Coverflip: How Book Covers Differ by Author’s Gender

Author Maureen Johnson has had enough of gendered book covers. Just what is she talking about? Well, she’s talking about books that look like this:

Versus this:

And yes, that is the same book in each picture. The first is what ended up in print, while the second imagines how the cover might have looked had the book written been by a man. Why the difference? Johnson gives a little insight into the sometimes unfair world of book publishing and marketing:

The simple fact of the matter is, if you are a female author, you are much more likely to get the package that suggests the book is of a lower perceived quality. Because it’s “girly,” which is somehow inherentl different and easier on the palate. A man and a woman can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, and that woman is simple more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow and the feeling of smooth jazz blowing off of it.

Think about it: have you ever seen a male author with a cover like the first one above? And before anybody reasons that female writers’ books look the way they do because they are specifically marketed towards women, I urge you to have a think on how condescending that sounds to women, and insulting to men who like books about and by women. (And I would also like to note that our own managing editor, a man, has read Bridget Jones’ Diary more times than probably any of you. So there.)

Spurred by a plethora of notes from men asking her for “less girly” covers so that they could read her books, and endless frustrations with book publishers who give authors zero to no say in the final book cover (and sometimes in the final title), Johnson posed a challenge to her Twitter followers: take a book by an author of either gender and imagine it was written by the other. She received hundreds of picture responses within the first 24 hours. Here’s an interesting sample:

You can see more at Johnson’s Huffington Post article and Twitter, if not for the coverflip images then for the amusing way Johnson is able to bang her head on a desk and deftly shame critics in one fell swoop.

Interesting experiment, right? And somewhat of a sad look into the gender inequality in both book publishing and our society. It’s worse than you thought it was.

So, what book covers do you imagine looking different with an author of the opposite gender? And does a “girly” cover make you less likely to pick up that book? As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts.


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