Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Why is book-cover art for sci fi/fantasy novels written by women so embarrassingly, egregiously awful?

The author Mary Robinette Kowal, on John Scalzi's The Big Idea feature, begins describing her latest, Valour and Vanity, thusly:
The elevator pitch for Valour and Vanity is pretty simple, “Jane Austen writes Ocean’s Eleven. With magic.”
Sounds ultra fab, n'est-ce pas?

The cover art though, makes it look more like a high toned bodice ripper — totes unfair. Yes, the book isn’t all bromantic Die Hard/Ocean’s Eleven/Rififi-esque. It’s about how a 19th century married couple handles being robbed at sea by pirates. They steal their belongings back. Of course. There are gondola chases (this being Venice and all), magic and a bunch of “Italian nuns kicking ass.” I’m rather familiar with this breed.

So, I want to read Valour and Vanity — it sounds like a lot of fun and John Scalzi (John-Old Man’s War-Scalzi!) recommends it. BUT do I want to be seen toting a paperback with such a bathetic, nearly Harlequin-esque cover?

Young Adult author Maureen Johnson wrote about this cover art girlie-ization on HuffPo:
You are informed about a book’s perceived quality through a number of ways. Probably the biggest is the cover.
And the simple fact of the matter is, if you are a female author, you are much more likely to get the package that suggests the book is of a lower perceived quality. Because it’s “girly,” which is somehow inherently different and easier on the palate. A man and a woman can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, and that woman is simple more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow and the feeling of smooth jazz blowing off of it.
It’s not just woman penned Sci Fi/ Fantasy novels that get the reductive, diminutiving, pink treatment. War photographer and author Deborah Copaken Kogan wrote of her astounding experiences in The Nation last April:
The cover (of the memoir of her war photographer years) that the publisher designs has a naked cartoon torso against a pink background with a camera covering the genitalia. I tell them it’s usually my eye behind the camera, not my vagina. I fight—hard—to change the cover.
Happily, she won that particular battle.
It’s not just the cover art:
The book is sold on the basis of a proposal and a first chapter under the title Newswhore, which is the insult often lobbed at us both externally and from within our own ranks—a way of noting, with a combination of shame and black humor, the vulture-like nature of our livelihood, and a means of reclaiming, as I see it, the word “whore,” since I want to write about sexual and gender politics as well. Random House changes the book’s title to Shutterbabe
Go read the whole piece. Honest to Bast, you’ll be glad you did — maybe at least a little amazed and horrified but all the same glad you did.

No comments:

Post a Comment