Name: Nana Malone
Claim to Fame: Malone is the established independent romance author behind titles including London Royal, London Soul, Playboy’s Heart, and the Spy In 3B.
Nana Malone turned to modeling out of necessity. “I had never had any intention of really modeling before,” she told HelloBeautiful. A photographer she was working with to complete the cover for her latest romance book suggested it and she was adamant that it was not for her. “I was like, no, that’s not really my deal. I’m the author. I don’t need to be uncovered or do modeling.”
The ultimatum coupled with the realistic view of the book modeling landscape began to gnaw at her and after participating in “further conversations with him about lack of diversity in book cover modeling,” she rethought her stance because if she wanted a certain look she’d have to provide it her self.
“He was like, well, you can complain all day about it, or he can be part of the solution, which of course was the challenge at that point. So I said, yes,” she said.
Malone was not in the same age bracket as her heroines but her well preserved melanin allowed her to slip into their characters.
When she finally stepped in front of the camera she found she had some catching up to do. “You realize that you should have paid much closer attention all those times Tyra banks was explaining how to smize,” she said chuckling.
“Because you don’t know what to do with your face or your body or your hands. The hands are a big thing, and so I had to learn and get adjusted to it.”
She was also required to learn to serve sultry off the page.
While traditional models are used to making it appear as if they have chemistry in a moment’s notice she had to learn. “I was very uncomfortable because, you know, you’re draped over this guy that you barely know that you met when you walked in, but, you know, by the end of it, it was actually kind of fun,” she said. “You get used to it and get used to your body being in awkward positions, you get used to being touched by someone that you barely know. And then it just becomes this thing of you trying to like, understand what the people purchasing the image are going to be looking for. And once I could get into that, it was a lot easier.”
Being a storyteller helped go beyond “relax your jaw and put your hands here,” and identify how to best sell the tale in her poses. “I was a lot more comfortable because I understood, for book modeling and for book covers, what people want to see and so that helped me feel infinitely more comfortable.”
She is one of few Black faces on romance titles. “I think a lot of it has to deal with essentially internalized biases in readers, and publishers,” she said. She is hopeful that change will come with global efforts to focus on anti-racism. “People are finally starting to have conversations about race and why they even enjoy the media that they consume and why they pick this show over that show and why this form of media only features beautiful blonde women, but never features anyone brown.”
She likened the lack of diversity in publishing to the issues in other media sectors. “We suffer from the same that you do on television and movies,” she stated. Book covers that tell Black and diverse stories are often covered with bold graphics and illustrations that are designed with the express purpose of not alienating white readers. Malone has been frustrated by the fact that her own titles including Cheeky King and Sexy in Stilettos sell better without a Black face attached.
“That content is still there. The writing’s the same. So what’s the difference? And it’s, what’s on the outside,” She said. She hopes readers will eventually begin stepping outside of their “bubbles,” to take in stories that are not their own. “Just because someone doesn’t look like you doesn’t mean that you can’t connect and have something that you have in common. And then you also learn something about someone else for me, that’s what art is supposed to be.”
She also hopes the slowly waning stigmas in the romance genre will convince more models to submit for book castings and work with book photographers. “It’s a billion dollar industry, but people still kind of like chuckle and are trying to hide their book covers,” she lamented. She and other marginalized authors would like to see publishers be intentional about working with modeling agencies to craft a pipeline.
“We want to normalize diversity on covers. We want to make it so that it’s not a big deal. It shouldn’t be a big deal. I shouldn’t have had to solve my own problem by being my own cover model. It shouldn’t be hard to find diverse models. There are beautiful women walking in the streets every day, minding their own business,” she said.