Cover Art – So Where’s The Problem?
As some of you might have noticed, I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the past year talking about sexism in cover poses. Specifically, trying to point out how women are so often dressed and posed in ways that emphasize their sexuality over all else. Some of the poses are physically painful or even impossible. Others are simply impractical. And while men are certainly objectified on book covers as well, it’s not in the same way. The poses generally don’t sacrifice power or agency for the sake of sexuality.
Now, not everyone agrees that this is even an issue. I’ve been accused of being a faminist shithead, of selling out my gender, and was told this is the liberal equivalent of the War on Christmas. All of which, quite frankly, I find pretty damn hilarious. But for those of us who do see this as a real problem, the next question is what to do about it. And to answer that question, I think we need to take a better look at how these covers get perpetuated.
Artists are the easiest target for blame. “Cover art is bad because artists are bad, and they should feel bad!” Voila, problem solved. Let’s go cure cancer next!
Yeah, not so much. We talked about this a bit at ConFusion during the group pose cover reveal panel. I’m pulling part of what follows from my wonderfully wise panelists. When we look at cover art, we have to consider:
- Writers – if an author writes sexist crap and the artist faithfully depicts the story, where does the fault lie?
- Editors – editors often get input into which scene will be used for the cover. Did they have to pick the shower-assassination scene?
- Art directors – these are the folks directing the artists.
- Artists – sometimes the problem is with the artists. They have some choice and control in how they portray women, and what they choose to emphasize or deemphasize. (Anecdotally, I’m told the artist for Piers Anthony’s The Color of Her Panties did his best to minimize the panties part of the image while staying within the guidelines of what he had been instructed to create. I can’t swear this story is true, but I like it.)
- Booksellers – publishers want to sell books, so if the booksellers ask for a certain style of cover, publishers will probably give them what they want. This becomes even more significant when you have a few huge chains with a lot of market power.
- Readers – if y’all buy a bunch of semi-clad boob-and-butt books while ignoring the sensibly clad ass-kicking heroines, then that’s what you’ll keep getting.
- Society in general – yeah, that’s right. It’s SOCIETY’S fault for perpetuating all of this sexist crap, and teaching us to accept it as normal.
My goal here isn’t to announce that EVERYBODY SUCKS, but to point out that this problem is woven through every layer of the publishing process, as well as society as a whole. Trying to change that problem will require work from a lot of different circles. For example, I firmly believe we as writers need to be more aware of our own prejudices and assumptions. And while it’s true that we have very little control over our covers, “very little” isn’t the same as none. We may not be able to change anything, but we can at least talk to our editors and let them know when we’re not happy with a cover, or that we’re worried it might alienate some of our potential audience.
I’ve heard readers say they don’t want to punish an author for a cover they don’t like, so they buy the book anyway, and doesn’t that just reinforce the problem? Speaking as an author, thank you for buying our stuff anyway! But you can also shoot an email to the publisher asking why character X, who’s a strong, werewolf-slaying heroine, looks like a pipecleaner with a pair of water balloons stuck to her chest.
And you know what? Sometimes, sexualization is appropriate for the story. Lena Greenwood is a very sexual character, and I’m totally comfortable with her midriff-baring look on the cover of Codex Born. It would be utterly wrong to see Talia from my princess books in that same kind of outfit, though. I don’t think anyone’s saying that women can never be shown as sexual; it’s more that they seem to always have to be sexual, and it has to be a fairly narrow kind of sexuality. And that portrayal usually happens at the cost of their power, strength, agency, or just realism. (Seanan McGuire had a great post on this, talking about her book Discount Armageddon.)
So how do we fix this problem? We keep talking about it. We recognize that it’s a multi-layered problem that’s been evolving for a very long time. We don’t settle for simplistic answers. We speak out about the bad covers and the good ones, the covers that show strong, competent women who may or may not be sexualized, but if so, it’s not done at the expense of that strength.
I have been amazed and gratified at all of the discussion the cover poses have generated. I sincerely hope it will continue.
Daniel D. Webb
January 22, 2013 @ 10:03 am
I generally agree with most of what you have to say most of the time, Jim, and in this post I applaud your message…but in the grand old tradition of the Internet, I have to nitpick with the one thing here that I think is a little off.
