Cover Contest 2003

Worst Covers

(Blythe Barnhill, Ballot Chair)

Worst is my baby. For some reason I just really enjoy wallowing in the bad, and discovering the new and different ways that covers can be horrible. This year’s slate featured distorted, scary cartoon covers and old-fashioned clinch excess. But we’ve also seen a new development in bad covers this year—a type of cover I like to call the “surreal acid trip” cover. Silhouette Intimate Moments took this idea and ran with it in 2003, presenting their readers with a slew of blurry, out-of-focus covers, sometimes with large, translucent objects (like baby heads and daisies) floating above them. Only one of them (A Kiss in the Dark) was on the ballot, but many were nominated. It’s definitely a worst trend to watch.

We used to see more complaints about the worst category, but at this point most people seem to enjoy having a good laugh over them. Readers know that the quality of the cover has nothing to do with what’s written inside, and indeed many readers seem to feel the most anger when they loved the book but hated its cover. Often they feel that the author deserved much, much better, and they fear that other readers might overlook a great book because of its horrible packaging. To the authors who had to endure these monstrosities, we can only say we’re sorry and hope that you are laughing along with us (and that the art department does better by you next time).

Harlequin Blaze

Our winner was so far ahead of the competition that the race wasn’t even close. We like our covers romantic, and we like our covers sexy. But no one wants their cover to look like porn. Flavor of the Month didn’t just hint “porn”—it screamed it. And voters screamed back. Esri’s comments were echoed by many: “

[This is] pure porn. He looks smug, and she looks like she’s paid by the hour. Bleah.” No one was quite sure what the heroine was licking off the hero’s face, but readers’ creative suggestions included day-glow shaving cream, whipped cream, popcorn, spackle, icing, ice cream, cookie dough, pimple cream, plaster, glue, cream pie, and cotton balls. Most hoped that it was whipped cream or ice cream, but no one seemed too confident about it. A few horrified voters (including LLB) thought it might even be some “hair gel” a la Something About Mary. Whatever it was, no one wanted to see a big tongue licking it off.

Misty’s comment was fairly typical: “I hope that’s just whipped cream…I really really hope.” Coverballot’s Maili felt her heart go out to the model: “You could see the thoughts running through this model’s mind: ‘You’re getting paid for this, mate. It’s good money. Think positive. Look as if you are enjoying this job. Think of the money. Don’t think of running away! Think of the money! The money!’, those half-hearted blobs of cream, her huge lick and…and…the whole works—it’s too hilarious to be sexy.”

Nana had some hilarious things to say about several of the contenders, and I laughed out loud at her assessment of this one: “My choice, Flavor of the Month, brings me absolutely no joy and no small degree of the willies. I don’t want to know what’s on his face. I don’t want to know what it is, I don’t want to know how it got there, I don’t want to know what it tastes like, and I don’t want to know why he’s enjoying this so much. It’s as if someone mistook him for the underside of a middle school desk. All copies of this cover should be destroyed, and those of us who have seen it should undertake to repress it as quickly and thoroughly as possible.”

Coverballot member Elaine was one of many who thought the guy looked dead: “I guess Flavor wins because it’s the creepiest. He is just hanging limply in her arms, probably unconscious or dead, and she looks like she wants to take a chunk out of his cheek. And since when is it sexy to lick shaving cream like that all over a guy’s face?”

And Reyesuela, one of the readers who nominated the cover in the first place was (almost) speechless: “That one still gives me the shivers every time I look at it. She’s so SKANKY and predatory in a nasty NASTY way, and his expression is so…so…EEEEEWWW!!!! Ok, I can’t think of anything to say about it. The sheer revoltingness of it overcomes my powers of self-expression. Just look at it. Nothing I could say to describe it could equal that horror.”

Silhouette Romance

The Nanny Solution was a distant second, but received a respectable number of votes from people who were horrified by what they saw as a mutant baby in a leopard suit. Several chose the cover because they started laughing the minute they saw it.

