I Need a Word with the Wardrobe Mistress


This has been bugging me for awhile now, and so I thought I’d share. What is up with this look? I’m not sure who these book covers are supposed to appeal to. The subject matter is all paranormal fantasy, and judging by the authors, I thought the target audience was 20-30-ish women. But judging by the outfits and poses of the women on the covers, they look more like they’re aimed at adolescent boys. Do women really gravitate to pictures of women dressed like hookers?

and-Falling-Fly-coverBone Crossed_Mercy_Thompson_Book_4-122798518764133 book-cover-of-Midnights-Daughter-Dorina-Basarab-Dhampir-book-1-by-Karen-ChanceDarker Angels viciousgrace-186x300

And more to the point, publishing needs to get over this look. Really, if you were fighting demons or whatever it is these characters are fighting (and I assume they’re fighting something since they all seem to be packing some kind of weapon) would you dress like this? Who can kick ass in skin tight leather and a midriff top that’s liable to come off with the first roundhouse? And wouldn’t you think they’d at least get cold running around at night half-dressed?

Fates Edge NightMyst521 Silver-Tongued Devil The Hollows Insider The Vengeful Dead

I’m not picking on the subject matter, or any of the authors or their books. I’ve never read any of them. And now you see why. And this is just a small sample of these book covers, there were tons more. I found all these in a quick two-minute search on Google. The most common pose I saw was a backside view showing the the ass, exposing the back to showoff the tramp-stamp tattoo. Is this to allow the reader to envision themselves dressed like this, taking on the persona of their favorite character? Even John Scalzi talked about this on his blog awhile back, referring to them as ‘strippers with swords.’

By contrast, the vast majority of males depicted on paranormal book covers were all fully clothed (with one or two shirtless exceptions), and looking more like they were ready to do battle. If it were one or two, I’d probably never have given them a second glance. But it’s the SAMENESS of them all, and the fact that there are just so many that look like this that really amazes me. There’s been so much attention paid of late to some very attractive book covers that I really have to wonder why these are so formulaic. No doubt someone in marketing at the publishing companies looked around and decided, for whatever reason, that there weren’t enough of these dominatrixes gracing the covers of paranormal romance books. At least I think that’s what these books are. I take no issue with the subject matter, read whatever you like, but if all the plots and characters are as much alike as their covers seem to imply, why would you read more than one? Personally, I’d be pretty torqued if I had a book published and they slapped one of these covers on it. How on earth can your book stand out from the crowd when it’s dressed like all the others? It’s like catching two actresses wearing the same dress.

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51 thoughts on “I Need a Word with the Wardrobe Mistress

  1. That is something that confuses me with the more feminine genres too!

    In genre book covers and ads aimed at women, women are wearing little clothes and lots of cleavage.

    In genre book covers and ads aimed at men, women are wearing little clothes and lots of cleavage.

    Why?

    I will admit to not being more interested in a book cover or ad if the woman in it looks like a model and has little clothes on. For me, it works better to have a man that looks like a model and has little clothes on. 🙂

    But I think the mentality goes something like this: Women want/need book covers with women who look like they wish they looked. Not like women do look. This visual wish fulfillment will somehow draw more women to it because it looks esthetically pleasing. No one wants realism, they want esthetics.

    But I don’t get it.

    That said, there is a subgenre or romantica and erotica that does use half naked men on the cover. They look about as silly as the ones with half named women on it.

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  2. That was my only guess, too, that the women who read these books want to see themselves as svelte, sexy and tough. Only problem is, you don’t get a body like that sitting around reading. The tattoo part is easy enough, head down to your local tattoo artist 😉 I just don’t understand why they all have to look like clones.

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  3. “Only problem is, you don’t get a body like that sitting around reading.”
    – 😀

    I think the clone thing has to do with marketing. Once a certain look becomes popular, others are sure to follow.

    Thanks for posting this thoughtful post. I tend to react to these things too.

