Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Phoenix Will Rise from Its Own Ashes

Curiously, like racism! Except racism is more like the ugly, stupid, festering toad that you just can't squash no matter how many times you hit it with a shovel.

This charming book has a new cover! Look:And here's the sequel:
A further explanation here.

You might start thinking that publishers simply aren't listening to the strong reactions that recent instances of whitewashing have elicited from the community of readers / bloggers. You might even think that perhaps they're hoping that eventually we'll get tired of complaining about this, and they'll help us get tired by giving us some more instances.

But I don't think that's really what's going on. I think what publishers and chain bookstore buyers are really thinking to themselves is this:

"We're not racists; teenagers are racists."

Now, whether or not there are book-buying teens who are racist and will not buy this book because there is a Chinese girl on the cover, and whether or not there are enough of them to justify such a statement or make a meaningful difference to sales, letting someone else's perceived racism influence your behavior in the interest of making more money means:

You are racists. And you're whores.

Was that clear enough?

79 comments:

IsaiahC said...

So true. And so sad.

Anonymous said...

I think they've learned that these outrages lead to lots of exposure on the blogosphere and the books benefit. I am sure LIAR benefited tremendously from the controversy.

Amanda J. said...

This is surprisingly similar to the reaction I had when I saw the cover to the sequel. I didn't know they were giving the first one a new cover, too. That really pisses me off. Thanks for sharing; even though it's a bunch of crap, people need to know about it. :/

Christi Goddard said...

Personally, the first cover was beautiful. I also want to mention (just for the sake of it) that my daughter and all of her friends are so 'into' Asian cultures right now, they would be MORE likely to pick up the first cover than the rehash.

Vivienne Grainger said...

Yay you for tellin' it like it freakin' is!!

Phoebe said...

God, this upsets me. Not in the least because the original cover was fantastic, and these are super boring and bland and stock photoish and just terrible.

Not to mention racist.

ClothDragon said...

I do not look back fondly on my teen years. Instead I spent most of my teen years wishing I could be anyone or anywhere else. (said by average height, average weight, fish-belly white -with freckles- person)

The thing is... I don't think I was the only one. I read every book I could find with exotic people or places on the cover. Sticking white people on every book almost makes me thing travel books don't sell or something.

Anonymous said...

You know...I'm usually the first one saying we need to stop catering to the perceived small-mindedness of buyers or chains.

But here's the rub on this instance: I can't stop seeing this as a publisher trying to give a book a second chance, with a cover that harkens to a popular series, in hopes of luring readers. And something about that really makes me want to applaud, not bash.

Seems worthy of respect that they are committed to trying to lure more readers with new covers, covers I'll add that may draw a specific readership by looking similar to a popular series.

I love the original cover - but I also thought it made Silver Pheonix look like a younger book, and I think at least some part of low sales might be the perceived tween-ness of the cover, not the perceived race of the cover. But good luck convincing anyone else of that.

So, when I look at the new covers -I don't see a whitewash. I see covers mirroring Kelley Armstrong's popular books - most especially Reckoning and Awakening, but also No Humans Involved. I was struck right away by the similarities.

So...if I can applaud Greenwillow for the original cover, and assuming the other jacket text and images give the flavor of the book, why shouldn't I also applaud them for repackaging the books in hopes of reaching a wider audience.

Because we have that original cover, so it's hard for me to swallow a "whitewashing" if that was their original vision and cover. Instead, I see a repackaging targeting a specific audience.

And I have to wonder how many publishers wouldn't even bother to repackage.

Anonymous said...

if they were going to do a re-hash for the sake of sales... wouldn't it have been just as easy to use a model that actually fit? i mean, i understand that they were changing the cover to fit with what most kids are likely to pick up, but using an asian model would have made a world of difference for those to whom it matters, and no difference for anyone else.

i am also not a fan of this new trend of cover styles. when i was younger, book covers seemed to vary so much more... :/

jdalton said...

Am I the only one who thinks the second cover has a better design? They're both pretty Photoshopped. The second one seems more likely to stand out on a bookshelf, though.

That doesn't excuse the whitewashing, of course. It's pretty blatant. Cutting her off just below the eyes while simultaneously removing all cultural clues in the clothing? Come on.

I'm sure they could have come up with a better cover than either of these. And without raising the justified ire of the blogosphere.

bookshop said...

@ first Anonymous:

I agree with you that Greenwillow was trying to repackage Cindy's book to give it another chance to reach a wider audience. I think we all agree that Greenwillow was trying to go with what they think is the most marketable solution at this point.

