Again With the Fight Over Women’s Fiction Cover Art

By Neal Comment

The last time we touched upon the ongoing debate over “women’s fiction” book covers, back in April, I told you about Philadelphia journalist Karen Heller‘s suggestion that publishers were demeaning serious women writers, along with their readers, by giving their novels “chick lit” cover art, and her curious assertion that “”if [publishers] would banish the uniform covers… and realize that women—who buy an awful lot of books—will buy ones without pink or shoes or severed body parts on the cover, they might sell a good deal more copies.” Three months later, Guardian blogger Diane Shipley has come up with pretty much the exact same notion. “Books aimed at women are becoming increasingly homogenised, girly and bland-looking,” she claims. “I hope publishers will soon realise that their tactic isn’t working and could, in fact, backfire badly. If all book covers look the same, then none stand out.”

While I might be willing to give their argument some credence at the broadest aesthetic levels, I’m still curious about how Heller and Shipley are coming to the conclusion that women readers are rejecting, or are primed to reject, “bad” cover art to such an extent that the publishing industry might actually suffer, other than their personal fed-up-ness and the grumpiness of their literary author chums. Then there’s Shipley’s passive-aggressive threat that “if we know that how a book looks is no indication of its content, we might just become so dispirited that we bypass the bookstore and rent a DVD instead.” If you ask me, that sounds like somebody’s commitment to searching out great literature is lacking.

In the comments section to the post, though, there’s an interesting anecdote from the designer of the book jackets for Sue Hepworth‘s Zuzu’s Petals, which explains how the first cover (left) inspired virtually no enthusiasm among bookstore buyers, while the redesign (right) was a hit with retailers, two of whom tapped the novel for in-store promotions.