Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cover Scoop: Charm & Strange and other thoughts

my charm & strange
I signed up to write this post about the evolution of my book's cover months and months ago. Since then, the cover of my book has changed, as book covers are wont to do, and I've probably said everything I could say about the new cover over on the YA Highway in this post. But in a few words: I love it. I love that it's different. I love that it captures the tone and energy of the story, in all its mysterious strangeness. I love that it stands out.

But in the wake of the recent, and important, coverflip conversations, I've been trying to think about the cover in other ways, too. Coverflip, as you probably all remember, was the experiment called for by author Maureen Johnson, who wanted people to imagine what covers of popular books might look like if the gender of the author were different. Both she and Trish Doller noted that even when the content of the book features a male character, books by female authors are frequently given more "feminine" covers. Clearly there is nothing inherently wrong with "feminine" covers, many of the examples are beautiful and appealing and sell well, but Johnson's point was that, living in the biased culture that we do, these books are viewed as "less important" when packaged in a "feminine" way, as opposed to their male counterpart's more "serious" covers. That's a critique on the pervasiveness of our sexist social bias, not on the aesthetic of book covers.

Kelly Jensen at Stacked then wrote an interesting followup where she noted a number of debut female YA authors who write male-narrated books and who use their initials, instead of their full (female) names. There's tradition in this (J.K. Rowling!), and I totally understand why authors make this choice (I also understand that authors may use their initials for many different personal reasons, so the assumption definitely should not be made that the choice is always about gender). In truth, I never set out to buck this tradition: I just didn't think about it at all. So somehow along the way, I ended up with a gender neutral/boyish cover on my boy-narrated book that has my female name right on the cover.

What does this all mean? I have no idea. Maybe it means guys won't read my book? I don't think that's really true. Or if is, it's probably not because of my name.

However, I've done some very non-scientific digging around and I've found that I'm not alone. There are a few other debut 2013 YA authors with boy-narrated books and female author names and more masculine/gender-neutral covers. I've included a few here. I'm sure I've left some out. But maybe tradition is changing? I don't know. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Stephanie Kuehn is a graduate student living in Northern California. Her debut young adult novel CHARM & STRANGE will be published in June by St. Martin’s Press and Egmont UK.

You can connect with Stephanie on twitter or her website. She also blogs for YA Highway.


  1. Another (2012) debut male-voiced YA is Through to You by Emily Hainsworth. What's interesting to me about THAT one is that the cover has a girl on it, even though it's a male main character. It's interesting that (I think) it's angled much more toward a female readership than a male, despite the fact that it's got appeal to both female and male readers.

    1. Oh, yes, Emily's book! That's a beautiful cover. Something about the lettering made it feel more gender neutral to me. Also BUTTER by Erin Lange was another 2012 debut with a male voice that had a very iconic cover.

  2. It's amazing to me how similar the designs of all these covers are (with the obvious exception of Sex & Violence). Unidentifiable Boy in Shadowy Profile seems to be the strategy here, though I don't think I would have ever noticed it if you hadn't put all these covers together in the same post.

    And Steph, I think I've told you already, but I LOVE your new cover!

    1. Thank you so much, Caroline! And yeah, there are some definite similarities in image and mood. Also the use of nature to convey tone (trees, looming clouds, stark winter, churning water, snowfall).