Are publishers undermining female authors with 'girly' book covers?

(37 Posts)
ShadeMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 10-May-13 10:51:21

Author Maureen Johnson has called for an end to gendered book covers. She argues that "girly" book jackets homogenise the appearance of books by women, undermine the diversity of subject matter and put men off reading female authors.

Johnson took to Twitter to issue a 'Coverflip' challenge asking followers to take a well-known book, imagine its author as the opposite sex, then redesign the cover according to the current marketing norms of mainstream publishers. See the responses here.

Do you agree there is a problem with the marketing of books written by female authors? Have you seen a book jacket that completely misrepresented the content of the book? If there is a problem, how do we solve it?

EmpressOfTheSevenOceans Fri 10-May-13 11:47:45

That goes right back to George Eliot & the Brontes, doesn't it?
I help out in the books section of a busy charity shop on weekends & from what I see there I don't think it stands for all women authors. The Tess Gerritsen / Karin Slaughter thriller genre don't have girly covers, and nor do people like A S Byatt and Margaret Atwood.
There are an awful lot of girly ones though, & I do often just assume 'chicklit' without bothering to look inside & see what's actually there.
I'm not sure what we do about it. Maybe Mumsnet could talk to Maureen Johnson and spread the Coverflip challenge? (I had a look through the responses, they make a bloody good point!)

Celticlassie Sat 11-May-13 21:52:13

I quite like it though, as it means I can generally avoid chicklit.

Shoes on the cover - avoid. Cupcakes on the cover - avoid.

Hilary Mantel doesn't seem to be afflicted by 'girly covers'.

In saying that, there are perhaps a lot of very good, non chick lit books that are being wrongly marketed.

badguider Sat 11-May-13 21:58:27

Hmm... Not sure.
Crime fiction doesn't seem gendered.

Chick-lit has a certain look. If I was a female author of a book written for both genders and it got a chick-lit cover I'd be very angry but I'm not sure if this happens?

I read on kindle these days so covers are less important to me (its a first generation black & white kindle).

tribpot Sat 11-May-13 22:10:22

I thought the coverflips were fantastically well done, and made their point. Whilst crime fiction may focus more on stuff like blood and scary close ups of syringes (Gerritsen mainly!) it's the mainstream 'fiction' genre that seems to create the most confusion. And perhaps younger authors as well - no-one's gonna suggestion putting a cupcake on an AS Byatt cover!

I would agree, though, that eBooks have diminshed the value of covers somewhat - although a truly striking one still makes an impact.

KittenofDoom Sun 12-May-13 17:46:07

Do I agree there is a problem with the marketing of books written by female authors?

No, I don't think it's anything to do with female authors per se. I too avoid "chick lit" and "mumlit" like the plague, and agree with Celticlassie that the generic covers are a useful signpost. But often the title is an equally good guide. It's more to do with content - I couldn't give a toss whether the author is male or female.

Something that irritated me (I'm not sure if they still do this, but they did quite recently) was W H Smith labelling a whole section "Women's Fiction" or something similar. I never went anywhere near that shelf, I can tell you!

tribpot Sun 12-May-13 17:53:05

I think what the article is trying to highlight is that some female authors' work may be getting diminished because of its cupcakey cover art - and showing how you can undermine even major works of literature by putting a cutesy 'girl' cover on it.

Weirdly at the same time traditional 'chick lit' / bonkbuster territory seems to be going all Bourne Identity with quite a number of 'big' authors doing storylines involving assassins and high wire adventure. These aspects aren't making it on to the cover, though!

TunipTheVegedude Sun 12-May-13 17:56:50

Covers are still important for e-books. When you scroll through the page on Amazon deciding what to buy you see a cover image and make the choice based on that just like you do in a bricks-and-mortar shop.

