A Bit of Background:

The Internets are full of rage again as Bloomsbury Publishing finds itself at the center of yet another book cover controversy. Remember the furore surrounding the cover of Liar by Justine Larbalestier? When readers found out that the intended cover of a book featuring a black protagonist was this…

…the outcry was so deafening that publisher issued its mea culpa and replaced the offending cover with this more acceptible one:

But, alas! It seems that Bloomsbury did not learn its lesson and has triggered the burning, fiery wrath of the interwebs once more. In the sage words of La Brittany, oops, they did it again.

Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore:

As Ana pointed out back in December when she posted her review of debut YA fantasy novel Magic under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore, another grievous instance of whitewashing has occurred. Magic Under Glass has a dark-skinned protagonist, and yet its cover features a white-skinned girl.

This time, unfortunately, the cover made it to publication, slipping past the attention of readers and bloggers. Perhaps Magic Under Glass remained under reader-radars because author Jaclyn Dolamore is a newcomer (and without the significant online clout that Justine Larbalestier & Scott Westerfeld have). Now that the book has been published, however, YA and other book bloggers are up in arms. Some are even calling for a complete boycott of Bloomsbury books.

Now, we agree that what Bloomsbury’s marketing/sales/publicity department is doing with its whitewashing of book covers is a heinous, inexcusable, racist practice. We absolutely agree that we, as bloggers, have an obligation to stand up, make our voices heard, and speak out against publishers that perpetuate these acts. As Anna North of Jezebel aptly points out, it seems that publishers like Bloomsbury are buying into the “self-fulfilling prophecy” that “black covers don’t sell.” (Or at least, they don’t sell BIG)

We agree that something must be done to put an end to the systemic de-colorization of novels. But boycotting the publisher – and, by proxy, the book – will not help matters. Quite the contrary. If you stop buying the book, the person most adversely affected is the author – the one person in this whole mess who has absolutely NOTHING to do with the cover (in fact, the vast majority of authors have little to no say concerning what their covers will look like). And why would you want to hurt the one person that actually wrote the awesome diverse, dark-skinned heroine in the first place? Not to mention the fact that, whitewashed cover aside, Magic Under Glass is one damn fine book. Ms. Dolamore’s work should be appreciated, her efforts celebrated – she should not be punished or threatened because of the poor judgement and practices of her publisher.

A Call For Action:

Instead, we call on YOU, dear readers, to speak up with us. Instead of boycotting Bloomsbury Publishing, we encourage you to CONTACT the publisher and make your voice heard. Join Reading In Color’s Open Letter to Bloomsbury Kids USA. Start a petition to get the publisher’s attention. Do whatever you can to make the message clear: we DO NOT approve of your whitewashed covers, and we demand change.

RE: Covers, In General:

It is clear that publishers pay less attention (what an understatement!) than they should to book covers – it is a problem that we are constantly complaining about here at The Book Smugglers. This is not by any means, an issue that is relegated to one genre or to one issue. Gender, race, size, genre, you name it – problems with covers abound everywhere. Consider:

Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea Cycle (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore) – in which Ged, the protagonist, is a young man with red-brown skin (in a world populated mostly by people that are red-brown, brown, or black). These covers (and the SciFi miniseries based on the books) are obviously a little off.

Everything Beautiful by Simone Howell – (a book that works because of its gritty realism) in which protagonist Riley is an overweight young woman, and yet on the US cover (again published by Bloomsbury!) is portrayed as anything but overweight.

And this is to say nothing of other book covers that are constant in their inconsistencies. Lise Haines’ Girl In the Arena portrays a cover model with long dark locks and a gladiatrix costume – when the main character, in fact, shaves her head very early on in the story and rocks the bald buzz cut for the rest of the book (including her stint in the Arena). Diana Peterfreund’s Secret Society Girl shows a model with long dark hair in prepster clothes – while protagonist Amy had short hair, and wouldn’t be caught dead in those clothes. Don’t even get us started on the myriad Urban Fantasy covers that have absolutely nothing to do with the material within.

And you know, the more we think about it, the more we realise, that this is a problem that is a concern to us readers because it reflects what we do and who we are as consumers. Because publishers only put those out because they think the alternative will not sell – a judgement based on what they assume we will buy. Just a bit of food for thought.

The call for war is laudable. We do have reasons to be up in arms. Shout! Write a blog post! Start a viral video campaign on Youtube or on your blog. Write a letter complaining to the Publisher or an email supporting the writer. But, for crying out loud, do NOT stop buying books.

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60 Responses to Smugglers’ Ponderings: Cover Matters

  1. Wendy says:

    I am glad you pointed out that many authors have no say whatsoever about the covers of their books. Another thing that bothers me (as someone who used to be a cover copy writer) is when the back cover copy seems to be telling an entirely different story than the one inside the cover. Sometimes I wonder if the copy writer read any of the manuscript or if they’re just following a formula. Anyway, great suggestions and kudos on a thought-provoking post.

  2. Danielle says:

    You know, I was JUST in the middle of writing a post about covers on my blog (like, literally, I went on here to check which publisher Girl in the Arena was with because google isn’t working on my comp) and I have to say I am sort of annoyed with those bloggers who are saying they can not buy a book with such heinous whitewashing. I get their frustration, but that seems just a bit harsh. Authors shouldn’t be punished because Bloomsbury is a bunch of jerks.

    I don’t know what Bloomsbury’s diff is, but I certainly do not not buy a book cause theres a bald chick or a black kid on the cover. This isn’t the fifties, and teens are probably the most liberal people out there. In fact, I’m kind of turned off of covers with pale, skinny girls at this point. Variety, people!

  3. katiebabs says:

    Bloomsbury is on a roll with this. Haven’t they learned anything from the fiasco with Liar.

    Does this seem more prominent in YA books or does happen in other genres and we just haven’t noticed?

  4. Maili says:

    FWIW, the author recently stated that the cover of Magic Under Glass was already in the works when the Liar fuss happened.

    Perhaps Magic Under Glass remained under reader-radars because author Jacklyn Dolamore is a newcomer (and without the significant online clout that Justine Larbalestier & Scott Westerfeld have).

