Ain’t That a Shame (updated)

In the last few weeks as people have started reading the US ARC of Liar they have also started asking why there is such a mismatch between how Micah describes herself and the cover image. Micah is black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short. As you can see that description does not match the US cover.

Many people have been asking me how I feel about the US cover, why I allowed such a cover to appear on a book of mine, and why I haven’t been speaking out about it.

Authors do not get final say on covers. Often they get no say at all.

As it happens I was consulted by Bloomsbury and let them know that I wanted a cover like the Australian cover, which I think is very true to the book.1 I was lucky that my Australian publisher, Allen & Unwin, agreed with my vision and that the wonderful Bruno Herfst came up with such a perfect cover image.

I never wanted a girl’s face on the cover. Micah’s identity is unstable. She spends the book telling different version of herself. I wanted readers to be free to imagine her as they wanted. I have always imagined her looking quite a bit like Alana Beard,2 which is why I was a bit offended by the reviewer, who in an otherwise lovely review, described Micah as ugly. She’s not!3

The US Liar cover went through many different versions. An early one, which I loved, had the word Liar written in human hair. Sales & Marketing did not think it would sell. Bloomsbury has had a lot of success with photos of girls on their covers and that’s what they wanted. Although not all of the early girl face covers were white, none showed girls who looked remotely like Micah.

I strongly objected to all of them. I lost.

I haven’t been speaking out publicly because to be the first person to do so would have been unprofessional. I have privately been campaigning for a different cover for the paperback. The response to the cover by those who haven’t read Liar has been overwhelmingly positive and I would have looked churlish if I started bagging it at every opportunity. I hoped that once people read Liar they would be as upset as I am with the cover. It would not have helped get the paperback changed if I was seen to be orchestrating that response. But now that this controversy has arisen I am much more optimistic about getting the cover changed. I am also starting to rethink what I want that cover to look like. I did want Bloomsbury to use the Australian cover, but I’m increasingly thinking that it’s important to have someone who looks like Micah on the front.

I want to make it clear that while I disagree with Bloomsbury about this cover I am otherwise very happy to be with them. They’ve given me space to write the books I want to write. My first book for them was a comic fairy book that crossed over into middle grade (How To Ditch Your Fairy). I followed that up with Liar, a dark psychological thriller that crosses over into adult. There are publishers who would freak. No one at Bloomsbury batted an eye. I have artistic freedom there, which is extraordinarily important to me. They are solidly behind my work and have promoted it at every level in ways I have never been promoted before.

Covers change how people read books

Liar is a book about a compulsive (possibly pathological) liar who is determined to stop lying but finds it much harder than she supposed. I worked very hard to make sure that the fundamentals of who Micah is were believable: that she’s a girl, that she’s a teenager, that she’s black, that she’s USian. One of the most upsetting impacts of the cover is that it’s led readers to question everything about Micah: If she doesn’t look anything like the girl on the cover maybe nothing she says is true. At which point the entire book, and all my hard work, crumbles.

No one in Australia has written to ask me if Micah is really black.

No one in Australia has said that they will not be buying Liar because “my teens would find the cover insulting.”

Both responses are heart breaking.

This cover did not happen in isolation.

Every year at every publishing house, intentionally and unintentionally, there are white-washed covers. Since I’ve told publishing friends how upset I am with my Liar cover, I have been hearing anecdotes from every single house about how hard it is to push through covers with people of colour on them. Editors have told me that their sales departments say black covers don’t sell. Sales reps have told me that many of their accounts won’t take books with black covers. Booksellers have told me that they can’t give away YAs with black covers. Authors have told me that their books with black covers are frequently not shelved in the same part of the library as other YA—they’re exiled to the Urban Fiction section—and many bookshops simply don’t stock them at all. How welcome is a black teen going to feel in the YA section when all the covers are white? Why would she pick up Liar when it has a cover that so explicitly excludes her?

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.4 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.”

Are the big publishing houses really only in the business of selling books to white people? That’s not a very sustainable model if true. Certainly the music industry has found that to be the case. Walk into a music store, online or offline, and compare the number of black faces you see on the covers there as opposed to what you see in most book stores. Doesn’t seem to affect white people buying music. The music industry stopped insisting on white washing decades ago. Talented artists like Fats Domino no longer needs Pat Boone to cover genius songs like “Ain’t That a Shame” in order to break into the white hit parade. (And ain’t that song title ironic?)

There is, in fact, a large audience for “black books” but they weren’t discovered until African American authors started self-publishing and selling their books on the subway and on the street and directly into schools. And, yet, the publishing industry still doesn’t seem to get it. Perhaps the whole “black books don’t sell” thing is a self-fulfilling prophecy?

I hope that the debate that’s arisen because of this cover will widen to encompass the whole industry. I hope it gets every publishing house thinking about how incredibly important representation is and that they are in a position to break down these assumptions. Publishing companies can make change. I really hope that the outrage the US cover of Liar has generated will go a long way to bringing an end to white washing covers. Maybe even to publishing and promoting more writers of color.

But never forget that publishers are in the business of making money. Consumers need to do what they can. When was the last time you bought a book with a person of colour on the front cover or asked your library to order one for you? If you were upset by the US cover of Liar go buy one right now. I’d like to recommend Coe Booth’s Kendra which is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Waiting on my to be read pile is Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger, which has been strongly recommended to me by many people.

Clearly we do not live in a post-racist society. But I’d like to think that the publishing world is better than those many anecdotes I’ve been hearing. But for that to happen, all of us—writers, editors, designers, sales reps, booksellers, reviewers, readers, and parents of readers—will have to do better.

Update: Because some recent commenters haven’t heard that Bloomsbury have changed the cover here is a link to the new cover.

  1. I didn’t see the Australian cover until after the US cover was finalised. []
  2. Yes, another protag of mine who looks like a WNBA player. What can I say? I’m a fan. []
  3. If you’re interested, I imagine another character in the book, Sarah, as looking like a younger Rutina Wesley, who’s not a WNBA player. []
  4. And most of those were written by white people. []


  1. Mary Anne Mohanraj on #

    Justine, just wanted to say that I really appreciated this. I’m working on an academic project now about S. Asian and diaspora book covers by women authors, which reflects many of the same issues you bring up in this point.

    I’ve been hesitant to talk about my own experience with HarperCollins and the cover for _Bodies in Motion_, for some of the same professionalism concerns you raise, but I think we need to have this conversation. Over and over again, until people in industry start to really understand the damage that’s being done to the field.

  2. Sarah Rees Brennan on #

    Interesting, informative and really brave post, Justine. *applauds you*

  3. Karen Healey on #

    Fantastic post, Justine.

  4. Maureen Johnson on #

    I’m so glad that you’ve written this. I have nothing to add but a cheer of support in the comments.

  5. Christopher on #

    Good on ya, mate.

  6. Amy on #

    This is an amazing, amazing post. I’m sorry your cover didn’t work out as you would have liked it.

  7. JD Rhoades on #

    When I saw the cover for the hardcover of my first novel, THE DEVIL’S RIGHT HAND, I e-mailed my editor: “It’s real pretty, but can someone explain why [REM lead singer] Michael Stipe is on the front of my book? And where the hell did the vintage car come from? My protagonist drives a late model Crown Vic.” The editor and my agent said they’d look into it. Two weeks later, I got the new revised cover–which was almost exactly like the first one. I took the hint.

    OTOH, I did get them to drop some things off the cover of BREAKING COVER, because I thought they cluttered things up. But I loved the basic design, so that’s good.

  8. Karen Mahoney on #

    I am so glad to hear you speak out about this. I always admire the way you express yourself when it comes to issues of race/gender/colour/sexual identity and all the other subjects you talk about here. That someone as heartfelt on these issues as *you* should have to handle this situation seems totally unfair… But then, things often aren’t I suppose.

    Maybe you’re right and something good will come of this – thanks for your honesty, though. I’m really hoping LIAR gets a new cover in paperback!


    p.s. I’m in the UK – what cover will we be getting, do you know yet? On Amazon (UK) it indicates the cover art isn’t final yet.

  9. jonathan evison on #

    . . . so, my novel, all about lulu also has a close-up image of the female protagonist on the cover who looks nothing like said protagonist– shockingly, i can’t remember a single reader ever pointing this out to me . . .

  10. Keren David on #

    Thank you for this brave and thoughtful post. I would love to see a response from your publishers.

  11. Marrije on #

    A thought. Perhaps we could design alternative covers for this book (or other books) featuring pictures of non-white people and slip those over the book while reading out in public. With very legible author & title of course, so anyone who wonders what that super cool book you’re reading is would still know what to ask for at the book shop. We could start a movement!

  12. Penelope Lolohea on #

    I had no idea! This is such an interesting post, and very good of you to put it out there. I’ll definitely be keeping up with the story.

  13. Patrick Nielsen Hayden on #

    I think, as you suggest, that the idea that white people won’t buy books with black people on the covers is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because book publishing is an enterprise in which any given venture is vulnerable to a lot of random imponderables, people inside of it tend to be prone to superstitions. I remember when it was universally believed that green books don’t sell.

    When Ace published Steven Barnes STREETLETHAL, a futuristic action novel with a black protagonist, they made the guy on the cover Asian. Some years later, Tor published the sequel, GORGON CHILD, with a cover that made him unambiguously black. And it sold quite well.

  14. JD Rhoades on #

    As to the rest of your post, I don’t know how many readers would actually distrust the protagonist because the cover image was different that her description in the book, mainly because that sort of thing does happens so often.

    “Sales & Marketing did not think it would sell.”

    Hoo-boy. Don’t get me started. The thing is, no one in the business has any damn idea what will sell and what won’t. So the opinion of anyone in S & M is as good as anyone else’s, even though it may seem totally crack-brained to anyone with a lick of sense.

    I agree this idea that you can’t have black faces on the cover sucks. Big time. And “Urban Fiction”? Really? Yeesh, like the genres aren’t fragmented enough.

  15. JD Rhoades on #

    I see Patrick beat me to the punch, and in a more artfully phrased manner as well.

  16. Joni Sensel on #

    Great post, many great points, and good for you. I’m a Bloomsbury author who has cringed to see their name involved because clearly it is not just one mistake by one house; its endemic. But here’s hoping this can be a step toward change; as you note, I think there’s a lot of self-fulfilling prophesy involved.

  17. Kwana on #

    Thanks for this important and well written post.

  18. Kelly Anderson on #

    As a classroom teacher with an extensive classroom library I find this extremely disturbing. I am always on the lookout for new books about students of different ethnic backgrounds (I just ordered Coe Booth’s books). My students, especially the boys (I teach in a semi-rural/suburban mostly white area with a sprinkling of blacks and hispanics) gravitate towards books with people of different races on them. I have never had one say, “I don’t want to read that” based on the cover, except if it’s a decidedly feminine cover – the boys don’t much like those. And the girls are the same way.
    Are the publishers so blind to our very diverse population? I find it disheartening to find that such stances are prevalent in the industry.
    Thank you for opening my eyes, and best of luck,
    Kelly Anderson

  19. Rebecca on #

    I wish I could say that I’d even thought about this, but I can’t. I’m so used to the idea that book covers have nothing to do with what’s actually in the books. It’s almost like they’re a separate entity from the book itself. I also rarely browse for books anymore–instead I get books by authors I already know of or who’ve been recommended to me or, at the very least, with jacket copy that sounds good. I kind of skip over most anything else that’s marketing-related, especially the covers.

    So it never really occurred to me to wonder why the girl on the cover didn’t look a thing like Micah. I loved the cover when I first saw it, and by the time I actually got to read the book, I wasn’t giving the cover any thought at all. I can say that it never occurred to me that Micah wasn’t black. I believed all those basic elements of her identity.

    But now, as you have so brilliantly pointed out, it’s really, glaringly obvious to me what a problem this is. And it’s awful. I’m really, really glad you said something, because I don’t know if I’d ever have noticed otherwise. I feel like I’ve been horribly blind, but at least now I can change that. I can start paying attention and doing something about it.

  20. Mark Terry on #

    I’ve always disliked the cover for my novel, Dirty Deeds. So, apparently did my editor, who never even let me see the first version, which she told me some time later was far, far worse. Part of it was just that my publisher at that time liked somewhat thematic cover colors, ie., lots of pastels, because they started out as a regional publisher of nonfiction. Unfortunately, Dirty Deeds is a hard-boiled noir suspense novel taking place in Detroit about Internet porn and identity theft. The soft water-color looks in purple don’t really work (for me at least). But I didn’t have a lot of say in the matter.

    My novels The Devil’s Pitchfork and The Serpent’s Kiss were inspired, I think, and I had feedback, although all the feedback I needed was, “Wow,” so what else was needed? I’m with a different publisher now and we’re still trying to figure out the cover for the next Derek Stillwater novel, The Fallen (due out April 2010), and the first iteration was good, but seemed like it belonged on a paranormal novel. (The Fallen refers to a The Fallen Angels, a terrorist organization. The first cover has an angel on it, along with some things to suggest it’s an action thriller). The second iteration, which I didn’t like at all, decreased the size of the angel, but looks even worse. I spoke to my editor about it who told me to tell the cover artist and the guy shepherding the whole thing exactly what I thought, so I did. Will they listen? Hey, this is publishing. I get input, which is nice, but I don’t get the final word. Not even close, I would guess.

  21. libba on #

    Well done. One of the many reasons why I’m your fan.

  22. Jeni on #

    What an amazingly thoughtful, informative post. Thank you!

  23. tanita on #

    Thanks for explaining to a lot of people how little authors have to do with their book covers. And it’s true — books DO get exiled to that Urban Fiction section, and it’s …well, what do you do? We all have a long way to go in dealing with these issues, at least in the U.S., and every time we can discuss it reasonably, it’s a step forward. Well said.

  24. KatG on #

    That this happened in YA, children’s, which I’d understood over the last three decades had been making a concerted effort to engage non-white kids as readers and to put out diverse lines and stories, it just breaks my heart.

    Yes, authors don’t get to decide how publishers package their books. But when an author is that upset about a cover, especially for a YA novel that is also going to be marketed to adults, to refuse to listen and to be so racially insensitive is a whole new level of idiocy. Bloomsbury didn’t just harm you, they harmed their whole line. And they should fix it, not on the paperback, but right now on the hardcover.

  25. Lauren McLaughlin on #

    Excellent post, Justine. It was right of you to speak out and it was right of you to wait for others to lead the charge.

    I positively hate the adjective “urban” when used as a code for black. If you’re going to segregate the bookstore, have the cojones to do it openly, for crying out loud.

  26. sara z. on #

    I add my cheers of support, and my thanks.

    Also I agree with OP who said she’s so used to covers not accurately representing book content that she barely notices. I’m like that, too.

    I do pick up books when browsing based on covers, though.

    I think about Coe’s books and how striking the covers are, and how right they are for what’s inside. The TYRELL cover made me want to read it; I didn’t really know Coe yet and what an amazing writer she is, but I at least knew it would be a story I’d never read before. Another really striking “black cover” I picked up *because* of the cover was Sherri Winston’s ACTING -two African American girls in profile. I bought it because I wanted to read something that wouldn’t be the same old stuff I usually read (and write)…white teen girl angst. I’m drawn to covers with people on them who don’t look like me and am surprised and bummed to know how much I’m in the minority in that (according to booksellers).

  27. Becca on #

    I haven’t read LIAR yet, and didn’t know Micah is black. And I loved the US cover – I think the photo is brilliant. But now, losing my ignorance (ouch) I feel somehow ashamed: that I assumed the model should represent the character, that the character would be white. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Because it *is* a big deal.

  28. Juliette Dominguez on #

    An important post, Justine ~ thank you. Also think it is interesting that with TRUE BLOOD, Alan Ball took some creative liberties with the original Harris novels, by changing the character Tara’s race *from white to black* because “it felt right” to increase the African-American presence in the series (from EW magazine). The publishers need to amend this situation you speak of ~ and now.

  29. Other Bill on #

    People of colour? With the British spelling for class? Is this 1972? you make a great argument that publishing houses are at the least unfairly wary of minority selling points and the most outright racist in their assumptions regarding the composition of the population of readers in the US.

    But let’s remember that most people read one book a year. Just one. The fact that a book doesn’t sell may or may not be because readers are biased against minorities, or it may be because most books don’t sell at all.

    And minority centric books are consigned to “urban fiction” sections for the same reason that really great works of fiction are consigned to the science fiction section: because that’s where they’ll get the most standout attention. Or the same for adult works of fiction featuring young protagonists, like little brother, that are consigned to the YA section. Which sold like hotcakes.

    That said, sorry you didn’t get the cover you wanted, that’s bullshit. I used to be staunchly a “coverist”. But I’m recovered now and assure I will not allow my self to be biased by the cover of a book. Which seems important and ironically relevant to social life. Someone should think up a handy expression to throw around so people don’t forget about this very obvious point.

  30. Neesha Meminger on #

    Thanks for this post, Justine. We were all waiting and hoping for your take on the issue.

    Often, the issue of race gets portrayed as a matter of opinion, as in: I don’t think that’s racist. The problem with this is that racism is not a matter of opinion. It is systemic, deeply ingrained, economic, and put in place by conscious design. It is not a coincidence that the poorest people all over the world are also, in overwhelming numbers, the darkest. You can ignore it, say it’s their own fault, or if you think it’s wrong, you can try to do something to make things different.

    Sadly, a system like this sets up an “if you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem” dynamic, whether we like it or not. We really need more writers, agents, editors, and publishers speaking up and taking a stand — especially if they have a platform to effect change.

    And, judging from this post, you are clearly speaking up and trying to be part of the solution. Bravo.

  31. Jessica on #


    You sound like a lovely, caring woman.
    Whoever pushed this cover forward does not.
    Right now, with the distinguished black professor Gates being arrested for breaking into his own house and then this, it just adds more fuel to the fire.

