Mary's Minute: Cover Changes and an Apology


Today's Mary's Minute is going to be a long one because I have a lot of ground to cover. 

What happened
ICYMI, last week, the cover to Renee Ahdieh's Smoke in the Sun was released, along with a redesigned cover for book 1, Flame in the Mist. The colors of Smoke are compatible with those of the original Flame and Smoke also continues the phoenix theme, although other design details—the face, the cherry blossoms, the font—more closely resemble the new new Flame design. Renee worked closely with the designer (who also designed the original Flame) to make sure the cover of Smoke would.

  

Frustrated by yet another mid-series change, I tweeted several times (1, 2, 3) about how annoyed I was. My rant was liked and retweeted by a lot of readers, but most replies were critical of my position. I was somewhat pressed for time and taken aback by an unexpected response that I perceived as an attack on my character (there were a lot of subtweets about racism, although no one called me racist directly) so even though I attempted to reply calmly, to have an actual dialogue about my position, I was defensive and not really receptive to responses opposing mine. It was not a good look. And so, I must apologize.

An apology
I am sorry. I am not sorry for hating cover changes (more on that in a minute), but I am sorry for speaking out of turn. I am sorry for not listening to the primarily teen (or at least younger than I) women of color telling me their perspective. I am sorry for not responding well. I am sorry for putting you guys in the position of having to tell me I was wrong, which took an immense amount of courage. I am so sorry for the hurt I caused with my rash words. I am so sorry for disappointing all of you. I am sorry to everyone whose opinion of me was lessened by my ill-timed tantrum. I am especially sorry to Renee for causing an uproar, for raining on what should have been an exciting day celebrating brand new covers. While the cover conversation is one that readers should be able to have, that day was not the appropriate time for it. Renee should have had a wonderful, joyful day, and then later this conversation could have been had, when not in direct response to her beautiful covers. And although I did not participate in the discussion then, the same goes for Sabaa Tahir when the entire Ember in the Ashes series got a makeover a few months ago. Neither of you deserved this criticism, and I am sorry for my part in this awful, hurtful situation.

Two clarifications
For my part, my frustration truly stems from disliking changes in the middle of a series. I do not have OCD and won't claim mental illness as a shield, but I have always abhorred books being repackaged mid-series. I saw a lot of comments mentioning how it's a privilege to worry about such a seemingly small thing as my books matching. IT IS. I am well aware. But it still rankles. I have hated redesigns for years. They really, truly bother me, for various reasons (but that's a conversation for another day). And so, while I am sorry for so so much, I wish to defend myself on two charges.

First, I would like to counter claims that this conversation *only* comes up when an author of color, usually a woman, has a redesign to have a character of color on the cover. Because I literally wrote this post about cover changes 5 years ago as a baby blogger (lol @ naive baby me, who knew nothing about publishing and was only coming at the convo from a consumer pov). The big one for me then was Across the Universe. The spaceshippy theme of the redesigns was cool, but man, I loved the galactic silhouettes of ACU and AMS, and I really do get a bit sad looking at my green odd-one-out copy of SOE

Additionally, there have been several instances of uproar regarding a few notable redesigns, and here are a few that I remember being especially contentious and/or a notable response from the publisher: 
  • Even though the repackage was a good one, readers were so upset over their copies of Anna/Lola/Isla not matching that Penguin (Penguin, SERIOUSLY, what is your fucking deal with redesigns mid-series???) rereleased Anna & Lola in hardcover with the new covers AND hosted a giveaway for nothing other than sets of the dustjackets so anyone who had the old people covers could have matching jackets without buying new copies. Not kidding. That was the prize.
  • Sourcebooks originally designed the cover of Breathe, Annie, Breathe, book 5 of the Hundred Oaks series, as a cartoony style, a departure from the photographic covers of books 1-4, but readers were so lackluster about the new style (and possibly a bookstore vetoed it. Yes, that happens), they redesigned it before publication to look more similar and then redesigned again for the paperback to more closely match the original style. Also, it was the only book in the series that even had a hardcover release. That's why there are three or four different arc covers, one hardcover cover, and one paperback. The final three books in the series went back to the original style.
  • Bloomsbury stopped selling the original cover of Throne of Glass, and now only sells the repackaged version (I have so little info about this situation because I've never read ToG so I didn't pay attention to fan reaction. A quick Twitter search of "throne of glass + matching" shows a lot of happy fans in the fall of 2014 though, when the repackaged design was made available for purchase in hardcover, and fans could have a fully matched set). 
  • Readers demanded a change when Macmillan announced a matching cover for The Winner's Kiss in May of 2015, then announced a complete repackage in December that included new covers for the paperbacks of TWC & TWC2 and the hardcover of TWK. In my five years in this community, this was the loudest and angriest readers have been about changes because, though badass and beautiful, the new covers were not representative of Kestral's character (I also started another post about cover changes but never posted it). This IS the only time *I've* seen people state they'd rather not buy a book (or that they'd rather buy the matching UK edition) than buy the repackaged hardcover (YMMV). About 10 days after the new cover reveal, Macmillan compromised by  announcing they'd release the original dress cover of TWK in hardcover and only use the new covers for the whole series in paperback. 
  • With Tahereh Mafi, Harper is listening to readers' years-long requests (if you search Twitter with "shatter me + matching" you'll find requests from as far back as 2013) by finally releasing the redesigned eye cover of Shatter Me in hardcover today
  • And although Little, Brown has not made any changes in response to reader criticism, I saw a TON of people who had Things To Say about the many designs of The Diviners. Mostly how laughably bad each new direction is (I saw a hilarious tweet yesterday about someone wanting a 4th design for book 4 so at least the books would share a complete lack of continuity).
All of these examples do prove, at least to me, that this IS a long-term ongoing conversation.

