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YA Author Takes On Gendered Book Covers With the Coverflip Challenge

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Yesterday author Maureen Johnson Tweeted about how many times she’s been told by men that they wish her books had “non-girly” covers so they could read them without fear of embarrassment. Her books don’t get “girly” covers because of their content, she explains, but because of her gender: “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 inherently 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. This idea that there are ‘girl books’ and ‘boy books’… gives credit to absolutely no one, especially not the boys who will happily read stories by women, about women. As a lover of books and someone who supports readers and writers of both sexes, I would love a world in which books are freed from some of these constraints.”

Thus Coverflip was born. The challenge, proposed by Johnson, asks for people to take a well-known book and reimagine what the cover might look like if the author was of a different gender. A few of our favorites—including A Game of Thrones by “Georgette R. Martin” and Stardust by “Nellie Gaiman”—are behind the cut.

(via: The Huffington Post)

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  • Justin Peniston

    That is brilliant.

  • r3t0dd

    Do they have any that go the other way? Book covers by women reimagined as if they were written by men?

  • Anna Sophia May

    the Stardust cover made me giggle.
    the tagline would have caught me, but otherwise i’d not have touched it with a stick, If I’d seen that when I was younger.
    I try to be fairer, though. Now I judge by the first chapter.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    There are some at the HuffPo link. I didn’t include them because they’re books I haven’t heard of.

  • Elwyne

    this, please. :)

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, Stardust’s flip looks like a romance novel. Wow. What a difference.

  • cloudywolf

    I actually love the coverflipped version of ‘On The Road’. Far better than the original, however irrelevant it is to the book’s content.

    I guffawed at the flipped ‘Lord of the Flies’. Potentially the most misleading cover ever.

  • Anonymous


  • Bridget Smith

    One of them is a book by Maureen Johnson, the author who initiated this. That one at least might have been worth including. (For the record, the ones by women are incredibly popular YA novels.)

  • Magic Xylophone

    Missed a huge opportunity with Game of Thrones to do one of those Twilight-style covers with the hands holding a dragon egg.

    The problem with most of these is that, hideous as the flipped versions are, the originals are ugly and bland too. Like modern poster art, modern book cover art is a pretty sorry affair, generally.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    I am so out of the loop! :)

  • Rachael Klinger

    While most of these are just hilarious/kinda sad, I actually liked the alt Game of Thrones and Clockwork Orange art.

  • Phil Gonzales

    Wait, but they *did* do this with Stardust! Stardust had multiple covers, with some selling it as a romance and others as a fantasy novel. Right? I’m remembering this correctly, right?

  • Anonymous

    It’s like abstraction is a crime if the author’s a lady. Trying to think if there are any stock covers that have an even gender split. Hieroglyphics? Penguin novels? Shadowy fantasy characters? (“Man in a hood! You can’t go wrong with a man in a hood.”)

  • Bridget Smith

    To be fair, I think the “male” Maureen Johnson cover is bland, not very illustrative of the point, and not relevant to the actual book. I saw another on Tumblr for the same book – titled THIRTEEN LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES – that was icons of 13 blue envelopes laid in a square! That one was great, and I don’t know why it wasn’t chosen.

  • Anonymous

    Wow the Game of Thrones looks more like something that would show up on Devianart. Total bollocks.

  • Ellie

    I just love Maureen Johnson. I actually avoided her books for so long because they did seem so girly in a way I usually don’t like, but I kept hearing about her and so picked up “Suite Scarlett,” which was the one I avoided the most because gah puns, and it was actually really, really good. And now I have this awesome author funny cool person who does neat things like this to follow on twitter. Woooooo!

  • Aeryl

    OMG, there were like four different series I refused to pick up because I THOUGHT THEY WERE ALL THE SAME ONE!!!

  • electrasteph

    But look at the real Gaiman cover for Stardust. That cover isn’t a pro effort at all.

  • Alissa Knyazeva

    Reading this makes me really, really sad. Especially because I see some of those “girly” covers and all I can think of is those low-quality YA novels I read in high school to understand what everyone was talking about and fit in (Gossip Girl, looking at you), and then immediately don’t want to read them anymore. Not that “girly” is necessarily bad, but some of them are so cliche that it makes me feel like I already know what’s written inside, when I really don’t. Such a shame.

