Wednesday, February 9, 2011

THE BIG SHIFT: Middle-grade VS. YA Covers

On twitter's kidlitchat last night (every Tuesday, 8-9 CST #kidlitchat) a discussion got started on covers in children's literature. It seems in middle-grade there are a lot of "boy" based covers. Not that that these books are only for boys, but there happens to be scores of covers that have a lot more "boy appeal"--like the Percy Jackson series, the Artemis Fowl series, etc. Then there are more unisex middle-grade covers like the Clockwork Three,  A Tale Dark and Grimm, The Invisible Order, etc.  

After that, we hit the YA category and everything seems to change--drastically. Covers shift from adventure and mystery that any girl or boy would love, to heaps of covers with an attractive, thin, and let's be honest, alluring girl on the cover. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule (Hunger Games, Twilight, etc) and this is by no means a blanket statement, but what is your take on the typical YA cover? I'm not saying I don't like them, because some of them are pretty darn awesome and these girls look like they could kick some major arse!! I bought these books as a teen because I wanted to be these girls, so is this merely a selling tool by publishers?  Do publishers do this because boy YA readership slows down compared to girls or is this why boy readership slows down--because all the covers are so darn--well--girlie?

Even the books with a guy on the cover, it's always a super-buff hot guy. What teen guy out with his buddies would stop at the local mall's B&N and buy that novel? What do you think???

xoxo -- Hilary


  1. This is our culture. We can't expect it to change just b/c we're dealing with YA covers. Our media is saturated with the message that sex and good looks sells and is what you want to be. Do I wish it was different? yes. But it has invaded the book world and until the rest of advertising and marketing change - can we expect book covers too? Those are my 2 cents. And congrats on your new book deal! Yay!

  2. I truly believe that YA covers change to appeal more to girls because boys slow down reading. Why market to a demographic that won't read as much compared to the other? Most YA books are centered towards girls, whether from a girl's point of view or third person, it's usually a book a girl will pick up more so than a boy.
    Most boys won't read a book from a female's perspective and there are less books from a boy's perspective than a girl's. Not to say that writers write from the female perspective solely to get published more, but majority of YA writers are women who write from a female's point of view.
    I would love it if more YA had solely a male's perspective (and I've begun a project about it), but it's a marketing thing I suppose. Girls will more likely pick up a book than boys, so market to them to sell the book. And if a boy picks it up, all the better.

  3. Anonymous2/09/2011

    I'm really torn on this issue. On the one hand, I know they sell, but on the other, I have a teenage son who is a voracious reader, and he won't pick up those books in a bookstore because of the covers. He'll read them at home if I hand him a book and tell him it's good, but not otherwise.

  4. I loved this discussion last night because it hits home for me since I have an 11yo boy in the house who is already having trouble finding books that appeal to him. He's an avid reader but like most boys his age, he shies away from "girly" book covers. As a mom, I'm worried that the market creates more female YA readers by catering more to them.

  5. It would be fun to have alternate covers for the same book - one that's the current 'alluring girl' cover, and another that highlights something with more 'boy appeal' - without changing the story at all, and see what happens to sales. I wonder if it's been done. Maybe this is something that can happen easier with e-books?
    Great discussion,

  6. I think they need to be realistic covers for the age group. I don't want to see a guy so ripped that he doesn't look like he's in the MG or YA category. I never went to school with anyone that looked like that. :O)

  7. This is an interesting question. I know a girl/boy may or may not want to be seen reading a book with a certain cover anymore than he/she would want to wear certain clothes that might portray an alter image than the one he/she has worked so hard to build : ) Sooo...does this mean e-book teen (boy) readership will be on the rise?

  8. Laura, I agree. It is a culture thing and not just our culture. You see this all over the world. BTW: Thank you! I'm so excited!

    Samantha! I would love to know more about your project. It sounds really interesting. I do wonder if YA covers catered more to boys if their reading numbers would pick up. I would love that!

    Dee, my son is only eight and he's already starting to see the difference. He gets embarrassed, "Mom, that's a girl book!"

    Sherrie, totally! I really makes you wonder what would happen if marketing did a 180. Maybe some day!

