This is now the third cover Hunter has had in three and a half years (well, four if you count the minor font change when I received my rights back and re-released the book myself). Each time it was done with a lot of caution and thought.
First, I am not one of those writers who changes her cover like she changes her underwear. There are benefits to changing the cover art, in case you think it’s hindering rather than helping sales, but especially with a series you always run the risk of undoing any previous work done to brand the book and it can end up frustrating readers. Plus, hands up if it drives you nuts to have three books in a series on your shelf and then get the fourth with a totally different cover model/design. (*looks around* Just me?)
So yeah, this is not an endeavour taken lightly.
Initially the covers in the series were done using entirely digital people. The reason for this direction was simple: I couldn’t find the kind of stock I wanted to represent the characters.
It was important to me to be true to Ryann: she’s biracial, she had to be simply clothed and non-sexualized, and she needed her weapons (particularly a katana). While she doesn’t use a wooden stake in the book, I felt it got the whole vampire/demon hunter point across.
Around mid-2012, about a year later, sales weren’t where I’d hoped with the books, and just in case the covers were a factor my publisher agreed to go in a new direction. This time I went with stock photos and specifically people’s faces.
Once again, I ran into huge problems with Ryann.
In a perfect world, I’d be able to hire an illustrator like Chris McGrath (my dream artist for these books) to give them custom covers with good representations of the characters. Unfortunately, my real world requires me to worry about groceries and rent. So I had to stick to stock photos. Right now, head over to some stock sites, and search for African American women with swords. Go ahead. Tell me what you find.
Or let’s say any weapon, really. I’m easy! How about a gun? A knife? Anything? Now make sure she’s non-sexualized (this character is a nun FFS) so she's not licking a sword or wearing a miniskirt. What kind of results did you get?
The sad truth is that when your character isn’t white (or is full-figured--don't even get me started on that), the amount and variation of stock photos drop drastically. This left me with the option of white-washing the character (GOD NO), picking a model that didn’t represent her (CRINGE), or letting go of the classic urban fantasy look and picking someone who at least looked/felt like Ryann.
I went with the third option.
And this has been the face of Ryann for the past two and a half years.
I was never entirely happy with it, however. While Zara on the Bloodlines and Exhumed covers doesn’t have a weapon, frankly she has a look on her face that says she doesn’t need one to kill you (same with the fifth, Oblivion, which features a witch). Lineage has Peri holding a big gun, however, and it always sort of bothered me that Ryann was just a pretty girl without at least a sword. This is urban fantasy, after all.
Every so often, I searched the usual stock sites just in case something new appeared, all the while humming, “I stiiiillll haven’t fooounnd what I’m looking foooorrr...” Eventually I ran into a stock site that, praise the cover artist gods, had women of colour in classic urban fantasy poses. I debated awhile which one I wanted to go with and finally selected a model, updating Hunter’s look to coincide with the re-release of the print edition and the new series bundle.
So without further ado, here is the new Ryann.
This is actress/model Kimberly Gresham, as photographed by Taria Reed of The Reed Files.
I am tremendously happy with this new photo. She’s non-sexualized—no leather in sight!—and she has her sword, but despite her obvious strength she manages to display that level of quiet contemplation that represents the character. And despite the series being cancelled, I now want to write MOAR RYANN BOOKS because I am so happy with this model as the character.
Even as a kid, I remember reading some books and getting so frustrated when the cover didn’t match the words inside. The characters didn’t look like they were supposed to, didn’t wear the right clothes, etc. But now I get it. So next time you’re looking at a cover, particularly with non-white characters on it, pause and think about the challenges that went behind designing it. And photographers? WE NEED DIVERSE PHOTOS FOR OUR DIVERSE BOOKS. Please and thank you.
Hunter can now be found on Amazon and CreateSpace in print, along with Lineage and Exhumed (a re-release of Bloodlines to match is coming soon).
It's also in The Demons of Oblivion Bundle—the first three books gathered in one release—now on Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, OmniLit, and available direct (for $1 off).