Following from my previous post about the cover of the book Liar, Publishers Weekly has just covered this - Bloomsbury has decided to change the cover. This is a 100,000 copy hardcover printing, and they are creating a new jacket for all of them (at an estimated cost of around $7,000).
Now this is a case of power to the people, one of the quickest and most effective I've seen in the children's publishing industry. Here was the official response from Bloomsbury explaining the change:
“In response to this concern, and in support of the author’s vision for the novel, Bloomsbury has decided to re-jacket the hardcover edition with a new look in time for its publication in October. It is our hope that the important discussions about race and its representation in teen literature continue. As the publisher of Liar, we also hope that nothing further distracts from the quality of the author’s nuanced and accomplished story, and that a new cover will allow this novel’s many advocates to celebrate its U.S. publication without reservation.”No, this does not mean that everything has been fixed, and that the institutional racism present throughout the children's publishing industry is gone. But it does show that when a lot of people speak out, it makes a difference. And I do want to give Bloomsbury some credit for going back on their initial position. I had emailed after the first PW article, saying the following:
Dear Deb Shapiro (and Melanie Cecka),
I want to write to express my dismay at reading about the cover of the book Liar by Justine Larbalestier, as well as the explanation given in the Publishers Weekly article for why this cover was used.
I was an editor for three years at Lee & Low Books, and now teach children's literature in the UK. This is such an important issue, and as such, an opportunity for Bloomsbury to make a bold and important move at this point. I find it difficult to believe that you really decided to put a white girl on the cover in order to question the race of the protagonist, even when the author herself has said she meant her to be black. As an editor, this explanation makes no sense. Our job, first and foremost, is to follow the lead of authors and help them express their story as clearly and as well as possible. Changing the author's intent through this cover just doesn't hold up. It makes more sense that it was out of a fear that having a black girl's face on the cover would not sell.
Now is a moment when you can come forward, talk about these problems in the industry, begin a discussion about how things can change. The United States is only becoming more diverse, so there is a marketing as well as a publishing imperative to shift here and reflect the faces of the nation. Why not take the lead, admit you made a mistake, and help initiate a discussion in this area?
I will be talking about this cover at the congress for the International Research Society for Children's Literature (IRSCL) congress, taking place next week in Germany. Over 400 people are attending and speaking, and the topic is children's literature and diversity (http://www.irscl2009.de/jom/). This is an area of great importance. I do hope Bloomsbury will rise to the challenge rather than offering unconvincing excuses.
All the best,
And now, I sent the following:
Dear Deb Shapiro,But dang, this means I have to revise my paper!
I wanted to write following my previous email, and having just received the PW Children's Bookshelf. It is a bold move on Bloomsbury's part to make this change, and I commend you for the decision. I still think there is an opportunity to speak more openly about issues of race (and institutional racism) in the children's publishing industry. But you have taken a first and important step by responding to the public outcry over this cover. Thank you for listening. This was an important decision.
All the best,
And icing on the cake, Justine Larbalestier has pointed people towards Zetta's book and the inspiring blog at Reading in Color to win a free copy. It's a great way for more people to find out about this important book.