What boycott???
That brings me to my second small defense. I saw a lot of tweets using the word boycott a lot that day and the day after in the context of "if you boycott a book because of a cover change, you are stupid, etc etc". I don't know if that was in response to me or if someone really did say the word boycott, but I surely did not. Someone pointed out to me that I DID say I wouldn't buy a repackaged book. I did. But I said I'd specifically never buy a repackaged *paperback*. I prefer hardcovers, but also, if I already have the hardcover, I'm not going to get a paperback just to match the second book (unless I'm collecting, and there's literally three series I've done that for. And no, none of them are by SJM). As twitchy as non-matching series makes me, I'd still rather have them in one format, especially because I shelve my books by format. Also, I may be privileged to have disposable income enough to buy a lot of books, but it's not disposable enough to have multiples of everything, even books I like a lot (which is why multiple special editions piss me the fuck off, but THAT is another entire conversation best saved for another day). And I live in a one bedroom apartment with limited storage. But I digress.

I am not boycotting covers with people of color. I am especially not boycotting Renee Ahdieh or Smoke in the Sun. The Wrath and the Dawn is a lovely series, a favorite, and I'd read Renee's grocery lists if that weren't weird (it's weird). Truth be told, I haven't decided if I'll buy Smoke for myself. But even if I don't, yes, OF COURSE I'll check it out from the library! Hell, I'm gonna personally buy two copies for the library where I work because I purchase the ebooks and digital audio. And you guys know I always host a crapton of giveaways. I'll be at two festivals this spring where Renee will be speaking, and I love doing signed giveaways best of all so who knows? I may have some of her books up for grabs in a couple months. So no boycott. Maybe stop throwing around that word unless you literally saw someone say the ACTUAL word "boycott."

I still made a mistake
But. But. Despite this long history of community opposition to cover changes (on books by white authors and PoC authors both), despite very much not actually boycotting this book, I chose, erroneously, to complain very publicly in a situation where it DID involve an author of color and an Asian model. While my intention was to express a personal frustration and discomfort at one aspect of publishing I don't like, intentions are meaningless when people are hurt. I chose the wrong time to speak, and I did not speak well. I hurt people, which is a devastating thing to admit. I don't like people to be hurt, and I especially don't like being the cause. Again I wish to offer my apologies to everyone who read my rant, but especially to Asian readers, particularly teens, and any other PoC who I hurt with my careless words. Instead of allowing you to celebrate a momentous occasion at having a character accurately represented on the cover, I stepped in and crashed the conversation with a petty complaint. It truly is a first world problem to have matching covers. I know that. I should have held my tongue and saved this convo for another time when it wouldn't have directly affected an author and marginalized readers, and again, I'm so so sorry.

I am not deleting my ill-timed tweets. I'm not a fan of tweeting and deleting because I want to keep them as a reminder of a mistake I made that I have to own up to. I hope that those of you who are reading this (and bless you if you have made it this far because DANG this is a long post!) can accept my apology and forgive me. And to anyone who doesn't, who can't, I understand. I hope I may one day regain your trust and respect. I get it. One more white woman speaking out of turn, speaking over people who deserved better. All I can do is admit I messed up, apologize, and work to do better. While I believe in my heart of hearts that my words weren't caused by discomfort with a PoC model, I clearly need to learn more and do more work to confront a life steeped in privilege in so many ways, including and especially regarding my race. I thought I was doing okay, but I have messed up royally and so I must do better. I will do better.

Some threads to consider
I was encouraged to look up threads in which PoC readers talked about the positive change of redesigns in which PoC faces are centered so I did some research so I found a few, and I'm linking them here (with permission). Highly recommend you take a look, and also give these incredible people with powerful voices a follow.