But what that says about the industry as a whole is that the industry is geared towards a racist system of marketing books. Editorial Anon is totally, 100% right. Elizabeth Bluemle was totally, 100% right when she stated the same thing on the PW blog a few weeks back.

It's not that Greenwillow's heart isn't in the right place. It's that we, as an active blogosphere community, are fed up with having to settle for an industry so fully, pervasively steeped in racist marketing practices that Greenwillow's only option is to default back to "generic faceless cover" instead of sticking by its original, trailblazing, and inspiring marketing scheme for this book.

@ second anon - actually, I don't think we can assume that the controversies helped. Jaclyn Dolamore commented on my LJ post (a mirror to the one linked by EA) that she has yet to see the new cover of Magic Under Glass appear in any chain bookstore.

The frustration is heavy on all sides. My personal feeling is that if the industry standard was more representative, books like MUG and SP would have a better shot at having their more diverse covers accepted and snapped up by the reading public.

Kadi said...

@Anonymous who posted at 5:01 PM

The fact of the matter is that the features of the girls in the two new covers are Caucasian, while the original is Asian. If the new covers had used a similar Kelley Armstrong type cover with an Asian girl, I don't think this post would have been made and I think your point would have been valid--publishers trying to get a book a wider audience with a reprinting.

But that wasn't what happened. The use of a Caucasian model representing an Asian protagonist is very problematic, full stop.

Tara said...

Although there's certainly whitewashing involved, the new covers strike me mostly as trying to cash into the paranormal romance boom. Seriously, the other day I checked the YA section at the bookstore, and it was just shelves and shelves of black and red and soft-edged subdued colors. Like these. Notice that they added the quote "lush, exotic, and romantic..." to both of the newer editions; that goes along with the trendy redesign.

Wangie said...

Admittedly, I winced a bit at the first cover--it seems a bit kitschy (and I also hate the use of that word in the quote on the cover, yikes). Not to defend the publisher's choice to remove any trace of the ethnicity, though. Whitewashing is a real problem.

But--and sorry but this peeved me--commentors, saying (white) kids will like the books because they are all "into" Asian culture right now, or because you are "unmarked" as a white person (unlike exotic brown and yellow people), is problematic too. I get the good intentions, it's just that on the flipside of whitewashing is exoticization and cultural appropriation.

Anonymous said...

Well, the original cover is corny, and the second one just reeks of the whole "vampire" style of covers I've been seeing.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a little different than some of the other examples that have been cited, because:

This book DID have a cover with a distinctly Asian heroine on it.

It now has a sales track record, which certainly was considered in the decision to repackage.

If the publisher repackages to give this book a second chance, and if the new cover sells better, whose fault is that? If racism, whose racism is it?

And if the new cover doesn't sell better, what can we conclude from that, if anything?

And to what extent do the other elements of the cover design come into play--the darker, older, edgier look, changing from pink to black, and from a younger-looking girl to an older-looking one?

I have no answers. Just questions.

Katiebabs/ KB said...

Knowing that a group of educated individuals actually sat about and discussed changing the paperback cover to a more Caucasian cover sickens me.

Regardless if Silver Phoenix sold well or not, they assume by whitewashing the paperback cover that it will finally sell. Disgusting.

There are many whitewashed covers for books that don't sell well. What's the excuse for that?

Stephanie McGee said...

All I can do is shake my head and ask, "Why?"

DJ said...

I whole heartedly agree with you, it's ridiculous. And I don't buy "repackaging" to give the series continuity. That could have been done with the original cover. And I don't believe hiding the true nature of the book behind a "mass appeal" cover is respectful at all.

Natty said...

Teen-agers aren't racists--leastwise, not the ones I know. That bright pink costume, though? No sale. Nothing pink in this house--okay, the second-grader loves pink. The other two girls? The teen-agers? NO PINK. And yes, they are totally into Asian, specially Japanese culture. I detest ALL the covers that feature headless (or eye-less) women--or for that matter the he's-nothing-but-a-six-pack male torso covers.

I'd say that the anonymous poster just above me has the probably correct take on this. Righteous outrage is fun, but not always the correct answer. It's a business.

Anonymous said...

No, teenagers aren't racists. Every survey shows that teens and young adults on the whole are far more open-minded than their elders.

Nobody really knows for sure why a book doesn't sell to expectations, but the lousy economy strikes me as reason #1. Thus, there's no guarantee the whitewashed cover will sell better than the old one and may even sell worse.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to agree with anonymous here. Whitewashing infuriates me as much as it would anyone else aware of it, but I have to give Greenwillow some credit. They supported the book with gusto, gave it an awesome hardcover, and wanted the sequel. And now they are trying another way to get the book out. Granted, I'd like it to have a character who actually looks like Ai Ling on the cover, and the new covers don't look anything at all like what the stories are about, but I think they are going for an older teen audience and trying to grasp the coattails of the urban fantasy trend. And it could work, maybe. All of those teens who aren't aware of the anger online just might browse by and pick it up.

