May 16, 2012

Uncovering YA Covers: 2011

edited 5/20: These charts are not professionally researched or produced. Please take their findings with a grain of salt. Thanks.

Last year, I started a series of infographics about YA book covers, mostly as a tongue-in-cheek reaction to the Wall Street Journal's "Darkness in YA" controversy. But the further I got into compiling statistics, the more alarmed I became at the covers' monochrome approach to models. All total, I found 224 white girls-- and only nine of any other race or ethnicity.

Nine. As compared to at least 30 white girls in fancy dresses.

So this year, I decided to widen my search. Starting with The Elevensies and this Goodreads list of 2011 YA releases, I looked at 900+ covers, focusing only on US releases within the 2011 calendar year.* Originally, I planned to count every self-published, indie, Big 6, or other book on the list... but somewhere in the 600s I started losing my mind and decided to keep stats only on presses whose acquisitions are announced in Publisher's Marketplace. This still left me with 624 "traditionally published" books to count.







As you can see, last year's finding that YA covers are no more "dark" than they are "light" still stands.




And while it's not an exact count, this chart gives you a general idea of how self-published covers compare in hue.




But the color diversity ends there.

I had hoped that without "gatekeepers," self-publishing and indie presses would make up some of the ground in minority representation. Instead, out of the 200+ non-PW titles I surveyed, not a single one appears to portray a person of color.

Now, I realize this chart is not representative of all self-published and indie titles. A real assessment of self-published titles should start with Amazon (if anyone cares to take that on, I'm glad to spread the word of your results!). It's likely the chart says more about Goodreads voters*** than it does about representation-- but that possibility doesn't cheer me up much either.

So how are the gatekeepers doing?


Better... but not great.

Last year's counting was overly complicated; this year, I counted each model individually-- for example, a cover with two white girls and one latina would be counted three times overall, but my divisor of 624 remained the same. There's certainly a margin of error present in my perceptions, my questionable eyesight, and the sheer overwhelming mess of a 900+ line spreadsheet, but still.** Even if you can think of two or three examples I missed (and I hope you can!), this is just dismal.

Of the groups represented enough to show up in a pie slice, black characters/models are not only fewest in number, they're barely even on their own covers.



Latin@ and Asian characters/models do slightly better-- not much increase in numbers, but at least they're allowed to look at the camera.




It probably goes without saying that MENA, Native American, Indian, and other races/ethnicities fare the worst.




You might notice I haven't mentioned disability. That's because any visual representation = 0. Not even a token wheelchair.

There is one obvious LGBTQ cover included (on both the Asian and Latin@ charts); for more statistics, check out Malinda Lo's charts from September.

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I don't think the representation failings of modern publishing are the fault of any one person or group. Authors, agents, editors, marketing, designers, book buyers, stores, libraries, teachers, students, and readers all bear some responsibility, but I present these charts with the intention of furthering a collective discussion, not to lay blame.

Thankfully, there are lots and lots of extant posts for you to read and consider regarding the causes of these trends. It seems like I link one every single week in the YA Highway round up; if you're not a follower, here are a few from the past couple of months:

That should get you started.

Also: I said this last year in the small print, but some readers missed it, so this year I'm saying it big and bold: I am a big 'ole hypocrite straight white middle class girl who's written two unpublished books about straight white middle class girls. But they aren't the only books I'll ever write (and I haven't finished a third since last year's post). In the meantime, I am trying to be an ally in the best way I know how. Suggestions for improvement are always welcome.

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So! As a community, we suck at race and ethnicity. How are we doing in terms of gender? Well, if you're looking at sheer numbers, then ladies, we are doing awesome.



I mean, sure, 20% of our models appear to be missing a limb or part of a head, but at least a couple of guys get the axe treatment too.



And only 15.5% are turned away from the camera... which is up 5.5 from last year, but that's not a big deal...



And there's nothing inherently wrong with 14% of the ladies wearing a fancy dress...




Unless you compare that 14% to the aforementioned 3% or so that makes up the entirety of our POCs, in which case it's a little alarming.

But hey! Only about 6.6% of our girls appear to be dead this year! Which is... still more than our POC representation! But only 1% are actively drowning! So... that's... kind of a win?




Honestly, I really don't think there's anything inherently wrong with girls in dresses or artfully cropped shots or even otherwordly underwater pictures.

But the dead girl thing. That really wears on me.

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I haven't updated last year's "girliness" charts because I think between the color breakdown above and the object breakdown below, you can draw your own conclusions. But I will make a few observations:
  • Filigree. It's so hot right now.
  • Flowers. Only half as hot as filigree.
  • It turns out there's only one "l" in filigree but the object chart crashes my computer every time I open it so I'm not going to edit the image. Please forgive me, grammar gods.
  • Trees, water, hearts, moons, snow, sparkles, blood, necklaces, the ocean, birds, fire, grass, stars, leaves, reflections, clouds, and hands are the other most popular cover images. I thought butterflies and masks would figure much higher. (Also, I did some dumb things like counting trees and branches separately. Same with swords, blades, and daggers. Your mathematical mileage may vary.)



The discussion in last year's comments was pretty thorough, and I'm not sure there's much more to add here (though feel free to weigh in, provided it's done respectfully -- my troll tolerance is non-existent). Relevant links are also welcome.

Thanks for reading, and if you write a response or related post, link it below or submit it for Friday's round up!

edited 5/20: If you are commenting on this post, please read my follow up first. It addresses some FAQs and provides more information.

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* This meant several of The Elevensies were excluded, as their release dates were actually late December 2010.

