HomeReviewsInterviewsStoreABlogsOn Writing

Liar by  Justine Larbalestier

Of course it’s sad, but it isn’t new.

The latest epsiode of white-washing a book cover, involves author Justine Larbalestier’s YA book, Liar.

As you can see, the cover clearly features a white girl, with long hair, however, apparently Larbalestier’s lead is a black girl with very short hair.

Here’s part of the Galleycat article:

When YA fantasy author Justine Larbalestier gave her fans a first look at the American cover for Liar, back in April, she was understandably excited: “This cover was so well received by sales and marketing at Bloomsbury that for the first time in my career a cover for one of my books became the image used for the front of the catalogue,” she blogged. “Apparently all the big booksellers went crazy for it. My agent says it was a huge hit in Bologna. And at TLA many librarians and teenagers told me they adore this cover.”

The love, however, is not universal. Earlier this week, an unnamed “outraged, nauseous, [and] flabbergasted” children’s book editor blogging at Editorial Anonymous took issue with the cover, noting that Liar is about a young girl who is “black, with very short hair, and is mistaken for a boy early on in the book by teachers and fellow students,” which is pretty much the exact opposite of the model who has wound up on the dust jacket…

As Alicia, a YA librarian blogger, frames the question: “Did the publishers not want to put a black girl on the cover for fear of not selling enough books to their white customers?”…

To address these complaints, Larbalestier has written a new blog post, revealing that she fought that cover every step of the way: “I never wanted a girl’s face on the cover,” she says. “Bloomsbury has had a lot of success with photos of girls on their covers and that’s what they wanted. Although not all of the early girl face covers were white, none showed girls who looked remotely like Micah. I strongly objected to all of them. I lost.”

As Jane commented on Twitter earlier, what was the point in saying how much she loved the cover originally, then coming out and saying that she fought against it, once somebody else raised the issue?

Surely she’d have been better off saying nothing, after the criticisms started pouring in? Which version should we believe? Did she truly fight against the cover, or did she love the cover?

The article continues:

But, she continues, she’s not alone in finding her fiction “white-washed” by her publisher:

“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.”

It’s not like this is a new thing. Remember Millenia Black’s struggles?

Just like you rarely see a book about a rubenesque heroine with an actual rubenesque woman on the cover, publishers seem reluctant to have black faces on book covers unless the book is actually aimed at black people.

It really does seem that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I wonder if the time will ever come, when a book can be judged purely by the content of its pages, rather than the colour of the faces on its cover?


  • I don’t see the girl on the cover as white. It may just be me, but she has an Asian look to her. And if the main character is black, then I think the girl on the cover should be black. Just as if the girl in the book has purple hair or glasses, then the same should be on the cover.
    But countless times, covers are wrong. The heroine in the book will have blonde hair, but they will have the cover model with red locks. Or the people look so different on the cover from what I imagine them to be in the story.
    I was given this book from Bloosmbury for review and it wasn’t the cover that made me want to read it, but the synopsis of the story inside.


  • Anon76
    July 23
    11:17 pm

    I’m wondering if the pubs went kind of squicky on having the exact representation of the heroine on the cover with the title “Liar”.

    Me? I would have picked the book up in a heartbeat if the blurb was worthy. Less so with this cover. Boring!


  • In the time we live in I think it is sad. I like the Original cover much more intriguing.


  • Mora
    July 24
    5:37 am

    In the original post about the cover on Larbalestier’s blog, notice that she never says that she actually likes or is excited about the cover. She mentions that other people like it and that she’s excited one of her book covers will be on the cover of whatever catalog. But she very carefully never gives her own opinion of it, even referencing another cover as “her favorite.”


  • Personally, I think putting a white girl on the cover of a book where the main character is black is a big mistake, but it’s one that’s been made before, and will be made again.

    Might be a marketing tactic, but it’s a dishonest one, and it’s one that can come with huge backlash.

    Now…for some reason, the cover with the girl and the hair bugs me. Dunno why, but there’s something almost creepy about it.


  • “But countless times, covers are wrong.”

    I agree, but this cover is a cop-out. Am I the only one who sees the title and what the publishers did ironic?


  • I think the girl looks Asian.
    Just another case of covers not being true. Happens all the time.


  • Come now. Because PW takes a quote out of context and describes the author — without any textual basis to do so — as “excited” you’re going to paint her a hypocrite?