Fairylight said...

I think the old cover was beautiful and intriguing. Truthfully, I'd be much more likely to pick up the old cover than the new one.

Peter Cooper said...

This is just pathetic.

Even leaving aside the obvious racism in this cover change, those new covers look like almost everything else in the YA section right now. I'm half way through this book, and one of the reasons it drew me was an original and striking cover.

I imagine Cindy has a few things to say about this.

Anonymous said...

I do like the design of the new covers better -- the partially hidden face adds a sense of mystery, etc. However, why in the hell did they have to make the face white?? It's absolutely ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Is it Bloomsbury again?

No, looks like it's HarperCollins.

Nancy Coffelt said...

Thank you. This needs to be said.

And said.

And said.

But dollars also need to come into play. I have NO interest in punishing the author. However, will this stop as long as these covers still move books (or get chains to stock them)? What, as writers are we to do here?

As a fishbelly white person, I spend my days walking in a very diverse town. It confounds me that other faces (or beautiful garb) wouldn't sell books.

Cyndi said...

Yes, Cindy did have a few things to say on her blog. I think her preemptive response to what she knew was coming shows a lot of class.

http://cindypon.com/2010/fury-of-the-phoenix-cover-revealed/

Ebony McKenna. said...

*facepalm*

and you know what? Irony's having a field day with this. Check out the Bookdepository page for Silver Phoenix, and look at the recommended books - there's Justine Larbalestier's white "Liar" cover.

http://www.bookdepository.com/book/9780061730214/Silver-Phoenix

Anonymous said...

So maybe everyone who does want to express their outrage should run out and buy the original hardcover.

The reality is, where was everyone to support the first courageous cover?

Maybe we need to start actively seeking out and buying the books with the covers we respect.

How many copies did each of the outraged folks buy? If the answer was zero... well?

If we as consumers don't buy books with representative covers, then we are allowing our silence (ie, non-sales) to be misinterpreted.

So, everyone who is outraged, why not go buy the hardcover? Or go buy another book with a person of color on the jacket. That's how we can fight the fallacy of the "ignorant masses." And until we prove it with dollars, it won't be believed. And, outside of the kids, the people who get hurt the most are the authors. So, support an author - buy books with jackets that show people of color on the cover (in this case, maybe one of those lovely hardcovered Silver Phoenixes).

azang said...

I agree. And Cindy's post concerning this is classy and dignified. When she posted the cover on FaceBook, I believe I liked it or congratulated her on it because her attitude was so upbeat, but I was really alarmed and disappointed. I loved the first cover, but if they had to rework it they took it down the wrong path. It's insulting to it's target audience as well. I hope they reconsider and re-Asian the cover, it's the right thing to do-the story demands it and the readers do too.

Rebecca said...

As I said on my blog a few days ago... I think the Fury cover is lovely. Or rather, would make a lovely cover for a novel about the girl it pictures. 'Cause that girl clearly isn't Ai Ling, and that story clearly isn't about Xia.

Michael Grant said...

There's one person who has 90% of the power in this area: B&N's YA buyer. Of course we don't even know what he or she is being shown by publishers.

The dirty little secret of publishing is that they have almost no data on their readers. They aren't in the business of selling books to readers, they sell books to bookstore. So I think this is probably a half dozen behind-the-times editors acting on perceptions that might be outdated

When we make the jump to e-books we'll start getting much better market data.

Nicolette said...

I don't like the new covers very much. But I dislike the original cover enough that it might've made me not pick up the book. The colors are garish, the pose is awkward, and it looks a little embarassing to be carrying around as an older teen or adult. It looks like a fantasy book for little kids. While the new covers are not innovative in the least, they're acceptable (except for the whole not being Asian thing. I agree with you all there). I truly understand why the publishers would want to repackage this book, but it would've been nice to have a Chinese model, even if her face does get cut off.

However, I think there's a large market that goes for book covers that look similar to others they like, because they don't want to risk spending their money on something they'll dislike. It does remind me of Kelly Armstrong's books, among others.

Anonymous said...

Oh for fuck sake, EA.

Newsflash -- most publishers just dump a book/author when the sales are low. At least they are trying to stick by the books and author and issue another type of cover to insight sales and attention. The fact that her pub is trying something new means they believe in the books. That's a GOOD thing!