** Obviously compiling charts such as these puts me in the uncomfortable position of judging who looks "black/asian/latin@ enough" to "count." As such, I've taken book blurbs and plot descriptions into account in an effort to make sure my own perceptions and prejudices are balanced as much as possible. 


*** I am one of those voters, as are pretty much all my friends. Nobody get your panties in a twist.

**** I know authors don't have much say in their covers. Where possible, I've purposely used books that belong to friends or that I've recommended, because I don't want anyone to feel like I'm picking on their title or cover.

***** All original cover images are copyright their various holders.

****** An analysis of character, author, and publishing professional race/ethnicities would be a really helpful corollary to these charts, but short of finding a job that pays me to read and track all these books, it's just not in the cards (honestly, I don't think even these charts are in the cards for next year, unfortunately-- my family wants me to pay attention to them or something? I don't even know.)


Let me know if you want to be my wealthy benefactor, however. I am ALL ABOUT IT. 




127 comments:

  1. You blow my freakin' mind, Kate Hart.

    PUB MARKETING Y U NO HIRE THIS MASTERMIND?????

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  2. I'm torn between awe at these stats and awe at how epic this post is. Seriously, you are amazing - these charts are incredible.

    I wonder what the stats are for YA books with non-white MCs in comparison with those that feature them on covers. I know it's probably still a fraction in comparison with books with white MCs, but...maybe a slightly larger percentage? All the cases of "whitewashing" we see on covers - and besides that, all the books that just have "object" covers - just makes me wonder.

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    1. I was just discussing this with a student today, how many times if a book does have an MC of color, the cover will be graphic (Like KARMA by Cathy Ostlere for example) rather than feature a model.

      I started a tumblr of images that might inspire cover designers (and writers) to think a bit more diversely. (http://angelhorn.tumblr.com/)

      Delete
    2. Yes, that is so frustrating! Were the characters in Legend by Marie Lu non-white? I remember picturing the leads as olive skinned with dark hair. Anyway, that cover has no people, it's just the title: Legend.

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  3. Kate, you're awesome. That is all.

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  4. This really puts things in perspective. And it's really disappointing 90% percent of YA covers featured white characters, leaving only 10% being minorities. I believe that needs to change. And I really hope it does, if not this year, then next year and the years to come.

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  5. I'm so impressed by your analysis and graphs! It's really unfortunate that more POC aren't on more YA covers (and I say this as a POC YA writer/reader myself). I hope as more attention is placed on this issue, it will change.

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  6. WOW. This was one massively epic post. I don't know how you do it...but I'm glad that you do. Seriously. People need to be aware of the lack of diversity in YA.

    I wrote a blog post on covers a while ago (http://raven-ashley.blogspot.com/2012/04/problem-isnt-just-covers.html) and I came to the conclusion that the covers weren't the problem, but the fact that the actual characters inside the book were. If there isn't a POC as a main character, then they're not going to appear on the cover.

    Again, great post! Thanks for putting this together. :)

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  7. This is a TINY thing to point out in the scheme of things, since I completely agree with your thoughts on what these graphs and research show-
    but Living Violet has a biracial (Black) girl on the cover. Yes, she's standing behind a guy still but at least it's very clear that she's not white.

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12363795-living-violet

    The sequel would be a good one for 2012 books as well. I'm hoping we'll see an improvement in 2012 in this though, in regards to covers.

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    1. Oops, I did miss that one, thanks Brenna.

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    2. Another one that could work- I was just at a Kelley Armstrong signing and she was talking about how she insisted that the model on the covers of The Gathering & The Calling must be of Native American descent - I believe she's actually biracial, but that's still something too. I thought it was a neat story for Kelley to share with us though.

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  8. A Twofer for your 2012 count, Cuttlefish by Dave Freer form Pyr. There is a sequel in the works too.

    http://www.pyrsf.com/Cuttlefish.html

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  9. Oh wow. That must have taken a lot of time and brains invested. But I appreciate it a lot. This topic of discussion has been bugging me for a while (especially because I'm clearly one of the minority who is not a white girl or even a native english speaker) but the reality has hit me in the face, and hard. And it's bigger and more worrying than I ever imagined.

    I'm horrified no one has done anything to change this "trend", it's sad, and we all (everyone that is somehow involved with YA lit) should be ashamed.

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  10. Kate, that's an amazing analysis of YA book cover. Hoepfully the bpublisher wil allow you to choose the cover for your own YA book.

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    1. :) I fully expect for karma to hand me a drowning headless white girl in a fancy dress covered in blood pictured from the back someday.

      But seriously, I don't think any of these elements are inherently bad, except for the representation imbalance. The rest I just charted because I knew people were curious.

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  11. I think, in order to see more non-white protagonists, we need to see more non-white authors. Like you, I'm white and female. It's what I know. I've dared to write secondary characters in another ethnicity, but I just don't know the cultures well enough to pull off a main character. It's not that I wouldn't love to, I just couldn't do it justice and I know I'd get called on it.

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    1. My thoughts exactly. Well said.

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    2. It would be nice to see more non-white authors in Young Adult fiction, and even though there are a few out there, most of them don't really write non-white characters, and I think it's going to be a while before we see a surge of non-white authors.

      I also don't think it should just be the non-white authors job to write non-white characters. There are a lot of non-white authors who write white characters and they're not white.

      A lot of people write 'what they know' and that's fine, but when a lot of people have that mindset, then there is never going to be any diversity in YA. If you don't know something, then it doesn't mean you can't learn.