Booksellers really don’t get any input into book covers. This is actually a growing problem in the store level of the industry, which I encounter firsthand every day; not the art on book covers, but their materials. Book covers with neat little cut-outs LOOK cool, but are guaranteed to get torn when shelved in any kind of standard manner. That’s a loss. Hardcovers are increasingly being published with a kind of velvety matte finish instead of the standard glossy jacket that’s been the industry standard for decades, and all this does is create an unholy mess with the discount stickers that all bookstore chains use. Those stickers are a store’s chief on-the-floor marketing tool and aren’t going to go away, but their use on covers of these materials results in damaged product and losses for both the store and publisher. If anybody was listening to anyone else, this would not be happening.
I’m not saying that the bookstore chains WOULD do anything about this if it came up. I’d bet my next paycheck that they would not. Your point about societal perception of women especially in fiction remains well-taken, and it’s honestly never occurred to me that I could do anything about this from my standpoint on the floor of a bookstore. I’m still not sure I can, but I’ll be giving it some thought. However… You overestimate the input of booksellers in any stage of a book’s production. If they can’t intervene to prevent actual financial losses for everyone involved that could be remedied by directing publishers to standardize their practices (which would be cheaper anyway), I guarantee they aren’t consulted on the artistic step of cover design.
My two bits.
Jim C. Hines
January 22, 2013 @ 10:16 am
I’m sure a lot depends on the bookseller, but I know there have been times when, for example, the buyer at B&N said they didn’t like a particular cover, and the publisher went back, pulped the covers, and printed up an entirely new one.
Daniel D. Webb
January 22, 2013 @ 10:20 am
That’s actually really interesting to me to hear, and a good example of how one learns some things and not others from a certain vantage within the industry. I certainly wasn’t aware of any such things occurring; thanks for the tip, and apologies if I sounded snippy.
Jim C. Hines
January 22, 2013 @ 10:23 am
No problem at all. And without knowing the ins and outs of the organization, it might be something where the individual bookstore staff and management are in exactly the position you describe, hating things like the cutout covers but with no way to get that changed. Whereas the top-level people might not know or care about that, but will automatically hate any cover with a lot of green in it. But at this point, I’m just speculating…
Thomas M. Wagner
January 22, 2013 @ 10:48 am
I get this. I know that when Blockbuster was the Alpha Dog in the home video business, they could and did outright dictate how movie studios designed their video box art. Not only that, but their refusal to stock NC-17 titles essentially put them in control of what movies studios made at all. So here you had a video rental chain exercising not only control of marketing, but of artistic content as well. So it would be no surprise to me that B&N’s opinion of a cover would carry major weight. With Borders gone they’re essentially almost all of brick and mortar book retail now.
January 22, 2013 @ 10:59 am
It strikes me that most people view bad covers, especially in SF&F, as something that just happens. I remember seeing an Asimov cover featuring a giant robot shooting lasers from his eyes. This was more than 20 years ago, but in my memory, I bought it *because* it was just so wrong, and I could not work out what on earth had inspired it. It was the first of his non-fiction books I came across (mis-shelved under fiction). It remains the only book I have ever bought because of a bad cover, however, and it cannot have attracted a single person to it who would actually have enjoyed what was inside it.
If I actually believed a cover would accurately depict the characters or story within, I’d have stopped reading SF and especially fantasy years ago.
January 22, 2013 @ 10:59 am
There also seems to be a thing involving which audience you’re targeting. I loved the Alanna books by Tamora Pierce. The original covers make sense, they’ve got her in her tunic, with her sword and her horse. Also, in the first book, she’s 11. Recently, I saw the reprint covers, and… what in the name of… first of all, she looks like a teenager. A *modern* teenager, at that, and she’s being stared at by two boys, one wearing dark clothes, one wearing light. I have to assume they’re meant to be George and Jonathan, the former is the king of thieves, the latter the prince of Tortall. I looked at this and went “…what? Why? Way to miss the point!”
Because the Alanna books are fantasy, set in a fantasy world, and the main character spends a lot of time being a boy, and rejecting being a girl. Also, BEING ELEVEN. But they tried to lie to their audience by marketing it as another Twilight-esque ‘girl caught between two boys’ plot, and while there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the plot (aside from me generally being tired of it), they changed the meaning of the words inside by changing the cover. Someone who *is* looking for that will be bored as they discover the heroine aging from 10-14ish, and someone who’s looking for kick-ass fantasy heroines might not actually look at the book because the cover isn’t indicative of a fantasy plot.
My Reader Advisory teacher would be disappoint. Actually, she’d yell at me for reading ‘teen fiction’ and make me go read something adultish and boring. Bah.
January 22, 2013 @ 11:04 am
What I’d like to know is how a book called “Rule 34” DOESN’T have sexual content on the cover.