I'd love to ask if you'd rather one of your author's have a painfully accurate cover or SALES, because without sales they won't be an author for very long.

Anonymous said...

Well if the first cover didn't sell for shit...

Anonymous said...

I agree with the commenters who said the original cover was unappealing -- yes, it's culturally on-target, but kinda cheesy. And I agree that the repackaging is standard fare. (I don't think it's obvious that the character is white or non-white, btw.) The fact is, there's huge pressure from in-house sales and accounts to keep doing the same thing over and over. It's not just culture that gets obliterated, it's innovation and creativity. I commend those amazing folks at Greenwillow for their belief in Cindy Pon, and their willingness to spend time, money, and political capital in repromoting this series.

bethgreenway said...

As someone who does the visual merchandising for a book store, I call my teen table the twilight zone because it is a black hole of dark and depressing covers. The best cover I’ve seen in recent times is Shiver with its icy blue and cream colors. I would chose to face out the original cover of Silver Phoenix over the newer additions, because it is bright and pink.
Besides the whitewashing, another disturbing trend is how many dead-looking models appear on book covers.

Rachel Aaron said...

Here's what I don't get. This book sounds like it would be the perfect candidate for some of the amazing manga-style fantasy art coming out of China right now that's so popular on places like Deviant Art. I haven't read the book, but the synopsis sounds good. However, I wouldn't pick it up based on any of these covers except maybe the first (mostly because at least that one has some color and isn't trying its hardest to be emo-goth.) But man, give me something like this: http://hgjart.deviantart.com/gallery/#/d2e63al or http://hgjart.deviantart.com/gallery/#/d2e60sg and I would be ALL OVER that book.

shelley said...

What's also annoying is the repackaged ones are photos. The first one is an illustration. And there's damn few covers given to illustrators these days.

Anonymous said...

I love the original cover - but I also thought it made Silver Pheonix look like a younger book..."

Exactly. The book was first marketed as a mid-grade; the series is now repositioned as a YA. All you need to do is peruse the old Greenwillow catalog, and it's pretty obvious.

And as far as YA goes, it's pretty run-of-the-mill. Is that really not an Asian mouth? How in the world could you even begin to tell? Perhaps it's Hispanic? Serbo-croatian? Any and all of these? Quite possibly.

Editorial Anonymous, if you truly want to be La Liberte leading her people, why don't we have a discussion of the vast majority of YA covers feature portions a chopped-up female?

The persistence of featuring a portion of the female body (here, it would be the tender neck and mouth; another instance is GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY where the curve of the female back was disembodied from its head; the entire Sarah Dessen bibliography with an emphasis on legs) by---in essence---chopping up/off the (female) head.

This, I find a completely unacceptable objectification of women. In the extreme. It makes every girl any girl. Mere interchangeable body parts. Breasts, backs, legs and mouths.

Disembodied sex parts chosen by adults and marketed to teens. Oh joy.

Yup. Every time I pass the YA section in the book store and see shelves and shelves on photo-shopped, random (oh. But not random. They aren't really random, are they? They are breasts and backs and legs and mouths. Sexual, oui?)female body parts lined up on cover display like that, I can only think of an abattoir...


Delacroix

Anonymous said...

While I was just as shocked and saddened by the blatant "whitewashing" done on the book jackets previously featured, I think the situation here is far, far different. Here we have a publisher who tried to reflect the cultural aspect of the book on the hardcover -- and then, when that clearly didn't work, took the huge amount of time, effort, money, and political capital to repackage the books in a more commercial way, emphasizing the paranormal/ fantasy/teen girl angle. Maybe the first jacket was too literal and the second approach too generic. I think the real trouble comes in when the race of the character is obviously completely changed, or the jacket is deliberately misleading. The publisher was not doing this here.

In any case the name-calling seemed totally out of line. I'm disappointed.

Merry Monteleone said...

I will admit right here that I didn't read the whole comment thread, but I will go back and do so when I get a chance.

I showed my 12 year old daughter the trailor on Cindy's site last fall and she watched it more than once... so I got ahold of Cindy and she arranged for me to buy an autographed copy for my daughter for Christmas... It's the only gift my daughter hugged and jumped up and down over... and it's a book!!!! Yay, team! She really didn't give a rat's behind about the cover, guys, sorry... she wanted to read it because she already had an idea of what it was about.... she'd already read some of the blurbs from the amazing author...

Someone on this thread suggested going out and buying books when we applaud the covers... did you seriously want us to BUY A BOOK FOR THE COVER????

