I am very excited to welcome Georgina Kiersten on Queer Books Unbound. They’re here to talk about the lack of diversity in stock photography – please join me in giving them a very warm welcome!
We Need More Diverse Book Covers: Challenging Racism In Stock Photography.
Content Warning For racist and fatphobic images.
People say don’t judge a book by its cover. Yet, let’s be honest? This is a thing that everyone does. Our very first impression of a book is its cover, and that is why creating an attractive cover is so important.
However, when you are a black person in the queer book community, finding a black person on the cover is an indicator this book a black person wrote and that the book specifically targeted to black readers. And when the queer book community seems like it’s% 99 white, this can be like an oasis in the middle of a desolate desert.
When you are a book cover artist like me, the biggest tool that does not get often spoken about is stock images.
With traditional publishing, they are custom photoshoots with handpicked models from the marketing department. Self-published authors don’t have that privilege and often have to deal with stock image companies like Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, and Deposit Photos.
The selection for black people are already slim (and don’t get me started on the racist, ableist, fatphobic photos for other marginalized groups). Most of the time, they feature only light skin, thin, straight, and cis models in contemporary photoshoots.
When I decided earlier this year to write about a black trans woman and put her on the cover, there were no stock images for her. When I complained about it, the advice was to use an illustration instead. I also came up against this barrier when I was creating a cover for ‘Full Circle’ my urban fantasy novel featuring a black man.
I will never get over having to transfer the armor of a white model to a black model piece by infuriating piece.
Discrimination in stock photography is the one last vestige of the publishing community that hasn’t been talked about. And again, for indie authors and small presses, stock images are an essential part of the publishing process.
So what can we do about this?
1) Support Diverse Stock Companies and Independent Providers
Fortunately, they are racially diverse stock companies being created such as TONL, Mocha Stock, and Neostock. I would also go a step forward and suggest you searching for stock images on Deviantart, especially if your book is a fantasy novel and offering to pay for license fees for their work. Most of Deviantart stock image providers have an affordable licensing rate. It’s a great way to support marginalized creatives and make it possible for them to provide more diverse stock images.
2) Name and Shame Problematic Photographers
In the book community, we have a terrible habit of subtweeting or being purposely vague about the problematic members. A lot of times, we want to enjoy the drama but not have any of that mess piggyback on to us. Yet, this behavior makes it easier for the problematic member to get away with their toxic behavior.
We need to name and shame problematic stock photographers who sell racist, homophobic, transphobic, and fatphobic photos. This might not stop a photographer, but it will give awareness that problematic photography is still a big problem.
3) Hold Stock Companies Accountable
We are the customers and we have the power of the purse. We need to start directly calling out stock companies for their lack of diversity. Contact your favorite stock company and start demanding more diverse content. If there is a loud cry for diversity, the company will have no choice but to consider that this is what their customer base wants.
Another big problem is the way we search and discover stock images. For example, keywords such as “black woman” will have lots of white women in a black dress. Instead, I have to search for “African woman”. There are even some photos that are not labeled at all. This makes finding the right photo for the right project that much harder for book cover designers.
Not to mention that most search algorithms on big stock company sites are inherently racist.
Contact customer service, tag companies in your social media posts, write up petitions if you have to. But make it clear that something has to change.
These three very easy practical items are a great way to promote diversity in Indie and small publishing. Representation on book covers is so important, and stock images are a vital tool in creating those covers. We need to push for change for stock photography.
Georgina Kiersten is a black non-binary (they/them) author of diverse LGBTQ+ romance and erotica. They are also a fierce advocate for diversity and inclusion in publishing. Georgina blogs about writing and books and is writing their debut romance novel “The Bipartisan Affair”. Visit Georgina’s website, subscribe to their FREE newsletter or follow them on Twitter,Instagram, or Facebook.