January 22, 2013 @ 11:17 am
I agree. This problem is definitely a deep one and one that needs to be talked about. I’ve actually found there is a problem with women in fantasy art in general. It’s my job to find pictures to accompany the articles on our site and it is really hard to find genre art with women in realistic clothing and poses. The last article I worked on needed a picture with _two_ realistically dressed women. I looked for an hour and a half (with the help of a bunch of other people) and I found one.
I’ve actually started a Pinterest board on the subject so I can keep track of the good art I’ve found. A few of the covers in your list are there. The Jay Lake Kalimpura cover is one of my favorites. 🙂 Cherie Priest’s Clementine and Anne Lyle’s The Merchant of Dreams are two other good examples.
But you are also right about it being okay for women on covers and in art in general to be sexy on occasion as well. But, there has to be a balance in what’s available and at the moment there isn’t any.
January 22, 2013 @ 11:22 am
“I’ve been accused of being a faminist shithead, of selling out my gender, and was told this is the liberal equivalent of the War on Christmas.”
Comments like this just prove that whatever you were doing, you were right.
Jim C. Hines
January 22, 2013 @ 11:46 am
LOVE that Merchant of Dreams cover!!!
Are you willing to share the link to that Pinterest board?
Jim C. Hines
January 22, 2013 @ 11:47 am
Okay, that’s a fair question 🙂
January 22, 2013 @ 11:51 am
Oh sure. 🙂 I should have thought to put it in the orginial post. Here you go!
Jim C. Hines
January 22, 2013 @ 11:57 am
Holy crap, those are awesome! Thank you!
January 22, 2013 @ 11:58 am
You’re very welcome. 🙂
January 22, 2013 @ 1:02 pm
Thank you for continuing to talk about this problem! I love what you are doing. And agree that we need to keep doing it. As an example, I almost didn’t read the Mercy Thompson series because the covers made Mercy so sexualized, I was afraid that’s how the books were written. Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong! They are, for me, a great example of how you can send such a wrong impression of your characters and story with what gets put on the cover, not to mention the poses themselves.
January 22, 2013 @ 3:05 pm
There’s a transphobic cover, too. Well, I think it is.
The paperback cover for Mark Charan Newton’s The Book of Transformations. The book is extremely trans-friendly with a great trans lead, and she’s depicted on the cover… by a photoshop job of a woman’s face onto a well-built man’s body.
No, I am not joking.
Jim C. Hines
January 22, 2013 @ 3:09 pm
I may regret asking this, but do you have a link to that cover art?
January 22, 2013 @ 3:34 pm
I do, Jim.
Here it is
January 22, 2013 @ 4:04 pm
Thanks for posting those covers, I was starting to think the awful ones were all there was.
And I’ve enjoyed every one of your posts and especially your thoughtful commentary. Thank you for this!
January 22, 2013 @ 4:34 pm
As a gay male, I’m all for having more eye candy on the covers… 😉
January 22, 2013 @ 7:02 pm
I’ve bought a lot of fiction in my life and I don’t think I’ve ever chosen a book because it did or did not have a sexually suggestive (or even imperative!) cover. From one point of view that may make me an accomplice of the people who put bad covers on books but it also means that no honest marketing analysis ever suggested that I’d give them extra money for doing so.
I’d be very interested in actual motivations, even anecdotal ones.
January 22, 2013 @ 7:07 pm
Did it not occur to them to–I don’t know–get a trans woman to model?
Or hell, just google some reference photos of trans women?
January 22, 2013 @ 7:33 pm
no offense, but there’s a false equivalence there. Men’ssexuality–even gay men’s sexuality–is not commodified in the same way that women’s sexuality is. See Jim’s ‘posing like a man’ post, in which the men, while sexy (well, some of them–the less said about Conan, the better), are still in poses that project power and strength.
Rather than being frozen in impossible/vulnerable positions for the viewer’s gaze, sexy men on covers are usually in motion, or standing in normal positions. Even when they’re shirtless–which, granted, is often–they’re not contorting themselves to display their bodies to a viewer they don’t know exists.
The problem with the way women are displayed on covers isn’t that they’re sexy. It’s that they are objects, rather than subjects, of that sexuality–dressed, posed, and placed to please men. Men on covers are likewise generally designed to appeal to the male gaze, rather than the female–they’re portrayed in clothes, poses, and situations designed to play into male power fantasies, rather than female desires.