    Lee, I love the idea of alternating covers. You could just program your e-reader that your a guy and then POOF, only guy covers come up! It truly would not surprise me!

    Diane, I know, right? I want guys to buy a book because they like the cover. Some of the "teen" guys you see on these covers would intimidate the heck out of your average American boy. Hence, not buying the book! ;)

    Paula, great point. Maybe real books could have duel covers too! Oh, wait, that would just lower our advances...forget that! ;)

    Thanks guys for such great comments. I love these types of discussions!

  9. This may be another case where e-books solve the problem. No one can see the cover or even know what you're reading if you got a kindle or iphone in your hand.

  10. I just caught the tail end of this discussion last night, but this is an interesting question. I think in part, the covers reflect the content, some of these books have more of a feminine energy, regardless of the sex of the POV character, some books just have a femenine energy and some have a masculine energy.

    I think fewer books are written with masculine energy at the YA level, for one because a lot of boys just transition over into adult books at that time, just not as much of a market.

    I can appreciate their feelings about not wanting to be seen with a "girly looking" book. I feel the same way when I'm reading MG (I finished a book with a rat on the cover a few months ago) and now I'm reading "The Familiars". I feel like people are wondering why I'm reading a kids book. The difference is, I don't care, and I'm sure teen boys do.

    Lee's comment about having multiple covers is intriguing. I noticed that Across the Universe has a reversible cover, the inside is a blueprint of the ship which would not be considered girly at all. I thought that was pretty slick, because a boy could easily carry that cover around without anyone raising eyebrows.

  11. You're right, there is a huge difference between MG and YA covers. I was just in a bookstore yesterday; there were so many covers that all ended up blending together. The ones that stuck out to me were the ones that were different than the classic "pic of girl" cover like CRANK and FALLOUT.

  12. Elle, it's so true. I think boys are even mortified to buy the book in a store. If it's a hardcover, they could just pull off the jacket, but I imagine even walking with it in hand for moment as they made their way to the cashier would feel like a lifetime!

    Melissa, a reversible book cover?? Killer idea! I would imagine that could only happen for select books. It can not be cheap to produce! :( BTW: I heard that book with the rat on the cover is TOTALLY AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!! ;)

    Bethany, me too. There are SO many covers with girls on them, the ones that catch my eye are the ones without the girls. Something striking and graphic. Before I even knew what Twilight was (which I still have not read, don't shoot me!) I always thought the covers were amazing and really stood out from the rest. It really makes you wonder about sales in relation to covers considering how big the series has become!

  13. Anonymous2/10/2011

    I like the question you ask at the end of your post and how you turn the table. "What teen guy out with his buddies would stop at the local mall's B&N and buy that novel?"

    What is a teen guy looking for in a novel? Action? Suspense? Fun? Does the book cover convey that these elements are in the novel? I'm asking because I found myself comparing those to movie posters. But again, the later is generally huuuuge, and you can pack more in the picture...

  14. I don't know if you can turn the table. YA boys drop off reading or go genre specific like SF or Mystery. What surprises me is that YA girls are so drawn to the faceless girls with no hint to story content. As a girl, am I supposed to look at a girl with wavy hair on the cover and think: ohh, I love wavy hair, this book is going to rock?

  15. That is so interesting. I haven't studied covers that much. It's sad there is not more books to appeal to YA boys or that they don't read as much.

    Equally sad is that there are not as many middle grade debut authors and that it is so much easier to market a YA book on blogs because of the interest than MG. Maybe you can do a post sometime on how you marketed your book.

  16. Most of the covers are absolutely stunning and yet, you are right. It is hard to judge whether or not a guy with his friends would pick up a book that is not very alluring.

  17. I was a high school English teacher for several years, and the feedback I got from my students was that girls would like to be that hot, strong young woman on the cover of a YA book. But boys wouldn't touch such a book. High school boys tended to reach for something masculine-ish, but not depicting a hot guy clearly on the book either (homophobia I assume). They tended to like more abstract types of covers.

  18. Very interesting observations. But yeah, guys wouldn't get near a cover with a girl on it but girls would totally dig a hot guy on the cover of their book.


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