Jaran, the Highroad Trilogy, Labyrinth Gate on Open Road Media, & what happened to the whitewashed cover?

Open Road Media (henceforce ORM) specializes in e-books and among other things has been bringing into ebook format out of print books that ten and twenty years ago would never again have seen the light of day.

On Tuesday 30 July 2013, eight of my early novels will be released in e-format by ORM. These are: The four Novels of the Jaran (published from 1992 – 1994), the Highroad Trilogy (all 3 volumes published in 1990), and my first published novel, The Labyrinth Gate (1988).

Two comments, and then we’ll get to the whitewashing.

1) I have done no revision of these novels. Their strengths and flaws remain as they were when they were published. In all cases there are some things I would have done differently and other elements I would not change. I think it is instructive to see a career unfold over time.

2) The Highroad Trilogy and The Labyrinth Gate were originally published under the name Alis A Rasmussen but are being re-published here as by Kate Elliott, to go along with all the rest of my books.

Open Road Media creates their own covers. As far as I know they do not re-use old covers and old illustrations. For one thing, there are additional costs involved. For another, print covers don’t always translate well to the small thumbnails frequently seen online. For a third, cover aesthetics change and what looked great in 1990 isn’t necessarily right for design today.

So I want to talk about whitewashing, which is commonly defined as depicting a non-white character (on a book cover or on screen) as a white character. There’s been a lot of talk about whitewashing, a lot of frustration, a lot of pushback. So maybe you wonder, sometimes, if anyone in publishing or Hollywood is listening?

In June my agent forwarded me the eight preliminary covers, which he had just received from ORM. The art department had chosen a unified look for the covers: An upper half that is a landscape (for Jaran) or a space scape (for Highroad), and a lower half that is a close up of the heroine’s face. Each cover is then washed with a different color filter to further differentiate the individual volumes. I think they’re strong designs that look good and show up well as thumbnails also.

But there was one problem.

While the Jaran covers are fine, the Highroad covers they sent featured a generic white girl whereas the main character is mixed race East African/East Asian (the story is set in the future and not on Earth so Earth ethnicities don’t quite pertain).

I wrote back immediately to my agent: “PLEASE GOD DO NOT PUT A WHITE GIRL ON THE COVER.”

My agent immediately replied: “that’s a critical point — I won’t allow any compromise on this.”

But you know what? I didn’t need the caps, and there was no attempt at compromise. The INSTANT the art department was alerted, they found a different model. A new draft of the covers arrived THE NEXT DAY.

Here is the cover for The Highroad Trilogy, Volume One: A Passage of Stars.

Elliot_Passage copy

So while there is still a long way to go, some people are definitely listening.