Wednesday, August 04, 2010

because of or in spite of?

real cover vs. a cover for an alternate universe

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.

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 redesign 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"


Doret said...

When I show Where The Mountain Meets the Moon, to non Asian customers, no one says

"but the girl on the cover is Asian I can't read this"

I don't think readers are even enough credit when it comes to diversity. Many simply want a good story.

Had a customer in recently, looking for more of your books. Her husband read Where The Mountain Meets the Moon to their daughter, they both loved it.

She got The Year of the Dog and The Night Fairy by schiltz

I hate the alternate universe cover. Its so blah

Meghan McCarthy said...

I don't think anyone is seeing an asian person on the cover and thinking "I don't want to read it." That's crazy! The first cover is better for your book--it fits. I think the second one would make for a great movie poster. It makes me think your book could be live action... like the characters are walking into a real live environment. Just do what you do best and stop worrying about it! You won the Newbery honor! Your books are going to be around for a long time and the design of that cover is beautiful. I do understand the urge to wonder - what if. All authors do it. And it's fun and educational to analyze.