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  4. As a practical response, I have a couple of observations: as you know publishing is a pretty small community, and I’ll bet the majority of those covers were done either by the same few freelance artists, or a small stable of artists at a couple of the same design firms or in-house art departments. If the books keep selling they probably even employ the same models, or those girls move on, recruit somebody with a similar “look.” They might even do market research, asking potential buyers what they’d like to see on the shelf & what sort of book they’d be likely to purchase.

    That being said, maybe I’m shallow, but I just plain couldn’t read a book with a cover that looked like any of those. I’m not a snob or anything – I learned to read from the headlines in the NY Daily News, and I still pick up a copy most weekdays, much to the amusement of my overeducated collagues – but they are just 100% too cheezy. For all I know one of those authors is the next Faulkner, and I’m denying myself a great read, .but every time I came home and saw Darker Angels with that woman’s (girl’s) midriff on my coffee table, it would pollute my whole evening.

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  5. LOL Amen 😉 I’ll bet you’re right about the number of artists involved. Clearly some of these authors are publishing under pseudonyms (c’mon, Skyler White?) so I’ll give them credit for knowing that what they’re writing ain’t Chekhov. These covers make Twilight look high-brow. I will give Twilight credit for actually having some interesting, distinctive book covers.

    And if you’re shallow, so am I. But this whole genre is really not my thing anyway (despite my own vampire novel which is still sitting neglected, but there’s no gun moll or samurai princess in it).

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  6. Let’s sex up your Vampire novel with the addition of a samurai princess who IS a gun moll! Can you imagine that cover? It’s too bad adolescent males aren’t your target audience b/c you could write anything you wanted, with Maggie Q (or that cute young thing from Hawaii 5-0) dressed as SamPrinGunMoll on the cover, they’d be stepping on one another to buy the first print run!

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  7. “Clearly some of these authors are publishing under pseudonyms ”

    I like “Yasmine Galenorn.” Seriously, I want to ask him/her “did your mother name you that?!?!”

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  8. You can check her out on her Amazon page here. I haven’t looked up any of the others, but that is apparently her public persona as well. I still think it’s a pen name, or her Craft name, and she keeps her real identity secret. But who knows, she may have legally changed it.

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    1. (i mean, i have nothing bad to say either. i’m just confused. confusion leaves me tonguetied. you don’t even have to pull these out of moderation! i am having a private conversation! with you!)

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  9. Heh heh. Or wannabe-trashy-girls. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, to see the same audience reading these as picked up the Twilight books. I’m sure the defenders of these books would call it ‘female empowerment’, which reminds me of the comment from Joe Wright, director of “Hanna”, about the so-called ‘female empowerment’ in Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” — “That’s bullshit.”

    If you missed this bit of controversy you can read a short bit of the interview from WonderCon here or watch the very entertaining video of Wright’s comments on io9’s site here.

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    1. Yah, right? I’ve never been impressed with that post-feminist tramp empowerment argument, which IMO goes back to Camille Paglia looking to sell books, and Madonna looking to sell cheap pop records. None of the supposedly “empowered” females pushing that argument seem like the type who have the patience to read anything serious or do anything worthwhile for a living.

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    2. I liked the comment from the person named “Exotica” at the NYMag site:

      “Prostitution, stripping and pornography was turned into examples of self-affirmation for women in some quarters, including some feminist quarters. This is all to make sure that women continue to torture themselves one way or another. You may make three times as much as a guy, you may be able to beat the crap out of him, but you’re still just a ho.”

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      1. Yah, they like to call themselves “sex workers” as if that lends it some kind of dignity. IMO if prostitution was such a valid career choice, the customers wouldn’t mind telling their legit partners (i.e. the wives and g.f.s who don’t charge money) that they participate in this particular form of commerce. spreading diseases to other women without their consent is not my idea of empowerment.

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      1. yeah, that’s kind of our point: there are lot of women who like parading their tits and asses (which is certainly their right – who am I to tell anyone else how to live her life?) but want to justify it as some kind feminist choice.

