2.4.12

the problem isn't just the covers

I judge a book by it's cover.
I think we all do.
Most of us are suckers for covers with pretty font and pretty designs and pretty this and pretty that. It draws us in. It makes us want to learn more about the book, read the first couple of pages, check out the premise, and then ultimately buy it or check it out of the library.
Nine times out of ten, the books that don't have the most interesting covers get passed up at the bookstore regardless of if they're extremely well-written. I know, for me, I like to buy books that get rave reviews, so that I know even if the cover isn't appealing then the actual story is good.
Getting to the point.
I know authors have little to no say on what their cover is going to look like and that the designers are versed in what kind of covers are popular, which will make the book more 'marketable' and which won't.
That said - to me, it seems like the publishing industry thinks little of the diversity of readers. I don't know about other genres but YA novels hardly features any guys on the covers and when they do there is almost always a pretty girl on their arm (even if the MC is male). Okay, I'm a girl, and I'm all for the surge of strong female heroines but the message that strikes me when I walk through the YA section at the bookstore is that boys don't read. How could they? The majority of YA literature is female-centric and it's not fair.
There are a great number of 'boy books' out there Crash Into Me by Albert Borris being one of them. Now I will be completely honest with you, one of the reasons why I wanted to read the book besides it's premise was...the fact that it had a great cover.
I mean, look at it.
I recommend this book to everyone and if you have already read it then you know that Frank is the one narrating the story. The book tells the story of three other teens besides him but Crash Into Me is written from his perspective. This is why I don't understand the point of having a girl on the cover. I liked Audrey a lot but...if she was going to be on the cover, then why couldn't the other two characters be on there as well? Crash Into Me isn't all about the romance between Frank and Audrey. It deals with some serious subject matters and the fact that there is a female model on the cover really enforces my saying that YA is female-centric. I mean, would the book's marketability (sp?) change if there was only one person on the cover and if that person was male?
Maybe I'm just making something out of nothing.
Maybe boys don't read books with pictures of other guys on them but it's still a little weird when you think about how rare it is to find a male model without a girl clinging to him on the cover, how rare it is to find a book where the guy on the cover isn't sexualized, and portrayed solely as the hot love interest.
Then there's Paper Towns by John Green.
I have the paperback version of Paper Towns but it never really made since to me why Margo is on the hardback cover when she isn't the main character. Sure she plays an important role in the novel but it's not her story. I mean...it's sickening how 'girly' YA has become.
And when I look at adult fiction, despite the fact that most of the covers are a bit racy, there is a fair amount of show time for both sexes on the covers. This is just from the books I see, so I could be wrong, but compared to YA, I think adult fiction really is doing better in the gender diversity department when it comes to the models on the covers.
I can't really say much on racial diversity. It's 2012 and though there has been an increase in books with non-white models on them, the 'white girl in a pretty dress' trend isn't going away. Don't get me wrong. I like pretty dresses and I don't mind that the girls on the cover are white, especially if the main character is white, but...if I say that, then I'm not really admitting there is a problem.
When there is.
Only it's not just the covers.
Someone once said that if the use of models on covers would cease, then more people (no matter what ethnic background they come from) would read books but...that doesn't really make sense because even if the apple was the only thing that we saw on the Twilight cover, it wouldn't change the fact that Bella is white.
Stephenie Meyer had Bella describe what she looks like so it's not like we don't know that she's white. People who read the Hunger Games, you know that Rue and Thresh aren't white. They don't necassarily need to be seen as black but they are, for a fact, of color. Keeping that in mind, a lot of people on twitter and around the interwebs were shocked when actors to play the parts of Rue and Thresh respectively were picked. Some people had said that they thought both of the characters were supposed to be white...and that's another side effect of the lack of diversity in YA, not just on covers but in the books themselves.
Now, as a writer, I'm not saying that all writers should try to diversify their projects. I'm not saying that they should try to write a main character that is a different ethnicity then they are but...I am saying that change has to start somewhere. I don't have any problem with writing characters who come from a different ethnic background then I do. It's important to me because as a 'minority', I know what it's like to be snubbed in the media. You have to admit - there aren't a lot of non-white actors and actresses in any of the upcoming tv shows or movies. Sure there are a few but a few isn't enough.
It shouldn't be enough.
I don't know about other countries but America really needs to step up when it comes to things like incorporating diversity in all aspects of the media. America isn't just comprized of one group of people but sometimes it feels like it is.
Like I said before, I'm not asking anyone to stop what they're doing and start writing a book that has a character who is from a different ethnic background, but I do want to know...what makes people stray away from not writing a diverse cast of characters?
Do people not think it's important?
I think it's really important because the diversity of a YA book is contingent on the kind of cover the book has. That said - we need to see more non-white people on covers. Not just a few, not just one or two every once in a while, we need more. A LOT more. Because people need to get used to reading about non-white characters, they need to not be shocked when (if there is a movie adaptation of the book) an actor in the movie is not white. We need to eliminate the mindset that lots of people have when reading a book that if the character isn't described to be another ethnic background, then that automatically makes them white. Not only that but we need to bridge the gaps between readers, because at the end of the day, they're the ones who count.
These covers are insanely beautiful. But...I'm tired.

As a writer, as a reader, as a black teen, I am sooo tired.
If the 'pretty dress' trend is here to stay, give me a book where the girl wearing the dress is of color. Give me a book where the girl who saves the world Katniss-style is not white. Give me more books with male main characters. I mean seriously...YA shouldn't be all about girls.
It also shouldn't satisfy only one group of readers.
It should, however, reflect the kind of world that we live in, and at the moment, it doesn't.

3 comments:

  1. Great post :)

    And I've totally gone and ordered Crash Into Me x

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  2. Great post. I've noticed some of the odd differences that happen between hardback and softback also. Have you read Lisa McMann's "Cryer's Cross?" It's YA horror, pretty good. The hardback could be the cover to the next Silent Hill game, but the softback looks like just another paranormal romance--and a bad one.

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  3. Yep. As a person of color I always have people of color in my books. Not necessarily all the characters, I just try to have the world of my books reflect the real world, like you said change has to start somewhere. Whenever they get published, I know one of my big things is going to be the book cover. I know authors don't always have the strongest influence on book covers but I will not have some white girl in a dress on my cover, especially if my main character isn't white (of course even if she is, like you said, it's old).

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