Putting more sexy men on covers will not level the playing field, because it would do nothing to address the underlying disparity in how male and female sexuality are portrayed.
January 22, 2013 @ 8:52 pm
Wait, I thought the War on Christmas WAS the liberal equivalent of the War on Christmas.
It’s so hard to keep up.
January 22, 2013 @ 8:55 pm
1) I believe that there is a misconception in the underlying premise of this effort. The misconception is that these sexualized women on covers are promulgated by a sexist society for the benefit of perverts who want to ogle them. For the most part, this is not the case. You are not drawing a distinction between those depictions which are sexually relatable and those which are sexually inviting.
The reason for the sexualized images of protagonists is not so that they can be ogled or desired. That does not sell books. The publisher wants us to identify with the protagonist. We want to become the main character, not have sex with them. An adolescent boy wants to become Conan or Kvothe, he’s not sexually attracted to them; and I want to become the Sexy Heroine on the cover–that’s what gets us to pick up the book and buy it. That adolescent boy is not going to buy the Sexy Heroine book, because he doesn’t want to be Sexy Heroine. As sexualized as her cover image may be, it is not designed to appeal to him, it is designed to appeal to me. The images are sexually relatable, not sexually inviting. You won’t find many adolescent boys lurking in the romance section of the bookstore, ogling the covers. If he wants to ogle a sexy woman, he will look at a Playboy magazine or surf internet porn–that material is designed to be sexually inviting. But if he wants to read, he will buy the book with a half-naked Conan or Tarzan, because they are sexually relatable to him.
Again, there is a HUGE difference between a sexy, leather-clad, midrift-baring, tough-as-nails urban fantasy heroine and a chick-in-chain-mail who plays second fiddle to a hulking, 95%-naked barbarian warrior. Please stop equating the two. One is meant to be sexually relatable to a potential reader; the other is meant to be a sexually inviting prop for a male character who himself is sexually relatable to a male reader.
For another example, consider fashion magazines vs. Playboy or Maxim. Cosmo, Vogue, and other fashion magazines have highly sexualized images of scantily clad women on their covers. So do Playboy and and Maxim. The covers of the fashion magazines are sexually relatable to the women of their target market. The potential reader wants to be the woman on that cover. The covers of Playboy and Maxim are meant to be sexually inviting to men. The potential readers desire the woman on the cover.
The majority of the covers that Mr. Hines and Mr. Scalzi have mocked are sexually relatable depictions aimed at a female readership, NOT sexually inviting depictions aimed at gratifying a male. What I find troubling is that you truly do not seem to see the difference. Do you really think that women brandishing weapons and wearing stern expressions are inviting you to ogle them? Please consult your wives if you are confused about this.
Just because an image can be ogled does not mean that was the primary purpose of its design. Mocking or condemning most of these covers is like mocking or condemning the lingerie section of the J.C. Penney catalog. It too has scantily clad sexy ladies in contorting poses, and it too was not intended to gratify perverts. If we eliminate everything that men point their penis at, it will be an empty world.
I, for one, will not let the chance that a man might ogle me change my choice of wardrobe. I will not give them the power to take away from me the things that make me feel confident and feminine. In the same way, I don’t think that the chance that a man may ogle a sexy book cover that was intended for women is a compelling reason to take away the artwork that thousands of women like me identify with and draw strength and confidence from.
To quote another commenter on a previous post “I appreciate that you have good intentions, but please don’t try to tell women you are doing something ‘for our own good’, when more than a few of us disagree with the premise.”
2) Please be mindful in your critiques. The mocking nature of the photos can be hurtful to those of us who identify with the images. While I try to appreciate the humor in it, I cannot deny that it stings. I don’t have much, so when I see a man mocking and belittling one of the few guilty pleasures I enjoy, my heart breaks a little.
It is also a bit offensive when you term this issue a “problem.” Within your filter bubble, you may hear echoes that amplify your concern to the level of “problem.” However, that does not mean that there is a public consensus that this is a problem. When you call something a problem you imply that it needs to be fixed. How would you like it if I said that something that you and your wife enjoy in private is a “problem.”
Please do not become a group that seeks to limit the sexual expression that is enjoyed by others and does you no harm, just because it makes you uncomfortable. Tolerance and forbearance are necessary for diversity to flourish in society.
3) I do not speak for all women. I would not pretend to do so. I ask you to remember that you do not speak for all women, either.
