Cover Matters

Cover Matters: An Introduction

Following Bloomsbury’s Whitewashing Cover Fiasco ’09-’10 (Justine Larbalestier’s Liar and Jaclyn Dolamore’s Magic Under Glass), readers were able to make some small positive change resulting in the publisher’s book jacket retraction and subsequent re-issuance of new, race-conscious covers.

This is great news. Awesome news, in fact. And, as a community of vocal, impassioned readers, we should be proud. But, if the controversy surrounding Magic Under Glass has shown us anything, it is that COVERS MATTER. The whitewashing of Liar and Magic Under Glass are not isolated incidents – this is a problem that has pervaded the industry for a very long time, and continues today.

Thus, we have decided to start a monthly feature called “Cover Matters.” The motivation for this feature is not because we think we are influential or on some sort of blogger power trip. Rather, we simply care about covers and books. A cover is a book’s first impression; it’s the equivalent of eye-contact and a smile from across the room. Covers can be an important factor in noticing and deciding to purchase a book. Beyond the first impression, we reflect on covers whilst reading and after finishing a book too.

We want this feature to dedicate more separate space to a topic that has always intrigued, irked, and befuddled us. In these posts, we plan to touch on not only racist cover practices (as with Liar and Magic Under Glass), but other cover issues too (covers in poor taste, misleading or completely inaccurate covers, and, of course, covers that manage to get it right). We are writing these pieces because we do care about cover issues – whether they be about whitewashing, slenderizing, homogenizing, etc. Cover Matters does not have any agenda beyond creating a space for an ongoing discussion of book covers.

We plan on getting guests (bloggers, authors, publishers or even cover artists if possible) to join us for these monthly pieces, with the following question in mind: Do covers matter?

In closing, we’ve got a few cover-related issues around the web that we’d like to bring up.

Firstly, we’d like to draw attention to a post over at Bookshelves of Doom that takes a look at The Mysterious Benedict Society books. It seems that while the illustrations within the book are accurate and depict a character named Sticky as “a skinny boy with light brown skin, anxious eyes (though perhaps the anxiety came from not yet having recovered his breath), and a completely bald head,”

the covers of the books show a skinny, bald, white character instead:

These books have been around since 2007 and are published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. You can contact Little, Brown here:

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publicity Department
237 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017

We encourage everyone to write to Little, Brown and share your feelings concerning these covers.

What else can you do, if you’re interested in these cover practices, beyond writing letters and blog posts? Well, you can also send a message via sales – and sign up for the Persons of Color Reading Challenge.

All you have to do is commit to reviewing as few as 1 and as many as 25 (or heck, more if you feel like it!) books from a POC author or featuring POC characters. You can find book and author suggestions HERE, and link your reviews to the challenge HERE. We are definitely on board and will make a conscious effort to review qualifying books this year.

Thirdly, as a direct result of the Magic Under Glass situation, a facebook fan group has been created, called Readers Against WhiteWashing with the following mission:


* Fails to accurately represent race and diversity
* Says people of color do not matter
* Denies readers positive and diverse representation

RAWW is committed to public criticism of publishers who misrepresent characters.

We again encourage everyone to sign up and check it out.

Finally, we’d like to close our inaugural Cover Matters post we have a question for you, dear readers and please feel free to speak your mind:

Do covers matter to you? If so, how much? If not, why?

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  • Tiah
    January 25, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Covers are important. I have purchased books before just because I liked the cover. Covers also give you the feel of the book. You know what you are getting when you see a cover.
    You can tell the time period of the story based on the clothes the models are wearing. You know that you are going to read about a kick ass heroine because she is holding a knife and has a tramp stamp. You know you are getting a romance when you see a shirtless man holding a woman with her dress hanging off.
    I become really disappointed if the cover does not match the story of the book. For me the cover and the story should flow together. The book is a complete product of the story, and if the end product doesn’t match the story it just feels off to me.
    Publishers that feel they need to put a white skinny girl on the cover to make people buy the book really need to crawl out from under the rock they have been living under. I feel by them whitewashing books covers it takes the civil rights movement that people fought so hard for back to the beginning.

  • Karen Mahoney
    January 25, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    I’m signing up for the challenge. I was going to read more books featuring characters of colour anyway – I’ve already started – but this means I have to keep myself ‘honest’ about it. 🙂 I also want to make a public statement about it and try to encourage others to do the same. I’ll blog about it later this week for sure.

    I love this new feature of yours! Rock on, Smugglers!