      So...I'm not saying it's any one person's job to help diversify YA, but the job shouldn't solely be on non-white authors because there aren't a lot of them. Not only that, but everyone is going to have a different perspective on the cultures. I'm a black teen, but that doesn't mean I can speak for other black teens. That said - non-white author can't speak for other non-white people.

      I'm not asking you (or anyone else) to stop writing white characters just because it's 'what you know' but I am asking you to not limit yourself. Ask questions, learn something from someone different then you. Broaden what you know.

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    3. Though, one would be surprised at how much of writing ethnicity is just like writing anything else. I, for one, always wonder what's going to happen if this whole agent-hunting publishing-deal pursuit thing works out and people discover that I write about white boys.

      There is this assumption that POCs write POCs, but sometimes...we don't?

      I agree with Raven's comments. I think honestly it would be easier for me to write a Latina girl than it would be to write the boys I write--I am, after all, a girl, so we have that in common. It's just stretching in different direction.

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    4. I'm white, and I write Asian characters. I feel like the white girls are getting plenty of page time, and I really have nothing to add to that conversation.

      Let's stop being scared! Have some respect, do some research, and write outside your box a little bit. It's the only way we can get past this.

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    5. Here is some useful advice/encouragement/information/etc. about writing characters of colour, even if you are white or otherwise have a different ethnicity than that of your character(s).

      Part I: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/03/12/mary-ann-mohanraj-gets-you-up-to-speed-part-i/

      Part II: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/03/13/mary-anne-mohanraj-gets-you-up-to-speed-part-ii/

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    6. If you'd like, you can check out my "How to Write POC Characters" post... which talks about the fact that people of color don't necessarily have different cultures only because of the color of their skin. (Or will in the second part to this series, anyway.) Location is really what creates a character's culture, and if you're from a small town in Missouri, you could very easily write a POC character who is also from a small town in Missouri. I'd love to see more people, both white and POC, writing POC characters. :)

      Anyway, here's my post if you want to check it out: http://kheryn-casey.blogspot.com/

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  12. Amazing, Kate. Thank you for this!

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  13. This is an amazing chart.

    The thing is, as a brown girl, it is SO HARD to sell a book about a brown girl. My first novel went nowhere with publishers. As if there could only be one novel at one house at a time about a Latina.

    I don't think publishers are in it for social change. They want books that sell and if it takes an anorexic girl in a ball gown, then so be it.

    I think there is also something to be said about the people doing the writing. The problem is that as writers we are encouraged to "write what we know." I wonder how many of those authors are authors of "color." People shy away from writing non-white characters because they're afraid they may offend if they're not 100% accurate. Hell, I'M not 100% accurate in my own depictions, but I write the kids I grew up with.

    There's a big deficit SOMEWHERE. I just hope we can change for the better :) Thank you for bringing this all in such a visual way!

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    1. Thanks for this. I have 3 works in progress all with lead or supporting characters of color. I'm white. Sadly, I have a concern in the back of my mind that maybe people will have an issue with a white person writing about non-white characters. But either way, I'm going to write what I want.

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  14. The thing that bothers me most about this is that I feel like I can't comment completely because I am white, middleclass. That's the world I grew up in, it's the world I predominantly depict in my books.

    I feel for minority groups and wish there were more protags, covers, plotlines that centered on them... but I can't help thinking that must sound like platitudes.

    I'm right behind Elle's comment. We had a similar discussion to this on my blog a year or so ago (about protags, not covers) and I got bashed for only having a secondary POC character. When I expressed what Elle suggested - that it's a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' equation, an author of color commented and backed me up.

    She suggested that we needed to be encouraging more young POC's to see writing as an outlet. That they are in the best position to write POC's because they've experienced that life.

    I'm right behind her, but what can do about that? Most of the girls I come in contact with are white and middleclass.... which takes us back to paragraph one.

    Rock, meet hard place.

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    1. Aimee, I'm also white, middle class. There is definitely a "damned if you do/don't" element, but I don't think that's an excuse to throw our hands up completely (not that you're suggesting we do that!).

      I think the next best thing to writing POCs is reading them. For instance, I really thought I was doing a good job of reading diverse characters and authors-- until YA Highway did a "your favorite black author/character" prompt and I realized I couldn't come up with an answer. It feels disingenuous at first, but I think we have to make a very concentrated effort to seek out books by and about POCs-- and then spread the word. "Use your privilege to fight your privilege" is the phrase I see come up in discussions a lot, and reading/promoting seems like a logical first step from there.

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    2. I respectfully disagree. :) POC authors write about white characters all the time. To me, it shouldn't be only a POC's burden to create a realistic world.

      To me, there are always going to be people who are offended when it comes to POC characters - even when POC are writing the novels, not just white people - because, unfortunately, right now POC don't get to be just human beings. People are always worrying about stereotypes and representation and authenticity, while white characters get to just be. But, the more people write POC characters, the farther away we get from that. So I very strongly encourage everyone, both white and POC, to create more POC characters. :)

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    3. For what it's worth, I'm choosing to make all my MC's of a different ethnicity than white. I figure that if I can write stories about raccoons, medieval Catholics, Dante, and mountain lions -- none of which I have personally met -- then dang it I should be able to write about a mixed-race girl living in my hometown.

      I don't expect to get it all right. I'm going to get some of it wrong, and not everybody is going to be happy with the job I did. That's okay. Sometimes the best thing is just to do your damndest and if you mess up, learn from it and try again.

