Cover Contest 2003

Historical Single Covers

(Mary Lynne Nielsen, Ballot Chair)

Mary Lynne has headed this category for several years now, and has watched trends over time. She had several interesting remarks about this year’s slate:

“When I look at these covers, I’m struck by several things: yet again, the lack of couples in classic clinch poses, the emphasis on solo women, and use of color.

The Winter Mantle is one of only three covers in the final slate to show a couple. However, that couple is not in a clinch, or another classic romance-novel cover pose showing an interrelationship. They’re distant from one another, small in the vast chilliness of their bleak winter landscape. The woman is on the ground, the man is mounted on his horse. All these differences set up questions about their scenario in our minds, and make it a very intriguing cover.

“The other covers to feature a couple, The Impostor’s Kiss and Taboo, are the polar opposites of The Winter Mantle. The Impostor’s Kiss features a close-up of a couple, a photo image rather than painted like TWM. The background is black, emphasizing the features and expressions of this couple. It’s intimate and expressive of their relationship. This is much closer to a ‘traditional’ couple cover for romance novels, but the use of the photo image and the stark simplicity of the background combine for a striking visual.

Taboo takes a couple’s intimacy and moves it to an entirely different level. The distance of TWM is entirely removed here. Instead, we see a couple engaged in a vitally intimate moment. This is a challenging cover, and a polarizing one. Are you enticed by the relationship you see here? Repelled? Does the artistic merit of the cover sell the image to you? As readers of romance, do we find the direction shown in this cover positive or negative?

(Side note–I find it fascinating that, year in, year out, you see a lot of classic clinch covers published, but they never make it through this competition, either in nominations or in selection.)

“The remainder of our final slate features women alone. Yet again, this theme is enormously popular. But there is a great range within that statement, ‘women alone.’ If you look at the expressions of the women shown on these covers, they run the gamut, from the stark heartbreak of The Betrayal to the serene happiness of Under the Wishing Star, the enigmatic direct gaze of Thorn in my Heart to the ghostly abstraction of Susannah Morrow. All of them hint at a story behind the expression, which is perhaps why we like these covers so much.”

St. Martins
Cover artist: Steve Stone The Winter Mantle won this category in a landslide vote. It beat its competitors soundly, receiving more votes than any other cover in the contest. Voters described it as beautiful and evocative. Many wondered at the symbolism of the couple on opposite sides of the river, and more than one expressed a desire to go find the book so they could learn more about the people on the cover.

Shelly thought it was perfect for the book: “It perfectly captures the main theme of the novel, and before I read it I wanted to know why these two were on opposite sides of the stream, what kept them there, and where and how they’d meet.”

Amanda’s description was as poetic as the cover itself: “The wintry scene reflects both bleakness of the spirit, yet paradoxically a meditative beauty—fronting a mist-obscured, enigmatic castle.”

Michelle loved it as well: “This cover is quite lovely,

[with] beautiful colours, and a graceful composition of landscape and characters. It’s very suggestive of the hero and heroine’s situation; they are on opposite sides, divided. A moment frozen in time. Winter is indeed a mantle over the romance and story.”

Coverballot’s Teresa made it her choice. She adds some comments about “portrait” covers that were echoed by several other voters: “Unlike many people, I’m not a fan of classical paintings on the cover of romance novels—they look too much like English Lit that way, and hence, to me, boring (unless the name ‘Jane Austen’ is also on the cover). Although I think the cover of Taboo is fantastic artistically, it just doesn’t look at all historical to me. In contrast, The Winter Mantle cover is gorgeous and intriguing and definitely says ‘historical’ while at the same time advertising a romance novel written by a contemporary author.”

Cover artist: John Ennis
Designer: Anna Dorfman

Taboo was the second-place cover, and the reactions it provoked were varied and interesting. Many people who ended up choosing other covers commented on Taboo, either because they almost chose it (and found it provocative and interesting) or because they thought it was too provocative to the point that it was embarrassing. Naturally, those who voted for it liked that it was erotic and provocative.

