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"