I love a good conversation about book covers, so when Maureen Johnson stepped up and called for discussion and commentary on gendered covers, I started thinking. First, go read post which contains some of the redesigned covers created by readers. The long and short of the post is that female-authored books tend to have covers with a feminine slant, while male-authored books tend to have more literary covers to them (or more masculinely slanted covers).
This is actually not a new discussion at all. It’s something Kiersten White brought up a few months ago on Twitter, in relation to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Would the cover look different if it were Jennifer Green instead? That’s not a knock on the book nor on the quality. It’s a good question about what we assume of books penned by male authors, as opposed to female.
Maureen’s post set off a number of really interesting reactions, some of which I saw stemming from her post and some which took a part of her post and went in a different direction. Justina Ireland wrote about feminism and about how she can like girly covers. Amanda Hocking wrote about how she’s complex, and how she like both those things which are girly and those which typically aren’t. Trish Doller wrote about her own cover and how books with similar themes as her own have different covers than hers (which is much more romantic in nature than the book itself).
I could write at length about any or all of these topics, but what has been sticking out in my mind is that of the male voice in YA. More specifically, the male voice as written by a female.
The male voice as written by a female whose names appear on covers like this:
All of these male-voices YA titles are written by women whose names are initials on the cover. More specifically, all of these first YA novels featuring male voices have initialized author names on the cover, degendering their names. Note that Marissa Marr and Kelly Armstrong’s first middle grade collaboration, which is a male-voiced novel, uses this technique too.
Obviously plenty of females use initials for their names. Many of the authors listed above likely do just that. But what’s interesting to me is that this trend doesn’t happen much the other way around. And maybe it’s that there are fewer male writers whose first books are written in a female voice.
I can think of one first YA novel written by a male with a lead female where his name is initialed.
Maybe what’s as interesting to me as the initial use is that all of the covers above are either images that are gender neutral or they feature a male on the cover. These books appeal to both male and female readers in equal measure for both those reasons.
Does using an initial or two in place of an author’s full first name, though, impact reader perceptions of the book or the voice within it? In other words, had S. D. Crockett’s After the Snow had her first name on it — Sophie — would readers see the book differently? Would they not believe the male voice?
I have a lot more I want to say on covers like C. Desir’s Fault Line, but since it doesn’t come out until the fall, I’m saving my comments until then. I’ve had a lot of pause for thought lately, and I think that Maureen’s bringing up this topic of gendered covers is an important one. I think about it from the point of view of a librarian who works with teens and who adamantly believes that there is no such thing as gender in a book. Sure, covers can tap into the visually appealing elements that are socially associated with females and those which are socially associated with males. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with a cover that has a couple kissing on it — if that’s what the book is about, then it’s going to find its audience pretty well.
So then I wonder: are names and the way they appear on YA covers a marketing technique, too? Is using one’s initials to “degender” a name a means of reaching that elusive male readership if the book features a male voice? Would boy readers not believe the authenticity of any of the books above or others if the name on the cover was Emily or Erin or Sarah or Stephanie or Christina?
There’s a lot to chew on, and I’d be curious if anyone can think of examples either way: where the male-led novel written by a female has her initials as her author name or where a female-led novel written by a male has his initials as his author name. As I said before, this is a trend I’ve noticed in first YA novels, but it’s possible there are instances where pseudonyms are used. Lay them on me!