Wednesday, August 4, 2010

because of or in spite of?

real cover vs. a cover for an alternate universe(imaginary)

Last month, there was some controversy with the repackaging of my friend Cindy Pon's books. While I understand the repackaging, it makes me sad. As I mentioned earlier, Cindy's Silver Phoenix is kind of a YA/Adult version of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, in that it is an Asian quest-fantasy with a female protagonist (just so you know, it's a great book but it is much older than Where the Mountain Meets the Moon--includes an almost rape-scene--so might not be right for my third/fourth grade readers just yet!).

I thought one of the things that made Where the Mountain Meets the Moon the success that it was, is that the cover was so different from anything out there right now. But it seems in general, having an obviously minority character is not considered very marketable. I admit, I think my emotions about the Last Airbender, stemmed from the realization that the odds of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon becoming a movie are slim at best. It's just a hard sell with its ethnicity a strike against it in an already tight market.

So it makes me wonder--would my books have been more successful featuring non-Asian elements on the cover? Pretty much all of my books are Asian-American with obvious Asian covers, a conscious choice on my part. I'm delighted, honored and proud when my books are embraced. But being a multicultural author has always been a double-sided sword. On one hand there are some who feel "you got it easy, your culture is getting you published" and on the other side there are those who feel "those books will never be bestsellers, mainstream America doesn't read your kind of books."

For me, I realized the only way I could hold such a double-sided sword was just to stop fighting with it. And so far, it seems to be working. I'm extremely grateful that I've been able to build a career out of my books. I wouldn't change anything and have no plans to; but when something like Cindy Pon's cover change happens, I always wonder if the success I have had is because my books are multicultural or in spite of it? If Where the Mountain Meets the Moon had a different cover--say, with just a photograph of a misty mountain, would it have reached even more people? How would things be different?

**just to be clear, my publisher has NO intention of changing the cover of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon; the 2nd "alternative" cover is just a pretend mock-up to illustrate what my book could look like if it were "whitewashed"


storyqueen said...

Not only is Where the Mountain Meets the Moon gorgeously written, it is one of the most beautifully packaged books with the most awesome cover I have ever seen.

I love the size of it. I love the pictures inside of it. I love that feeling of, when I picked it up and thumbed through it, knowing it would be a rich book.

Rich with folklore, storytelling and promise.

Grace, I just loved it.


cindy said...

*hugs* someone actually said "you got it easy" for writing multicultural books? huh. like it's an automatic sell? uh, no.

i wrote Silver Phoenix originally as an adult fantasy and when i began querying, realized it could be YA as well. i had no luck with the adult fantasy agents so broadened to YA agents. at least one straight out said she loved my novel but couldn't see it on the market, in either adult or young adult. ouch.

the good new: my debut had interest from multiple houses. publishers DO want multicultural stories!

the bad news: it really seems the covers and stories are more homogeneous in YA right now than MG. perhaps it always has been? not sure.

the truth: multicultural is not a "key" to being published. any writer of any story or genre can tell you how hard we work to write what we love and get it out there. you are a success and inspiration, grace! because you are passionate and write what you love and write it well. don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. <3

Jennifer Morian Frye said...

I think your cover is the reason I first picked this book up. It is perfect, and aimed at the appropriate age group (which, happily still includes me), and should never be changed. That is my opinion, at least. I love that you are not fighting with your sword, as it wouldn't do much good and would just make you more stressed. : )

Rachel said...

Traditionally, the publishing industry has not been very open to having nonwhite characters on the covers of their books, because the belief seems to be that it will cut down sales. There are usually some multicultural books each year, (the majority in picturebooks, I think), but there are always many, many authors & illustrators vying for those spots. I do see more diversity in children's books each year, but there's still a long way to go! For instance, in Ursula K. LeGuin's classic Earthsea series, the majority of the main characters are clearly described as having brown skin, but despite the many cover changes over the years, they always make Sparrowhawk look white or mildly tan. I believe that Ursula K. LeGuin herself has written about her displeasure with the Earthsea covers! Wake up please, publishing & entertainment industries!

Teresa said...

It's hard to believe in this day and age that the publishing and entertainment worlds are still carrying "white only" signs.

I discovered your beautiful artwork in books by other authors when my daughters were very young. Looking for connections to their birth culture, I found "Round is a Mooncake" and "Red is a Dragon" and fell in love with your artwork. I even purchased a piece for my daughters' room! As my girls have grown, we have expanded our collection of "Grace Lin books" to your authored works as well. You are a talented and gifted woman and I'm happy to have you as a role model for my daughters of a successful Asian-American woman.

Keep doing what you do, Grace.

Grace Lin said...

Thanks, all for your kind words & comments!

I think I am extremely fortunate that I'm able to illustrate my own covers...and I also think that non-white characters on covers are less of an issue for younger books. Maybe it is because older books tend to be more photographic and younger ones more illustrative? Regardless, I do think it is an issue to be aware of!

Jenny Xue said...

As an Asian teenager, I personally LOVE books with covers that are obviously Asian. You don't tend to see many Asian-inspired books here in America. Whenever I find once I pounce on it.

So far my collection is limited to The Year of the Dog, The Year of the Rat, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Blue Jasmine, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, and a few of Linda Sue Park's novels.