Home » Covers » Why are middle-aged women invisible on book covers?

Why are middle-aged women invisible on book covers?

25 May 2018

From The Guardian:

Here’s a challenge for you: find a book jacket that features an image of a woman over 40.

My own hunt – as yet unsuccessful – was prompted by the actor and novelist Barbara Ewing, whose novel about a drama-school reunion, The Actresses, has just been reissued. Ewing says she cried when she first saw the cover of the 1997 edition – although it focuses on women over 50, the jacket image was a close up of a young woman’s face. This time around, she and publisher Head of Zeus have gone for an elegant photograph of a silver-haired woman that measures up perfectly to the book’s protagonists. But Ewing says bookshops aren’t interested.

It seems the book world doesn’t think readers want to see women of a certain age on their novels – even if that is precisely what the books are about. Take a look at some literary novels about older women – Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child, Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, Carol Shields’ Unless – and you’ll see a lighthouse, two children wearing fairy wings, a young couple in a car and a child standing on her head.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG says this is yet another reason for becoming an indie author.


19 Comments to “Why are middle-aged women invisible on book covers?”

  1. I so agree. I’ve got two fantasy novels with older women on the covers and I use that as a selling point to older women when I’m selling at events. It’s rough finding good stock photos of older women to use.

  2. Harry Connolly’s “A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark” has exactly that. And it’s an utterly excellent book, totally amazing.

  3. Couldn’t agree more. The Chanel Caper is about a married couple facing 60—and each other—as they work together to solve a murder. As Linda says, finding images of appealing/attractive older women is difficult: A silver streaked brunette with an unlined face was the closest I could find to suit TCC’s snarky, witty, down-to-earth tone.

    I don’t know what’s wrong with publishers (and I used to be one). Who the hell do they think reads books? Women. Baby boomer women. Duh.

  4. Just another reason to hire your own artist or roll your own.

    For those looking/playing with that DAZ program, go to daz3d.com and type ‘aged’ into the ‘search store’ window.

    (Yes, I’m ‘that’ nutcase … 😉 )

  5. Terrence OBrien

    It seems the book world doesn’t think readers want to see women of a certain age on their novels – even if that is precisely what the books are about.

    They don’t care what readers or authors want to see. They care about what will lead consumers to buy the book.

    • Felix J. Torres

      What they *think* will lead consumers to buy.
      Plenty of evidence that many if not most books are bought *despite* their covers.

      I don’t often see a book, in any genre, with a cover that truly sells the story inside. The best I hope for these days is a cover that in retrospect is somewhat relevant to the story.

      • What they *think* will lead consumers to buy.

        Sure it will. A cover is just another ad. And like most ads, young sells more than old.

        • Felix J. Torres

          Most ads, by themselves, fail to sell anything.
          That’s why advertisers buy eyeballs by the million and look at the accompanying material when they buy placement.

          And the ads skew young because the young are more likely to spend with undue deliberation. (Unless the product is aimed at mature audiences to start with.)

          With books, a cover can easily blow a sale but the odds that the cover by itself will sell the story are very, very low.

          Think of all the books out there with generic covers; Acacia trees, silhouettes in the mist, “tough chick in leather”, weird rocketship or sky car over a futuristic city…

          At most they communicate genre but since books are already shelved or listed by genre even that offers little inducement.

          Try this:

          Look at this month’s Kindle First books.
          Which cover image, by itself, says anything about the contents?

          It takes a real good cover to actual sell a book by itself. Title helps more. Blurbs and summary even more.


  6. Mine does. The heroine of Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, seen on the cover, is 48 when the story begins.

    I got a stock photo which had the right posture and feel, and she is seen from 3/4, looking off into the sunset.

    I haven’t made an issue of her age, deliberately – you discover it bit by bit. I don’t like infodump descriptions.

  7. What’s being called “silver romances” or “mature romances” are getting hot these days, and some cover artists are catching on. A quick search at Amazon for “mature romance” shows some pretty nice covers.

    Jan Scarbrough has written a number of them and I think all her covers on those show vibrant people in their fifties Liz: The Montana McKennas, the heroine is 55 and I think the model on the cover looks appropriate: https://www.amazon.com/Liz-Montana-McKennas-Ranchers-Book-ebook/dp/B01DRAKBIK

    On her Home for the Holidays: The Montana McKennas, the cover shows a clearly older, bulkier man riding hell-bent-for-leather on a horse: https://www.amazon.com/Home-Holidays-Montana-McKennas-Ranchers-ebook/dp/B077RF4WPZ.

