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View Full Version : Publisher Bloomsbury agrees to reprint book cover for a SECOND whitewashed cover



Kitty Pryde
01-22-2010, 03:52 AM
More whitewashed cover nonsense!

If anyone was following the saga of Jaclyn Dolamore's debut novel "Magic Under Glass", Bloomsbury has agreed to do a new cover. They originally portrayed the brown-skinned protagonist as white on the cover (just like they did with Liar by Justine Larbalestier). I think it's great that pressure from readers made them change their minds. Though it's kinda dumb that this is the second time in the past year it's come up for them.

http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6716006.html

What say you? Will publishers stop making the dumb assumption that only brown people buy books with brown people on the cover?

gothicangel
01-22-2010, 09:18 AM
I don't get what you mean by 'brown-skinned.' Do you mean Mediterrean white [like myself] or Indian colourings?

I agree with the publishers. If they are going to publish a book, the least the illustrators can do is read the design brief! A similar thing happened in the UK with Martina Cole, they illustrated a blonde protaganist, when she was actually brunette.

Quite insulting to the consumer actually.

Claudia Gray
01-22-2010, 09:23 AM
You'd think they would've gotten the memo with LIAR.

Matera the Mad
01-22-2010, 10:00 AM
I signed the petition (http://www.petitiononline.com/bc4all/)

Momento Mori
01-22-2010, 06:09 PM
Bloomsbury’s full statement:
“Bloomsbury is ceasing to supply copies of the US edition of Magic Under Glass. The jacket design has caused offense and we apologize for our mistake. Copies of the book with a new jacket design will be available shortly.”

The cynic in me makes me wonder what Bloomsbury thinks their mistake was - putting a white girl on the cover or thinking that people wouldn't notice that they'd put a white girl on the cover.

Honestly, I don't know what's so difficult for Bloomsbury and other publishers to understand is.

MM

kaitie
01-22-2010, 06:14 PM
This was just completely ridiculous. I'm just glad that enough people were standing up and saying, "You can't do this" to make them change it.

Calla Lily
01-22-2010, 06:22 PM
This was just completely ridiculous. I'm just glad that enough people were standing up and saying, "You can't do this" to make them change it.

This.

Treyfan
01-22-2010, 07:28 PM
The cynic in me makes me wonder what Bloomsbury thinks their mistake was - putting a white girl on the cover or thinking that people wouldn't notice that they'd put a white girl on the cover.

Honestly, I don't know what's so difficult for Bloomsbury and other publishers to understand is.

MM

Haha!

Man, reading this thread has really opened my eyes to the publishing world. I can't believe publishers DO this! I only hope (if I become a published writer) that they won't do that to MY books! Ack!

Kitty Pryde
01-22-2010, 08:24 PM
I don't get what you mean by 'brown-skinned.' Do you mean Mediterrean white [like myself] or Indian colourings?

I agree with the publishers. If they are going to publish a book, the least the illustrators can do is read the design brief! A similar thing happened in the UK with Martina Cole, they illustrated a blonde protaganist, when she was actually brunette.

Quite insulting to the consumer actually.

Umm, I mean people with brown skin. As in, the character describes herself (http://charlotteslibrary.blogspot.com/2010/01/cover-of-magic-under-glass.html) as having brown skin.

The blonde/brunette thing is really not the issue. To quote (http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2010/01/19/race-representation/) Justine Larbalestier,


Itís not about blonde when the character is brunette, itís not about the wrong length hair, or the wrong colour dress, itís not even about thin for fat. Yes, that is another damaging representation, but that is another conversation, which only serves to derail this conversation.
The one about race and representation.


Sticking a white girl on the cover of a book about a brown girl is not merely inaccurate, it is part of a long history of marginalisaton and misrepresentation. Publishers donít randomly pick white models. It happens within a context of racism.


The rest of her blog post (http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2010/01/19/race-representation/) is excellent.

suki
01-22-2010, 08:38 PM
Kitty - great posts, especially linking to Justine's fantastic post on the issue.

And there has been a lot of talk about what to do to show our concerns. Some call for boycotts of Bloomsbury etc. But the problem is that when people attempt to boycott books - 1. the boycotts are usually not effective in the book world, and 2. The author is the one who will usually be hurt the most, and sometimes even blamed for the poor sales, when the author generally has no control over issues like these. So, what can we do?

Well, buy more books that do embrace diverse characters and representations.

Part of the problem is that the large chain stores still have a lot of say in covers, and they often push for covers that do not show people of color, believing that such covers will not sell. And the large chains have the ability to exert that pressure because they will agree to buy fewer books if they don't like the cover. Or they will place the book in a different location or not prominantly display it if they choose.

So...if we want to change the perception that books with people of color prominant in the characterizations and covers will not sell, then we need to support those books and kill the perception.

So, if you are outraged by the whitewashing, something you can do that might actually help change things, is to put your dollars where your outrage is. Next time you are at the bookstore, pick up a book that has a person of color on the cover. Seek out diverse books, and if you don't see a book you know is out, ask for it.

Even better, shop at stores that embrace diverse books, and if possible, that are independent of the large chains. Large books stores and publishers want to sell books - so if we, the consumer, are demanding diverse books with diverse covers, and we do so by buying diverse books with diverse covers, then the chains and the publishers will meet those demands.

~suki

aruna
01-22-2010, 08:50 PM
So...if we want to change the perception that books with people of color prominant in the characterizations and covers will not sell, then we need to support those books and kill the perception.

So, if you are outraged by the whitewashing, something you can do that might actually help change things, is to put your dollars where your outrage is. Next time you are at the bookstore, pick up a book that has a person of color on the cover. Seek out diverse books, and if you don't see a book you know is out, ask for it.
diverse books with diverse covers, then the chains and the publishers will meet those demands.

~suki
I will love you if you do this!
This has been my exact problem in the last 5 or so years. Publishers truly believe that mainstream white readers do not want to read books about brown-skinned people, which is what I write.

A few years ago Bloomsbury used to accept unsolicited, unagented full manuscripts. I sent one in. I got a really nice letter from an editor saying how much she loved it; she even discussed a few points so that I knew it was not just words, she had indeed read it. But, she said, they didn't know where to place it, and I am pretty sure THAT was the problem: they thought white readers would not want to read it.
The editor went on to be most helpful. I emailed her thanking her and telling her of my difficulty finding an agent. She told me to send the ms back and she would pass it on to an agent she thought might like it. Which she did... but he rejected it.

Oh well.

gothicangel
01-22-2010, 08:53 PM
Unbelievable that publishers still behave this way, especially when some of the most critically acclaimed novels would fall under this banner (i.e God of Small Things; A Thousand Splendid Suns.)

aruna
01-22-2010, 09:09 PM
Unbelievable that publishers still behave this way, especially when some of the most critically acclaimed novels would fall under this banner (i.e God of Small Things; A Thousand Splendid Suns.)

India doesn't fall under that embargo; India and Indians are counted as very trendy. And Afghanistan/Islam has been big news in the last couple of years. It's specifically characters of African origin which are considered non-commercial. The only exception I'm aware of to this taboo are the Ladies' Detective Agency books. Maybe because they're written by a white man???? :Shrug:

Literary novels have a better chance. The Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/search-handle-url?_encoding=UTF8&search-type=ss&index=books-uk&field-author=Chimamanda%20Ngozi%20Adichie) (Half of a Yellow Sun, Purple Orchids) got good reviews, and deservedly so -- the former book is fantastic; I haven't read the other one).
And then there's my Trinidadian friend, Monique (http://www.moniqueroffey.co.uk/). Then again, her Trinidad novel has white main characters....
Or maybe I'm just paranoid!

Cyia
01-22-2010, 09:15 PM
This is one reason that authors should have more say in their covers, IMO. If they try to stick a cover model on the book who doesn't match the interior description of the character, then the author should be able to say "no" with some authority.

aruna
01-22-2010, 09:15 PM
The blonde/brunette thing is really not the issue. To quote (http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2010/01/19/race-representation/) Justine Larbalestier,



The rest of her blog post (http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2010/01/19/race-representation/) is excellent.


Wow, I just read her blog. This bit:


Iím sure you canít imagine what itís like to wander through the teen section of a bookstore and only see one or two books with people of color on them. Do you know how much that hurts? Are we so worthless that the few books that do feature people of color donít have covers with people of color? Itís upsetting, it makes me angry and it makes me sad. Can you imagine growing up as a little girl and wanting to be white because not only do you not see people who look like you on TV, you donít see them in your favorite books either. You get discouraged and you want to be beautiful and be like the characters in the books you read and you start to believe that you canít be that certain character because you donít look like them. I love the books I grew up with, but none of them featured people of color. I found those later, when I was older and I started looking for them. Do you know how sad I feel when my middle school age sister tells me she would rather read a book about a white teen than a person of color because ďwe arenít as pretty or interesting.Ē She doesnít know the few books that do exist out there about people of color because publishing houses like yourself, donít put people of color on the covers.

... is exactly how I felt as a child EXACTLY!!!!! It's why I decided to write my own books.

