In which I talk about coverflipping and what it reveals about covers
I read a very interesting article from Maureen Johnson about what she calls 'coverflipping'. A lot of people are talking about it on twitter, tumblr, and on their respective blogs so I thought 'hey, why not jump on the bandwagon'. If you want to see what all the buzz is about, head on over to Huffington Post and read these two articles (here and here). You should also check out some of the coverflips of popular novels that people have done. They are very interesting, and they are the reason why I am writing this blog today.
I wrote a post last year entitled 'The Problem Isn't Just the Covers' and if you don't feel like reading that, I'll just say that my whole point for writing it was because I had noticed two things about the covers for Young Adult novels:
1. 'Boy books' (Note: I don't really believe in the notion that there is such a thing as books for boys and books for girls. Last time I checked, books, regardless of the gender of the author or the main character, are for everybody) have covers that are 'female-centric'. If you're not sure what I mean by that, take a look at these three covers:
If you read this book then you know that the main character of this story is Frank (the guy with the tattoo.) Now, I'll admit, that part of the reason that I wanted to read this book besides the plot, is because the cover is so appealing. I love the colors and his tattoo (which is not a really a tatttoo but a symbol for the fact that Frank tried to hang himself) and this cover, when I first saw it, worked. Then I actually read the book, and it didn't work anymore. Yes, there is a love story embedded in this heartbreak of a novel but this book isn't about love. It's about something heavier than that and it deals with more serious subject matters like suicide and I only wish that this book had a cover that represented that.
I was thinking about cover-flipping this book but then I realized that in order to make this cover even more female-centric (Note: I'm using this term because the cover of Crash Into Me stereotypically suggests the idea that more female readers will read this because they'll appeal to the romance factor of the book which is again, stereotypically, what 'most' female readers look for in a story) than it already is, I'd have pulled a Paper Towns (Hardcover edition) and make Audrey the only character on the cover. Not sure what I'm referencing to?
I'm not going to say word for word what I said in the 'The Problem Isn't Just the Covers' post but let me just say that the hardback cover for Paper Towns infuriates me. I have the paperback version and I feel that that version fits the story more because Paper Towns isn't just about Margo. Sure, she's an important character, but the hardback cover completely ignores the fact that the main character of the novel is a guy, which is why I prefer the paperback version. It's more gender-neutral and has the ability to draw the attentions of both male and female readers. That's not to say that guys won't buy the book with the cover on the left, but...why can't we have books with gender-neutral covers? Especially since this book isn't about a girl.
I concluded from my analysis of books with male main characters that most of the covers either feature the male character with a female counterpart, are completely replaced by that female counterpart, or the male characters are overly sexualized on the cover.
(2) The 'White Girl in a Pretty Dress' trend. I think this is pretty self-explanatory. I mean, why do these girls ALWAYS have to be in a dress. Unless, it's apart of the story (which, usually, it's not) I don't see the point of them being in the dress, and another point that I brought up about these covers is race. I get that the model on the cover is supposed to represent the main character (in most cases) but...part of me wonders what would happen if there was an Asian girl on the cover of The Hunger Games or if the girl on the cover of any other book with a white model on the cover was a different ethnicity. There has been quite a few cases of white-washing but what if it were reversed?
There are people who are all for race-neutral and gender-neutral covers, and to be completely honest, after seeing books written by both men and women whose male main characters are not represented as they should be, I'm all for the latter. I'll tell you how I feel about the former another day.
The idea of coverflipping stems from the belief that female authors are given the 'girly' covers even though they might have books similar to ones written by male authors. Let me just start off by saying, that in my opinion, the whole problem is marketing and 'what sells'. Since the pretty covers like the one for Crash Into Me is what grabs people's attention (Note: When I say people's attention, I mean the attention of the female audience). I'm not sure about adult books but more females read YA than males. That's a fact. So it only makes sense (it doesn't really) that the industry caters to their biggest consumer group.
