Scrolling through my Google Reader just now, I came across a post at the Book Pushers website, stating their must-have titles for July.  In order of appearance and category, the books listed are:

Urban Fantasy

Night Veil, by Yasmine Galenorn

Naked City, an anthology edited by Ellen Datlow

Hammered, by Kevin Hearne

Ghost Soldiers, by Keith Melton

Spell Bound, by Kelley Armstrong

Ghost Story, by Jim Butcher

Bloodlands, by Christine Cody

.

Paranormal Romance

Skin Dive, by Ava Gray

Dead Alert, by Bianca D’Arc

.

Steampunk

Dead Iron, by Devon Monk

.

Young Adult

Touch of Frost, by Jennifer Estep

.

Historical Romance

Heartbreak Creek, by Kaki Warner

.

Contemporary Romance

Only Mine, by Susan Mallery

.

What struck me immediately was the staggering difference between how male and female protagonists were depicted on the covers. The heroines of Night Veil and Spell Bound are both shown with bare, toned arms and midriffs, their long hair loose, wearing tight pants and staring sexily forwards from the center of the cover. By contrast, the heroes of  Hammered, Ghost Soldiers, Ghost Story, Bloodlands and Dead Iron are universally set to one side or depicted glancing with their heads turned down or sideways, and all of them bar Atticus of Hammered (who has a sword) are wearing Badass Longcoats. Three of them have weapons. The cover of Naked City, which features both a man and a woman, follows a similar theme: the man is set to the side, glancing downwards and swathed in a coat, while the woman stares sexily from a place of prominence, her corseted cleavage, long hair and bare shoulders on prominent display. Even the YA cover, Touch of Frost, shows a pretty, long-haired girl staring sexily outwards. Note that in every instance, the long-haired girls have brown/dark hair, which the cynic in me thinks is used to denote Sexy Girls Who Are Neither Stupid Not Sluttish, both negative characteristics which are the traditional purview of blondes. 

Compare this with the four romance titles: the two paranormal offerings, Skin Dive and Dead Alert, both show shirtless, well-muscled men. One is faceless, set to the side; the other has a sword, and is accompanied by a PVC clad woman, who – yes – has bare arms, long dark hair, a gun and a come-hither expression. The historical romance has a landscape; the contemporary shows a man and woman, both clothed, on a beach, cuddling intimately.

So, look. I am in no way trying to disparage these books, because they all sound awesome, and at least two of them are already on my TBR list; nor am I trying to point fingers at the authors, or say that the images, taken individually, aren’t compelling. But what the hell is going on in Coverlandia? I mean, it’s not like I’ve been unaware of the gendering of SFF book covers, and I’m certainly not a noob when it comes to trope-spotting. But seeing it all laid out so clearly in a post that had nothing whatsoever to do with cover commentary really brought it home to me. So far as I can tell, these covers have all been constructed in keeping with a set of rules that must look something like this:

  • Sexy, bare-armed brunette women and brooding, weaponised men in coats sell books.
  • Men will be objectified only when the books are being marketed to women.
  • Women will be objectified regardless of audience, though this will be dialed back slightly for YA titles.
  • Men are sexiest when they appear diffident.
  • Women are sexist when they appear confident.
  • Unclothed men are sexy. Clothed Men are sexy. Unclothed women are sexy. Clothed Women, though, are not.

And so on, to the point where my response to the whole wretched business is as follows:

   

Comments
  1. Brendan says:

    They were talking covers over at The Mad Genius Club (http://madgeniusclub.com/2011/06/29/cover-her-face-mine-eyes-dazzle), and I can’t help but think that some of the good practice guidelines about cover design have been turned into hard and fast rules.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Thanks for the link – I can see what you mean! I appreciate the need for genre-marking, but I think we bypassed that point a while back and are now in the land of Semi-Naked Ladies In Tight Pants For All. Which, you know, maybe works for some people? Just not me. I mean, I love UF, but generally hate the covers to such a degree that it makes me reluctant to buy them.

      • Brendan says:

        Perhaps it comes from growing up in a country where cover policies are a bit more flexible(I also can’t stand US UF covers). The US industry comes across to me as being very insular and unimaginative. Some of the comments suggest a real fear of thinking outside the box as far as attracting readers is concerned.

        I know when I was buying the Dresden Files, I had the choice of the US or UK editions. The US covers screamed “cheap and nasty” so I stumped up the extra cash for the UK versions

        • fozmeadows says:

          It’s one of the things I really appreciate about Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series, and something she’s written about herself, too: the fact that her heroine is shown fully clothed, in drawings rather than photos, in non-sexy poses that actually relate to the story, on her covers. Ditto for Katharine Kerr’s Nola O’Grady books – and now that I think of it, both those series are published by DAW Books. So more of that, please!

          Part of what puts me off about the Sexy Gal UF covers, aside from the obvious, is that I always get the impression that that’s how the heroine must actually dress, which makes me not want to read the story. It acts like a corollary of Sexy Girl Armour, viz: if your heroine is meant to be a kickass warrior, then any cover showing her with bare arms, long hair and a sexy midriff is automatically going to invalidate that claim for me, because of how these things aren’t in any way compatible.

  2. Brendan says:

    Kate Elliott put up the new MM cover for Cold Magic (http://kateelliottsff.tumblr.com/post/7141007822/in-1-month-the-mass-market-of-cold-magic-releases) and looking at the difference between it and the HC version it shows how subtle sexualisation of covers can be.

    The HC is pretty much a head shot, but you can see just a bit of one (bare)shoulder, giving just the hint of nakedness. Her body is side on to the page making her neck seem longer. I am sure there is some significance(exposed neck = vulnerability?)

    Another neck fetish cover is Rowena Cory Daniel’s ‘Besieged’ (http://rowena-cory-daniells.com/2011/04/30/book-cover-pretties) which goes to great lengths(and by the look of it, serious strain for the model if she had to hold that pose long) to expose as much neck as possible.

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