Kitty Pryde
01-22-2010, 09:17 PM
India doesn't fall under that embargo; India and Indians are counted as very trendy. And Afghanistan/Islam has been big news in the last couple of years. It's specifically characters of African origin which are considered non-commercial. The only exception I'm aware of to this taboo are the Ladies' Detective Agency books. Maybe because they're written by a white man???? :Shrug:


Indians are trendy?

*feels better about her WIP*

Cyia
01-22-2010, 09:20 PM
Now I remember this book!

Back when it first got its cover art, the writer's agent (at least I think it was her agent) was tweeting all over the place about how gorgeous the cover was. Her only complaint was that it looked like the cover model was wearing period underwear.

There was no mention of the model's race, and at the time I didn't know the book was about a character who wasn't white.

aruna
01-22-2010, 09:22 PM
Indians are trendy?

*feels better about her WIP*

Very much so! Especially in the UK. I don't know about the US.

suki
01-22-2010, 09:31 PM
And there are some prominent African American authors and illustrators, and some books being published with diverse characters - even some fantastic books - but I too have heard of authors receiving glowing rejections for books with African American characters in which an editor says they love the book, but their publisher doesn't think there is a market for it.

So, if we are outraged, then we should make sure there is a market. Publishing is a business, and publishers prove time and time again that they will publish what they think will sell.

There are great list all over online of books with diverse characters and from diverse authors. Pick a couple that look good and buy them. If you don't see them on the shelves, ask for them at your local store. Order them from independent stores.

If we each only bought one or two a year, that is one or two more that would get sold, and over time and people, that adds up to market demand. So...I buy a lot of books. And I take them out from my library. So, at both bookstores and libraries, I plan on making an effort to pick up, in addition to other books I'm interested in, some titles I might know less about or have to specially request, that will do my part to chip away at the perception that the market won't support books by and about diverse people.

If there is more of a market, then it will be harder to ignore and harder to say there isn't a market, and then more of the books will be published.

~suki

Treyfan
01-22-2010, 09:34 PM
This is a great thread.

Some very interesting points.

Kitty Pryde
01-22-2010, 09:44 PM
So, if we are outraged, then we should make sure there is a market. Publishing is a business, and publishers prove time and time again that they will publish what they think will sell.

There are great list all over online of books with diverse characters and from diverse authors. Pick a couple that look good and buy them. If you don't see them on the shelves, ask for them at your local store. Order them from independent stores.

If we each only bought one or two a year, that is one or two more that would get sold, and over time and people, that adds up to market demand. So...I buy a lot of books. And I take them out from my library. So, at both bookstores and libraries, I plan on making an effort to pick up, in addition to other books I'm interested in, some titles I might know less about or have to specially request, that will do my part to chip away at the perception that the market won't support books by and about diverse people.


A great point. I try to do this. It can be hard if the cover is whitewashed or generic (how do I know what kind of characters it's about???)

PS Some lists of books about/by people of color

SF/F: http://www.carlbrandon.org/bhmlist2009.html
SF/F: http://www.carlbrandon.org/bhmlist2009.html
contemporary: http://welcomewhitefolks.blogspot.com/
kidlit: http://thehappynappybookseller.blogspot.com/
YA: http://blackteensread2.blogspot.com/

Jamesaritchie
01-22-2010, 09:50 PM
The publishers are more right than wrong in thinking that a black person on the cover can take away from sales. It's not racism, it's most readers wanting a story and a character they can relate to.

But I doubt that had anythng to do with the decision to put a white woman on the cover. I doubt there was a decision at all. Cover art generally doesn't work that way, and neither do most illustrators. I doubt the pubisher even knew what the cover art was going to be, and I doubt the illustrator read anything beyond the genre.

But "brown-skinned"? I don't even know what that means. What race is that? Or is it just a good suntan? An illustrator is supposed to know?

If the book sells, who cares what's on the cover? Put a green-skinned woman on the cover, if it helps sales. Either the book is worth reading, or the book isn't worth reading. Any cover that gets the book into the hands of more people lets readers decide this.

Kitty Pryde
01-22-2010, 09:55 PM
The publishers are more right than wrong in thinking that a black person on the cover can take away from sales. It's not racism, it's most readers wanting a story and a character they can relate to.

But "brown-skinned"? I don't even know what that means. What race is that? Or is it just a good suntan? An illustrator is supposed to know?


But that right there is exactly racism! The assumption, on the part of the publisher or what the publisher thinks of the white reader, that someone with a different skin color/from a different culture can't be related to. We're talking about the fantasy genre here! We're expected to want to relate to faery queens and magical barbarian warriors and elf hotties and angsty ancient vampires, but it's too much of a stretch for a white reader to be able to relate to a character with brown skin? Come on! How do you not find that an incredibly racist notion? (ETA: just want to clarify that I'm pointing out that this assumption on the part of publishers, which we are discussing, is racist, not that I think what you're saying is racist)

And yes, the illustrator is supposed to know what that means. Upthread I included a link with all the citations from the text describing what the protagonist looks like. It's not an issue of confusing terminology or even ignorance.

aruna
01-22-2010, 10:25 PM
t to relate to faery queens and magical barbarian warriors and elf hotties and angsty ancient vampires, but it's too much of a stretch for a white reader to be able to relate to a character with brown skin?

But this has to be true for all genres, not just fantasy. I don't write fantasy; I write for a mainstream audience, people of all races, shapes, religions and sizes.


And yes, the illustrator is supposed to know what that means. Upthread I included a link with all the citations from the text describing what the protagonist looks like. It's not an issue of confusing terminology or even ignorance.

I don't for one minute doubt that the placing of a white girl on the cover is deliberate. As for JAR's thinking that they are right to do so, if it increases sales: that's just the point. Who exactly is claiming that white mainstream readers won't buy books with characters who "don't look like them"? C'mon, this is 2010, not 1950. People are no longer confined to their own little cubby holes. They WANT to explore other cultures, other worlds. The world is smaller, people travel, and those who can't travel want to read about other places. They can identify with people from any culture, any country -- if given the chance.

I have a very strong faith that most readers would enjoy such books, and their ability to identify with people from diverse backgrounds. It's the publishing industry that is cautious and conservative.

Kitty Pryde
01-22-2010, 10:28 PM
But this has to be true for all genres, not just fantasy. I don't write fantasy; I write for a mainstream audience, people of all races, shapes, religions and sizes.


For sure agreed. I was just pointing out that in SF/F, this argument feels particularly outlandish.

Cyia
01-22-2010, 10:37 PM
The publishers are more right than wrong in thinking that a black person on the cover can take away from sales. It's not racism, it's most readers wanting a story and a character they can relate to.

[...]

If the book sells, who cares what's on the cover? Put a green-skinned woman on the cover, if it helps sales. Either the book is worth reading, or the book isn't worth reading. Any cover that gets the book into the hands of more people lets readers decide this.

Dude? Seriously?

Try applying that logic to:

1. The Color Purple.
2. Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry
3. The Good Earth
4. A Raisin in the Sun
5. Things Fall Apart

or any other "famous" book about people who aren't white. (I know "Raisin" is a play, but we still had to read it in school.)

aruna
01-22-2010, 10:55 PM
This is a relevant article by Danuta Kean. She is a well-known British journalist who writes about the book world and publishing.
Still not in full colour (http://www.danutakean.com/blog/?p=305)
She discussed the result of a survey into the reading habits of black and minority ethnic readers.

The survey did not offer evidence of significant change in the past four years. Though the BME book market is estimated to be worth £120m and rising fast, it found publishers’ continued emphasis on literary fiction when it comes to minority ethnic writers and culturally diverse characters was way off the mark in terms of what readers in those markets want. The implication was that publishers’ efforts to recruit more widely have had little impact on their lists and their commercial prospects in a sizeable potential market.
Of the 500 BME book buyers surveyed, 72% were women and just over half were under 35. A third described themselves as “heavy readers”, which meant reading more than 10 books a year and over half of them shopped at W H Smith – compared to just under 40% of UK book buyers over all. Given these findings, it is no surprise that those surveyed revealed there was strong demand from them for commercial genre fiction – 52% chose titles from the crime, mystery and thriller genres, while others said they loved to read romance, sagas, health and mind, body and spirit books. Only a quarter said their fiction of choice was “literary”. As a result the respondents often order books from the US, where there is a healthy market for commercial fiction and non-fiction by culturally diverse authors.
The figures grew more depressing when considering the children’s market. Despite the BME population having both a younger average age and higher birth rate than the general population and 45% of the survey’s respondents having young children, they bought fewer books for their children in part because of a lack of representation.

It's just ridiculous to assume that diverity in books and on covers would jeapordise sales. A good book is a good book!

veinglory
01-22-2010, 11:16 PM
I don't think this book was designed after Liar, so you can't say it is an issue of "didn't learn". Just "more of the same".

I don't know about all people but I have seen readers say that don't read romance with black characters. Apparently feudal peasant and aliens are fine, but they can't relate to people of color. WTF.

