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July 28, 2009

Really -- don't judge "Liar" by its cover


Australian author Justine Larbalestier has recently taken a stand about the cover of her latest book, Liar, and its misleading cover. Misleading how?

Well, the protagonist of the book is a compulsive liar named Micah, who's working on her honesty issues. She's also black. However, the cover art depicts an unambiguously white girl, and because of the underlying themes of honesty in the book, now fans are questioning the most basic facts of the book, like "hey, is Micah even lying about her race?"

Understandably, Larbalestier is upset that the novel she worked so hard on is unraveling thanks to a book cover that she had absolutely no creative control over. And in a world where the Gates scandal is picking up steam instead of fading away, there are many reasons to have this conversation.

First, there's the question of whether or not authors should have a say in how their work is presented to the world. I firmly believe that they should at least be at the table when this decision is made, and not just to veto the truly egregious covers. This is their life's work, their creation, and I'm still shocked whenever I hear that the writer is given only cursory knowledge of what message their book will convey to the reader at first glance. 

The fact that many also get no say in the title of their books confuses me to no end.

Secondly, there's the matter of "whitewashing" book covers. Whether it's a case of ignorance or malice, this is also unacceptable. As a commenter notes, her students have never said they wouldn't read a book because of the cover model's race -- the boys are more concerned about flowers, hearts and pastels.

So what is the purpose of changing a character's race on the cover, confusing anyone who actually picks the book up? Are white characters really that much more palateable to the average reader? Or is this just an out-of-touch marketing strategy? (Because there's no doubt it's racist.)

We should encourage everyone to read more. That means presenting books honestly, and giving minorities relateable characters, as well -- and not just in the "urban fiction" section.

Have you authors out there had similar experiences while publishing your books? Or have you been a slightly confused reader whose book cover misportrayed the characters you went on to read about?

Posted by Nancy Knight at 10:00 AM | | Comments (2)


Great piece, thank you!!!!

Although everyone LOVES the cover of my last book, the model did not represent the soft and vulnerable character, and furthermore, just because she was Asian, did not look at all Japanese! The cover was considered highly commercial. OK.

My first book Johnny Voodoo starred a character that was african american and native american and they featured a white bread boy on the cover...although the danish translation turned both the male and the white female into african american characters. the readers version intended for unsighted children actually depicted a pretty fair representation on the cover. go figure!!

currently writing a book featuring two bi-racial children, one with darker skin than the other, and am discussing skin colors and attitudes about race, because i want to and am tired of the fake taboo. thanks for letting me share and i hope the dialogue goes on and on!!!

Wow - the main character is black, the girl on the cover is white and the book is about honesty. Perfect.

There is something so basically dishonest about that that I have to admit it would turn me off the book entirely.

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About the blogger
Dave Rosenthal came to The Baltimore Sun as a business reporter in 1987 and now is the Maryland Editor. He reads a wide range of books (but never as many as he'd like), usually alternating between non-fiction and fiction. Some all-time favorites: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; and anything by Calvin Trillin or John McPhee. He belongs to a book club with a Jewish theme.
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