let's get the seven lines. (bookshop) wrote,
let's get the seven lines.

New Year's Resolution #7: Stop buying YA from Bloomsbury.

I've been looking forward to the debut YA novel Magic Under Glass for months. I ordered it before the first of the year! it came! The author, fabulousfrock, sent me a bookplate! I was excited!

And then I wasn't.

This is the description of the main character of Magic Under Glass from the review of the book by The Book Smugglers:
    Nimira is a performer, dancing and singing in search of fortune, after migrating from Tassim, in the far East... in Lorinar, she is nothing but a dark-skinned amusement, a novelty “trouser girl” who earns nothing but pennies and whose number comes after acrobats and trained dogs in the music hall she is employed at. ... Nim was a breath of fresh air. For starters, she is dark-skinned and from a different culture; she is strong without being kick-ass: she cries when she has to cry, she fights when she has to fight, she adapts when she has to adapt. She is resilient, she is practical – and she is proud! Proud of her heritage and past.

This is the U.S. hardback cover of Magic Under Glass, published by Bloomsbury USA:

That.... is not anyone who looks like Nimira to me.

You may recall that last fall, Justine Larbalestier's incredible book Liar was at the center of a storm of controversy over the fact that its publisher, Bloomsbury, had whitewashed the cover and used a white face to represent an African-American heroine. After the ARCs started coming out and people started to realize what had happened, enough of an outcry went up on the interwebs that Bloomsbury acted fast and changed the cover to feature a beautiful and far more accurate portrayal of the main character, Micah. (My rec for Liar is here.)

The publisher of Magic Under Glass? Guess who!

The cover of Magic Under Glass? It's been public since the Liar controversy. Bloomsbury was able to yank the original cover of Liar and change it 2 months before it went to press. They had over six months to do the same for Magic Under Glass.

But it was a debut novel whose author didn't have a foothold in the publishing world that would allow her to protest, as Larbalestier did. Also, the reviewing blogosphere generally doesn't review books before they're published. So without the author to spearhead a call to action, there has been none over the whitewashing of Magic Under Glass, and Bloomsbury? Well, obviously, they weren't concerned.

Until we come to the always awesome Book Smugglers, who with the new cover in hand, close their review with, "Nimira is supposed to be dark-skinned !!!! The book trailer captures that and is true to the book (check it out here) but the girl in the US covers is definitely white."




1. I really wanted this to be a review of Magic Under Glass. It's too late to save this book from its cover, and I do want to encourage everyone to read it, talk about it and support fabulousfrock. But after this? From now on?

2. Stop buying books from Bloomsbury Kids. You're on a budget crunch this year anyway. Stop buying books from Bloomsbury. (NOTE: please see Edit, below.)

3. All of you amazing, fantastic readers who are working on your YA novels: don't sell your works to Bloomsbury. Sell them to publishers who encourage diversity, publishers who respect chromatic cultures and characters.

4. Support Tu Publishing. It's necessary. It's important.

5. If you're as outraged by this as I am, say so. The contact info, including email, for the Bloomsbury Kids' Marketing office is available here.

The email I just sent them is behind the cut.Collapse )

6. Please talk about what Bloomsbury is doing. Boost the signal on this. Let people know that this matters.


ETA: Please note that the description of Nim above comes from the *review* of the book, not from the author/official book blurb. However, the author has stated she would have preferred a non-white model, and hopes that one can be used for the paperback.


ETA, 1/19: Many readers have pointed out that boycotting hurts the authors writing the books we want to read, far more than it hurts the publisher. This is a valid point, and I don't in any way want to hurt J. Dolamore or her career. I also don't want to hurt other Bloomsbury authors whose covers may have been finalized months ago. So at this point, I think raising awareness, contacting Bloomsbury, and trying to work with the writing/publishing community to change minds and condemn this kind of practice is actually the most effective thing we can do in the long run.

The suggestion has been made that a website or blog devoted to tallying/cataloguing/raising awareness of whitewashed covers be made. Any / all other similar suggestions are welcome as well.

Thank you to Color Online, The Story Siren, Jezebel, and others for spreading the word about this.

ETA: 1/20: Bloomsbury has just announced that they will be temporarily halting all sales and releasing a new jacket for Magic Under Glass, with a model who more accurately reflects the main character's ethnic identity.

