This past weekend, while I was at the Tucson Book Festival, a fellow young adult writer told me that my new novel, This Thing Called the Future, was beautifully designed. “But,” she added, “you do know that only a publisher like Cinco Puntos Press would publish a cover with a picture of that young lady on the cover of the book.”
I knew what she was saying without saying it: The young lady on the cover of my book is too black. In fact, the young lady on the cover of my book is all African; the photo was taken by a friend of mine in a Cape Town township.
It reminded me of a controversy a few years ago with the young adult book Liar by Justine Larbalestier. Though the protagonist of Justine’s novel is black, the publisher initially released a cover depicting a white girl. What’s interesting to me, however, is that though the publisher finally did release a cover with a picture of a black girl, she is still pretty light-skinned and pretty in all the traditionally anglo-cized ways.
This has been a raging controversy for the past couple of years. According to Colleen Mondor on Bookslut,
Specifically regarding the cover controversy issue, the blogosphere conversation seems to have overlooked a key component to the issue: taking time to fully examine WHY the publishers whitewash the covers. From what I’ve read, all the time is spent talking about why they shouldn’t. But why do they? Obviously: To Make Money. And someone, somewhere has convinced them that whitewashed books sell better.”
Ms. Mondor goes on to say that it’s more complicated than that. Sometimes publishers do suggest appropriate images for covers, and gatekeepers, or the authors themselves, convince them not to go down that path. She says,
“From the many conversations I had over the past month, the only thing that is clear when it comes to diversity and publishing is its utter and complete lack of consistency.”