In Publishing, Green Is The New Pink

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There’s a random line from season three of Gilmore Girls (bear with me) that’s been floating around my head in recent months: "Green is the new pink." Finding themselves at a baby shower, Lorelai and Rory cannot conceal their scorn when an extremely on-trend mum utters these words but despite their very 2003 scepticism, the shift is now true.
As with so many trend cycles, it started in fashion. Elle wrote about it in 2019, before it segued into interiors (Vogue, 2020) and beauty (Dazed Beauty, 2021). The shade comes in many forms: Dakota Johnson Architectural Digest green, Bottega green, Kelly green, soft sages and neon brights. In the same way that millennial pink came to define the 2010s, greens of all stripes are everywhere, embodying, per Allure, the arrival of Gen Z as a new economic power, "announced in a vibrant shade of freshly-mowed grass".
Now it has a firm foothold in the world of publishing, as crystallised last month when the press release arrived for Molly-Mae Hague’s first book, Becoming Molly-Mae.
Described as a "candid memoir, sharing parts of her life from outside the limelight", the book cover has several design features common to books in the 2020s: bold, sans serif type overlaying a single image (of the Love Island star herself), set against a powdery lime backdrop. The green is echoed by the tailored suit jacket Molly-Mae wears, her current trademark. Irrespective of what you think of the social media star, the effect is undeniably eye-catching.
Many have claimed that the 'girlboss' trope is dead and has taken millennial pink with it. But even at its peak, there were books that rejected this more mainstream, digestible version of feminist thought. Since 2015, many of the titles that rejected this brand of feminism stood diametrically opposed to millennial pink, adopting verdant shades from the other side of the colour wheel. It was really only a matter of time before those greens which both complemented and stood out against the more ubiquitous pinks began to become mainstream themselves.
If one book embodied "hot girl books" before we’d even heard the phrase, it's Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick. The 1997 novel by the American author and artist was republished in 2015 with a bold, tongue-in-cheek cover: I LOVE DICK emblazoned in white and pink on a vivid green backdrop. Merging fiction and memoir and exploring psychosexual obsession, it ticked many boxes for fans of contemporary feminist literature – and all with a cover that dared people to stare at you while you read it on the bus. The marketing of the book — posters were pasted around Soho in London and users of a still-nascent Instagram gleefully shared their cover photos — set a precedent for how bold, contemporary fiction by brilliant female writers was marketed to audiences.
On the one hand you have Her Body and Other Parties, a short story collection by Carmen Maria Machado, published in the UK in 2017. The cover is as electric and provocative as the stories themselves, wrapped in a highlighter green so neon you can’t always look directly at it. The cut-up image of a naked woman’s back only cements that this is a book that unpicks womanhood but embraces the unnerving. 
On the other hand you have Sally Rooney’s Normal People, a book so popular that it set off a "saturation of illustrated covers" after its 2018 publication. The backdrop is a softer olive green than Her Body and Other Parties and the image a sad, lonely illustration of lovers embracing in a tin. Machado’s cover used green to radiate pent-up fury but Rooney’s points to a lonelier, muted frustration.
These books, in different ways, captured the mood and mind of readers and built a cult following (which, for some, spilled over into mainstream success). It established a green framework that was well suited to contemporary literature with a feminist slant, which could be riffed on for other distinct trends. For thrillers, the greens took the form of acid sans serif fonts against a dark illustrated background (Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, The Serial Killer and Claire Fuller’s Unsettled Ground). For nonfiction texts with a feminist bent, the greens were darker but no less bold (as in Diana Souhami’s No Modernism Without Lesbians and Mona Chollet’s In Defence Of Witches, both of which divert from sans serif and make use of black and white illustration). Following in the contemporary feminist tradition is The Testaments by Margaret Atwood with its neon green backdrop and rounding into this year, in a more pastel green, Molly-Mae’s upcoming memoir.
For publishers of books by women and targeted at women, the prerogative now is not to fall into the 2010s trap of 'books for women'. Less than five years ago, publishing books in powdery shades of pink was an intentional reclamation of sexist stereotypes, even spawning books with titles like Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies). Yet the shade rapidly went from subversive to cliché. Ami Smithson, a design manager at Macmillan and the woman behind the bold green cover of Chollet’s In Defence Of Witches tells R29: "I wanted to avoid anything too light, clichéd, or anything considered too soft or feminine." She says that pink was among her initial drafts but green was a really conscious choice. "I wanted a modern green, a fresh green that was zappy." This particular shade did just that, while also making the black and white text more visible.
This is not to say that pink has disappeared from the zeitgeist. It has simply become a neutral. A quick scroll of Waterstones’ International Women’s Day page turns up titles in a range of pink shades from recent years, from Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given and Block, Delete, Move On by LalalaLetMeExplain to a reprint of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay and 2021's Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters. But they don’t jump out at you the way they once did. As Veronique Hyland, who coined the term 'millennial pink', wrote at the time: "It’s a non-colour that doesn’t commit." Now greens are grabbing your attention, both in person and on screen.
This is purposeful because the way a book looks on screen is important for its success. The goal is a book cover that looks as good on screen as it does in your hand and is easily identifiable in an Instagram 'Beach Reads' post, a stack of 'To Be Reads' shared on BookTok, or arranged on your shelves. And ideally it will be just as visible as a thumbnail when you scroll through sites like Amazon as it is in print.
These economic forces as much as cultural ones have led to the current book cover design era of "statement wallpaper and fatty text", where boldness meets legibility. They are also the drivers behind other recent cover trends, from blobs to sad, faceless women. The marketing direction a new book takes is shaped by what has already been done successfully. "Like that book but different" has been a guiding principle in book cover design for decades.
The use of green in particular is interesting for two reasons. There’s a longstanding publishing myth that "green doesn’t sell" books. And so in choosing this palette, "publishers are slowly venturing away from warm, comforting hues to green as a way of non-conforming, trying to stand out against the crowd," says Holly Ovenden, a freelance book cover designer and illustrator.
At the same time, the shades we’re seeing are what Jane Boddy, a trend forecaster at the Pantone Color Institute, calls "digital greens". The colours look more saturated through a phone screen because of the play of light, and that saturation is replicated in the books.
Jessie Gaynor, senior editor at LitHub, tells R29 over email that green is a sign of a chase for something new. "Where millennial pink was co-opted by, among other things, pseudo-feminist corporations, green feels fresher and more organic."
In many ways it marks a shift to the current focus of younger readers. Unlike pink, green is not a historically gendered shade at all. Sitting on the other side of the colour wheel, green at once complements and opposes pink. It evokes the most natural parts of our world and can be seen to reflect a consciousness about sustainability but at the same time it feels foreign and futuristic (consider the colloquial description of aliens as 'little green men'). When bold it is vibrant and unavoidable; in pastel form it is soothing but not soft. Green is a youthful shade but with its blue tones never warm.
All these interlinking ideas are held together in a green backdrop. They are why "Gen Z Green is working as a shorthand for 'cool and current'," as Jessie puts it. But as happens with every trend, the moment it becomes unavoidable it loses some of its lustre. We can already see this in the split in shades: pastels for your Molly-Maes, forest green for your Diana Souhamis. Who knows where the trend will go next, or how we'll read a green cover in five years' time. For now, you'll be sure to see green radiating from books written by all kinds of women, from the hyper capitalist to the Marxist and everything in between.
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