I think the ensuing
discussion, debate, and collective anger raised on the issue of whitewashing in YA and Children's lit (Coverfail) has been more effective than a boycott could have been to raise awareness and condemn this practice in Bloomsbury and in other publishers. I admire everyone who spoke out about this. You made a difference.
Tags: 2010, an assortment of crappy things, books, politics, rants
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A) the description I quoted in the post is from a review of the book; it is not an official part of the blurb itself. I will edit the post to make this explicit.

B) However, the first line of the book includes the words "Trouser Girls from the Exotic Land of Tassimi," and "exotic" is a word that is strongly coded as a word privileged white culture uses to describe non-white culture. I haven't read the book yet so I can't provide further authentication than that, but the Book Smugglers is a reputable blog and review site, and they are hardly going to make up a thing like this, especially since I've seen it verified in other places, by other confused book reviewers, as well.

C) I have never seen a mention to Nim's race on fabulousfrock's lj, and she has posted saying that she loves the cover (it is beautiful). However, is very unlikely that she is even in a position to speak out, seeing as this is her debut novel and to have a bad relationship with her publisher could cause her to be blacklisted from the industry.

But moreover, it doesn't matter whether the author approves the cover or not. Harm has already been done to the POC members of the audience. The author was taken out of the equation the moment the publisher chose to whitewash her book.

Have you followed the debate/controversy before this book? Are you aware of the practice of whitewashing? Did you miss that is about more than this book in particular?

The author describes the MC as dark-skinned. Does the cover model look dark to you?

Bloomsbury and other publishers have a history of marginalizing POC authors and books with POC characters. I take issue with that. If you don't, you are part of the problem why this practice continues.

Before you tell the rest of us to read the book, I suggest you investigate the history of this practice, read the deluge of debates about the controversy and take a survey of your local bookstore YA section. Come back and tell us how many books do you see displayed with POC covers.

We know what we are fighting and why. I suggest you become informed before you chastise.

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January 18 2010, 00:56:28 UTC 8 years ago


The author and the book description says the MC is dark-skinned. How then do you say the publisher's cover is not an issue?

No one is criticizing the book. Where do you read anyone judging the book or author? By the way, I read your review and I see you don't talk about the cover. For someone who thinks whitewashing is a problem, you didn't catch it or you didn't care. Either way, the omission does not support your argument here that you think whitewashing is wrong.

And the author did say something. Read the review at Stella Matutina's.

". It would be nice to see a darker girl on the paperback.."

See... this isn't so much a problem with Bloomsbury as it is most of the publishing world. What happens is that a cover artist will often get a little piece of the book, maybe a particular scene, and be asked to draw from that. It's often the same thing with someone writing the blurb for the back cover... they're given so little of the full product to work with that they'll get glaring obvious details wrong. Certainly Bloomsbury should have done a better job of getting the information to the right people, but they are by no means the only company to have this sort of problem.
Yes, it's more than Bloomsbury and other publishing houses. It's bloggers and readers who say,"Oh, that's wrong" and then take no actions that effectively address the issue. I'm tired of nice white people talking about how something is wrong and then going on without any action to correct the wrong. We need allies. We need support. Sympathy and guilt ain't gonna get it done. Do something.

Do see current TIC (http://coloronline.blogspot.com/2010/01/tic-news-bloomsbury-seeks-acquistions_18.html) post at Color Online and Celebrating MLK with A Protest (http://blackeyedsusans.blogspot.com/2010/01/celebrating-mlk-with-protest.html) at Black-Eyed Susan's.

I'm more than angry. I'm taking action.
I sent them a letter. Maybe we need a "Change the cover" fail!hunters site. As an aspiring novelist this sucks to read.

I think this is a great idea.
Er... lawd the design of that cover is awful.
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Came here from racebending. It's sad this is happening in this day and age.

Although for some reason the only thing I can think of when I look at the cover of that book is "She has a freakishly long torso"
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At the risk of being one of those annoying devil's-advocate types, I'd just like to bring up a couple things:

- Cover art for all but the top-shelf, big-name authors is pretty much drawn out of a hat. Wrong skin color is a pretty minor error compared to, say, 'wrong species', or 'very minor character featured on cover because protagonist isn't sexy' or 'this character is not even in the book', all of which I have seen.

- That being the case, kicking up a fuss about one book won't be much help to the next newbie author who gets 'generic fantasy chick' on their cover. Especially if the problem with that one is that their protagonist is, say, middle-aged and dumpy. Try thinking up a snappy buzzword for 'normal looking women being painted as sex kittens'. 'Frumpwashed'?

- My conclusion: the problem is not that the publisher is racist. The problem is that the publishing industry does not value writers. It's just that most of the screwing-over flies under the radar because it doesn't look like politics.


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