    I think I’m too cynical to believe that. There are quite a few covers that have white or pale-skinned models when heroines aren’t between the covers, regardless of who authors are. I don’t think people (generally) give a crap.

    If they did, they would note it in their reviews or comments each time it happened, but they didn’t. There was a spike of ‘I’m reviewing a POC book, see?” after the Liar fuss, but as always, that spike died after a couple of weeks. Same thing happened with RaceFail.

    I just can’t see how it can be done. I mean, it’s a no-win situation. Publishers won’t change unless it affects the sales, and readers won’t refuse to buy books they want to get their paws even if those books feature iffy covers. You know what I mean?

  5. April says:

    I’m really glad you ladies posted about this! I think whitewashing is definitely something we need to be aware of and by blogging about it and being vocal about it, hopefully change will come.

  6. It happens in every genre. Category romance authors I know have been asked to change the description of their characters to match what’s on the cover, and I grew up reading Avon historical where the cover was Fabio every time — no matter what the guy on the inside looked like.

    I am not such a purist to get up in arms every time a model doesn’t PRECISELY match the description inside the book, but I do feel like it should get the POINT across in terms of general appearance. For instance, does it matter that Girl in the Arena doesn’t portray a model with a buzz cut? Whether or not she does it early in the book, you could even argue that’s a bit of a spoiler. I’ll tell you right now, if I saw a cover with a bald girl on it, I’d get a very very different impression of the book from across the room (a book about a girl on chemo? a skinhead?) the first cover of RAMPANT had a girl with short curly hair on it, but that inconsistency –even though it made one scene far more x-rated than it should have been — didn’t touch the fact that it didn’t have a UNICORN. And Amy’s hair? I don’t give a shit, and I’m the author saying that. It doens’t have red streaks on it in Under the Rose’s cover, either. Her hair is actually waist long on the cover of Rites of Spring (Break) which is my favorite of that series’ covers, and the one I think is truly accurately depicting the content of that story. Even her bathing suit is the right color — and guess what? That’s an accident. I’ve also not received ANY complaints about the fact that her tattoo has magically moved a few inches to the left. You know why that is? Because the cover, while not literally accurate, is a very accurate representation of who that character is and what’s she’s like.

    Her clothing on the cover of the first two books bothered me much more, since I thought it was OUR of character and portrayed the kind of “private boarding prep school” image that was so popular at the time.

    But, having said that, a lot of people picked UP the book because they liked the private boarding school kind of story, and they liked MY book because it had a similar feel, even though it had nothing to do with private boarding prep schools. And the hardcover (neither of them) didn’t have a girl on it at all.

    A lot of people complained about the new LIAR cover because they thought the girl’s hair was an inch too long or too neat, or she looked too feminine, or whatever. Talk about splitting hairs!

    I find it interesting that you say at two different points in the post that you think Larbalestier and her husband had “pull” with bloggers (which is total bullshit, as Larbalestier never spoke publicly about the issue until it had been blogged all over), but also that authors have no control over their covers. So which is it?

    And all that pull– what do you think Tally from Uglies looks like? Does she look like the girl on the cover of Uglies? Did I care if she did when I saw that cover across a crowded Barnes & Noble and rushed over to grab it, thus beginning a long love affair with Westerfeld’s books?

    Do I think covers that feature close up shots of the main character should make an attempt to get at least the RACE of the character correct? Sure, particularly if it’s important to the book — as it is for Liar and as it seems to be for MUG. But how far are you going to take it? How about the RUSSIAN cover of Wings, which depicts a dark haired naked lady with a huge tattoo on her back? How about the German cover of The Forest of Hands and Teeth, in which Mary has red hair? How about the Russian cover of Secret Society Girl, in which Amy has grown talons?

    There are no walking cows in sunglasses in Going Bovine! They never walk single file across a street in the Lonely Heart’s Club! Those shoes on the cover of Mandy Hubbard’s debut aren’t even Prada! :roll:

    At some point, you just have to roll with the punches.

  7. katiebabs says:

    GASP! No cows in Going Bovine? Well, I’m upset by this.

    But, I do get your point. Covers may help someone pick up a book, but overall, it’s what inside that counts most of all.

  8. OUR of character = OUT of character. Sorry. :-)

  9. Holly says:

    I tend to fall more in line with Diana Peterfreund. While I agree it’s frustrating when covers are whitewashed (a la LIAR) I also don’t see why they matter so much to the readers/bloggers of the world.

    I remember when I first started reading Avon Romances and I’d get so annoyed that the heroine would have dark hair but the cover model would have blonde, or the hero would be tall, dark and handsome but Fabio would be on the cover. But as time has gone on I’ve come to realize that in the end it just doesn’t matter. The story between the covers is what I’ve come for.

    Are there covers that put me off? Absolutely. But they aren’t ones where the main protagonists look different on the cover than they do in the book. The ones that put me off are the ones I’m afraid to read in front of my children because they’re so racy (and I’m not talking about the typical clinch covers, either).

    I guess at the end of the day I think life is too short to freak out over the cover of a book. Situations like that with LIAR should be addressed, I think, but are we really going to freak out because of hair color or length?

    Naturally there are exceptions, but mostly I think it isn’t that big of a deal.

  10. Danielle says:

    Diane–YES! I tried saying that on the Story Siren’s post and was greeted with some rather hostile comments. Yes, its ridiuclous the publishers cant get the basic descriptions of the characters right, but to get really, honestly upset by it is just silly.

  11. My other problem is that I’m seeing a disturbing trend emerging in the relationship between book bloggers and covers. This is something I’ve seen both on blogs and at conferences.

    So bloggers got up in arms about the LIAR cover. Great. Fabulous. But then they started talking about it like — we got up in arms about the liar cover, go us, rah rah rah, we have the POWER OVER THE PUBLISHERS. (Honestly, I heard a panel speaker crowing about the awesome power bloggers have over publishers when it comes to covers). And then I saw a few bloggers actively abusing that power in the months that followed. Getting up in arms about a cover because it wasn’t how THEY chose to picture the main character’s exact shade of hair or eye color. Um, guys…?

