Saturday, January 23, 2010

It's Not Over: Publishing Needs to take the Hint (aka more cover failures) + POC Reading Challenge books needed!

Most of us (including me) have been celebrating over the fact that Bloomsbury is changing the cover of Magic Under Glass. But Bloomsbury is ignoring the point of this whole campaign, it's not just that the cover was inaccurate it's about the messages that the inaccuracy of covers portray. It's about publishing companies seeming to think that POC on book covers won't sell, especially in children's literature. That's a BIG problem. I want to know why do publishing companies think that? I would be most curious to see their survey results that say this, but more importantly, who cares? The publishing industry should be trying to publish books that reflect the world. The world is diverse so we need more diverse stories, especially in children's literature. I firmly believe that books teach tolerance, children won't learn to respect other cultures if there are few books about that culture. And the few books that are out there may have inaccurate covers! Bloomsbury's apology was not really an apology. They didn't acknowledge that they had done anything wrong, they were just sorry to 'cause offense.' Great, now explain why it happened in the first place and that it will never happen again. Are they even listening? I'm presuming Bloomsbury has read some of the articles about this issue, so they should publish a statement that's actually an apology and an explanation.

Here are some more examples of whitewashed covers that have been brought to my attention. And I'm kicking myself for missing the first one (I don't read much sci fi/fantasy so I probably would have missed the 2nd one).

1. The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stuart. Published by Little, Brown. Brought to my attention by Bookshelves of Doom (follow the link for more info and for illustrations that prove her point!). The books have feature a character named Sticky (I immediately thought of Sticky from the Proud Family, anyone know who I'm talking about? lol!) who is described as "a skinny boy with light brown skin [...] and a bald head." The illustrations inside the book portray this exactly right, an African American bald-headed boy. The covers (sorry for the small images!)? Not so much. They feature a white, bald-headed boy. There's only one bald-headed character in the books, so it
has to be Sticky. Now this is just stupid in my opinion. Why would you make a character look one way on a cover and another way in the inside illustrations? Think before you print, publishing companies, think!
ETA: I haven't read the books but my sister read the 1st one and thought it was ok. When I asked her about the cover she said that based on the description of Sticky she always thought he was Black.

2. The Dragon and the Stars Edited by Derwin Mak and Eric Choi. This is a sci fi/fantasy anthology of Chinese culture. It sounds amazing. The problem? (read the comments for a better explanation). The dragon on the cover is a Western dragon. Now I admit, I didn't know the difference, but it was explained to me and I did some research (like staring at the cover of Silver Phoenix, haha) of Oriental dragons. This was first brought to my attention and explained to me by Tarie. An Oriental dragon is long and thin with no wings (and I think a lot more colorful and pretty). And we all know what western dragons look like. Why would you put a Western dragon on a book about Chinese fantasy stories that include dragons? Seriously?!

These are the only two examples I currently know of. I'm disheartened and I'm sure there's more that I'm missing. I'm working on doing a post about the most POC-friendly publishing companies. We need to shine spotlights on the companies that do good and try and make the publishing companies that aren't very diverse see why this is important and yes we have to call them out.
So what can we do? Do what you did for Magic Under Glass. Blog about this issue, email publishers and buy/read/review books about POC! Which leads me to the POC Reading Challenge. I'm co-administrator of this challenge along with Pam and Katy and it's going to be awesome! I'm so excited, but I want to see more participation :) I want to have lots of prizes, but lots of prizes cost money. So I would LOVE you forever ;) if you could donate a book to the challenge as a prize. I'm going to contribute something too (that's what babysitting and summer jobs are for) but I want to have a diverse
round of prizes.

What do we need? Adult and YA books about POC only (or bookstore giftcards)! I'm not sure how many YA and adult fiction bloggers we have doing the challenge (and we may need some MG, I'll have to check). So authors and fellow bloggers (especially my bloggers of color), would you consider donating a book about a POC as a prize? Let's help get books about POC into the hands of readers who want to read about them. Now I totally understand if you don't want to because you only have one copy of a book, I have to own all my favorite books (even if I've already read them). But if you have extra copies of a book or you don't need to own your books and are willing to give it away (I'm awful because I don't like borrowing, I'd rather trade and be done!) it would so be appreciated! You can email me or leave a comment here or at the challenge blog or email Pam or Katy. Thank you in advance!