      P.S. Kate, the amount of work you put into this just turns my brain into a puddle of mush. You are as a goddess to me. *worships*

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    4. I think the idea that POC writers don't view writing as an outlet is a bit insulting. What people see as a lack of interest among POC to "see writing as an outlet," is actually a lack of interest among those in the publishing industry to support POC writers.

      Also, why do you only come into contact with white, middle-class girls?

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  15. This is absolutely fantastic, Kate, as is the thoughtful discussion. I'm going to recommend it to my readers (few as they are!) on my blog roundup tomorrow.

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  16. Wonderful post, must have taken so much work, am in awe!

    I may be dreadfully mistaken and I hate to add to these numbers but doesn't the cover of Goliath feature the white Austrian hero and the white English heroine? I hope I am just being an idiot late at night...

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    1. Thanks! You're not an idiot-- it's just a good illustration of how trying to judge race by appearance is fraught with peril. :) I haven't read the book and thought she looked Asian for some reason.

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  17. visually stunning and full of fantastic info, as always!

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  18. Cool infographics!! I'm going to save this page and go back to it after work to fully read through.

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  19. Great job on distributing covers into all of these different groups. Interesting statistic for sure!

    Stéphanie from Tynga's Reviews

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  20. How interesting. I'm always curious about whether we make trends or merely follow them. (Likely it's a combination of both, but to what extent?)

    For instance, most readers--of any age--are female, so that would explain why there are so many more pictures of women on book covers; women are going to prefer a female main character.

    But are there more female readers because it's somehow natural, or because there's little published which appeals to boys and men?

    I assume that the reading market for people who are not white is likewise small in comparison to the white market, but is that cultural, or is it because black, Asian, and Latina women get tired of reading about rich little white girls?

    Self-publishing could break this wide open, though. Traditional publishers only want things that are safe, and if they see that only 5% of their readers are gay, or only 20% are male, they're less likely to risk publishing a book which appeals only to that segment.

    People who self-publish, though, don't have to worry about that. While their book may only appeal to a small, select segment of the population--and not be a huge income earner as a result--they can enjoy non-monetary rewards, such as the acclaim of their peers, or bring to light difficult issues within their culture which need to be addressed. In short, they can do good with their books; their publication need not be solely about making money.

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    1. Hi Keri - Self publishing does have potential to make some inroads, but from the little I looked at, it hasn't yet. There's some interesting conversation down thread about the challenge of finding stock photography, too. Thanks for reading!

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  21. Unbelievable! This is an incredible compilation Kate. If someone in publishing doesn't pay for you to make a third annual cover list, I will be so pissed.

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  22. I work in a school in London that has a huge proportion of pupils from ethnic minorities - over 70% are black african - and although they rarely comment on the lack of black characters on the cover of books, they do judge books by their covers, and I have a number of girls that will not read a book if there is a picture of a girl on the front. I wouldn't be surprised if that is because subconsciously they want to be able to imagine the characters as any colour. In most books race doesn't make any difference! Brilliant post, and I applaud your efforts in collating the statistics!

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  23. Wow, this is pretty much the best YA cover post I've ever read. How much time did that take???

    I'm hoping the indies break the POC vicious cycle. I've seen quite a few lately that were NOT just pretty white girls. There is an issue, though. Even if the characters in the indie books aren't just pretty white girls, speaking from experience, a lot of them use readily available stock photos. The majority of THOSE are pretty white girls. So, if there are less to choose from or less variety, even indies might not be able to show more diverse covers. Many of us can't afford custom covers.

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    1. Oh wow, I never thought about that, re. stock photos. Very interesting!

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    2. I was going to mention that, too. The heroine of my novel (indie-published) is half Japanese. I spent hours and hours and hours searching stock photo sites and then I used a photo of a tree and some lightning. With no budget, finding representative cover art is pretty challenging.

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  24. A few weeks back I was browsing Goodreads' "Top YA Books of 2012" and made a disturbing discovery, perfectly in line with what is said here: every model featured on the first 25 books of the list was white and wearing some sort of flowing, fancy dress. It sparked a bit of controversy over whether this is the fault of authors or of publishers, who are responsible for cover design.

    I reblogged this (careful not to hotlink your awesome charts and such), I'd love to be a part of your Friday roundup! http://prolificnovelista.com/2012/white-girls-dead-girls-and-fancy-dresses/

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  25. Wow. That was an amazing analysis. I have been hearing a lot about the lack of diversity in children's books recently. Katie Davis did a podcast with Lee & Low just last week.

    As a person of East Indian origin, I think one of the reasons you don't see a lot of minority main characters is that probably aren't a lot of minority authors, afterall who better to write that character then someone from that race. As for cover models that is most definitely even less. I can't speak for other races but as far as Asian/Indian culture goes heck we are all taught to do well in school and then become a doctor, engineer, or lawyer. That is slowly changing as we now finally see Indian/Asian doctors on TV shows. The other thing that has to happen is we probably need more editors and agents and bosses in the publishing houses to be non-Caucasian as well. I believe the change will happen it is just a matter of at what rate.
    FYI: I am an engineer by day, an aspiring picture book write/book blogger by night.

    Thanks,
    Darshana

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  26. Two things: "The Shattering" by Karen Healey has New Zealanders in it--Maori & Pacific Islanders, so you can take that one out of of "black models" and "Goliath" by Scott Westerfeld is about an Austrian prince and a British commoner, so you can also cross that one off the list of "Asian models" .... and this is the part where I heave a big sigh.

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  27. How did you make these beautiful charts?! Amazing! Is it a special program (I mean, it has to be right?) Thanks for this post, really incredible.