    And on Secrets: Bluegrass Homecoming, the laughing couple is clearly not young: https://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Bluegrass-Homecoming-Book-2-ebook/dp/B01MDK56EA

    The thing is, what does a “middle aged woman” look like? It doesn’t necessarily mean she’s a silver-haired lady in sensible shoes (personally, I’m almost old enough for social security, and was last seen sporting maroon streaks in my very long blonde hair, and wear tee shirts and flip flops). I have no idea where Jan and these other authors get their stock images, but they’re starting to be out there.

    • Ah, the first model reminds me of the Abigail Stanton character (played by Lori O’Loughlin) in the “When Calls the Heart” series. And the couple make me think of Olivia and Jack (Andie McDowell and Dylan Neal) on Cedar Cove, which my 60-something-year-old parents watched. The tie-in versions of that series use McDowell on the cover, just like the tie-ins of the Phryne Fisher mysteries use Essie Davis. I didn’t know it was unusual to have an older model when the character is in fact, older. Good on these indies for not settling!

      For the record, Mom doesn’t have grey in her hair, and Dad only has a little in his beard. I’m honestly not sure how modern middle-aged people are “supposed” to look. Maybe the trad publishers assume “frumpy” and/or decrepit? They should get out more 🙂

      • Felix J. Torres

        Ah, Hallmark Channel!

        Hallmark really, really mines those heavily.
        My mother really enjoys their cozy mysteries and PG dramas so I’ve been exposed to most of their tropes.
        They have about 5 or 6 scenarios that they riff on.

        There’s a slew about the mid-30’s/40’s widower with a couple of kids who hasn’t dated in years. Usually a pediatrician or writer or executive in a start-up. They mix that in with feisty nannies, young widows with their own cute kids running for PTA president, or hard-charging career women. Sometimes, the actors are even age-appropriate!

        (No cradle robbers allowed. Those stories end up on Lifetime.)

        For some reason, Hollywood and the media are surprised that cable viewers love the Hallmark channel. Highest rated fiction channel on cable, last I heard.


        • They have about 5 or 6 scenarios that they riff on.

          That’s why they’re good for an occasional bingewatch, which is how I end up seeing them via Netflix 🙂

          I used to try and discourage my parents from watching the Lifetime channel, as their heroine (sometimes hero)-in-jeopardy movies tended to require the heroine to carry the idiot ball. They used to get annoyed when the heroine acted foolish, like waiting until she was all alone with the killer to cry out, “It was you! In the study! With the lead pipe!” But now my folks know to just shake their heads and say to each other, “Forget it, it’s Lifetime.” 🙂

  8. Errr… the model for Liz (55) looks like 30, 35 at most.

    • Felix J. Torres

      Today, that is about right for middle class and higher non-smokers.

      In general, you should subtract 10 years from 20th century expectations. ( “Forty is the new thirty” ) A bit more if they live an active lifestyle or are affluent.


      Medical advances, better nutrition, lifestyle changes, cosmetic surgery… 😉

      • Right.
        Then she looks 40 to 45, not 55.

        The article is interesting and says true things, but giving as examples Hollywood actresses who have had cosmetic surgery, access to professional make-up artists, life-coaches and sport-coaches, etc, is a bad idea.

        • Felix J. Torres

          The effect is an artifact of lifestyle and affluence, as I pointed out, but the article features a couple of non-celebrities, too. The trend wouldn’t be a meme if it didn’t reflect “lesser” humans of both sexes.

          • Right, and models are often “aspirational” anyway; that’s why they’re generally attractive. It’s still the case of using an age-appropriate (even if affluent) Andie McDowell over a definitely-too-young Jennifer Lawrence for a character who is supposed to be McDowell’s age.

  9. My Dev Haskell series features a P.I. who, among other things usually ends up with some hot looking woman who by the end of the book throws her hands up and say’s “Don’t ever call me again.” She may or may not file a restraining order. I received an email from a fan who said she really loves the series “but he always ends up with young, well endowed, gorgeous women and well, that’s not me anymore.” I thought about that and in the next book in the series, Tutti Frutti, he ends up with a woman 10+ years older and he can’t keep up with her. At one point he’s in a meeting and has to stand because he’s been spanked so hard the night before. It’s one of my hottest selling titles…

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.