  1. About that bald kid from the Benedict Society--I thought he was Indian? It's been a while since I read that first book...maybe I'm remembering wrong. Anyway, I'll throw in a copy of Bleeding Violet for your reading challenge; sounds like a good one. ;)

  2. Ari,

    Thanks for keep the discussion focused and relevant.

    Too many assumed the boycott was against the author, about one book. It was about whitewashing.

    And for the record, I ended the boycott because as Bloomsbury suspected, changing the cover effectively distracted readers, gave them a reason to celebrate a small victory and to temporarily forget the larger issue, but those of us who have been fighting for diversity before the controvesy are not distracted and we are not deterred.

    Thank you.

  3. Done--I'll send a couple of books your way! you have an amazingly generous spirit, Ari...

  4. I, too, wish Bloomsbury had elaborated just a little bit on that press release. A few sentences doesn't convey much of an apology. I am glad they offered some sort of an apology, and glad the book is going to get a new cover, don't get me wrong. Just wish there was a little bit more there.

    Next month here in New York there's going to be a Children's Lit Cafe panel with an artist and art director from Simon & Schuster. Depending on how the panel goes, I'm hoping to slip in a question about how the cover design process happens there, especially regarding covers with POC.

  5. *rolls eyes at Bloomsbury's "apology"* Seriously not sold on Bloomsbury's sincerity, but I already talked about that and it's just not interesting.

    The thing about The Dragon and the Stars, it wasn't just about, you know, the wrong dragon for me. It's much, much more than that and I'll admit, my personal history being very much tied to the Chinese diaspora is a big part of my reaction towards that cover. But um, I'll have a post up on that wherein I'll try to talk about this cover as relatively calm as I possibly can.

    I'll see what books I can donate. Expect an email from me sometime. =D

  6. Me! I'll donate any book of mine you want as a prize, including a signed copy of BAMBOO PEOPLE (coming July 1, 2010). Love and hugs to you for your VOICE!

  7. You can count on 3 titles from our Prize Bucket for the challenge. Winners pick their books.

  8. I like the idea of a post about the most POC-friendly publishing companies. We need to support those who are doing the right thing.

  9. what Lyn said. And I'll send along a copy of Superzero. Take care!

  10. I never do book challenges because it makes me nervous to try to keep track of such things over time, but I'm in. I do want to commit this year to reading and reviewing books that feature or are authored by people of color. I do keep diversity in my reading, but I don't always remember to share that reading and I'm going to make it a priority this year. It's one step, one voice.

  11. Was that an apology? I thought it was a statement...
    To be honest in 'marketing' terms no formal apology has been issued this was a statement only.

  12. I can't do anything right now, we have to come up with $500 for car repairs this week. But down the line - March 1st, or later if someone can't afford a book, I'd be happy to buy it through Book Depository (no shipping $) and have it sent to them. If something comes up in March or later, just send me info - name, book, shipping address and I'll be glad to do this.

    btw, joined the challenge- I just need to find some books my self- Would Ash be a good place to start? Still not sure about the character's, but I think the Author is poc?

  13. P.S., I'm also going to go back through your blogs to check for books you liked. I want to get books that are good, so I'm counting on you (no pressure, "kay?)

  14. I'm donating books for the POC Readn=ing Challenge, but wonder if you only accepts books for prize...


  15. I'm with you, Ari. I want to see the numbers! Where are the statistics showing that books with people of color on the covers are not selling?

  16. Stupid people! Statistics show that black people or non POC don't read as much as anglo-Americans. It's all about numbers and marketing.

  17. i agree that bloomsbury's apology is a half hearted apology. it's such a shame that whitewashing is so prevalent in the publishing industry.

    here's another case of whitewashing:

  18. Is the cover illustrator for Benedict Society different from the book illustrator? If not, what happened? I saw Leila post the address details for Little Brown in her spot about this, so I need to compose a letter this week.

    You caught me just in time, about to add Silver Phoenix to a charity bag bundle of books, but I'll donate my hardcover copy to the challenge.

  19. Tarie said...
    I'm with you, Ari. I want to see the numbers! Where are the statistics showing that books with people of color on the covers are not selling?

