Friday, January 23, 2015


The classic male torso

Ever wonder why so many romance covers feature naked male torsos? No heads, no faces.  Just the bare, muscular chest and shoulders, maybe the hips.  I no longer ask myself that question.

Aside from the pure aesthetic value of the male body, there’s a very good reason for all those headless guys.  It’s darn difficult to find a face that matches your vision of your hero among the millions of stock photos available online.  And if you’re looking for photos of a couple to represent your hero AND your heroine, well, you’ve just doubled your trouble.

I speak from personal experience.  My wonderful agent and co-publisher did a fantastic job of finding just the right “Ethan” and “Asia” for the cover of my debut SFR novel Unchained Memory, launching February 24. But for the cover of my second novel, Trouble in Mind, she passed the job of model search on to me.  Probably with a sense of great relief.  Because, as all of you self-pubbers who have had to design your own covers surely know, searching through hundreds of photos for a guy who looks half-Cuban and half-alien and a woman who has blond, curly hair ain’t easy.  Oh, and they have to look like they can hunt down bad guys.  And be hot for each other.

The parameters I set are difficult enough.  I want the models I pick to reflect not only the physical attributes of the characters, but something about them as people, too.  That gives the reader a hint of what they'll find inside the book--elements of sex, suspense, danger.

You cannot resist . . . MANGO!
But I also seem to be way out of sync with society’s current ideas of “sexy”.  (As in “sexy couples”, the basic keywords of my search.)  All of the guys seem to look like some version of Chris Kattan’s Mango from Saturday Night Live.  And I hesitate to describe the women, some of whom may have just crossed that adult threshold last week.

Lest you think these are the ravings of some lunatic old crone, note that many of the legacy romance publishers have resorted to seeking out real men to use as models for their covers—firemen, policemen, athletes, military men—because the professional male models preferred by fashion are too skinny and wan.  (We call these “stick boys” in martial arts, and they are hardly the subject of romantic fiction. As a mother I feel the constant urge to tell them to eat something.)

I have to say all my co-bloggers have done a marvelous job with their covers.  All of them.  Perhaps they will share with me their secret keywords for an effective model search.  Or the best stock photo websites for half-alien-looking guys.  I’m sure with their help I’ll be able to find the perfect “Gabriel” and “Lana” for Trouble in Mind. 

My third novel, Fools Rush In, is a space opera.  If I run out of options there, I can always fall back on the old SF standby and just feature the starship.  Or a naked torso in a field of stars.


--Congrats to Pippa’s When Dark Falls fourth-place win for Best Steampunk Novel in the Preditors and Editors 2014 Readers Poll.  That’s one mighty writing engine that just keeps rolling!

--Thanks to Greta van der Rol for giving us a peek at her newest release Crisis at Validor.  Sounds like a great read!

Cheers, Donna


  1. >a guy who looks half-Cuban

    I can't remember exactly where I saw it, but I was following a Twitter conversation the other day about the dearth of PoC in stock images (meaning ones that'd be suitable for book cover images). So the issue may not be keywords or the sites themselves at all. It's a discouraging situation and hopefully the more people raise the issue, the closer we can get to more diverse covers.

    Best of luck with your search! If you can find an image with a Cuban guy that'd be awesome!

  2. Just for fun, I did a search of Cuban men on Shutterstock & Dreamstime. Almost all the images were of a Cuban man smoking a cigar. Sigh.

  3. Honestly, I can spend whole days looking for the right model on a stock image site, trying different keywords. One thing I do is save favourites/email myself links if I happen to see something that might do for other stories I'm working on. I also do searches on Google or Bing - what I'm looking for plus 'royalty free stock image'. Right now I'm still looking for a bronze or dark skinned male angel with bat wings instead of feathers. Yeah, right.
    I don't know if you saw a cover posted to the Brigade fanpage - L'Wren, Hawk and the Doves. The cover artist not only made the woman green but managed to add feathers and scales, and did a darn good job. It depends on having the right model in the first place and a cover artist whole can do some magic with digital software.

  4. LOL, Pippa! Having any luck with that Google search for an angel with batwings instead of feathers? But luckily, my talented agent/co-publisher is a mean hand with the graphics, too, so she can manipulate things like hair and eye color, filters, fonts and other elements of the cover to make it all come together.

    I agree, Heather, that issues around finding images of people of color are HUGE. Those "millions" of images that all the stock photo websites advertise are overwhelmingly similar--young, white, THE SAME. It was hard enough to find a man who might have looked somewhat Hispanic. It will be crazy difficult to find a model for my next heroine, Rayna Carver, who is black, especially since her hero, Captain Sam Murphy, is white.

  5. We should have joint search parties. LOL Might be fun.

    Pippa, try searching for "handsome demon" instead of angel. I think you're more likely to come up with batwings.

    I was really fortunate in my search for Inherit The Stars images, and Danielle Fine (cover artist) totally nailed my Farewell Andromeda couple. But The Outer Planets is turning out to be a whole different exercise. R-e-a-l-l-y having a hard time.

  6. >Rayna Carver, who is black,

    Ooh, looking forward to "meeting" her! I know I'm only one reader among millions, but personally I'd love to see her on the cover, even if it's in the absence of the hero.

    The cover of Lyn Brittan's LANA'S COMET ( was one of my favorite 2014 covers because it featured a gorgeous black heroine. Stock image, I know, but still awesome in its diverseness.

  7. @Heather, you don't have to wait to meet Rayna. She's an important secondary character in my debut novel UNCHAINED MEMORY (and returns in the second novel of the series, TROUBLE IN MIND). I thought she deserved her own book--and cover!


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