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White Girls, Dead Girls, and Fancy Dresses

May 17, 2012 by Kiersi

Black models on 2011 YA covers

Kate Hart: Uncovering YA Covers: 2011

I wrote a controversial post some time ago regarding young adult book covers that have been announced for 2012 called All the White Girls, where I suggested YA authors need to get their shit together and start writing books about something other than white chicks in flowing dresses. I found it immensely disturbing that not a single book on the Top 25 YA Books of 2012 featured a cover photo of anyone besides a white girl.

A bunch of commenters suggested the problem lies with publishers and not authors, as cover designers in YA are rarely faithful to the look, ethnicity, race, or whatever of the book’s protagonist for which they are designing.

Today I discovered this post by YA author Kate Hart via my twitter peep E.C. Meyers. Kate breaks down over 600 YA covers from 2011, scientifically, in a number of fascinating and revealing ways, including how often you might find a headless, dead, or back-shot model on a YA cover.

Color Distribution of 2011 YA Covers

Kate Hart: Uncovering YA Covers: 2011

Kate doesn’t stop at just analyzing model poses and cover color distribution (which is, in itself, quite telling of the YA cover trend). She addresses another major concern of mine regarding diversity in young adult literature: gender distribution. The men that are featured on YA book covers tend to be headless or shown from the back–which, of course, is not limited to male models, but nonetheless. Kate even does a brief analysis of self-pubbed and indie book covers in the YA category for comparison, and makes a surprising discovery: self-pubbed and indie books are even less diverse than those published by major houses.

I was surprised by that last revelation, and then wondered why I found it surprising. I’ve read a number of agent “wish lists” lately calling for multi-racial or ethnic perspectives, so perhaps that is a clue.

Kate’s analysis is disturbing to say the least, but also educational. These moments are the ones that will, hopefully, push YA authors to be more diverse in their topics. Be sure to read the full post here: Uncovering YA Covers: 2011


  1. Kelly says:

    This is not specifically related to YA, but a friend of mine is doing concurrent education and one of her assignments was to create a picture book tailored to whatever unit she’d taught last at her most recent placement. She’d been in kindergarten, so she made an alphabet book. It was well done, the story was well told, and she incorporated phonics and not just visual letter recognition. But she didn’t do well, and the reason why is because she didn’t feature any non-white characters in her book. She lost several marks for not being inclusive or representational of today’s classrooms. After looking at her project, the loss of marks didn’t surprise me. What did was that her mother thought that this method of marking was “unfair.” What’s unfair is that your kid didn’t put any black or Asian or brown or Native or latino characters in her book.

    Anyway, my point is that these issues are not limited to just YA. It’s rampant in society as a whole and sadly even among those who take courses like Multicultural Education for the 21st Century (and I really hope that’s not the class she did the picture book for!).

    • Kiersi says:

      That is so, so true. The problem lies in both A) books that writers are writing not featuring multicultural characters, and B) the cover designers/publishing houses relegating any multicultural characters to the background (or foreground, but headless). Interesting story, Kelly.

  2. Great post! Similar trends show up in Women’s Fiction. –This is not based on anything more scientific than my own observation–but you see more sexualized imagery on books geared to the African American market than those for the broader Women’s Fiction market. This is regardless of the content of the book.

    I am not surprised about the lack of diversity among self-pubbed/indie books. Sometimes the covers are very stock, & don’t speak of thoughtful design so much as clip art.

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