    At the same time, there are many problems being promoted with some of these covers. Whitewashing, yes, absolutely, But what about eating disorders? There’s a book out right now that makes me physically sick to look at the starving girl on the cover, yet all the reactions I’ve seen online go on and on about how beautiful and sexy the cover is. I cannot bring myself to read the book, as it would require touching that cover. In this case, they definitely lost a sale.

  12. Thea says:

    Thanks, everyone for the comments! It’s really interesting to see where everyone falls on the spectrum.

    A few things…

    Diana, Danielle and Holly – “I am not such a purist to get up in arms every time a model doesn’t PRECISELY match the description inside the book, but I do feel like it should get the POINT across in terms of general appearance. For instance, does it matter that Girl in the Arena doesn’t portray a model with a buzz cut?”

    I think this is the point we were trying to get across. In Girl in the Arena, the cover is actually extremely misleading. I think it’s a gorgeous cover, but very little of the book is actually IN the Arena. In fact, the whole book is about the heroine shedding the image and rules that the Gladiator Association has placed on her – when I see her character, it is the strong, defiant girl with the shaved head. Not the pretty girl in the scanty costume in the arena. Granted, this cover DID catch my interest, and is a striking, pretty cover. It just doesn’t convey the actual content of the story, or the character IMO. I’m sure other opinions vary, though.

    I agree that it’s silly to get up in arms about cover details not matching exactly what characters look like, etc – but when it’s something so drastic (and, frankly, insulting) as changing a character’s race (or making an overweight character skinny) in order to make the book more “appealing” or to sell better…that’s an entirely different story. And that’s what Ana and I were trying to convey with this post.

    “I find it interesting that you say at two different points in the post that you think Larbalestier and her husband had “pull” with bloggers (which is total bullshit, as Larbalestier never spoke publicly about the issue until it had been blogged all over), but also that authors have no control over their covers. So which is it?”

    I don’t think we articulated this well enough, and we certainly didn’t mean to insinuate anything negative with our sentence concerning Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld. What we mean is that, because Justine Larbalestier (and her husband) are already established authors, bloggers and readers were paying more attention to the release of Liar. They have an online following that Ms. Dolamore does not. Thus, when the cover of Liar was released, it was met with outrage – because people were looking. They were anticipating the release, and they *knew* that Ms. Larbalestier’s heroine was a black young woman with short, curly hair. Whereas with Magic Under Glass, I don’t think many people were aware that the heroine was a dark-skinned, Far Eastern, “trouser girl.”

    As to the second part of your comment, Ana and I were trying to acknowledge that authors – at least the ones we have interviewed and talked to – seem to have very little say in what their book covers actually look like. We mention this to emphasize, especially in the midst of all the anger and boycott talk, that the cover of Magic Under Glass is NOT the author’s fault.

    Also, I think it’s funny that you bring up Westerfeld’s Uglies. My ten year old sister just recently finished reading the book and complained to me that Tally looks so beautiful on the cover of the book – why would she want to change? This is from my baby sister. I agree that the cover is striking, but again, misleading. Certainly, it’s not as disturbing a discrepancy as with Liar or Magic Under Glass, but it’s worth mentioning.

    Finally, regarding bloggers and power trips – I think it is awesome that bloggers have made an impact in some situations, as with the Liar cover. That is AWESOME, IMO. I haven’t really been part of nor have I seen any of the abuse of power/bitching about lesser character portrayals on covers, but I do tend to agree with you, Danielle and Holly – there are some causes worth fighting for, and some that are plain silly. I don’t really care that someone’s eye color is different or whatever on a cover. But I think I speak for Ana and myself when I say that it IS a big deal when something so fundamental as a character’s race is changed on a cover.

    Finally, Maili – “I don’t think people (generally) give a crap.

    If they did, they would note it in their reviews or comments each time it happened, but they didn’t. There was a spike of ‘I’m reviewing a POC book, see?” after the Liar fuss, but as always, that spike died after a couple of weeks. Same thing happened with RaceFail.

    I just can’t see how it can be done. I mean, it’s a no-win situation. Publishers won’t change unless it affects the sales, and readers won’t refuse to buy books they want to get their paws even if those books feature iffy covers. You know what I mean?”

    I’m going to have to disagree with you here, respectfully. I don’t think that getting publishers to acknowledge that whitewashing their covers is a bad thing is a fruitless or pointless undertaking. We’ve already seen that people can cause positive change with the Liar cover reshoot. Maybe the majority of people don’t give a crap in the long run – but Ana and I do. I’m certain other bloggers and readers do too.

    And as to the last part of your comment, well, all I can say is this is the point of our post. Maybe you’re right, and it all boils down to sales and what sells for a publisher. Maybe the boycotters are right. But Ana and I are trying to propose an alternative method of instigating change – by communicating. Encouraging others that feel the same way to speak up, contact the publisher, and let their feelings be known. At the very least, it’s worth a try. And I’ll take that over settling for the broken status quo.

  13. Ari says:

    Thank you for linking to my most current post. When I wrote my first post I think I was so hot and angry that I wanted a boycott. But I’ve calmed down and in my open letter, I emphasize that I don’t want to boycott the author. As a poc, I personally can’t buy a book from a company that tells me that I’m not worth being on a cover, because I won’t sell books. BUT I will get the book from the library and review it because I do want to support the author for writing about a poc. Thank you for blogging about this and I’m sorry that I missed your original post/review.

  14. Gillian says:

    As far as I’m aware (and bear in mind, I am no expert), the people designing the covers rarely actually read the content of the book before they put the cover together so it’s little wonder covers rarely match the story.

    It’s horrible when the race (or size, if that is important to the story) of a character is ignored as far as the cover model goes, but if anything else is mis-represented I really have to remember it’s called cover art for a reason. The cover model for the Mercy Thompson series is a prime example. The character in the book only has one tattoo and yet the cover art depicts her as being covered with them. It doesn’t stop me from buying the book because it’s the story I’m after and the cover attracted me to the story in the first place.

  15. Thea, it has happened. I don’t want to point to the discussions, or draw any more attention to them than need to be, but suffice to say, there were covers, and then there were little snits about it that were modeled PRECISELY after the genuine concern over LIAR. “Oh, I like THIS cover so there’s no way ‘m going to buy the book with THIS cover. Let’s show the publisher, just like we did with LIAR!” It was so petty, and it brought down a lot of the good that came from the Liar discussion.

    “Also, I think it’s funny that you bring up Westerfeld’s Uglies. My ten year old sister just recently finished reading the book and complained to me that Tally looks so beautiful on the cover of the book – why would she want to change? This is from my baby sister. I agree that the cover is striking, but again, misleading. Certainly, it’s not as disturbing a discrepancy as with Liar or Magic Under Glass, but it’s worth mentioning.

    See, I completely disagree with that assessment! That’s the entire point of the book — Tally is NOT “Ugly.” But she’s been brainwashed by her society to think that anything that hasn’t been utterly fabricated into perfect symmetry, scarily plasticine sheen, artificially enlarged eyes, etc. *is* Ugly. It’s made quite clear that were WE to see one of the “Pretties” of Tally’s society, we’d get freaked out, because they don’t look like real people. The whole point of the book is Tally breaking down the brainwashing that sees age/imperfection as “ugliness.” So in that sense, the cover is neither misleading nor a discrepancy.

    But what race do you think Tally is? Do you think she looks like the girl on the cover? Do you think, once “Pretty” — when they have been remformulated into an “artificial mean” — that she looks like the girl on the cover of Pretties?

  16. Colleen says:

    The Magic Under Glass cover is only one part of the larger issue which among many YA/children’s book reviewers and bloggers is about diversity in children’s publishing. There are not enough books with kids of color published every year – and that imbalance is only exaggerated by the Liar and MUG covers.

    Whether or not to boycott is a personal issue – it is always a personal issue. Arguing about whether or not someone should boycott is unnecessary. Those who want to will, those who don’t won’t. There are plenty of things to do other than boycott as you point out there. Basically, everyone can do something on this issue.

    It does bother me that we continuously say the author holds no blame here. Whether they like it or not, the author owns that cover – he or she allows their name to put on it. If they think it is wrong and indeed are contractually bound to accept it regardless then in a case like this, where a dark skinned character is being masked as a light skinned one, then I think the author is morally bound to speak out against the choice. Justine said she didn’t like it and she wished it was different. Jaclyn should do the same.

    While covers can certainly be silly and stupid and romanticized and everything else (and I agree with you about Simone Howell’s cover – I actually mentioned that ages ago when I reviewed it) putting a light skinned model on the cover of a book about a dark skinned person is a very serious decision, especially when selling that book to teens. This decision says that dark skinned characters are not as desirable to the reader, not as worthy to the buyer and not as valuable to society.

    In essence, we prefer to hurt the feelings of dark skinned teens in order to court the dollars of pale skinned ones.

    This is not only a lie, it is particularly cruel lie. Long hair vs short hair is one thing but white vs black? That is 1960; that is 1860; that is just not who we are and if publishers think it is, then we damn well need to change that perception.

    I have certainly mentioned covers I think are silly or lame but this is not that sort of frivolous discussion and I would hope that everyone realizes that.

  17. [...] Ana at Book Smugglers ponders covers and their misrepresentations in YA literature [Monday afternoon, around 4:00 p.m.]. [...]

  18. I am almost certain that the publisher’s decision to use a white model on its cover has nothing to do with any kind of “ism” and everything to do with marketing. I would hazard a guess that someone in Bloomsbury has done some research and found out that 75% (or whatever) of people who buy its books are white, compared to only 10% (or whatever) who are black…so they put a model on the cover with whom the majority of its readers can identify.

    Yes, it’s stupid to have a white person on the cover of a book about a black character, and yes it seems cynical, but that’s how marketing works – by creating positive associations between product and consumer…and (presumably) Bloomsbury has done research that shows the majority of consumers are white.

    You might say “but a white model might turn off potential black readers”. This is a valid point, but the numbers would bear out the marketing decision – using my 75%/10% numbers above if 5% of people are put off by a model off a different race then with a white model they lose 0.5% of all potential readers (10% x 5%), whereas with a black model they lose 3.75% of all potential readers (75% x 10%).

    Arbitrary numbers and a lot of assumptions, but it makes my point that publishing – like any business – is all about the numbers.

    You might also say that you yourself wouldn’t be affected or turned off by a model of different ethnicity, but perhaps you don’t represent the norm. Perhaps a lot of people are – I don’t know.

    Anyway, those are just some of my thoughts on the whole issue.

    As a slightly related aside, when I was in a Borders shop in London recently I spotted a section called “Black Literature”. So patronising – as though they aren’t good enough to sell unless they’re made to stand out separately! I can’t think of a more effective way of making black authors seem different to other authors than by giving them their own section. A good book is a good book – just put them in with the rest of the authors!

  19. Simon, I’m having a tough time wrapping my brain around how a “marketing decision” like you describe can possibly be viewed as anything other than racist. You’re saying yourself that a “positive association” between product and viewer involves that hypothetically majority viewer seeing only its own skin color on the cover of a book. So it follows that you are saying that seeing an accurate cover with a minority on it would produce a negative association?

    Yes, it’s a marketing decision. But it’s one that has to do with race.

  20. Helen M. says:

    This is such a good and important issue and I am so glad that you suggest contacting the publisher rather than boycotting since that hurts the author and the industry. Sanctions hurt the people, not the government (if we are to go to a wider arena). Thanks for the post!

  21. [...] GAL Novelty Things Mean A Lot Black-Eyed Susan’s Abby (the) Librarian Good Books & Wine The Book Smugglers [...]

  22. KMont says:

    I was going to respond with some points, some responses to others here, several things, but the fact is I’m not in a minority so I just do not know how it feels to have ones race passed over time and again on a book cover. I can sympathize and stand up for a minority – and I do – but there’s nothing like that shoe being on my foot.