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    1. I generated the charts in Publisher as Excel objects, then exported them as png files and edited them in Photoshop. There's probably an easier way to do it though!

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  28. Late to the party, but finally here thanks to Roni!

    Kate, you put so much time and thought into these posts, I'm never not impressed. Thanks for the stats.

    Unknown, as far as I know, many Pacific Islanders identify themselves as black in NZ, so I'm going to consider them black as well. I look forward to reading The Shattering, actually!

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    1. The Maori and Islanders use the term "black" to refer to their own culture sometimes, as do the Aborigines of Australia. However many white New Zealanders and Aussies use the term "black" to refer to anyone with brown skin including South Asians, Islanders etc. Just goes to show how easy it is to get confused with labels. I sometimes think half the problem is not knowing what to call people.

      Let's say I was designing a book cover with an African British protagonist and I wanted to search for some stock images. If I search "black" and "girl" I get a lot of white girls in black dresses. If I search African I get pictures of tribeswomen. If I search African American I get girls in cheerleader outfits - African descent yes, but not British. Believe me, I've tried these searches and had these problems.

      Delete
    2. I think there's a significant difference in cultures describing themselves as black in their own cultural context and characters from those cultures being identified as "black" in a post like this, which is presumably aimed at a world audience, being on the internets. I'm pretty sure most readers, seeing "black", assume the character is either African or a member of the African diaspora.

      Maori are neither African nor part of the African diaspora, and I think identifying a Maori character as black in this worldwide context is unfortunately misleading. The intent is noble, but the effect is to erase a Maori character on a cover from the record, and I think that's a little problematic.

      Karen Healey.

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    3. Hi Karen - Apologies for mis-categorizing your cover. Erasing anyone from the record was obviously not my intent-- I tried to judge the images as if I were passing them on a shelf, but I knew your books weren't set in the US and should have looked into the description more carefully. Again, my apologies.

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  29. Um, wow. Just...wow. This is so interesting.

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  31. Kate - first, thanks so much for linking back to Elyse's "Hollywood Whitewashing" post on our site. We're so happy to hear that the post is adding to the ongoing, vital conversation.

    I am so, so impressed with this post. The visual way you present the stats really packs a punch, but I also think it makes the data much more accessible for people who might not really be aware of the trends, in YA publishing and beyond.

    - Tanya from Geekquality (reposting earlier comment as it initially showed up as "Unknown")

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    1. Hi Tanya! I'm really enjoying Geekquality-- so glad you made it over here! :)

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  32. This.is.amazing. Kate! (and amazing food for thought)

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  33. Just thinking about the amount of time you must have put into this makes my head hurt. Thank you so much for enduring that for us! This is... this is... wow.

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  34. These charts are simply amazing. It makes me think of why these trend exist.

    I don't think in most book covers that are cutting of or obscuring the heads of characters in order to sexualize them...but instead to get rid of their identity. Which may sound just as bad, but I believe it often helps the reader to create their own story and characters in their head. Although this is obviously not the case with some books, which are clearly using sex to sell. I think the majority of covers that do this is harmless, and I actually enjoy making my own visuals and characters in my mind.

    Women are typically displayed in book more often because women read them more(as stated many time before). Which is a pity, reading is great and I wish men where more inclined to do it, and also had more books targeted at them.

    What upsets me the most is the uneven distribution of races, which leads me to many questions. Do whites read more than other races? Are more authors white? That would be really interesting to know.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking charts!

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  35. Seeing as only 72.4 percent of the population is white I can see that the numbers are slightly skewed towards white people, but only by 17.6 percent. Which is less than your post seems to imply.

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    1. I'm going to send you over to this Metafilter thread, where there's already a discussion going on about those numbers. (Short answer: 2010 census date shows that the age group 10-21 is only 58% white.)

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    3. You know, I went to bed right after I read your comment. Now that I'm awake, I'm kind of horrified that anyone can look at these numbers and argue that they're only slightly skewed. The fact is that if you're a black teen, you could see yourself represented on eight book covers last year. Eight. Out of 600+.

      That doesn't take into account the likelihood of actually spotting those covers, because which titles actually reach brick and mortar stores or library shelves is a whole other level of consideration.

      In other words, there are lots of nitpick arguments you can make about the particulars. But the fact is that there's an issue. And even if the difference is only 17%, it's still an issue. And if you don't see the reason that it's an issue, then we have a fundamental disagreement that goes far deeper than my methods of analysis.

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    4. I suppose then that we have a fundamental disagreement. Because If you are saying it should be represented 50/50 then what you are actually asking for is more POC representation even though there are far more whites in the US. Which is not fair and is reverse discrimination.

      The numbers I got were from the 2011 census but were not specific to any age group. It was just in general. And it was not specifically 17% black. That also includes other minorities.

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    5. You have to sort the results; I'm not following your math, but that's okay.

      Nowhere did I suggest representation should be 50/50. I'm suggesting 1% is ridiculous.

      As for "not fair" and "reverse discrimination," I'm going to direct you to John Scalzi's blog. I'm really not up for a privilege debate when other folks have done it so much better.

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  36. South Asians are doing quite badly indeed, it must be said. One quarter of the world's population and never mind cover art, they didn't even make it to this blog post analysing cover art. Why no love, Kate?

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    1. There are lots of groups I didn't mention specifically-- the post is already pretty TL;DR so I didn't want to make a laundry list of exclusions, because I assumed the length of the list was implied. Sorry if you felt left out though! :(

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  37. Hiya! I posted one of your infographics on my blog: http://prettybooks.tumblr.com/post/23302178806

    Did you see that John Green reblogged? Pretty awesome.