    The message the current cover sends is that the protagonist wants to be white and that she hates being black, that this is her idea of what happiness looks like…a white girl.
    Because in America, the epitome of beauty is the young white woman (Halle Berry doesn’t count, as she seems to be the one and only AA woman considered beautiful by american media). You see, Bloomsbury has just slapped black women with a constant reminder of what they will never be by the cover of your book.
    There, I said it.
    Unless Bloomsbury wants Al Sharpton on CNN discussing a boycott (yes, it could be taken that far), I’d suggest they switch it pronto. Because the message in your novel will be lost, as the fire storm about the cover will overshadow everything else. And people will look at someone to be the scape goat, and right now I fear it will be you. I pray your publishers will own up to their error and take a course on diversity. They live in the US and they should know, or need to know better.

  32. Victoria Janssen on #

    This is a big deal, and thank you for posting about it.

  33. Jay Lake on #

    I have struggled with this exact issue. My book GREEN is about a South Asian girl. On the cover she is somewhat ethnically ambiguous, but the overall impression is one of white-ness. It’s beautiful cover art which does much to impart the spirit of the book, but it does not reflect the character’s reality. Like you, I have been extremely unwilling to be the first to speak up, for many of the same reasons.

  34. Mariah on #

    I would never not pick up a book because there was a black person on the cover. Yes it is true the cover is what sells most of the time but so is the author and the plot, I can see what they are thinking but if it clearly says in the book that the girl is black then the picture of the girl on the cover should be the same. If the publisher does not want to have a black model on the cover then they should not put a person on the cover.

  35. Kaethe on #

    I really appreciate you addressing this problem. As a reader and as a bookseller, this is an issue that has driven me crazy for years. No matter how the individuals at Bloomsbury may rationalize their decisions, they are continuing to practice discrimination and that makes me very angry.

    I have tremendous respect for you as an author, and enjoyed “How to Ditch Your Fairy” enormously. I’ll read “Liar”. Hell, I’ll even buy it if I can get a different cover.

  36. Can Özmen on #

    Great great post.

  37. Sarah on #

    I’m glad you took the time to post about this. As a writer (& a YA bookseller), I actually find it off-putting when there IS a face on the cover of a book. It’s the same thing that happens when a movie is released — the image of the actor or the face of the image on a cover is ingrained immediately into the mind of the reader and, in cases like that, details of physicality in the book are ignored.

    I haven’t had the pleasure of getting an ARC of Liar, so I haven’t read it yet. But I find it interesting that with a book that seems to deal in large part with honesty and lies and unreliable narrators, that a publishing house would choose to push a certain image of the narrator with the cover. I’ve seen many wonderful covers with simply words or images (not of people) on them, and find myself drawn to them over faces.

    I am looking forward to seeing where this goes between now and the time the book gets released.

  38. Heidi R. Kling on #

    Thank you for posting about this. People have been twittering about it and at least one person remarked, “Well, the character is a liar, she’s probably lying about her race.” Reading this, clearly that isn’t true.

    Kudos to you for being so brave and honest. Best of luck getting the paperback changed, and I can’t wait to read your book.

  39. N. K. Jemisin on #

    Justine, thanks for this. (It’s always so much fun to read your blog, though I usually just lurk!) I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here — adult readers of color will pass around word of good books, incl. those that feature characters of color, by word of mouth. But what about kids, who haven’t yet formed those kinds of reading networks? Many of them are turned off reading before they ever start, thanks to the endless cavalcade of book covers that make them feel ashamed or resentful. And this stuff has long-term effects on self-esteem and academic achievement.

    I actually just pitched a marketing idea to my publisher, since so many SF cons are talking about race this year (hopefully that’ll last) — I want to show the early version of my book cover, and the final version, side-by-side on a postcard. The early version features my protagonist, who is a brown woman (the model looks SE Asian Indian, while the description is closer to South American Indian, but at least she’s not white). The final version moves this character to the back cover, and I have to admit the final composition looks better without her. But I’ll admit I wonder if her non-whiteness played a part in this decision. I think it would be an interesting prop to use for discussion at ICFA or WFC next year.

  40. C. Sän Inman on #

    Thanks for the mature and insightful post.

  41. brittany ann on #

    Wow I never even noticed that she was white on the cover…Protags rarely look right on the cover, so I try not to think about it too hard.

    But now that you mention it, this has me really mad. To actually put a white girl when Micah is black? It’s scary how racism is still around, being sneaky and subtle on book covers…and few people actually notice it. I really like that Micah is black–so many black characters are just tokens, like authors are trying to toss a crumb to black people so they won’t complain too much, and they rarely get to be protags unless the author him/herself is also black.

    I hope people make a huge fuss about this, until Bloomsbury changes the cover.

  42. Bree Despain on #

    Thanks for the great post. I’ve seen your US cover a few times (without knowing anything about the main character)and I LOVED it . . . but now I’m kind of peeved. I truly hope you get a new, authentic cover for the paperback.

  43. MotherReader on #

    Thank you for writing about this. I know it was hard because of your conflict with being supportive of your publisher and professional, vs addressing an issue that concerns you personally and societally.

    The cover is beautiful, but all wrong. It was especially distracting with the “unreliable narrator” idea, because like you said, it makes you question who she even is, then question everything, and the book falls apart. You’d think that even if the publisher wanted a different cover that they would understand how the wrong cover could ruin the book. Such a shame.

  44. Diana Peterfreund on #

    But, JD, that’s exactly what readers are doing. I’ve seen many, many reviews of LIAR where the reviewer wonders if Micah is lying about her race/appearance, too, due to the image on the cover of the novel. Justine linked to many of these reviews in her post.

    The old “but they look nothing like they do in the book!” complaint is an old chestnut among authors and book readers. My latest one is the only one in which I think the character bears even a passing resemblance to the protagonist I wrote (and I, inconceivably, get complaints from folks who prefer an earlier version of the cover and — surprise — have no idea what’s in the actual book). Yet, there is real grounds for complaint, I feel, when they can’t even get the character’s race right, to the point where people begin mistaking the contents of the novel.

  45. Stephanie Leary on #

    Excellent post. I hope someone at Bloomsbury is paying attention.

  46. Michael M Jones on #

    That’s an amazing(ly depressing) story, Justine. Subconsciously, I’d noticed the vast whitewashing of book covers, because anytime I’ve seen a cover featuring a non-white character, it’s caught my eye as “huh, what’s different about this?” And assuming it didn’t come from one of the more traditionally diverse publishers/imprints (usually one of a few romance houses), it’s really gotten my attention. Because it’s such a rare thing. And it’s not right that the only reason a cover featuring a PoC should catch my eye should be due to its rarety.

    If I’d picked up Liar, looked at the cover, and once reading, realized Micah was black, I would have wondered about the incongruity. I would have wondered who the hell the person on the cover was. And that would have upset me, because I like it when the cover matches the inside.

    I hope this can be fixed for the paperback edition. I hope Liar does extremely well, and I hope someone in the Marketing division gets a clue.

  47. Rose on #

    I’m so sorry! It reminds me of the US cover of Marianne Curley’s Old Magic. The characters are Caucasian on the front, but I’m pretty sure the girl was Asian, and it bothered me that there was a such a disconnect between the book and the cover. The cover should reflect the book!

  48. alaska on #

    melissa walker does some fascinating interviews on her blog about cover art – i feel like you two should connect on this. from those, i have learned what little input authors have in so many cases.

    i think you raise a very important point and. i have to say, when i was teaching in the south bronx, i was so dismayed at the fact that so few YA books had boys on the covers – and boys of color especially. (i had 10 seventh grade boys, very proud of their ethnicity.) i wanted to show them that books weren’t just about other people, but with the exception of walter dean myers (who is awesome), there wasn’t much i could find.

    riding the subway, i look at the covers of what people are reading. it’s true that i see adult people of color reading books that are clearly directed toward people of color – and i have always wondered about that. the fonts and colors used are different, even if there’s no model.

    i personally like covers that don’t have models on them the best, because as someone said above, i like to imagine the character in my head without any influence. (i don’t mind as much if we don’t see faces, but.) in some cases i agree (the american covers of “uglies” for example, i like so much better than the UK) so . . .

    brave post. i hope we get a new cover, and fast.

  49. Cate Gardner on #

    Wow, messed up. Thank you so much for talking about it.

    I am immediately ordering your books. You have a new fan. Thank you!

    Not that anyone cares what I think, but if I were publisher empress of the world I would eliminate realistic photos of girls or boys on the cover of fiction. I think it doesn’t help. We have too much baggage we attach to specific images, too many varied ideas of who looks interesting or appealing, and it only interferes with our capacity to create the live character in our own imagination. And the images SO often reinforce ridiculous stereotypes.

  50. Alexa on #

    The thing is, it’s not just with race. It’s with age, gender, sexuality, everything. The “average person”, to most Americans, is a straight, white, middle-aged man. When you say “person” to them, this is who they picture (he also probably has brown hair, not red or blond or blue or anything). So people assume that any aspect of the main character that doesn’t fit that is going to be the point of the book. To them, if the character is a girl, the book is about gender issues. If the character is a teenager, the book is about high school drama. If the character is Black (or Hispanic, or Asian, or especially Native American), the story must be about that. If the character is gay, that also has to be the main point of the book. A lot of people, after reading a book about a character with any of those “non-average” traits that’s just about the character’s life and her problems that don’t relate to the fact that she’s female/minority/whatever, will have been expecting a major conflict to pop up regarding one of those things, and when that’s not the main conflict… wonder where that part is. It’s part of the expectation of a lack of realism due to misconceptions about what’s realistic. There are so many things that demographically separate me from the average person, yet no one I talk to cares that I’m biracial, female, or any of that stuff.
    This is one of the reasons why I’m planning on self-publishing and/or podcasting my novel. I want more control of all of it. I want to do the illustrations myself (I was originally going to make it a comic).

  51. AudryT on #

    Authors not having cover approval — or, at the very least, a vote in the matter — is something I’m still getting used to, even though I’ve been an Editor in the publishing industry for five years now. Because I’ve been working in manga publishing, the rules in my niche are very different than they are for the rest of the industry. In Japan, it doesn’t matter if your character “looks” Japanese, so manga covers can have characters that are any shape, gender, color, size, or species. The books still sell like hotcakes (and in a largely homogenous society, at that) based on popularity rather than on skin color or face shape. When they’re imported to the U.S. and bought by our supposedly “narrow-minded” white teenagers, manga sells here because they love it, regardless of who or what is on the cover. I have spent the last five years PROFITING from diverse cover art and diverse characters.

    Another thing that is different in manga from the rest of the publishing industry is that the creator’s APPROVAL is required on every single cover, foreign or local — even if it’s a series of 30 books and you’re releasing one a month. As a U.S. licensor, you and your publishing schedule have to wait (sometimes for months) for the creator back in Japan to approve the cover you’re going to use for the U.S. edition (even if the only change you’ve made is to put the book title in English). Creators pretty much have to approve every step we take with their artwork and story, which can be frustrating when you’re on a deadline, but which I easily accepted as just being “part of the job” because I think the input of creators needs to be respected at all times.

    There are times when absolute creator control can turn into a complicated nightmare, but if we had a system in publishing that allowed the creator to be one of several key voices in the design process, and gave them the power to veto a cover if it failed in certain categories (such as being racially inaccurate or falsely representing the story or being a spoiler), I think that would give authors some of the power they deserved while also giving publishers a little wiggle room to still meet impending deadlines of doom.

    Compromise; why is it so hard to do this for an author, when they are our bread and butter?

  52. susan on #


    Thank you. I’ll be reposting this often and in several spaces. I’ll also be making it my business to read your books and putting them on our shelves.

  53. JM Reep on #

    I think it’s disgusting, and indicative of much that is wrong with corporate publishing nowadays, that an author isn’t allowed to have a say in the cover design of her own book! What’s on the cover can be just as important as what’s on the inside, and I find it horrifying that authors aren’t given a say in that.

  54. Jenny Moss on #

    Wonderful post, Justine.

    And thank you for writing Liar. Amazing book.

  55. Paula Chase on #

    Justine, thank you for addressing this. Your writing peers understand that it’s never easy to speak out publicly against a decision made by the very entity that contracts the book. You didn’t have to say a word, but you said plenty that went to the root of the issue.

    I cringe whenever I hear that “black books” won’t sell. 1) Because I hate the category “black” book. The last three library visits I made looked like a meeting of some sort of new rainbow coalition. Says to me the young readers aren’t nearly as gun-shy about “crossing over” as pubs believe and 2) Because if “black books” aren’t being read, that’s certainly news to the readers consuming them.

    What is it going to take to squash this myth once and forever more? Because my fear, is as you’ve stated – that the belief that black books won’t sell are a self-fulfilling prophecy. Last thing we need is for this nonsense to reach readers who may begin second guessing their book selections.

  56. caitlin on #

    Great post! I really liked Liar, but was honestly bothered by the US cover. I am also a bookseller ( in Seattle) and I really wish that there were more books with teens that are not white on the cover. I really hate photos on the cover they have a tendency to distort my image of the character. As for ARCs with teens of colour on them I wish there were more. We donate our old ARCs to local schools and of course teens want to read books about people who look like them. Thank you to all those YA authors out there writing books for teens that represent everyone.

    Also I agree read Coe Booth. Both Tyrell and Kendra are amazing

  57. Jonquil on #

    Thank you for speaking out so eloquently. I hope the people who have the power to make decisions think about what you’ve said.

  58. Miriam Newman, Lee and Low Books on #

    Great post, and you make a lot of great points.

    I do want to introduce you to Lee & Low Books, if you’re not already familiar with us. We’re a small, indie publisher, and we focus on diversity. Not just black books, also Asian books, Native American books, Latino books, multi books. We have a yearly New Voices Award for unpublished authors of color to get published, to address your footnote #4.

    It’s a pervasive problem, and it’s (by definition) not going to be fixed by one (or two or three) small presses publishing twelve books a year. But I like to think that we help.

  59. Don Fitch on #

    One of the reasons I delight in science-fiction is that I positively _enjoy_ the exploration of Alien Creatures. Because I’m an 80-year-old White Male, that certainly includes young, Black, females, and if they’re depicted on the cover I’m more (rather than less) inclined to consider purchasing the book.

  60. olugbemisola on #

    fantastically thoughtful post — thank you.

  61. Christine on #

    Thank you, Justine. Well said.

    But Bloomsbury is not off the hook. One needs only look at how they “screwed” over the author of an earlier book (by “burying” the book upon release) to know there is a systemic issue at that house regarding books featuring an ethnic protagonist. And when properly embarrassed (outed for their behavior), continued to bury the book but began heavily promoting the a new book which featured a white protagonist on the cover. I thought things would improve when the marketing person left. Now it seems they hired a twin to replace her.

    This is a business. We get that. And I applaud you for taking a difficult stand. But you are right – the only way for us to make a statement is to exercise economic clout.

    That means I can’t buy this book – or a subsequent paperback, nor can I recommend it. I’m a writer – but also an affluent mother (read “book buyer) with college bound kids who are sick of being ignored. The damage is already done.

    The local city paper recently ran an article about my family and reading. We often buy two copies of a book – one for each daughter. African American book buyers are not as “invisible” as Bloomsbury would have people believe.

    If Bloomsbury releases the book without the original cover, the games over for many of us. I don’t advocate protesting you as an author (or any author) – but Bloomsbury as a publisher in general for it’s sustained and continued stupidity in the sales and marketing arena.

  62. Carrie Jones on #

    Justine, You did an amazing job explaining this. Thank you so much for being open AND so intelligent AND sharing. I really hope the dialog about race and covers, and race and books continues and eventually expands to disabilities and gender roles and religion. I would love to see something exceptional happen because of this.

    I also know that my very white, very Maine daughter has picked up books by Coe and Rita Williams-Garcia and exclaimed, “Oh, please… Please. Thank you God! It isn’t another book about another white kid in New York.”

  63. yi shun on #

    No one has mentioned Christopher Paul Curtis’s _Elijah of Buxton_. I understand that that cover was an illustration, but surely, surely it would have come up in the discussion at Bloomsbury, if they had been thinking about race? This whole thing is depressing, and I’m hoping there is some eventual rhyme or reason to it. Is there some kind of official statement from Bloomsbury?
    On a much lighter note,_The Art of Racing in the Rain_ is about a terrier mix, but the publishers chose a Labrador for its cover. I’ve seen more than one reviewer comment on their disappointment in the cover choice, given that mutts have a generally quirkier personality, as a rule. Extrapolate that thinking to this very serious infraction on Bloomsbury’s part, and…oh. Just, oh. 🙁

  64. Victoria on #

    I don’t know whether this is a good thing or not, but when I read a book, I rarely pay attention to what race/gender the main character is. I read a book to get lost in another world, and I want to feel like what is happening in the book is happening to me. I usually skim over descriptive details. When I read a good book, I feel like I’m the main character of the story.

    But as for the person on the cover looking like the main character, I’ve never put a book down based solely on the person on the main cover, even if the person looks like someone I’d dearly love to punch in the face in real life (blonde Hollywood cliche girls, for example). If the plot is interesting enough, but I hate the cover, I’ll simply buy the book and take the cover off.

  65. glenda larke on #

    I’m another writer who had a US edition (of an adult book) whitewashed. Especially insulting since I am the birth mother of two beautiful brown-skinned Asian women…and I wanted them to know there were protags out there they could relate to.

    I wasn’t consulted.

  66. StarSpangled/Holly-wa on #

    Oh-my-Gawd, Justine.
    That’s really awful. Aside from knowing that if it ever came out, I HAD to read it, I didn’t really know much about “Liar”. But the fact that the protag is black, but the cover model/’protag’ is blatantly white is kinda disturbing.
    I’ve never had a problem with racism- witnessing it or being affected by it- even though when I left London I moved to rural Cornwall, where I haven’t seen one black person who is local, but when I hear stories and headlines, I realise that racism is alive and sneakily well over where you guys are. And having had two parents who used to work in the advertising and production biz, I know that the ahem-shallow- and cut-throat world like that, where image is everything, moral and rules seem to go out the window.
    It’s true about self-fulfilling prophecies.
    “Black covers don’t sell” is one.
    and “Sexist/outdated adverts do” is another.
    It’s just scary that the ‘shallow’ and image driven industries of the world have so much power, nowadays. Bug companies use more and more extravagent ways to grab out attention, whilst some book series are completely commercialised.
    Have you heard of the YA/adult book “Knife”? It’s a dark fairytale (but not urban-y dark, like Melissa Marr’s or Holly Black’s novels) and awesome for it… Well, at the least the UK name and cover are. The US version has been marketed to 12-and unders, with a random cutesy fairy on a weirdly animated bookcover, and the name is now “Fairy Rebels: Spell Hunter’ complete with evil colons-on-book-titles-which-SMACK-of-a-series. All because the warped guys at S & M thought ‘that’s what kids like’.
    Rant over.