    So I’ll just say that this post makes excellent points. Communicating as you are suggesting is a hell of a lot better than boycotting.

    I will say that as a reviewer, I stopped commenting a long time ago on book covers not accurately representing the characters within, just kind of grew apathetic to it all because it’s an across-the-board problem as yall have suggested (unless there was one that really stood out for some reason to me). I would hate to assume it’s a case of racism every time I read a book that doesn’t depict the correct ethnicity on a cover, but perhaps it’s worth it, worth commenting more on the covers in general too, during a review. I don’t, however, care to place blame on reviewers that don’t point these kinds of things out. Why assume that the reviewer is being deliberately negligent? I forget to include points in my reviews all the time.

  23. katiebabs says:

    I find it funny that authors will speak up once the blogging community takes note and causes waves. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t that happen with Liar? Justine saw the white washed cover first and never went back to the marketing department or her editor and give her opinion? If I was an author who wrote a book with my main characters who aren’t Caucasian and the cover had a white looking model on it, I would be angry as hell, and I’m considered Caucasian.

    But, then again the publisher is cutting me a paycheck, so as an author you may not want to cause waves because if you speak out, it may do damage to your career.

    I think authors need to speak out as much as the public. I don’t understand why the art or marketing department wouldn’t want the author involved in the process since it is the author’s vision and idea. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

    And honestly, I would stop first by seeing a very diverse cover over a very white cover, but that’s just me.

    I think it’s bullshit that white looking covers sell more books. That’s like saying if there is a hunky 8 packs abs male model on a romance, women will buy it then and there just because of the cover. Yes, you may stop and look but readers are smart and do get upset when they are played for a fool.

  24. katiebabs:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t that happen with Liar? Justine saw the white washed cover first and never went back to the marketing department or her editor and give her opinion?

    Just to correct this point, Justine did in fact voice her objections to the publisher & marketing department. She says this is her blog post where she first spoke about the issue in public:

    http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2009/07/23/aint-that-a-shame/

    As you can see, even though she objected strongly to the whitewashing, her objections were overruled – at least to start with.

    Kaz

  25. I meant to say:

    “…she said this IN her blog post…”

    *sigh* That’s what I get for posting when drugged up on cough medicine. ;)

  26. Adrienne says:

    the cover looks like a rip off of the Gemma Doyle series…if I was the author I would be peeved…for a second I thought you finally reviewed the 2nd book in that series… :lol:

    I agree 100%, it’s 2010, show us some color on the pages and stop with they shenanigans already…

    and people give a crap or this wouldn’t have so many comments today.

  27. I am very bothered by this assumption that if it didn’t happen on the internet, then it didn’t happen. It might surprise some readers to hear this, but my response (initial or otherwise) to something that is bothering me with my work associates is not to come on the internet to complain about it. It’s to bring the matter up with my work associates and try to get it resolved. Why is that such a difficult thing to fathom? And why would it be considered “funny” for an author, after being attacked on the internet due to this grievous mis-assumption, would try to clarify the issue using the very same media?

    And yet over and over again that is the case.

    Pursuant to that, the other thing that one should remember, is that not only do things exist, even if they aren’t on the internet, things might exist on the internet that you aren’t aware of. For instance, a few comments up. Colleen said the author should have spoke out about her cover. Are you aware that she did back in December?

    http://xicanti.livejournal.com/173376.html

    That she said that she wished the cover, while beautiful, had a dark-skinned girl on it? That she hoped to see something like that on the paperback?

    Lots of jumping to contrary-to-fact conclusions here about what the authors in question are actually feeling on these issues.

  28. Hi Diana

    You said that you’re “having a tough time wrapping my brain around how a “marketing decision” like you describe can possibly be viewed as anything other than racist”.

    Racism is about treating someone differently because of the colour of his or her skin. So yes, I suppose publishers who do what I describe (NB this is just my assumption) do treat black people differently…but only if their research showed that this particular demographic behaved differently to others.

    This kind of thing isn’t about ethnicity, it’s about market segments – a market segment could be “black people”, but it could equally be “people over 65″ or “people who live in cities” or “people who are on Facebook” – it’s just a way of separating people into different categories in order to target products at them more effectively and sell more of whatever product you’re selling.

    Do you see what I mean?

    If you’re selling a soft drink somewhere where there are a lot of black people, you’d probably put up a poster with a black person drinking that drink. But that doesn’t mean to say that the company is prejudiced against white people – it’s just trying to hit its market segment.

    You say “You’re saying yourself that a “positive association” between product and viewer involves that hypothetically majority viewer seeing only its own skin color on the cover of a book. So it follows that you are saying that seeing an accurate cover with a minority on it would produce a negative association?”

    Perhaps it could, I don’t know. It doesn’t necessarily follow – people could be ambivalent. Also, I’m only guessing that people might identify more positively with an image of someone of their own ethnicity – I haven’t got any data about it. It’s just a hypothesis.

    You say “Yes, it’s a marketing decision. But it’s one that has to do with race.”

    And in this case, it does. But in another case, having a lurid yellow cover with a picture of a microphone could be doing exactly the same thing, only it might be intended to lure the under-18s and exclude the over 18s (I don’t know, it’s just a quick example).

    So this cover thing is about race…but in a way it’s not *really* about race.

    I’m not sure I’ve explained myself very well. Do you see what I mean?

  29. Bree says:

    Simon,

    I see what you’re saying, but I do think there’s a little bit of chicken/egg going on there. If they have market research to show that people buy covers that relate to their skin-color, and market research to show that the majority of their customers are white…are their customers white because they publish covers with white people, or are they putting white people on the cover to target their customers?

    While I agree that it’s smart for a business to market themselves to their customers, I do think it is very important to address the question of which customers they might have been inherently excluding from the start. The truth is, they can NOT have the data to tell them what would happen if a large percentage their covers had minorities on them. They can’t have that data, because the books have never existed.

    Essentially, you seem to be saying: “They don’t offer the product you want because you don’t buy their products.” That seems to me to be a clearly self-fulfilling prophecy, and a bit of a cheap cop-out.