Calla Lily
01-22-2010, 11:24 PM
I don't think this book was designed after Liar, so you can't say it is an issue of "didn't learn". Just "more of the same".

I don't know about all people but I have seen readers say that don't read romance with black characters. Apparently feudal peasant and aliens are fine, but they can't relate to people of color. WTF.

WTF squared. I want a good story. I don't give a rat's @ss what color the characters' skin is. Heavens to betsy, whatever will readers do with my book 3 when my 2 minor characters get married--one's black and one's white! *fans self*

[warning: increase in sarcasm follows]

Or perhaps they'll send me outraged letters because one's totally into health/environmental causes and the other likes pie and hamburgers and such.

:rolleyes::rolleyes::rolleyes:

Cassidy
01-23-2010, 03:30 AM
There is some good discussion of this issue and related issues at Reading In Colour. Here's the link: http://blackteensread2.blogspot.com/

Cassidy
01-23-2010, 03:35 AM
Well, buy more books that do embrace diverse characters and representations.

...if we want to change the perception that books with people of color prominant in the characterizations and covers will not sell, then we need to support those books and kill the perception.

So, if you are outraged by the whitewashing, something you can do that might actually help change things, is to put your dollars where your outrage is. Next time you are at the bookstore, pick up a book that has a person of color on the cover. Seek out diverse books, and if you don't see a book you know is out, ask for it.

~suki

Great post Suki. Yes, yes, yes. And here's another good link for those who want to take you up on these suggestions.
White Reader Meet BlackAuthors: http://welcomewhitefolks.blogspot.com/

Xelebes
01-23-2010, 07:01 AM
Very much so! Especially in the UK. I don't know about the US.

Indian is beginning to be just as popular as Chinese in Canada.

backslashbaby
01-23-2010, 07:25 AM
The thought of not relating to a person of color is the freakiest part of this, for me.

At least in the US, if you can't relate to that, surely you can't relate to people from New York, or LA, or any number of people you don't live around. But whitebread kids read about other types of White people all the time.

I think people overestimate skin color for having things in common.

kuwisdelu
01-23-2010, 07:49 AM
Gotta admit, I hear "brown-skinned" I think Injun.

But that's because I'm an Injun.

:D


The thought of not relating to a person of color is the freakiest part of this, for me.

At least in the US, if you can't relate to that, surely you can't relate to people from New York, or LA, or any number of people you don't live around. But whitebread kids read about other types of White people all the time.

I think people overestimate skin color for having things in common.

Nope. Can't relate to people from LA. But then I'm not white, so that could have something to do with it....

NicoleMD
01-23-2010, 09:18 AM
Yeah, I don't think this one is as bad as LIAR. Brown-skinned can mean just about anything north of a White person with a nice tan. I had to look really hard to tell the woman on the cover was White since she's in the shadows, and I certainly can't make out if her features are "exotic" or not (whatever that means.) It makes me wonder if her ethnicity is actually specified in the book or if it's just something that exists in the author's head that didn't make it to the page other than a sentence or two.

Still, I think it's good that Bloomsbury is getting called out for their business practices.

Nicole

gothicangel
01-23-2010, 09:34 AM
I've always thought of African skin colour as black.

Go figure :D

IceCreamEmpress
01-23-2010, 10:50 AM
It makes me wonder if her ethnicity is actually specified in the book

Apparently, yes.

The thing is that the cover designers don't read the book--they read a summary of the book. So either whoever wrote the summary (not the author) said that the protagonist was a young woman in an alternate-Victorian (hence the corset) universe and didn't say that she was from that universe's version of Sri Lanka or quote her self-description as "brown-skinned" and "from the far East" (hence her being depicted as a fair-skinned European-featured woman), or the person who wrote the summary did say and the cover designers just couldn't be arsed to Google what Sinhalese and Tamil women look like, or the cover designers could be arsed but someone in marketing overruled them because a white chick would sell more copies.

None of those possibilities, whichever is true, would reflect well on Bloomsbury.

Christine N.
01-23-2010, 08:35 PM
See, here's the thing with Jackie's book. In LIAR, the author was upfront about the character's race, and the book jacket was inappropriate. It wasn't true to the book, because it was about the experiences of the MC living in our time and world (right? I didn't read it).

In this case, the world of the MC is made up. The MC describes certain aspects of her culture, and there are things that seem parallel to old Middle Eastern or Asian cultures, just as the society of the story itself reflects a bit of our own Victorian era. But the race of the MC in MUG isn't the central issue of the story, except that she's foreign. Some characters do express some prejudice against the MC because of where she came from. There is some reference to her having darker skin than the people of the country where she now lives. She is never referenced as 'black' or any other similar term. The image I had was brown, but not a deep brown, but that's just how I saw her in my own head.

The original cover IS pretty. I didn't notice the girl was "white", but she does have dark hair and is dressed appropriately for how the costumes are described in the story.

I just went into my library, took out my copy, and looked again. I had to tilt the book one way then the other to see what color her skin is. It doesn't seem 'white' to me, but not 'brown' either. I'd call it tan. With the way her hair is arranged and the shadows in the image, it's really hard to tell. Her eyes are closed - I can't really see her face, which is profile. It's what she's doing and wearing that catches my eye.

Either way, the cover was pretty, I think. The new cover will be nice too. The story is fabulous.

I agree that in the case of LIAR that the outrage was warranted; that was just a dumb thing for Bloomsbury to do. In this case I'm not positive it was, except that someone got their knickers in a knot over what they perceived as some kind of racism in a fantasy story with made-up cultures. Kudos to Bloomsbury for changing the cover after people spoke up.

Before I get a beat-down, I have the book and have read it. The cover did not change my mind about it. It just didn't strike me as a problem, since it seemed to reflect the nature of the story. Which is what a cover is supposed to do.

Hey, one of my covers has my MC's in modern clothes but standing in an Ancient Egyptian temple, when they are wearing Ancient Egyptian garb in the story at that point. But it was a small point; the rest of the cover accurately reflected the story, so I didn't quibble over it. Everyone had the proper colored hair, so I was good with it.

Christine N.
01-23-2010, 08:39 PM
It makes me wonder if her ethnicity is actually specified in the book

Not as such. The entire world is the author's creation. She is not from the place where the story takes place, and there are overtones of cultures from our world, but it's not like she said, "Nimira is Middle Eastern or Asian". She's from a place called Tiansher.

Claudia Gray
01-23-2010, 11:23 PM
I agree that in the case of LIAR that the outrage was warranted; that was just a dumb thing for Bloomsbury to do. In this case I'm not positive it was, except that someone got their knickers in a knot over what they perceived as some kind of racism in a fantasy story with made-up cultures. Kudos to Bloomsbury for changing the cover after people spoke up.

Before I get a beat-down, I have the book and have read it. The cover did not change my mind about it. It just didn't strike me as a problem, since it seemed to reflect the nature of the story. Which is what a cover is supposed to do.


The thing is, there's a kind of racism in assuming that any heroine in a world of made-up cultures would be, by default, white. Why is that? If it's a made up world, who's to say anyone's white at all? And a cover with a darker-skinned heroine (which the MC definitely is) could also reflect the nature of the story. The reason people get "their knickers in a knot" is because this isn't one isolated incident -- it's part of a pattern, and that pattern is definitely not healthy. You can't break that pattern without confronting each example. Just because this isn't as enormously egregious doesn't mean that it's not part of the pattern.

Christine N.
01-24-2010, 12:52 AM
While I can see your point, what then would the issue be? If there's no ethnicity specified, it's up to the publisher to make a call on it.

Why are ANY heroines the color they are on any given book cover if there's no ethnic description? I'm sure there's some anthropological explanation of how people want to relate to the heroes/heroines of the books they read, but I would argue that in the US that there's been some marketing study or other that says what covers sell books - ie: do images work better than people, drawn rather than photgrahed, etc... Whether there's some study about how many caucasians vs. other groups buy books, I don't know. I've done research papers on the African American experience being reflected in literature; I'm not Af. Am., but I get the POV.

The publisher's job is to sell books, not change the world. DON'T jump on me yet. I agree that LIAR was a wretched, horrible mistake by the publisher. Absolutely should have been an African American on the cover from the get-go. Someone either failed to communicate that or the publisher chose to ignore it. It should have accurately reflected the story, and they failed on that point.

I also don't agree that having a 'white' girl on the cover will definitely sell the book - look at Cindy Pon's SILVER PHOENIX. The Asian girl on the cover is beautiful, as is the rest of the cover, and the book landed on dozens of lists and is a YA bestseller. So it doesn't seem to be a deterrent.

IN THIS CASE, I don't know that the girl on the cover of Jackie's book is such a grievous error, due to the nature of the story itself. The way it was shot, I can't tell you it's a white girl, or so far out of the realm of the author's vision that it's a total misrepresentation of the story like the LIAR cover was.

