Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Whitewashing Covers Monologue

To hear this excuse rather than just read it you can either click the triangle on the left to begin streaming audio or click this text to download the MP3. Enjoy!

I thought that question would come eventually. The cover.

He is a pretty, pretty white man. I don’t even think he has follicles. Look at that. Why couldn’t they airbrush my author photo like that? God, I look even more like an ogre than usual when you have me lying in print next to this guy.

This is supposed to be Zhange. That’s what my editor told me that the art department told her. He doesn’t look like a Zhange. He looks decidedly like a Fabio. Like a Theodore. Like a Donovan.

For the record, Zhange is not white. I was not included in discussions about the cover art and do not have any contractual say about it. I was not happy about the decision. My agent says it looked like I bit into a lemon when I first saw it.

My alternative would have been to return my advance, breach my contract and have my publisher sue me whenever I tried to publish the novel in the future. I’m hoping you all liked the book enough to forgive me getting it published. That choice was my prerogative. How much you resent me is yours. We are left with four options.

The first is we can remove the dust jacket, like this. I brought some silver pens to autograph the exterior cover so you have something else to look at than blue hardcover binding.

Second, I brought these other permanent markers so we can make him mauve, or orange, or put him in blackface. I’ve been practicing on advanced copies. I’m getting good at it.

The third option will cost you a dollar, because it cost me about that much to print up these stickers. Full page white stickers on which I’ve written the title of the book and drawn this non-racial stick figure. He’s got a sword and everything. Look at that bad ass. There’s also this wide white area on the side where I’ll write whatever autograph you feel like. “To Cindy, please don’t take the stick figure as a body image role model. Jesus God, that’s a controversy I don’t need right now. Ex-oh-ex-oh, jay-see-double-yew.”

The fourth option is that when you come up I can give you the address of my publishers. You can take it and write very intelligent letters, which you will mail to them because the time it takes and postage you pay convinces corporations more than any angry Facebook petition. You can forward the address to your friends who like the book, and they can write their letters and spread the address on to others. When my publisher sees that there are however-many literate people who buy books and don’t mind or actually like people of other races and ethnicities on their covers, I can make a stronger argument the next time they put out an edition.

Please don’t boycott the book. Please don’t wait for e-books to kill paper books. Please don’t pirate a copy and think that some racist in the art department justifies it. Instead, please realize that some of the boundaries I attempted to push inside this book are a lot bigger than the cover. As angry as some of you are, and as angry as I got with them in private, I am still grateful to most of the people at that company. They got the words in my book to you. In the process of doing that, they did something offensive and we can spend the rest of the Q-and-A talking about it. I think we’ve got the space until eleven. I’ve got time. I’ve got water. Let’s go.

Next question?


  1. Ah, the cover controversy... I never get tired of repeating how much I hate oiled bodies and half cut heads in book covers. Actually, I generally hate pictures of people in book covers. Illustrations are so much better!

    Btw, there's an award waiting for you at Randomities. :)

  2. Nice one, John - scary to think about letting your baby out of your hands ... losing control. I can totally see this happening. Nice reading as always :-)

  3. Great post, John. I'm glad you decided to tackle this one. #proudfriendface

  4. I'm undecided how I feel about this. I definitely think the author should have discussions about the cover. I mean, it's his/her blood in the pages and SO MUCH rests on the cover.
    In theory, the author should have final say on how the cover looks.
    However, not all authors have the experience or the artistic ability to know what sells and what looks good. The publisher, who is investing a great deal in this project, should have more experience. Both parties want the book to sell.
    I think it should be a collaborative process, for sure, but I do think the publisher should have final say because they're putting up the money and they have more experience.
    If you totally think a cover sucks, then by all means, shop your book to someone else and return the advance.
    That being said, self-published authors have the opportunity to put whatever they see fit on the front. And, like Mizz Stewart is wont to say, that's a good thing.

  5. Dear gods, thank you so, so much. Inaccurate cover art has always annoyed me, but whitewashing drives me insane. Nor does self-publishing (whatever its pros and cons in general) necessarily solve the problem, at least not the "vanity publishing" route, which I presume counts. I read a surprisingly well-written trilogy from a vanity press whose protagonist was very, very clearly described as a black woman. The best that can be said about the woman on all three covers is that she might have a golden-y sort of tan. Nowhere close to milk chocolate, the shade described.

    ...Can you tell the subject makes me mad?

    I love the tone of this and the very patient suggestion at the end. I wish I was fifty people, so I could make an actual impact on an art department...

  6. Great way to tackle a controversial issue. Nice reading too, as always!

  7. Loved this one. Such a considerate author, trying out the markers and his hand at drawing.


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