Usually, this blog is about unpleasant realities that can seem insurmountable. I think the following news proves that just talking about race is enough to affect an entire industry. Corporations can and will do the right thing if enough people put up a fuss and speak out.
Bloomsbury USA is going to change the cover of its leading Young Adult fiction title this fall, Justine Larbalestier’s Liar. It was another case of whitewashing, where the white girl on the cover was supposed to represent the biracial black protagonist in the story. Many bloggers and readers expressed dismay at the misrepresentation of the main character and how the cover fed into the racist trend of sidelining both stories about people of color and authors of color (Larbalestier is white, but the conversation outgrew this one single instance), and how children of color so rarely find protagonists who look like they do on the covers of the books they are encouraged to buy. Justine took a professional risk and publicly criticized the decision to put a stock photo of a white girl on the book over her protests.
For those of you not aware, authors rarely have any say whatsoever in what the cover art for their work looks like when they are published at an old-school, non-print-on-demand publisher, the only kind of publisher from which most books stores are willing to buy. If you want your print books to reach a large audience, you have to be willing to give up most of your creative control over everything: the audience to which the book is marketed, the language and vocabulary used in the story, the cover art, the marketing pitch, the blurb, etc. Having a contract not only with an agent but with a publisher with the clout of Bloomsbury is a big deal. Justine was brave enough to talk honestly on the Internet about a subject that could have cost her professional relationships vital to her career. She believed the risk was worth the potential cost to herself, to young readers, especially children of color if she did not. I agree with her.
It took less than two weeks of the story circulating between the blogs and publishing news media outlets for Bloomsbury to change its mind and order all of the old covers to be scrapped, conduct a photo shoot, and order new covers for the book. For a large print run like 100,000 copies, that must have cost them a significant amount of money, but the publishers decided to do it any way. The motivations behind doing this may not be as idealistic as Justine’s, and the new cover girl doesn’t actually have ‘nappy’ hair, but it is a vast, VAST improvement over the original cover.
Normally, I don’t approve of giving people ‘cookies’ for doing the right thing. But the reviews of Justine’s book make it sound fantastic, and I want this book to succeed beyond Bloomsbury’s expectations. Furthermore, Justine has recommended two authors of color who deserve as many accolades for their talents: Coe Booth, who has written Kendra, a coming-of-age story about a young mother and her teenage daughter afraid of repeating the past, and M. Sindy Felin’s Touching Snow.
Provided that this new face graces Liar when it hits the bookshelves in October, I will be one of the first to buy several copies.