Brown Faces Don't Sell Books? A Poll For Booksellers and Librarians

[No time to read this post? Just vote in the sidebar to the right.]

[Know a recent title featuring a POC protagonist that DID sell or circulate well? Please share it here.]

How much power do authors have over their covers? Not much. Dutton did give me the green light to post two possibilities for my First Daughter books and ask your opinion. And with Charlesbridge's permission, we debated the presence of a gun on the cover of Bamboo People via Twitter and Facebook (ended up with no gun.) But other than that, I take what I get, like most authors.

The fact remains that none of my books with brown young people on the covers have been picked up by the chains. Monsoon Summer sometimes turns up in a Barnes and Noble here or there, but it's the only book of mine with a cover that's ambiguous about the race of the protagonist. Get over it and write better books, I tell myself. Sometimes, though, I can't help wondering whether cover art has played any part in my struggle to sell books in the mainstream.

Given that publishing houses are tempted to white-wash the covers of books written by white authors even though they feature brown characters, the questions get louder in my head. Why would they do this unless it affects the bottom line? Do white kids really avoid books with brown, black, or Asian faces on the cover?

I've thrown this question out on Twitter and in presentations and received a few off-the-record responses from booksellers and librarians. "Kids don't buy or borrow books like that in my community," they tell me. Given what I see in youth pop culture, it's tough to believe that -- it seems to me that today's teens are fascinated with ethnic diversity and open to many kinds of faces and stories.

I'd like some statistics to back up or refute the murmurs and rumors. So I'm asking you, booksellers, teachers, and librarians, to weigh in on the anonymous poll in my sidebar. All votes, input, and comments appreciated, and I'll run the poll all week long.

Here's the poll for my RSS feed readers, but you have to stop by the Fire Escape to vote in the sidebar.

A Kid/YA book with a brown, black, or Asian face on the cover:

... is NEVER bought or borrowed by white kids unless I push it.
... is RARELY bought or borrowed by white kids unless I push it.
... is SOMETIMES bought or borrowed by white kids unless I push it.
... circulates or sells THE SAME as other books, depending on buzz and reviews.