Gender and Cover Art: The Coverflip Challenge

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By Anjanette Wiggins

Can you really judge a book by it's cover?

The original cover of Sherman Alexie's book A reimagined cover of Alexie's book
The original cover art for
Sherman Alexie's book
What if the book had been written
by a woman?


A fascinating article published on the blog The Huffington Post asked some interesting questions:

  • Does the gender of a writer affect the cover art selected for his/her book?
  • Does the appearance of the cover art affect readers’ perceptions of the book’s quality?

For teen fiction author Maureen Johnson, the answer to both questions is yes. Johnson is an avid user on the social networking site Twitter. She recently lamented about the frequent requests from teenage boys asking that the covers of her books appear less "girly," and thus, more appealing to male readers.

I do wish I had a dime for every email I get that says, "Please put a non-girly cover on your book so I can read it. - signed, A Guy"
—maureenjohnson (@maureenjohnson) May 6, 2013

This observation led Johnson to consider how the artwork for her books affected the way readers view the potential quality of her work when deciding whether to read her books. In her opinion, gender plays a huge role in the way a book is marketed.

"A man and a woman can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, and that woman is simply more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow and the feeling of smooth jazz blowing off of it."
—Maureen Johnson, The Huffington Post

Maureen Johnson enjoys using her Twitter account to spark interesting discussions and to issue challenges to her followers. This debate about gender and cover art led Johnson to start the Coverflip Challenge. She asked her followers to imagine how the cover art of popular books might differ if the author’s gender were flipped.

Follow the Coverflip Challenge discussion on Twitter. The hashtag is #coverflip. There are already a number of submissions posted on The Huffington Post’s website. Take a look at them, and let us know if you think a book’s cover art affects your level of interest in that book. Do you think gender plays a significant role in the design and marketing of popular fiction?

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