BikeRunSki Sun 12-May-13 18:02:52

One of my favorite male authors, Douglas Kennedy, often writes with a female narrator/ protagonist and always has a strong female character. His books are all set against a particular historical or political background and are well written, good stories. His books always have girly covers - not cupcakes, but girls drifting mournfully around a beach in floaty dresses. I feel these covers really do him a disservice. They just are not representative of what's inside, and put me off until I picked one up on a train. Maybe it had been abandoned by someone expecting something lightweight about a girl's holiday.

there is a fantastic writer called Vicky Zimmerman who writes books about women of a certain childness age which is is marketed full on chicklit. I think it does her a disservice to be honest.

Actually I am dead envious of her in RL as well as a writer. She is a food buyer for M&S!

Quangle Tue 14-May-13 21:03:39

Yes definitely. Fiction written by women is often deemed only appropriate for women and so labelled that way via cupcakes so men don't accidentally pick it up and get tainted by womanliness. Fiction written by men is just fiction so can be read by men and women quite safely.

It is no coincidence that of our two most successful women writers, both had to write firstly and primarily about male characters and to have a male protagonist - at least for the book that hit the big time - and one had to disguise her gender in her name (Hilary Mantel and JK Rowling).

Bonsoir Tue 14-May-13 21:04:50

It's a code - as others say, lipstick/cupcakes/purple/shoes on the cover scream "avoid" at me. Quite useful.

KittenofDoom Tue 14-May-13 21:57:31

Are there any male authors who write chick lit? Perhaps there are some masquerading behind girly noms-de-plume grin

mrsshackleton Wed 15-May-13 10:36:23

Publishers do have a reason for doing this, their research shows more women will pick up a book with a cupcake on the cover than without.

It does do MANY authors a disservice and prevents them from finding the market they deserve, but the publishers would say they gain more readers than they lose.

BaconAndAvocado Wed 15-May-13 11:55:41

I, personally, avoid at all costs the "pastel cover" books as I always feel that this means its chick lit, therefore poor quality and lacking any depth.

If what lies within is good quality then I suggest the publishers rethink their marketing!

mrsshackleton Wed 15-May-13 13:41:57

Vicky Zimmerman, Madamedefarge? She isn't on Amazon.

I know someone who wrote a very ballsy book and it was given a cover with a picture of a woman in a ball gown and a dumb, fairytale-like title. It's devastating to authors when this happens and it does a lot - and it's devastating for them to hear all the snobs people on here saying they'd never even go within the vicinity of such a book.

KittenofDoom Wed 15-May-13 14:04:18

Publishers do have a reason for doing this, their research shows more women will pick up a book with a cupcake on the cover than without.

Fair enough, but why do they want women in particular to pick it up? If I was a novelist, I wouldn't care about the gender of my readers, I'd just be grateful to them for reading the book and hope they enjoyed it.

I like the type of book that I like. I don't care if the author is male or female - nor the protagonist.

BaconAndAvocado Wed 15-May-13 19:40:26

shackleton I'm a definite snob when it comes to books, I get so little time to read I've got to get it right!

CoteDAzur Sun 19-May-13 18:40:04

"why do they want women in particular to pick it up"

Could it be that men and women like me will under no circumstances pick those girly books up anyway?

It is not just the cover that makes them girly, you know.

CoteDAzur Sun 19-May-13 18:41:02

I haven't noticed Lionel Shriver's books having cupcakes etc on their covers. There is probably a reason for that.

Quangle Sun 19-May-13 21:35:36

The fact that she uses the name Lionel rather than her given name of Margaret means she is allowed to be read by men so no need for cupcake warning imagery on the front cover.

Highlander Fri 31-May-13 19:16:03

I avoid any book with 'girly' covers, for a myriad of reasons.

LifeHuh Mon 03-Jun-13 20:45:29

The example covers I saw on the internet weren't chicklit though - I read fantasy and fantasy covers can be very gendered.There are good female writers out there who will be missing out on potential male readers because the covers they end up with are "girly"and not representative of the book itself..
Sometimes they'll be missing out on me as well.
I think part of the point was that women will read books which appear to be aimed more at men,but the reverse isn't as true,and that is a loss to authors and readers too.

