Friday, July 24, 2009

How do you get a publisher to listen?

I'm in a mood. More than a mood. I'm battling depression with City of Bones by Cassandra Clare and strategic internet reading. The latter lead me to Ain't That a Shame, a fantastic blog post by Justine Larbalestier about why the U.S. arc of her book novel has a white girl on the cover though the story is about a black girl. If you don't follow any other link I give you (though, of course, I hope you do), please follow that one.

While reading the responses, I kept reminding myself that I *am* in a mood and should appreciate how many people commented in appreciation of the post, rather than keeping an eye out for those who don't get it (um, and ask questions about my psyche and what it means that I was so pleased when Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden did get it--but that's a whole other post that will never be written). What gave me pause was a response of an entirely different nature:

Thank you, Justine. Well said.

But Bloomsbury is not off the hook. One needs only look at how they “screwed” over the author of an earlier book (by “burying” the book upon release) to know there is a systemic issue at that house regarding books featuring an ethnic protagonist. And when properly embarrassed (outed for their behavior), continued to bury the book but began heavily promoting the a new book which featured a white protagonist on the cover. I thought things would improve when the marketing person left. Now it seems they hired a twin to replace her.

This is a business. We get that. And I applaud you for taking a difficult stand. But you are right – the only way for us to make a statement is to exercise economic clout.
That means I can’t buy this book – or a subsequent paperback, nor can I recommend it. I’m a writer – but also an affluent mother (read “book buyer) with college bound kids who are sick of being ignored. The damage is already done.

The local city paper recently ran an article about my family and reading. We often buy two copies of a book – one for each daughter. African American book buyers are not as “invisible” as Bloomsbury would have people believe.

If Bloomsbury releases the book without the original cover, the games over for many of us. I don’t advocate protesting you as an author (or any author) – but Bloomsbury as a publisher in general for it’s sustained and continued stupidity in the sales and marketing arena.

Will this help? My immediate thought is that if others follow this woman's example, the publisher will dump the author for low sales, not rethink it's obnoxious policies. Worse, it might not just harm this author, but every author who's main character is a person of color if they jump to the wrong conclusion for the bad sales.

Yet, I don't have a better solution. A write-in campaign? Someone spending the time and money for an exhaustive poll of all American high schoolers to discover how many of them read for pleasure and, of them, how many care what color the protagonist is and/or will only pick up a book with a white girl on the cover? Those ideas don't sound any better, but at least they aren't an accidental attack on the author.

Any suggestions? (And I'm nosy--anyone know what book Bloomsbury buried in the past?)


azteclady said...

I have been thinking about this since the last incident (Millenia Black--check Karen's archives for more on that) and I think that the only effective way of changing this is bringing it to light: the press.

Not in a sensationalist way that would result on a token gesture, but consistent exposure of all the many instances in which this subtle form of racism is employed.

Now the trick, of course, is to get a media outlet to a) listen, b) care, c) devote precious news space to it.

An Again said...

Wow. Maybe it's the genre that kept me from ever hearing about the Millenia Black situation. I'm...a little scared for my future.

Carrie Jones (author of "Need") wrote a Facebook note on the situation today that's a good read focusing on bigotry in society as a whole and how it's all part of the problem. One of the commentor suggested buying the book and mailing the offensive dustcover back to the publisher. That seems like an interesting way to protest.

I'm down with anything that's on the positive side and doesn't punish the author. Think the media would pick it up due to enough people blogging about it?

azteclady said...

I honestly don't know--perhaps it would depend on the blogs who pick it up, and perhaps what would be necessary is for many blogs to post on it and then someone to bring it to the press' attention?

But I do like the idea of mailing back the offending dust jacket with a stern note...