In a number of interviews for BookBanter, the subject of book covers has come up with authors and in most cases — except rare instances, such as limited editions or the “clout” of the author — the publisher has sole say, design and look of the book cover. The author writes the book and does all the work with relation to the words, but as for the look of the book and the ultimate cover, the author usually has little to no say in the final product. Cherie Priest, on a recent episode of BookBanter, was delighted with the look of Boneshaker, but was not really aware of it until she saw a finished copy with is yellowed paper and brown type.
Last fall with the release of Liar by Justine Larbalestier, the publisher Bloomsbury was intending to publish the book with this cover:
The main character of the book is an African-American girl with “nappy” hair. People began complaining about this, and even the author made a comment. Bloomsbury backpedaled and decided to change the cover, stating: “We regret that our original creative direction for Liar—which was intended to symbolically reflect the narrator’s complex psychological makeup—has been interpreted by some as a calculated decision to mask the character’s ethnicity,” and published the book with this new cover:
While this statement doesn’t exactly admit what was really going on, Bloomsbury at least corrected the mistake. Here’s the original article from Publishers Weekly.
Time passed, the holidays came and went, and then Bloomsbury did exactly the same thing again with Jaclyn Dolamore’s debut novel, Magic Under Glass, which has this cover:
The protagonist, who’s name is Namira, is considered by others in the book as having “exotic” features, and is described as having brown skin. Bloomsbury have recalled all copies of the book and are in the process of issuing a new, corrected cover.
A lot of statements can be made, a lot of thoughts and opinions voiced– I myself will fully admit that when I begin reading a story, my mind defaults to white with regards to the character unless they are described otherwise — about this issue, but I believe there is a simple solution. Let the author at least have some say, however minor, in the look of the cover, or at least be able to voice some feedback before the final design is decided and sent to press.
If Justine Larbalestier or Jaclyn Dolamore had been sent a finished photo of the cover and asked for their opinion, they could’ve said something to the effect of: “Oh, it looks incredible, only the main character isn’t white . . .” I know this is even less likely with a debut author whose dream has come true to get their book published and are willing to accept just about anything to keep that happening. But now Jaclyn Dolamore, I’m sure, is less than thrilled that all this has happened to her first book . . . of course, it is no doubt creating hype for the book which will perhaps lead to more sales . . .
But the point is with a simple step of letting the author see the finished cover and providing feedback — which the publisher doesn’t have to agree with or follow, but at least hear — can make all the difference. For while sales for Magic Under Glass may be better because of this controversy, the opposite is happening for Bloomsbury, which will be looked at in a different way from now on.
Fool me once . . .
Fool me twice . . .
And here are some interesting links to what other people have to say about this issue:
The Publisher’s Weekly article on Magic Under Glass: “Bloomsbury to Rejacket ‘Magic Under Glass.'”
From Jezebel: Magic Under Glass: The White-Washing Of Young Adult Fiction Continues.
Ellen Datlow’s personal letter to Bloomsbury: Another whitewash of a YA novel character’s color.
Karen Healey’s post using the term “whitewashing.”
Gordsellar.com: Attention Bloomsbury: The World Is (Mostly) Not White.
Salon.com: Publisher whitens another heroine of color.
Coming up next on the BookBanter blog: another book cover controversy of a different sort.