As a soon-to-be self-published author, I spend an inordinate amount of time reading articles and blogs about the publishing industry. Today, one particular article caught my attention: Coverflip by Maureen Johnson at HuffPo.
In it, Johnson talks about a Twitter challenge she sent out to her followers, asking them to reframe a familiar book cover as though the novel were written by an author of another gender. The results were both amusing and depressing, as such things often are.
Take, for example, the well-known minimalist cover of A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. Simple, blue background, sword positioned horizontally across the cover. Emphasis on the title and author’s name. The flipped version:
It’s busy and awkward, and I assume it was meant to be that way for the challenge. But it’s also so damn … girly. The font choice is ornate. There’s all this soft focus and lens flare. And the only characters depicted are female.
As a kid, a book with this cover would have been a hard sell. It looks soft and fluffy, and as though it’s full of romance and icky girl things that even as a girl in elementary school I knew were looked down on by a large portion of the world. This despite the fact that the females depicted on the cover are some serious bad-asses. I would have passed simply on the look.
An alternate example is Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Mass. This YA fantasy has an original cover featuring the photo (what is it with YA and actual photography vs. artwork?) of a young blond woman with a knife strapped to her arm. (Interestingly, the trade paperback has a much better cover, IMHO.) This is the flipped cover:
That’s a cover I would stop and stare at. Clean, spare, mysterious. So how representative is this challenge? Look at the covers of two authors who have books up for the Hugo this year.
Images borrowed from Amazon
Both of these are fabulous books – but I would assume “romance” from Cordelia’s Honor, and “exciting SF battles” from Old Man’s War. It’s interesting, then, that both novels contain both fighting and romance elements. Clearly, the audience is assumed to be different.
While I hate to admit it, most of us humans really do make snap judgments based on visual first impressions. I kept this in mind when choosing an artist for my first cover, and I’ve had great responses to it. It’s also fairly masculine in most senses of the word.
It bothers me that we live in a world where female is synonymous with the lesser. It bothers me even more to recognize that my tastes were shaped by that perception.