  67. Delux on #

    Excellent post.

  68. Victoria Dixon on #

    A powerful, professional post, Justine! Thank you for doing this. I’m going to put a link on my blog to this.

  69. Akilah on #

    My question is: how do we contact Bloomsbury to complain?

  70. Mary Anne Mohanraj on #

    I had hesitated to publicize this yet, because I’m still in the process of uploading the entire presentation (slow process), but I’m hoping to finish that this summer, and in the meantime, I think even what I have up so far may help ground this discussion in some actual covers.

    This is the Red Sari Project, a presentation I did on S. Asian diaspora book covers, comparing the treatment of men’s and women’s covers, and talking about what happened to my book with HarperCollins. I’ve only had time to upload the sections on my book and Anita Desai’s work; the complete presentation has a dozen more authors (female and male) included. I’m working with another author on possibly turning this into a journal article or academic book, but I hope that this cover analysis might be immediately useful.

  71. Elena on #

    WOW! Great article, Justine. I had no idea that it was like that. This article is an eye-opener!

  72. Sabrina on #

    Out of context, the US cover for Liar is really interesting. In context, it’s a bit disappointing.

    From my own experience: I posted a query letter on my blog for some feedback. One response was from a good writerly friend (of mixed ethnicities–Asian, Africa-American, white, etc.). Lots of good advice, until he said I shouldn’t include the protagonist’s full name in the query. Because she’s Asian. And an agent might reject me because an Asian protag wouldn’t sell (the novel’s genre is urban fantasy). I thought about it, but I don’t want to take out her name, not even her last name. I want an agent to read my query and think s/he hasn’t seen nearly enough UF with non-white characters. If I do get rejected because of the protag’s name, it just means they weren’t the right agent for me anyway. It made me a bit sad that even a writer with diverse ethnicities felt it wouldn’t be worth it to have a PoC protagonist. (I live in Hawaii, PoC are the majority here. I’m always surprised to meet another white Italian here.)

  73. Rob Charron on #

    Hi 🙂
    Thank you for a very informative important post.
    I hadn’t realized it before that the covers featured a plethora of white faces. It is extremely irritating to me (a reader) when the cover bears absolutely no resemblance to the contents of the novel or, in this case, refutes the contents.
    All the wonderful comments said things I would say except better (except comment 20 which was just shameless self-defeating promotion of books by an author I’ll be sure NOT to read!)*Gez, I hate that.*
    Love and best wishes from Canada
    PS – I’ve come to associate LIAR with the Australian cover because I’ve got your TwitterPic ingrained in my brain. 🙂

  74. Jeff Reid on #

    Catherine Ryan Hyde wrote Kevin Spacey’s character in “Pay It Forward” as an African-American. When I contacted her to ‘cast’ her own stuff on Storycasting, she came on immediately to cast, and put Hollywood on notice for the casting of her book “Love in the Present Tense”, saying not to turn mixed-race Leonard “into a little white boy”. So, the white-washing exists in other industries, too. YOU can forestall some of this by coming to Storycasting and casting “as the author”, using a likely non-white actor in the role. Hollywood won’t necessarily do it your way, but we’ll let you have your say up front.

  75. Sandi Jones on #

    Wow! After reading your post my temperature is rising. I’m a high school media specialist for a school with a 50% minority population. I buy EVERY YA book with an African American featured on the cover that is published. (And they’re not easily found!) My students rarely choose to read books with Caucasians on the cover, and they usually won’t pick them up. I can’t buy enough fiction with AA characters to keep my readers satisfied–this is why I’m so displeased with what has happened to your cover and with publishers in general. There IS a market in AA books. Look at the Drama High series and Kimani Tru. Better yet, check the sales of Townsend Press’s Bluford High books. These have been around for years and are in thousands of schools.

    As for books without cover models, I have to disagree. My students PREFER their books to have the faces of kids on the covers. Only, they want the models to look just like them. Don’t we all want to connect with the characters we’re reading about?

  76. Ellie on #

    I have to say that I’m not a huge fan of having people on the cover of books in general. I like being able to read the description and decide for myself what a person looks like and don’t really want some model’s face shoved into my brain. That being said I do think that model should at least look sort of what the character description dictates otherwise why is that person on the cover?

  77. Alissa on #

    What a sad state our country is in that this is even an issue! What kind of crap is it that publishing houses believe white people wont buy books if there is a black person on the cover? I think it should be important to have great sales but to also express the book or the books message via the cover, not to completely misconstrue it. That’s a big deal, putting a white girl on the cover of a book about a black girl. That sends the wrong message altogether. And that’s a shame…

  78. Laura on #

    I’m just gonna weigh in and say, it’s Bloomsbury. End. of. Story. They are notorious for not matching covers with stories.

    Do I think it’s right? nope, but if corporate America thinks that pretty white girls on covers is what’s selling books, then they need to look inside their conference rooms and rethink things.

    I never understood the Australian cover of the book, but yeah, it’s much better and more definitive of the story. (I picked up your book at BEA). Sorry that you have to deal with this crap.

  79. Nnedi Okorafor on #

    Is there even ANYTHING I have left to say on this issue? I’ve dealt with it, too. It infuriates the heck out of me. I’m sick and tired of it. Dammit, it needs to STOP! Hang in there Justine. We will keep writing our “scandalous” characters.

  80. Bryn Greenwood on #

    Great post on the vagaries of cover vs. content. Your assessment of how the cover affects readers’ perceptions of what is “true” in the book is spot on. Something the people who make the final decisions about covers should keep in mind. People do in fact judge books by their covers.

  81. NotACat on #

    (here via Maureen Johnson’s tweets)

    I’ve been complaining for years about covers which fail to match the contents of the book, and even fail to match others in the series (do I dare mention Darrell Sweet’s “Wheel of Time” covers and the fun and games trying to identify the characters?) and the reaction has basically been “meh, who cares? what does it matter?”

    Who cares? Well, obviously I cared, or I wouldn’t have complained. All the other people I talked with about it cared. Who were these people talking to that didn’t care? Look who cares now.

    What does it matter? It would appear obvious what matters now, and that this non-caring attitude is coming home to roost. I hope you kick their collective arse thoroughly and repeatedly.

    One question I don’t seem to have noticed above, and I apologise if I’ve overlooked it, seems to me fairly obvious: how come we don’t see pictures of black people on books about white people? Why doesn’t it happen the other way around?

  82. John on #

    This took real courage.

    Good on ya.

  83. Pope Lizbet on #

    Methinks I’ll go to some extra expense to have my friend in Oz send me the Australian cover..and if anyone can come up with an address for me to send physical mail to, I may send a letter to Bloomsbury explaining why the US publisher lost my American dollars on this book…that I wanted it enough to read it, but not enough to buy it expeditiously with a white person on the cover of a POC character’s story.

  84. Marianna on #

    Excellent, important post, Justine. I absolutely loved LIAR when I read the ARC, but was fuming about the cover. I hoped it was just a temporary one for the galleys.

  85. Christine on #

    Ursula LeGuin spoke out when Hallmark “whitewashed” her brown characters.

    But now the books are marketed with those actors on the cover even though they don’t match the descriptions inside. Fans are not pleased.

    I understand marketing constraints. But do publishers have to insult an entire population of people to do it?

    This is wrong on so many levels I don’t even know where to begin.

  86. Cynthea Liu on #

    Justine, thanks for this post. As an author of books featuring non-white characters, I am heartened by your bravery to speak out.

    There’s a lot to be said on this subject. And I’m sure I’m not the only one is thinking, I wish I had your courage.


  87. coe booth on #

    Thank you very much for this post, for saying something so many writers of color have said to each other. It’s all so frustrating. Although I haven’t faced similar problems with my covers (they accurately represent my books), I have seen what having a black person on a cover sometimes means for a book — things that are, unfortunately, the direct result of racism in America.

    Having a black person on your cover might mean your book will be taken less seriously. It might mean it will be automatically considered “street lit” and ONLY “street lit,” regardless of where your book takes place or what it’s about. Some white adults will not buy your book for their children because they don’t think their kids will want to read it. Some schools and libraries won’t buy it because (and this is a direct quote told to me): “We don’t have children like that in our community.” And some teachers won’t teach your book if they’ve already taught an “African American book” that year (during Black History Month, of course!)

    Clearly, all of these are the decisions of adults. Teens don’t care as much about the race of your characters. I can’t tell you how many white teens write me to say how much they related to the characters in my books. They’re often able to see past the race. So, hopefully, this is a good sign for positive change in the future!

    Your publisher is afraid. They are set in their ways and they don’t want to risk their profits, even in the name of artistic honesty. It’s a shame, too. I love LIAR, and it makes me sad that your publisher can’t see past it’s ingrained racism and fear to let your book exist in the world as you so beautifully imagined it.

  88. Annalee Flower Horne on #

    Datapoint: When I bought Holly Phillips’s THE ENGINE’S CHILD, I’d never heard of the author. No one had recommended the book. I picked it up because I liked the cover. I liked that the protagonist didn’t look like all the others on the shelf.

    I’m as white as powder cocaine.

    Perhaps marketing people ought to consider that doing something that everyone else is too racist to do is a good way to make the book stand out and get noticed.

  89. Savannah J. Frierson on #

    As a self-published author, I get advice from those who are more established about the politics of mainstream publishing. I’ve been warned about the cover issue, and this is increasingly upsetting. I spend a lot of time going over what image I want for my cover, because people DO judge books by them, and I would like for the cover to at least reflect something about the story that’ll be told between the ends. The fact it whitewashes the protagonist insults ME as a reader and a fellow author and as a black woman. Our stories are just as rich and varied and valid as those of European descent, and to slap a white face to sell it is disrespectful.

  90. Julia Rios on #

    I was really shocked when I saw a rant about the cover not matching the interior the other day. I’m one of the people who hasn’t read the book and reacted positively to the cover when you first presented it, and I had no idea that the main character was a black woman with short hair. Of course that changes how I feel about the cover, even though I do still think it is visually striking, and will probably move a lot of copies. What made me the most uneasy was that you hadn’t said anything about this. I noticed a couple of commenters expressing concern about what kind of person you were since you didn’t apparently care that the cover was whitewashed, and even though I (and legions of loyal defending commenters) knew that was unlikely, I had to admit they had a point.

    I’m glad you have made your opinion known now. I do understand why you didn’t at first, but I think in my ideal world, you would have said up front that the cover is attractive, but you were dismayed that it didn’t represent your main character, who is a black woman with short hair. Silence in the face of something like this can look too much like agreement. Thank you for speaking up.

  91. Julia on #

    Excellent post! Too bad it was necessary – but speaking up, loud, eloquently and often is the only way to change some things.

  92. Nonny on #

    Here by way of John Scalzi’s blog. 🙂

    The issue of black covers came up in the Romance community awhile back. I can try to find the posts if you’d like, because they’re very interesting, but it was a couple years ago now.

    The discussion was about how romances featuring black characters were often relocated to the “African-American Fiction” section of bookstores instead of sectioned with the other romances. Or, in the few cases where this was not the case, the covers featured white people.

    The overwhelming response from white readers was that they probably wouldn’t pick up a book with a black character on the cover, unless they’d been recommended by a friend, because black novels dealt with issues that were alien to them, or a “way of life” that they couldn’t relate to.

    (Mine was that I probably wouldn’t read because most of the books they were discussing were contemporaries; look at my bookshelves and it’s almost all fantasy or SF or paranormal romance. That said, within the genres I read, I don’t really care what race the protag is. One of my favorite books of all time, The Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler, features a black protag.)

    I found this frustrating and disturbing because romances are fundamentally about love. How is a romance between black people harder to relate to than a romance between a vampire and a shapeshifter? What does it say that white readers are more comfortable reading about non-humans than black people? (It wasn’t all, there were people that said they’d read if the book looked interesting, but way too many were saying if it had a black person on the cover, they weren’t interested.)

  93. AudryT on #

    CoeBooth: Teens don’t care as much about the race of your characters. I can’t tell you how many white teens write me to say how much they related to the characters in my books. They’re often able to see past the race.

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! I have spent the last five years surrounded by teen readers who just don’t care about the race issue that stymies so many of their parents. They care about understanding and relating to the characters, something that goes much deeper that physical appearance or even cultural differences. Vive la generation gap! I can’t wait until they take over the publishing industry.

  94. kim reid on #


    Thank you for this. You could have said nothing, but chose to say so much.

  95. Christian on #

    The only sci-fi book that I can think of with a prominent black woman on the cover, that is actually doing something which APPEARS in the book (a real rarity) is:

    Ragamuffin by Tobias Buckell

    Somehow the publisher got it right, and it’s a kick ass cover!


  96. tansyrr on #

    Hey Justine

    I’m really sorry to hear that this has happened! I’ve been reading so much YA lately and the lack of diverse characters (even the white protags are largely stripped of cultual baggage) has been getting to me.

    I agree it’s not shocking to anyone any more when covers don’t match the content – especially to fantasy readers, where an author only has to turn their back for a dragon to be slapped on the cover despite the lack of them in the text…

    But this is really bad. I deeply dislike the assumption that readers are not only going to be turned OFF by a black girl on the cover of a book, but that they might not actively be looking for covers that suggest the book might be something other than ‘more of the same.’ I have been looking for diverse characters and struggling to find them – no wonder, with covers like this!

    Avoiding black faces on book covers is scandalous enough, but actively misrespresenting the race of a minority character? It means that everything you have done in the novel is compromised. I was absolutely stunned by the quote in the Publisher’s Weekly article ( where a Bloomsbury editor actually suggested, in defence of the cover, that Micah *is* lying about her race.

    That’s another step into whitewashing, and a pretty despicable one. Not just to suggest by the cover that the character is white, but to imply that the character in the book actually MIGHT match the cover, thereby compromising the narrative…


    Luckily I get the Australian cover so it’s not an issue for me but it sucks that so many of your readers are feeling compromised by this and that it may affect your US sales, which will have a far longer-reaching effect on your career than that of any of the decision makers.

  97. AudryT on #

    Nonny: The discussion was about how romances featuring black characters were often relocated to the “African-American Fiction” section of bookstores instead of sectioned with the other romances.

    Holy crap. That explains why all the romance novels I’ve been studying feature Generic White Pecs, even the urban fantasy ones. If you can rec some romance novels that have been relocated to A-A Fiction, please let me know on my blog (linked to from my name).

    Now I feel like ALL of my manuscripts are doomed, not only to false covers, but also the risk of being mis-classified. At first, I was only worried that the YA MS, with two female leads, would end up with only the white girl on the cover, and the Latino left off. Now I’m fretting that a second MS featuring an inter-racial love affair between a white student and her not-anywhere-near-white teacher might get a white-washed cover (assuming it finds a home at novelette length), and I can’t even BEGIN to image what shelving category editors would be tempted to put my romance MS in due to a love triangle featuring three entirely unique skin colors and races.

    Really, the authors and creative types I hang out with fought this fight in the sixties; how is it that at thirty, I suddenly find myself fighting it all over again?

  98. Doret on #

    I was glad you were able to write this post. So the people who don’t know realize publishers have final say with the cover. Hopefully some good will come out of all of this. Regradless of the cover, Liar still looks like a very good book, which I do plan on reading. Though I’ll be reading Magic & Madness sooner, its at the top of my library queue.

    When books featuring characters of color are purchased it tells the publishers there is a market. (So give us more) It helps when people know about the books that are out there. I would love to see more YA featuring poc reviewed on a more regular basis on YA blogs. If this was already happening, this post might not be necessary. The powers that be would see brown faces, like it aint no thing and know brown makes green,or the only color that matters.

    Check out this unofficial list of YA by or about women of color. Kendra and Shine, Coconut Moon are both on it.

  99. Shveta on #

    Justine, I am so glad you wrote this post. Kudos to you for speaking up, knowing the possible results. I linked to this on my journal and included lists of young adult novels about and by people of color. (I hadn’t even konwn about most of them, which is sad.) May people actually read them; that’s the only way any of this is going to stop.

  100. Dave H on #

    I’m proud that a friend of mine is brave enough to be so eloquent about something so ugly.

    Like several other people in the thread, I thought the USian cover of Liar was quite eye-catching. Now I’m ashamed to have felt that way, knowing the story behind it.

    I’m not enough of an optimist to think that you telling this story is going to push the issue past some kind of tipping point. But if enough people read about this, and it opens a few eyes, and one more person gets the courage to tell *their* story, and that one opens a few more eyes…

    Maybe someday.

    In the meantime, well done. Charlie and Micah would be proud.

  101. Caryn on #

    FWIW, Vogue periodically runs an issue with a black model on the cover, and they had found that those issues sell fewer copies than those with white models. Celebrities have a somewhat different result, but it was still skewed toward the white women. (Anna Wintour commented on this in her editorial one month.) I don’t know if this still holds — that editorial was from a few years back, but that may be part of the research the publishers are using. Of course those who read Vogue are NOT the average reading public, nor are they young as a rule, so the results are already skewed into Rich Older Women.

    Yes, that cover would frustrate me if I picked up the book and it didn’t match the inside character that significantly. Hope the paperback gets the cover that will help it sell to young women better. (This hardcover may sell better to libraries?)

  102. Christine on #

    Is there a way to get the Australian copy and bypass Bloomsbury altogether?