Jade was one fan: “Oooh…this is a good one. The others are too tame; they look like they belong on a literary novel. This cover fits its title and screams sexy, historical romance.”

Julia liked that it was sexy without going completely over the top: “I loved this cover as soon as I saw it here. I love that it is very ‘risqué’ but at the same time in good taste. It is more suggestive than explicit. It immediately told me without knowing anything about the book or the author that it was an erotic romance. Love the colors too (very daring),the shadows, and how I really don’t see much of hero or heroine—just enough to catch my attention. And maybe it is not important, but this cover made me want the book too.”

Carol was one of several voters who mentioned the attractive font: “The title font is an active part of the composition echoing the slash and loop of ribbons; the pose suggests the ‘taboo’ subject matter eloquently.”

It also won the vote of Coverballot’s Jaycee: “Oh my, this cover is terrific on so many levels! LOL I spent a lot of time going back and forth between this one and Thorn in my Heart, but in the end, this one won me over. TIMH is a beautiful, beautiful cover. I’d love to have a copy of this painting on my wall. But the naughtiness of Taboo—well, I might want a copy, but I wouldn’t want to share it with just ‘anyone’ else. <g> I know there will be readers who will be turned off by this cover, but to me it represents many a woman’s fantasy.”

Cover artist: John Hamilton

In third place was Thorn in my Heart. Voters were attracted to the heroine’s haunting face, as well as the artistic portrait look.

One category author picked it for this reason: “It looks like a classic painting. Very beautiful and the rich colors are so lovely.”

Kari loved it as well: “This is a wonderful portrait of a woman who isn’t too beautiful to be true—rare for a book cover. Yet she has a unique loveliness, and the clothing detail is exquisite.”

Andrea almost chose The Winter Mantle, but this one won out: “I chose this one for it’s more historical feel, lovely soft colors, and it’s very eye catching even at a distance. I also love the flowers in her hair and the little details on her costume—very authentic looking.”

It also got the top nod from Ballot Chair Mary Lynne: “I love the expression on this woman’s face—I’m desperate to discover why she is looking at me in quite this way. I think it’s one of the best uses of a photographic image that I’ve seen. And I love the colors in this cover—they make for a striking combination. The way the title looks handwritten—perhaps this woman wrote it—is another wonderful element. I love a lot of the covers in this category, but this one was the best for me.”

Cover artist: unknown

Coming in fourth was Saving Sarah. Readers were attracted to the heroine’s beautiful dress, as well as the cover’s blue tones.

Many, like Cheryl, found it intriguing: “I love the feeling of urgency and aloneness the cover portrays. I felt a connection to her despair and to her strength.”

Coverballot’s Elaine liked it for a similar reason: “This cover has the most movement and raises the most questions in my mind. It is the most intriguing cover in the slate.”

For Lisa, it was all about the dress: “The beautiful gown on this cover is what puts it in first place for me. I am a sucker for those gorgeous flowy gowns.”

Mary agreed, calling the cover “Cinderella-ish.”

Cover artist: unknown

In fifth place was The Impostor’s Kiss. Voters liked the way it captured a couple right before they kissed, though several complained that the caption (“Lord Lindale was living a lie!”) was annoying and out of place.

Malvina was captivated by the romance: “How utterly romantic. She’s lifting her head with shy gentleness for his kiss, one hand resting gently on his jacket lapel. His lips are open, ready to plunder while his face remains shadowed. Quite a touch of mystery about his identity….”

LFL agreed: “Ohh, this one is just so romantic. I love the way their lips almost, but don’t quite, touch. That and the muted colors give this cover a classiness that few ‘clinch’ covers possess.”

Teresa said: “That tantalizing moment right before the lips touch is captured wonderfully.”

It also got Coverballot member Karen’s vote; she called it “romantic and old-fashioned looking.”

