When it comes to the controversy regarding the photo of a lovely white girl that illustrates the cover of an upcoming book about an African American girl, I am not sure there's anything left to say. There must be more I can do, beyond expressing my concerns to the publisher, or adding my voice to the chorus that has said that this is wrong, so wrong. Beyond committing to reviewing more books featuring people of color. Beyond encouraging diverse reading through a reading challenge and a meme.
I decided it's time to take a more practical route. Bloomsbury wants to sell books to teens, and their best idea for this particular book leaves an acrid taste in people's mouths. I thought it might be helpful if I offered some alternative covers that they could use. So I sat down and thought to myself: what sells to teen girls? And I came up with this book cover:
My apologies for the fact that I'm not artistically gifted, nor do I have fancy equipment, but you get the idea. In fact, I thought maybe Bloomsbury could convince the author to change her name to Justine Meyerbalestier, so that the book could be shelved accordingly. Surely they could get a few sales out of that?
Not being a marketing expert, I'm willing to concede that there may be some issues with this approach which I may not be versed in, so I came up with several alternate covers. I think this next one is my personal favorite:
It's 105 degrees in Portland today but it doesn't get any hotter than this cover. Note the city backdrop to reflect the fact that the story takes place in New York City, and as an added bonus, the model shares the approximate skin tone of the main character. Do firefighters figure in to the plot at all? Who cares? Ninety percent of teen girls and ten percent of teen boys won't be able to resist this cover. And you never know with a liar--maybe Micah's real name is Michael.
The city backdrop in the above cover got me thinking that maybe a city skyline would make a good cover. I picked my favorite, and went with it.
Just look at that skyline! No pollution to speak of, and the gorgeous Mt. Rainier in the distance. Yes, the story takes place in New York City, but ever since 9/11 I've associated the Manhattan skyline with tragedy, so I decided teens might not go for it. Plus, we can't know whether the story actually takes place in New York City. Could be Seattle. In fact, readers could choose to believe any setting that sells. Which leads me to the last possibility:
When Liar comes out in September, many a reader will be ready to plan a warm getaway for the cold weather months, and you can't beat Hawaii for beauty and sunshine. A cover promising free tickets to Hawaii is bound to get attention! And no, of course there won't be any free tickets--haven't you heard that the publishing industry is in trouble? In keeping with the theme, it's a baldfaced lie. You got a problem with that?
Ignoring for a moment the amateur look of each of these covers, which idea do you like best? Place your vote here!
This post was written as part of the C.O.R.A. Diversity Roll Call meme. While it is written in a tongue-in-cheek manner, when it comes to the underlying assumptions behind the decision to use a white model to sell a book with a black character, I'm not laughing. Bloomsbury's decision wasn't made in a vacuum. There is work to be done.