  30. [...] at The Book Smugglers there is a lively and interesting article and discussion about how Bloomsbury has created a cover [...]

  31. Bree

    You’re right, of course, and it’s a difficult situation.

    But if Bloomsbury knows what it’s doing – and it’s enormous, so I imagine it does – then it is responding to market forces rather than trying to create them: white people buying books comes first.

    I don’t know if that’s chicken or egg. :D

    As for excluding part of their market, I don’t know how the publishing industry works, but at its simplest (ignoring reprints etc) a book has only one cover and you can only design it one way…and if 75% of your readers like guinea pigs then you’re going to put a guinea pig on the front regardless of whether you want the other 25% to buy it.

    You say “Essentially, you seem to be saying: “They don’t offer the product you want because you don’t buy their products.” That seems to me to be a clearly self-fulfilling prophecy, and a bit of a cheap cop-out.”

    It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – it’s more than feasible that some people just will not buy a product, no matter what. I guarantee you, for example, that McDonalds doesn’t even bother trying to market itself to vegans.

    That said, this could all just be down to a racist cover designer.

  32. By “white people buying books comes first” I mean “they found out that white people buy the majority of this kind of book before marketing to them”. I don’t think I was clear enough there.

  33. katiebabs says:

    I would like to know it there are any proven statistics on this from the pubs where because of a white looking cover, a book was bought because of it. Or the majority of readers are mainly white.

  34. Simon, I understand what you are saying. I am saying that it is a racist marketing decision. It can in fact be both. Saying you think fewer people will buy a book with a yellow cover on it is a marketing decision. Saying that you think fewer people will buy a book if you in accurately depict its contents as not including a person of color by putting a white girl on the cover is a marketing decision that takes racism into account.

    Now, saying you think the best cover for a particular book is something that doesn’t have a person on it at all could in fact be taking racism into account, but it also might not. And there are plenty of books with no people on it — my first book had no people on it, and the main character was white.

  35. Diana

    I think one problem is that “racist” is such a culturally loaded term that it looms over any discussion and can prevent the principles themselves from being discussed.

    My point is that this is probably, at its heart, solely about market segmentation – it’s just made more sensitive by the fact that the segmentation has (or rather “may have”) been done on ethnic/racial grounds.

    Obviously I can see some arguments as to why this might seem wrong, but if you find out that if a certain type of person buys 90% of your product, why not aim your product at them? Aiming a product at a certain kind of person is by its nature discriminatory, so surely all products that are targeted at one particular demographic are “something-ist”.

    As an example, Coke Zero is targeted at men, whereas Diet Coke is targeted at women. Sexist? Yes, if you notice things like that. But it’s really not about sexism, it’s about the fact that men weren’t buying Diet Coke (men generally don’t respond to the word “diet”) so Coca Cola brought out a product that they *would* buy in order to tap in to the 50% of the market that they were missing.

    But I don’t remember anyone complaining that the Coke Zero TV ads (in the UK), which exclusively involved men drinking Coke Zero, were sexist. Awful, maybe, but not sexist.

  36. I’m not racist, by the way.

    Even though that is the defence of the racist.

    But I’m really not.

    I’m just putting the argument across from a marketing point of view.

    Please don’t hate me.

  37. Oh thank god, finally a post that address my issues with covers. I absolutely can’t stand when a cover doesn’t match the characters AT ALL. Especially in regards to ethnicity. Why do publishers allow this to happen? I’ve come across many book covers that do not match the character descriptions at all, it’s quite sad that that the author doesn’t have more control over this matter. I find it simply outrageous if the cover is white washed! Kind of insulting really.

    Great Post!

  38. I don’t know how else to explain the difference to you, Simon.

    When you target diet coke to women soda drinkers by making an ad showing a woman drinking diet coke, you are not telling the women OR the men who see the ad that what is in the bottle is lemon water. You are still telling them it’s diet coke.

    When you target a book about a POC to a majority white readership by making a cover showing a white person on the cover, you are telling the white and non-white readership who sees that cover that the book is about a white person. You are saying that what’s in the can is lemon water.

    And when we are talking about races of people and not flavors of beverage, that makes it ABOUT RACE. And since this marketing decision is based on discriminating against one race in favor of another, then it’s racist.

    Of course it’s about money. Of course it’s about appealing to the widest possible audience. Doesn’t mean it’s also not a racist decision.

  39. [...] Book Smugglers have an extremely interesting article on the importance of covers for all novels.  They are not just talking about urban fantasies [...]

  40. Maili says:

    Simon, using coke/diet coke as a comparative analogy is not a good idea. Let’s use your way to illustrate the problem of the Magic Under Glass cover:

    Marketers decide Coke need more sales and the bigger slice of the consumer market is female, so they put a Diet Coke label on a bottle of Coke and market it as Diet Coke to the female market.

    Would you still say that that’s acceptable?

    If not, then you’ve finally grasped why the Magic Under Glass cover (and the like) is not ethically acceptable.

  41. Anonymous says:

    …has anybody noticed that the girl on covers of Kyra Davis’s Sophie Katz series is kind of getting whiter and whiter? I absolutely adore the books, but what is it with the covers? check

  42. Effectively, Coca-Cola marketed Diet Coke to men by putting a Coke Zero label on a bottle of Diet Coke, yes. Same product (virtually), just under a different label.

    But we’re in danger of getting bogged down in a cul-de-sac here. I don’t disagree that putting a white person on the cover of a book about a black person is insensitive, distasteful and unethical; I was just interested in the motives behind it – which I think are more cynical than sinister.

  43. Thea says:

    Damn full day of work! I come home, and there are a ton of really interesting comments. Again, Ana and I want to say thank you to everyone for participating in this conversation.

    Diana – You know, I never really thought about the cover of Uglies like that before. And I gotta admit, your explanation/viewpoint makes a lot of sense. But by the same token, do you think that might be reading too much into the cover of Uglies? Especially since Tally doesn’t have a change of heart until the later books? I’m not sure how well informed the artist was as to the content of the rest of the series when working on the cover of the first book. But, then again, I don’t really know, and I don’t want to make any uninformed judgements!

