When The Stock Art Just Doesn’t Exist

While I was really looking forward to publishing BOYLESS, I dreaded the process of approving a cover.  The beauty of this cover (and all my covers) is due to the wonderful work of my cover designer Melody Fender.  But usually when we begin work I send Melody not only the book, but also a lightbox full of stock photos I’ve collected as a jumping off point, and a description of any ideas I have.  Often (very often) we go in a totally different direction, but at least it gives us someplace to start.  As Melody puts it, “it lets me see what’s in your head.”

But for BOYLESS, all that was in my head was a list of what I didn’t want.

The main character of BOYLESS is overweight.  She does not, as some early readers suggested, merely imagine that she is overweight.  She is actually what the BMI would classify as obese.  (I’m not going to even get started about what I think about the BMI and this classification, and instead let the fact stand.)

In my head, Bryn and Logan look something like this:

Isn’t she cute?  Overweight and awesome.  This is the Bryn that I wrote about.

But that photo above?  It represents one of only four or five photos I could find of cute couples where the girl is overweight.  Most of the photos that claimed to have overweight girls in them either had girls who were a) not actually overweight, just not Vogue models or b) were insulting, “humorous”, or otherwise offensive.  What remained were a very few images like this one, which is a snapshot.

NOT a cover quality image.

This made me intensely angry.  Because I wanted to put a picture of my main character on the cover, like my other contemporary novels.  But mostly because it’s ridiculous given the sheer volume of photos of happy couples on stock photo websites that there isn’t a wider range of body types.  Every once in a while I would make another pass, sure that the photos I was looking for must be out there somewhere.

But they weren’t.

I thought seriously about trying to create a photo of my own.  But when I thought about the added complexity and expense…I just didn’t have the resources to hire a photographer, pay (let alone find) models, pray that the pictures came out right the first time, etc.

No.  I’m an indie author, and I am limited to what stock art provides.  But I didn’t know what we were going to do, so when I sent the info to Melody, instead of a list of ideas, it read like a big long list of what I didn’t want.

Here are a few of the things I told her:

I wanted the cover to match my other contemporary novels, which meant no drastic changes in style, like going illustrated a la the cover of Dumplin’.  We needed to find a photo that would work.  Also, BOYLESS is a romance, so I wanted a couple on the cover.

However, I absolutely did NOT want to put a skinny girl on the cover, because that is so insulting to my character.

Other things I didn’t want to see:

-refrigerators

-food

-clothes that indicate size that are not on a person at the time

-images prominently featuring my character’s butt

(This list brought to you by actual covers by New York publishers.  Ugh.)

I also passed along this article which summarizes a lot of why those particular trends in covers are problematic.

In the end, this was my take home:

“I don’t know that an appropriate image exists.  It’s really annoying because by avoiding putting Bryn’s body on the cover it’s adding to the idea that no one wants to see an overweight body, but there are no appropriate photos of bodies available to PUT on the cover.  Stupid fat shame culture.  Stupid airbrushed people.”

I closed the email saying this might be an insurmountable problem.

And you know, with my resources, it really was.  Maybe I should have tried harder.  Maybe I should have done it differently.  But in the end, my cover designer created this cover, and it’s gorgeous.

I am so, so happy with Melody’s work.  The cover fits the book, nails the genre, and is a great advertisement for the story.  (And the boat scene remains my very favorite in the entire novel.)

A part of me, though, will always be angry on Bryn’s behalf, and, really, on behalf of all women, that we didn’t have the option of using a cover quality, market appropriate shot of an overweight girl as part of an attractive couple.  Because, guys, this is a thing that exists in real life.  Guess what?  Fat girls are loveable.  And have men who love them.  And therefore real life romance stories that don’t involve makeovers or weight loss.   That’s why I wrote this book–because I think our media should reflect that reality, and the fact that it doesn’t just makes me sad.

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