I wish I could believe this wasn't whitewashing... I have to believe the publishers intentions were good, to give Cindy the best chance at reaching more readers (and their own bottom line, of course)... but I think the whole idea is misguided...

Even if you convinced "racist" teens to read a book of color by tricking them into thinking it's not... umn... wouldn't they get a few pages or chapters in and feel tricked? They're young, not stupid. And news flash... most of them don't care about race, not unless someone taught them to care about it...

And I'll buy the second book regardless of what ends up being the cover... because I know the story will be stellar. I hope you all will think about doing that, too.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a very interesting discussion and a very difficult problem. Having just had two books remaindered, I don't even know if I'd rather they just got objectionable covers... actually probably not.

But I will add this observation re: this:
"If racism, whose racism is it?"

Are you kidding? This sounds exactly, to me, like a pre-Civil Rights restaurant owner in the South saying, "But we can't let THEM in our restaurants, because our customers won't like it! It's not us, it's the customers!"

That didn't fly, and neither does "it's the buyers' fault." Such systemic problems need to be attacked on all possible fronts or they can't be attacked at all.

Jeannie said...

Interesting that some don't like the first cover. I thought it was gorgeous, and I'd probably pick it up and read a few pages if I saw it on a shelf. The other two just looked like all the rest of the stuff that's out there, which is to say, I wouldn't give them a second glance.

Leigh Lyons said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

The first one looks like a trashy romance. It depicts the woman both in a very sexualized way, and not as Chinese but as *stereotypically* Chinese. I had to read the commentary to know which image you were going to call "beautiful" and which you were going to call "racist", and the outraged reaction would have made an equal amount of sense to me if the labels were reversed.

Wordy Birdie said...

Yes, yes, yes. I only hope it results in many more sales and a lot more publicity about this issue.

Anonymous said...

Random reactions:

I'm amazed and delighted that the publisher would try again rather than just let the book (and the author's career?) be remaindered and that's that. This, I applaud.

The original cover is younger than the second two. There's more than just race going on here. And I see genre differences, too. To me, the first cover says multicultural tween fantasy. The remake says YA paranormal romance.

Apparently a cover needs to sell the book more than it needs to convey its content. I'd be interested to hear reader reactions to how well covers match stories. Do readers feel baited and switched? Or don't they care?

I'm tired of the sameness of book covers.

If I picked up the books with the new covers and found out the MC was Asian, I'd go WTF?

I agree that if the model on the new covers was Asian, there'd be no issue. Yet the children's librarian at my PL says she seldom spends limited funds on multicultural books b/c they just sit on the shelves. It's hard to escape the fact that the pub is doing what it has to do to give these books a second chance.

Which brings me right back to -- I'm amazed and heartened that they'd do so.

Anonymous said...

The fact that the new cover girl's race isn't obvious IS whitewashing. Given the content of the book, the girl on the cover should look OBVIOUSLY Chinese.

With a Chinese model, the new cover would have been so much better than the old one. I share the adult view that all YA covers look alike, and that recent conventions of the form (darkness, dismembered girls, etc.) are creepy. But I think my 13yo son is typical of young teens in being drawn to books that look like those he already likes. The new cover would correctly signal to him that this book is right up his alley.

With the old cover, he wouldn't read it even if someone gave him a copy. He'd love a fierce, female, Chinese protagonist. But that's not what he'd see. He'd see PINK. And NOT IN THE STYLE OF REALLY COOL BOOKS.

Anonymous said...

Most YA book covers all look alike. That is not art. That is consumerism. But, when artistic decisions are left to bookstore chain buyers and marketing and not artists and editors, with publishers bowing to these criteria, what can else we expect? The head chopping and body parts of females is most disturbing along with the whitewashing. Females as hunks of meat hanging in a window. Here's a better idea. Pay the taxes on the warehousing of books. Stop paying a double salary to celebrity books (they already have a job) and pay the taxes on the warehouses and keep books in print from REAL authors. My lord, this business is run ass backwards.

Anonymous said...

My question is this--how can you all be so sure that the model on the new covers is Caucasian? Because she has full lips?

I agree that it's upsetting that more of the Asian influence from the first cover didn't transfer to the new version, but I sincerely doubt racism was at play here. As many other people have said, the covers were modeled after more successful series (they remind me in particular of Kelley Armstrong's books).

onxy said...

Thanks so much for this article!
I agree with you 100 percent.
I took the time to read through this entire thread, and note that the new covers don't include any images of the Chinese culture. It's as if it truly has been "whitewashed"

Whether its non minority models on the cover of books with poc as the main protag, or putting birds on the cover of books about segregation (the UK cover of THE HELP is different than the American cover. The UK cover has two African American maids attending to a child instead of the Disney-esque three little bird cover US readers have). These tactics send the wrong impression.

Part of the problem with Silver Phoenix may have been the age group it was marketed to first (as stated, it was marketed to the middle grade crowd, and now its YA)

Many thanks to the posters who gave info on the acquisition process by major book stores.

While I'm saddened that Greenwillow has stripped all traces of the protag's true racial identity (I gather that's exactly the point)off the cover, I now understand a bit better who decides what will or won't grace bookstore shelves.

Lyn said...

Oh, Rachel, that art you linked to is gorgeous, poster-worthy. Just wonderful.

working illustrator said...

First cover: hideous kitsch. Other two: generic copycatting with pointless and offensive whitewashing.

All the visual elements of fantasy and Chinese art and this crap is what they came up with?

Publishers: "Work really hard to make your book distinctive so we can work really hard at making it look exactly like everything else..."

Joni said...

EA, I have a suggestion. We hear so much scuttlebutt about the five people (or whatever that small number is) of people in the U.S. -- chain buyers -- who arguably have the most influence on covers and what gets bookstore placement and what languishes as special-order-only. But I've never seen any of those people identified, or read an interview with one, or heard a justification of their immense powers. (What are their qualifications?) And they probably have data about these "it won't sell" issues, if anyone does. (Or not.)

How about getting one as a guest blogger? Or does ANYONE know of info about these folks online that we could link to?

Reb said...

One thing to point out -- it's expensive for a publisher to commission art and it's often rare for a book to get a photo shoot for the cover (there are plenty of NYT books that have stock photo covers).

There's a real chance that Greenwillow couldn't find any stock photos that fit what they were looking for. I'm sure there were plenty of choices with Aisan models, but did they have the right mood, pose, lighting etc. These are all concerns that go into finding a stock cover and there's always something that's sacrificed.

I'm not saying it's right that race was sacrificed in this instance, only that we're assuming Greenwillow said "let's put a white chick on the cover to boost sales" when they probably said "we love this photo we found and it's the best fit for the book but the model isn't Asian... what do we do?"

Unfortunately, that sales of the first cover with an Aisan model were lower than expected probably didn't help in making the decision.

laura Manivong said...

How many people who are calling publishers and booksellers racist have recently spent their money to BUY a book with a person of color on the cover? We, the consumers in capitalist America, need to speak with our dollars by buying these titles in order to create a demand. Create a demand, and publishers and booksellers will happily create the supply. Just like they're creating the supply of TWILIGHT knockoffs.

My hardcover debut novel (Escaping The Tiger...yeah, industry wisdom says I gotta promote myself), like Pon's, features a POC on the cover, and sales are disappointing, but my publisher did the right thing by putting a POC on the cover in the first place. It's up to the public now to do their part.

My recent purchases of 2010 debut novels include BLEEDING VIOLET and TORTILLA SUN. What have YOU bought lately to help create a demand?

Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

"The fact that the new cover girl's race isn't obvious IS whitewashing. Given the content of the book, the girl on the cover should look OBVIOUSLY Chinese"...

Um yeah. "Look obviously Chinese"---sorry, you lost me.

Do you mean she ought to look Han Chinese (to name the largest of the 50+ Chinese ethnicities currently floating around the planet)?

Maybe she ought to look like my neighbor---whose skin is far whiter than mine? So white, in fact, that if you took a picture of his nose and mouth and photoshopped a little kiss-me-kate red lipstick on the image, it'd look pretty much like the second cover.

As I wrote Ed Anonyo....if you download the first pink cover and crop the girl's nose, mouth and neck, then blow it up to cover size, what you'll be looking at is very nice close-up of a cupid's bow mouth (covered in kiss-me-kate red liptstick).


The second cover has a very nice close-up of the collegen-enhanced wide-mouth (in kiss-me red). Sort of an antithesis to a cupid's bow, I admit, but how is it obviously NOT Chinese?

I guess I'd argue that either set of lips are not common genetic occurrences in any ethnicity of any people on this planet.

They are, however, both common enough images of young women's mouths as rendered through the distorting lens of our current popular culture.

Delacroix

Anonymous said...

...and YAY RACHEL---for the deviant art.

I spend hours over there. And yup, I can't imagine why art directors aren't over there signing up some of the amazing talent over there for covers....

Del

Anonymous said...

Hey, I know I am coming late to the party, but

FUCK YOU, EA

Seems to me that Greenwillow is taking all the risks here. They bought a book others passed over. They put a beautiful appropriate cover on it. When it didn't sell they pulled out all the stops to give it the best chance to recover.

Cindy Pon's future is at stake. They are standing by her instead of dumping her. Now they get to be on the hot seat with their bosses because the company is getting negative attention.

Tell me, what risks are you taking that makes you so much fucking holier than them?

Oh, the anonymous online hissy fit. The armchair quarterbacking. The back seat driving.

Bitch, please.

You aren't helping anything or anyone in any way. And if you pretend you are, I call Bullshit. But I am enjoying the opportunity to tell you to fuck off. Thanks for that.

Michelle said...

I went to Cindy's blog to see what she'd said, and a paragraph in her explanation really hit me. I've worked in various facets of publishing, including editor and now independent bookstore owner, so I see some of the factors hidden to the general public. Instead of rewriting, I'm pasting the comment I left on her blog.

"Silver Phoenix was passed on by borders and carried in only limited quantities in select barnes and noble stores. she simply wasn’t being picked up by readers as much as we’d have liked."

Having worked in the publishing industry as an editor, and now opening my own independent bookstore, I understand the pressure publishers and editors feel to have their books picked up widely.

The statement quoted above, though, is backward. The book wasn't picked up by enough readers *because* it wasn't widely available. At the publishing house where I had worked, if B&N told our sales team that they didn't like the cover we'd slaved over, we had to change it. One buyer's opinion—and I literally mean 1 opinion—sealed the fate of that book. If that buyer at Borders or Barnes & Noble decided not to carry your book because of the cover, your book was doomed to small sales before it even hit the printing press.

Sadly, if you surveyed the race and age of the book buyers at these large chains—the people who have incredible amounts of power when it comes to book design and sales—you'll notice that most of them are white and older.

I, as an independent bookstore owner, have no voice when it comes to book sales, but as someone who spends my time selling these books to real teens, I have a much better idea of what they want than a corporate executive (which is basically what B&N and Borders buyers are, as they deal exclusively with publishers and never with real readers).

People tend to go after publishers for these decisions and, though they are partially responsible, the real authority behind some of these big decisions are ignored because people don't realize how the system works. I'd love to see it change, but until readers stop spending all of their book-buying dollars at the Big Bs, nothing will.

Sorry for the long explanation, but the way you'd phrased that paragraph really struck me. I doubt many people realize how much power those big booksellers have in the world of publishing.

Michelle said...

Here's the comment I posted at Cindy's blog about this: (Quoted material is from a paragraph she wrote in her post.)

"Silver Phoenix was passed on by borders and carried in only limited quantities in select barnes and noble stores. she simply wasn’t being picked up by readers as much as we’d have liked."

Having worked in the publishing industry as an editor, and now opening my own independent bookstore, I understand the pressure publishers and editors feel to have their books picked up widely.

The statement quoted above, though, is backward. The book wasn't picked up by enough readers *because* it wasn't widely available. At the publishing house where I had worked, if B&N told our sales team that they didn't like the cover we'd slaved over, we had to change it. One buyer's opinion—and I literally mean 1 opinion—sealed the fate of that book. If that buyer at Borders or Barnes & Noble decided not to carry your book because of the cover, your book was doomed to small sales before it even hit the printing press.

Sadly, if you surveyed the race and age of the book buyers at these large chains—the people who have incredible amounts of power when it comes to book design and sales—you'll notice that most of them are white and older.

I, as an independent bookstore owner, have no voice when it comes to book sales, but as someone who spends my time selling these books to real teens, I have a much better idea of what they want than a corporate executive (which is basically what B&N and Borders buyers are, as they deal exclusively with publishers and never with real readers).

People tend to go after publishers for these decisions and, though they are partially responsible, the real authority behind some of these big decisions are ignored because people don't realize how the system works. I'd love to see it change, but until readers stop spending all of their book-buying dollars at the Big Bs, nothing will.

lishacauthen said...

At first, I was kind of outraged by the homogenizing of the character on Cindy's book.

But then I took a breath.

What is the purpose of the cover? To get the kid to buy the book. Why will a TEEN buy a book? Because she IDENTIFIES with the main character.

So make her as vague as possible on the cover, to appeal to as many teens as possible.

Get the kids READING the multi-cultural stories, first. The covers will follow.

Sharde(Shar-day) said...

Look at what the US did with Justine Larbalestier's cover for Liar. http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2009/07/23/aint-that-a-shame/

Anonymous said...

To the people who commented here, and to the dozens of other blogs commentators who said they would purchase the book to show their anger at the whitewashing, the total number of copies sold last week on Bookscan (the industry sales tracker that records actual book sales) was - 9.

Anonymous said...