    That would give us the best of both worlds. I’d buy two (one for each girl) if it would make a statement about what we will and will not tolerate! And it would still let us support you as an author.

    Frankly, even if Bloomsbury changed the cover now, I think I’m inclined to buy the other version.

  103. Lizabelle on #

    Justine, at the risk of sounding like a stalker, once again you make me grateful to have discovered your blog and your writing.

    Thank you for speaking out on this.

  104. Lori S. on #

    I am so glad you spoke up, and I’m crossing my fingers on a change for the paperback edition.

  105. Kate on #

    Glad to read this – My 2 cent, I would prefer to buy the Australian cover, it appeals to me more – I tend not to look at books with faces on them as per the US cover – I will keep and eye out for it in Europe where I hope we get the Aussie cover.

    Would there be any advantage to writing to the publishing house as a reader? Normally I say, let people vote with their feet – don’t buy a product that isn’t good enough but in this case that punishes the author who didn’t get to make the decision so I don’t want to do that but I also don’t want my purchase to lend credibility to the publisher’s perspective that the girl on the cover was better being white than black from a sales perspective..

  106. Christine on #

    For the record:

    The Vogue edition featuring ONLY black models sold out and had to go into reprint. It was their most popular issue. Hence why Bloomsbury’s marketing decision is so darned infuriating:

    “Conceived by editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani, and shot by Steven Meisel from a roster of 18 new, established and former stars, the July ‘black issue’ sold out in Britain on arrival . . .”

    Now there is an editor-in-chief I can respect.

  107. Hannah on #

    I admit. I hated the cover since I first saw it. I just…didn’t like it. Now I hate it even more.

  108. Avalon's Willow on #

    Comment I’ve seen discussing your cover:

    Well the girl is self-described as /black/ and a /compulsive liar/. I don’t see any inconsistency.

    Posted by erik on July 22nd, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    Black and a compulsive liar. Yeah, thanks a lot Bloombury for helping promote that racist stereotype some more. And of course, adding one more reason Black Teens in particular, will not want to touch this book.

  109. Christine Fletcher on #

    It’s tough for authors to speak publicly about disagreements with their publishers. But this issue needed a clarifying voice and you provided it. Thanks especially for the clarification that the mismatched cover image does NOT imply that Micah is lying about her appearance and ethnicity. Some comments on other blogs have speculated that Micah is SO unreliable, the reader can’t even trust her identity. As a fellow author, I can easily imagine how upsetting it would be to have the cover undermine your intentions for the work. Kudos on a professional, thoughtful, and thought-provoking post.

  110. Georgiana on #

    I’ve got a stack of novels and some college material next to my bed. There is one catalog from a college that I keep thinking is a book because the cover has a young, white girl staring into space. The rest of what I have from colleges feature a mix of genders, ethnicity and even ages.

    I was thinking that fifty years ago colleges in the US must have featured only white faces on their covers, mostly male, and no doubt faced the same rationalization when someone wanted to change that. If we have non-whites nobody will want to come to our school. We’ll lose our existing students. But eventually someone persevered and now diversity is the norm, as it should be.

    It’s sad that publishing is still stuck in the past. Surely there’s plenty of proof that segregation in entertainment makes no more sense than segregation in any other aspect of our lives.

    Interestingly the two books my middle son is reading/just finished have brown boys on the cover – Nation by Terry Prachett and one of the Octavian Nothing books by MT Anderson. I wonder if it is easier to get nonwhite male characters on the covers or is this just a coincidence.

  111. J.D. Rhoades on #

    I have to say, I like the Aussie cover better, but it does make it look like a murder mystery.

  112. Aoede on #

    I remember reading “Alphabet of Thorn” and wondering why the girl painted on the cover was so light-skinned. So it’s more pervasive than I knew, huh.

  113. susan on #


    I have to ask. White people: Are all of you really shocked by Bloomsbury? Do I live on another planet?

    Did you miss the part where Justine said we do not live in a post-racial society. I know Paula and other POC writers know white teens will read about POC characters. But there is also a real absence of color on white teen blogs. Anyone want to address that?

    While I am disgusted with Bloomsbury’s actions, I’m not surprised. I get why they thought it was the right decision. They were wrong but it wasn’t a decision they pulled out of thin air.

    How many of you can readily name ten POC YA authors you read this year? How many of them got major exposure on teen blogs?

    And if anyone has checked around, YA teen bloggers have not addressed the issues on their blogs. Well, one did, Tashi at Taste of Life. She’s a teen of color.

    Bloomsbury aren’t the only ones who fail to support POC writers.

  114. Rosepixie on #

    Thank you for writing this. I used to run the children’s and YA department of a large bookstore and we actually found that when we pulled out the books with any kind of non-white character on the cover and highlighted them in displays, they sold really well. We also got constant requests for things like teen mysteries (real mysteries, like you find in the kids and adult sections) and books about sports and all sorts of things that there just isn’t much of because the publishing industry is convinced it won’t sell. I honestly believe, after running that department, that you’re right and it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. Of course it’s not going to sell if you don’t publish it or tell people it exists! That doesn’t mean they don’t want it, though! Maybe the book industry needs to try something revolutionary and do some market research, like nearly every other industry does. It’s not a perfect solution and may cause some new problems, but it also might clear up some of the misconceptions and allow some very needed major changes to happen!

  115. Amber on #

    I like the US cover, but I haven’t read the book and had no idea what the main character looked like. That definitely changes things for me, because if there’s a character on the cover I’m a big fan of having that person LOOK like the character is described in the book. Plus I am visual so I like to imagine what the person looks like – and a cover contradicting what is said will just mess things up for me.

    That said, I did not know that publishing houses don’t publish many books with non-white people on the cover because “they won’t sell well”. I honestly have no clue statistically either way, but I have bought books with black people on the cover. I just care if the back (summary) looks interesting. The cover does catch my eye, but it can catch my eye no matter who or what is on the cover (’cause some of the books that caught my eye the most don’t even have people on the cover at all!).

    I definitely see the whole not being promoted thing as being true, for at least I have not seen nearly as many covers of non-white girls (and they mostly are of girls) in YA as white girls. There are many white girls. And if that misrepresents the story, then that just pisses me off.

  116. Kate C on #

    This is appalling. I’ve had my own cover run-ins in the past but nothing with such serious consequences as this. Hang in there, Justine, and good on you for speaking out.

  117. susan on #

    I run a library at a local non-profit. We are 98% black. We are an all-girl agency. I serve two major camps: one group will only read AA fiction. They reject the white protag largely out of resentment and they want books with characters who look like them. My other group will not read AA fiction. They don’t want to be pigeon-holed and mistakenly, many of them associate AA characters only with urban street lit and they don’t want to read street or historical lit. Many don’t know there are POC characters in fantasy, sci-fi (the least popular)pop culture or light reads. They assume they can only find these themes in books with white characters by white writers.

    When I joined the blogosphere, I was very surprised how white teen blogs are. And I’ve read almost whole directories of blogs, hoping to find out what was popular and to ensure I was really in touch with what my girls would want in our library. I soon discovered a lack of diversity and found more help on adult blogs that discussed children and YA literature.

  118. susan on #

    From Chasing Ray:

    Jacket Whys goes analytical: “With the discussion about Liar, I decided to do a very unscientific, informal roundup of who’s on the 2009 crop of book covers. I looked at about 775 children’s and YA book covers for books that have been released or will be released this year. 80% of them had people on them. A full 25% of all book covers had white girls pictured on them, and 10% had white boys. Only 2% of the titles I looked at had African American boys or girls pictured on the covers – a sad state of affairs. I can understand the outcry over the Liar cover.”

  119. Ellen Datlow on #

    Excellent and courageous post, Justine.

  120. Julie Polk on #

    What a balls-out, great post. (Among other things, I’m astonished at the sheer patience and discipline — not to mention respect for your readers — it must have taken to let this unfold in its own time instead of running around screaming about it publicly, which I strongly suspect is what I would have done.) As someone who grew up a white girl in a predominantly black neighborhood I’ve been acutely aware of race issues my entire life, and I think thoughtful conversation about it is endlessly, critically important. As someone who grew up devouring every book she could get her hands on I have to say that, looking back, it apparently didn’t matter to me in the slightest what the protagonists looked like, whether or not they were on the cover. And anyway the idea that racial similarity is a trump card that overrides all other connections to a character is just sort of bizarre to me. The notion that I’d feel a stronger connection to, say, Pippi Longstocking than to Tiki, the Tahitian boy in Christopher Lucas’ TIKI AND THE DOLPHIN, simply because she was a white girl and he was a Tahitian boy is kind of absurd, considering she was a Swedish orphan who could lift a horse and throw pirates across a room. (Or maybe Scout in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a better example, since she was more realistic and closer to me in age – but still I connected to Tiki just as much as I did to Scout). As a child I loved all those very different books for very different reasons, but the overriding commonality they had was that they were fantastic adventure stories – as were THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON and FREEDOM TRAIN, also two very different books which I also read to death. I wanted exciting, complicated, vivid characters then, and I want them now. And I actively *want* to read about characters who don’t look/think/act/live like me. I know what my life is like – I explicitly want to experience someone else’s world. I hope this episode makes Bloomsbury take a long, hard look at itself.

  121. Ju on #

    Justine, what an amazingly brave post. You’ve written so articulately here, and brought to light something that is so saddening – that there is this idea that we live in a post-racist society. It’s ‘funny’ in the same way that there’s this idea we live in a post-sexist society… even if you could say that from a surface glance… the undercurrent is far different. You’ve brought this to light beautifully and I hope the discussion keeps on happening, and that you get a new US cover.

  122. Benjamin Solah on #

    This is an extraordinary post and really rings true with me. I’m sure the response you’ve gotten already is further proof of this, and how important this issue is.

    I admire you for weighing into such a poltical issue because many writers prefer not to say anything for risk of alienating right-wing readers, or right-wing parents in your case.

    I’m buying my younger sister this book and blogging about this post.

  123. Sherrie Petersen on #

    I am appalled that Bloomsbury would put this cover on your book and I feel badly for you being caught in the middle of this controversy. Your post addressed it beautifully. I hope the outrage of other people brings about a change for readers, for bookstores and for publishers.

  124. Nisi Shawl on #

    Thanks, Justine, for addressing this issue. Maybe you (or a fan reading this blog) should nominate your book for the Carl Brandon Society’s Kindred Award. And you could point out to S & M that it very nearly didn’t get nominated because no one thought it qualified, looking at the cover.

    Coincidentally, I just wrote about this same issue while reviewing Jay Lake’s latest novel, _Green_, for the Seattle Times.

    If anyone wants to comment there, the URL is

  125. Greg Pincus on #

    I wish to echo all the others who’ve thanked you for writing this. It’s important to make sure these issues get the discussion they deserve, and I applaud you for putting that above the professional awkwardness of the situation.

  126. Steve Simmons on #

    Octavia Butler managed to sell just fine with people of color on the covers of her books. Without thinking hard, I came up with “Imago”, “Wild Seed”, “Kindred” and “Mind of My Mind.” I believe that Steve Barnes’ “Streetlethal” also had a black protagonist on the cover. As did at least one edition of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” None were ever shoved off into any inappropriate genre ghetto.

  127. Elodie on #

    I just wanted to tell you, your rss feed lj version of this post is fuulll of creepy ads: look. I know you probably don’t manage the lj feed, but I’m giving a heads up in case it’s doing the same thing on your rss and not just on lj.

  128. Catherine on #

    Well, since my Songbird player has come up with “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” from Spamalot, I’m going to say that were it not for this controversy I would have missed out on what appears to be a fantastic book (as it skips past the main genres I read). I’ve got my name down for the Australian variant of Liar, but in the meantime I’ve just ordered Magic or Madness.

    And thank you for articulating your thoughts so well on this issue. And the same to everyone who is standing up and letting your thoughts about this be known, too.

  129. christine tripp on #

    I have been following this with interest Justine. I feel for you and especially for any teen girls of colour, after reading the book, who most certainly will the see the choice of using a white girl on the cover as a put down.
    Marketing depts all still say girls/characters of colour on covers result in low sales. Since I can’t recall more then a handful of books like this in the past 20 years, how do they know this still holds water. How do they know that attitudes (especially in the young) have not changed drastically.
    I think it would have been wonderful if one of the many talented illustrators (who do spectaculer work in the children’s pic book market depicting children of colour)had been chosen to do the cover art.
    Christopher Paul Curtis’s covers do NOT show a poor white boy on the covers…… and it has never hurt his sales:)
    I hope the publisher will think about this, if not for your book, at least for future novels.
    All the best,

  130. Sheree Renee Thomas on #

    Great post, Justine! This is the kind of issues we tried to address when author Walter Mosley was leading the PEN Open Book Committee and CUNY’s Publishing programs. One of the goals of these programs was to increase the presence of African-Americans and other people of color in publishing, as authors and as publishing professionals who can make some of the important decisions – like final cover approval, jacket copy, marketing campaigns, the where and how of them, etc. – that you discuss here. I remember all too well when at one point, Warner was going to put some gold naked people on the cover of DARK MATTER. Negotiating a cover can be a delicate process because, as you said, you want to maintain a positive relationship and your professionalism. Fortunately, I was lucky to work with great editors, so not only did we nix the gold naked folk, but we were able to choose an artist and work we both loved for the second volume, DARK MATTER: Reading the Bones. Btw, I think a revisited, zoomed in version of the gold naked folk ended up on one of the paper reprints of an Octavia Butler novel!

  131. N. K. Jemisin on #

    Just a note to Steve Simmons — Octavia Butler got to have black people on her books *later*, once she’d proven she could sell as a black woman writing SF (because you know they wonder, if “black covers don’t sell”, whether black people will), but initially her covers were whitewashed too.

  132. Joe M on #

    Justine, I’m so glad you wrote about this so openly and well. As you may guess, I experienced a few of these issues when I was a children’s fiction buyer, and again when I was on the publishing side of things. There is so very much I could and want to say, but it will take a while to compose as thoughtfully as you have. But I will add a few comments.
    First, as a former bookseller and retailer I must say that I have *never ever* seen a direct correspondence to negative sales because of a person of color on the cover. Now, I will add that some covers just work better than others as is the case with every book. (If you have any belief that a book is not just by its cover, get over it.) Take a look at BORN CONFUSED as a good example of a first novel with no heralded author history to use as a caveat.

    The fact that this is an old discussion does not change the importance of it. But I must also add that if we discuss this solely in terms of YA fiction, you’ll see how very rarely POC are depicted on covers. And therein is another related topic for discussion. (There are more in middle grade, but it’s still a unrepresentative ratio.) But back to you Justine, I’m glad you brought it up here as there are so many wonderful comments and discussion points already from some experienced and learned folks.

  133. tricia sullivan on #

    Just wanted to add my voice to those thanking your for bringing up this issue and for being on the front line.

    I can’t add anything to what anybody else has said, other than to express my horror at Bloomsbury’s position. I hope they change their view for the paperback.

    Also wanted to thank you for recommending Coe Booth’s new book. I haven’t got ‘Kendra’ yet, but because of your rec I ordered ‘Tyrell’ and read it last week. She is an amazing writer and I probably wouldn’t have found her on my own. ( Also: unambiguous African American on the cover, as it should be.)

    If nothing else, a lot of people are talking about ‘Liar.’ I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

  134. Reader on #

    the fact that you use the word “nappy” to describe Micah’s hair is just as offensive as the cover of your book… I hope you issue an apology to your readers

  135. AMV on #

    Amazing post, Justine. Please know that you have so, so, so many people behind you on this.

  136. Bookreader on #

    There’s one thing in life that’s so true you can bet your life on it. If you want to find a bigot, just look for anyone calling someone else a bigot. The book is great, and I never once thought about the cover until all this nonsense started. By the way: take a closer look at the cover. Who says she’s not black? Is it because she doesn’t look “black enough”? And isn’t that a racist attitude if I ever heard one!

  137. davidlevithan on #

    As with Joe, I find it hard to boil down any response to this to a simple paragraph, since it’s something I deal with on a daily basis. This is really such an important thing to be discussing openly, and I think it absolutely empowers everyone involved (authors, publishers, editors, booksellers, librarians, teachers, bookbuyers) to do the right thing. Thank you for being the catalyst for the discussion, because it’s not an easy one or an uncomplicated one.

  138. susan on #


    Do we have naturally straight hair or slim noses, yes. But did you read the publisher’s response? The model isn’t black. The intention was to imply the character’s lying which means the intent the cover is a white girl.

    And did you not read the character doesn’t have straight, long hair? These characteristics are associated and were used to imply white.

  139. susan on #


    Is nappy inherently offensive in the same way as calling someone black used to be? Because I’m black and nappy and proud.

  140. Jade on #

    Reader Says:

    the fact that you use the word “nappy” to describe Micah’s hair is just as offensive as the cover of your book… I hope you issue an apology to your readers

    July 24th, 2009

    finally someone has said what i have been thinking the entire time. As a young black woman i find my hair being described as NAPPY very offensive. I also find the fact that no one believes that the girl on this cover could very well be black equally offensive. Is her nose not big enough for you? Should she have an afro? My hair and eyes are very similar to the girl on this cover. And i have black and white and sepia tone pictures of myself that make my skin that tone or sometimes lighter. There is a great discussion and debate going on about this industry wide problem yes but I also believe that there is some racism coming from the people who believe that there is no way in hell this girl could be black or of mixed race…

  141. A fan on #

    I’m buying the Australian edition.

  142. Doselle Young on #

    Nappy? Really? You’re kidding, right?

    What’s wrong with Micah taking ownership of that word for her own purpose? So, her hair is ‘nappy’.

    Mine was too, back when I was a kid.

    Back before the bald black man thing was cool. And before punk rock pentagram “A” I shaved into my hair in praise of “Anarchy in the UK”.

    Before the fade.

    Before the California Curl my mother begged me to get that that resulting in me spending two plus years as a walking fire hazard.

    Before the cool-ass ‘fro’ (still got the year book pictures to prove it).