That's all I mean. If she had been platinum blonde and as pale as the corset she's wearing, I could see the point. But having an issue because the model isn't "dark enough" for someone who ISN'T the author seems to be making mountains out of molehills. People are offended because she doesn't look the way THEY think she should look? She fits the basic description in the book, and that's pretty much all you get is basic description. Brown skinned, browner than the people of the pseudo-European place the story is set. The girl on the cover isn't pink; she's got a nice brown tone to her skin. Apparently not dark enough? Why? Nimira's a wonderful character, much bigger than the sum of her parts, and I think many readers will identify with her, seeing her in all kinds of ways.

Neither the agent nor the author seemed to have any problem with it, and Jackie was shocked at the controversy, so maybe the girl they used was dark-skinned enough for her vision of her heroine. I don't know.

When it's warranted, I think the indignation is warranted. LIAR was warranted. I just don't know that this is. But, we live in a culture where you can't do ANYTHING without insulting someone, so, there you are.

veinglory
01-24-2010, 02:03 AM
The author did have a problem with it, that is on the record. She just didn't have a showdown with the publisher over it--just registered an objection. IMHO that cover model is not dark-skinned, not in the stock used and not in the cover produced.

As for readers, I know Jade Lee went from Asian heroines to high fantasy because the sales weren't there. Sad.

Christine N.
01-24-2010, 03:56 AM
*shrug* Toothpaste, you're right. Not worth it.

I liked the composition of the cover. The color of the model never even crossed my mind, which was why I guess I was surprised over the whole uproar. But then I guess I'm not a person who puts a lot of stock in covers per se. They might catch my eye, but I go to the description to decide if I want to read the story. I know, however, that covers help sell books. Publishers are in the business to make money, but they have to balance it with integrity.

I hadn't been aware Jackie was upset over the cover; I'll have to go back through her LJ entries and see if she said something about it months ago that I'm not remembering at the moment. (I did go back, since we're LJ friends, and she loved both the US and UK covers when she first saw them. Personally I think if you're going to complain about a cover, that UK cover is much more 'whitewashed'.)

People spoke, Bloombury listened. It's fine. I just wonder sometimes if people (and I mean people in general) are becoming too sensitive over things like this in certain cases. LIAR is an example where I totally agree that it was inappropriate and just a huge fail. This one...*shrug* I don't think in this case that it was 'racism' as much as 'missed the boat artistically'. Which I might agree with.

But it was still a nice cover.

mlhernandez
01-24-2010, 04:11 AM
As for readers, I know Jade Lee went from Asian heroines to high fantasy because the sales weren't there. Sad.

So, so sad and frustrating. Do you remember this convo at DA (http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2009/10/27/a-special-guest-post-on-cultural-appropriation-by-handyhunter/)where Jade Lee (comment 68) said


After 3 books, Harlequin considers the experiement over. The sales were extremely poor. It was not the fault of promotion or marketing. I got a TON of promotion. It was also (according to senior editor Brenda Chin and the few who read the books) not the fault of the writing. The books were excellent. The problem? Her exact words were the ďJade Lee name is tainted as Asian.Ē


So, as of my April book, I will be writing for Harlequin as Kathy Lyons. Look for Under His Spell with a very caucasian cover then.


That made me sad. :(

Treyfan
01-24-2010, 04:17 AM
So, so sad and frustrating. Do you remember this convo at DA (http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2009/10/27/a-special-guest-post-on-cultural-appropriation-by-handyhunter/)where Jade Lee (comment 68) said



That made me sad. :(

Wow. *shakes head* Good article. Thanks for posting it.

Christine N.
01-24-2010, 04:55 AM
See, now that's a terrible shame and it makes me sad. I'm not familiar with Romance, though.

Maybe I'm coming at this from a different perspective, since the book in question is YA and there doesn't seem to be this same problem as far as sales. I mentioned Cindy Pon's book, (which was FABULOUS) which is heavily Asian. I know I've read other books that include other ethnicities where the covers portray the characters well.

Maybe it doesn't apply in fantasy? Tamora Pierce's Trickster duology features a white girl on one cover, and a chocolate-skinned beauty on the other - the two MC's in the books. The two were also bestsellers.

But then you have this book, YA fantasy, which people seem to be upset over, and yet you have this book and cover, but it seems to be selling well even though it's only been out a month. I just don't know that it makes that big a difference, is what it comes down to, since I think it will sell just as well with a darker-skinned model. Most of the people I've talked to who have read it (and some reviewers) all say that her identity as 'dark-skinned' isn't central to the story, and they also didn't really notice the cover.

I don't have a problem with them changing it or leaving it, but that's just me.

Christine N.
01-24-2010, 06:20 AM
Someone just told ME I am very white and priveledged and should think outside my culture. Hmm. I am white. I am NOT priviledged, and I think my comments are not being taken in the spirit in which they are given.

I agree that a cover should reflect its MC. I have absolutely no issue with that. I have read many books with MC's who were NOT white. It's not an issue FOR me.

As for thinking outside my culture, I don't think that's the issue IN THIS CASE. Do I think it's an issue in general that there aren't more covers with non-white people? Sure! I think it's an issue that there aren't more books, especially YA books, written with MC's of different cultures and backgrounds, including socioeconomic ones. There definitely IS a gap there. I'm only talking about THIS book. Which is about invented cultures that have aspects of some that we think we recognize. Okay. The girl on the cover isn't as dark as someone thinks she should be. Who's to say she is or is not, based on a made-up country and a made-up culture? One person will see her with darker skin than another. She might present with some European features, but overall she doesn't seem out of the realm of possiblity, given the description in the book.

She certainly COULD be darker, given the same composition, and it wouldn't change my opinion of either the cover or the book.
And that's really my point: that all this 'controversy' is taking the focus away from an author's very first novel, which is a really great story. It's not about what Bloomsbury is doing or not doing, but that Jackie worked really hard on this book, and was SO excited when she found an agent, and even MORE excited when she sold a book. She was ECSTATIC the day her box of author's hardcovers arrived. Now her book is being used so someone can make some kind of statement. Everyone's blaming the publisher, but if you boycott it or say you won't read it because of the cover image, you're only hurting a really wonderful, terrific person who should just be riding high on the release of her debut work. To her it's not political, they're her words.

If this had been a historical novel and the MC was from Thailand or Sri Lanka, and this same model was on the cover, THEN I can see the big issue. Really, I can. I would have been mad as hell then. But people are making this about race for a made up place, taking the focus off what a really TERRIFIC STORY IT IS. It's a great book, I recommend it and put it on my 'keepers' shelf.

My comments come from having actually read the book and comparing it to the cover, not some overall issue about covers and race. I'm talking about THIS book, not ALL books where this has happened, some of which I DO think were misrepresented by the publisher's choice of cover model. If I had read LIAR, I would have been disappointed by the cover being a white girl and then reading the story. I was NOT in THIS PARTICULAR CASE.

People who think they know me and know where I'm coming from need to just keep their comments to themselves. I've studied MANY cultures, and the literature of MANY cultures. I've done in depth research regarding "Otherness" in colonial and post-colonial literature as well as the lack of African American main characters in American literature. I've studied the progression of women in literature both that written by men and women. I have characters of cultures other than European/Caucasian in my books, and I take great care to try and research them so as not to insult anyone from the culture about which I am trying to write.

I'm not unfamiliar with any of these topics, and I'm commenting on ONE cover for ONE book. It does NOT REFLECT MY THOUGHTS ON ALL BOOKS OR COVERS, OR CULTURE WASHING IN GENERAL. Which someone seems to think. I tend to take things on a case-by-case basis, instead of washing everything with the same brush, which is what you're accusing Bloomsbury of doing. Life is NOT black and white, but shades of gray!

Is that clear enough? I don't mean that in a mean way, just being honest, because I really don't like it when people try to tell ME who and what I am when they clearly have no idea. I also have a cold and have been in a craptastic mood for two days, so take this with a grain of salt.

AlishaS
01-24-2010, 12:09 PM
Wow I can't believe this sort of thing still happens.
I myself would never not buy a book just because someone on the cover was of a different culture.
If the blurb on the back of the book is enticing and interesting I will buy it regardless of the color of the characters skin, the country the book is set in...ect.

A good book is a good book.

aruna
01-24-2010, 12:34 PM
So, so sad and frustrating. Do you remember this convo at DA (http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2009/10/27/a-special-guest-post-on-cultural-appropriation-by-handyhunter/)where Jade Lee (comment 68) said



That made me sad. :(


Wow. BIG wow. I just read comment 5 which is pretty bitter, but in a way exactly how I feel; though I am resigned rather than angry about it, and find she paints with a much too wide brush when speaking of white readers. Apart from that, though, I agree. Will read on and see what comment 68 is all about.

ETA: I read comment 68 and again, double wow.
This is very depressing.

The conclusion? Both publishers have decided (and I agree) that the audience is not there yet to support Asian-set romances. An odd one here and there may do okay, but in general, there is not wide-spread support of that setting or ethnicity. Not as a primary element in the book.

The sad truth is that I cannot continue to write for societal change. I write to support myself and my family. I can tell Caucasian stories. I can tell Chinese stories. As of the moment, I am telling Caucasian stories because that is what sells.

