Trending Now: Black Characters in Fiction Publishing

More and more fiction books are telling stories about Black characters, culture and perspectives. This means ever more demand for Black characters to be featured in cover designs.

Publishers have been actively working to improve the diversity of their output, to hire more staff from different backgrounds and to promote more authors of colour. The impact of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 has only served to accelerate this trend.

Designers are already actively looking for imagery depicting Black characters. This creates great opportunities for photographers and illustrators to introduce fresh new material.

We’ve highlighted a few genres below, but there is demand right across the industry. If you’re planning any shoots with models, think about using Black rather than caucasian models if at all possible – your imagery would immediately become relevant to a rapidly growing publishing sector.


Avoid the typical ‘stock photography’ feeling.
Our clients are not usually looking on Arcangel for corporate stock photography; they are designing book covers rather than adverts or commercial websites.
Clean-cut, aspirational lifestyle photography is therefore not best suited to our collection. We need imagery that has an edge.

Engaging characters.
Posing a model for a book cover is very different from posing for a fashion shoot or commercial headshots. 

Book cover designers look for a sense of personality and authenticity, avoiding typical ‘stock’ or fashion poses. Characters featured on book covers usually need to be someone a reader can identify with.

The depiction of a character may also have to communicate the book’s story and themes. The models therefore need to be convincing as a book’s protagonist or a key character. This may mean they have to be believable as an action hero, detective, lover, spy, killer or victim.

Please note that for many cover designs, the model’s face will not be shown – after all, your model may not match the author’s description of the character! Be inventive with things like rear views, or details of particular body parts, so that the image does not rely on the model’s face or expression for impact.

For models, it’s as much about playing a role as looking great on camera!

Be accurate with period detail.
We know historical costume photography can be costly and elaborate to set up, so it’s heartbreaking when we see glaring anachronisms in an image – things like coloured nail polish, tattoos, nose piercings, and 21st-century make-up techniques. Unfortunately, these simply won’t pass muster with publishers.
Similarly, when on location make sure you’ve checked the background for power lines, street lights, and other signs of modern living!

Setting up photoshoots can be very challenging during the current pandemic. Please make sure that you are continuing to work safely and responsibly, and that any shoots you carry out are in compliance with local rules and restrictions.

We look forward to your submissions!

Duality & Double exposure
Duality and double exposure techniques are generally very popular in publishing at present.

Close ups & body parts 
Focusing on a single body part can make an image highly adaptable and applicable to many genres. We always recommend taking a few detail shots when working with models.

Young Adult – teens
Young Adult Publishing is probably the most far advanced in terms of character diversity, and images of young Black people and teenagers are very much in demand right now.

We’re seeing growing demand for individual children or family groups.

Authentic Vintage
As more and more stories are being told around Black history, designers are on the lookout for authentic vintage photography showing Black people from different times and places.

Historical Costumes
Similarly, there is increasing demand for historical costume photography using Black characters. The diverse casting employed in the recent hit TV adaptation of Bridgerton may set a trend for ‘colourblind’ historical fiction.

Sci Fi , Fantasy and Adventure
Sci Fi and Fantasy titles are another area where Black characters are already appearing much more frequently in cover designs.

Domestic and leisure settings
In women’s fiction, particularly in the USA, we are seeing a trend for Black women in homes and domestic settings.

Diversity is ever more important in romantic fiction, including same-sex couples.

The drive to greater diversity includes illustrations as well as photography – designers are looking for more Black characters in illustrations too!