Friday, July 24, 2009

It Matters

As writers, there is very little in our control concerning our manuscript. What we can do is simply write the best we can, then with a little hope, perseverance, and networking, get our best writing into the hands of agents, publishers, book reviewers, and readers. Along the way, a lot is out of our control. Which agent will like my manuscript the best? Which editors does that agent know--and which will want the manuscript? How much marketing will the publisher provide? Will the readers like it?

And what will be on the cover?

They're important questions--and they all matter. The wrong answer to any of those questions could make or break your book. Whether we like it or not, we live in a society that judges the book by its cover.

To the left is Justine Larbalestier's latest book, LIAR. Isn't that a stunning cover? The narrator of the book, a pathological liar, has her lying mouth covered by her own hair. It's gorgeous--and the thing that made me plan on buying a hard cover instead of waiting for a paperback.

There's only one problem.

That isn't the narrator.

The author describes the narrator as:
"Micah is black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short."

Now, there are a few arguments pro the white girl on the book cover.

First, the symbolic argument:

“The cover works symbolically,” said Catherine Linka, children’s and young adult book buyer at Flintridge Bookstore in La Canada, Calif. “We have a character who is hiding a lot, and the cover does a wonderful job of communicating that secrecy—the bangs, the hair crisscrossing across the face.”
(This argument, by the way, is invalid to me, as they could have as easily done this with a black model instead of a white one.)

Second, the "she's just a liar anyway" argument:
"One of the most upsetting impacts of the cover is that it’s led readers to question everything about Micah: If she doesn’t look anything like the girl on the cover maybe nothing she says is true."

(This argument, by the way, is refuted by the author herself: "In an interview with PW, Larbalestier, who is married to Uglies author Scott Westerfeld, said Micah told the truth about her race.")

In the end, I think the publisher just didn't think it mattered.

But they're wrong.

This kind of inherent racism, exclusionary tactics, an underlying belief that white is more marketable than color--that white is actually preferable to color... Seeing it, addressing it, and confronting it...

That matters.

[For more on the topic: E. Lockheart's own experience with racism on covers, the PW Article on the topic, the author's blog on the topic.]

So, I'm dying to know: what do YOU think about this?
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