Unimportant
01-24-2010, 12:42 PM
I'm guessing that MUG got such a strong reaction because of Liar -- repeat offenders get smacked harder than first-timers.

I'm white. I'm aware that this automatically makes me priviliged. I can go into a bookstore and browse the fantasy or romance shelves and find plenty of books with covers featuring people who have my hair colour, eye colour, and skin colour -- because I'm white. If I were Maori or Nigerian or Cherokee, I'd be lucky to find a single book featuring a character like me. The shelves of fiction would be telling me, silently, by omission, that people like me don't exist. Similarly, I can go into a convenience store late at night to buy a loaf of bread and know that the cashier won't have his finger hovering over the alarm button -- because I'm white. If I were Maori or Nigerian or Cherokee, odds are that cashier would be watching me a lot more closely.

And it's not right.

No, publishers can't change the world. But they can have a social conscience.

If a clamour of readers shouting for characters of colour on book covers can change a publisher's whitewashing habits, IMO that's a good thing. If the publisher finds itself financially rewarded by higher book sales if it continues to publish books with characters of colour -- and to feature them on the books' covers -- then that one change will lead to many changes and slowly, over time, society itself may change. And IMO that too is a good thing.

aruna
01-24-2010, 12:44 PM
My experience in publishing is that I got the message, perhaps not spelled out but nevertheles loud and clear, that they wanted "exotic" but one of the main characters (especially concerning the love story, if there is one) has to be white.
Mostly, I've obeyed, including in my WIP.

aruna
01-24-2010, 02:47 PM
Just an aside: that Dearauthor blog, I've realised after reading several more of the comments, applies specifically to the romance genre.
I don't read or write this genre; I'm squarely mainstream/general and I do think there is less prejudice there. Nevertheless I was pretty shocked when my one-time agent informed me that publishing was extremely xenophobic and I'd do best to take that in and adapt. I decided not to go along with her advice, and am still paying the price...
Years later I had to admit she was right.

Christine N.
01-24-2010, 05:02 PM
Yeah, I don't know about Romance. There is a huge market in the US that buys Japanese stories - and by that I mean novels translated into English by companies that buy US rights to them and distribute them. Some of them are manga, but there are some novels too - and I know that since I've worked on them.

The US versions have Japanese people on the covers. They sell. *shrug*. I know there's a lot about the Romance market I don't know. The Jade Lee things bothers me, but again if the books aren't selling, what else can they do? YA seems to be a different animal, based on the variety of MC's coming out in recent years.

I think my whole reason for this bugging me so much is that we're talking about a culture that no one on this earth can claim to be insulted by this cover, because it's a culture of the author's creation. I'm annoyed that there are people who want to take a book and make it a political statement and a kerfluffle about racism when it's a made-up race. It won't bother me when there's a different cover any more than this one did. I'm sorry so many people were upset by it, I guess, and became so focused on the cover that they forgot the story.

I agree that a publisher SHOULD NOT be allowed to get away with culture washing of covers, especially when the author has gone to the trouble to use characters of other ethnicities. But what do you do when it's a culture of the author's imagination? IF the story had said she was very dark skinned, then the cover model should be. This one said "brown" - so now there's a problem with what's "brown enough".

Kitty Pryde
01-24-2010, 08:42 PM
I think my whole reason for this bugging me so much is that we're talking about a culture that no one on this earth can claim to be insulted by this cover, because it's a culture of the author's creation. I'm annoyed that there are people who want to take a book and make it a political statement and a kerfluffle about racism when it's a made-up race. It won't bother me when there's a different cover any more than this one did. I'm sorry so many people were upset by it, I guess, and became so focused on the cover that they forgot the story.

I agree that a publisher SHOULD NOT be allowed to get away with culture washing of covers, especially when the author has gone to the trouble to use characters of other ethnicities. But what do you do when it's a culture of the author's imagination? IF the story had said she was very dark skinned, then the cover model should be. This one said "brown" - so now there's a problem with what's "brown enough".

But it's not an issue of whether people of a specific culture/ethnicity "can claim to be insulted" by portraying this character as white. It is an issue of the systematic whitewashing of many book covers which has been going on for decades at least. Never in the history of publishing has a white character been portrayed as a person of color. And there's a great quote upthread about exactly why it's harmful that there are so few books with people of color on the cover.

And this character specifically is a minority person of color living in a fantasy version of victorian england (AFAIK), making her specifically not white surrounded specifically by white people. And on the cover she's specifically illustrated as white with white features. Whether that was done intentionally because the publishers think it's more marketable that way, or whether it was done lazily because white is the unmarked state, it's not totally clear. But I think it's a problem either way.

Christine N.
01-24-2010, 08:54 PM
I don't know either. I really have to look closely to tell what kind of features she has. Looking at photos of the cover, she seems to have dark hair and is at the very least a very TAN person, which is accentuated by the peach background and the white shirt she's wearing. Looking closer at a real version, her hair sort of falls in her face, again blurring her features. Her eyes are closed and her head is in shadow. It's completely possible she's a 'white' girl; she's definitely not very dark skinned, but not extremely light colored either. I have a feeling it was shot this way on purpose.

I'm shrugging over it, because this mess is still distracting from the book itself, which is the real product. I know a teenaged book reviewer who was SO UPSET because she gave a nice review of the book on her well-read blog, and someone gave her a bunch of crap because she didn't mention the ethnicity of the MC and the cover. She was baffled by it. She and I talked about it and we both agreed that it wasn't central to the storyline and she didn't feel the need to mention it. She also agreed that the cover didn't seem mismatched.

This was probably two days before the whole thing blew up. Maybe it's that I think when we pick our battles, we should really consider them before we start. If SILVER PHOENIX had come with a blonde haired, blue-eyed girl on the cover instead of the lovely Asian girl it had, I sure as heck would have grabbed my torch and pitchfork and led the assault on the castle gates. This particular cover just didn't seem so bad to me, not even after I read the whole story, then went back after the 'incident' and looked again.

Libbie
01-24-2010, 09:46 PM
I was willing to believe the alleged "whitewashing" was an honest and unintentional screwup the first time it happened with Liar. Now I'm no longer willing to believe.

That's disappointing and icky.

Christine N.
01-25-2010, 01:21 AM
I don't say that it IS okay. Definitely not. This cover just didn't bother me. Especially not when the story is so rich in description that it stands all by itself.

Maybe we should stop having people on covers at all, since everyone who reads a story will picture the characters differently.

aadams73
01-25-2010, 02:16 AM
I'm no more offended by the wrong skin color on a cover than I am the wrong color hair or clothes or the wrong breed of dog. I learned years ago that he who makes the cover has almost never read the book. So I'm just not going to get bent out of shape over "OHMYGOD, the MC is purple but on the cover s/he's GREEN."

Maybe I'd feel differently if my skin was a different color, but I like to think not. The cover has to attract my attention, yes, but its job is complete once I've carried that book to the cashier and given them my money.

Kitty Pryde
01-25-2010, 02:24 AM
I'm no more offended by the wrong skin color on a cover than I am the wrong color hair or clothes or the wrong breed of dog. I learned years ago that he who makes the cover has almost never read the book. So I'm just not going to get bent out of shape over "OHMYGOD, the MC is purple but on the cover s/he's GREEN."

Maybe I'd feel differently if my skin was a different color, but I like to think not. The cover has to attract my attention, yes, but its job is complete once I've carried that book to the cashier and given them my money.

But (and I'm assuming your lovely avatar is a picture of you), you grew up with girls who looked like you on the covers of the books you read. Now that you're grown you see loads of books with people who look like you on the covers. Do you think you'd feel differently about wanting to see yourself represented if you almost never saw a book with someone looking like you on the cover? And if the reason for that was rooted in racism against you? Just something to ponder.

veinglory
01-25-2010, 02:38 AM
I think race/skin color is different from dress color because... well it is. It strikes me as like when men tell me sexism is not longer a problem.

Christine N.
01-25-2010, 02:40 AM
I'm not saying it ISN'T racism, but maybe not in the strictest sense of the word. And by that I mean that the publisher isn't actively NOT promoting books with MC's of color because they don't like them (which is what racism is to me, the active, deliberateness of it because of some kind of dislike or hatred) but because they've learned that books with MC's of color on the cover don't sell as well.

Is it right? No. Is it changing? I think in YA it is, based on covers I've seen. Obviously the Jade Lee case says it is not so in Romance.

So I guess you have to ask yourself if the publisher (a business) is supposed to sacrifice their profits, or cross their fingers that human nature is changing? They can't force someone to buy a book, but they can capitalize on trends. I was PM'ing with someone about different books, and notice that many of my books by African American authors, with AA MC's do not have a person on the cover.

My copy of THE BLUEST EYE (which was fabulous) does not have a person's image on the cover; my JONAH'S GOURD VINE, on the other hand, has a drawing of an AA male on the front, and the beautiful Zora Neale Hurston's photo on the back. Was one in particular designed to sell to the mainstream public while the other was not, instead designed to appeal to a primarily AA audience?

