Friday, April 6, 2012

Men vs. Women *cringe*

Normally when I start hearing conversations about "men" vs. "women" in publishing circles I cringe and slowly try to slink away - o.k., o.k., sometimes I bolt for the door. I do not like those conversations mostly because I don't think the "solutions" people offer are actually "solutions" to anything except perceived numbers.

Here's how I feel about male and female authors: I love them; both of them. When I start rattling off my favorite writers there are both genders in my list. And no where in my list of criteria is there some gauge that says, "whoa Forbus, you like too many [fill in the blank], you can't like anymore of those writers." However, I do not pick books based on some ratio I think I need to maintain. I mean, heck, if I started doing that then I'd need to have a ratio for ages of writers, ethnic backgrounds, sexual preferences, geographic location, eye color, whether they're left-handed or right-handed...

When I pick a book, I pick it because I think I'm going to be interested in it. So for me...write a good book; if it sounds like something that would keep me riveted for 300-400 pages, I don't care if a monkey wrote it. And that's all I have to say about that.

HOWEVER, I was reading this article about book cover designs. And I found it rather fascinating. Partly because I have never chosen a book because of a book cover. I have opted not to read a galley because it was covered in blurbs - which totally came across as pretentious, but that's a discussion for a different post. I know I'm in the minority, though. I know a lot of people have picked up books because of their covers, so I wanted to look at whether this holds true in the crime fiction genre. And see what y'all think.

Now, there's always an obvious difference between hard-boiled crime novels and cozy novels, so I'm throwing that difference out the door right now. I tried to stick with P.I., police  procedural, thriller-type novels. And I chose covers from both male and female writers who have similar types of books. So let's take a look at these:

Female author's book jackets:



Male author's book jackets:



So there are a couple things that stand out to me—and not necessarily what would distinguish a "girlie" style or a "manly" style—but I'm interested in what you notice. Even what general thoughts you have. We also had a conversation recently about overused images and themes in book jackets. What do you see when you look at these fourteen jackets? Does anything jump out at you as "whoa, if the author's name wasn't on this book, I'd definitely know the gender"? Would anything keep you from picking the book up and checking out the book synopsis? See any absolute pet peeves?

**side note: when I chose these particular books, I didn't filter or make specific choices for any reason other than these were authors who quickly popped into my head and who I thought would have similar types of books in the genre. So there's no scheming going on behind the scenes to skew this post.

Okay, take it away, let's discuss in the comments. And don't forget today's the last day to vote in the Elite Eight round of the Crime Fiction March Madness Tourney. The races are close, every vote will count!


Sarah (The Brazen Bookworm) April 6, 2012 at 9:39 AM  

First of all, the Paretsky cover is my favorite, if that means anything. I love the colors and the flow, and I think it would appeal to readers of both genders, though I could be wrong. The only cover that I think clearly indicates gender is the Burke cover, but that merely shows the protagonist (I assume) is female. The name 'Alafair' is gender-neutral enough that if I didn't know she was female, I wouldn't necessarily know one way or another.

The one thing that strikes me that the covers of all the male authors, with the exception of Grisham, use warm colors, heavy on the red. I have no idea what that signifies, but that stood out. I look forward to seeing what others have to say on this topic - excellent discussion post!

Lilian April 6, 2012 at 1:16 PM  

Looking at book covers always make me giddy! I'm an aspiring graphic designer (the ones that actually go to school to learn this stuff, good design isn't knowing how to use image editting software, guys) and I would be dancing if I could work for a publisher. I would never be able to tell the "female" covers were female without the name...but I can for few of the male ones.

Usually the vector, solid colored, minimalistic illustrative styled ones are male (Gutshot Straight, The Drop, The Blind Spy). I tried to imagine a female name on those covers and I just couldn't do it...

I find that male covers are also hesitant with pink?

From these covers, I also see that the male covers aim for minimalistic, classier feel while the female ones aim for a more complex, messier, design. For most of these "male" covers is just text over image (except The Crime Writer), even effects to the text are kept to a minimum. But women..they go all out with typography, color, blur, ripped paper...

Lilian @ A Novel Toybox

Naomi Johnson April 6, 2012 at 3:10 PM  

When the author's name is much bigger than the title, I have a tendency to NOT pick up the book. The exceptions would be those authors I already read (Crais, Sandford, et al). But if I haven't read the author's work, having a name so much more noticeable than the title (see the Laura Lippman example) makes me think (1) the book is marketed primarily to fans of that author, and (2) maybe the author is more interesting than the book.

The only two covers I like out of all 14 are BLOWN and CREOLE BELLE. The others all seem fairly generic.

Jen April 8, 2012 at 8:09 PM  

Fascinating insights everyone! Sarah, you're right about the "heavy on the red." The one thing I've always said about the mystery aisle in a bookstore: it's red white and black! The books that stand out the most are the ones that are NOT those colors.

Lilian, great point about the starkness of the male authors' bookcovers. Wouldn't that ultimately mean you COULD tell a female's book cover because it wasn't minimalistic?

One thing that stuck out to me, and I'd have to investigate it further to see if it always holds true is the tendency to use softer fonts on the female book jackets. A lot of the covers have just block font, but when it isn't just block font like Alafair Burke's or Kathy Reich's, there's more of a round effect. Whereas if you look at Gutshot Straight that has the dimensional font like Kathy Reichs, it's got sharper edges, no rounding to it.

Naomi, I think you bring up a good point. Large author names sell books to people who know the author already but not necessarily to people who DON'T know the author.

It would be very interesting to be able to get a hold of some book jackets that were never actually used...have them sans author name and see if we could distinguish the author's gender. Anyone have some inside resources to help us out on that? ;-)


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