    Thank you for creating such interesting infographics!

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    1. I saw that! And subsequently almost had a heart attack. Thanks!

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  38. "You might notice I haven't mentioned disability. That's because any visual representation = 0. Not even a token wheelchair."

    This is appalling, but it should be noted explicitly (as I suspect you were implying anyway) that most disabilities have no outwardly visual representation. A person with a disability generally looks no different than anyone else.

    The wheelchair is a bit of cliche, and it can cause problems, as many people assume that if you don't have a wheelchair or some incredibly obvious disability then you're faking it to claim disability benefits or get better parking, or something.

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    1. Yes, definitely, the wheelchair suggestion was completely tongue-in-cheek. My family has actually dealt with that quite a bit-- the assumption that no outward indication of disability somehow invalidates a diagnosis or claim.

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    2. And definitely NOT a disability, but because reading in disability studies led me to fat studies, I often think of them as adjacent - along with queer studies, all three are concerned with bodies - BUT I would be willing to bet that there weren't too many YA covers featuring Fat, or even simply average, non-thin, characters.

      The racial disparity is appalling, and the writing I've seen online in the last year from all kinds of people who should know suggests that this is more the fault of publishing/marketing than through any huge lack of manuscripts featuring protagonists of color.

      Several commenters have expressed discomfort about being white, middle-class themselves; you don't have to be a person of color to recognize racial disparity when you see it, and to be pissed off by it. In the same way that feminism is for women AND men, anti-racism is for people of all colors. The remedy, in this case, may not be for all white writers to suddenly start featuring Protagonists of Color, but putting some pressure and directing some attention on the issue is something everyone can do.

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  39. You'll be happy to note that I did hear from one Indie whose cover is a young black couple. Is it YA? Perhaps we're stretching it. One things you don't mention really deals with one of the most underrepresented groupsL the overweight and obese. Can you just imagine if obese people were on covers? Because they are not, we are contributing to the cultural images of slim is gorgeous and overweight/obese is damn ugly and loathsome. So the lack of diversity extends...on and on.

    Joined your blog. Love to have you return the favor and join mine. What do I blog about? The point I raised and other things that relate. http://www.thefatandtheskinnyonwellness.com/2012/05/food-revolution-begins-now.html
    Thanks, a pleasure.

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  40. Wow. This post truly is epic. I know how long it took me to create my blog post on Beauty in Books comparing the looks of YA heroines, and that only included 50 books. So yeah, I totally am amazing by your awesome skillz.

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  41. This and your follow-up post are awesome. Sometimes the act of shining a spotlight on something can help facilitate change, and what a bright spotlight you've created. I'm linking to your posts on Tues. and hope that writers continue to push for change regarding diversity in book covers. You rock!

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  42. It looks like you missed a book, that, based on the rest of your findings, might be the *only* YA cover with a realistic depitction of a black character facing the camera...

    Ian McDonald's PLANESRUNNER, which came out in Dec. 2011. It could be better, but it counts.

    I'd keep an eye out for that publisher, actually. Pyr Books started out doing science fiction/fantasy, and now that they've expanded into YA, I'm noticing that they're doing a pretty good job w/r/t depicting characters of color on their covers. They've also got Dave Freer's CUTTLEFISH, coming out this summer, K.D. McEntire's forthcoming REAPER, and E.C. Myers' FAIR COIN and QUANTUM COIN (full disclosure: I'm E.C. Myers' agent, which is why I'm familiar with the Pyr list). Five books on a small YA list is quite a few.

    You'd think what Pyr's up to would be the norm -- they're quietly becoming more diverse without being attention-seeking about it -- but that appears to be the exception.

    I should also call out the cover artist, Sam Weber. He's great, did a good chunk of these cover paintings, and I hope he gets many, many commissions for covers in the future.

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    1. That is a big chunk-- way to go, Pyr. I was chatting with Myers yesterday on Twitter, actually, and admiring his cover.

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  43. The ethnicity and gender of the commenters on this blog may give us a clue to part of the cause of under-representation. But having said that, it would be interesting to look at the actual demographics of the YA reading population -- as opposed to the demographics which are obviously being targeted by the marketing wonks in the industry.

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  44. Oh wow, thanks for the incredible amount of work you put into this, Kate! Having the stats all laid out like this goes a long way in helping people to understand just how skewed the numbers are and how much work is left to do. I'm really in awe of how you put this together.

    One more cover from 2011 with a black character is TANKBORN by Karen Sandler (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11341277-tankborn), which was released from Lee & Low's new Tu Books imprint. Since Lee & Low's niche is diversity, we make a special effort to keep POC on our covers whenever possible, since there are so few books out there that do that, as you've noted. And we've never felt like our sales suffer when we do. But this is definitely a problem that needs to be tackled at ALL levels - among publishers, authors, bloggers, readers, booksellers, and educators- in order for real change to happen. I am glad to see so many comments and links to this post, because it means we're on the way :)

    Hannah (Lee & Low Books)

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    1. I can't believe I missed TANKBORN-- I link to Stacy Whitman from Tu all the time in the round up.

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  45. I'm Nnedi Okorafor's editor -- Sunny (her protagonist) would have been front and center no matter what her skin color; she happens to be albino. Note also that this is one of the few YA covers featuring art, rather than a photograph (and the art is by Jillian Tamaki, who is Japanese-Canadian, and consulted extensively with Nnedi about the accuracy of the image).

