Cover Art Marginalizes Female Authors


The disparity in the number of male and female bylines might very well have something to do with the artwork featured on their books. Cover art informs readers of a book’s contents, and publishers certainly try to manipulate readers, as Eugenia Williamson explains at the Boston Globe:

Harbach’s all-text cover has a hand-drawn, cursive script (for ladies) on a navy blue background (for men). It is done in a deliberately casual style, reminiscent of letterpress posters and jars of artisanal pickles, that’s become graphic shorthand for “young, hip, serious novelist.” (See also: selected works of Jonathan Safran Foer and Emma Straub.)

So what does it say when there’s enough cover art featuring faceless women to generate a GoodReads list with more than four hundred titles? Female writers are being treated differently even before readers open a book.

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at More from this author →