Cover artist: Dante Rossetti
Designer: Erika Fusari

The sixth place cover was Midnight Angel. Interestingly, several of the voters that chose Thorn in My Heart mentioned that this was a close second for them. Several commented that it looked just like a lovely painting. It is, in fact, a lovely painting, and one that many readers recognized.

Some, like Morwen, even have prints hanging in their homes: “You just can’t go wrong with Pre-Raphaelite art on a historical cover. I have a framed print of this painting (Proserpina) in the great room of my house, so how could I not vote for it? Simply beautiful.”

Chi found this painting completely appropriate for an historical romance: “While it doesn’t show much skin or even the couple, this close-up of a Rosetti painting still evokes such sensuality and atmosphere. It focuses on her red, ripe lips, her rich hair, and that half-eaten pomegranate, which just looks…very…ahem, sexual.”

Several readers who like the general trend of using classical paintings on covers voted for this one, including Cheryl: “I like the use of classical artwork on covers and there are two here. I voted for the Rossetti over the Romney for it seemed to fit the title of the book better.”

Cover artist: George Romney
Designer: Rita Frangie
Photographer: Corbis

A Catch of Consequence came in seventh. Those who chose this one were also portrait fans, and many felt that this cover lent the book a very classic air.

One soon-to-be-published author said: “All these covers are really lovely; it was difficult to choose, but I think this one has a very classic appeal to it.”

Paula agreed: “This cover makes the book feel like a classic. Yes, we’ve been entirely conditioned by various marketing techniques to think that way, but hey, it works! As well, it’s a gorgeous painting.”

Katherine liked it as well: “I love the way that an old portrait has been used in a simple setting—nothing florid, just something distinctive.”

And Carol chose it for “sheer authenticity,” adding, “I am there; it is that convincing.”

Cover artist: Dan Thornberg

The eighth-place cover was The Betrayal. Voters found the heroine’s face haunting and emotional. Avrey called it “stark and interesting.”

Coverballot’s Lisa thought the image was “beautiful and delicate.” Anita liked that it was like a painting without actually being a painting, and added: “It is just beautiful and has a haunted quality that I enjoy.”

Jessica voted for this one, and had some interesting comments on the trend toward portrait covers: “[It’s] clean, compelling, lovely, evocative. The expression on her face is amazing—you can almost read the story from the cover. I am intrigued by the new format of many of these covers. Most don’t look like romance novels, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Certainly we’ve all seen enough poorly done clinches before, and who wants to be the recipient of those looks while reading a romance on the subway, but at the same time it’s comforting to know right away that what I am picking up is indeed a romance.”

Cover artist: John Ennis

Coming in ninth was Under the Wishing Star, which appealed to traditionalists who liked the cover’s romantic feeling and dreamy look. Susan called it “wonderfully romantic and artistically appealing.”

Joan admired the use of color: “This cover has a very nice tableau. A young woman, in her dress gown, holding flowers…from a beau?…gazing up at the stars and making a wish. After all, who can’t relate to dreams and wishes? The use of color is great—her pale gown and flowers against the greens, blues, and purples of the evening.”

And Maya had this to say: “In the historical category, I want my covers to feel romantic, and a lot of the covers presented here are lovely, but not particularly romantic. I really like the pose of the heroine on Under the Wishing Star, it has a casualness that makes me want to know more about her, and what is she wishing for.”

Maya managed to put my feelings into words. I too chose this cover, and though I found others appealing, this one just seemed more romantic to me.

Cover artist: George Cornell

Rounding out the ballot was the tenth-place Susannah Morrow.

Treat had this to say: “It’s very haunting and makes you wonder what the book is about.”

Coverballot’s Tobi chose it as well. She liked that it has a moody feel.

And this was an early favorite for AAR/Coverballot’s Jennifer: “This is my favorite cover of the year, period. I love the fact that, while it’s not a cartoon, it’s also not photo-realist. I love that you can see the soft brushstrokes, and I love how minimalist it is. I think it’s beautiful enough to hang on the wall, and that’s pretty unusual.”

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