors may want to read these stories to see how an author can shoot themselves in the foot.

2 comments:

Mizrepresent said...

Hello Kendra,

This is a fine blog that I really enjoy reading, alot! On the subject of AA authors, books and covers, i have to agree with you. I write mystery/suspense as well and was quite turned off by the cover selected by the publisher....at first, because i felt like it had nothing to do with my story, but they said that this was the cover most woman picked up during a survey they conducted in a bookstore...okay...and later at a book convention, it was the cover that drew everyones attention....I myself would have loved to have the standard mystery cover, something dark, silhouettes, no faces, and I still want this, because this is how i came to know mystery/suspense, and like you said, look at Walter Mosely. Maybe when we get really BIG, we will be able to have some influence when it comes to covers. Anyway good luck on your next book, and keep blogging...you are doing a fine job!

Angela Henry said...

Thanks! I'm glad you'r enjoying the blog. I'm currently on pins and needles waiting to see the cover of my new book. I hope I'm pleasantly surprised again. It would be interesting to know how much power best-selling authors like Walter Mosley actually have over what their covers look like. Any best-seeling authors out there who'd care to chime in?

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