How to identify gender-based marketing

There are a number of ways to identify whether gender-based marketing practices have been used to to promote and publicise a title, other than the actual content. These can include:

  • Front cover
    Book covers are often the biggest message-bearer in terms of gendered marketing strategies. What do the colours, graphics, design and fonts used say about the contents and intended audience? Covers marketed at a female audience are more likely to feature people on the covers, for example, while ‘serious’ (i.e. male-authored or titles marketed towards a predominantly male audience) book covers are more likely to feature things or objects (Palmer 2013).
  • Promotional blurbs
    Books that use gender-based marketing strategies highlight a title’s gendered appeal strongly in promotional blurbs used in catalogues, websites and the cover. Books written by women are more likely to be marketed ‘as softer, more rom-commy’ than similar books written by men. Books that appeal to men as much as they do to women are encouraged to ‘elide their femaleness in order to pump up their sales’ (Johnson 2013 & Fallon 2013).
  • The position of books in brick and mortar bookstores
    Women’s fiction is often relegated to the ‘close-quartered lower shelf’, while other genres are placed at eye-level, effectively increasing exposure (Wolitzer 2012 & Johnson 2013).

As a consumer, it is important to be aware of these strategies when making your purchasing decisions. Don’t be afraid of breaking the mould. Be aware of the strategies and make up your own mind about what it is you want to read.

As a publishing professional, consider whether it is really necessary to market titles using these gendered-based strategies. Will you alienate potential other readers outside this targeted group?

Can you think of any other examples of how publishers, authors and other industry professionals use gender-based marketing strategies to promote their work to one sex over another?

Do you find gender-based marketing strategies effective?

If you haven’t already seen the results of Maureen Johnson’s experiment reversing the gendered covers of popular titles, check them out here.


Fallon, C 2013, ‘Do we know ‘chick lit’ when we see it’, 8 August, The Huffington Post, viewed 18 April 2014, <>.

Johnson, M 2013, ‘The gender coverup’, 5 July, The Huffington Post, viewed 19 April 2014, <>.

Palmer, R 2013, ‘Coverflip: some meandering thoughts about gender and marketing’, May 10, We got so far to go: social justice rants and raves, viewed 19 April 2014, <>.

Wolitzer, M 2012, ‘The second shelf: on the rules of literary fiction for men and women’, 30 March, Sunday book review, The New York Times, viewed 19 April 2014, <>.

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