    I’m currently writing a sci-fi novel (female protag, exactly zero romance and zero pandering to gendered stereotypes), and I’ve already designed a beautiful, minimalist cover art for it (I’m an art student) that is integral to the entire plot of the book (it’s basically a huge spoiler for the end of the book that no one who hasn’t gotten to the end would understand – they’d see it as something else instead). I intend to fight tooth and nail for that cover art when I finish writing and start shopping around for publishers. NOTHING else will be going on the cover of my book, even if I have to self-publish.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe I’m weird (granddaughter’s say so), but I read both male and female authors fairly evenly. I do look at the cover of a book, but then I turn it over and read the “intro” piece on the back before I decide to buy it. As for anyone looking at me strangely because I bought “girl” book, I just tell them it is for my 15 and 17 yo granddaughters. I usually send them the book(s) after I have read it myself, so it’s not a stretch.

  • Mimi Rice

    I was just about to post this. I am so predictable!

    Although to be honest, I am at my limit of whimsical covers, both the ‘male’ and ‘female’ variety.

  • Kelly Hutchinson

    I actually think I would have picked it up maybe even over the actual cover (it gave me nightmares as a small child and has lead to me never reading the book)

  • Anonymous

    Some of the fantasy series I read are The Night Watch, Urban Magic, Secret Histories, Rivers of London, The Iron Druid Chronicles, The Dresden Files…

    and I swear to god, they all have the same colour scheme. My bookshelf is like a schlock rainbow.

  • cloudywolf

    With the way publishing houses work, I would be astonished if you even get a say in the cover, let alone choose it yourself. But I am the same!

  • Brian

    As a bookseller, I can say that this is scary accurate. The new cover for Catherine Called Birdy is particularly embarrassing. It gives no indication of the humor and life of the book, just a girl in a pretty medieval dress.

  • Laura Truxillo

    Aw, they messed with Catherine Called Birdy now?

    Working at the library, I’ve noticed that teen books look more and more alike. Especially if it’s fantasy. But it’s almost all generic “I put this together in photoshop with some getty images stuff” covers–nothing illustrated, nothing that pops like it used to.

    At some point that’s got to be more detrimental to selling books. It’s good to look like what’s popular, sure, I guess; but if you look like every other book, how on earth can you stand out?

  • Laura Truxillo

    That’s not the best hill to die on, really.

    I mean, your book, your baby. And the idea of hiding a reveal in the cover is pretty clever. But yeah, most authors, even big ones, don’t get much of a say in their cover art.

  • Octochan

    I don’t know what you’re talking about. When I bought Stardust it was a four issue comic miniseries. :D

  • Life Lessons

    Huh. And oh good grief to the publishing industry and the silly men who can’t go and read a “girly covered” book. Just *raspberry*

  • Anonymous

    Seems like one of the hidden benefits of eBooks – covers are nearly irrelevant. I’m sure there are lots of other ways in which publishers neglect some authors within the format, though.

  • Brian

    Yeah, it’s just a medieval girl holding a pen now. And it’s very serious and somber. Letters From Rifka, though, got a superior cover recently, far better than the Glamour Shot of the original. Howl’s Moving Castle has a good one now. And the newer My Teacher Is An Alien covers are really good, too. So there’s some good in there. But the new ones for The Babysitter’s Club and The Boxcar Children are lousy.

  • Bridget Smith

    The problem is that (I believe) it’s detrimental to selling *specific* books, but people will still buy *any* books. The buyers at Barnes & Noble have a huge amount of power, and no one goes against them because not having your book in B&N is terrible for sales. B&N likes a certain kind of cover and knows that kind of cover will sell. They don’t care which books people buy, as long as it’s a lot. The end result is that a specific cover isn’t designed for a specific book; rather, a generic cover is designed for a genre.

  • Strangelove

    You’re writing exactly the book I want to read!! I think it’s almost impossible to find something like that. I love science fiction and I also love when someone can write more than ten pages (or speak for more than 10 minutes) without throwing a stereotype about gender (or other kinds of stereotypes as well). I also find romance boring. I hope you can get your book published so I can read it! And I hope you get the cover you want. Good luck!

  • Aundrea Singer

    As an author recently published with an e-book publisher, I can safely say that much as I wish otherwise, covers are just as hugely influential with digital novels as they ever were with paperbacks. If the cover is lousy, people still won’t read the blurb, and if they don’t read the blurb, they won’t buy the book.

