Fighting with the Sky

Liar Publishers "Fix" Their Lies

Posted on: August 8, 2009

A couple weeks ago I learned of the book Liar by Justine Larbalestier, to be released in October. The book is about a young African American woman who is a compulsive liar. In the book she is described as an African American with short, nappy hair. But would you think that by looking at this cover?

The cover shows a young, white woman with long hair that covers her mouth. Picking a white model to portray a black character does not make sense and is downright offensive. Larbalestier talks about how authors actually get very little say in their cover art:

The US Liar cover went through many different versions. An early one, which I loved, had the word Liar written in human hair. Sales & Marketing did not think it would sell. Bloomsbury has had a lot of success with photos of girls on their covers and that’s what they wanted. Although not all of the early girl face covers were white, none showed girls who looked remotely like Micah.

I strongly objected to all of them. I lost. (via Appetite for Equal Rights)

Bloomsbury (the publisher of Liar) obviously thought there was no problem with having a white girl portray a black character. Really? You can’t see the problem?

Well, apparently they have “learned their lesson.” I put this in quotes because I don’t think that they really have realized what’s wrong, they are just responding to the backlash. Via a tweet from @ameyawarde, I was tipped off to this article from Publisher’s Weekly, that talks about how Bloomsbury plans to change the cover art to a woman who more closely resembles the character in the book.

From this article, Bloomsbury representatives had this to say about the decision to change the cover art:

“We regret that our original creative direction for Liar—which was intended to symbolically reflect the narrator’s complex psychological makeup—has been interpreted by some as a calculated decision to mask the character’s ethnicity […] 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.”

I can’t really see how a white woman reflects “the narrator’s complex psychological makeup” if the narrator is black. Maybe I’m just missing something, but I don’t think so. I think the publisher just thought that the book would sell better if there was a white woman on the cover.

I applaud Bloomsbury’s decision to change the cover. It’s the right thing to do. But it never should have happened in the first place.

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2 Responses to "Liar Publishers "Fix" Their Lies"

I read about this too from Appetite for Equal Rights. It made me sick. I've seen this happen many times. I've read books that had black characters but white people on the cover. Authors should really have more control over what their book covers look like. I applaud Bloomsbury's decision to change the cover. It's the right thing to do. But it never should have happened in the first place.Amen to that, Laura.

I think their idea is that the character is a liar, therefore she's probably lying about her race too. Frankly, it sounds like a cheap rationalization to me, a way to get away with what they perceive to be a more popular choice from a marketing perspective, and not get dinged as being racist while doing it. So it's good for people to be calling them on this shit, I think, because I think it clearly is racist. It's good they're changing it, but it'd be better if they acknowledged why it needed changing, and that they'd fucked up.

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