Who’s The LIAR?

Yup, gonna throw my .02 in the ring on Justine Larbalestier’s LIAR cover. And if Justine got even a quarter of the .02 cents accumulating, she wouldn’t have to write anymore.

There’s quite a buzz about this book, but especially its cover.

In case you didn’t know (and if you’re bookish, you already do), Justine Larbalestier’s fall novel, LIAR, is about teen girl who happens to be a compulsive liar. Although the character is a self-admitted liar, I doubt her description of herself, black with hair so short and nappy she’s been mistaken for a boy, is false.

So the question around (book) town is why does the cover depict someone who is so clearly not nappy headed or of color?

liar

Karen Strong pondered if it wasn’t perhaps a clever twist on the protag being a liar. That she’s so much so that even her description of herself are in doubt.

I wish it were that abstract and crafty, but I can’t convince my gut that’s so.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no idea why the character on the cover is nothing like it’s described within…but I don’t think that’s it.

Is this yet another step backward in the war to provide more diverse books for readers of all colors? Would a nappy headed character depicted on the cover be death to sales? Would it have only drawn the curiosity of readers of color? And if so, is that equivalent to death to sales as opposed to the coveted mainstream love?

Editorial Anonymous thinks we should speak with our dollars. Maybe not in the way you’re thinking, either.

EDITED TO ADD: Justine speaks out about the cover.

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25 Responses to Who’s The LIAR?

  1. susan says:

    Would a nappy headed character depicted on the cover be death to sales? Would it have only drawn the curiosity of readers of color? And if so, is that equivalent to death to sales as opposed to the coveted mainstream love?

    Yep. yep. yep. I saw this. Saw the controversy and sorry, but I won’t be buying or reading it.

    I’m nappy and proud. If you can’t put my face on the cover, don’t ask me for my dollars.

  2. Neesha says:

    I haven’t read it, so I don’t know if it’s a twist on the text within, but to me it seems like they might not want to alienate Larbalestier’s current fan base. Let’s say she has a predominantly white, female, fantasy-reading support base. How would that base respond to a “black with hair so short and nappy she’s been mistaken for a boy” protagonist? Especially if depicted as such on the cover? Maybe it would hurt sales, maybe not.

    But this way, her usual readers will still pick up the book, not suspecting a thing, then get slammed with a Brown protagonist, ninja-style! (Kinda sad that we have to *make* people read, or “trick” people into reading about Brown protagonists, right? Or is this just the prevailing belief in the industry…?).

    What I don’t understand is this: this cover could have been an image of *anything*. Heck, it could’ve been a truncated body the likes of which many, many South Asian novels are presented with. The reason I’ve seen given, over and over, for not showing a face on a South Asian novel cover is because people “can’t relate” to it if it is a brown face. So, we have many, many sari-clad bellies and henna-ed feet and hands, mangoes, spices, and yes, coconuts gracing South Asian books. But rarely any faces.

    Yet, here is a novel featuring a protagonist-of-color, written by a white, well-known author, and there is a face on the cover!

  3. susan says:

    Neesha,

    I hear you. And let me get real, real on you. I am tired of publishers doing major marketing for white authors with books with brown protags but you have to be Super brown author to get half as much.

    Here is my problem with white authors writing non-white characters: I think any author should be free to write characters of their choice. What sets me off is that the white writer gets superior marketing and therefore sales. The brown author is equally saleable and skilled as her counterpart. This author however is not marketed the same and until non-white authors get equal access to resources I’m always going to have some resentment about books like Chains.

    The industry needs to get their act together. I will be expressing my outrage and withholding my dollars until they do. I’m not anti-white; I’m pro-brown and it’s time for the publishing industry to get on board.

  4. Paula says:

    I’m not anti-white, I’m pro-brown.

    This statement struck me. Since we began the Brown Bookshelf I’ve struggled with that gnawing- the one that makes me want to place and act as if the playing field is level just because we can point to a few who may no longer deal with this issue when their books are marketed.

    And I never knew how to truly articulate it. But that’s it.

