Kate Hart is an author of young adult novels, and she’s brought up something pretty disturbing about nearly every book cover in the genre: Almost all of them feature white models. WTF?!
Hart reports that in 2011, out of the multitudes of book covers she looked at, 90 percent featured a white character. What’s more, on the few covers that featured black characters, a lot of the time their faces were obscured or they were behind a white person. The young adult novels she looked at also didn’t feature a single character with any kind of apparently disability–she even says there wasn’t even a single “token wheelchair.” Pretty messed up, right?
The lack of diversity on book covers is pretty unsettling. If only 58 percent of Americans are considered white, why are 90 percent of the models on young adult novels Caucasian? It’s a similar–and negative–phenomenon to the nearly impossible beauty ideals presented in a lot of fashion magazines. Most of us don’t look like the people who are supposed to be representing us on magazine and book covers, even if we’re white! It’s easy for book covers to make readers who don’t fit that particular mold–thin, white, perfectly symmetrical, and super airbrushed–feel like they’re not good enough. And that couldn’t be further from the truth, because you–yes, you!–are pretty frickin’ rad.
So who’s to blame for this? Well, that’s complicated. Publishers wouldn’t use a book cover that wouldn’t sell well, so it can be partly blamed on the consumers–that’s us! But on the flip side, we buy what’s there, so that kind of points to them, right? It’s sort of a vicious cycle, and Hart says that several authors even object to the practice, but they have little actual control over what gets on each book cover–despite being the people who wrote the book!
Something else to consider: There may be a lack of diversity in the stock photography that young adult novels feature on each book cover. It’s so much less expensive for publishers–and even websites like Gurl–to pay a flat fee for stock photos than it is to get original illustrations or hold photo shoots for every single book cover that gets made. Perhaps if the stock photos featured more people of color, the book covers would too.
What can you do? Take a look at the books you’re reading and buying. Are people of color featured on the cover or as main characters within the text? Are you choosing from authors of color too? If you’re not, start. If you are, spread the word: blog about it, put a link to your fave new young adult novels on Facebook, and get other people reading them too. Money talks, so if publishing houses see young adult novels with people of color on their book covers flying off of shelves, they may be likely to produce more of them!
Do you feel underrepresented on young adult novel book covers? Do you think young adult novel book covers are whitewashed? How do you think young adult novels could improve the art on each book cover? Tell us in the comments!