    Before all that and between visits to the barbershop my dad’s friend had set up in his laundry room (complete with barber’s chair), my hair was a dense cloud of nappy black on the top of my shiny black head just like everybody in the neighborhood.

    And Micah owning that word made me smile and, along with the rest of her restless, anarchic spirit, was just one more thing that gave me a deeper connection to her than I’ve felt for any other African-American beyond Walter Mosley’s ‘Mouse’ and ‘Omar’ on HBO’s The Wire.

    Creepy. Cool. Anarchic and conflicted. Pathological. Mebbe it’s just because I grew up so much like her, but I love Micah and her nappy hair.

    Justine, I don’t feel you owe me an iota of an apology.

    Just bring her back sometime. I’ll be glad to see her.

    Nappy hair and all.

  143. Heidi on #

    I applaud your courage to speak out about this and certainly hope your publishing house takes note.
    Thank you for your thoughts on an incredibly frustrating, relevant issue in publishing today. And thank you for being a voice for all those authors who’ve gone through this. My best to you.

  144. susan on #

    It’s taken a marathon or reading and commenting for me to put together what I hope is a coherent and intelligent response to this blowup about Liar

    There is a saying,”When you’re white you don’t think about it; when you’re black, you never forget it.”

    It is important to acknowledge the very different realities we live. Often we will accuse one another of being overly sensitive or being wrong when the truth is each reality is real.

    When most white readers get their fill of righteous outrage, I will still be black. I will still have to hunt for books that promote I really am here and I will likely still be a minority voice in the blogosphere actively promoting books with POC by POC writers.

    Very few have responded to my comment about the absence of color among book bloggers. Those marketing folks didn’t come to that conclusion without some basis in what they see. Something shaped their perception.

    Why isn’t my brown face regularly featured on book blogs?

    And has no one thought about the silence among teen bloggers? The only teen bloggers who have commented are Tashi at Taste Life Twice and Ari at young, black reader, both, teens of color who are active members of Color Online.

    And I will not accept that the silence reflects that white teens don’t normally comment about industry issues. They comment on YA sites run by adults and those adults haven’t spoken up either. Those same adults had plenty to say during the BEA controversy and the riff about professional and hobbyist bloggers.

    It is discouraging that we still cannot engage the majority in a substantive discussion about race.

    I don’t want to blame or guilt-whip white folks. I want acknowledgment and real discourse. I want change. Not tongue wagging.

  145. susan on #

    To the young black women offended by the word nappy. You might want to write, bell hooks, black feminist and demand an apology from her. You won’t be getting one from me. I grew up when we proudly embraced calling ourselves black and baby, you can’t ever be too black and I love my nappy locs.

    Of course we come in all shades and our hair comes in a variety of textures. Want to get offended, get offended when black people argue about what’s good or fine hair.

  146. Jennifer N on #

    Maybe you could use this controversy as a way to highlight this issue, by doing a “redesign the cover” contest for young adult readers. Engage with your young readers and see what treatment they would’ve come up with for your book. It seems like this could be a great opportunity for dialogue and engagement with your fans, not to capitalize on a bad situation, but to bring an important issue to the forefront.

  147. Jade on #

    When Don Imus called the rutgers women’s basketball team “Nappy Headed Hoes” black women around the country were outraged. Its derogatory and demeaning. I’m black and I don’t have nappy hair. Is my hair kinky? yes. It’s not naturally straight thats for sure but I would never describe my hair as nappy because it has never been associated with anything good.
    Justine, if you think that because you choose to write about different ethnicities that it gives you the okay to describe Micah as having nappy hair then you are just as wrong as bloomsbury was in choosing this cover.

  148. Jade on #

    I also read an earlier post you have up where you seem very content with the cover. You never said you were happy but you never said you didn’t like it either.
    You actually were happy it was the catalogue cover and said you hoped the cover would help sell books. Why didn’t you take this issue you up before? Can you honestly say that you went to your publisher with the concern that a white girl on the cover of this book about a black protagonist would be the very wrong way to go? Im assuming that if you did, Bloomsbury would given this some more thought. Based on that earlier post of yours, i’m having a hard time believeing that this post now is anything but you jumping onto this issue so you don’t seem in the wrong for not bringing up the race issue sooner.

  149. Jamie on #

    I am a children’s and young adult librarian in a diverse community and am not only horrified when publishers do this, but it actually makes it harder for me to “sell” books. I have many young patrons who will only read books with images of kids of color on the covers. I am equally annoyed by the covers on books like Touching Snow — the publishers obviously wanted to avoid depicting a Haitian girl on the cover (which would have made it fly off the shelves here), so they gave it an abstact, “literary” looking cover with no people depicted and now no one will read it. Sigh.

  150. Alaya Johnson on #


    As a black woman, I have to say that I (and many of my female family members) frequently and proudly refer to our hair as variously nappy or kinky. I know I don’t speak for all black women on this issue, but the fact is that I can’t think of another adjective that adequately gets at the texture of some black hair, and I don’t think that the one that does should be automatically considered offensive. I think, given what we can tell of her personality, that Micah would proudly own that word. The same way that I, and plenty of other black women own it.

  151. scott on #

    Bookreader at 138 says, “By the way: take a closer look at the cover. Who says she’s not black? Is it because she doesn’t look ‘black enough’? And isn’t that a racist attitude if I ever heard one!”

    As far as I know, every black person who’s looked at the cover reads this photograph as being of a white person. As do almost all white people, except for a handful who shrug and say they can’t be sure.

    According to you, this overwhelming majority of people who see a white person have a “racist attitude,” while pretty much only you have seen the truth.


    It’s true that race is not absolutely determinable. It’s a social construct. But think about what the word “social” means. It means when the overwhelming majority of people in a society identify a photograph as being of a white person, they’re pretty much right.

    And, of course, in PW the publisher admits that the model is white, the photo was intended as being of a white person, and that for various reasons they were okay with that.

    So, in effect, you’re sitting there imagining your way out of this complex, gnarly, unpleasant issue about race and publishing by pretending that everyone else’s perceptions are wrong, and that every contextual clue (publisher’s admissions, actual race of model) is also wrong.

    So this position results in two things:
    1) According to you, you’re one of the few who can see the truth, while almost everyone else is a bigot!
    2) In actuality, you’re having a conversation entirely with yourself, except for idiots like me who bother to engage with this kind of solipsistic crap.

    Hope that’s working out for you.

    (By the way, I’m not saying everyone who sees this cover as racially ambiguous is a dimwit, only those who claim that an ambiguous interpretation is the only non-racist one, because being certain that the person in this photo is white is, “a racist attitude if I ever heard one!”)

  152. Alaya Johnson on #

    Oh, and to Jade, regarding Don Imus and his racist comments about the Rutgers students–

    I think that context is everything. And I totally understand why some black women would just want to get away from any possible negative implications of the word “nappy.” But I want to point out that plenty of other black women don’t think that there’s anything wrong with it. To me, what was offensive about Don Imus’ comments weren’t *specifically* that he said they had nappy hair, but that he paired this adjective with the obvious pejorative “hos” and clearly meant to denigrate them based on their hair texture.

    A black hair texture.

    Now THAT is racist. Not because they had nappy or kinky hair. But because Imus was using that to imply that they were somehow worth less than others. If Imus had said they were “big nosed hos” or “dark skinned hos” that would have been equally offensive. And yet, plenty of black people proudly refer to their wider noses or dark skin. I have big lips. If someone like Imus were to use that in a clearly racial context to denigrate me, it would be offensive. But I love my big lips and I will say that to anyone.

    I don’t want to say that all black people think the same way about these things. Obviously, they don’t. But I do want to make the case that this issue is not cut and dried, and even the case of Don Imus has nuances of context that you can’t get at by just declaring that “nappy” is a universal negative. I know many people of color who would be perplexed by such a statement.

  153. susan on #


    I do not believe you have followed Justine’s comments entirely. You are selectively picking at her posts. You also are failing to acknowledge the publisher is her employer.

    And put word usage in context. Imus is a racist who clearly used the word ‘nappy’ in a derogatory way. Kinky is okay but not nappy? Do you want to focus on the bigger issue here or simply put a white woman in her place?

    Are you going to chastise all the black women who celebrate their nappy hair?

    Young woman, pick your battles. There aren’t enough images of the diversity that is you on the cover of books. As an audience, the industry pigeon-holes you. Books about you are not effectively and sorely underrepresented on book blogs which by the way, the industry pays attention,too.

    Focus. Your hair is the least of our problems here.

  154. N. K. Jemisin on #

    Jade (and Reader),

    My problem with Imus was the “hoes” part, not the nappy headed part, though I’m sure he meant it as a pejorative. I’m black and my hair is natural and I call it many things — natural, nappy, kinky, etc. Nappy hasn’t traditionally been used as a racist slur; it’s a word used by African Americans to refer to their own hair, for the most part. So although I respect that it bothers you, I don’t think it’s something you can claim is offensive to all black people.

    Not to mention this is kind of off-topic.

  155. susan on #


    Well said.

    Checked out your link. Come by Color Online. Drop me an e-mail. Let’s talk about how we can promote and support you.

  156. susan on #


    Added your site to our blogroll. Color Online recently hosted a meme on POC characters & POC writers in science fiction. Will be adding you to our list.

  157. Chris McKitterick on #

    Thank you for speaking out on this – and you handled it so well and professionally. Good luck with the paperback cover.

  158. Jess on #

    Just wanted to chime in with my support. Hope the pback cover is spectacular.

    Interestingly this was on my mind b/c I saw Kindred by Octavia Butler on the bottom shelf of the fantasy aisle (alphabetizing put it there). (the book seems amazing; I started reading it in the store based on the cover)

  159. Tracy on #

    For those of you who are looking for teen lit blogs that are less homogeneous in their book selection, you might want to try

    BTW, here’s what they had to say about Liar:

    …With a surprise twist smack in the middle and a delightfully unreliable narrator, Liar is a delectably disturbing story from start to finish. My only complaint is the cover–the girl shown here looks nothing like the way Micah is described: half black and half white with short, curly hair. However, that’s small potatoes compared to how much I enjoyed this roller-coaster of a chill ride… (

  160. Sarah Laurenson on #

    A few months ago, a book caught my eye: Passing for Black with 2 black women on the cover. I bought it. It was different, intriguing. Have not finished it yet, but that’s another story that has nothing to do with the book itself and everything to do with one of the character’s attitudes about gay marriage at a time when my wife and I were waiting to find out if we were still legally married.

    This post is so well written and so balanced in going through the process, the issue and possibly the solution. I applaud you walking that razor’s edge.

  161. coe booth on #

    Please add me to the list of African American women who are extremely happy to be nappy! I am not offended by the word nappy in the least. My hair is nappy — that’s what it is! There is absolutely nothing wrong with Micah referring to her own hair as nappy. That’s truthful. That’s what a black girl would say.

    When you read, do you want politically correct, safe words, or do you want honesty? C’mon, let’s get real already!

  162. N. K. Jemisin on #

    Addendum to my own comment at #39 — I just realized how that could be misconstrued as a ding against my publisher and editor, who I’m actually blissfully happy with. So I posted some thoughts and a reaction to Justine’s post here to clarify!

  163. Christine on #

    Count me too.

    I always bristle when white authors write about African American people and don’t get it right. But this isn’t the case. I also bristle when African American’s apply a single litmus test to verbage used by characters.

    In THIS case, in THIS usage, nappy is fine. It’s a black character and anyone who thinks that term isn’t used in the “community” is kidding themselves. I’m middle class, don’t fit a ghetto stereotype and still refer to doing my hair (and my kids) as busting naps. Does that make me less black?

    What made Don Imus so offensive is – one – the term nappy didn’t apply to the situation. He combined it with a word implying “whore” and meant it to NOT be a compliment but a sarcastic joke. He wasn’t using the basketball player’s vernacular, he was trying to be cute and instead made himself look like a racist.

    Just as Bloomsbury deciding a white cover (seems like all their covers feature white people) should be on a black character’s book became a racial slap in the face.

    I’d suggest that if the poster is offended by the term nappy, she recognize that there are Black people of many cultures all over the world that use that term.

    The key here is context.

    I’m more offended by the Bloomsbury cover than the author’s use of terms for a black character and hope that is where our focus can remain.

    AS for the making excuses for the cover – the girl on the cover could be “black” but the fact is that she is not. Isn’t it more racist implying that she could be if she’s not? Isn’t that a double standard?

    Bloomsbury messed up – badly – and showed it’s true face and perspective about consumers. Again – they seem to only want to publish books about black people as long as they are not written by them or as long as the covers don’t feature them. To which I ask – why bother then?

    Perhaps Ms. Cecka – the editor in chief (?) – will grace us with answer more credible than the political BS she spun for Publisher’s Weekly.

  164. WR on #

    Thanks for writing about your experience, Justine. I’m disheartened, but not surprised.

    I’ve published three mainstream novels for adults, but I often hear from people searching for appropriate fiction for black teens. At the same time, I hear that YA for black teens doesn’t sell at all. Clearly there are black teen readers out there, but the question is how do we reach them?

    I picked up an ARC of Liar at BEA and honestly thought the cover model was biracial – half-white/half-Asian. I was surprised when I learned Micah is actually Black.

  165. Nonny on #

    It’s ironic how in any discussion on the topic of racism, there are people more interested in zeroing in on specific phrases or words that might be offensive to some, but not to all (obviously, by the amount of people commenting)… rather than focusing on the greater, and far more offensive, issue of whitewashing covers.

    If we avoided all words that could possibly be considered offensive, nobody would ever say anything, because everything is offensive to someone out there.

  166. Ruth Katcher on #

    Wonderful post, Justine. This is an extraordinarily difficult issue and has been since I have worked in publishing. You state your case beautifully.

  167. Helen on #

    Maybe you could get someone to design and sell replacement covers? Kind of like with iPods, you could pick your own darned cover.

  168. susan on #

    Thanks Christine and Coe,

    Anyone looking for a space committed to celebrating and promoting POC writers and characters, visit us at Color Online.

    And if you really want to do something start blogging while brown.

  169. Melinda on #

    Huge issue. Amazing post. You’ve really got me thinking and changing my mind about things – in a good way. This will have an impact on my writing, my book buying and the way i view the world. Thank you


  170. susan on #

    I wrote earlier:

    “Very few have responded to my comment about the absence of color among book bloggers. Those marketing folks didn’t come to that conclusion without some basis in what they see. Something shaped their perception.

    Why isn’t my brown face regularly featured on book blogs?”

    Can you hear the echo in YA teen blogs? Or the adult run YA blog?

    Where’s their outrage?

    Right. Easy to pounce on Bloomsbury but why is their target audience silent?

    Where’s Teens Readergrlz? Story Siren?

    Let’s keep this real. If we’re serious about our outrage this isn’t the time to sing Kumbaya and be pc. I want to know where Bloomsbury’s major target audience stands on this.

  171. Little Willow on #

    Kudos for your honesty, for sharing your dislike and discomfort regarding the cover, and for opening up this dialogue about racism, assumptions, covers and misrepresentations of characters.

    We’re discussing Kendra by Coe Booth at readergirls in August. I hope you’ll join in the discussions at the blog + the live chat with Coe.

    I’m glad that Shine, Coconut Moon is in your to-read pile. Many memorable messages in those pages. I recently interviewed Neesha – I’ll be posting that interview at my blog soon.

  172. Rita on #

    This is an amazing and wonderfully articulated post on a topic that has long fascinated me. Thank you for sharing.

  173. Mandamus on #

    I would ask your publisher or other publishers to check and see when the last book they published actually HAD a black person on the cover. This sounds like a sacred cow. Something that’s been run around and around for so long that it’s taken on a life of it’s own. I’ll bet they haven’t done a book with a black person on the cover since the 70s.

  174. JB on #

    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.

  175. Pamela Freeman on #

    Justine, well done for speaking out both bravely and reasonably.

    I loved Liar, as you know, and read it of course with the Australian cover. I have a clear image of Micah in my head and believe me, it’s nothing like your American cover! I’m particularly disturbed by the radical shift because so much of the book’s deeper meaning is about Micah’s relationship with her body and hair – and by chosing that cover image Bloomsbury is being extremely disrespectful of the text as well as racist. I feel that she’s been publically made over into the person she fought so hard not to be.

    For those who wish to vote with their wallets, Gleebooks in Sydney ( does mail order and, since they carry Justine’s other books, will no doubt be carrying the Australian editor of Liar as soon as it comes out here, which won’t be until October.

  176. Melissa Walker on #

    Justine, I’ll definitely be writing about this (thanks to furies for pointing me here) and I’d still love to do a Cover Story with you anytime. Thanks for being honest and open here–it’s awesome. Melissa

  177. CaritasGirl on #

    The jacket of LIAR is visually stunning. But have you noticed that in its design and white-washing, it fits the mold of many YA Novels? At any B&N at any given time, many of the YA Novels will have an extreme close-up of a white girl. They all look the same. Publishing houses will agree that the success of a book relies on one retailer only – Barnes & Noble. THEY HOLD THE TRUE POWER OVER WHAT WILL AND WILL NOT WORK ON A JACKET OR COVER. Publishers will scrap cover after cover to appease them. Borders less so but they do get a say too. Designers & Art Directors are tired of fighting. Their creativity is stifled. They have no freedom. Their judgment is not trusted; their opinions have no impact and apparently, they have no taste. These days they end up in the role of servant doing only what everyone tells them to do and not having the freedom to think for themselves. (I guess B&N really likes extreme close-ups of white girls.) With this kind of power, it’s impossible for the sales rep to do their jobs properly anymore: Make the Hard Sell. Instead of representing the the publishing house, they end up representing the account to the house, meaning you’d think B&N was paying their salary and not the house. Putting a black girl on the cover makes selling the book harder?! DO YOUR JOB. IT’S YOUR JOB TO SELL. Don’t just nod and agree with everything they say. B&N CAN BE WRONG SOMETIMES! LIAR is a visually stunning jacket and believe it or not, a talented designer can make a visually stunning jacket using an extreme close up of a black girl. AND IT IS YOUR JOB TO SELL THAT TITLE instead of writing that book off.


