White-Washed Cover Against Writer’s Wishes

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imagesJustine Larbalestier’s thriller Liar is told from the perspective of shifty Micah, an unreliable teen who describes herself as an African-American with short nappy hair. It’s no wonder that the public and even Larbalestier herself were shocked when Bloomsbury’s USA edition of the novel arrived sporting a pale, straight haired white girl on the cover. The novel hones in on the instability of the narrator and the possibility that she has committed several murders.

Larbalestier claims that she has been privately championing for a different cover. She told Publisher’s Weekly: “I love my publisher…[But] I never wanted this cover. I made it clear I didn’t want a white girl’s face. Having this cover on the front is undermining the book that I wrote.”

Bloomsbury has printed 100,000 copies of Larbalestier’s novel and is distributing them to bookstores across the world. Their choice for the American cover has called into question whether “white-washed” covers, as Larbalestier describes covers displaying white as opposed to minority faces, sell more copies in the US. As she describes in her blog, “Editors have told me that their sales departments say black covers don’t sell. Sales reps have told me that many of their accounts won’t take books with black covers.”

But some readers defend Bloomsbury’s choice because they say it reflects Micah’s undependability and forces them to question whether she may be lying about her appearance as well. Whether or not this reflects Bloomsbury’s strategy, Larbalestier’s reaction to the cover of her own book reveals how little control writers have over the publicity of their work, not to mention how pervasive racism may still be in both the publishing and consumer worlds.


Maddie Oatman has interviewed musicians and writers for The Rumpus. She's the research editor at Mother Jones, where she also writes. A Boulder transplant, she can often be found on her bike, skis, or cooking with vegetables, and she wrote her English thesis on a gay red-winged monster and Billy the Kid. Follow her on Twitter or read occasional musings on her blog Oats. More from this author →