    Sharyn November

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    1. It's a lovely cover-- I only noted that the character is albino to head off any arguments about whether or not it belonged in that category, not as a critique (though it does look like one in context, for which I apologize). Thanks for weighing in, Sharyn.

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    2. ..and also, I noticed that you didn't mention Drama High for the positive side of black YA protagonists who are on covers...

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  46. There are some posts here saying that white people are uncomfortable writing POC characters, and I really just want to take a moment to encourage people of all races to write more POC characters. There's a misconception that POC are somehow inherently different, or have a different culture, because of the color of their skin... But that isn't so! Skin color is literally made of the same genes that decide the color of a person's hair or eyes. Is a blonde person inherently different from a person with brown hair?

    Culture is something that's learned, so if you feel more comfortable writing about someone who is of your own culture, then write a character who's from your hometown - and feel free to make them a POC. POC all have different personalities, beliefs, ways of speaking - just like white people. There's no one right way to write a POC character, so I really hope more people can feel more comfortable writing outside of their race.

    Kate, you're one of the greatest allies I know. :)

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    1. I noticed that too and was going to comment on it. I'm a black girl and have had white males, black females, hispanic females, black males, and white females all as lead characters in stories that I've written. The characters just formed and came to me, didn't realize that I was some anomaly because I could dare to write more than black girls in Chicago.

      it amazes me that people can invent whole new worlds, write and research different time periods, create monsters/vampires/aliens, but writing someone from the same area as them who happens to be a different skin hue is a daunting task

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  47. What about the very popular, best-selling YA series Drama High???

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    1. Like I said in the follow up post, it either wasn't on the list, or I just missed it. Nothing intentional, just a function of looking at over 900 covers on a small screen. My apologies.

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  48. This is great, important work.

    However, for the record, the girl pictured on the front of The Shattering is not Black - she's Polynesian/Pacific Islander. (The character is specifically Maori, but I don't think that's true of the model).

    Karen Healey.

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  49. We've come to expect and maybe even accept white-washing from Hollywood (but we shouldn't). Let's make sure we don't allow the same from New York.

    Thanks so much for putting all this work into this post, Kate. It's a story that needs to be told.

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  50. This was a fantastic post!

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  51. Your research is very well done & you should work with someone to get it published as an article in the very least! This has doctoral dissertation written all over it and I bet someone will jump on it. The only thing an academic researcher would have done is roped in a couple of grad students (preferably minority) so that they could compare their assumptions of the ethnicity of the models and they would have spent more time saying, "appeared to be African or African-American". Guessing someone's race or ethnicity from a photo can be very difficult, but your strongest point is made when you compare whites to all models who appear to be racial or ethnic minorities. You could also accomplish this in an interesting way by creating a diverse team of teen readers to do this with (for) you--maybe through a public library teen program.

    It makes me wonder about the demographics of the readers of the books? Do white girls make up the majority of YA readers. I also wonder whether marketing research has shown that minority readers prefer covers without people on them. This seems to be a factor in books aimed at boys as well as girls--I remember talk about how Hunger Games did well with boys because they did not put a girl on the cover.

    You are made of awesome! Keep it up.

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    1. I would love if someone took this as a starting point and did a legitimate study!

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    2. I'm applying to get either my MLS in children's lit or my MFA in children's lit....I would love to do this as a thesis. Now, to get me into the programs ;-)

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    3. I read a researcher's experiment using movie covers. He divided people into groups and then gave them movie plots and fake movie posters. In all cases, white people indicated they would prefer to see the movie with the white people on the cover no matter what the plot was. I think a similar thing could be done with book plots and book covers. The study was by Andrew Weaver at the University of Indiana I believe.

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  52. i was discussing this with myself earlier; it was part of the reason i took a brief hiatus from reading. i was wondering where (forgive my selfishness) the girls like me were.

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    1. I don't think that's selfish at all.

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    2. That's exactly why I started writing. I was wondering where the girls like me were as well so I started writing about them.

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  53. Wow, this was super cool. Very informative and in-depth analysis of 2011 YA book covers. I was re-directed here from... now I don't even remember, because my mind is so blown. I'm saving this to my hard drive for posterity's sake -- is that okay with you?

    I'm now following you on Blogger. Lol.

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    1. Sure, just don't sell it-- I don't own any rights to these covers! :)

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    2. (obviously I know you aren't going to do that. I was just kidding. okay awkwardness over. for now.)

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  54. I am so blow away by this amazing post. Truly you are some kind of wonderful to put your time and energy into this massive undertaking and to care enough about diversity in YA. It actually really touched me. Because if more people like you cared about the issue, then it would be addressed. And if more writers, regardless of their own background and ethnicity, tried to write a more colorful world, then it would also make a huge impact. Like someone said earlier, don't worry about offending people. If you do research and you treat your characters cultural backgrounds with respect, you'll have more fans than detractors. You only run into problems when you stereotype (which is always about not doing the hard work and looking for a shortcut).

    Zoe Marriott did a wonderful blog post for me on being a white woman who writes about POC characters. She said "It didn't really occur to me until later on that putting a pseudo-Japanese heroine with a black hero might be controversial. But when it did, I shrugged and thought 'Bring it on'. Thankfully, the response has generally been very positive, which convinces me once again that getting worried about possible backlash before it happens is a waste of time." I agree with this. Don't worry about negativity, just write a good story!

    Anyway - I'll stop before I get too longwinded! I just wanted to say thanks for linking to my post and You are so AWESOME!!!

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    1. Hey Ellen!
      Nice to see you found this post as well!

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  55. Great post! I'll defnitely do a research from the translator's point of view!

