If you’ve been paying attention to the world of publishing lately, then you’ll know there’s been a lot of complaints regarding the book covers of young adult books. They’re too gendered, appealing to one gender over another, instead of trying to appeal to both. Here is a good article on the subject. The article basically states that due to the nature of the covers, pink covers, or “girly” covers, will turn away boys and suggest that they don’t need to concern themselves with the female experience. It is acknowledged that girls will read almost anything but boys won’t, so to gender neutralize covers will draw in both. At the same time, the article also acknowledges that this isn’t full-proof because then it’s just feeding into sexism, whereby masculinity is seen as the norm, seen as gender neutral, and femininity is not.
I don’t think covers need to be gender neutralized. I don’t think that’s where the problem lies. I think the problem lies in the misrepresentation of the book, and the article does acknowledge this–briefly. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar received a rather, *ahem*, jarring cover makeover that is actually rather insulting. This cover makes the story of The Bell Jar seem frivolous. It’s not that it’s “girly”, because there is certainly nothing wrong with that. It’s that it’s completely misrepresenting what The Bell Jar is about!
I don’t even like the term “girly.” We grow up thinking pink is for girls and blue is for boys, but pink was once for boys and blue for girls. Funny how marketing changed all that.
There isn’t anything wrong with a pink cover, as long as it’s not misrepresenting what the book is about. I frankly enjoy the color pink–a light pink though, much like the satin on pointe shoes. But I rather hate the thought that boys are turned off by pink covers. We’ve made it such a threatening color to the point where pink covers on books scare boys away. That needs to change–not the book covers, unless they’re misrepresenting the book.
I think pink is sassy, outgoing, and bold. So, pink wouldn’t fit with any of my books because my characters aren’t sassy, outgoing, or bold. But I don’t see it as inherently girly. Wanting to get rid of pink covers or anything “girly” is just feeding into sexism, and that doesn’t need to happen.
When I do my book covers, I don’t even think of the gender of my readers. When I do a book a cover, I think of an object, something symbolic, that would relay the overall theme of my novel. Then I think of a background color that would best emphasize the object and portray the book. The cover for When Stars Die has not yet been approved, but I chose a certain object that symbolizes the freedom all witches seek, but yet they’re tightly bound by the rules of their mortal world. I then painted a dark blue, snowy backdrop since the book takes place in the freezing winter, and dark blue hints at the darkness present in the book.
Of course, if this cover is not approved, I did mention what kind of cover I wanted, and it’s a cover that will emphasize the darkness in the book. It’s a paranormal romance, more heavy on the paranormal/darkness aspect than on the romance. The romance is important, but the book isn’t just about that, so to have a cover that tries to convey the romance in my book would be total misrepresentation.
Overall, what I think needs to happen with book covers is that the stories need to start being properly represented, without publishers worrying about what gender to market to. An attractive cover is an attractive cover, and I think both boys and girls can agree on this, whether or not that cover is trying to market to one gender or another. The Bell Jar, for one thing, could use a total cover overhaul. It’s completely disrespecting both Sylvia Plath and her story.
2 thoughts on “Gendered Covers for Young Adult Novels”
I love this post. I agree that pink shouldn’t be an inherently bad colour in boys’ eyes, though I’m not the biggest fan of pink either. Still, a great cover is a great cover. One cover that I found particularly incredible was the cover of Sabriel–a beautiful woman on the front, wearing dark colours and surrounded by dark blues that brought out the tone of both the character and the book, thus doing a cover’s most important job: giving an initial taste of what the book’s about.
I loved Sabriel, and there are some fantastic covers for Garth Nix’s books!