Posted by: Casey Lybrand | July 12, 2010

Working on a letter about whitewashing book covers

I am working on my letter to B&N and Borders, as suggested at Reading in Color and The Rejectionist. [1] This is a tricky issue, one that does not seem to be going away any time soon; it will almost certainly will not go away without activism on the part of book customers. [2] I’ll try to post an open-letter version of my letter when I get it done, but in the meantime, have a look at why I am not ready to hit send yet. Here’s the draft version of my letter:

Dear B&N and Borders book-buyers,

It would be ever so nice if you did not make publishing companies feel they have no choice but to whitewash their covers. It hurts my soul.

Very sincerely,
A frustrated book customer

Hmmm, it’s all true enough, but it needs a little . . . something. [3]


1: The posts at Reading in Color and The Rejectionist each link to this brilliant example letter: An Open Letter to Borders and Barnes & Noble. All the other links in this post also come directly from one or both of those blogs.

2: You know, I’d like to be a published author some day. (Have to finish the book first, for starters.) At the moment, I am “just” a book customer. Is this whole letter thing a supremely stupid move on my part, career-wise? I really don’t know, and I *almost* don’t care. I’ll be polite; I’ll be professional. But I am serious: this whole issue hurts my soul. It hurts all of us. It needs to stop. (And it occurs to me that I have the option of sitting this one out. And I hate that — it’s that whole in-this-together thing we should have going on in life.)

3: Like a logical argument. For example. Or a personal story. Or suggestions for positive action. Maybe a bit less pathos. I’m working on it.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Merit Badger. Merit Badger said: RT @caseylybrand: Working on my letter about whitewashing book covers. […]

  2. I loved the letter Casey- I say no need for a logical argument!
    ” It hurts my soul.” This one says it all :)

  3. It’s stupid isn’t it, I mean, I’m white and green eyed BUT the whole world ISN’T – We come in all shapes, sizes, colours, heights so why not make the covers be like that? It’s like the issue with models, where they all look like concentration camp victims…really, and what about those curvy girls? You know, the ones who end up with an eating disorder trying to get skinny? All because that’s all the see in the media. About book covers though, Twilight has a lot to answer for, because that is the audience these publishers are trying to appeal to. White middle class teenage girls…bleh

  4. Thanks, Lua. And it’s true. Though I am working on something I hope may be more persuasive: my buying habits and so on. My concern is that my current letter would be meaningful only to someone who is already listening. As I’m afraid this is one of those “money talks” scenarios, I want to let them know what my money has to say! :) Thank you for your kind words. They mean a great deal to me.

    Alannah, I share your frustration. It tears me apart that this issue just won’t *stop* already. That’s why I feel we need to speak up, and why I’m writing a letter! I’ve given myself a “deadline” to have a letter drafted by the end of the week, so I hope to have more to post on this next week.

  5. I’m sure you’ll write a great letter Casey. Keep us posted and tell us what happens.

  6. I’m struggling to find a reason for anybody to think this “cover whitewashing” thing was ever a good idea. As a confirmed pedant, I find that cover images which fail to conform to the story contained therein are almost painful to the brain simply for that reason, before ever even taking into account whether anybody might have a personal reason for being offended.

    Put simply, I want to be able to trust that if the cover tells me about what I’m about to read, it’s accurate: should I wish to read a story with or about POC then I’ll look for a suitable cover (and if I were the [hack/pffft/hairball] kind of person who *didn’t* then I’d be looking for the exact opposite, obviously).

    To me (and I hope this doesn’t offend) it falls into the same abstraction as showing dragons on the cover of a book with dragons in (I love dragons almost as much as cats): what’s the point of a cover which actively lies about the book it covers?

  7. NotACat, it baffles me as well.

    It may be that the people making these decisions feel that too many potential book customers fall into that “[hack/pffft/hairball]” category you mentioned. Not so sure that’s true, and not so sure that would be a good enough reason for whitewashing if it were. This is a messy issue, and I hate that it is still such an issue.

    Thanks for adding your thoughts.

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