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  10. I’ve quit reading a couple of blogs because this issue came up (prostitution being a woman’s choice) and of course all the male readers were defending it quite vociferously, claiming the hookers they knew really enjoyed their job (:::arching eyebrow in skepticism:::) and that no one was getting hurt. Well, DUH, of course these women are going to tell their johns they enjoy it. They didn’t bother mentioning all the ones who get beaten up by the johns or pimps. The solution, they felt was to legalize and regulate it. They also neglected to discuss the topic of male prostitution (gigolos) and how they’d feel if their wives/gf’s/SO’s were regularly taking themselves off to visit them. Somehow I don’t think they’d be too keen on that, but I also think they would never admit it publicly.

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    1. Quite surprised that the guys took that stance and didn’t want to discuss how they’d feel if their significant others saw prostitutes.

      Also agree with the other posters that commented about tits and ass in media not being very empowering for women. Have never understood that argument. In what way is taking your clothes off for other people to enjoy, empowering?

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    2. I’ll buy the “legalize and regulate” argument the day every john agrees to have a little mark tattooed on his thumb whenever he sleeps with a whore, so that decent women can see how many times he’s done so, and can make their own informed decision re: whether they want to be exposed to his whore’s cooties. All these advocates of prostitution tend to conveniently overlook the fact that the transaction affects people other than the two involved.

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    3. It’s just a male fantasy to have sex readily available on any street corner, day or night, like Starbuck’s coffee. They keep trying to rationalize it. On the show “Firefly” which I thoroughly loved, Joss Whedon had to have a ‘companion’, a woman who is a prostitute, but it’s all legal and regulated and she has to get health checks annually, and gets to choose who she sleeps with. They tried to elevate the concept and make it socially acceptable, but she was still the one who had to get the check-ups, not the johns. It was still smarmy.

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      1. The smartest explanation of prositution I ever heard came from the ho’s POV (I honestly can’t recall if it was a real or a fictitious character): “Honey, they don’t pay us to come over; they pay us to go home.’

        That being said, I’ve met some pretty lackluster characters in my day, who were able to get lucky without paying for it. I have no respect for a a guy who can’t manage that, and if it were such an empowering career for women, why are so many of ’em drug addicts, or victims of lifelong abuse, or undocumented, even kidnapped immigrants? It’s only in stupid movies that they have hearts of gold (lamest. cliche. EVER – to the nth power) or are working their way thru college.

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      2. So agree with you DD. It was one of the things I liked the least about Firefly. There was something about it that just didn’t sit well with it. I think they tried too hard to make it sound that in the future, prostitution will be fun. Have seen that in other SF too. :/

        I loved the male characters in Firefly but the female ones were so-so.

        They tried to be sex positive and have action ladies, but it just fell through because it seemed a little too convenient.

        I used to say that I think it would have been more interesting if for example the helpless crazy person had been not been cute and petite.

        Re: the empowerment discussion from earlier. I guess in light of what has been said, we shouldn’t be surprised that male readers and editors continue to be dismissive towards female writers.

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      3. And stupid movies and tv where all the hookers are drop-dead gorgeous.

        Even as far in the future as Firefly was, and as different as the societal mores were, there were still people who had problems with the idea of prostitution. That’s an interesting thought, that maybe Simon rather than River could have been the wacko. But then they couldn’t have the cute little girl kicking ass. Jayne was a wacko too, but in his own way.

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  11. I think the argument is that it’s THEIR choice to do it, so that in their minds means they are the ones in control, as if it gives them some power. What they fail to see is that the men have no increased respect for them as a result. It’s just extremely naive and faulty reasoning.

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    1. not just “no increased respect for them,” but a complete dismissal of women’s value prior and subsequent to child-bearing years. To me real power is when a a woman has control over people she’s NOT sleeping with.

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    2. BINGO. It all still hinges on sex and sexuality the way they frame it. That’s what I so loved about Joe Wright’s comments at WonderCon. Paraphrasing here: “The feminist movement wasn’t about sex, it was about brains.” Sure, it also should include sexual freedom, but IT’S SO MUCH MORE.

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  12. Amen to that. Don’t these perky young things realize that if they rely on their looks, there’s always going to be a younger, prettier, tittier girl coming up behind them? Brains are forever, as long as you continue to pay attention.