    I actually don’t see Tally (or Zane, on Pretties) the way she’s portrayed on the cover at all – I thought racially, they were all supposed to have olive/darker complexions, etc. But I could be wrong – I don’t have my copy with me, thanks to my younger sister! :mrgreen:

    Regardless, I see what you’re saying, and it definitely gives me a better insight/understanding of how the cover may have been intended. I certainly can appreciate your interpretation of it!

    Colleen – “It does bother me that we continuously say the author holds no blame here. Whether they like it or not, the author owns that cover – he or she allows their name to put on it. If they think it is wrong and indeed are contractually bound to accept it regardless then in a case like this, where a dark skinned character is being masked as a light skinned one, then I think the author is morally bound to speak out against the choice. Justine said she didn’t like it and she wished it was different. Jaclyn should do the same.”

    As some other commenters have pointed out above, Ms. Dolamore has spoken about her cover. And in the materials she has control over (such as the book trailer and her original, truly awesome illustrations on her website), Ms. Dolamore has shown Nimira as the dark-skinned girl she wrote her as. I don’t think it’s fair to assume that because a certain cover has made it to publication, the author must not have spoken up about it. How do we know what passed between her and Bloomsbury? As for her blogging about the cover, I’m certain we’ll be hearing from her in the next few days (according to the author’s blog, she’s just coming back from traveling/promoting her book, only to discover the huge hubbub she is at the middle of!).

    But as for the rest of your comment, I couldn’t agree more. There’s a world of difference between petty cover inconsistencies/inaccuracies and changing a character’s race.

    “This decision says that dark skinned characters are not as desirable to the reader, not as worthy to the buyer and not as valuable to society.”

    My (and Ana’s) feelings exactly. Well said!

    Kmont – “I don’t, however, care to place blame on reviewers that don’t point these kinds of things out. Why assume that the reviewer is being deliberately negligent? I forget to include points in my reviews all the time.”

    This is a whole other can o’ worms, but I see what you’re saying. Heck, I forget to write things – or choose not to include trivial details – in my reviews all the time. But I’m a little unsettled about the whole issue here with Magic Under Glass. It’s one thing to forget or gloss over some non-essential sideplot in a review, but it seems a little implausible and offputting that something like the protagonist’s race and its misrepresentation on the cover of a book is not mentioned at all – especially when the character in question is a person of color. I don’t think there should be as much nastiness as there is going on right now on other blogs and I do see your point. But I don’t think I can agree, at least not in this particular scenario.

    KB – I think Karen and Diana have cleared up some of that confusion, and while I do think it’s to the author’s advantage to use the internet (and other media outlets) to speak out against what has happened with their covers, I don’t think it’s fair to assume that because we haven’t seen anything about it online or in magazines or whatever, the author hasn’t done anything about it. But more on that in a bit.

    As to what sells and what appeals to you, I gotta agree. I *love* covers that look different, with different characters of different ethnicities on them. For example, Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori books are among some of my favorite covers – I love the Japanese print art-style characters. Or how about Octavia E. Butler’s gorgeous covers (I adore my old copy of Parable of the Sower).

    Adrienne – D’oh! I promise, I *will* get around to finishing the Gemma Doyle books! But now that you mention it, this cover does bare a striking similarity to that series.

    Diana pt 2 – “I am very bothered by this assumption that if it didn’t happen on the internet, then it didn’t happen.”

    I think that, as internet addicts and bloggers, we (I’m using the collective “we” for bloggers all over) tend to lose sight of this. We get caught up in our cozy little niche/microcosm online, and assuming that if we don’t see it, it’s not happening…well, it’s an easy trap to fall into.

    Again, to everyone reading, Ana and I want to make it very clear that we support Jacyln Dolamore. That was one of the major motivating factors that got us writing this post. It’s pretty rare that we dip our toes in online brouhahas, but we wrote this post because we don’t think it’s fair that some folks are blaming and boycotting an author that doesn’t deserve such treatment. We also wrote the post because we are against the whitewashing of covers, and we want our position to be known, stated clearly here for all to see. Finally, we wrote the post to encourage readers to speak up and share their own opinions – if you’re enraged at Bloomsbury’s racist marketing strategy as we are, speak up. Communicate. Make yourself heard! Phew.

    And finally, to Simon – First, although I don’t agree with your opinion, I do want to say thank you for coming over and sharing it (and for posting over at your blog as well).

    After reading through your comments, I can see what you are trying to say. I think the disconnect for me is that what you are calling marketing segmentation or realism/cynicism is, actually, racist. I’m not saying that you are racist, nor am I saying that Magic Under Glass and Liar had racist cover artists. What I mean is – the practice of marketing to white consumers by removing a person of color from the book cover and replacing s/he with a white character that will presumably sell better is a racist practice. That is a deliberate decision on the part of the publisher, and it is, inherently and undeniably, a racist one.

  44. Simon: I don’t think racism has to be “sinister” in motives. Cynicism, negligence, indifference. That can all have racist outcomes. Go read MLK’s letter from a Birmingham Jail about “white moderates” to get another perspective on this.

    http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

    Yes, the word “racism” has these horrible connotations, but to pretend it’s not happening just because it doesn’t come along with the “evil” that is associated with the word “racism” isn’t helping anything.

    ____________

    Thea, thank you for all your responses. A lot to chew over. As for Tally, no I don’t think I’m reading too much into it. She has a change of heart in UGLIES — she learns the truth of the pretty operation, she bands with the Smoke, she tries to bring down Dr. Cable. And, notwithstanding any of those things, it’s established quite clearly that Tally is NOT “ugly” by today’s standards. Shay, before she runs away, states this many times. David says so too. The text of UGLIES is quite explicit about this, showing her over and over again insisting that yes, she IS ugly, that it’s a SCIENTIFIC FACT that everyone who hasn’t had the operation is ugly, blah blah blah. She’s brainwashed, and it takes a rebel like Shay and an outsider like David to reveal that to her. Also, the pretty operation is about far more than looks. It’s about privileges. Until she has it, she can’t join the rest of her society.

