Judging Books By Their Covers

17 Apr

Louisiana BayouIn 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.

To Love AgainRemember 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. Tokyo TeaseCovers 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.

ServedMoving 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.Must Be Magic

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.

6 Responses to “Judging Books By Their Covers”

  1. ellaquinnauthor April 17, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    Just try getting an historically accurate cover these days. I tweeted.


  2. Misty Dietz April 17, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    I have to admit, I like bodies on covers. I don’t mind if the head is cut off either, or even half of the head. LOL. I don’t even mind the over-romanticized covers of the 80s because duh, I’m reading it for the fantasy.

    I also love abstract covers or simple covers like ones that just show a feather or whatever.

    What I don’t like is random graphics thrown together like someone went to a stock photo site and said, “ooo, I like this..and this..and this” and then just slapped it all on a cover. Screams amateur. But then, I have a little background in graphic design and I can be a picky bitch. 🙂


    • Elizabeth Shore April 20, 2013 at 7:45 pm #

      HA HA! I don’t know if it’s that you’re picky, Misty, or just that you have a trained eye so you see covers differently then others might. Like a professional chef isn’t necessarily going to enjoy a frozen pizza when he can make his own masterpiece from scratch. And btw, I’m with you on the 80s covers. Sure they were over romanticized, but they had their own charm.


  3. Suzie April 17, 2013 at 3:08 am #

    People make fun of those old romance novel covers, but I actually like them. The big, muscular guys usually look hot and I love the dresses most women wear. I’m not afraid to admit the appeal they have to me and actually don’t like the way some of the newer covers have gone. I started reading historical romance when I was fourteen and kept reading it over the years after that. Admittedly, I’m mostly into paranormal now, but once in a while I get in the mood for a good old fashioned bodice ripper.

    As for the chest only shots on covers, that is kind of weird to me. Sure, it does let you use your imagination, but I still prefer the head to be in there.


    • Elizabeth Shore April 17, 2013 at 8:46 am #

      I’m completely with you, Suzie. I like the heads intact! 🙂 The old covers have a uniqueness to them that make them instantly recognizeable. I also read an article about cover artist Elaine Duillo, who painted a lot of those early 80s and 90s covers. It’s astounding how much work went into every one. They’re a piece of art unto themselves.


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