  • Alissa Knyazeva

    Thank you! That’s really reassuring to hear. My book is about a mildly futurist Earth just starting to explore the space/systems around it using new FTL travel technology. The main protagonist is a young woman who graduates from university and enlists in the military as a field scientist to be part of the exploration project (it’s kind of considered a dead-end job in her world, so she meets a bit of opposition from friends/family because they think she should do “something greater”, but she wants to go to space for a multitude of personal reasons). The other two central characters are her father, a gay PoC man (and his husband, though he doesn’t figure as much since he’s on Earth), and a younger former SpecOps soldier battling with a massive case of PTSD and survivor’s guilt, plus a little something extra science fiction-y…. (yes, I know he sounds like set up for ~romance and healing~, but he’s really not, I swear). I’m also really happy to say that none of my villains are sexist/racist/homophobic, and they never once utter a single gendered stereotype either, even though they’re still very undeniably evil. :)

    My plan is to get it finished and ready for publication before I graduate in two years. I hope I can get that cover… I have some not-so-nice things I’m considering trying (subconscious psychological manipulation, basically) to get it as the cover. We’ll see if I’m successful.

  • Alissa Knyazeva

    I guess I have the luxury to make that decision – I don’t intend for my stories to be my bread and butter, I have a different career path selected, so if I can’t get them represented the way I want them to be represented, then I can choose to not make those compromises. I appreciate that other people may not have the choice.

    I’d rather people read them for free, but presented in the way I want them to, than to have people pay money for them but have my vision bastardized and watered down because of some inane, lazy reasons (well, certain of my stories anyways. There are others whose covers I couldn’t care less about).

  • Anonymous

    Oh God, the Carrie one makes my brain hurt so much.

  • Laura Truxillo

    The new Babysitter’s Club comics were really well done, though.

    I’m not loving the new My Teacher Is An Alien covers, but that’s just the nostalgia talking. I miss those old school scholastic “here’s a full-bodied scene on the front” covers. Mostly, though, I’m just happy at the implication that kids will still be reading those books, because Bruce Coville’s work, especially in that series, still stays with me as some of the most important, world-view-altering stuff I read as a kid.

  • Hannah T

    I’d really recommend Katya’s World. It’s a YA novel with a capable, human female protagonist on a far-off ice planet dealing with a war, and there is zero romance.

    I also enjoyed Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta series (not YA). It does have romance come in, but not until I think the third book (?) or later and always as a background event to what was really going on.

  • Erica M.

    I wouldn’t have touched the Game of Thrones one with a 10 foot pole with the magic dragon girl and little warrior girl on the front. I would have rolled my eyes and kept on scanning for a new book. Also that Lord of the Flies one is sooo misleading! Art is big to me, it is the first thing I notice and if it catches my eye I will pick it up to see if I want it, but if the artwork doesn’t even catch me then I never bother to look at it closer. This is so sad that there is such a difference in these book covers! I feel like I need to go to B&N and read every jacket of every YA book I eye rolled at to make sure I didn’t miss something awesome.

  • David Ouillette

    It is kind of funny, since switching almost exclusively to reading on my Kindle, the only time I even see the covers is the tiny image on Amazon when I buy the books. I find this has been a good thing, as I’ve been able to get into so many indie self-published authors without prejudice.

  • Michail Velichansky

    It’s not always so simple. Publication isn’t just about money (there’s not really that much money in it) — it’s about reach, exposure, professional help. If you get a good editor it’s worth it, because otherwise you’d almost certainly need to pay a good editor, and that’s not cheap.

    You’re also not open to the possibility that professional cover designers might make a better cover than what you did. (Not a guarantee certainly…)

    I guess tl;dr there are advantages to publication that I think outweight choice of cover. But then, I’m not picky about covers as long as they aren’t whitewashed.

  • Kate

    I would heavily recommend doing so! The same thing for the fantasy and sci-fi novels. Some of my absolute favorite books have absolutely horrible covers, like the new “gold sparkly lady eyes!” cover for McKinley’s Sunshine. Or, frankly, any of Patricia Briggs’ covers. She writes completely badass heroines, but the covers all show half naked women posing seductively. *Eyeroll*

  • Alissa Knyazeva

    When I said that writing won’t be my bread and butter, I was actually referring to exactly that – exposure, marketing, networking, etc. – things a professional author needs to make their way in the field and build a reputation, but I won’t since I’m writing just for the joy of writing and telling stories.

    Also, technically, by the time this book would be published *I* would be a professional cover artist. No reason to outsource to someone else if I can do the job just as well, if not better.

    I suppose I made it sound more severe than I actually am. If they can sit me down and explain to me, with reasons and justifications I can respect, why their idea for a cover is better for the book than mine, then by all means, their choice of cover it is. But since that kind of respect and commitment is unlikely, it’s probably easier and quicker for everyone involved if I just say “my cover or bust”.

