Anyone in our business who looks at Twitter or Tumblr by now is very much aware of the greatness that is Maureen Johnson’s #coverflip. I got in on the act early on with a few challenges that people had tweeted. I wasn’t trying to say anything profound with these covers, just having a bit of fun. You can check my twitter account if you’re interested.
But #coverflip has become a talking point for some pretty serious issues. One criticism of #coverflip has been that it is inherently critical itself of anything “feminine”. In other words a girl on the cover equals a trashy book. Frankly that’s not a very sophisticated read on the #coverflip meme. It’s actually a very nuanced argument that the people who are discussing coverflip are trying to make. Perhaps we may not even understand that clearly ourselves.
But I’ve been thinking that since we are talking about a visual issue it might be best to try to parse out the argument visually. Each coverflip submission is of course a visual statement, but the whole argument hasn’t quite been put into visual terms that satisfy me. So I’m going to try.
I’m going to start with a Printz winning book, HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff. Like most successful books, this one has a number of covers, some are more “feminine” than others. But here’s the one most of us are familiar with:
It’s a great cover. Graphic, moody, artistic. It looks like the serious book that it is. There are a couple of variations on this cover. But there are also some that do something completely different.
These other covers are nodding to some pretty ubiquitous YA cover trends that can roughly be described as “Faceless girl with optional wafty hair”, and “soft focus girl with optional flowers/butterfly”. OK, so fine. Apart from the fact that these cover models all look high, it’s still a great book and how can we control what foreign publishers put on covers? Maybe it’s not such a big deal.
But here’s the thing. I really like the first cover and it kind of reminds me of another book and cover I really like, MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD, by Francisco S. Stork. Also a very well-reviewed award winning book. And here’s the cover we’re most familiar with:
Same ideas – graphic, stark, evocative. It’s a little more literal than Rosoff’s cover but I still think it has the same artistic feel. So probably there are some covers where Marcelo is looking vague and soft-focused right? Let’s see. I’m looking. I’m looking.
Hmm. This is the closest I could find:
In fact almost ALL the foreign editions of Stork’s book use the original cover. It’s almost as if foreign rights publishers don’t know something like the below cover, I just designed would sell more books, especially to girls, whom we all know are particularly drawn to out of focus vaguely stoned looking heroes and heroines.
(as an aside: do you know how hard it is to find stock art with boys and men looking vague and useless? Go ahead and browse some stock sites. You’ll see what I mean)
The complaint that drove #coverflip yesterday and today is very real. It’s not just about girly books and girly covers. On the one hand it, like similarly amusing yet pertinent awareness campaigns aimed at comic books, is about the narrow range of images accepted as reflecting femininity. I’m speaking now of passive, softly focused girls with floating hair and fluffy dresses, and their ubiquity ONLY on books written and/or about girls and women. On the other hand the #coverflip campaign has also drawn attention to the fact that books authored by women often get incongruously “feminine” or “romantic” covers, even when the content within is not very feminine or “romantic”. Consider this Printz winner, NOTHING by Janne Teller, maybe the least romantic book I’ve ever read (and I’ve read 50 Shades of Grey).
Anyone would think this was a heartbreaking romance, like THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Oh hahahahaha. It’s not. It’s so VERY not. But apparently American publishers wanted people to think it was.
Maybe because this is such a deeply messed up and brilliantly twisted and disturbing book, it’s perhaps not surprising the wide range of covers NOTHING has had. Only the American paperback has this soft and romantic look. Make what you will of that. If you’re interested this cover is a much more accurate depiction of what happens in this demented book:
Look at the “feminine” cover. Then look at the other one. Then look at the feminine one again. Then imagine that the author was a man. Would this cover happen to M. T Anderson? I don’t think so.
For final proof at the below two covers, both award winning books:
At a glance, pretend you don’t know, and tell me which one was female authored. Right, it’s the soft blue colored one with the sky and the geese.
And which one is set in juvenile detention? In fact they both are, despite the fact that the female model looks like she just came from a beauty salon and is out in the park watching the abovementioned geese. So for my final trick, I’m going to ask you in your mind, to flip these covers.