    As Mora already noted, no where in the blog post did JL EVER say she liked the cover. She talks about other people who liked it — mostly marketing people. I think the most you can stick on her is being carefully politic regarding the actions of her publisher.

    The reason this has become such a big issue, however, is that the early reviews of the book have focused not on the actual text of the novel as an answer to the puzzle the author asks you to solve in the pages, but instead have formulated some truly whacked out theories about the “meaning” based on the cover. It’s taking “judging a book by its cover” to a truly ridiculous degree and it VASTLY changes what is happening in the book. It’s not as simple a case as saying “Oh, the cover models don’t look like the people in the book” — which is bad enough. It’s making people believe, since the author wrote an unreliable narrator who lies about many, many things in the book, if the author meant for these other things to be a lie too. Indeed, the PW article actually quoted the publisher as backing up those completely untrue claims about the TEXT OF THE NOVEL.


  • Kat
    July 25
    11:56 am

    Larbalestier’s original post about the USAian cover of Liar is here. I think she’s very careful not to endorse it personally by talking about how others have reacted to it. I thought it was telling at the time. This is her post in response to the cover debacle. I really don’t read any hypocrisy into it. Bloggers often talk about authors being careful about saying anything career-limiting in public, and if you believe her post, I think that’s the dilemma she faced.


  • Jane
    July 27
    12:21 am

    Remember way back on Wednesday when I previewed the Oz cover of my next novel, Liar? Well, now it’s time to have a squizz at what my publisher in the US of A came up with. This cover was so well received by sales and marketing at Bloomsbury that for the first time in my career a cover for one of my books became the image used for the front of the catalogue. Front of the catalogue! One of my books! Pretty cool, huh?

    Apparently all the big booksellers went crazy for it. My agent says it was a huge hit in Bologna. And at TLA many librarians and teenagers told me they adore this cover. In fact one girl said she thinks the US cover of Liar is the best cover she’s ever seen! Wasn’t that sweet of her?

    So here it is, the USian cover of Liar:

    That really sounds like someone who is terribly upset about her cover, doesn’t it? She’s thrilled it will be on the cover of the catalog. She think its sweet that one girl told her that it was one of the best covers she’s ever seen. The author blogs that booksellers, librarians and readers love this cover. So yeah, she hardly sounds like someone who is offended by this cover.


  • FD
    July 27
    3:18 am

    I think it’s telling that she doesn’t say that she likes the cover. It’s all about other people’s reactions to it. Normally, if an author likes a cover, they say so, generally along the lines of OMG the-cover-art-is-amazing-YAY!

    So no, unlike some comments I have seen, I don’t find it hypocritical that the author later comes out and admits that she doesn’t like the cover.


  • I’m a black woman who is writing about white or non-labeled characters. Why? Because I want to sell.

    This story isn’t shocking to me at all, I’d file it more under, ‘Duh.’ Sadly, the publishing company has done her a favour by providing a cover that gets a great response, even if it isn’t reflective of the main character.

    And, if she sells well enough she might be in a position to ask for a new cover in her 3rd or 4th re-print and change the way the world sees books with black people on the cover. Let it be filed under bestsellers instead of in the AA section… make the marketing dept eat crow.


  • Barbara
    August 3
    6:40 pm

    I find Jane’s comments, and similar opinions, interesting. Noting the focus is on attacking the author, not on the substance of the cover and content of her book.

    It’s interesting the lengths some people will go to deny that the publishing industry makes decisions based on race; decisions that say a lot about how they view white readers vs. black readers.

    If this author was black, they would have no problem sticking a black face on that cover because they would be targeting black readers. But since they are targeting white readers, they can’t have a black face on the cover, it won’t sell to the majority of white readers, who will assume the book is targeting black readers.

    The author would not have been doing herself any favors by knocking the US version of her cover when everyone else was so excited about it. Once the obvious misrepresentation was pointed out by someone else, she had no choice but to voice her real feelings. However, racist people who go out of their way to deny they are racist, will clearly choose to see this as some sort of hypocrisy on her part. Interesting.

    It really is time this racist climate was called on the carpet and hashed out once and for all. Otherwise, we’ll continue to see these symptoms of the racial divide fester up all over the place. Why? Because the divide is there.

    Barbara in NY


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment