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Controversy over the US cover of Justine Larbalestier's novel Liar
Bella
ellen_datlow
This is already all over the net and it should be. It breaks my heart for Justine, who has worked so hard on the book. I think by publicizing and responding to the issue, she's taken a very courageous stance and I hope that the outrage makes a difference. There are so many things wrong with the stance of her publisher that all I can do is sputter in rage.

If you haven't yet discovered it, please start here with Justine's blog
Ain't That a Shame

You might want to read her publisher's response in this article in Publishers' Weekly :

Justine Larbalestier’s Cover Girl


there are links all over the place, but here's Colleen Mondor's post:

Judge me: Liar Liar

It's certainly not on the same level, but I was recently playing a computer game in which the wife of the protagonist is explicitly described as having 'olive skin, dark hair, and freckles' and the avatar of that character, when she shows up in game, is a classic British blonde, pure white. It struck me that there must be some kind of disconnect between the writers of the in game text and the animators. What is so wrong with us?
(Frozen) (Thread)

In your example....they don't bother reading the script?
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“Clearly, our striving for ambiguity with this cover, and for it to be interpreted as a ‘lie’ itself didn’t work for everyone. But again, if this jacket proves a catalyst for a bigger discussion about how the industry is dealing with its books on race, that’s a very large good to come of this current whirlwind.”


I love how they're trying to spin this as if they didn't deliberately buy into the racist assumption that black people on covers won't sell books.
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Absolutely. And as Justine says on her blog, there is NO ambiguity in her mind as author that her main character is mixed-race (and that her self-description is the truth)...as if the discussion wouldn't have come up between Justine and her editor.
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Thanks for posting the link to the publisher's response....

.... which in my opinion is pure bullshit. And then they say "no bookseller has refused the book based on its cover" -- well, of course not! They haven't read the book yet, so why would they refuse a book with a pretty white girl on the cover?

I admit I approach claims of racism/sexism carefully. But this is just as bad as Octavia Butler's Lilith from Dawn appearing as lily white on the original hardcover when she was black.
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The decision to use the cover was offensive enough, but the "spin" the editor tried to use is unforgivable. Sadly, I've fought over covers before - particularly in YA - and it's true that the author has no say whatsoever.
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"I've fought over covers before - particularly in YA - and it's true that the author has no say whatsoever"

Very right. I recall the difficulty I had back in the late '80s or so with the cover of my YA tie-in (with Joe Dever) The Birthplace. The character illustrated was black in the text, white in the first cover illustration I saw. I kicked up hell, but the best I could get out of them was that her face was darkened a bit, to a sort of brownish.

There the publisher's argument (and it may have been honest) was that they could get the artist to do this much without having to pay him a major extra fee.
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From my standpoint, the sad thing is that titles catch my eye and make me want to pick up a book to check out the back cover more that the cover does, unless it's an author I'm familar with.}:/
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I'm not clear if the publishing director Melanie Cecka is the editor or not--not that it matters.

And I know I know.. Terri and tried (with the urging and encouragment of Joe Monti, then a major B&N children's book buyer) for SWAN SISTER because we thought it awful...No one gave a shit and the book sold only so-so.
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What got me was this:

"Of all the things you’re going to choose to believe of her, you’re going to choose to believe she was telling the truth about race?"

That's when Cecka lost all credibility for me.

If I ever manage to sell the novel my agent is shopping around, and it ends up a blonde-haired white woman on the cover, I hope I handle it as honestly as Justine is.
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Exactly. Her "excuse" sabotages the book itself.

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The various artwork controversies have me wondering one thing: Why isn't the #1 priority of artwork reflecting the content of the work in the most appealing way?
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The art on the cover is a marketing tool, same as the copy, and the color type they use. It's approached in the same way any marketing/advertising is approached: what will get the maximum # of buyers to pick this up. That said, there are ways to handle marketing so that they don't insult the readers, the author, or the book. This wasn't it. Not even close, in execution, or spin.

(there is a similar broohaha going on over the string of covers on REALMS OF FANTASY, with a lot of people [including writers] saying "we like bodacious naked babes, who cares if there's no story inside the magazine it fits." So....).


(edited, as usual, for typos)

Edited at 2009-07-25 01:13 am (UTC)
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

That's what I was thinking of when I said "various."

But the thing is, if the art doesn't represent what's inside, is it really going to get and KEEP buyers/readers? I'd feel cheated.

I love ROF, but sometimes it's despite the cover rather than because of it. Their interior art is generally a much better fit.
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I have no problem with magazine cover art not reflecting a specific story inside. A general beautiful piece of art can do just fine, along with cover lines that use the contributor names and sometimes titles of articles (if it's a general mag).

Obviously a book is different (or should be).
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Yes. A book is selling one specific story, and the cover art is sort of its "label," so it needs to communicate what's inside.

One thing I liked about DDP is they asked for my input on cover art. Miska's a bit chesty, but overall they got it right.
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As I've mentioned elsewhere, the same thing happened to Colin Greenland's Take Back Plenty.

Yes, the photograph is attractive and likely to boost sales, but I cannot see why the same pose couldn't have been produced using an African-American model.
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"the same thing happened to Colin Greenland's Take Back Plenty"

I went and checked up, because that wasn't how I remembered Tabitha on the Jim Burns cover . . . and of course I found out it was the Avon US edition you were talking about. Oh, jeez. That's offensive not just on racial but on anatomical grounds.
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Oh My God...just checked out the boobs!
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"just checked out the boobs!"

I think that's what they're there to be.
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Maybe Avon was planning a 3D cover, like those where the author's name is pressed out mechanically.
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For those unfamiliar with any of the covers...

At least two of them of change Tabitha Jute's racial profile (it's difficult to tell from the third image) and the Avon cover hints that she freelances as a porn model.



  


Edited at 2009-07-25 01:13 pm (UTC)
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

Holy moly. I'd never seen that cover.
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The publisher's spin is the biggest load of crap; it seems to misunderstand the very act of reading fiction.

When I read something written in first person, unless it's overtly epistolary, I imagine that I'm being told the story by the narrator . . . not that I'm reading it. I'm not metaconscious of the act of reading as I do it, I get sucked into the words. (I only become conscious of the act of reading when the author messes up, and writes something ridiculously bad. It's never a good thing.)

I think a compulsive liar is more likely to lie when s/he might possibly be able to get away with it. Sitting next to me at a cafe or bus stop, Micah Wilkins might be able to lie to me about her parents, or about her family owning a farm, or about being a hermaphrodite. But if a white girl sitting next to me tells me she's black, that changes her from a compulsive liar to some sort of absurdity. If I told you I was black, you wouldn't think I was a liar; you'd probably think I was joking in some weird way, or trying to be ironic or odd.

So to suggest that maybe she was lying about her race doesn't just give you something else to go "hmmm . . . " about--it changes the very nature of Larbalestier's protagonist. She instantly becomes something faintly ridiculous. Really, this changes the entire experience of reading the book--and not for the better.
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Ever read Christopher Priest's The Glamour? It plays a rather disconcerting trick with the protocols of narration.
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I haven't read that book. It's fine if the author wants to play tricks with my expectations as a reader. At the end I'll either decide that it worked or not, but that's a risk an experimental author knowingly takes. But it's pretty clear to me that Larbalestier wasn't interested in playing this particular trick--that Micah is an unreliable narrator, yes, but she's obviously, in Larbalestier's mind, not lying about her skin color. So it's as if the publisher has forced a type of experimentation on her that she had not intended, by not just printing this cover but then publicly calling into question the narrator's color.
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Gah! This is _still_ happening???! I remember Buying the Book Club editions of Dawn and having one of those "Did the artist even READ any of this book???!"

http://cgi.ebay.com.my/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=350162086261&indexURL=#ebayphotohosting

Thankfully that's since changed.

http://www.africanafrican.com/negroartist/Octavia%20Butler%20Literature/Dawn.jpg

http://media.photobucket.com/image/octavia%20Butler/rookeverett/wildseed.jpg
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I don't see many non-historical novels with non-white characters on the covers. And most of those feature racial conflict and/or slavery as a big part of the plot. The umpteenth printing of _Uncle Tom's Cabin_ probably would cause too much unintentional controversy if there were a blond woman in a bikini on the cover.

A lot of covers instead do the landscape (Ten Mile River), the "Hey, is that a tan?" (most covers of Duane's Young Wizards series), or the various chick-lit and mystery novels with stylized silhouettes.

I almost forgot one variation: the multi-cultural pals. This seems to make the most sense, especially from a sales perspective, but while sometimes it features major characters or a pivotal scene (Blue Balliett's books), that's not always the case.
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