Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Face Off!

I stopped at a Barnes & Noble recently, and as always, ended up perusing the YA section. Here's what I found:

I wonder if you notice what I noticed. Check out that bottom row (if you can see it in my lousy picture): all books by male authors. See any faces? Me neither.

Not all books written by women have faces or body parts on their covers. But far fewer books by men feature faces or body parts on the front. Why? Wouldn't a pretty face sell a book written by a man as well as an obscure graphic?

Take a look at the first hardcover publication covers of John Green's books:

One in five has a face on it. An interesting note: The Paper Towns paperback edition swapped the girl's face for a pushpin and a map, while the Abundance of Katherines featured the top half of a girl's face instead of the row of colorful silhouettes.

Now let's look at a similar author, Maureen Johnson. Both of these authors' stories feature quirky characters, mysteries riddled with riddles, and even a road trip or two. Here are Johnson's recent covers (again, the first hardcover publications):

One in five does not have a face (or at least part of a face). Bodies and more bodies. Maureen's newest (below) at least has a man in addition to the woman.

Is there some scientific evidence that faces on covers sell more books? If that's so, wouldn't half a face on a cover sell half as many books? Maybe I suffer from a touch of coprophobia--an irrational fear of faces--and that's why I notice this so much. It's possible.

What do these covers say about authors and genders? If I had picked two different authors, would we see the same trends? One way to find out: stay tuned for another Face Off! next month, right here at JacketKnack.


  1. The formatting on my bibliography was sloppy, so please find it here:

    Books featured above, by John Green:

    Looking for Alaska by John Green (Publisher: Dutton Juvenile; 2005)
    An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Publisher: Dutton Juvenile; 2006)
    Paper Towns by John Green (Publisher: Dutton Juvenile; First Edition edition, 2008)
    Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (Publisher: Dutton Juvenile; 2010)
    The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Publisher: Dutton Juvenile; 2012)

    Books featured above by Maureen Johnson:

    13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (Publisher: HarperTeen; 2005)
    Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson (Publisher: Harpercollins Childrens Books; 2007)
    Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson (Publisher: Scholastic, Inc; 2008)
    Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson (Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.; 2010)
    The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson (Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers; 2011)
    The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (Publisher: Penguin Group (USA); 2011)

  2. I hadn't thought about this before. Girls like faces, maybe? And they expect boys to pick up John Green's books even though the subject matter is similar? I love the idea that half faces sell half as many books--ha ha ha.

  3. Carol, wouldn't you think that girls like boy faces too? There are many covers with couples on it, but only a few featuring only a boy's face. Hmmmm.