  45. KMont says:

    Thea, I definitely see what you’re saying as well, I suppose I just tend to want to think better about people in general and as I personally have an atrocious memory I DO see how even an important detail like this cover issue might be “glossed over”. Actually, that’s not a term I’m comfortable with because it implies negligence and I hate assuming, but again I do see what you mean. I think the most important part of that is you’ve helped by bringing it up and hopefully this will enable more reviewers to be aware of sensitive issues worth mentioning. I do thank you for that.

  46. Gerd D. says:

    You know, I barely tend to care if the cover design is in sync with the story on a detail level long as it doesn’t obviously go against it.

    “Magic under Glass” is a beautiful executed cover that piques my interest, and long as it doesn’t turn out to be a modern teen-drama or worse (in a getting the genre wrong sense) Sci-Fi I’m contend with that.

    I do find it questionable what some point out going on in advertising, where pictures featuring black models or actors might get “lightened” up to make them look more acceptable to a general audience.

    Now that’s a issue to be in arms over, but book covers featuring white, or white looking models when the lead is actually coloured, that’s sure something that should be noted, and publishers should be reminded of the fact that we (hopefully) don’t care for a characters ethnicity as much as for the quality of the story, but going up in arms over it?
    Don’t think so, unless you would insist on using a white model (or better yet a white male model) on a book like Waris Dirie’s “Wüstenblume”

    And debating hair styles, or colours, or clothing, is taking things to far … kudos, no less, to anyone that can tell prada’s from shoes. :D

  47. Gerd D. says:

    Double comment, sorry, but I’ve been just yet reading through the other comments.

    A bit off-topic:
    I don’t really know “Uglies” but tend to agree with Diana, from first reading about this book it always struck to be a comment on the disconcerting direction society has taken when it comes to beauty OP’s.
    You see a lot of perfectly beautiful women do it and can’t help but wonder why would they feel the need to?
    And I take it that this is the point to both the book and the cover, that people seem to feel pressured to adapt to a ideal, completly forgetting that beauty is a inner value.

    And yes, I do partly agree that it gives a off a disturbing message when a publisher uses a not in the slightest weight troubled model on a book that is about the problems of a overweight girl.

  48. [...] responses on the matter: Doret Eva Susan’s responses Ari Amy Renay Jodie The Book Smugglers Colleen Anastasia who posts provides the book trailer  Tasha Salon.com ▶ No Responses [...]

  49. [...] About Books and the Book Smugglers have both weighed in their thoughts on various publishers being idiots and white-washing their [...]

  50. Veronica F. says:

    wow Diana, I didnt know some authors had actually even been asked to change their characters descriptions! that’s seriously messed up; and so is this trend on the book covers with bloomsbury and others.
    Booksmugglers- u can bet I’ll be writing a complaint to the publisher this week, as well as posting about it on my blog. thanks for informing unsuspecting readers like me of these sorts of things :idea:

  51. Akin says:

    I don’t mean to offend anyone, and I certainly don’t want to start anything. But I just gotta say, only white people like Diane Peterfreud and co will actually look at whitewashing (in terms of putting a white model on the cover of a book featuring a black protag) and say, “Yeah, it happens. Big deal, get over it. I used to read Avon romance, blah, blah, yada, yada.”

    If a book has a black protag in it and the cover shows a white person representing said black protag, what the publisher is actually saying is, having a white person on the cover is a lot better than having a black person on the cover, because having a black person would be just wrong.

    That’s the message they’re sending. Period. And to a lot of black people, that hurts.

    You can spin it all you want, but it’s the truth.

    But of course, I don’t expect you to understand. I mean, what’s racism to you anyway? It’s not like you experience it or understand it, other than what you read in a book. To you, all of this is just something that will spike and recede after a while.

    To the smugglers, thanks for actually taking time to address this issue.

  52. Shannon says:

    Thank you for this post! A friend and I constantly have this discussion while roving about the Barn (B&N).

    I’ll be sharing this post with all my friends, and we’ll be sending out the complaints.

  53. [...] could. Be sure and check out the posts from Eva, Bookshelves of Doom, Vasilly, Doret, Susan, Amy, The Book Smugglers, Rebecca, and Salon.com. Bloomsbury has since released a very brief statement that they will be [...]

  54. Thanks for this post and for focusing on letting concerns be voiced directly to (and about) the publisher and their marketing team AND not a boycott of the book. In fact, my heart sunk a little when I read that Bloomsbury’s actually messing with the publication schedule of the book at this point. I mean, I agree that it’s an egregious mistake, but it really seems like the author is the one who’s getting jerked around.

  55. Maria says:

    first off, pardon any mistakes in spelling or grammar, as english isn’t my mother tongue.

    as someone who works in the design end of the industry, i can tell you it probably has nothing to do with marketing decisions or white washing or anything similar. these days, the image for the book cover mostly chosen from a catalogue of stock photos, or in rare cases specially comissioned for the project. i mean, even dan brown got stock imagery. the person who choses/puts together this cover will nearly almost certainly not have read the book beforehand, and is just working on a brief description. these people work on a very tight budget, both in the way of time and of money. originality takes time, mistakes happen. if that short bit of text doesn’t include the colour of the protagonists skin/hair etc, chances are they won’t be correct.

    that said, the british seem to generally have covers that are both beautiful and correct, while the us versions…

  56. [...] Novelty Things Mean A Lot Black-Eyed Susan’s Abby (the) Librarian Good Books & Wine The Book Smugglers Posted by Jen Filed in Book Blogging, Sunday Salon, Things to Consider 8 Comments [...]

  57. amy amster says:

    Lee and Low Books is an independent children’s book publisher specializing in diversity. They take pride in nurturing many minority authors and illustrators who are new to the world of children’s book publishing.

    For more about their history and their books, visit:
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  58. [...] GAL Novelty Things Mean A Lot Black-Eyed Susan’s Abby (the) Librarian Good Books & Wine The Book Smugglers [...]

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