I ask these questions in earnest, because I think it's they are really interesting. And in the end, WHO is the publisher trying to sell the book to?

aadams73
01-25-2010, 02:43 AM
Do you think you'd feel differently about wanting to see yourself represented if you almost never saw a book with someone looking like you on the cover? And if the reason for that was rooted in racism against you? Just something to ponder.

Since I'll never be able to slip into a different skin, I'll never know. Although I do see what you're saying. It's human nature to want to be validated in such a way. "You look like this, and that's cool."

But what I do know is this: I've never identified with women on the covers of books. They're always too polished, too falsely-enhanced, too perfect and plastic. The women on the covers of books have never resembled any women I've ever known. They're more like Barbie dolls than people so I pay them little attention(kind of like all the photoshopped models in magazines.) So I guess I never measured myself against what was on the cover of any book.

With regards to this being a racism issue... I'm more convinced it's based on marketing's decision about what will sell. Publishers shoot for covers that sell. It's about money. This is, after all, a business. And business decisions aren't always popular or right(at least not for anyone but the beancounters and shareholders.) If a product is going to sell better in a blue box rather than a red box, it's going to hit that shelf in a blue box.

aadams73
01-25-2010, 02:48 AM
I think race/skin color is different from dress color because... well it is. It strikes me as like when men tell me sexism is not longer a problem.

Well sexism is definitely still alive and well. And a dress color is different and yet...it's a marketing decision. This sells better than that, so let's go with this.

If a purple unicorn swilling a beer and spanking a goat is what the marketing people believe will sell more copies of my books, and they are right, I say go for it.

But I'm in this for money and storytelling, not politics and sociology.

Christine N.
01-25-2010, 04:00 AM
And that's a good point too. I am white, but I look nothing like the photoshopped, posed women on most covers. I'm overweight and told that's not something desirable. Should I be upset because there aren't fat girls on book covers?

If I am it won't matter, because fat is the last acceptable prejudice. But I'm not, because I understand that an esthetically pleasing cover sells books. It doesn't affect the words inside.

IceCreamEmpress
01-25-2010, 05:42 AM
If I am it won't matter, because fat is the last acceptable prejudice

Oh, for God's sake. That is so offensive. If only anything were "the last" acceptable prejudice.

Prejudice against fat is bad and exists. Prejudice against people of color is also bad and exists. Prejudice against gay, lesbian, and bisexual people of color is also bad and exists. Prejudice against people with disabilities is also bad and exists. Prejudice against trans gendered people is also bad and exists. Prejudice against women is also bad and exists.

But it's always white, cis, straight, currently able-bodied women who say that prejudice against fat is "the last acceptable prejudice." Fat women of color know that racism is still acceptable to lots of prejudiced people. Fat lesbian women know that anti-gay prejudice is still acceptable to lots of prejudiced people. Fat women with disabilities know that prejudice against people with disabilities is still acceptable to lots of prejudiced people. Fat trans women know that prejudice against trans gendered people is still acceptable to lots of prejudiced people.

I mean, on what planet is prejudice against women not still widespread and acceptable? Because I want to move there.

Saying "fat is the last acceptable prejudice" just shows your own privilege. It's also a slap in the face to other fat people who have to deal with racism, homophobia, anti-disability prejudice, and anti-trans prejudice as well as anti-fat prejudice.

aadams73
01-25-2010, 07:25 AM
I think we all have our prejudices, even those who jump up and down screaming that they don't. I'm prejudiced against people who wear leopard skin tights. I just can't relate to those people.

Wayne K
01-25-2010, 07:31 AM
And that's a good point too. I am white, but I look nothing like the photoshopped, posed women on most covers. I'm overweight and told that's not something desirable. Should I be upset because there aren't fat girls on book covers?

If I am it won't matter, because fat is the last acceptable prejudice. But I'm not, because I understand that an esthetically pleasing cover sells books. It doesn't affect the words inside.
Actually, the mentally ill are openly discriminated against, in public and on TV. They're the brunt of jokes and stereotypes. Gay people Bi transgendered are openly denied their human rights. So fat isn't the only acceptable prejudice.

Oh, I forgot women. Sorry ladies. Yeah, men still have a vicious hold on the workplace and domestic issues.

NicoleMD
01-25-2010, 08:29 AM
And old people.

Nicole

Cassidy
01-25-2010, 09:29 AM
Fat women of color know that racism is still acceptable to lots of prejudiced people. Fat lesbian women know that anti-gay prejudice is still acceptable to lots of prejudiced people. Fat women with disabilities know that prejudice against people with disabilities is still acceptable to lots of prejudiced people. Fat trans women know that prejudice against trans gendered people is still acceptable to lots of prejudiced people.


Yes. Absolutely. Well said.



I think we all have our prejudices, even those who jump up and down screaming that they don't. I'm prejudiced against people who wear leopard skin tights. I just can't relate to those people.

But people who wear leopard skin tights aren't systemically oppressed as a group on that basis. People of colour are. So to me, this comment really trivializes the issue and minimizes that reality. As do comments that equate this issue of putting white women's pictures on the covers of books about people of colour with other inaccuracies on covers. Sure, inaccuracies are annoying but it is not the same thing at all to have a cover in which the character's hair or clothes are wrong.

I think some people are assuming that racism has to be deliberate and conscious to be truly racism, but it does not. Racism is not just about individual attitudes. It is systemic and any action or decision that supports or perpetuates invisibility of people of colour or maintains white privilege is racist-- regardless of the intent or rationale for that action.

Exir
01-25-2010, 09:55 AM
The core of the problem is: white is the "default". If you don't know what ethnicity the main character is, then for sure he/she is white.

That is the type of racism that's involved. It's subtle, but it's still there, and "the cover readers didn't read the actual book itself" is not an adequate reason for such an undercurrent to exist.

Hedgetrimmer
01-25-2010, 05:11 PM
I initially planned to sit this one out, as the topic of discussion arouses too many unpleasant emotions. Yet no one has raised what I feel is a very important aspect of this whole controversy. Thus I delurk.

As horrible as the whole whitewashing thing is, it's not a practice simply confined to the publishing industry per se. It also places a hurdle in front of writers of color that white writers never have to consider. With Bloomsbury's blunder, whether deliberate or not, I suspect WOC will take this into account as they sit down to tell their stories. It's already hard enough just trying to get plot and dialogue and pacing and all other aspects of fiction right. Now some writers will also have to consider whether their book is too ethnic for publication, or not ethnic enough, or whether they need to be more explicit in the description of their characters in hopes of forging in the readers' mind exactly who this person is. White writers don't face such a burden. And if that's not privilege, I don't know what is.

Two years ago while shopping a middle grade novel, I received a long, personalized rejection from a very seasoned agent. She didn't mince words either. She told me flat-out that she was no longer signing black juvenile writers because the industry was too resistant to publish them unless they were the same ol' books portraying blacks as victims or immoral or in some way deviantly different than white America.

My book doesn't pander to stereotypes. It's about a little girl who becomes fascinated with birds, one bird in particular that visits her feeder and raises three baby birds outside her bedroom window. Because the book is told in first person, I never fully describe my MC. It is implied that she's black, as her friends, neighbors and mother's fiance are black, but I never thought to make an issue of her own skin color. I now find myself wondering if I should make a concerted effort at depicting her as an African American child.

Recently an agent took notice of the book and has been working on it with me, although she's yet to offer to rep me. Were she to sign me, it's something I would definitely discuss with her, which presents once again another burden other writers don't have to deal with.

Personally, were my book to get published, I would prefer there not even be a picture of a child on the front. I would much rather see a beautiful picture of the cardinal, perhaps sitting in his favorite tree surrounded by his little fledglings.

I say this not to discount the importance of children of color seeing themselves on book covers. I think it's very important to a child's sense of self-esteem and personal worth. Yet at the same time I hope that any little black girl reading my book would see herself on the pages not because she sees herself on the cover but, rather, because I have so accurately depicted African American culture, idioms and speech patterns that she knows my MC is a child that looks like her.

Christine N.
01-25-2010, 05:29 PM
No, I beg to differ. While a certain subset of prejudiced people all agree their prejudice is valid, society at large decries racism, sexism, and predjuice against the handicapped.

Being fat is still okay to pick at, at a societal level. There are whole hours of talk TV devoted to "experts" telling people who are overweight how terrible they are for one reason or another, how much of a drain on society. No one get up and screams on TV -"Your black and that's bad!" because we all know it's unacceptable. I know there are a host of other things we do the same thing to - women on welfare, people who dress inappropriately, etc... I was only using overweight as an example. I agree that the GBLT population also falls into this category of acceptable predjudice, though there are increasing voices opposed to it. So fat isn't the 'last' acceptable predjudice, but it's on a very short list.

That's what I mean. I'm just trying to say that while a covers may not accurately depict all ethnicities, they don't accurately depict ALL PEOPLE either. I don't see any covers of fat, curly-haired girls with glasses, which is what I was in school. I still read books.