    Oh. We have numbers, Tarie. That's why the publishing industry can't deviate from their marketing strategies. There's no gray line in sales and marketing. Certain images sell because they appeal to a wider audience, and right now in 2009-2010, that wider market is Anglo-Americans. 88.7% of white readers = a pure white image on bookcovers [regardless if Sticky, the skinny kid, happens to be black] As an Marketing Specialist for big pub, is all about the sales. Harsh, but reality.

  20. @Jodie-Charity is most important though, I don't want to take away books from those who really need it! From what I can tell the last 2 books have the same illustrator and the first book has a different one.

    @annie-Thanks for the link! I've seen this book and I want to read it and I remember thinking the model didn't even look asian, let alone Chinese and then I forgot about it when I did this post. I'll add it.

    @Anon-a non-POC would be white so your statement doesn't make any sense. and I resent you calling my readers stupid, I will not tolerate name calling. Attack me, fine but not my readers.

    @Tarie-Yes where are these mysterious statistics? haha

  21. Thank you everyone for your generousity! I'll be emailing you shortly.

    @Mardel- Don't worry about it! I've received some good responses and with these hard times I don't want to take away any of your money. Just get those car repairs! No pressure *gulps* lol. Ash is by an author of color and malinda lo has said she sees Ash as Asian.

    @Anon-Yes that is a harsh reality and it shouldn't be that way. Publishers should portray positive images and loook to have diverse books.

  22. Ari,

    The Red Umbrella won't be out until May, but would donating some swag help? I can give you one of my "exclusive" red umbrellas (it has the book cover on the strap) and some signed bookmarks. Let me know if this works.

  23. @Anon-a non-POC would be white so your statement doesn't make any sense. and I resent you calling my readers stupid, I will not tolerate name calling. Attack me, fine but not my readers.

    Sorry. I didn't quite grasp the acronym that "you people" have for POC. Oops. The point is WHITE WASHING IS DONE FOR A GOOD REASON. Harsh, but true.

  24. @Anon-Yes that is a harsh reality and it shouldn't be that way. Publishers should portray positive images and loook to have diverse books.

    Publishers must do what they can to stay in business. I AM PRO WHITE WASHING. WHO ELSE OUT THERE AGREES WITH ME?

  25. My little sister brought the "Sticky" character to my attention too. (I haven't read the series either) But she read him as Black, and he certainly isn't portrayed that way on the cover.

    To quote: "Sticky was a Black and the smartest one, which I was proud of, but on the cover, he's colored 'peach'. That made me so mad, I had to reread the line about him being tan like three times! "

    IA; Bloomberg basically issued a non-apology. Pointing out that "offense" was caused without addressing the underlying issue itself really doesn't cut it :/

  26. P.S. Loving the challenge idea! I have an extra copy of Simon Pulse's "Perfect Shot" that I'd be willing to donate. (Although honestly, I think if you contact the author Debbie Rigaud, she might be willing to donate an autographed copy or something to the cause. )

    Aside from that, I'd be happy to donate an illustration or something to the swag-side of the prizes. (I did the illustrations on Debbie's site, as well as a few other authors. My portfolio is here: )

    You can email me at GypsyStarr17 @ aol . com [minus the spaces of course! :)]

  27. Aww aren't you nice! Well I'll slip you a copy of 'Chameleon' then, that's not destined for charity, drop me an email.

    And for the record I don't think there are going to be many people agreeing with Anon above that publishers need to enage in racist tactics to stay in business. Various businesses have also claimed they need to use cheap/sweat shop labour to compete with other companies. I hope we can all agree we are not in favour of because it's a deeply unethical practise and so is whitewashing. We'd never say 'oh well they have to stay in business so it's fine to keep paying employees lower than minimum wage, even though it is wrong.' and this is a similar situation. Customers are becoming more concerned by unethical business practises and if businesses can't adapt their strategies, find more ethical ways to sell, then they'll find support dropping and won't stay in business.

  28. You can count on me for a donation.

    Bloomsbury is blatant with its cover washing and I don't think they'll stop doing it as long as the only color they're concerned about is green.

  29. As Jhenne mentioned, I'll be happy to donate a copy of Perfect Shot. Thanks for organizing this awesome reading challenge.


I love to hear from you!! Thank you for sharing :) And don't be Anon, I try to always reply back and I like to know who I'm replying to ;)