4) I want to extend my whole-hearted support to those authors who don’t want to have their characters sexualized on their book covers. I am very frustrated by publishers who just want to cash in on the “mommy porn” craze by putting misleading sexualized covers on books. It is not fair to the reader, who has a misleading expectation about the story; and it’s not fair to the author, who now cannot meet that reader’s expectation. This is no better than false advertising. The outside of the book should reflect the inside of the book.
Jim C. Hines
January 22, 2013 @ 9:14 pm
“The misconception is that these sexualized women on covers are promulgated by a sexist society for the benefit of perverts who want to ogle them.”
That … is not the premise I’m working with, nor is it the basis of any of the discussions I’ve seen.
“Do you really think that women brandishing weapons and wearing stern expressions are inviting you to ogle them?”
Well, no. Which is why nobody has said this.
“I do not speak for all women. I would not pretend to do so. I ask you to remember that you do not speak for all women, either.”
I never claimed to, nor has anyone else. The closest I’ve seen to someone claiming to speak for all women is the “…more than a few of us disagree with the premise.” comment you quoted, as I have no idea who these “more than a few of us” is.
Much of what you’re saying here appears to have been copied and pasted, or else paraphrased, from the same comment you left yesterday. As most of these things have already been responded to–although I understand that you may not like the responses–I’m not sure what you’re looking for by reposting it.
January 23, 2013 @ 12:21 am
I’m afraid that I blame art directors and booksellers a bit more than other folk. I’ve had too many incidents with art departments with authors I know and it is the art director who decides what covers are going to be used and directs the artists, and if they decide they’re doing something, never mind what the actual book is, then they pretty much go ahead and do it. (The most memorable one – a mystery novel had to have its title changed and material added to the book because the art department decided to make up the cover art and it was too late to change it.) Unless the editor is high in the ranks, editors usually have little involvement with the book covers; mostly they just try to make the author less upset with a bad one.
But art directors do get pressure from marketing and marketing pressures them because of the booksellers. And these booksellers aren’t really acting on actual research data but essentially folk wisdom. That’s how in YA we got the lore that pictures of girls’ faces help YA novels sell better, but only if they are white faces, so any number of YA books with non-white protagonists have gotten covers with lightened faces on them. Some of them have caused big blow-ups that got the covers changed, but despite the increasingly multi-racial stories in YA and certainly a multi-racial audience of boys and girls, as far as I know this folk belief of the booksellers has not been repealed and there are dozens and dozens of very white girls on the book covers in YA.
And in SFFH, it’s clear that booksellers are convinced that covers with half-naked women sexily posed in comics art style is mostly what fantasy readers want and will buy. This belief exists despite the fact that a large portion of the male audience won’t read books about females or even by female authors and have no interest in the covers and in many cases detest the book on sight because it’s just women being slutty in their view; despite half to more than half of the reading audience being mostly straight women whose view of the covers ranges from don’t particularly care to really disliking them; and despite the fact that many books without covers of half-naked women or even any definite fantasy signal art are bestsellers. And art departments go along with that and it becomes convention and folklore. It in part was just adapting covers from paranormal romance trends and then combining it with comics art, but now it’s gone far beyond any connection with paranormal romance, which itself has moved on to many other cover art trends. It’s a belief by them that this is what is needed to sell these books, despite the majority of feedback saying the opposite. So blame lies with the publishers as well, by accepting booksellers’ folklore without question and letting their art directors authorize not simply sultry women covers, which can be pretty spectacular, but deliberate display poses and crop top costumes for a look that has more to do with fashion magazines than it does with selling novels.
So I don’t know if anyone asked this question at your panel, but mine would be, why are the publishers and the art directors authorizing these covers and in fact making them even more extreme while the data keeps showing that’s a losing strategy? I’d also like to know just how much stock images are being used here, because it’s not a huge problem that a lot of the covers have sex appeal. That’s a style of art and it is eye attractive. But the images are exactly the same. Exactly the same set of poses, the same crop tops, similar faces of models, etc. Is it that much cheaper? Would it be that much harder to vary it? How exactly is a book supposed to stand out, which always used to be the goal with the cover approach? There’s a lot of great cover art out there now, including ones with women in sexy poses, but there seems to be a general malaise going on for a lot of the products.
January 23, 2013 @ 12:44 am
I was exactly the same way, and I love those books! But especially when I was in high school, there were plenty of covers I didn’t want other people seeing me with – regardless of the book’s actual content. It can be very off-putting.
January 23, 2013 @ 1:41 am
Great job Jim. By the way you might find it informative to look up “Grande Odalisque” by Ingres. The “boobs-and-but-twist” is older than many people realize.
