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08 May 2013 @ 10:32 am
Genderflipping covers  

So Maureen Johnson, YA author, threw down a gauntlet a couple of days ago regarding the way books are marketed and asked her jillions of Twitter readers to gender-flip some of their favorite book covers. To make a cover that might have been offered up if the book was by a person of the other gender, or was gender neutral (initials instead of full names. She’s written a terrific article about the whole problem of gendered covers here, and it is truly worth a read. Really truly honest to God.

But if you never click through on another link I offer, go check out the slideshow of covers people did, because they’re flipping awesome. Er, so to speak. Let me show you my single-most favorite of all of them, or at least my favorite of the fantasy novels. This is the current GRRM cover for A GAME OF THRONES:


This is Georgette R. Martin’s A GAME OF THRONES (image by Electric Sheep Comix):


“Her publisher decided she didn’t need the second “R” in her initials,” said the artist.

It’s nearly perfect. I think the font is actually *too* ornate, but I totally get a Jody Lynn Nye vibe off this, and wouldn’t be surprised at *all* to see it on one of Michelle West‘s books.

Now: for a degree of fairness, GRRM’s covers have undergone enormous changes in the past 15 years. This is the first one I actually remember seeing:


It’s still aimed at a totally different audience than Georgette’s cover is. And honestly, of the three, Georgette’s is the least likely one I’d pick up, although for me, the fact that it has a woman’s name on epic fantasy would make me take a look, anyway.

There’s a Tumblr tag of genderflipped covers that is one of the most worthy things on the internet. Some of them are merely in the A for Effort category, which is frankly worth it on its own, but honestly, many of them are *brilliant*. Check out this TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY by Johanna Le Carre (image by xotus):


This, this, *this*, this is what makes me want to run the Great Social Writing Experiment. To write two series of the same type under one obviously female name and one under an obviously male name, and not let anybody, including my editors, know the gender (clearly a theoretical agent would be in on this, but beyond that) of the person writing the books. Just to see what happened with covers, reviews, promotion, sales, all of it.

This is not, mind you, a practical experiment. I mean, it’d be a lot of time and effort and investment and while I was getting it off the ground, what, I’m going to survive financially by saying, “Hey, here’s my Kickstarter! Fund me, and in ten years you’ll find out what the project was! Hardcover LEs all around!” or something? Yeahno. :) But oh how I would love to try it.

(Someone asked on Twitter, so I’ll answer it here too: No, I haven’t seen any “EC Murphy” covers (and don’t expect to, because my name isn’t that big), but I have to admit I’d kind of love to see THE QUEEN’S BASTARD or PRETENDER’S CROWN with the assumption of a male writer. :))

Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t necessarily want all covers to be gender neutral, but what prompted Maureen to do this genderflip thing was saying “If I had a dime for every boy/man who’s said “Can’t you get less girly covers so I can read this?”…” She went on to say,

The assumption, as I understand it, is that females are flexible and accepting creatures who can read absolutely anything. We’re like acrobats. We can tie our legs over our heads. Bring it on. There is nothing we cannot handle.

Boys, on the other hand, are much more delicately balanced. To ask them to read “girl” stories (whatever those might be) will cause the whole venture to fall apart. They are finely tuned, like Formula One cars, which require preheated fluids and warmed tires in order to operate — as opposed to girls, who are like pickup trucks or big, family-style SUVs. We can go anywhere, through anything…

There’s obviously a larger societal problem going on here, but it’d be pretty damned nice to see Michelle West (or Kate Elliott or Judith Tarr or or or or or) getting covers that weren’t oriented At Girls.

It would be even nicer, of course, if a cover like Georgette Martin’s or Johanna Le Carre’s wasn’t off-putting to boys. Making covers more neutral can’t be just about making them more appealing to the male of the species; that’s still assigning them a gender preference, the one we regard as default. But! As an awareness issue, this kind of project certainly does the trick, and I loooooove it!

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

roseaponiroseaponi on May 8th, 2013 11:08 am (UTC)
A smaller-scale version of the experiment might be to produce editions with variant covers and see what sells. :)
kitmizkit on May 9th, 2013 07:43 am (UTC)
That's not a project your average publisher's gonna get behind, though. :)
Nick EdenNickpheas on May 8th, 2013 02:40 pm (UTC)
Another author worth a glance on this is Philip Reeve. If you compare the first paperback edition of Mortal Engines http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mortal_Engines
to the most recent
you've gone from a relatively gender neutral cover, in which the girl is the competent one, though you'd have to read the book for proof, to a firmly Aimed At Boys and no girl or adult would touch it with a barge pole.
kitmizkit on May 9th, 2013 07:47 am (UTC)
Having not read the book or anything, my first impression isn't that the girl is the competent one, but rather that she's, y'know, like, part of the action. But holy crap, you're totally right about the second one, which is...well, it looks like a bad photoshop job, really. Wow, that's awful. Do boys love it? o.O
Herefoxherefox on May 8th, 2013 03:31 pm (UTC)
I don't particularly find the Georgette cover off putting, I've read similar things many a time though I'd probably mock the cover a bit. I often do with Jody Lynn Nye covers though because, while she's an excellent artist, she goes through color phases. It's a pink Jody book! Ooh, this is when she was in her purple phase! The orange phase was decidedly rare and much sought after in retrospect...

