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.

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

  1. Happy re-release day. I was delighted when my Kindle showed me I had several new books download while I was sleeping (and having disturbing dreams, but that’s not germane to this discussion). 🙂

  2. Awesome. I like the cover. Ironically, I just unpacked the SFF this weekend (I think you and Kit take up an entire shelf to yourselves), so I just saw the old covers. These are 100% more attractive for Highroad. Glad they were quick to fix it!

  3. Thanks. I love that the ebook revolution has made it possible for so much backlist to be restored to the world!

  4. It’s easy to forget, but it really is wonderful living in “the future.” 🙂

  5. LOVE THAT COVER. I think I’ll rebuy all the books just encourage them to continue.

    Now I just have to figure out how you can autograph an ebook….. 🙂

  6. That is a very attractive and contemporary-looking cover. But why did they suggest a white-girl cover in the first place? Was it just that the art department hadn’t read the book?

    Definitely encouraging that the problem seems to be going away!

  7. Art departments rarely have time to read books. They create a cover through concept and marketing: “Who is the audience for this book? How will this cover tell the audience that this is a book they want to pick up?”

    In this case when I was in New York City last month I was able to go to the offices of Open Road Media to meet people. I thanked them for being so quick to change the cover, and my editor there immediately said that she had dropped the ball on the information given to the art department, which really impressed me. I don’t think the art department was told “young white woman,” I think they were told, “young woman.”

    So I want to be clear that I feel Open Road handled everything extremely well, including sending mock-ups of the covers to me to get my comments beforehand, which is what allowed me to catch the mistake.

  8. It’s fantastic that Open Road is reissuing so many beloved books. I’ve been enjoying re-buying old favorites from the 1980’s and having the opportunity to purchase titles (like your Highroad trilogy) that I missed the first time around. But…I hate the covers. There, I said it. I miss that campy ol’ cover art. Sigh. I mean, I guess it’s not a big deal. It certainly doesn’t affect my decision to purchase them, but I wish that somehow the original art could have remained with the books. Oh, well!

  9. Heather, that is exactly why I love the ebook revolution. Before, there was basically no chance any of these novels would have been reprinted; they simply would have vanished except in the second hand market.

    The new covers reflect the ebook market: They do stock covers, based on images they can easily buy. The covers need to look good as thumbnails. I like these a lot and I think they are effective. I agree they are really different from the original illustrative covers of the 90s, definitely. Those covers would have to be relicensed by Open Road Media. I think the original Jim Burns’ covers for the Jaran books are great.

  10. YAY! I just bought the Highroad Trilogy and Labyrinth Gate!!! So excited!!! I’ve been looking for these FOREVER and am SO GLAD they’re out in ebook format and that I can support you as well. 🙂 YAY!

  11. Virginia, thank you so much. It has taken a few years to get the backlist out but I’m so happy it now is.

  12. I’ve owned Jaran for a few years (got the UK 10th anniversary paperback edition) but I hadn’t been able to get hold of the other editions by hook or by crook. I’ve reread Jaran a few times and it has never quite gelled for me; I never found tess and Ilya convincing although I loved the concept of the book. I’m now three chapters into book three on the ebooks and I’m totally hooked. I’m not sure if it is the widening out of the story (or the threesome – no spoilers but you know who I mean) but I’m loving it.

  13. E-books are great, I admit. Yet I still like the touch of a real paper book. There is something that cannot be replaced about a real book on a bookshelf, sure e books are space savers and dust free, but the bookshelf…looks so inviting.

  14. 🙂

    I love all my books but I know that each book could only be written the way it was at the time it was. The passage of time, my own experience, the changing world, and the things I learn writing the books that come before all influence how I write the next book. In a way, every book comments on the ones that came before, in the sense that Anji is a commentary (in some ways, not all) on Ilya (although they are mostly very different personalities).

    I will admit that the threesome raised some eyebrows at the time!

  15. Yes, I love my paper books too. The sad reality is that while there is a cost to setting up and distributing e-books, that the paper and ink and mailing costs of paper books make reprinting backlist prohibitive unless the books are selling extremely well. Thus, the ebook revolution has made it possible for books that would otherwise be out of print to become available again. So in that sense I really appreciate ebooks even though I read paper books just as much.

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