Today’s guest is Kelley from Oh, the Books! She and her co-blogger Asti run an excellent blog full of great book reviews, compelling discussions, and comprehensive round ups containing links to all kinds of interesting bookish articles. I discovered their blog last year when they co-hosted the second Sci-Fi November with Rinn and have enjoyed reading their site ever since! (Just like the previous year, Sci-Fi Month was fantastic. It’s a really fun event in which bloggers spend November writing about science fiction media in all its forms, and nearly 100 people signed up as participants last year!)
Science Fiction Book Covers — Are They Different for Female Authors?
One of the first YA science fiction books I heard a lot of buzz about was Insignia, by S. J. Kincaid. The ladies at my favorite bookshop just kept raving about it, so I read that book as soon as I could get my hands on it (and loved it). When S. J. Kincaid visited that same bookshop later in the year, I was one of many eager readers in attendance.
The entire event was fantastic, but a few things stuck out in my mind from that day.
- The book cover was intentionally “sci-fi” in style, most likely to attract a more male audience.
- The author likely went with her initials + surname, to maintain gender ambiguity (again, likely so that male readers wouldn’t be turned off by a female author).
- This author is extremely adept at writing in the voice of a teenage boy.
- The combination of 1-3 just plain sucks.
- The audience was entirely female (what?!).
Ever since that day, I began paying closer attention to the covers of YA sci-fi books. Much of the time, if the book had a female author and/or female protagonist, the cover art would have a girl in it. If the author was male, or the book has a male protagonist, the cover art would likely NOT have people on it (or if there were people, the design would be very “sci-fi” or masculine overall).
Obviously, this was just my general observation, and I did no thorough investigation or data collection about this, so don’t hold that against me. But still, I think it’s clear that when a female author writes a science fiction novel — especially if it’s YA — the cover art seems to either clearly appeal to girls, or try to cover up any feminine parts.
In a wonderful contrast, I was lucky enough to attend an event with Meagan Spooner and Amie Kaufman for their release of This Shattered World. During the event, there was some great discussion about the cover design, women reading science fiction, and how all of that blends together.
What’s interesting about this series is that it seems to cross gender (and genre) boundaries quite nicely. That event was one of the few I’ve been to that had multiple guys in attendance; this series is clearly appealing to male readers, somehow, despite the fact that there are TWO female names on the cover! This series also gently eases readers who are new to sci-fi into the genre, and encourages them to realize that they might like it! (The books contain more and more science fiction elements as the series progresses.)
Where am I going with this? Good question. My point here, I think, is that all kinds of people like science fiction. Why should women writers have to hide their genders in order to appeal to their target audience? Is that even working? I’d love to see more science fiction YA book covers that just look cool — much like the classic science fiction books (or, like, every single middle grade book!), and don’t attempt to catch the eyes of any particular gender.