    Dear Walter Dean Myers –
    How did you do it? How did you become so successful? All those black people on your covers….. how did you sell so many copies? How did you sell even one?

  178. C.E. Petit on #

    This sort of controversy reflects miscommunication and misunderstanding by the sales and marketing dorks — who tend to operate, as PNH notes above (comment 13), based on myth/superstition and not on data — more than it does anything else. S&M believes it is selling to bookstores. Authors believe they are selling to readers. Neither is entirely correct, but the latter is (probably) closer to reality than the former… and neither is based on actual, verifiable, replicable data. Rather than hijack this blog, I’ve expanded a little on the problem at mine:
    (first bullet point)

  179. L WaveKeeper on #

    Great post. I’m not sure what cover the UK is getting, but having read this, I’ll import the Australian one. I don’t know much about the ecomonics of publishing, but if enough people make a point of getting the Australian version wouldn’t that drive the point home to Bloomsbury?

  180. claire on #

    I very much admire this post, and your stance on this.

    I would like to state that if the UK gets a cover with a black face on I will definitely buy a copy. If not, I’ll try to remember to import a copy of the Australian printing. If the UK cover receives a white-girl cover, I will not be buying a UK printing and will try to find other ways to support your work.

  181. Tania Roxborogh on #

    Hi Justine, I can across your link because it was referenced in a post by Melinda Szymanik. I think what you wrote was very wise and timely esp considering the many posts over at Editoral Anonmynus.

    I have had some joys and sorrows with book covers. The worst one was the art department putting a fat woman stuffing her face for my memoir ‘Fat Like Me’ – a book that faces head on the discrimination obese people experience.

    My latest YA novel, Banquo’s Son, is beautiful but my editor and I tusselled over it cos the bloke just does not live up to the boy I saw in my dream and when I was writing the book.
    A&U are great and I look forward to my copy for review (I do the YA reviews for the Otago Daily Times)
    All the best
    Tania Roxborogh

  182. E. Kristin Anderson on #

    I just wanted to let you know I feel the same way you and MANY do about the US Liar cover. And though I was fairly certain I wasn’t meant to question Micah’s blackness, the cover made me wonder if my teenage customers might.

    While customers are attracted to books with close-ups of girls’ faces (I believe you’ve heard of the best-selling Uglies series…), graphic covers CAN do well, too. The hunger games, for example, flies off the shelves without a photo. Twilight, though completely different from your book or Suzanne’s, also does fine – even without handselling efforts.

    I generally adore Bloomsbury as a consumer and reader, but I’ve gotta say they dropped the ball on this one. White-washing just makes me sad.

  183. Karen Gold on #

    If anybody has any good YA novels with black people on the covers that they “can’t give away,” please give them to me. I teach in a black high school and keep a large collection of YA books in my room to loan to students, although I teach science. (Yes of course our school has a library…it’s a long story.) My students pretty much only want to pick up a book with an african-amercian cover person–especially the kids who don’t usually like to read.

  184. Doret on #

    Anyone in search of children’s or YA books featuring people of color, please feel free to stop by my blog. These last few days of outrage are meaningless if people don’t change their reading, book buying and reviewing habits. Prove Bloomsbury wrong. Read for change.

  185. susan on #

    #187 Karen Gold,

    We give away books. Join us at Color Online.

    You can get books by sending us a review, participating in our trivia quizzes (do google. the aim is to learn), participate in our challenges.

    Our goal is to get books into readers hands.

  186. Maria on #

    This is an unfortunate fact about publishing: the author’s input in marketing matters is minimal. I haven’t read your book, but your discussion here explains it perfectly. I agree; the cover was inappropriate and may have done you harm. I’m glad you’ve spoken out on this and hope your publisher — and others — see the light.

  187. Rasco from RIF on #

    Thank you for your courage in expressing yourself in this post. I have discussed this issue in a post today at Rasco from RIF I look forward to further dialogue on the issue.

  188. ann on #

    Putting a white girl’s photo on a novel about a black girl? It’s pretty shocking and discouraging to hear that publishers/booksellers/etc. continue to cave in to this tired/sickening Jim Crow practice. Hey, the time for change is now, isn’t it? But things won’t ever change until a publisher like Bloomsbury – with a “hot” novel like yours – challenges the old rules. My first picture book comes out this fall with a handsome black boy on the cover. I certainly hope a few people will buy it.

  189. Popin on #

    I was one of the people who was taken by your cover the minute I saw it. It seemed to match the blurb perfectly. Now that I’ve read your blog, I don’t know if the cover sits too well with me now. I still do intend to read your book, as it looks really good, but I do wonder why they couldn’t have a black female on the cover, or at the very least, chose to not have anyone on the cover at all?

    Great post by the way. 🙂

    ~ Popin

  190. Ally Cowee on #

    Brava, Justine! I admire your conviction and your courage. And I hope soon we’ll be seeing many cover images that more accurately reflect our protagonists both inside and out.

  191. theprisonerswife on #

    wow, so books with black/brown people on the cover don’t sell? is that what we are to believe by your publisher’s cover choice?

    it’s sad. there is such a disconnect between the media & the real world. people have been touting that we are in a “Post-Racial” America (just wrote a post about it ) because of Obama’s presidency, and some notable POC out there, but when it comes down to it…we are still segregating ourselves.

    i think we do ourselves a disservice when we continue to perpetuate the stereotypes that Black people don’t buy books, or books with minorities on the cover don’t sell. if we put those things aside and just have FAITH in the power of the story itself, we might get somewhere.

  192. Tamara Heiner on #

    oh wow. Thank you for the insight. I wondered how you could approve such a cover and it’s good to know that you didn’t. Many of us, including authors, haven’t had that experience. My publishing contract states explicitly that no cover will be used unless I approve it.

    I am so pleased that you are speaking out about it, it makes me want to go and buy the book. I am shocked and horrified to know that racism, so blatant and ugly, still exists on such a strong level in the US. How simply awful.

  193. Christine on #


    Was that the point of this? Your saying you loved the cover then saying you fought it after the controversy erupted? Because I’m disturbed at the number of people now saying they want to rush out and buy the book (I found myself thinking I’d buy the Australian version). But now there is talk in other venues that this was part of Bloomsbury’s plan all along.

    A little honesty? Is this just a marketing ploy?

    If so, you’ve insulted thousands of African American girls in the process. Maybe Bloomsbury just doesn’t care. It seems from their website that’s an ongoing trend. I appreciate your writing about characters of other races, but I think I’ve had enough and I’m moving on. My girls deserve better than this.

  194. christine tripp on #

    CaritasGirl, you bring up an excellent point that I had not taken into consideration. We could be very well blaming the publisher when the fault most probably lies with the seller. In Canada we have our equivillent of a B&N and yes, they wield tremendous power. If they do not like a cover, they will not order the book and that’s that. Yes, certainly they will cave if the book somehow, on it’s own, becomes a best seller and if their patrons continually ask for it, but that scenario would be one in a million. I have seen myself the power the book chains hold, having been told by my publisher to redo a PB cover (remove a rubber clown nose the cartoon dog was wearing because so many people fear clowns, SERIOUSLY!) and use a different background colour (change from pink, to sky blue) to suit the stores demands.
    I would love to know if the publisher would have featured an AA girl on the cover, were it not for the fact that the the major book sellers would not have carried the novel.

  195. Justine on #

    Christine @198: No. I never wanted this. I fought tooth and nail against that cover. But even so I keep wishing I could go back in time and fight harder, find the exact argument that would persuade them. I never wanted this disaster.

    I never said I loved the cover. If you read my post about the US cover and then my post about the Australian cover you’ll see a stark contrast. Courtney Milan (who I’ve never met in my life) did that comparison on her blog.

    Liar is the most ambitious book I have ever written. But no one’s talking about my book; they’re talking about that bloody awful cover. Trust me, no author wants that. I told my editor a week ago when I was trying to get them to change the cover (again) that I wish I had never written it.

    Whatever success Liar has or doesn’t have is now completely overshadowed by its US cover. I’m trying to deal with that but I wish people would stop talking about my damn book and focus on the larger issue, which is racism in the publishing industry.

  196. JS on #

    I have to say that if I were in your situation I would certainly be upset about the choice that was made for your book cover. Your main character is black and the girl on the the cover is white – that’s just silly! I agree wholeheartedly! However, I do feel the need to respond to some of the other issues that you brought up in your post. First, as someone who used to work in a bookstore (and in an area with a large number of African Americans) I can understand why publishers are hesitant to use “black covers”. If their target audience for books with “black covers” would be African Americans, they certainly wouldn’t have sold many in the bookstore where I worked because very few ever came into the store. I won’t posit why that may be! Now, I guess some can make the argument that it’s because there aren’t more books with “black covers” but I feel that that is a very weak argument! When talking about books with people on the cover (black, white, Asian, whatever), you’re only talking about a small portion of the books in any bookstore. Not all books are targeted to one race or another! What about the large percentage of books with no people on the cover at all? Are black people only inclined to purchase books with black faces on them? That seems to be the conclusion that one can draw from your statements! To be completely honest, I prefer books with covers that have no people on them at all!

    Second, comparing cd covers and book covers is like comparing apples and oranges. Most people purchase music from a musician whose ethnicity is already know so the cover is kind of irrelevant in that way. The same can not always be said of books and their authors, especially for people who walk into a bookstore and have no idea what kind of book they are looking for. Unfortunately, when it comes to a publisher, it’s about the bottom line, how many books can they sell, and if they think they can target a larger audience by not printing “black covers” then they are going to do it. It might not seem fair but they are in the business of making money not publishing books with PC covers.

    I agree that Bloombury should have printed a “black cover” for your book or at the very least a cover without anyone at all on it, similar to the Australian cover you were pushing for from the begining but I don’t agree with some of the reasoning you brought up about other issues in your post!!

  197. Dusie on #

    Can we just get away from having photos of people on covers at all? I don’t care if an image is accurate of a character or inaccurate; I’d prefer to create my own image based on the author’s description of said character.

  198. Christine on #


    Thanks for that reply. I really appreciate it. I’m an author so I know how incomprehensible this profession is. This is heartbreaking. Two of my peers emailed to let me know that they knew you personally and that you are a wonderful soul.

    This is especially hard for many of us because so many publishers would rather buy a story about an ethnic character from someone who is not. To the point that some of us are now considering writing under pseudonyms.

    You have my full support. I’ll buy the Australian version as soon as it is available. I won’t however, buy anymore books from Bloomsbury. I’ll keep track of your foreign releases through your blog and website.

    Best wishes, and godspeed.

  199. Maureen Johnson on #

    To Christine at #198:

    I’m also replying to this because I know there’s a lot more Justine would say to this, but she’s too polite (at least on this blog) and too emotionally invested. I want to speak as her friend and tell you that–just as she says above–she ALWAYS made these observations about the cover. ALWAYS. I am not part of a Grand Publishing Cabal designed to trick you. I have dinner with her and sit on her floor and run all my ideas past her and steal her hairclips.

    Justine is perhaps the most pathologically honest person I know. (There is a pair of shoes I no longer wear because Justine could not lie about her feelings for them and described their flaws in depth.) Anyone who has ever met Justine can tell you of her candid nature. We love her for it. We like to send her into situations where we are too polite/afraid to say things ourselves, because we know Justine will say them for us, because she has NO FILTER. It’s hilarious that someone who has no ability to lie would choose to write a book called Liar.

    This is my friend you are talking about. And I assure you, she would NEVER have agreed to some half-assed “marketing ploy.” I was there. I saw it when she lost sleep over this. I heard her make the case again and again. This is someone who is deeply committed to her beliefs. I can’t sit by any let anyone make this kind of suggestion about her.

    And what of this “marketing ploy”? The one that is being talked about in “other venues.” Do you mean “other random sites on the internet, home to the wrong, the crazy, and the paranoid”? These could even be perfectly legitimate sites, but every site with significant traffic has a certain degree of bonkers in its comment threads. You’ve SEEN the internet, right?

    I feel like someone always has to say, “It’s a trap!” at least once in a discussion like this. You have taken up the task. I only WISH publishers were that crafty.

    Do you honestly think, even for a second, that somewhere at Bloomsbury they actually sat down and had a meeting and said, “We have a very literary book here. Very suspenseful. What do you say . . . and hear me out on this . . . that we make the cover RACIST so that everyone talks about it! And then we’ll have the author write long, incredibly well-thought out blog posts, keeping in line with her previous posts, in which she constantly talks about the issues of equity and fairness . . . so that people will feel bad and buy the book and then rant about what HUGE RACISTS we are! What do you think?”

    I think I will have what you’ve been having.

    There isn’t a publisher out there . . . with the possible exception of crazy small presses with cracked-out political agendas . . . that would sit down and decide to be racist just to get attention.

    To suggest that Bloomsbury, an esteemed publishing company, would actually sit down and try to bait people is heinous. And it’s especially insane when you realize that publishers of YA literary fiction market heavily to teachers and librarians. Teachers and librarians are KEENLY AWARE of these sorts of issues, as you might imagine.

    I’m not a Bloomsbury author, but I’ve met Bloomsbury editors, including people who worked on this book. They are an extremely intelligent and professional group of people. They publish excellent books. The cover was a lapse in judgement. Perhaps they just fell in love with the image when they saw it. Many people remark on the striking nature of the cover. It was popular. It was liked by many booksellers. It was, in and of itself, a success. It was just on the wrong book. It’s so difficult to sell books, and people at publishing houses have so many things they have to deal with at all times . . . people don’t always have time to think about the big picture.

    Justine always saw the problem because a). she’s Justine, and b). authors are always obsessed with all the aspects of their own books. If there’s a problem, we are likely to spot it first because we are just that consumed with all things OUR BOOK. She did what she could. And now Bloomsbury, seeing the reaction and rethinking the decision, are fully supporting her and the discussion that’s going on. They’re suffering over this too. Because people make mistakes, and out of mistakes, good things can come. This is (hopefully) one of those cases.

  200. Enoch Mubarak on #

    Comment by Enoch Mubarak 2 minutes ago Delete Comment From my perspective the publisher did you a unintentional favor. It is brutal enough that black people are struggling and battling to overcome images and perceptions of ignorance, apathy, laziness, irresponsibility, negligence and stupidity.

    Your book cover as originally intended with a black girls face on it with the title Liar would have done none of us any perceptual justice especially when you consider the age old poetic and proverb add-age that:”flies and Negroes I do despise for one spreads germs and the other tell lies.

    If you want justice and the white publishers claim black books don’t sell then make the publisher the “liar”

    If the book cover depicts a white girl but the character is a black girl and if life gives you a lemon, you make lemonade. Promote your book cover the way it appears with the same mystery and suspense they promoted the movie “The Crying Game” with.

    With creativity you can turn this into an advantage.

    Enoch Mubarak
    President & CEO Mubarak Inter-prizes

  201. Christine on #


    With all due respect I’ve already stated that two mutual friends (and authors) vouched for her and I withdrew my concern.

    Second, I’m not “new” to publishing and am familiar with Bloomsbury and their staff. Justine’s “cover” is not the first they’ve buried when the main character was black.

    The problem IS clearly NOT with Justine and that has been confirmed. It is, however, with Bloomsbury and their excessively narrow perspective on YA readers and the lack of diversity in their own hiring practices.

    Use of hyperbole on your part will not help this situation.)

    Justine has been forthcoming and very mature in her responses. Please respect read the posts before you jump in. Justine is an elegant and eloquent speaker and she’s done a great job of answering our questions under this difficult situation

    The broader issue is – now – to get the American public to boycott US publisher in genral but buy the Australian version to support Justine. That would send a loud and clear message to the UK that they have the wrong people in place in the US branch. I thought the problem would improve when the last PR person left. Clearly, she was not the issue – it went higher than that.

    Justine is right – we aren’t talking about a book anymore – but a cover. The “title” was going to be controversial enough to start with given the lack of diversity on Bloomsbury’s otherwise monochromatic line-up. Having a black character branded a “liar” wasn’t how I would wish they had started. But I’m told by those who read the ARC that the book is good. I am curious if that assessment comes from people of color – but that’s another issue entirely. I can’t weigh in until I’ve read it myself.

    But it is what it is. Slapping a white cover on it is – in our community considered – a racial “slap” in the face. And although I believe Justine, I do still believe that Bloomsbury hoped this would generate a buzz to build sales.

    But I reiterate my statement that my teens would find this insulting.

    And hasn’t that been the result? Some posters saying it just “makes them want to buy the book?” SIgh


    (btw – hang in there Justine, I do hear you and take you at your word.)

  202. Marie on #

    I just felt the need to address this part:

    “How welcome is a black teen going to feel in the YA section when all the covers are white? Why would she pick up Liar when it has a cover that so explicitly excludes her?”

    If a cover with a white girl explicitly excludes a black teen, then does a cover with a black girl explicitly exclude a white teen? If so, maybe this is why publishers are hesitant to put a black girl on the cover, since the truth is that white teens are a much bigger market than black teens. It’s not right, but it’s business.

  203. Louise on #

    I didn’t know about this issue until I read this blog post after a twitter link to it. Then today I was listening to BBC radio 4’s women’s hour (I’m in the UK)and they were interviewing Kathryn Stockett about her book “The Help” which is about black women working the homes of white people particularly as nannies in 1962’s Mississippi and she mentioned that the US cover is like this because the publishers said that a cover with black people on it would not sell, whereas the UK cover is

    Anyone in the UK can listen to the interview here (Interview starts at 35:25 and the part about the covers is at 41:35):

  204. Maureen Johnson on #


    At the time I wrote my comment, yours had not been posted. Trust me, I did read everything and did not “jump” in. I’ve been reading every single comment as they’ve been posted for days. I’ve talked to Justine non-stop about this. I am not new to the conversation. Your comment was probably in the approval queue as I was writing and posting mine.

    So there’s that.