Shenwei of READING (AS)(I)AN (AM)ERICAN
Alexa @ahnyoo_
Lila of Hardcover Haven
Sandhya Menon


A list of PoC covers
Finally, I'd like to leave you with a list of YA books by PoC authors that have put PoC characters front and center on the cover.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie
Akata Witch - Nnedi Okorafor
Allegedly - Tiffany D. Jackson
American Panda - Gloria Chao
American Street - If I Zoboi
The Belles - Dhonielle Clayton
The Blazing Star - Imani Josey
The Bone Witch - Rin Chupeco
Born Confused duology - Tanuja Desai Hidier
The Boy in the Black Suit - Jason Reynolds
Bronxwood- Coe Booth
Calling My Name - Liara Tamani
Children of Blood & Bone - Tomi Adeyemi
Dear Martin - Nic Stone
Dread Nation - Justina Ireland
The Education of Margot Sanchez - Lilliam Rivera
An Ember in the Ashes series - Sabaa Tahir


   

Emergency Contact - Mary Choi
Empress of a Thousand Skies duology - Rhoda Belleza
Endangered - Lamar Giles
Everyone We've Been - Sarah Everett
Eye Candy - ReShonda Tate Billingsly
Flygirl - Sherri L. Smith
From Twinkle, With Love - Sandhya Menon
A Girl Like That - Tanaz Bhathena
Huntress - Malinda Lo
I Believe in a Thing Called Love - Maurene Goo
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter - Erika L. Sanchez
Iron Cast - Destiny Soria
Juba - Walter Dean Myers
Keep Me in Mind - Jaime Reed
Labyrinth Lost - Zoraida Cordova
Let's Talk About Love - Claire Kann
Little White Lies - Brianna Baker
Long Way Down - Jason Reynolds


   

Love, Hate & Other Filters - Samira Ahmed
Lovely, Dark, and Deep - Justina Chen
Monday's Not Coming - Tiffany D. Jackson
Monster - Walter Dean Myers
Not the Girls You're Looking For - Aminah Mae Safi
Perfect Liars - Kimberly Reid
Piecing Me Together- Renee Watson
The Place Between Breaths - An Na
The Poet X - Elizabeth Acevedo
#Prettyboy Must Die - Kimberly Reid
The Reader series - Traci Chee
The Secret of a Heart Note - Stacey Lee
Serpentine - Cindy Pon
Shadowshaper series - Daniel Jose Older
Silver Phoenix - Cindy Pon (sequel does NOT have a PoC on the cover, thanks to a terrible redesign)
A Step From Heaven - An Na
The Summer Prince - Alaya Dawn Johnson


   

That Thing We Call a Heart - Sheba Karim
The Hate You Give - Angie Thomas
This Side of Home - Renee Watson
To All the Boys I've Loved Before trilogy - Jenny Han
The Truth of Right Now - Kara Lee Corthran
Tyler Johnson Was Here - Jay Coles
Want - Cindy Pon
The Way You Make Me Feel - Maurene Goo
When Dimple Met Rishi- Sandhya Menon
The Wrath & the Dawn duology - Renee Ahdieh
You Don't Know Me But I Know You - Rebecca Barrow








I still want to have a discussion about series cover changes, but for today, that's not the point. That discussion can wait.

5 comments:

  1. I’m not on twitter too much so I was unaware of any of this. But it truly takes a brave person to admit they made a mistake and apologize. I’m not a fan of cover redesigns mid series either and have probably tweeted my dislike of it before. I hadn’t thought about how some redesigns put a POC on the cover and how great that is. So I’m glad that was pointed out because it’s making me think about my thoughts on covers.

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  2. I didn't read through your whole thread on twitter, but I took it away as just yet another cover change and the frustration behind it. Though since I'm a white girl too, I guess that's not saying much. I'm like you though in wanting to have my covers matching in the same format whenever possible. It drives me bonkers when publishers decide to change mid-series. I don't understand why they couldn't think to have these newer covers in the first go around.

    The whole Stephanie Perkins' book situation sounds like a good fix though, being able to order dust jackets of the new covers for old hardcovers would definitely ease a few minds. Heck, I'd pay shipping just to get those for several of my mid-changed series!

    But I guess in the long run, we are just being crazy bookworms that need to have matching books. Yes it's nice and pretty, but I guess it doesn't matter in the long run.

    Though I will always be a fan of matching covers! Drives me mad to have them not matching and it happens with adult books too! Maria V. Snyder's Study series has had 3 makeovers and only the ebooks of the first trilogy are available with the newest covers and since she's an author I will collect just about everything from it drives me insane that I can't have those covers for real!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Jessica. Eventually I want to do another big post on cover changes, but I didn't want the discussion to overshadow my message for today.

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  3. I saw your tweet but didn't think anything of it -- didn't follow it or realize that anyone behaved badly or ranted back at you. Honestly, I didn't think your tweet was a big deal at all. Sorry that people reacted so strongly and made you feel bad.

    Also, I am an Asian-American reader and I JUST DON'T CARE about who is on a book cover. It honestly never crossed my mind about a "PoC" on the front of a book until people started throwing the race card around. I have never read a book and thought, "Gosh, I wish there was a 42 year old Japanese-American woman on the front." It doesn't matter at all.
    It's so ironic that in all things we are supposed to look beyond the outside (literally, don't judge by a cover) yet the cover image brings out the worst in some people. To me, that's a true example of a privileged upbringing -- to live in a country where someone can claim a person is racist and then they get so much support. We live in a victim's society!

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