    I wish (and boy do I) that these were non-issues. I wish a book was a book was a book and that we didn’t have to either 1) spring brownness on readers ninja-style as Neesha called it (btw, like that) or 2) wave the brown book banner so high we look like we’re in a civil rights march.

    But until the reality changes I think we’re too often left with just those two methods of getting brown books noticed.

  5. Doret says:

    “But this way, her usual readers will still pick up the book, not suspecting a thing, then get slammed with a Brown protagonist, ninja-style!” – Love that

    Before I found out the MC was biracial I loved the cover and wanted to read Lair. After I found out about I didn’t care for the cover anymore but I still want to read the book. I am not going to blame the author for her publishers marketing. It still looks like a good story, and its a character of color. Bonus- I don’t care who wrote it as long as I like and believe in the character. I plan on reading Liar and hopefully enjoying it.

    One thing I don’t like is people making excuses for the cover. Saying the MC is a liar and the covers deception is a reflection of that. I am tired of people making justifications. The more readers tell publishers its okay to do this we are less likely to see more poc on books.

    Though I totally agree Susan publishers seem to back Black protag, created by White authors more than Black authors.
    I am going to throw something out there – what if Flygirl was written by a White author. Sherri Smith has written a wonderful book. Its been featured on many a few blogs, with high praise. Though if it wasn’t for book blogs I wouldn’t hear much about Flygirl. Unfortunately there is no way to determine if the marketing for this book would’ve been a little more if the author was White. I’ll just wait and see what happens to Flygirl at the end of the year.

  6. Karen Strong says:

    Like Doret, I haven’t read the book so I just “assumed” that the cover was a clue about the character. However, from what I understand and what people have told me who have read the book, this may not be the case.

    I guess this has a bigger question. Like Neesha has stated, maybe the publisher didn’t want to alienate the author’s readers, but anyone who has read Justine L. already knows that she has written about a brown character before in her Magic or Madness trilogy. Maybe the question is why the choice? Does having POC characters on a cover automatically make it not be a mainstream book? Do non-POC readers just ignore a book that doesn’t look like them no matter what the plot or how interesting it may be?

    Most authors do not have a say in the cover of their books, which may be the case in this instance. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during the Bloomsbury marketing/production for this book. The cover had many possibilities and I just wonder what was the justification behind the decision made for this choice for the cover.

  7. Paula says:

    Do non-POC readers just ignore a book that doesn’t look like them no matter what the plot or how interesting it may be?

    I think the reality is no. On a personal level, I’ve had equally as many white readers as brown say they’ve read my books. But when it comes to the marketing of a book I think the first instinct is and always will be to go for the lowest hanging fruit.

  8. susan says:

    Doret,

    Thanks for saying what I forgot to say: I’m tired of the justifications. I will read a good book, period. My grudge isn’t with the writers, but the publishers. I want them to pull their heads out of their butts.

    And how many times do we have to say that every book written by a person of color isn’t always about race?

  9. Michelle says:

    Anytime you have a front cover that lacks the true vision of what the author’s intent was it is terribly disappointing as a reader. Blame marketing and write a letter. We shouldn’t blame the author as they don’t always get to make artistic decisions. The story sounds good and I think I will read it and email a complaint in if I cannot see how the cover fits.

  10. anon says:

    White authors get white covers almost always and live in the real books part of the store. Doesn’t matter what color their MC’s skin is. Black authors get black covers and live in the black section of the store. Doesn’t matter what color skin their MC’s skin is either.

    There are great books in both places. But black books are a lot harder to find. And NEVER get the same amount of publicity.

  11. Colleen says:

    I am in contact with Bloomsbury right now – with someone I know there as opposed to just sending them a rant and screaming they are racist (which is apparently what is happening). I’m going to post the response in the next couple of days (as soon as we have completed our conversation). I want to know exactly what the thought process was behind this choice. We’ll see what they say.

  12. Doret says:

    There is no color separation with YA books, thankfully.