I STILL agree that there aren't enough books that children of color can turn to 'see themselves' in the characters. I KNOW it's a problem. But how can publishing solve it? They are businesses and as such follow the money. Sad, but true. READERS can change it, but again, if the publisher doesn't see the book selling, they won't publish any others like it. It's a terrrible Catch-22.

Overall this IS an issue, absolutely.

You want to get down and dirty with it? Then I will. I would think that the problem is that overall, more minorities are poor, unable to afford books. Many drop out of school, or go to schools without resources to keep well-stocked libraries. They live in poor neighborhoods, also without libraries or access to books. Many of them are illiterate or just not encouraged to read on a regular basis.

If the target audience for the books is largely unable to access them, the sales of them will be low, and therefore publishers will not publish them. It's a vicious cycle.

In the end, then, is it the publisher's problem, or society's? To me the problem seems much larger than publishing; publishing is a symptom of the bigger disease.

Kitty Pryde
01-25-2010, 08:26 PM
You want to get down and dirty with it? Then I will. I would think that the problem is that overall, more minorities are poor, unable to afford books. Many drop out of school, or go to schools without resources to keep well-stocked libraries. They live in poor neighborhoods, also without libraries or access to books. Many of them are illiterate or just not encouraged to read on a regular basis.

If the target audience for the books is largely unable to access them, the sales of them will be low, and therefore publishers will not publish them. It's a vicious cycle.

In the end, then, is it the publisher's problem, or society's? To me the problem seems much larger than publishing; publishing is a symptom of the bigger disease.

To whatever extent this assertion is true, underneath it is a huge assumption, that a book about a person of color has a targeted audience of only other people of color. Why? Seriously, why? Why do you think (true or not) that your average white person may want to read about super spies and fairy queens and victorians and miserable old detectives, but not about people of color? People don't ONLY read books about people just like themselves. We don't draw a line and only read about people of our own gender, religion, sexual orientation, time period, or universe, so why would we draw a line at culture or ethnicity or color?

aruna
01-25-2010, 08:31 PM
To whatever extent this assertion is true, underneath it is a huge assumption, that a book about a person of color has a targeted audience of only other people of color. Why? Seriously, why? Why do you think (true or not) that your average white person may want to read about super spies and fairy queens and victorians and miserable old detectives, but not about people of color? People don't ONLY read books about people just like themselves. We don't draw a line and only read about people of our own gender, religion, sexual orientation, time period, or universe, so why would we draw a line at culture or ethnicity or color?


UNfortunately, that is exactly what publishers seem to believe and I sincerely hope that you, and not they, are right, and that one day soon they will correct their error!

backslashbaby
01-25-2010, 09:08 PM
Just because an author has a person of color as the MC does not mean that the target audience is people of color, at all.

Do you think a blonde MC is designed only to be read by blondes? [I don't think hair color is a good parallel, but I'm going back to your own argument there.]




Why is it so hard to have MCs of color just be regular people, put in books for the same reason white people are?


No, I beg to differ. While a certain subset of prejudiced people all agree their prejudice is valid, society at large decries racism, sexism, and predjuice against the handicapped.



Being fat is still okay to pick at, at a societal level. There are whole hours of talk TV devoted to "experts" telling people who are overweight how terrible they are for one reason or another, how much of a drain on society. No one get up and screams on TV -"Your black and that's bad!" because we all know it's unacceptable. I know there are a host of other things we do the same thing to - women on welfare, people who dress inappropriately, etc... I was only using overweight as an example. I agree that the GBLT population also falls into this category of acceptable predjudice, though there are increasing voices opposed to it. So fat isn't the 'last' acceptable predjudice, but it's on a very short list.



That's what I mean. I'm just trying to say that while a covers may not accurately depict all ethnicities, they don't accurately depict ALL PEOPLE either. I don't see any covers of fat, curly-haired girls with glasses, which is what I was in school. I still read books.



I STILL agree that there aren't enough books that children of color can turn to 'see themselves' in the characters. I KNOW it's a problem. But how can publishing solve it? They are businesses and as such follow the money. Sad, but true. READERS can change it, but again, if the publisher doesn't see the book selling, they won't publish any others like it. It's a terrrible Catch-22.



Overall this IS an issue, absolutely.



You want to get down and dirty with it? Then I will. I would think that the problem is that overall, more minorities are poor, unable to afford books. Many drop out of school, or go to schools without resources to keep well-stocked libraries. They live in poor neighborhoods, also without libraries or access to books. Many of them are illiterate or just not encouraged to read on a regular basis.



If the target audience for the books is largely unable to access them, the sales of them will be low, and therefore publishers will not publish them. It's a vicious cycle.



In the end, then, is it the publisher's problem, or society's? To me the problem seems much larger than publishing; publishing is a symptom of the bigger disease.

veinglory
01-25-2010, 09:25 PM
I think the idea that blacks only read black, and black writers only write for black readers is part of the literary cycle of ghettoisation that is the problem. I buy romance by/about black people from the AA lit ghetto at Borders and get some funny looks from fellow customers, like they don't know what a white chick is doing there. Um, buying a good book?

aadams73
01-25-2010, 09:39 PM
Sure, inaccuracies are annoying but it is not the same thing at all to have a cover in which the character's hair or clothes are wrong.


But that's just it. This isn't about inaccuracies, but rather marketing decisions. Someone makes a decision that XYZ will sell better than ABC so that's what goes on the cover. Why? Because publishing is a business.

I'm not saying it's right to do this, but that's what happens because publishing is a business. They're all about making money. It's their job to get their product out to the greatest number of readers. They don't care about prejudices and racism and whatever else this argument is about. They just want to sell the most books, because books=profit.

veinglory
01-25-2010, 09:59 PM
I would not assume that it was a deliberate decision. Also publishing is both a business and a profession--and professions have ethical codes. As reflected by the publisher apologising and fixing what they characterised as an "error". If the entity that did this see it as wrong, I'm guessing it was wrong.

aadams73
01-25-2010, 10:54 PM
Well, whatever it was it's been good publicity--if it follows that all publicity is good. If this incident hadn't occurred, I might never have heard of Magic Under Glass and, subsequently, purchased it.

Perhaps we'll see a trend towards more truthful covers. I'm not going to hold my breath though.

Claudia Gray
01-25-2010, 10:55 PM
But that's just it. This isn't about inaccuracies, but rather marketing decisions. Someone makes a decision that XYZ will sell better than ABC so that's what goes on the cover. Why? Because publishing is a business.

I'm not saying it's right to do this, but that's what happens because publishing is a business. They're all about making money. It's their job to get their product out to the greatest number of readers. They don't care about prejudices and racism and whatever else this argument is about. They just want to sell the most books, because books=profit.

And it's not incorrect to point out that there are ways to care about prejudice and racism AND still sell books. If it's either/or, if you can be a halfway decent human being OR a professional in this field, we're all screwed. This conversation ought to be about the AND, not the OR.

A good post on this appears in Editorial Anonymous. (http://editorialanonymous.blogspot.com/2010/01/how-to-complain-about-your-publisher-in.html)

Christine N.
01-26-2010, 02:01 AM
Thank you, Aruna, for seeing one of my points.


To whatever extent this assertion is true, underneath it is a huge assumption, that a book about a person of color has a targeted audience of only other people of color. Why? Seriously, why?

It's not my assumption, but apparently some publishers have correlated data that suggests it. It may be completely wrong, and I hope it is. But as it is now, past performance of those books suggests it to be true in some way. I know and you know that it isn't completely true, but the numbers compared to those with MC's who aren't POC are much higher. Hard data.

I was also replying to the idea that POC don't see enough people like them as MC's in books and on covers, in essence TARGETED TOWARD THEM, because they're not published, because they don't sell well, and my statements above may be one reason why. At some point, publishers tried publishing books like this, and they lost money on it, or it became a bigger loss than they were willing to deal with again. In the end it's the Profit/Loss beancounters who make the decisions about what books to buy at publishing houses, and NOT editors, and that's the absolute truth.

It's all just theory, so don't get angry. I've taken classes on this sort of thing, extensively researching it. There are dozens of academic papers written on just this subject of the lack of POC as MC's in mainstream fiction. Don't blame me, I'm just the messenger. There has recently been an upswing in the number of strictly AA boutique-type publishers and agents who are looking to represent AA authors, so there is hope.


And it's not incorrect to point out that there are ways to care about prejudice and racism AND still sell books. If it's either/or, if you can be a halfway decent human being OR a professional in this field, we're all screwed. This conversation ought to be about the AND, not the OR.


This.

NicoleMD
02-26-2010, 05:02 AM
The new cover has been released. Much nicer, though I did like the domed glass from the last one.

http://www.jaclyndolamore.com/

Nicole

Cyia
02-26-2010, 05:20 AM
That's a terrible cover compared to the original, and nowhere near as evocative of the time or mood as the first one. There's no reason they couldn't have used the new model to stage a similar cover.