It's done with love though, as I said, because she's talented. I think the only times I've been embarrassed with a book is when it's got the total bodice ripper cover on an urban fantasy novel and I forget that it's sitting on my desk at work.
kitmizkit on May 9th, 2013 07:42 am (UTC)
No, I don't mind JLN's covers either, but they do have a certain style and I honestly can't remember ever seeing one on a male writer's books, is all. (I might be wrong about that, but I can't remember seeing one right now, anyway!) And it's not that I find it off-putting, I just don't find it as appealing as the simpler ones. :)
Elial Shadowpineelialshadowpine on May 12th, 2013 04:09 am (UTC)
Um. Do you happen to mean Jody Lee's art? As far as I can tell, Jody Lynn Nye is an author, not an artist, and the description you give of the art sounds very much like Jody's.

(Unless they are the same person and I'm just not able to find reference, but judging by their respective Wiki pages... I think they are different people.)

If we are referring to Jody Lee's art, I do recall seeing her work for male author's covers (DAW employed her quite a lot for epic and high fantasy in the 90s), but I think at this point her work is probably best associated with her art for Mercedes Lackey's books.
Elial Shadowpineelialshadowpine on May 12th, 2013 04:15 am (UTC)
Augh! My comment, it got spammed. D: LIVEJOURNAL, not all links are spam.

Since I know that LJ has as of late been pernicious about not letting spammed comments out of spam, even when selected (I have had this problem on my own LJ)... my original comment was, are you meaning Jody Lee's art? Jody Lynn Nye seems to be an author only; I can't find any evidence of her doing cover art, and what you describe sounds like Jody Lee's work.

If so, then I would say (in response to mizkit) that I have certainly seen her covers on works by male artists (DAW in particular employed her quite a bit for epic & high fantasy novel covers in the 90s) but I think she's most known for the covers she's done for Mercedes Lackey's novels. I do recall several series with male authors, though. (I am a second generation SFF geek. Mom would bring home SFF book after book, and we particularly loved Jody's art... but I had learned, even at a fairly young age, that male authors did not tend to write so well about lady characters, so I remember very clearly sighing and petting the pretty covers but not reading the books because the authors were male and the storyline described was... all about men...)

Link to Jody Lee's art in a way that hopefully won't get spam marked: jodylee. org/website/index2. html
Elial Shadowpineelialshadowpine on May 12th, 2013 04:16 am (UTC)
Or hey, Mizkit could de-spam my comment like *snap*. Argh. Mizkit can decide whether to leave this or not, it is a little more detailed that my previous. Sorry!
Herefoxherefox on May 13th, 2013 06:29 pm (UTC)
I did, yes! I blame it on being at work and having Jody confusion. I know I've seen her covers on male author books before though she definitely ends up on more woman's books that I can think of. I really liked her covers until she got exceptionally into her color phases then I started to eyeroll now and then (purple companions, anyone? ;-)

Andrea Blytheblythe025 on May 8th, 2013 04:23 pm (UTC)
Great post. And thanks for sharing all the links and covers. It's been fascinating reading.
kitmizkit on May 9th, 2013 07:43 am (UTC)
You're welcome!
Flitterbyflit on May 13th, 2013 05:17 am (UTC)
I saw that and was hoping you would have some pithy comments, because, yessss.
Flitterbyflit on May 13th, 2013 05:22 am (UTC)
And, aha, I tracked down a writeup on some of the studies about this that were done on plays:

Randomnessr_ness on May 14th, 2013 04:37 am (UTC)
Making covers more neutral can’t be just about making them more appealing to the male of the species; that’s still assigning them a gender preference, the one we regard as default.

Agreed. There's quite a lot of this which is about policing the construction of masculinity; that men are very much trained not to show effeminacy. Walking around with a book with a fem cover is Not Okay.

The other bit this reminds me of is the different covers Harry Potter got in the UK. Apparently the publisher felt that adults might be embarassed to be seen reading a young adult novel on the tube, so they did some very lit-fic covers for that market.
kitmizkit on May 14th, 2013 06:40 am (UTC)
Right. So we're not really trying to fix book covers here, we're trying to fix society. Which is a somewhat larger task. @.@

They did that in America too, with the Harry Potter covers! Not right away, but they didn't do it immediately in the UK, either. Yeah.