I don't agree with this approach because there are boys out there who will read 'girly books' and don't you dare tell me that that's not true. A lot of guys I know love the Harry Potter series which is written by a woman, and though her author name isn't 'feminine' (for lack of a better word) now that everyone knows that she's a woman her gender HAS NOT deterred men or guys or young boys from liking the series. Then there's Twilight. I would be lying if I said I didn't know a few guys who liked the series (which I do). There are boys out there who are open to reading anything but, often times, it's the gender-exclusiveness of the covers that turn them off. This is not the case for every guy and in no way am I saying that it is but it's certainly something to think about.
Maureen Johnson challenged people to take a cover of a book written by either a man or a woman and 'flip' the cover. So if it was written by a woman and had a somewhat 'girly' cover, then a person would make it so that the author was a man and the cover was more male-centric. You can check out some of my favorites over on my Tumblr. I think the whole concept of 'flipping' covers is pretty interesting and really, I see the point of it, but one thing that I couldn't help but notice, once I saw the covers that people came up with, that the covers for the female versions of the male-written novels are less gender-neutral and more gender-exclusive while the male-versions of the female-written novels are completly gender-neutral.
For example, take a look at the flipped version of Throne of Glass by S.J. Maas. And then look up the U.S. cover for the novel (if you're not already familiar with it). Now I have never been a fan of the original cover because, in my opinion, it doesn't live up to the wonderful story that ToG is. So when I saw the flipped version, part of me wished that it was the real cover for the novel because it works and it's beautiful AND, as a plus, it's gender-neutral and...wow. If you need to look at it one more time, here you go.
Maybe someone can write a post about the covers of Adult fiction, but as an avid reader of YA novels I notice these things, and because YA (again, in my opinion) is female-centric (and people can disagree with me and say that male writers get more attention or whatever but that doesn't change the fact that the YA industry seems to sell covers that cater to girls and, might I add, one type of girl) and this project only proved that point.
A commenter on Maureen Johnson's article had this to say:
"Soo add lots of pink, flowers, flowy hair, and soft focus abstract images of a white girls. -_- I think most of the "male" versions were better AND they were ACTUALLY more gender neutral AND at least racially neutral as well. If she was doing this for "female empowerment of (All) women" then she failed." - lolalogo
And in response to this comment, someone else said:
"She wasn't. She just made the point that most people look at covers before they read them and most people(like men) wouldn't buy the one with the flowers and girls. And that's pretty much all they give female authors." - Lady Random
I think the first comment brings up a good point. Before I go on, I'd like to say that I commend Maureen Johnson for coming up with this because it has gotten more people to talk about book covers and books and that is ALWAYS a good thing. I might still be trying to figure out my thoughts on it but it is, nonetheless, a clever idea. Okay, getting back to what I was saying. The part of lolalogo's comment that stuck out to me the most was "I think most of the "male" versions were better AND they were ACTUALLY more gender neutral AND at least neutral AND at least racially neutral as well. If she was doing this for "female empowerment of (All) women" then she failed". I don't necassarily agree with the idea that this whole project is just about 'female empowerment' because the bottom line is the covers that female authors get are not gender-neutral and if anything, they are stereotypical and they exclude two audiences of people. One being the male audience, and the other, non-white girls. I, too, found it interesting that the female versions of the male-written novels were both gender AND racially exclusive, while the male versions of the female-written novels were neutral on both fronts.
Now THAT is definitely something to think about.
I just want to end this post by saying that it isn't only female authors who get the 'girly covers' or as Lady Random put it 'the one(s) with the flowers and girls'. There are a handful of male authors who have 'girly covers' that do not correctly represent their books. I think author Adam Selzer (whose covers are 'pretty girly') had it right when he said "The "girly" cover thing has less to do with the author's gender than what market the publisher is going for."
I'll leave you guys with that.
Thanks for reading,
(If you want to see more flipped covers all you have to do is search 'coverflip' on Tumblr and you'll find a lot of them. If you decide to make some (or have already made some) please feel free to link where I can find them at in the comments)
(Again, note that the terms 'girly books' and 'boy books' are used loosely.)