In the post, Wright talks about making the decision to put a black woman on the cover of her novel, Fire Baptized. She says she got advice from people telling her that if she took the black girl off the cover she would get a bigger audience.
That really got me thinking! As most of you probably know (based on the picture of yours truly here on this blog…), I am (big revelation here) black, as are many of my characters because…well, my family is also black and most of my characters are (sorry, mom!) based on them. And the thought of someone making the decision to not buy one of my books because it featured a black woman on the front? #faceplants.
Wright also says: “…This is what many publishers and authors wonder when their heroine is ethnic. They battle with if readers are really going to purchase a cover with a black woman on it or not.”
I heard about this issue a few years ago when the US cover for Justine Larbalestier’s “Liar” appeared. The novel features a black protagonist but there was a white character featured on the cover. The publisher eventually changed the cover—perhaps because it stirred such a huge debate.
Every year at every publishing house, intentionally and unintentionally, there are white-washed covers. 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?
The notion that “black books” don’t sell is pervasive at every level of publishing. Yet I have found few examples of books with a person of colour on the cover that have had the full weight of a publishing house behind them. Until that happens more often we can’t know if it’s true that white people won’t buy books about people of colour. All we can say is that poorly publicised books with “black covers” don’t sell. The same is usually true of poorly publicised books with “white covers.”
Are the big publishing houses really only in the business of selling books to white people?
What say you, folks? Do you buy books with people of color featured on the front? Do you agree that “black covers don’t sell?” Does color matter? Is this something you’ve ever even considered before???
And to authors of color: what’s been your experience?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!