January 23, 2013 @ 2:55 am
The worst bit is, the original cover for the hardback (which was never printed, but is available to view on Mark’s site) had a model who was pretty much *exactly* like the character. Her build, her looks, her hair. She was perfect. And they scrapped it for the hardcover, somewhat understandably.
But that’s a bad job for a cover. Also, it’s from the same photoset as the cover for Mazarkis Williams’ The Emperor’s Knife amongst a number of non-English editions (including a Robin Hobb, I believe).
January 23, 2013 @ 2:56 am
Does any body think this is more of a issue with female athors than male athors. To me men have stong or cool male protagonist mainly because it would be hard to wright the thoughts and feelings of the other gender in my own opion.
Also i have notced in a lot of fantasy and scifi that I have read that when a male athour or protagonist has sex in the book it starts out then like in movies it cuts away to after or it implied it happened. But then with female athors they go into a whloe lot of almost t.m.i deatail. Also female leads seem to have lots more sex than male ones. Example Rachel Morgan(Dead Witch walking) gets it a lot more than Harry Desden (if you dont know i feel sad for you)also the only time i can remmber Harry haveing sex it Spoiler alert lead to a kid. This is not evan a new trend i think in the Clan of The Cave Bear books I had to skip threw pages after pages that were love seans that i just did not care about as Ayla and Jondar had their opps made I cantact must hump for we have not done this in the last 2 pages. honestly that is why i stoped reading the books evan though i found them fasnitaing in hole the early tech was used.sorry rant over.
Realy this is a compicated topic that has many sides and evalas gender so we all have issues and bagage so sides get offensive.
p.s. sorry about bad spelling and grammer i am a reader not a wrighter.
January 23, 2013 @ 10:19 am
It’s hardly exclusive to female authors.
Heinlein has a rape scene in Friday which is detailed and then unnecessarily minimised.
Haldeman’s Forever War has orgies every other page.
Stephen King often has vaguely detailed (if not more) sex scenes in his books.
Richard Morgan’s fantasy series is notable for, I believe, graphic sex.
George R.R. Martin loves to talk about sex in ASoIaF
Terry Brooks has a character detail an instance of potential bestiality in the fifth Landover novel.
Graphic sex is not something that is more prevalent with female authors. It really, really isn’t.
January 23, 2013 @ 12:34 pm
I guess I shouldn’t have commented tongue-in-cheek. Sorry.
January 23, 2013 @ 1:37 pm
Also, cover art that misrepresents characters can actually get in the way of reading the story.
My prime example of this is the cover of The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint (link is to the author’s cover art gallery pages). The edition I read had the image showing a woman in a blue dress sitting on a tree branch.
The cover art was misleading in one very important way: The protagonist, Jilly Coppercorn, is in her mid-40s. Because of the image on the front of the book, I thought she was a good 20 years younger than that, and I missed the very subtle age cues in the text. So when I read the flashbacks to the 1960s depicting Jilly’s childhood, at first I thought that the narrator had changed, or that Jilly had some urban-fantasy magical adventure that caused her to travel forward in time at some point between her childhood and the main events of the story. Or that maybe the story wasn’t set in 2001 but in 1981, and de Lint and his editors somehow missed all the anachronisms. I had to spend a bunch of time skimming through parts of the book I’d already read in order to figure out the simple explanation that she’s actually about 45 years old.
Interestingly, all of the covers for this book have the exact same misrepresentation. They all youthen the character into a 20-something. It’s great that of the five covers shown in de Lint’s gallery, the only two are sexualized at all. Blackstone Audio’s cover has Jilly leaning forward to show her cleavage (IMO, not egregiously objectifying), and the Russian cover shows Jilly in a dress with a neckline that… yeah. But it does remind me that women characters not only have to contort their bodies and rehaul their wardrobes for their book covers. They also have to be under age 30. *sigh*
January 23, 2013 @ 3:15 pm
Jim, can you link to the previous post which your responded to? I feel Joanna brings up many good points and I’d like to know what your answers to them were. I can understand not wanting to repeat yourself if the same comments were posted yesterday but this does just sort of brush them aside and I’m curious. It is worth noting that the readers of paranormal romance and urban fantasy (among your bigger offenders so far as I can see) are predominantly female and the art directors and editors for major publishers which release those novels are often women as well (possibly a majority are women, but I’m sure I don’t know the editor gender balance with any accuracy). I personally agree with Joanna’s point of view. You kind of throw the “not to speak for all women” comment back in her face which I feel is unfair. Your pursuit of this issue, though perhaps not explicitly claiming to speak for all women (or readers, or whoever), does have a certain social and moral righteousness which I feel can come across that way. Here is a woman giving a very reasonably stated point of view which contradicts some of your beliefs and your dismissal is a bit disappointing. As to who the “more than a few” are, they are obviously women who don’t view this issue the same way that you do. I am friends with a good many who fit that description so I don’t find it very hard to understand.