    I won’t inflame this issue any further, as my main point, really, was to defend my friend. Justine is, in fact, a wonderful soul. I think you can imagine how infuriating it must have been to see someone suggest, in any way, that she might have either colluded on this or that her book shouldn’t be read. Since we now seem to be on the same page about this, there is no problem. You and me = solid.

    I still disagree with you on both the intentional nature of the controversy and my personal use of hyperbole (the later has made me many friends and won me several international awards).* I’m glad you also know people at Bloomsbury. I still think it’s nonsense that this was intentional. It would be like chopping off your own hand in a deranged attempt to get a free fake limb–sick, crazy, and not worth the result. (I know you have warned me about my hyperbole, but it will grow on you, and I can only be myself.)

    But our disagreement on the issue of intent and my personal style is irrelevant. What’s important is that people are talking about these issues in an intelligent manner, and maybe some progress can be made toward getting some more awesome, diverse books out there.

    * That last bit is a lie.

  205. Jessica on #


    I’m truly saddened that this whole ordeal has you at the point of wishing you’d never written the book. You also stated that “Liar is the most ambitious book I have ever written.”
    From the standpoint of an AA author attempting to get published, please understand that your protag’s story needed to be told. You heard her voice, and put it on paper. It is not your fault that Bloomsbury decided to fall back on the tried and true marketing concept of “Whitewashing” a cover, much like record labels did to artists like Nat King Cole, the Supremes, Johnny Mathis, etc. Publishing has yet to have the ground swell of reality hit the industry hard, where consumers refuse to accept the segregated viewpoint the book industry continues to run. Your book is but one more reason why change needs to occur. Please understand that as a reader and a consumer, I have no problem buying romance or paranormal romance with all white characters on the cover. Unfortunately, it seems publishers want to not only promote but sign writers who keep races separate, even though many readers clammor for multi-racial covers and diverse characters who love freely, without regard to race. It seems characters can mate with aliens and fairies and ghosts and demons, but heaven help characters who find a black male or female attractive. No, the problem isn’t with you. You wrote a book from the heart. Individuals in your publisher’s company decided they knew what was best for it, and that meant doctoring the cover to fool the reader. In the end, when all is said and done, this is a battle that must be fought, and one that is bound to continue through the generations.

  206. Maureen Johnson on #

    Additional to Christine:

    Having just put my last comment in, I’m still sitting here thinking. And I just wanted to apologize. Because while I was truly quite annoyed (at first at the implications about Justine, then that I hadn’t read the comments, then at my style) . . . I let my irritation get in the way of what was important–namely that you were hurt by the cover and what it implies. I forgot how hard this is for you as well. And that was wrong/idiotic of me.

    Let me just explain my position. When it comes down to the question: “Was it a conspiracy, or was it incompetence?” . . . I pretty much always vote for incompetence. Conspiracies are interesting. Incompetence is, sadly, one of the building blocks of the universe. So that tends to be where I land.

    We agree that the cover was a mistake. We disagree on how the mistake was made, and we’ll never know the answer about that. If the cover was an intentional move to get the controversy- well, that’s horrible. Covers are always designed for some kind of attention, but it goes against the grain of my logic to think that any publisher would seek out negative attention (especially when dealing with the highly sensitive school and library market). It’s potentially just as bad, or possibly worse, that it could have been done without anyone thinking about what it all means.

    And now, having dragged this on long enough, I let the point go. But I just wanted to pull my claws in, because clearly you’re someone who really cares about these issues and has a personal stake in them. I’m sorry for coming at you like that. Again, I feel very defensive about my friend. That, too, is personal.

    We’re on the same side. Thanks for coming back and replying.

  207. Jesse Marchand on #

    Justine, this is an eloquent piece that touches on some major problems in the publishing industry. Until we can break free from the notion that we can only market what has been marketed in the past we are stuck in an outdated industry that hampers creativity where it’s needed most: the front lines.

  208. WWWWolf on #

    Sometimes visuals can also lie intentionally, and that confuses things. The first work in Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar stories that I was exposed to was the computer game Betrayal at Krondor (in which Feist didn’t have much direct control over). Later, I was reading the novels, and I went “wait a… wait a moment… Locklear is a blonde???” The game character portrait has dark hair! Then I restarted the game from beginning, and yes, when James and Locklear meet first time in the game, James immediately makes fun of Locklear’s changed hair colour. I just hadn’t remembered this little scene, and that got me confused. =)

  209. Kai Strand on #


    Thank you for your thoughtful, professional reply to this situation. It is important to your readers and fellow writers to understand just how much goes into the publishing, marketing and overall success of a book. Not all decisions will be viewed as ‘right’ ones but there are usually solid reasons behind them just not necessarily reasons we will all agree with.

  210. Stephanie on #

    I’ve had the ARC of Liar since BEA, but didn’t have a chance to read it until yesterday. My 15 year old and her friend both read it already, and I told them about the controversy. Neither of them got what the cover had to do with Micah. I just finished the book and felt I had a very good picture of Micah in my head, which was, of course, nothing like the photo on the cover. (And I definitely saw her as beautiful.) Personally, I think a photo on the cover stunts the reader’s imagination. Instead of being able to picture the main character, and create this world of unique images in their head, the main character is already pictured for them.

  211. Christine on #


    No apology needed. It’s all good, as the saying goes. We’re all mystified and a bit agitated by the cover issue. And as Justine says – what should have been a triumph for her is turning into a PR disaster. Justine is lucky to have a good friend like you in her corner! Hugs.


    Let me tell you why black girls might feel unwelcome. If you grow up, as my daughter do, in an environment where you’re always cast as “friend and sidekick” in literature IF you’re there at all, or you’re the “magic negro” (in which case some white girl has a problem and is saved by poor blacks with hearts of gold, or you’re visible but pregnant and on drugs, or first to die in the movies, or you’re not there at all, then there’s a problem walking into a store and looking at shelves and shelves of books featuring the same features. It’s a subtle way of saying NOT YOU! (but yes we’ll take your money if you want to buy a book about a wizard or a dazzling cold vampire.)

    We don’t live in a post-racial society. My daughters read prolifically but often grow weary about books in which images of themselves are mired in some stereotype. They (and their AA friends) live in the inner city and yet they study Shakespeare and Latin, score well on ACT’s and standardized tests, play classical music and pretty much go their own way.

    According to many publishers they (and their friends) are neither an “authentic African American voice” nor part of the book-buying public. Their “non-existent, non book buying” AA friends” love Artemis Fowl. Lord of the Rings, and many of the same contemporary books that other teens are reading. They are a large part of the consumer base making JKR’s and Meyer’s royalty statements huge. The public gets it – book publishers do not.

    So why – WHY – does a publisher think they don’t buy books? Then compounds the problem by white washing the few the exist that feature a black girl doing something outside the norm?

    And how do they know a white girl won’t buy a book featuring a black girl if they don’t try it? What focus group came to that conclusion?

    For the record – I don’t buy books set in urban neighborhoods covering the same mundane aspects of life my kids see every day. They’re bored to tears by the monotony of those offerings and their friends avoid them like the plague. Nor do we buy a lot of civil rights and historical fiction determined to beat them over the head wit more slavery angst. How many Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman books can a person buy in a lifetime?

    See that’s the problem. Put out the same stale material for Black girls, then when our girls don’t buy it publishers throw up their hands and yell “see? They don’t read and they don’t shop.” If my girls don’t want to read that stuff, why would anyone else? My children want an adventure – not “real life” from the perspective of an editor who wouldn’t recognize their “real life” if we shoved it in front of them.

    So publishers are more to blame than readers – but in this case, Bloomsbury has taken their pathology to a whole new level.

    Which is why I agree with Editorial Anonymous – buy the Australian version of LIAR. Only I take it one step further – boycott Bloomsbury USA for a year as a reward for their pretty homogeneous YA lineup and explain to the UK headquarters why we’re avoiding their subsidiaries list.

    Sign me as “Christine” mother of two heavy spending, middle class, book addicted “Not You’s”.

    To which I reply to Bloomsbury. “Ditto.”

  212. AudryT on #

    Christine: According to many publishers they (and their friends) are neither an “authentic African American voice” nor part of the book-buying public. Their “non-existent, non book buying” AA friends” love Artemis Fowl. Lord of the Rings, and many of the same contemporary books that other teens are reading. They are a large part of the consumer base making JKR’s and Meyer’s royalty statements huge.

    You know, we’re all writers, readers, etc. here. We ought to be able to put together a list for your girls of Fantasy & YA novels with non-white leads that aren’t stereotypically “urban” in content. Some of the blogs mentioned in other comments and posts are good refs, but maybe we can go above and beyond that by adding our own recs. If Justine wasn’t so overwhelmed by all these comments, I’d suggest she start a “Non-White Fantasy Recs” thread. I’d do one on my own blog, but I suspect I don’t an eighteenth of the hits she does. Maybe someone else will volunteer? If not, I’d be glad to start a recs thread on my quiet little blog.

    Here are the Fantasy/YA books in my collection that aren’t about “Yet Another Generic White Girl…”

    -Voices, Ursula K. Le Guin (she’s probably a given on any list)
    -Justine’s books (also a given)
    -Immortal: Love Stories with Bite (for Claudia Gray’s story about a half-black girl confronted by a vampire)
    -The manga spin-off of “Wicked Lovely” with a white girl lead, but a very compelling dark-skinned love interest
    -Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind (not fantasy, but adding it anyway)
    -Wolf Tower, Tanith Lee
    -Hispanic, Female and Young for the short fantasy story “In the Family” by Maria Elena Llano
    -For younger girls, check out the comic “Sea Princess Azuri” by Erica Reis. Myriad skin colors and body types.
    -Can also think of some mature stuff that I probably shouldn’t put on a YA list

    Bah, that’s really pathetic. Half my books are in boxes right now. Someone help me improve this list!

  213. Sheree Renee Thomas on #

    Brilliant post, Christine! Ditto, ditto, ditto for my two “NOT YOU!” daughters as well – and all the book lovin’ folk in my huge family who have been reading and buying books long before I arrived on this earth, and long before T-Mc convinced publishers that black folk do indeed read and buy books.

  214. Victoria on #

    Lawrence Yep has lots of stuff out there. Also, Shana Burg “A Thousand Never Evers”, Christopher Paul Curtis with “Elijah of Buxton”.

  215. Cassandra Clare on #

    A great post Justine. I know how much you disagreed with this cover, and how hard you fought to get them to change it, and I’m glad you are able to talk about it here.

    One of the things about the comments here I’ve found so interesting is seeing people talk about how consumers buy books — what covers interest them and which don’t, what they look for and why they pick up what they do — and being reminded of how surprised I was when I realized that, in fact, individual book buyers aren’t the people publishers are selling to at all. That when they say a cover “won’t sell” they don’t mean to individuals in bookstores. They mean “this won’t sell to the person who orders books for Sam’s Club. For Wal-Mart. For Barnes and Noble.” They’re talking about what they call “accounts.” People — individual book buyers — basically don’t enter into this equation. It took me forever to figure this out as I finally realized that even what I meant by “book sales” (sales to people who would, you know, read the book) wasn’t remotely what my publisher meant by “book sales” (orders placed by accounts.)

    Not that this in any way contradicts anything you say in this post; it doesn’t. I think you are absolutely right about all of it, especially the point that we don’t know how a book with a black face on the cover that had the full weight of a publisher’s lead title machine behind it would fare. That kind of thing — marketing — absolutely does affect bookstore orders. It’s the publisher’s job to sell to accounts, to make them believe a book is going to be Big, and that a cover — a cover that doesn’t have the umpteenth millionth white girl’s face on it — will Sell. But you never know what will happen if nobody (no publisher) ever tries, and sadly, nobody ever seems to.

  216. Christine on #


    I love, love, LOVE Christopher Paul Curtis (as a writer and in person). But Elijah of Buxton is historical fiction, written about a boy who escapes the US to live in a Canadian colony of former slaves.

    Why, when we are black, do white editors only seem to think our voice is authentic if we are writing about slavery, oppression, civil rights or poverty?

    Elijah is a good book – but it’s one my kids won’t read voluntarily.

    That’s the point some of us are trying to make. After a while – no matter how good a book is, the subject matter becomes stale and uninteresting to urban kids who are constantly hit over the head with it as if their history began with a slave ship and ended with the death of Martin Luther King.

    There are books that tread outside those narrow boundaries but they are few and far between. This problem is much bigger than Bloomsbury. But at least Bloomsbury can serve as the rallying point for the outrage for such an egregious act.

  217. AudryT on #

    Great point, Cassie. I sometimes forget that the average reader doesn’t know just how crucial a role the “buyers” at major bookstore chains and retail stores play in a book’s future.

    I’ve known quite a few buyers in my time – mostly for graphic novels, but sometimes they also cover other categories – and for the most part, they seem to work hard at stocking the books that will sell best for their store. Unfortunately, most of the stores subscribe to the same philosophies as the publishing houses, so the buyers have to factor that into their decisions.

    FWIW, the good news is that there are AA buyers out there for major retail chains. How much leeway they are given for supporting books that are not seen as “mainstream white” I don’t know, but hopefully their perspective has as much of an influence on their chain’s purchases as the white folks in the same positions.

    To everyone reading this, aside from writing Bloomsbury and other publishers to express your dismay about the cover of LIAR and related issues, it might also be worthwhile to find some focal point for a letter/email campaign to major retail chains, requesting that they shelve more minority books and explaining that you will not buy deceptive book covers like LIAR’s. (Er, not that I want to hurt Justine’s royalties, but I’m not sure they would be willing to import the Australian edition.)

    By focal point, I mean getting your hands on the name of the YA buyer for each retailer/bookstore chain and coordinating with others to mass mail that individual. If they support your cause, then your letters will help back up their decision the next time they want to stock a minority title and the executives above them try to overrule that decision. And if the mail is significant enough, it might even initiate an industry-wide policy change.

    The thing is, what if an AA book doesn’t sell “less” than a white book? What if it simply captures *additional* sales from readers who would not have spent that money on any OTHER book? I.O.W., those teenage girls who are sick of buying urban fiction and who you can already count on to buy Twilight, but who still have a little money left over and would spend it on an AA fantasy series if they could just FIND one…

    One last suggestion. What about taking a cue from the latest trend in green protesting? A protest group invites local retailers to engage in green activities on a specific day, and in return for their doing so, the protest group rallies all their members to meet at that retailer on that day and buy something. It’s a financial windfall for the retailer and encourages them to proactively protect the environment.

    This concept could be applied to indie stores that agree to stock the Australian LIAR or who have AA and/or minority-themed days in which they display and sell a wider variety of minority-themed books than they normally do (in this case, books about slavery wouldn’t count!).

    Authors could also hop on the bandwagon by offering to do signings at stores that hold minority-themed events or by offering to sign alongside minority authors who might unfairly be neglected or ignored by those arranging autograph events. Imagine the influential power of Cassandra Clare, Coe Booth, Scott Westerfield, Tananarive Due, Maureen Johnson, Mitali Perkins, Justine and others showing up at an indie store or retail chain to support an event promoting greater diversity in YA publishing.

    If the buying power of both whites and minorities who want more diverse books can be rallied, it would be an opportunity to show the industry proof-positive that it *pays* to listen to the WHOLE audience, rather than just one part of it.

    Er, just my two thousand cents. 😉

  218. Julie Polk on #

    Marie at 207: “It’s not right, but it’s business.”

    As someone with both an MFA in writing and a day job at an investment services firm — a business whose business is business – I can’t let this comment and all the others I’ve seen echoing it around the blogosphere slide by unaddressed. I’ve also been tracking this thread and all the related blog posts because this is such a critical issue, and I think the thing that keeps getting missed in the “publishing is a business, so there you go” point of view is this: the firm I work in, and others like it, exist solely to make money. It’s their moral imperative to make as much money as possible for their clients, and the SEC exists specifically to try to make sure that happens. The Madoff travesty is merely the most recent in a long line of spectacularly horrendous examples of what happens when the industry I work in loses its moral compass, and when it does, everyone understands exactly how horrific it is for the victims because it’s easy to quantify what’s lost: Your life savings. Your child’s chance to go to college. Confidence that you won’t die from a simple infection that spirals out of control because you don’t have health insurance and no one will treat you until you’re too sick to be saved.

    But publishers—at least, literary publishers—are not in the business of making money. They are in the business of making it possible for writers to make art. They are the self-appointed stewards of an art form that sometimes offers readers a connection to someone or something they may not find elsewhere, and other times asks readers to step into strange new worlds and risk being transformed by the experience, on the underlying assumption that there is an inherent value in making those connections and in bringing that transformation back into the larger conversation about what it is to be human.

    And that comes with quite a different moral imperative, one that requires the courage to stand in the face of marketing stats (which are, by the way, generally a lot of hooey—scroll down to the July 24 entry at for a really good summary of why) and state unequivocally that the value of that conversation and those connections cannot in fact be quantified, and that it doesn’t matter because publishers exist in the service of something larger—a stance which, as many have already pointed out, might very well disprove this deeply ingrained idea that covers with faces on them only sell if those faces are white.

    Of course publishers have to make money, and nothing would make me happier than to see publishing houses everywhere having runaway profits and artists in every medium, not just writers, taking home the fat paychecks that some of the frankly boneheaded executives I’ve seen roaming my office halls walk out the door with. But if publishers were solely in the business of making money they wouldn’t be publishers, they’d work where I work. They’re not, and they don’t, and that is why this is such a screw up on Bloomsbury’s part — and by much of the testimony here and elsewhere, on the part of publishers in general.

  219. Valerie on #

    I’m late to this party, but I just have to say that this post really breaks my heart. For you, for african american girls everywhere who love to read, and for myself, a black woman, writing a YA book featuring a young black girl as the MC. I was inspired to finally start writing because I wanted to write the books that I wanted to read when I was a teen. The books that didn’t exist, and now I see why. It is such a disappointment to read that in 2009 this is still happening. What a shame that your publisher would take a step that undermines your story even if they did it in the hopes of getting you more sales. I really hope this makes an impact in the publishing world. It’s time for things to change.

    Kudos to you for being so diverse in your writing!