    I’m absolutely positive that a publishing company has many, many benefits that logically outweigh the cover issue, so it’s really just me being my usual silly control freak self. Who knows, maybe in two years I’ll change my mind. However, since I’m an artist as well as a writer, visual presentation of me and my work is extremely important to me.

  • Strangelove

    Sounds great! I’m also interested in portrayals of PTSD, and I love good(?) villains… I really hope I can read it someday! :) Don’t give up with the cover!

  • Strangelove

    Thank you! Now I’m interested in both titles, I must find some time to read them. And it’s not that I hate romance, it’s just I don’t like to see it forced on every single story. I enjoy it when it’s well written, meaningful and not out of context.

  • Andrew Orillion

    I agree about the “On The Road” coverflip. It’s a huge improvement.

  • Mina

    I know a couple of people who self-publish and they love it. It’s definitely more risky if you’re looking for profit because you don’t get all the marketing a publishing company does on your behalf. But if you’re really truly wanting to just get your dream work into existence regardless of exposure, profits, or wide audience, self-publishing could very well be a good way to go. My writer acquaintances fully endorse it.

  • Mina

    This is why it makes me sad that covers are used more to market than to convey the actual plot/characters/ideas/feelings of the book. I suppose that’s inevitable because if you want to sell a lot of books you market however you can and the cover is one of the easiest, cheapest outlets for doing that. But it so often results in terrible, terrible covers that have nothing to do with the book and everything to do with who the marketer thinks the target audience should be and what they’ll like.

  • Stacy Roth

    I literally picked up one of my favorite fantasy novels ever because it had a cliche ‘fantasy lady’ cover, and that was what I was in the mood for (cliche fantasy, female protag) ended up being deep, interesting, so full of stereo-type free queer characters it blew my mind (Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks, btw).

    So I don’t browse books in person anymore really, because I can’t get over my first reaction to a cover. Instead I have a constantly added to, precisely ordered goodreads list that comes with me via phone to the library and the bookstore.

  • ACF

    I’m not going to lie; I really enjoy that Game of Thrones cover.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah…..that one is pretty bad as well. At least it looks somewhat nice though. The Game of Thrones one is just horrid!

  • Jacii Miller

    You know, usually I’m like, “Okay, I get that..” when you all harp about men being well, men.. and women getting a raw deal.
    But this? Seriously?
    Not only are the ‘cover flips’ horribly done, most don’t have anything to do with the story. And hell, some of the originals are gender neutral.
    Come on..

  • Anonymous

    Than I HIGHLY recommend you read Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. It’s like Groundhog’s Day for a mean, popular girl–but with depth, intimacy, emotional honesty and a heroine with real growth instead of cliches that usually plague portrayals of popular girls.

  • Anonymous

    However, it really does remind me of a lot of my fav. female fantasy author’s cover art.
    An example being Hero’s at RIsk The art has little to do with the story (other than there’s a guy an girl lead, and it’s fantasy) and it’s obvious the faces are pasted in over the originals at the last moment. The rest of the series bad too, but this is my least favorite of them.

  • Jamie M. Franklin Dacyczyn

    I also hate the new covers got Ella Enchanted. I still love the original hardcover with Ella wearing a plain green dress with her plain brown hair, a secret Mona Lisa sort of smile, and that simple background and font. The new ones show her just cute looking with pink glittery font.

  • Brian

    I like the new covers, because I think they do a better job at selling the “Holy shit, an alien!” of it all. And as a child, I was hugely annoyed that at no point in any of the books did the scenes depicted on the covers actually happen. Side note: Met Bruce Coville a few weeks back. Super nice guy. Class act all the way.

  • Carly Hunter

    Thats the point male authors have covers that are more genderneutral and femaile authors often get covers that say these are GIRL books even when it doesnt really reflect what the book is about.

  • Katelyn

    I disagree when it comes to the sic-fi and fantasy genre. I don’t read regular fiction and going through book covers I could see the pattern, but I devour fantasy novels and have always found typically gendered covers is not the case.

    Robin Hobb, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffery, Margaret Weis, Kate Elliot, Megan Lindholm, Naomi Novik, Robin McKinley, N.K. Jemisin, Ursula K. Le Guin are all female fantasy authors who have published several books and I don’t think any of their covers from any of their series are “girly” but unisex. They are all popular fantasy authors so feel free to check and form your own opinion.

    Also, Jennifer A. Nielsen’s book “The Runaway King” has a cover very similar to the original Game of Swords cover.

  • Nat

    Sounds like you should just self-publish then