Hi. So. There's been a decent-size discussion of late about book covers and gender: Maureen Johnson’s cover flip was a very persuasive exercise in demonstrating how books by female authors are marketed differently from how they would be if penned by a man. James Dawson’s subsequent blogpost on how his own covers have been jacketed nudged our attention towards the fact that the jacketing of book covers has less to do with the gender of the author, and more to do with that of the target audience.
Surely the publishers who jacket the books (as well as the people who write the insides) believe that boys and girls want the same thing from a book? A good story; well-drawn characters the reader can identify with; accessible language. Well, yes, I think publishers do believe that – these are the cornerstones of commissioning, but even before an editor makes an offer on a book, he or she must think of how to sell this to the reps, who must think of how to sell it to the booksellers, who must think about selling it to their customers…
And there’s the rub.
Despite the fact that the books are written for a young readers, they need to be sold to adults. Admittedly, teens have significant buying power, but they are still of an age where the adults around them are trying to nurture a love of reading by buying books for them. Obviously the younger you go, the greater the influence of adults over the contents of a child’s bookcase.
No one in my office, or who I follow on Twitter, or who I meet at book launches would dream of defining a potential reader by their gender (or race, or sexuality), but this is only a small subset of the purchasing population: what about the sales assistant who told my daughter, “But those are boys shoes”? Or the friend who apologised for only having boys toys for her to play with? Or every stranger in a queue who tells me I have a very pretty son because the 'son' in question is wearing combats…?
Publishers aren’t just selling to those of us engaged in this debate. They’re selling to those who aren’t. By asking them to move more strongly towards gender-neutral jacketing (which, FYI, mostly seems to suggest eliminating pink – a subject to be discussed in another blog post) we’re asking the industry to forego income in favour of ideals.
I like to think books can change the world, but people still have to read them. If adults who want pink books for their little princesses can’t buy them, does that mean they buy something else pink instead. Something that isn’t a book?