  220. A on #

    I’m not terribly surprised. Americans have always had a different approach to books in general. Their marketing schemes always seem to look tackier and very white-bread and simplistic compared to covers around the globe. Not to mention what they often do to the inside to “Americanize” it. Would it hurt to have a taste of another culture?

  221. KatG on #

    I’ve worked in publishing for a very long time, and I can tell you without a doubt that Bloomsbury didn’t plan anything, they were just incompetent and complacent. It probably didn’t even occur to them that it might be considered a problem until Justine brought it up, and then they just patted her on the head and told her it would be fine, the marketing folk think the cover’s great, etc.

    Nor is there any actual statistical marketing data behind the “black people don’t buy fiction” and the “covers with black people on them don’t sell” mandates — or for that matter, for the “our novels are selling well because we put girls’ faces on the covers” belief. Publishers don’t do demographic research; they can’t afford it and it doesn’t help them much with fiction. Instead, it just becomes lore because some booksellers — also usually not acting with any data — tell sales reps and sales reps repeat it to marketing folk, who then just claim it’s fact.

    What frustrates me most about this is that children’s and YA publishers’ number one allies are schools and schoolteachers, who are dealing with multi-racial classrooms, and who are thrilled to recommend, offer and require books from multi-racial perspectives. And the publishers are ignoring them, as well as their own authors, in favor of marketing people and booksellers who basically just make things up.

    Non-whites buy a tremendous amount of fiction, and non-white authors can move an awful lot of fiction — the development of “ethnic” fiction with numerous bestselling authors showed publishing that in the 1990’s. And with the internationalization of publishing over the past two decades, “white-washing” your whole line becomes less and less an effective sales strategy.

    But yes, booksellers don’t have a lot of non-whites in buying positions, and more importantly, non-whites may very well feel uncomfortable going into bookstores, first for the same reason they are uncomfortable in many stores — they feel they are being watched more as potential thieves due to stupid profiling — and second because the bookstores are not exactly welcoming to them or offering a lot for them. And that’s a problem for bookstores, as the non-white population of North America steadily increases. Segregation means less sales, not more — which is why they started to get rid of it in the 1980’s. Looks like some clueless people decided to bring it back.

    So I’m glad to hear that Bloomsbury is troubled and rethinking, but again, what they need to do is fix it. Do up a second printing immediately at their cost with a new cover (use the Aussie one if necessary,) and yank the old one (it can become a collector’s item.) And pony up more promotion for Justine to thank her for not suing them for defamation.

    In the meantime, yeah, we can buy the Australian edition. But I wouldn’t suggest boycotting Bloomsbury’s books — that’s just punishing authors who have no more control over this than Justine did, (and for that matter, the editors who apparently have no control over what happens with their books either.) Protest, though, media coverage, all that good stuff, is way more likely to get Bloomsbury to clean up its act. Do it to the bookchains too, who are caring the edition of Liar. They’ll claim they didn’t know, that they can’t check every book, but it will still improve things.

    And Justine, hang in there. This book is going to last for a long time; it’s going to go through many editions with many covers (and possibly many publishers.) This isn’t the end for it — it’s the beginning. Anyone who can make my kid ignore her iPod and a portable DVD player for movies for ten hours on a car trip so that she could read How to Ditch Your Fairy the whole time is a voice that won’t be silenced. 🙂

  222. Amy Sterling Casil on #

    Justine, thank you so much for addressing this issue in such a professional, thorough manner. No finger-pointing, no blame, just facts and thoughtful commentary.

    As someone who has worked in the educational publishing industry for a while now, the issues have been much more thoroughly discussed, and are dealt with aforehand. They are dealt with through teams of diverse people working together, and by the type of direct work with audiences (i.e. – kids, teachers, librarians) that isn’t common in commercial fiction publishing for adults. Children’s publishing overall, I believe is very aware of the issues, and where the issue is most present, as you correctly point up, is in genre-related fiction publishing for young people.

    Kids watch TV shows with diverse characters and love them. They go to movies with diverse characters and enjoy them. They listen to music by diverse artists and love it. Why is this storytelling bastion and cover design “style” so resistant to what has occurred in other forms of entertainment and communication? A very good question to ask.

  223. Luna on #

    As a young black woman, I applaud you for standing up and speaking out regarding your dismay about YOUR own book cover. I just started a blog about my hair and I would love to just feature your book on there. You raise very valid, very beautifully written points about systemic racism in various industries, but who knew it would appear in the world of publishing and writing? Ahhh. Tis’ very sad, indeed. Please continue to write and I can proudly say that I am pleased to be a new fan.

  224. Robbie on #

    I have not read LIAR yet, it is on my shelf. Interestingly, I would not be interested in the Australian cover, I find it bland, whereas I find the USA cover more intriguing. It will be interesting to see how my perception changes while/after I read the book.

    MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers has a black boy on the cover. I cannot think of any others (aside from KENDRA, but it doesn’t show her face IIRC). Best of luck on the paperback!

  225. Dulce on #

    in order to not ramble i will just say this: As a bookselller and a follower of more then a couple author’s blogs I know that unless you are JKR you have NO SAY in covers, so that lady who wrote to you and said you should have “fought harder” pisses me off to no end. Would she have been happy had you threatened your publishers with bodily harm?

    I hope you get the cover you want in the paperback edition, I plan on picking up the book asap and then emailing the publishers to fix the cover.

    (oh, and that lady can suck it- IMHO…)

    Justine: Dulce, I really appreciate your support. But please don’t insult other commenters here. I’ve been really pleased at how civil this comment thread has been and remains even with all the disagreements. We’re having an important discussion here—telling people to suck it doesn’t add anything.

  226. Camille on #

    @33 Jay Lake — If it helps at all, the woman on your cover did not for an instant look to me anything other than Korean. Still not quite what you were going for (and possibly says more about what I’m familiar with), but definitely not white. She’s quite the ringer for Song Yun-Ah, IMO (especially in the nose and mouth). Or possibly Choi Jeong-Won.

  227. Camille on #

    @216 Christine — amazing, amazing post.

  228. Christine on #

    Thanks, Dulce,

    For bringing down the level and tone of the discussion. I’ll take your advice under consideration.

    Until then, since I’m familiar with or acquainted with a lot of the players, I stand by my assertion. Publishing has a broader issue of whitewashing out many ethnic characters in pursuit of some misplaced logic that says “Black” automatically repels readers – like the plague.

    BTW – Justine IS, in fact, fighting back by having this blog. You would be surprised how many award-winning authors have (or are having) similar battles and have enlisted their constituents to fight this type of mistake – it just isn’t publicized but it does go on.

    Likewise, it is important to note how often a certain major (and sometimes minor) book chain drives those decisions. There’s a lot of decision makers at the table having nothing to do with the end-user/reader and those decisions are not made public in most cases.

    Yes – authors sometimes have little to no control if they are first-timers. But recognize that if the book fails because of the publisher’s bonehead moves, the authors suffers in other ways (negative press as she is getting now, lack of awards, poor sales.)

    Justine is doing the right thing and it took a lot of guts to respond and clarify the criticism head on. But you, my dear Dulce , miss the central point. Regardless of how the decision got made, it still resulted in strong racial statement that did the opposite of what was intended. The blame shifts to Ms. Cecka on this one for the equally lame explanation for the cover which showed absolutely no respect for Justine, or any acknowledgment of the fact that it was already confirmed that the narrator WAS NOT laying about her race.

    But thanks for your suggestion as to what to do with my time. I think I’ll go find a smoothie that is – as advertised, while we all figure out how to make it clear to Bloomsbury that their behavior will not be tolerated – now or in the future. 🙂

  229. Christine on #

    Here’s a great quote that sums up my feelings about Bloomsbury’s decision to eradicate images of girls like my own out of their line-up (now and in the past). And why my “consumer dollars” won’t be accruing to any books published by them in the future unless they put a little more “color” on staff in a decision making capacity (editor in chief would be nice):

    “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said,
    people will forget what you did,
    but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
    – Maya Angelou

    On behalf of my daughter, and their “invisible” friends, we heard Bloomsbury’s message loud and clear and pledge to act accordingly.

    Justine, if you EVER continue publishing elsewhere, let us know and we’ll build a buzz to support sales of those titles. We need your voice. You don’t need Bloomsbury as much as they need you.

  230. Nicole on #

    I think “Post-Racial Society” is the greatest work of fiction I’ve ever heard. Your post brings up so many important points about fiction and the world we live in. Excellent analogy to the music industry. I think about these issues a lot and I am so glad you wrote this post which I agree with wholeheartedly. The Random Houses, Bloomsbury’s et al of the world will never change unless we make them. I plan to tell everyone I know about this and encourage others to get the word out.

    I don’t write “Urban Fiction” and I don’t write “African-American fiction”. I write fiction. And the only way people are ever going to see it that way is if we speak up. Maybe we can have a chat at the White House about it…heh…

  231. Precie on #

    Just adding *cheers of support*. This is a vital conversation that goes far beyond a book cover or even a single author. It reminds us, I think, of how far we still have to go as a society.

  232. Richard Fanning on #

    As a teacher of mostly minority students, I am constantly looking for books that would interest them. I teach 13-15 year old kids who want to read about people like themselves. I agree that it does no good to “fool the reader” into thinking the protagonist is something that she is not. I have not read your book yet, but it is on my TBR shelf. Good luck with a new cover.

  233. Laura Atkins on #

    Thanks, Justine, for being so honest and open about this situation. It is inexcusable, in my mind, for Bloomsbury to have made this publishing decision. And as long as the people who work in publishing companies are predominantly white and middle class (especially those in positions of power), and the distribution networks remain as closed and restricted as they are, these problems will continue. The International Research Society for Children’s Literature is having their congress in Germany starting this weekend, and the theme is children’s literature and diversity (website is I am amazed by the number of people offering papers, which suggests that there is a great deal of academic interest in this topic. I’ll be talking about children’s publishing and diversity as well, based partially on my experiences editing multicultural children’s books. And as a white woman working primarily with authors of color, I learned a lot about my own assumptions and subjective position. This area desperately needs more attention, more discussion, and absolute change.

  234. Anjuelle Floyd on #

    That you received 77 comments to this well-written and heartfelt article speaks to brutal honesty that it addresses concerning the publishing industry and the catch-22 authors of color face each and every day.

    Fortunately my life situation allows me to self-publish.

    Yet and still, everything you write is so true and so sad.

    Thanks so much.

  235. Barbara on #

    Does anyone remember the Millenia Black v. Penguin Group lawsuit? This is exactly what happened there. The author did not write black characters, but because she is black, Penguin insisted on putting black faces and targeting black readers. Then they tried to force the author to make her white characters black in another book, to keep her in the black niche. Read the complaint on this blog:

    When are people going to wake up and realize that the United States is still a racist country? These incidents that keep popping up are happening for a reason, and it’s time everyone hashed it out once and for all, got honest about the severity of it, and stopped just arguing it as though it were still debatable.

    I think this is a great post, Justine. I am sorry you are experiencing this.

  236. Ancient History on #

    In house differential treatment of blacks.

    I’m ashamed of anyone who says they don’t have the answer to the unjust, hard to sell, black faces on book covers–not when the cause of it is so ostensive and glaring, it means that blacks are too afraid to speak the real truth, because they have been so mentally damaged by white supremacist American ecclesiastical/secularism. Blacks have been taught to accept sinful birth and slavery as something God sanctioned. Like the Jewish people blacks are living on the eyelashes of the higher power in the U.S. I agree, blacks are victims of their skin color, while Jews get kicked around the world because of their religion. Spelling out the book cover trouble without the help of euphemism–it’s simply the residual effects of a traditional white racist proclivity, that’s still reigning in American high society; racism that was first introduced by the founding fathers of the United States Declaration of Independence, and Constitution. What can we expect?

  237. KatG on #

    Every country is a racist country. We’re all in the pool, one way or another. It would just be nice to have the U.S. children’s publishing industry show a whole lot more advancement than they seem to have managed. I had not heard about the Black lawsuit at all. I hope the authors’ groups are working on this. Not only is this an egregious racial situation, but it’s the best argument ever for authors to be given cover approval as a regular term of contract.

  238. Ancient History on #

    Author: KatG
    Comment: Every country is a racist country. We’re all in the pool, one way or

    This statement may not be all together correct. Even if that were the case though, there’s zero tolerance to racial disorder. If racial hatred can’t be deemed an intellectual or moral attribute, then what could it be classified as? I’d elect to call it pure and simple “ignorance” in full.

  239. Casey D. D. Nicholas on #

    Your post is an astute appraisal of an absolute horror. What would happen to the big dogs, I wonder, if we small dogs formed hundreds more small presses to represent YA and Children’s authors? I want my students represented on the bookshelves. Peace and power to us all.

  240. Jilly Henderson-Long on #

    Well done to you for sticking to your guns regarding the cover of LIAR. And congratulations on getting Bloomsbury to change tack. I write for children and it worries me a lot that black or other ethic children so rarely feature on mainstream books (or in TV commercials, likewise photo shoots for models); no wonder they so often get an inferiority complex. It is NOT ON! Best wishes to you and good luck with the sales of LIAR. J P Henderson-Long. PS – I am white by the way!

  241. Ruth McNally Barshaw on #

    I’m a Bloomsbury author.
    I know my editor (Cecka) is brilliant. I don’t know the background on this cover issue, and while it looks like a mistake on Bloomsbury’s part, it likely was a thoughtful, considered decision.
    (Like: a pic of a black girl with the word LIAR under her… wouldn’t be considered racist at all?)

    The Australian cover wouldn’t sell well in the US. I find the US cover appealing, though I dislike this trend of girl photos on covers. Don’t spoonfeed me a photo-specific look for the protagonist; let me imagine at least part of her.

    I think, ironically, this book will sell a lot more copies due to the controversy surrounding it — because the American public has a short memory. When they see the book, they’ll remember vaguely that there was news about it, and they will buy it.

    I feel bad for Justine — what author doesn’t want to completely love their book? She should be happily writing the next book, printing up bookmarks and scheduling school visits, not dealing with this firestorm which she tried to prevent.
    I feel bad for Bloomsbury, because there is more to the cover decision than most people realize, and this is not some nameless, faceless, heartless company. It’s real people.
    I feel bad for readers who feel insulted by the cover — I’m all for education and inclusiveness, I abhor racism, and I feel African Americans are outrageously and unfairly under-represented in books (and movies, tv, etc) today.
    But — suddenly I also feel bad for me.
    How dismaying that anyone thinks boycotting all Bloomsbury authors will help. What have the rest of us done to earn your wrath?

  242. Duster on #

    Well done for successfully challenging the thoughtless marketing of your book. Unbelievable that Bloomsbury had justified this to themselves. Art directing is dominantly a white industry here in the UK, (I’m a white graphic designer) and I’m guessing it is in America as well, so I think it’s mostly thoughtlessness rather than out and out racism, although others may disagree and say I’m being too charitable. More black art directors and graphic designers in the industry would also help, to challenge the predominantly white-bias of images that are used.

  243. Ancient on #

    Ruth McNally Barshaw:

    I understand your pain. You personally may not have done anything to cause this problem. But all whites must acknowledge two hundred and thirty years of governmental and wealthy corporation unabated suppression of non white people opportunity in the U.S. All of these big-time publishing houses have an internal process by which black authors, for the few that they accept, are paid much less than white peers. Think of Penguin’s treatment of author Millenia Black. She had to drag them into a lawsuit, this is an epidemic and nothing new–understand?

  244. Anna GC on #

    Very interesting post and comments! It’s really a sad, sad story. I work for a small publishing house in Sweden, and I guess our cover of Teresa Cardenas “Letters to my mother” would be quite unsellable, if your publishers were right (see the link below).Readers are not stupid, though. If you sell them a book with a white girl on the cover and a black girl inside, they will react.

  245. Ancient on #

    Duster; each time I read comments worded like yours it becomes clear that in America, blacks who were relegated to being just fractions of human value, worked unpaid, kept legally illiterate since the 16th century–have far different views about actions which constitute racism. Opposed to whites who are direct beneficiaries of black slaves labor, in one or more ways for the same period. Isn’t it funny how blacks call the bottom-line of this bookcover controversy racism– but whites apt to allude, its just marketing or some other innocuous business maneuvers?

  246. Karen Gold on #

    Nah–I’m white, and it’s racism.

  247. Ancient on #

    Karen Gold:

    I commend your intellectual candor. Now I know that we’re one in spirit, and we’ll meekly wait on those still in denial of the outrageous malignant conduct, to see the light of love which transcend bitter racial divide. There’s no healthy reason on earth for it.Much love!

  248. Jamie Blackman on #

    Hi, Justine. I hope this finds you well. You may remember me from various WFCs, WisCons (the Death of the Panel panel was by far the best panel I have ever attended), SFWA parties, or KGB events, but I am now a YA librarian at the main branch of the library of a Southern capital city, and we have followed this issue with great interest. I am delighted to see that our young AA patrons will see a cover reflective of themselves and of your character and I wish you the best. I will be placing your book in the hands of as many kids as possible.

    I’m off to read Leviathan (my colleague grabbed Liar the second it came in, so I’ll have to wait). Have a wonderful weekend.

  249. Lowell Thompson on #

    Interesting. I just started a new blog, Buy The Cover, at and this adds a new dimension to my original idea. I first read about the controversy over the book cover in the Chicago Tribune last week.

    I think authors should become a lot more savvy about the importance and power of book titles and covers…and then begin the long, hard process of gaining more control over them. But, in my experience, writers in general don’t have a clue. In fact, many seem to think it beneath them to think about such pedestrian things as marketing and promotion.

    Hopefully this incident will help them wake up.

  250. Monroe S Tarver on #

    Justine I have been following this closely. I was glad to see that your publisher did decide to make this change on the cover. As I await the release of my children’s book from the “Tales From The Mapmaker” series, which also will have an dark skin priness on the cover, I will also await to see how this will have an an impact on how distributors, stores, consumers will see covers that show dark skin faces. Thank you for speaking out on this.

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