  13. Jodie says:

    Tricky to know whether to buy this book now – it’s true authors often don’t get to make all the creative decisions, but I would think they need to approve the cover before the book is published (please correct me if I’m wrong). Also if you buy the book some of that money goes to the publishers, the marketing people etc which kind of validates their decision (look it’s selling guys we made the right choice). Personally I don’t believe in book boycotts, but it’s hard to know how to get hold of the book in order to judge it fairly without giving money and validation to the people who have caused this offence…

    It would be great to hear the author’s reaction to this discussion. How much involvement did she have with the cover, what does she think about the discussions it’s led to and if she’s not keen on the cover how hard is she lobbying her publishers to make a change?

  14. Paula says:

    Jodie, apparently Justine is going to address the cover issue on her blog today.

    it’s true authors often don’t get to make all the creative decisions, but I would think they need to approve the cover before the book is published

    No. Authors are fortunate if they get input into a cover. Lucky if the input is taken. We have no control over cover, definitely no approval rights. Perhaps this changes as you become better selling, more successful – but even then I believe there’s limits to what an author can do about a final cover.

    LIAR’s case is a reminder that covers are part of the marketing strategy. And no matter how close an author is to their book, that’s a creative/emotional tie not a strategic sales tie. So in many cases, we might shoot ourselves in the foot with too much control over the cover, blinded by our own literal sense of our words.

    Most times I think publishers get the feel of a story right and then there’s this. I’m very anxious to hear what Justine will say, today.

  15. Joni Sensel says:

    At the risk of entering a conversation I’m marginally qualified to enter: I think one of the root causes of such problems is that the majority of folks working at the publishing houses, particularly in sales & marketing, are not colors. To make a long post short, I’ll just say I have an upcoming cover that has felt the impact, too. (And body shape & type is another place this plays a role, not just skin color. Just TRY to have a protagonist who’s not svelte and NY fashionable, and see what ends up on the cover.)

    I’m glad Justine was frank on her blog post. I know people worry about seeming “unprofessional,” but I think that courage is professional and employing it is the only way we can hope to gain any control at all over our art, our careers — and our society.

  16. Jodie says:

    I’ve just read her reply Paula (http://bargainlibrarian.blogspot.com/2009/07/review-of-liar-by-justine-larbalestier.html) and it makes good sense (especially the part about why she didn’t want to come out and rant about it right away).

    I love her suggestion that readers make a difference by buying books that feature black, chinese, hispanic etc characters on the cover. That’s a positive way to make a difference.

  17. paulahy says:

    I’m glad that Justine finally spoke out about it. I’m glad that the children’s writing community seems dedicated to stopping this madness about piegon-holing books. I wish the publishing industry would listen.

  18. susan says:

    See CORA girl, Tashi’s response at Taste Life Twice.

  19. susan says:

    See Colleen’s response and call at Chasing Ray

  20. susan says:

    “…and I want to add that it’s not like editors and marketing people are monsters. Pretty much every single person I’ve met in children’s publishing is a great, smart, hardworking, passionate individual who wants to get books into readers’ hands. I think this was just a bad decision symptomatic of a larger, mostly hidden problem that we need to talk about and it’s good we are doing so.”

    When will we stop defending the guilty?
    My response:

    I worked in publishing. While I’m willing to agree marketing people are not monsters can we hold people accountable before we rush in making excuses for a real problem and it is not hidden. Racism is insidious not hidden. Huge difference. Whether you are consciously racially bias or not does not minimize the affects of race in this industry or the country as a whole.

    I’m disturbed that so many are already defending those who have the power and the choices.

    I was raised to be prepared and willing to be held accountable for my actions. I will not let Bloomsbury and those involved in this bad decision off the hook before I have thoroughly and rightly criticize them for a serious and REAL problem.

  21. […] 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 […]

  22. […] 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 […]

  23. Marianne says:

    Shame on Bloomsbury-to have put Justine in this position, it’s just 100%, no 1,000% unbelievable and insane!
    And person #1 on the “crazy beyond-beyond” line is Justine’s editor who actually tries to back up the brilliant idea to use this cover in today’s PW-please, go check it out, if you have not already…

    http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6672790.html?nid=2788&source=title&rid=1606975753

  24. […] reviews show this is exactly what’s happening. So, even aside from the fact that white-washing these covers is racist (and that’s […]

  25. […] 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 […]

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