Discuss: Gender & Book Covers


Recently the Young Adult author Maureen Johnson launched this amazing challenge on her Tumblr. The challenge was called “Coverflip” and it centered on messages she sometimes gets from young men that say, roughly, “please change the cover of your book so that I can read it.” Now, firstly, these young men are laboring under the delusion that they are only “allowed” to read books that have “manly” covers. This is patently untrue and no one is making them avoid these books. But just the fact that they clued in on something as specific as the book’s cover suggests that there is an endemic gendering of book covers that’s taking place.

Maureen Johnson’s “Coverflip” challenge was to see if her followers could change up covers of her books and some classic books to “fit” the other gender’s marketing stereotype. She wrote a really amazing article on The Huffington Post in which she said many brilliant things, one of which I will quote here.

So, we’re thinking about boys and girls and what they read. 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, on any old literary fuel you put in us.

Largely because we have little choice in the matter.

I have seen this gender disconnect in many areas of life, not only books. People tend to assume that women can very easily dress like men, read about men, and consume media created for men. But could men do those same things and be accepted by society? Goodness gracious, no! Why, though? Why can these gender stereotypes flip one way, but not the other? In addition, Johnson notes that so-called “girly” covers are often equated with stories that are “trashy” or “fluff.” This is very often not true about the words past those covers, so why are publishers saddling books by female authors with covers that will give them an incorrect reputation?

Accompanying Johnson’s article is a slideshow of responses that she received to her “Coverflip” challenge. The results are really amazing. The flip of Game of Thrones, for instance, is particularly striking. Would a boy want to pick up a book with that new, “girly” cover on it? Probably not. And yet the content inside is exactly the same as the edition with the covers we already know. In example after example, the font has been changed, the colors have been altered, and the main image has been switched to something more traditionally female. As you scroll through them, do the altered covers change your perception of what the book might be about? That’s not surprising since covers are the first impression we get about new books while browsing bookstores. Though we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, we very often do. In the cases of many female Young Adult authors, then, their books are presenting a false first impression because of their gendered book cover.

I’m not really sure what the result of all of this should be, but it has made me realize just how divided the literary world is along gender lines. What do you guys think about this? What’s up with specifically gendered book covers? Why can’t boys pick up books with girls on the cover? And what does this all mean for society and gender at large? Share your thoughts in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Discuss: Captivating Covers

We’re often told that it’s wrong to judge a book by its cover. To be honest, I’ve begun to treat this more as advice pertaining to people rather than books. Of course we shouldn’t judge people solely on their outward appearance, but books? Well, book covers are often telling us quite a bit about the words inside. And besides, they’re pretty to look at. Fair warning, this is probably going to be a very shallow post about books. But if you’re sometimes shallow about books (and you know you are, come on), come join me!


In terms of book cover designs, there are some that stand out from my own personal shelves. The first one that will always be at the top of my Best Cover Designs list is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. This cover is absolutely amazing and this is a case where, I think, the stunning cover matches the stunning story inside. And you know what the best part is? They seem to keep redesigning this cover, so it’s become a game of can-I-collect-all-the-covers? So far I have this one, which is the edition that I originally read, and the cover shown here. There is also this edition, which I pine over in bookstores, and this one that I didn’t know existed until today. I should really go book shopping…


Here is another cover that I love seeing on my shelves. This is Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde. This book and its fictional universe have a lot to do with color, so it’s very appropriate that the cover is splashed with bright hues. In this book, Fforde creates an incredibly enthralling world that seems to engulf you just as the vibrant colors on the cover might ensnare you as you’re book browsing. And this is another book that has tons of amazing variations to its cover. There’s this one, which alludes to more of the book’s contents; this one, which is really neat; and this one, which is a little less impressive. I’m quite happy with my edition.

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a bit of book cover envy. Penguin currently has a line of books called the clothbound classics and I’ve been seeing them everywhere. Not only are the covers gorgeous, they’re compact, easy to carry around, and have lovely cloth covers. Ah, one day perhaps I’ll be able to buy them all.

How about you guys? What are your favorite cover designs? If you were going to judge books by their covers, which do you think have covers that reflect their inner wonderfulness? Share your thoughts in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan