How Far Will We Go? ~ Outside the Margins with JP Barnaby

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JP Barnaby OTM

I told myself I wouldn’t blog about this.

I told myself I wouldn’t blog about this.

I told myself I wouldn’t blog about this.

I have to blog about this.

It’s needling at me—which tells me someone should blog about it.

Disclaimer: My opinions are my own and do not reflect those of this blog, the blog’s owner, my publisher, any other publisher, any other author, my imaginary dog, or the Canadian women’s roller derby team. You are free to disagree with them, but they will still be my opinions no matter how much anyone yells.

Recently, I came across an alternative cover for a book I know well. It’s not just a favorite book, it’s a beloved character. The book is about a boy who had been systematically raped and tortured over a period of years.


What that means, in terms of the character is scars, emaciation, shame, anger, defiance, and an entire host of other physical and emotional characteristics. The cover depicted a shirtless guy with abs up the wazoo all the way down to low-rise jeans and Ken-doll cum gutters. Aside from having his head down, he may have been walking along toward a club and pick up another half-naked twink. I have no idea who this image was meant to represent, but it sure as hell wasn’t the boy from the book I’d read.

I’ll take the rest of this post in two parts:

  1. Why this cover upsets me
  2. The commercialization of decency.

Why this cover upsets me

The after effects of rape are horrifying for the survivor no matter the circumstance. However, they are also uncomfortable to society in general. There’s a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of mentality for rape in our culture. We use euphemisms like “attack” or “sexual assault” just so no one has to say the word rape. This cover is the artistic version of glossing over rape as it relates to the main character of this book. I’m pretty sure the designer didn’t even read the blurb. Of course, if this boy appeared as he was written—broken, scarred, emaciated—no one would buy the book right? No one likes reality in romantic fiction—they want the fantasy. I’m not sure what kind of fantasy comes along with the recovery of a rape survivor, and I know that I don’t want to.

In order to sell books – he has to be pretty, right?

It’s interesting since the character actually speaks in the book about the beautification of his body for artistic purposes. It pissed him off—offended him. He would be offended by this cover.

And since he can’t speak up about it—I will.

The commercialization of decency

Aaron is in a position to have an alternative cover for various different types of publication—and this type of commercialization frightens me. When covers are created with no input from the author and in direct contrast to the essence of the character that he or she has bled for, cried for, and fought for—that concerns me.

How far are we willing to go as a literary community in order to sell books? Sure, this cover is pretty, and for sheer aesthetics, it will probably sell the title. But at what cost? It isn’t an accurate representation of the book, the character, or even the tone of the book. It objectifies the young man that it should be depicting, stripping him of the essence of who he is and it marginalizes rape victims by trivializing their trauma. Why? Because it’s uncomfortable.

It doesn’t sell books.

It isn’t sexy.

I can’t even let myself imagine how I’d feel if Aaron’s cover depicted him shirtless, without his scars. He might as well be put on a pole or in a g-string or naked with another guy. Part of Aaron’s character, what defines him, is that he needs to be covered—to the point of long-sleeved shirts and pants, even in summer, no matter how hot it is. For a graphic artist to strip him and put him on display, it would horrify me.

Yet—it could happen.

And for what?

I’d rather stop publishing than compromise the integrity of my characters or contribute to the euphemism of rape culture in order to sell books. Those of us who live with the effects deserve more than being swept under a pretty, glossy cover so that society doesn’t have to compromise its illusions in order to see us, to deal with us.

Don’t spit-shine a broken, scarred rape victim and make him presentable to society just to sell books. It dehumanizes us all.

~JP Barnaby

About JP Barnaby

JP Barnaby, an award-winning gay romance novelist, is the author of over two dozen books, including Aaron and the Little Boy Lost Series. She recently moved from Chicago to Atlanta to appease her Camaro who didn’t like the blustery winters. JP specializes in recovery romance, but slips in a few erotic or comedic stories to spice things up. When she’s not hanging out with hot guys in leather, she binge watches superheroes and crime dramas on Netflix. A physics geek, she likes the science side of Sci-Fi, and wants to grow up to be Reed Richards.


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Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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3 thoughts on “How Far Will We Go? ~ Outside the Margins with JP Barnaby

  1. Thank you for this post. I think I might be atypical when it comes to book covers, but I am more drawn to covers that give a sense of the story rather than something typically “pretty” or “sexy.” And our rape culture needs to be dragged into the light and dealt with head on…putting “pretty” on it is doing the opposite.

    P.S. Aaron is an amazing story. Thanks for everything you put into your writing.

  2. Speechless…that someone would dehumanize rape victim like that leaves me speechless.

    I don’t read books where rape is present because I’m sick of rape used as a convenient plot device. Like that’s not something people kill themselves over in a real life, like that’s not trauma some people can’t never get over no matter how much they try. And the thing I’m most appalled by is that authors stopped putting sexual abuse as a warning in a blurb. Although I don’t know why I’m even surprised…after all, when I complained about this on a one (famous and respected in MM genre) author’s post, I got a response “Well, I don’t know why you’re upset, some people need warning for coffee and milk” . I don’t even what to say something like this.

    Anyway, thanks for your post! We need more of these…

  3. just for a moment, I had a flash of that kind of cover for Aaron and it actually physically made me ill. I know you would never, ever do that to him, so I’m assured on that front, it’s just that his is the story I know and… yeah. I can’t even. I don’t think that book would have been the same if it hadn’t been for the cover it had. If Aaron hadn’t been shown completely covered and with a visible scar on his face. That’s Aaron. It pulled you in and right from the start made you want to keep him safe. At least, it was that way for me.
    To do anything other than that is… well, shameful, as you said. I can’t even wrap my head around it.

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