January 23, 2013 @ 6:52 pm
David, that post is here:
I think Joanna’s point was actually more compelling in the earlier (see link) comments. She has a point (not one I agree with, but an interesting point worth thinking about), but her argument is better served when she was not making statements that implied Jim was saying things he was not. Which was the point he was making above.
I recommend going to read her other comments, as they give a more nuanced understanding of her point.
Jim C. Hines
January 23, 2013 @ 7:07 pm
Thanks, Anne. And the direct link to the start of Joanna’s thread is http://www.jimchines.com/2013/01/thank-you-from-the-asf/comment-page-1/#comment-135703
David, I’m not seeing your argument that I’m implicitly claiming or trying to speak for all women, any more than I think you’re speaking for all artists. Mostly, I do get annoyed when people accuse me of saying things I never said. I’ve said and done plenty for folks to hold against me. At least judge me for the things I’ve actually said.
January 23, 2013 @ 11:15 pm
Jim I just ran across you no Mur’s Pod cast. I really like your stand on book cover art.
This is a Cover from a flegly Book cover artist that does not objeectify women you or you fan check it out. Jim I going to order one of your books right now. I very excited to try them out
January 24, 2013 @ 2:42 am
I have to agree with David. Your response to Joanna was disappointing. You said at the end of your post that you want the discussion to continue. Joanna has contributed to the discussion with an opposing viewpoint. You have no obligation to respond to her comment, yet when you did so it was dismissive and unfair. You also did not address her core arguments in either this or the previous post.
Also, Joanna never said that you claimed to speak for all women. She just asked you to remember that you don’t. This is a fair admonition given that in this very post you discuss how your collective group can mobilize to “fix this problem,” when not all agree that it is a problem. It is quite hypocritical to claim that she suggested that you said something that you did not, while you yourself are suggesting that she said something that she did not.
I’d love to see some real discussion here, especially about Joanna’s points about “relatable” and “inviting” images, as well as their intended audience and purpose. I thought the fashion magazine and lingerie catalog were great examples. What do others think?
Jim C. Hines
January 24, 2013 @ 7:38 am
Fair enough, DJ. I guess to me, “real discussion” involves more than simply repeating the same points without really acknowledging what’s been said. As for the “speak for all women” piece, when someone repeatedly admonishes you to not do something, the implication to me is that they believe you’re doing that thing. But you’re right, she didn’t specifically say that I claimed to speak for all women.
January 24, 2013 @ 7:41 pm
The ‘damsel in distress’ covers are a different beast usually, but they do tend to be for books that actually involves damsels in distress that need to be rescued. As I’m not interested in the genre, I tend to ignore those And, fairly, those are very much MEANT for women, including the hulking, faceless men to save them. As long as the cover fits the inside, I think that might be good?
As for ‘sexy heroines’ on covers, I despise them. No I truly do not wish to identify with that sort of sexy. And it would not be so bad if it wasn’t so overused and used in cases that has NOTHING to do with the actual contents of the book. If the book indeed has a sexy heroine as protagonist, I am not one to object to it one way or another.
I have been banging my head over this issue in games and the quite annoying discrepancy between male and female gear in them.
/I’ll stop here before I go on for a two page rant…
I am mostly very sad that “Don’t judge a book by the cover” mostly stems from the fact that the cover at times has so very little to do with the actual content of the book.
January 24, 2013 @ 8:54 pm
so… I don’t know, I’m not sure I even know the point of your posts anymore to be perfectly honest? If you do want to open discussion up, you are missing a good opportunity by the way you’ve dismissed Joanna’s posts. They are reasonable, mature, and well thought out dissenting opinions which you largely ignored or decided to pick fights over small peripheral or semantic details. I should think one who truly wants to engage in a constructive debate would welcome a person like Joanna to the discussion. You really do brush her off and don’t speak to any of the core points of her comments. Going back to the comments from the earlier thread, you still largely disregard her point of view (I genuinely do not know what your opinions on most of the issues she raised are other than I guess you don’t agree with them) and then leave the conversation. I don’t suppose that Joanna will bother to return after being dismissed (twice) like that, and I don’t suppose that I will either. In these examples at least, I see you jump to defensive conclusions and completely avoid the actual content of her posts. Even your response to mine follows this same pattern. I didn’t say that you were trying to speak for everyone either, I was pointing out why it might appear to some that way. And frankly I feel like that was the least important part of my comment. If you want for the discussion to include people who don’t already agree with you, I’d hope you give their opinions a little more respect in the future.
Jim C. Hines
January 24, 2013 @ 9:09 pm
Well David, apparently you and I are reading things differently.
I responded to you in the comments and by email, and I had been under the impression that this was constructive. It was for me, at any rate. Maybe you got nothing out of that, or maybe you’re choosing not to, I don’t know. Either way, some of points you’ve made were indeed helpful to me, and I appreciate that. I’m sorry you’ve been unable to see mine.
Ten interesting things I found on the internet | Andrew Jack Writing
January 25, 2013 @ 11:55 pm
[…] from Jim C Hines: Cover art, so where’s the problem. Jim goes into detail about what the problem is with sexism in book covers, where it lies and just […]
January 28, 2013 @ 9:55 am
Not sure if they’ll meet your guidelines for art, but I started Prismatic Art to help combat some of this. We raised money through Kickstarter to commission artwork and released it to the Creative Commons under BY-SA.
January 29, 2013 @ 5:30 am
To be completely fair to my publisher, that is not a woman’s head photoshopped onto a man’s body, but rather the overlay of the grunge texture causing some confusion. Once someone *says* that it was photoshopping, people see nothing but that, but having read the conversations between artist/editor etc, it isn’t the case!
Jim C. Hines
January 29, 2013 @ 7:27 am
Thanks for that, Mark!
January 29, 2013 @ 5:16 pm
Same here. The cover turned me off from reading but enough friends/reviewers convinced me to give her a try and I’m loving the books.
January 30, 2013 @ 11:18 am
Thanks again for posting this, these are really great!
January 30, 2013 @ 11:27 am
Thanks! I’ll check it out. 🙂
January 30, 2013 @ 11:28 am
You’re welcome! 🙂
February 3, 2013 @ 12:13 pm
This just made me cry. Suddenly finding out that a total stranger values your humanity, and not just the fleshy parts of your gender… This should be an intrinsic part of every person’s experience. I was saddened by how alien, how foreign it felt.
John Scalzi had linked to this page, and I’m so glad he did.
You have a reader for life Mr. Hines.
February 4, 2013 @ 4:06 pm
I have followed your Sexist Covers for awhile, and think your approach and advocacy are both brilliant.
I also wanted to add to your collection of Covers That Do Not Suck By Being Sexist: Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead.
February 6, 2013 @ 4:51 am
Is there a problem with some of the covers? Yes. Do I agree that something should change? Mhmm. Am I tired of how everything these days seems to be about making money using whatever means necessary? Absolutely. But there is something in the first paragraph I am not certain about.
You say that “it’s not in the same way”, that power is not sacrificed for the sake of sexuality where male covers are concerned, but why is that so? It is easy for a man to appear both powerful and sexual at the same time, because part of a man’s sexual appeal is in his “strength”, call it masculinity if you like. Whereas a woman’s sexuality is not about power, unless I have been living in some parallel universe all these years…
It is very easy to snap a picture of a half-naked muscular guy, that you can call balanced. The impression the viewers get is that he is strong, handsome, passionate and even badass. It is simply so very easy. So I am not sure comparing male and female book covers is entirely right. Again, I agree with you, but I don’t think “male cover books are not like that” should be used as leverage.
February 20, 2013 @ 10:46 am
“Whereas a woman’s sexuality is not about power, unless I have been living in some parallel universe all these years…”
So, wait, you suddenly get to decide what women’s sexuality is, and is not? And you think it is across the boards not about power?
I’m honestly not sure if I’m more amused, offended, or pitying. Look, you have your own attractions, and you get to speak for them. So if what you’re trying to say is that you are attracted to sexualized and vulnerable looking women, and not to powerful ones, okay then.
But to say that women’s sexuality is not about power? Is pretty absurd. Women’s sexuality can be about all kinds of things. Many of them include power. Many women enjoy sexual expression than includes power. Many people, men and women, are attracted to powerful women. You don’t have to live in a parallel universe to see this.
Death and Rebirth of Gods | Bonnie Loshbaugh
April 2, 2013 @ 11:15 pm