I am noticing this somewhat acutely right now because quite a few people are hating on Micah Wilkins the protagonist of Liar. […] I happen to love Micah, as I do all the characters in my books. I’m well aware that I’m not an impartial observer, but I have a sneaking suspicion that were Micah a boy even with all the same flaws s/he would not be attracting such hate. I suspect that there would be a fair few crushes on Micah-the-boy. That he would be considered hot. […]
[R]eaders call Isabelle (of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments trilogy) a “slut” and have crushes on Jace who’s much more slutty than Isabelle. What can we do to shift such sexist assumptions when they’re so deeply ingrained in so many of us? Because even when we write books that challenge such stereotypes, readers put them back into the text by reading Isabelle as a slut and Jace as Hotty McHott Hero. I have done this myself both as a reader and a writer. Our prejudices are so unconscious that they leak out without our knowing it.
Justine Larbalestier speaks out on the Liar cover controversy
I picked up the ARC of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar at ALA, but I haven’t got around to reading it yet, so I didn’t know about its Cover Problem until Duncan brought it to my attention a few days ago. In short: the cover features a white girl with long straight hair. The protagonist of the book is black, with short nappy hair, and can pass for a boy on occasion.
I’m sure you can see the problem.
Publishers Weekly published an article about the controversy today. One of the important things they note is that young readers in particular care a lot about whether or not the cover image matches the book’s description of the character. Teenagers and children have a lot of respect for the world an author creates, and having a mismatched cover is an insult to this world. Can you imagine a Harry Potter cover without Harry’s trademark scar, glasses, and unruly black hair? Kids would riot.
Justine herself hadn’t commented on the cover until today, when she wrote a lengthy blog post about race and cover art in general, as well as in this specific instance. She writes:
The notion that “black books” don’t sell is pervasive at every level of publishing. Yet I have found few examples of books with a person of colour on the cover that have had the full weight of a publishing house behind them. Until that happens more often we can’t know if it’s true that white people won’t buy books about people of colour. All we can say is that poorly publicised books with “black covers” don’t sell. The same is usually true of poorly publicised books with “white covers.”
Also worth reading is her post on why she doesn’t write white protagonists. I’m not the biggest fan of her writing style, but I’ve always admired her for having a diverse cast of characters in her books. (As a counterexample, I love John Green’s writing to death, but every time I read one of his books I’m like okay, white straight male protagonist… check. Nonwhite supporting character… check. [No offense intended to John Green here. That’s probably what my own books would look like, only with girls.]) Making all of her protagonists nonwhite is a gutsy move, and one that can have its problems, as she acknowledges in the comments:
There are people who hold that whites should not write about non-whites because they invariably get it wrong, because of cultural appropriation, and because when they do so they regularly get far more attention and rewards and publicity than non-white writers who do the same. All of which is true.
When I sell my books I am never told by publishers that they already have too many books about race or about [pick ethnic/racial group]. But I know of South Asian American/African American/Korean American writers whose books have not been picked up because the publishing house already had a South Asian/African American/Korean book.
It’s sad. And it reminds me a lot of Bev Vincent’s story of having his manuscript rejected because the male protagonist wasn’t “authentic” enough. You see, because of his ambiguous name, the editor thought Bev was a woman, and therefore unable to write from a man’s point of view. Bev is a man.
I’m sure you can see the problem.