  • Kerry
    January 25, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    I certainly find I’m noticing covers inclding POC a lot more since this discussion began. Unfortunately, you can’t notice the misrepresentative covers without having read the book, so it’s a bit more work. I look forward to seeing more of this feature.

    Another new site worth checking out is Diversify Your Reading (

  • Helen
    January 25, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    We all like to think we don’t judge a book by it’s cover, but we do. Working in a high school library I know that a bad cover kills a book’s chances of getting read. I definitely get frustrated if a cover is misleading. I wish the authors had more say in their book’s covers.

  • KMont
    January 25, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    Great intro to the new feature, ladies. You have to judge a book by its cover, you just do. As someone pointed out, I belive it was here in another post, covers are a form of advertisement. If it’s false, it should be addressed.

  • Monday Morning Stepback: Auto vs. Buddy Blogging, and a few more Pics « Racy Romance Reviews
    January 25, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    […] swifter or decisiver than the Book Smugglers. They’ve just debuted a terrific new feature, Cover Matters. In their words: We want this feature to dedicate more separate space to a topic that has always […]

  • Elise
    January 25, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    Yes! Covers do matter. It irks me when covers don’t correctly portray the books and the characters. Creating an accurate and eye-appealing cover doesn’t seem to be THAT hard of a thing to accomplish… but apparantely it is. I love the steps you are taking to make the shelves more colorful! 🙂

  • katiebabs
    January 25, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    What a great idea! I posted the link on my side bar. The first thing you see when you come to my blog.

  • hwm
    January 26, 2010 at 2:49 am

    I’d be interested in what booksellers have to say on that topic. A cover’s primary job is it to sell the book to the book chains. Grabbing the reader’s attention comes second. Accurate representation is tertiary.
    I’d also like to hear some numbers. What were the projected sale numbers for Liar before the cover change and how do the actual ones measure up? Did the internet outrage cause a spike in numbers? Jusine Larbalestier mentioned on her blog that Liar doesn’t sell all that well despite the free press it got.

  • Gerd D.
    January 26, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Well cover sure do matter, most of all with unknown authors.
    Let’s face it: You can publish “Do Adroids dream…” under whatever cover you like and the only difference in buyers will be a preference for which they think will look better on the shelf, but looking for a new author, well, if the cover doesn’t speak to me there’s a good chance I will not bother picking the book up unless it has that one marvelous, puzzling title that makes you instantly intrigued. 🙂

    Now, would “Liar” speak to me more with a white model on the cover?
    I’m honest with you, I’m as shallow as they come, long as she’s beautiful I can’t care less.
    (There’s a stupid reason I started Tanya Huff’s Quarter’s series with Book 2)

    I also most probably wouldn’t have picked up Nancy A. Collin’s Sonja Blue series if it hadn’t been for the beautiful (first edition) German covers (The White Wolf covers are sure no selling argument IMO).

    But I do judge covers more from a age perspective, I find it fun to see how you can pick up certain used books and tell their publication date by the cover style used.

  • Kelly Metzger
    January 28, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    I look forward to reading your posts about the covers. Not only does the inaccurate representation of persons of color bother and disappoint me, so many covers are unattractive for other reasons. Typography, color, and style are so important to the cover composition. The visual art of a cover is just another way to communicate with the readers.

  • Ari
    January 28, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    Looking forward to reading this new feature, thank you for it! I agree while whitewashed covers are especially hurtful so are covers that have skinny girls on them when the book is about someone who is fat. And why aren’t there more guys on covers? Covers do matter, and I think anyone who won’t admit that is foolish. You can’t see the summary of a book from the front, in order to read it you must first spot it and then pick it up. Attention is caught by the title and cover (sometimes a title is enough, sometimes not). If I’ve heard a book is great, I’ll pick it up regardless of the cover, but if I haven’t heard of it then I need an eye-catching, accurate cover (best example, I’d heard good things about Magic and Misery by Peter Marino but it has probably one of the worst covers I’ve ever seen. *No offense Mr. Marino!* haha, but I read the book and I really liked it. I would not have picked it up were it not for book reviews and bloggers.

    I’m glad Little & Brown is changing the cover. I hope eventually, authors will get to help plan their covers (if they want) and then we won’t have these issues.

  • Peter Marino
    June 4, 2010 at 7:13 am

    No offense taken! (I didn’t draw it because the only thing I can draw is a bath…)

  • Melody Smith
    March 14, 2014 at 6:36 am

    Covers are important. I have purchased books before just because I liked the cover.

  • Caleb
    December 29, 2015 at 8:24 am

    if you’re looking for exhibitions, check out

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