I’m shaking as I write this, because I’m both sad and angry. I guess in some parts of the world they call this “frustrated.” Or “sangry.”
I’m sad that as a culture, we’re still divided this way: that some books are girly books, and some books are guy books.
I’m also angry that people still try to pretend like it’s not a problem. That’s it’s not a problem we have to have separate “women-only” book awards, because female authors get so little recognition in mainstream awards (3:10 female to male winners for the Booker). That it’s no biggie when a female author gets slut-shamed while her books get ignored. Or that books by female authors tend to get fluffy, jazzy covers; that female authors have to use pen names to supposedly be marketable to boy audiences (J.K. Rowling?).
Somehow, all this is not a “gendered” problem.
@kiersi Most authors don’t get the success they want. Or get reviewed in the Times. Plenty hate their covers.These problems aren’t gendered.
— Brendan Halpin (@bhalpin) May 7, 2013
Author Maureen Johnson did a pretty neat piece recently of books written by male authors, with the covers re-imagined as if the author was of the opposite sex or gender queer (also see the top image on this post). And boy, is it fascinating to look at.
I get that it’s not a social science experiment by any measurable standard. It’s conjecture, made up by artists, on a cute little prompt that Maureen sent out.
Regardless, the images are striking. The “boy”-ized version of Throne of Glass probably got to me the most. It’s so… dark. And serious. And totally gender-neutral. I can’t help but feel like when I look at it that yes, this is absolutely the difference between a YA book “for boys or anyone,” and a YA book “for just girls.”
From a marketing standpoint, I totally get it. I’m not going to pretend like I don’t understand how the publishing machine works. Girls, and parents of girls, and grandparents of girls, buy book covers that look “girly.” Same for boys. Publishers know this. Marketers know this. When they are tasked with selling a book, they’re going to target their audience. (See my post on white chicks in flowy dresses dominating YA book covers.)
Therein lies the problem.
Since when did a romance book become something only women would write or read? What about, like, Goethe? I must be taking crazy pills. That guy lived his life writing romance. Not to mention Shakespeare, the origin of the best romantic comedies ever.
If A Midsummer Night’s Dream isn’t “chick lit,” I don’t know what is.
When did we as a culture decide that some books are only for girls, and some are only for boys? Maybe if we stopped marketing them that way. Maybe if authors didn’t have to change their names to sound male or un-gendered just to sell to a “wider” audience.
It totally goes both ways. I have a friend who had to shorten his name on his book because it was a “girl” book, and he was a guy author–and his publisher was worried no one would buy a “girl” book with a male author’s name on it.
Even worse: we hear a lot at writer’s conferences that “boys don’t read.” That our books must have constant, page-turning fun and action if the boys are going to keep reading. Since when? The most voracious readers I know are all guys, and have been since they were young.
The problem is two-fold. Which came first: the chicken, or the egg?
1) Boys are raised to like “boy” things. Girls are raised to like “girl” things.
2) Book publishers design their books to have a gendered appeal. More often than not, the “girl” book is obvious. (I think the same reason “pink” is a girl color, but blue can sell to both genders.)
I think it starts with raising our kids to like things based on the story and the content, not the gender of the narrator or the author. But it also starts with publishers getting out of gendered design and marketing. I don’t want my book to be sold as a “girly” book. I want it to be sold as a book about a girl who goes through life (and monsters).
Is that so much to ask?
On a personal note, I did politely ask my publisher not to put a girl in a flowy dress on the cover of my book, and they obliged. Props to you, Rain Town.