The book publishing industry is notorious for white-washing book covers by replacing the minority main character with a white (and sometimes male) figure who might not even be in the book.
Now Tara Sparling brings a new scourge to our attention: ingenue-washing.
A surprising number of books are being published with a faceless 20-somthing girl on the front cover:
Sparling explains in her post that publishing has taken the lazy way out (my words) and settled on 20-something white chicks as the symbol of all femininity rather than design covers to suit the content.
She framed her post as an open letter to the models:
I know it isn’t technically your fault. You didn’t ask to be there.
One day you’re just a working model standing on a beach, a clifftop, a bridge, or under a lamppost; the next, you’re blazing across bookshelves and bookshop windows, the cover girl of a bestseller.
You are not the 52-year-old protagonist of the book I’m reading which deals with dementia; you are not the 38-year-old protagonist of the book which explores fertility and gender expectations.
You are not the 46-year-old narrator of a book about destructive obsession.
You are most certainly not the 67-year-old woman at the core of the story about two families at war over a whiskey empire.
Funnily enough, you are not even the 25-year-old woman entertaining me with wry tales of crushing disappointment.
So Who The Hell Are You Supposed To Be?
And yet, there you are, in all your youthful 20-year-old glory: you, The Faceless Representative Of All Femininity, who must carry the marketing message to us, the readers, a.k.a. Faceless Real Women Who Buy Books With The Express Purpose Of Reading Them.
I do not like you, 20-Year-Old Faceless Girl. For starters, you are nothing to do with the mahoosive array of protagonists in the books I read, none of whom are twenty years old and prone to clutching straw hats or granny bags.
Sparling is right; an unfortunate percentage of the book publishing industry is taking the easy way out by slapping an ingenue on the cover.
It has almost become a cliche, and it’s not the only time we’ve seen it. Even the reprint of The Bell Jar was afflicted by the same stereotyping. And so was Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day, as well as other books.
And the problem gets worse when we move beyond the western world.
Is the book about Africa, set in Africa, or by an African?
Is the book set in the Arab world, or was it written by an Arab?
Then obviously it needs a woman wearing a headscarf or niqab on the cover:
Recognizing the cliche book covers is the first step in getting people to stop using them.
The second step is to bookmark the articles I linked to and then email the articles to the next fool who wants to repeat the cliche.
Have you come across examples of these clichés? Or do you know of other subjects that always get the same designs?
You can share your examples in the comment section below.
thanks, Anne, for the tip!