Judging Books By Their Covers
In preparation for the release of my upcoming book, Hot Bayou Nights, my editor asked me to let the art department know what the important elements are in my story that should be included on the cover. I was asked to look through several cover artists’ catalogues and let my editor know what I like and don’t like in a cover. Looking at covers in that way, meaning consciously thinking about what draws me toward some and not others, was a new experience for me but one I found really fun.
Remember when romance covers, especially historicals, all kind of looked alike? Those were in the Fabio heyday, when his chiseled form and face graced every other one of them. Prominently featured was the half-clothed heroine, heaving bosom threatening to spill out of her dress, posed submissively with a macho he-man. Those covers were all the rage for awhile, and the publishers put a lot of effort into producing them. Photo shoots with elaborate costumes and backgrounds were set up, and the cover illustrator would be involved in posing the models just so before heading back to the studio to paint the cover. This isn’t to suggest that there isn’t a lot of effort going into producing today’s covers because I know there is. But covers today look quite different and it’s interesting to review what covers make us want to give the book a closer review and what covers turn us away.
One of the things I had to consider was whether I want to include on my cover the faces of the hero and heroine. Covers like this one, featuring just a sculpted torso, are quite popular. The anonymity of the hero’s face allows readers to imagine their own fantasy hero, kind of like a faceless mannequin lets us imagine ourselves in the fabulous clothes the mannequin’s wearing. For me, just the torso doesn’t quite do it. I can get with the appeal of imagining exactly the kind of face I want on my cover hero, but I do that anyway when I’m reading the story. Also, while I have NO PROBLEM with the sculpted abs, I guess I want a pretty face to go with them. Just a preference.
Moving on, there are the book covers that are just photographs with nothing else, meaning no background. I see that a lot on gay romance covers for some reason. They’re nice covers, no unnecessary clutter. This book Served gives an example of what I mean. Kind of a different style, right? I get a good impression of the beach from this cover even though it’s not actually there, and can also surmise that there may be some menage scenes. That, however, raises an issue. It’s pretty clear that Served is a gay romance, but do we assume that the Tokyo Tease romance is straight? I do, but it’s not entirely clear to me why. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve made an assumption about the content. Interesting . . .
With the omnipotence of ereaders, romance readers don’t have to feel like they need to hide what they’re reading since no one can tell anyway. Before that, however, there was the era of benign flowers or jewelry or a garden path on a cover that looked romantic but didn’t scream to everyone around its identity. Pretty, but kind of dull.
There are choices to be made between clean covers, maybe just the h and h embracing with little else, or elaborate, with h and h, a prominent background, and showy font. What about color versus black and white? Or monochromatic? Do you always stop and browse if there’s an animal on the cover? Cute puppy, perhaps? What about if the cover features your favorite escape, like a beach?
It’s tough to pinpoint exactly what draws us to covers. Ultimately I think it’s a combination of several elements: the book’s cover, title, author, and just plain what we’re in the mood for at the moment of purchase. As I ponder what I’d like on my cover, I’d love to hear from others as to what sucks you in for a look and what makes you walk on by.