SirChenjin Mon 03-Jun-13 20:47:44

Girly covers help me avoid the crap that's out there, so for that reason I vote to keep them. Not really relevent for my Kindle though...

MrsOakenshield Mon 03-Jun-13 20:49:39

I was really annoyed at Lucy Mangan's book being given an uber-girly cover - yes, it was a story about being a woman, but Lucy Mangan couldn't be less pink-and-cupcakes if she tried. Big fail by the publisher there.

Yes, 'girly' covers don't always cover 'girly' books. A lot of them do, but some don't.

I think if an author like Marian Keyes was marketed differently some of her rather darker subject matter would be more widely read and still be funny.

Having said that, I avoid pastelly covers too (after having been bored and annoyed in equal measure by some foisted on me during a lengthy hospital stay).

MrsOakenshield Mon 03-Jun-13 20:50:33

also - do NOT underestimate the power of the buyers. If Tesco's don't like a cover they will pretty much oblige the publisher to change it, or pull their enormous order.

BrawToken Mon 03-Jun-13 21:04:20

When I asked my DD's english teacher for reading materials in 3rd year, she said anything that doesn't have a pastel coloured cover. They are pish. I cannot finish one unless it is written by Maeve Binchy.

apachepony Mon 03-Jun-13 21:13:41

I think Marian Keyes is probably done a disservice by the chcklit marketing. Certainly to me her books are a little darker and funnier than say, that "one day" book or some of nick Hornby's stuff and yet because those are male authors her books seem automatically to be considered of less worth.

bunnybing Wed 05-Jun-13 11:21:38

Agree it's crap - and books by male authors who write what is essentially chic-lit seem to be exempt from the pink girly fluffy covers. eg One Day by David Nicholls.

KittenofDoom Wed 05-Jun-13 12:45:18

Earlier I asked

Are there any male authors who write chick lit? Perhaps there are some masquerading behind girly noms-de-plume

Anyone know of an example?

Louise1956 Wed 05-Jun-13 14:45:38

i think girly covers sell books. men and women do tend to like different authors, and publishers naturally want covers that are going to appeal to the sex that are most likely to buy them. to suppose that men and women have identifical literary tastes is to deny reality.

I've never read any Marian Keyes, so reading the above, thought I'd take a look. Her own website ... okay. Amazon page. Ulp. Lovely, but very girlie, photo of her. And SO much pink. Not my thing. Selected This Charming Man to take a look at, on the basis that a book named after a Smiths song just can't be that pink and fluffy, can it? Blurb - yada yada, 'dark secrets'. Yeah, right. But the reviews ... more interesting. This isn't a book I'd go out of my way for, but rather than running in the opposite direction (as implied by her website, the Amazon page, the cover, the blurb) ... I might well pick up in the library, or read if lent it by someone.

So, are you reading it, DontCallMe? grin
I found it quite a difficult one re subject matter - not something that lends itself to her usual gallow's humour and laughing in the face of adversity.

I don't want to spoil it for you. 'Tis good.

wiltingfast Tue 11-Jun-13 13:22:02

I actually really object to people saying the girly covers help them avoid the crap. It's incredibly dismissive and also ignores that there is PLENTY of drivel written which have vairy haigh brow covers.

The point is, you don't judge a book by its cover! Duh.

What kind of cover would Emily Bronte get these days I wonder?

Pacific - I may well do, eventually. Right now I have a stash of library books and the aftermath of spending a £50 Kindle voucher in the Xmas sale to work through AND DH is making me clear out books, which just leads to me rereading stuff ...

Kikithecat Tue 18-Jun-13 13:08:22

I believe Mary Jane Staples is a man. (Writes Catherine Cookson style with similar covers).

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