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marthawells

Martha Wells

My Flying Lizard Circus


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marthawells

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Link from arkessian: Justine Larbalestier: Ain't That a Shame In the last few weeks as people have started reading the US ARC of Liar they have also started asking why there is such a mismatch between how Micah describes herself and the cover image. Micah is black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short. As you can see that description does not match the US cover.
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I think of you and Wheel's cover every single time the subject comes up. Grrrrr. Why can't marketing departments just stop living in the last century?

Probably when some readers stop living in the last century. If more readers picked up books with "black covers", then we'd probably see more of them.

We like to think we're post-racial now, but we're so very much not. If anything, it's gotten worse in some areas.

I seriously doubt that anybody put off by a "black cover" would want to read the book contained in it, and besides, if a racist gets his feelings hurt, I won't cry. And the under-25s of my acquaintance--the people who supposedly never read stuff--aren't turned off by "black" anything, so you'd think that the marketing people would have noticed that they've got this huge underserved market out there.

In short: no, we're not post-racial, but in this one case, the right thing is also the easy thing.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think it's the right thing to do by any means, but I understand the logic. So many people decide on a book to pick up by whether or not the cover grabs them, that appealing to the lowest common denominator tends to be the way of things. I live in NYC. I take the subway through Harlem every day. I pay attention to what the people in that small sampling of the population are reading. I don't think I've ever seen a white person reading a book with a black character on the cover, but I have seen the reverse. Whether that says good things about black readers, or bad things about the white readers in this city, I don't know, but if it's hard to find a white person reading a book with a black on the cover in New York City, the odds of a town in middle America going for it are probably horrible.

Think of it this way, though, if someone picks it up who wouldn't have picked it up because it had a black girl on the cover, and they identify with the character without realizing her racial heritage, then we have someone who just might be on their way to getting past the biases.

When we're living in a country that seriously has the Birther movement, nothing about racial motivations surprises me anymore.

I wasn't clear: the right thing is making the cover match the book. I also don't think that the Birthers are anything other than a very small group that's being used by an even smaller group for their own purposes.

I live in a small Midwestern town, and I can tell you that people here don't read much of anything. They're not spending money in the first place, so trying to avoid frightening them isn't going to make any difference anyway. (And oh boy, are they scared. I feel sorry for them, but I'm not going to compromise my ideals just because they might feel bad about themselves.)

I keep meaning to start a shelf on GoodReads for ArtDirectorobviouslydidnotreadthebook.

Wow....that's pretty bad. Especially since they probably just picked out a stock photo. They could easily go back and pick a better match.

I thought of the cover of 'Wheel of the Infinite' when I read that post.

Have publishers ever done any research on covers with black characters on them and how potential readers react to them? (I'm thinking of the 'focus groups' that ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair and his advisors created in the UK to try out reactions to various policy ideas.) It might be educational!


I don't know if they have, and I kind of doubt it. I don't know if publishers have that kind of time or money to do marketing studies.

My belief is that, since most books only have about two to four weeks to succeed (I think that's what it is, it may have changed since I heard that figure) the much bigger factor is whether or not the publisher pushes the book by getting it into enough stores, and pays for space in the new book section in front, so that readers can actually see the cover. The covers I think that usually fail, or fail to catch attention, are the ones that don't effectively get across "exciting science fiction or fantasy or horror or paranormal romance or whatever" in the few seconds viewing that they get. (How many books a chain store carries is also fairly dependent on the individual buyers for the chain.) Ebook sales are becoming a much bigger factor, too.

Also a big factor in a successful book used to be whether it got put into racks at grocery stores, drugstores, airports, etc, which was largely the decision of the distributors that put them there. That's changed now, and is changing daily, depending on which distributor has gone bankrupt/is trying not to go bankrupt, etc.

(If you haven't heard of the Thor Power Tools decision and how it led to drastically lower sales for midlist books, there's a good article here.)

Publishing is changing a lot and things haven't settled down yet. But there's just a huge number of factors for why books fail. Blaming the cover is tempting, but I think it's just not that simple.

My goodness, how complicated the whole business is! (I am very naive.) Thank you for the link to the Thor Power Tools decision and the consequent fallout. That is distressing. I inhale books (they are as necessary as breathing) but the more I learn about publishing the more daunting it is.

I wish I knew how to jolt publishers into producing and marketing books I like. Yours, for instance. I really, really like your books very much.

Thank you :)

And yes, it's very daunting. I do have a lot of hope for ebooks, since the problems of taxes on inventory, storage, shipping, printing costs etc, don't figure in, there. I think there will always be a market for printed books, though.

Every time I see this come up, I wonder when someone's going to realize that a black face on a book cover is going to stand out on a shelf covered with images of whites. You'd think some marketing crew would use that to their advantage to get a book like that some attention.

It definitely would in YA, where there's a real need for more books with non-white main characters.

And these discussions always tend to ignore the books with non-white character covers that are successful, like The Empress by Karen Miller.

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