I am not at all surprised that Greenwillow decided to whitewash the covers of both novels. After all, Greenwillow is an imprint of Harper Collins. Rupert Murdoch owns Harper Collins and FOX News. Murdoch and his minions are all about making money any which way they can--and that includes expecting the author to forsake her integrity and pride by agreeing to have her novels' covers whitewashed.

christine tripp said...

If the first cover, which I personally don't like, was a sales failure, I would say it was not about the model being Asian but all about the clothing and background choice.
Not only does stereotype, it also has no resemblance to any teen I see.
The girl could and SHOULD be Asian, but in everyday dress.
I've always had the feeling that covers are geared toward the book buyers, the big chain book stores and they dictate to the publishers the choice of cover. I'd be curious to see what cover would be used on the book for their international market.
I've often wondered why covers are sometimes different for US, UK, CAN etc markets, such as the Harry Potter series.

Anonymous said...

I think a chain store book buyer intervention is needed. Long overdue.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Michelle, thanks for sharing that post.

That "one opinion can = doomed to small sales" thing is a killer.

I sure would like to know more about those one opinions... what they're based on, what qualifications the folks who make them have, if it's the same people in the job for years on end... and why they DON'T spend time with readers.

Anonymous said...

New Anonymous here ...

I agree with recent comments that there are perspectives missing from the puzzle that need to be heard in order to put together the best plan of action. Who I'd like to hear from are:

1. A buyer for a major chain: what's really going on when you're presented a cover with a kid of color of it?

2. Any editor/art director who oversaw a book with diverse characters, especially a main character, that did not end up going with a cover that accurately reflects that character.

Did you end up whitewashing? Obscuring the character so he/she is racially ambiguous? Or did you go with a cover that doesn't show people at all in order not to deal with it? What exactly went into that decision?

3. A marketing person. I don't feel like anyone's really chimed in except to give excuses on the record about a whitewashed cover that attracted controversy.

Anyone in these categories willing to give us some insight? (Anonymity is fine by me; I'm no hypocrite.)

PK

Anonymous said...

You people who are bitching about others bitching about the whitewashing -- please shut the hell up. I preferred the old cover because it was truer to the story as far as I can tell. I'm a teen (not racist and I like variety, thank you very much). I would have liked to see a Chinese model on the new cover, so that it's clear what you are buying.

To those asking why we haven't bought the book before this apparent scandal, maybe it's because we were unaware of the book's existence. I plan to buy the original hardcover.

Yes, the whitewashing issue has brought the book some publicity, but there's no way in hell I'm going to buy the whitewashed cover. Of course, if I like the book I may eat my words and buy the sequel, but that doesn't mean I have to like the cover.

Amy said...

put racism to the side, these are all pretty badly designed. the first one not so bad actually. sad. :l

David Macinnis Gill said...

"Murdoch and his minions are all about making money any which way they can--and that includes expecting the author to forsake her integrity and pride by agreeing to have her novels' covers whitewashed."

Greenwillow makes decisions about its books and covers without input from Murdoch or anyone else named Rupert. They had their reasons for changing the covers, and they were all about giving readers the chance to find and enjoy Cindy Pon's marvelous debut novel and its sequel. I'm all about raging against the machine personally, but there are no whores at work here.

Under Cover Editor said...

All of those covers are striking, but to be fair to the change, the second two are more modern looking, and clearly inspired by the Twilight-type covers that are becoming more common.

Personally, I prefer the first one because the colors and the artistry of the cover are intriguing.

Beyond that, I don't know about your other points. I hope not, but I suspect you're probably right.

I know I came in here for something said...

Bless you, Editorial Anonymous.

Alex said...

This is not racism and really a stretch to consider it any sort of "blow" to Cindy Pon's artistic integrity or to the book itself.

This novel is so steeped in the elements of China and the Chinese culture that having or not having a picture of a Chinese girl on the cover will make no difference to the potential racist book buyer. If you had a prejudice towards the anyone Asian would you really buy a book so clearly rich with the Chinese culture? No. Racists despite their cavemanic prejudices are not stupid.

The cover change was a clear marketing move and it wasn't to "trick" the racists into thinking the book's about apple pie and baseball. It's because front page characters with ambiguous facial features sell better.

The features of a main character even when described are still a canvas for the readers imagination to fill.

Anonymous said...

Whitewashing aside, I don't like either cover. I think the pink Chinese cover looks like a baby romance novel cover and the dark emo cover looks like a bad twilight sequel. They're both bad.

casino online said...

a great number of brilliant music files weblog http://casinogamesonlinee.blogspot.com free online casino