Posted on July 28, 2009

Bloomsbury Says “Black Doesn’t Sell”

Miracle Jones, Fiction Circus, July 24, 2009

Justine Larbalestier’s new “young adult” fiction book “Liar” is about a little black girl named Micah who likes to tell lies but who desperately wants to stop.

Bloomsbury liked her book so much they decided to buy it. They didn’t want her to change the concept at all. Little black girl who tells lies. Fine.

They decided they know just how to sell a book about a little black girl who tells lies.

Turn her into a little white girl:

According to Larbalestier, Bloomsbury’s marketing department wanted a photo of a girl on the front because that’s what sells, and they showed Larbalestier many different prototypes, some white, some black. She said she didn’t like any of them and strongly objected to the entire concept. But since cover decisions are not up to writers, she lost, and Bloomsbury went with the present disingenuous monstrosity.

From Larbalestier’s website:

“Since I’ve told publishing friends how upset I am with my Liar cover, I have been hearing anecdotes from every single house about how hard it is to push through covers with people of colour on them. Editors have told me that their sales departments say black covers don’t sell. Sales reps have told me that many of their accounts won’t take books with black covers. Booksellers have told me that they can’t give away YAs with black covers. Authors have told me that their books with black covers are frequently not shelved in the same part of the library as other YA–they’re exiled to the Urban Fiction section–and many bookshops simply don’t stock them at all. How welcome is a black teen going to feel in the YA section when all the covers are white? Why would she pick up Liar when it has a cover that so explicitly excludes her?”

1. Since when do black covers not sell? Doesn’t a stamp from Oprah Winfrey basically guarantee a bestseller in this country? And what about all of popular music? What about nearly every style magazine?


3. If a black cover is an absolute deal-breaker, THEN USE SOME OTHER IMAGE. Like, the word “Liar” up in flames. Or a central image from the text. A broken mirror. ANYTHING. Don’t put a little white girl on the front of your book about a little black girl. It’s going to change people’s ideas about the narrative, which is primarily a story about identity in the first place.

In Larbalestier’s own words:

“Liar is a book about a compulsive (possibly pathological) liar who is determined to stop lying but finds it much harder than she supposed. I worked very hard to make sure that the fundamentals of who Micah is were believable: that she’s a girl, that she’s a teenager, that she’s black, that she’s USian. One of the most upsetting impacts of the cover is that it’s led readers to question everything about Micah: If she doesn’t look anything like the girl on the cover maybe nothing she says is true. At which point the entire book, and all my hard work, crumbles.”

Remember how Biden didn’t get to come on stage during Obama’s acceptance speech until Obama was damn good and done talking? There’s a reason for that. Image control.

This is an utterly stupid move for Bloomsbury and utterly hateful. I look forward to the print-on-demand future, when readers will be able to choose any cover they like for their books, including ones they design themselves. You want a black Harry Potter? You GET a black Harry Potter.

Maybe at this point it’s time for Larbalestier to think “lawsuit.”

NOTE: Not that it matters, but Justine Larbalestier is white and from Australia. If she were black and American, I doubt Bloomsbury would have had the balls to do this. Then again, they probably wouldn’t have bought her book in the first place. If Bloomsbury was my publisher, I’d be outraged right now.