Author Sheena Boekweg: Fat Culture in Publishing

  • Jul 22, 2020
  • 4 minute read

My publisher didn’t include my author photo in my debut traditionally published book.

They requested it. They’ve included other authors’ photos on their books, every single one I’ve picked up. But they saw my face and decided not to put my face on my words.

Maybe the colors I wore in the photo clashed with the colors on the cover.

Lots of truths are coming to light right now about publishing. #Publishingpaidme shows they aren’t paying BIPOC writers equal to what they pay white authors. Some packagers are making six figures on stories of marginalized people, while paying their authors only a small percentage of that advance. Predatory things are coming to light about what it’s like to be a woman in the male-dominated comic book publishing spaces. I absolutely stand with those who have been victimized.

We also found out that marketing will make decisions on which books will get a larger marketing push, depending on the attractiveness of the author.

They didn’t show my face on the marketing materials.

My debut Glitch Kingdom is the story of a fat girl who loves herself. It’s a YA novel about a fantasy videogame. The character select their bodies and my MC chose the one who looked the most like her. She chose to accept her size, even when she struggled at times with other people’s perceptions of her. My publisher loved my story. They wanted me to dig into the pain that happens from fatphobia. My editor brilliantly pushed me to write the most truthful fiction I could craft. I’m so proud of that story, of that love.

Marketing didn’t want my face attached.

Maybe I’m too small to be considered fat.

That’s an actual thing I’ve thought, even though by every definition I am unquestionably fat.

Maybe this wasn’t personal, and I was making a bigger deal of it than it was. Maybe I can look past them commodifying my story and cutting my face off.

Readers can always find me on social media.

I don’t post selfies without a filter. I look into the camera and my phone automatically smoothes and brighten my skin, narrows my cheeks, shades my thick neck.

My phone gives me the face I see in my dreams, but not in the mirror.

I’m taking a new author photo.

Maybe it was my fault.


Maybe there’s no fault to be had.


Maybe nothing bad has actually happened.

And this isn’t the hardest thing that publishing has thrown at someone. How can this accidental slight compare with the racism and inequality that BIPOC authors and editors face? It’s nothing compared to that.

In heaven, calories don’t count.

In heaven you can eat anything you want and not gain any weight.

I’ve heard that joke so many times. I’ve said it myself.

But the last time I heard it, I added an addendum.

Maybe in heaven, fat isn’t a bad thing.

If in heaven not a hair on my head will be lost, then why when I picture heaven do I imagine myself in white robes and a thin body? Perhaps in heaven all this weight I carry, and every pound I’ve ever lost will be back on my frame, and I’ll love myself with it.

Perhaps heaven is a place where we can be soft.

Perhaps after I die, it will be okay to take up space.

In my new author photo, I’m going to wear black.

Because it’s slimming. Because it goes with any other color they will put in the design. I’ll straighten my hair, because I know how publishing favors the white ideals of beauty. I’ll contour my face, and shade my double chin. I’ll be acceptably fat. Pretty and fat.

And not or.

And maybe then I’ll get to exist.

But I will never put a Snapchat filter on my words.

Twitter is full of ugly truths that break my thoughts.

Instagram is full of pretty lies that break my heart.

As an author, I’m supposed to be available for my readers.

So how am I supposed to feel that they didn’t want my face to be on my book?

Sheena Boekweg grew up reading books with tree branches peeking over her shoulder. Her novel Glitch Kingdom pressed start February 18, 2020 from Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends. She’s an alumni of the 2015 Pitch Wars mentoring program and mentored in 2017 and 2018.

She is well loved by a handsome man with a great beard, and their three adorable kiddos. She lives in Utah with her family and the world’s most spoiled puppy. She is represented by the mighty Jessica Sinsheimer. Visit her online at, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.