It may be paranoid, but if you put both books side by side, the 1st would sell more, and it wouldn't be because the model was white.

Claudia Gray
02-26-2010, 05:35 AM
I like the new cover. I too miss the domed glass, but OTOH, I like the key.

polleekin
02-26-2010, 06:50 AM
That's a terrible cover compared to the original, and nowhere near as evocative of the time or mood as the first one. There's no reason they couldn't have used the new model to stage a similar cover.

It may be paranoid, but if you put both books side by side, the 1st would sell more, and it wouldn't be because the model was white.
I think it's a better representation of the book, though, with the key and the gears. The part of the book where Nimira finds the dome with the little fairy creatures is not quite as important, whereas the clockwork man she winds is the big mystery of the book, and I like it being alluded to. Plus I like gears.

Not that you can't still prefer the first cover's tone, of course. But I personally like the new one. :)

HelloKiddo
02-26-2010, 11:00 AM
That's a terrible cover compared to the original, and nowhere near as evocative of the time or mood as the first one. There's no reason they couldn't have used the new model to stage a similar cover.

It may be paranoid, but if you put both books side by side, the 1st would sell more, and it wouldn't be because the model was white.

I know nothing about marketing, but I personally preferred the new cover. This is a kid book and the new girl looks like a kid--the other woman looked older. The corset also made me thing "Harlequin romance" but this is a children's fantasy novel according to the article.

Kitty27
02-26-2010, 11:31 PM
Good crap,not again. WTF is wrong with Bloomsbury? Doing this one time is enough,but a second time? This is clearly deliberate.

People of color read voraciously and it amazes me that publishing is down with this sort of stupidity. The music industry regularly displays POC on CD covers and these artists move millions. It is NOT just blacks making Lil Wayne go platinum in a week. Again,WTF?

People will buy our music and watch us in movies,but they'll haul ass from a book cover? Someone please explain this to me,because I just don't get it. It is equally insulting to assume that ALL white readers will see a POC on a cover and say hell to the no.

I am black and when I see a white or any person of a race other than my own,I have zero problem buying the book. It is the STORY,idiots,not the color of the characters. This is why most of my teen cousins and their friends avoid reading like the plague. They are heartily tired of urban fiction and they LOVE YA and fantasy,but they don't see anyone that represents them and actions like this only strengthen that. When they finally get this kind of story,the cover is white washed? Teens of color is a vast and severely underrated market,just begging for stories,and this mess makes me livid.


The changing of the cover doesn't convince me. They had no intention of doing anything until bloggers raised hell.


You want to get down and dirty with it? Then I will. I would think that the problem is that overall, more minorities are poor, unable to afford books. Many drop out of school, or go to schools without resources to keep well-stocked libraries. They live in poor neighborhoods, also without libraries or access to books. Many of them are illiterate or just not encouraged to read on a regular basis.

This is not the truth. I and many of my friends were brought up with books. These kids are not illiterate or lacking in encouragement. This most certainly didn't happen where I grew up and it wasn't the best neighborhood. You can love books with all you have,but if you never see anything positive,you don't read. If you never see a character resembling yourself and written in a positive manner,a mood of discouragement can set it. Teachers and parents in my community encouraged reading and exposed us to a variety of authors. To assume that poor minority kids drop out,are illiterate, or not encouraged is beyond insulting.

The problem is a racist assumption that a book with a POC won't sell. This is an entirely different generation. If they can buy a CD,most likely they won't care about a book cover. Yes,they are many ignorant folks roaming the world,but I like to believe that not all of them think this way.

shaldna
03-15-2010, 04:07 PM
This makes me feel sad.

Because.
03-15-2010, 05:32 PM
This makes me feel sad.

Me too.

Whenever I come across stories like this I get a sense of exhaustion. I really shouldn't though.

What I think is how about we change that little idea that POC don't sell (I'm not only going to say Black because it seems like whenever there's a discussion on race anywhere it's literally White and Black when it's not only that at all).

Let's see a comparison. The movie business. Not exactly the moral high ground of equal racial representation. It's a heck of a lot better than before though. How did that happen? People like Hattie McDaniel, Rita Moreno, Josť Ferrer, Sidney Poitier and Ismail Merchant go through the line of fire first to change the idea that POC can't do this, POC can't do that. With their help, we can have our Denzel, Halle, and SofŪa.

So it's going to take a well-written book to sell well with a POC on the main stage (even better if the book has nothing to do with race) to go through the line of fire and show publishers that POC can do this.

My $0.02 :D

Chris P
03-15-2010, 05:46 PM
You can't judge a book by its cover, but the cover is a huge part of the marketing. I should have a realistic idea of what to expect based on the cover art and text. I read one book where the back-cover blurb described stuff that didn't happen in the book. I will not submit to that publisher!

As to the whites-buy-white and blacks-buy-black, I personally think it shouldn't be this way. But, even my local Wal-Mart (not the paragon of progressivity, I know) has an "African American Fiction" section. I have to believe that they do so because of the purchasing choices of their customers. If they couldn't sell more books this way, then they wouldn't do it.

Barbara R.
03-15-2010, 05:58 PM
India doesn't fall under that embargo; India and Indians are counted as very trendy. And Afghanistan/Islam has been big news in the last couple of years. It's specifically characters of African origin which are considered non-commercial. The only exception I'm aware of to this taboo are the Ladies' Detective Agency books. Maybe because they're written by a white man???? :Shrug:

Literary novels have a better chance. The Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/search-handle-url?_encoding=UTF8&search-type=ss&index=books-uk&field-author=Chimamanda%20Ngozi%20Adichie) (Half of a Yellow Sun, Purple Orchids) got good reviews, and deservedly so -- the former book is fantastic; I haven't read the other one).
And then there's my Trinidadian friend, Monique (http://www.moniqueroffey.co.uk/). Then again, her Trinidad novel has white main characters....
Or maybe I'm just paranoid!

No, you're not paranoid. I remember ages ago, when WAITING TO EXHALE first came out, publishers were astonished to find that a) black people read, and b) white people will read books about black characters if those books are brought to their attention. This was such a revelation, and the book such a good seller, that in several major houses, black editors were hired specifically to find good writers of color. Color blind they're not.

Then there's the related problem---related in my mind, anyway---of preconceptions about who ought to be writing what. One of my novels featured mainly black and Latino characters, because that's what was needed for the story. I'm white. The flack I got for doing that was so intense that I ended up changing publishers. Apparently we're all ghettoized and are supposed to stick to writing about our own. I know one very talented writer, white, whose first YA novel was based on an Amerind legend. She couldn't find an agent, and was told outright by several that as good as the book was, her writing it would be regarded as cultural misappropriation. She never did sell it. When I think of all the crap that's been written about "noble savages" by white writers, I can understand a certain wariness there; but as a writer myself, I have to object to this apartheid of the imagination.

Hedgetrimmer
03-15-2010, 08:35 PM
So it's going to take a well-written book to sell well with a POC on the main stage (even better if the book has nothing to do with race) to go through the line of fire and show publishers that POC can do this.

My $0.02 :D

One of my MG novels is currently under consideration at 8 houses. It features a little black girl, but the story has nothing at all to do with race. It's mainly about her relationship with a bird but is also about lots of other universal themes: Friendship, family, home, grief. There is zero dysfunction in it. If all 8 houses reject it, I'll have a hard time, despite my normally optimistic mind, believing it was merely on the basis of the work itself.

polleekin
03-15-2010, 09:23 PM
One of my MG novels is currently under consideration at 8 houses. It features a little black girl, but the story has nothing at all to do with race. It's mainly about her relationship with a bird but is also about lots of other universal themes: Friendship, family, home, grief. There is zero dysfunction in it. If all 8 houses reject it, I'll have a hard time, despite my normally optimistic mind, believing it was merely on the basis of the work itself.
I'm not saying that can't be a reason if it does get rejected, and yes, I'm quite sure it happens.

But keep in mind that many agented books don't sell on their first round (or second round, or ever, or until it's been rewritten 3 times), for tons of reasons. I think it would be a mistake to jump to that conclusion, particularly if it means you aren't seeing your book as clearly-- and so might miss some problems that could be worked on.

(Wishing you a quick sale, though!)

Hedgetrimmer
03-15-2010, 11:06 PM
I'm not saying that can't be a reason if it does get rejected, and yes, I'm quite sure it happens.

But keep in mind that many agented books don't sell on their first round (or second round, or ever, or until it's been rewritten 3 times), for tons of reasons. I think it would be a mistake to jump to that conclusion, particularly if it means you aren't seeing your book as clearly-- and so might miss some problems that could be worked on.

(Wishing you a quick sale, though!)

Yeah, I realize it's a very subjective thing, the market is tough and many fine books (even fellow AWers) are currently being rejected. But when things like all this cover mess happen, as well as lots of other stuff I'd rather not delve into right now, the thought is always in the back of my mind. Still, I'm not ready to start pointing a conspiratorial finger just yet. I'm too busy working on my next book, which is something I can actually control. Thanks for suggesting I remain grounded and focused. :)