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  56. I absolutely love this post and decided I needed to share it with other book enthusiasts. I'm featuring it in this week's Harley Bear Post (my blog's e-newspaper). Thanks for giving us some insight on the trends in covers. I'm always fascinated by YA covers and I hadn't realized there were so many similar covers out there.
    -Melissa

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  57. Bravo!

    You might like my "Unbearable Whiteness of Literacy Instruction"
    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.mcreview.com/members_login/2008/Spring/whitenessofliteracy_article2.pdf

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    1. Added it to the resources list, thanks Jane!

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  58. Not to be facetious, but are brown people, then, non-existent in YA covers or what? Or do they come under Asian? It doesn't look like it, from the selection of covers labelled under the Asian category...

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    1. "Brown" is a pretty broad category, but if you mean MENA or Native American for instance, then yeah. Non-existent sounds about right. Bestest Ramadan Ever features a female POC but that's the only one that comes to mind at the moment, unless the covers Brenna mentioned above are from this year.

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  59. I was going to say that you missed Now Playing: Stoner & Spaz II but then I remembered no where on the cover do you know that he's disabled. Only the title gives you some clue to it. :( Boo on the publishing houses for this (but then again, as writers, how often do we get a say in the covers/models...really?)

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  60. This is such an interesting and informative post. Thank you for taking the time to research this and make the graphics.

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  61. Thanks for this post. I've noticed this a lot as well. I write under two names Sybil Nelson and Leslie DuBois and all of my books feature diverse characters. I struggle with covers as well. In my Priscilla the Great series, I didn't put the black character on the cover until book 4. In all of my Leslie DuBois covers, however, there is a minority on the cover. I talk about this a little in an interview I had a few months ago here: http://enchantedinkpot.blogspot.com/2012/02/interview-with-sybil-nelson-author-of.html

    The thing is, the publishing industry is convinced that white people will not buy books with non whites on the cover.

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    1. It almost feels that way, though :/ I suppose it's kind of true.

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  62. Very strange, given that YA in the 70's-90's was full of diversity in cover people. Of course, then it was all paintings, not photo covers.

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  63. This is an AMAZING POST!!! Thank you so much for sharing this - I've always wondered about this, but it's great to see actual statistics. I just wish that authors were allowed to have more say in choosing their covers, rather than just publishers basing them on what sells.

    What an amazing blog. I'm a new follower via GFC :)

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  64. Freaking AWESOME post in every way!!!
    did you put ALL this together on your own?
    Because Im thoroughly impressed!!!!!!

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  65. A good study... But it would have saved me time (guessing time, and then searching time) if at least at one place in your post (preferably in the introduction) you wrote out what the acronym YA stood for. Once upon a time there was a convention in journalistic writing to write out what an acronym stood for in its first instantiation, even if the acronym was a familiar one. Let's bring back that good writing practice. In our information-saturated world, it is unfair to expect readers to know every acronym.

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    1. Sorry for the inconvenience. I had no idea this post would be getting the attention it did outside of the YA book community.

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  66. Fascinating! Great stats! As a middle & high school ESL teacher, with no students who are white, I struggle to find books that they can relate to. I knew it was true that there was inequality, but just seeing these numbers confirms it.
    Thanks for the hard work!

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  67. 2012 is not looking much more colorful--here are the paltry assortment of sci fi/fantasy covers I've found so far. I'm hoping fall will bring more! http://charlotteslibrary.blogspot.com/2012/09/national-buy-book-day-is-today-why-not.html

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  68. Good research. There needs to be minorities on book covers. Minorities deserve same opportunities as the majority.

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  69. I think that the reason why publishers/indie authors don't want to include a Hispanic/Black/Asian heroine is because right away, as soon as you see a colored person on a cover, it gives it a cultural feel that many people may not want to deal with when they read a story about, say, a futuristic north america in the middle of a war. I myself am Hispanic, but there's something so absolutely neutral about the American culture that I myself use a white heroine, though almost every other character is Hispanic/Black/Asian/Anything-other-than-white because I absolutely love diversity. When it comes to the heroine, though, I don't joke around--how can you have a 'colored' main character and not include their culture? Should you just make them plain American, not including anything about their language/customs/etc? But would that not offend an Asian person who, say, was reading about an Asian heroine who does not seem to be genuinely Asian at all? It's just too much to deal with.

    I hope I'm not offending anyone, lol. I sincerely love diversity and strive to include every single culture in my books. As long as the heroine is white.

    (Damn. I think I even offended myself a little right there. Feel free to rebuke me. Just don't kill me or anything.)

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    1. I don't think your comment was offensive at all! I think it was just the truth. As a multicultural author, however, I just think we have to push past those issues and write the story we have to tell, whether you think others will understand or like it or not. Because if we don't, who will?

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  70. Kate, this is an incredible post because you are shining light on something that I consider to be a real issue. Believe it or not, YA authors, multicultural girls have romance issues too! Who knew??

    As a YA suthor myself, I didn't want to ignore that issue in my first book. I'm African-American, so in my first novel especially, I felt it would be silly to write a white heroine. My MC is black, and she does deal with some issues that come along with it. I can't wait to release it, and there WILL be a depiction of my black MC, Cam, on the cover.

    Guess what the title is? COLOR BLIND.

    Coincidence? I think not.

    Thanks Kate, for your amazing attention to detail and your throughout-provoking stats.

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  71. Wow! This is great! I am about to write my bachelor paper about book covers for young adult and if you don't mind, I would like to quote you and use this as an inspiration! Incredible.

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