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  13. Interesting (and funny post) DD 🙂 I agree, that I would not want my book to look like a SM ad. Nor would I fight demons or zombies with my midriff exposed (why not just paint a bullseye around the navel?) Without getting into the sex industry debate, i have to add there was a similar trend in YA a while back which led to an annoying amount of covers showing headless, legless torsos of teen models. As if we need to encourage teen girls to lose their heads and focus on the bod.
    One of my women studies professors had an interesting lesson on the way covers change over the years. She compared different covers of the same book (e.g. “Rebecca”) during different decades, marketed to different age groups and audiences. If you look at some of the older ones, it’s a trip. Sometimes hard to tell the book is telling the same story.
    Unfortunately, I think that is one of the aspects that authors have little control over.

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    1. Hi Jan!

      I’m sure the authors had little say over the covers. That’s so weird about the YA covers. Seriously, that’s just creepy. I’ll have to look up some old books covers and compare to recent editions, now I’m curious! 🙂

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      1. I’ve seen covers like the ones jan describes. I think the goal was to let awkward little girls imagine their own faces on those toned bodies, but the extremely limited standards for what is considered an attractive body renders that technique insulting at best, harmful at worst.

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  14. I specifically don’t read books with people who look like this one the cover, because, I assume they’re all the same. And it’s sad, because they’re probably not.

    Also, I have a bone to pick with all the similar sounding titles. The only one that sounds remotely cool is “and Falling, fly”. I might read that. But probably not, because again, I am to assume it’s about a half naked girl with a battle ax taking on orcs from the sewers or something.

    Blegh.

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    1. Hi Melissa!

      I know what you mean, when all the covers look so similar, how much can the books differ? Not one of these would entice me to pick it up and give it a try. But you know, I see this on tv shows all the time, too. Even if it’s a military thing with women in combat situations, somehow the women are always running around in tight tank tops, when the men are in full uniform, with flack jackets and helmets. It’s something that’s bugged me for years.

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    2. “I am to assume it’s about a half naked girl with a battle ax taking on orcs from the sewers or something.”

      OK, now slap a decent cover on that one, and I might enjoy reading it!

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  15. Well, when I am slaying anything, I always want to be sure that everyone can see my amazing abs in action. Fighting totally utilizes my core muscles, so what better way to showcase it then a midriff?

    And leather is to intimidate the beast-like creatures. Cross me, and I’ll skin you. Of course, it’s not REAL leather. I’m vegan and at one with nature.

    🙂

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    1. Hahaha, frighten them to death with those killer abs, is that it? 🙂

      I don’t think pleather is going to do the trick, unless you put some of that “new car leather’ scent on it.

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      1. I roll in carcasses.

        (But seriously, loved your post. I mean, I honestly couldn’t buy a book with a cover like this, no matter how compelling the story might sound)

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  16. Ah! I have to disagree with some of this. I have known women who stripped on the side, and a woman who worked as a call girl to help pay her way through law school. These particular women were smart and quite nice, “normal”, everyday looking/acting people. Neither did drugs. And neither were forced in any way (which would be a very different thing).

    And I don’t look down upon anyone who uses such services. Whether that customer be a male or a female. And there are plenty of services out there to cater to the needs of women!Look at how many people go to single bars, get drunk, and go home with total strangers for a one night stand. I can see why someone else would find it more logical to just call an agency, have someone come over, and as someone else pointed out, “leave afterwards”.

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    1. I have no doubt that the people you knew who did this were perfectly decent people. It sounds like they were doing it for the money, and not trying to elevate it to some kind of noble profession. If it was so great they would have simply kept doing that, and skipped law school, I’d imagine.

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  17. p.s. I do agree with you on the covers and all the “kick ass” women who dress that way in movies. What woman would put on stilletto heels to go out running and fighting baddies??? That always gets my eyes rolling.

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    1. And if it had been only one or two book covers like this I probably would never have noticed. But now they’ve become almost de rigeur for this genre which has made it all the more comical, in my mind.

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