Casey fell into this group: “I’m new to this site, so I had no idea what was coming to me when I put down my coffee mug and began voting. Thanks to this cover, I now have a spray of coffee all over my screen and keyboard. But I don’t mind, really. This made my day—I just laughed and laughed because this cover was so bad. A baby is fine, but to have him be in a leopard costume/sleeping suit?? Looking like he’s being dangled like a marionette? I wasn’t sure if this was romance novel or a ‘Costumes-R-Us’ flyer in the Sunday paper.”

I actually convinced my husband to vote this year, and he picked this one for the same reason; it made him laugh his head off. He also wondered who on earth thought a baby in a costume said “romance” to anyone. Many of those who voted for this cover did not want to see any kids on their romance—particularly if they looked mutant.

Maya had this to say: “I am voting for this cover for several reasons, first of all, the pose and framing make the child look like a monster on a dangerous rampage that people are powerless to stop. The jack-o-lantern helps make the scene look more sinister. But my main reason for disliking this cover the most out of all of them is that I don’t like covers that focus on children to the point where the people the book is *supposed* to be about are reduced to hands. I feel like it is symptomatic of a trend in romance that I also don’t like where the character that gets most of the attention and is the most interesting is a child—and the H/H are just tools to showcase the child and go through their required plot points.”

Several readers expressed sympathy for the child.

Kristin said: “The demented baby won out, although I do pity the thing—with no neck and those uneven limbs, life is sure to be tough. No wonder it’s so happy about that floating hand.”


The third-place cover, The Big Bad Wolf Tells All, had a polarizing effect on voters. They either loved it or hated it. More than one reader thought it didn’t belong on the ballot, and I sympathized with this point of view, because I don’t think it’s a bad cover at all. But there are plenty of people who can’t stand it. And yes, though the book is about a “wolf,” that is a sheep’s head on it. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But that was part of the problem for many readers; they just weren’t sure what animal it was supposed to be—and they didn’t want to see an animal in a suit in any case.

Cover ballot’s Linnae called it “George Orwell’s Animal Farm – erotic style.”

Chris really wasn’t sure what the animal was supposed to be: “The guy on the cover is supposed to be a wolf but that does not look like a wolf’s head to me at all, it almost looks like a bear. Also it is supposed to be holding up a mask but it still has claws so if it has claws that is probably its real head in which case maybe its helping to hold up it’s snout or something because it is too heavy for his puny body to hold up.”

Jennifer thought both animals should be insulted: “It’s derogatory towards wolves and sheep. :)”

And Ellen was almost speechless with horror: “I don’t think I can sleep at night, with this image in my head. HHEELLPP! It reminds me of that scene in the movie The Shining. Yikes.”

Regan Books

The fourth-place cover was Behaving Like Adults. Or as most people thought of it, “Behaving Like Inflatable Dolls.” Voters found this both creepy and ugly.

It definitely failed by Stacey’s standards: “A romance heroine should have a nose. She looks too much like Michael Jackson.”

Danielle found it offensive: “This artist, and the marketing people who chose the cover, need to take classes in psychology. The overwhelming size of the male figure with his back turned gives a domineering impression, as if he is about to threaten or bully the passively standing, offensively disproportionate female figure. Coupled with the cartoon style and the title, this cover package is a ghastly mismatch that conveys neither fun, humor, romance, nor intelligence.”

Rosario picked this one as well, though she was almost as horrified by some of the other options: “There’s a lot to choose from here: the poor guy on Flavor of the Month, who looks like he’s on the receiving end of some bizarre torture, the guy with the deformed head on When Perfect Ain’t Possible, the horribly scary baby on The Nanny Solution, the skanky legs on Material Girl… but I have to go with the inflatable doll on the cover of Behaving Like Adults. Creepy.”

Carrington House Publishing

Coming in fifth was Momma’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe, a cover that managed to horrify readers with both its image and its lame title. No one could quite figure on what was going on in the picture, but some of the attempts at explanation were hilarious. More than one reader compared it to a public health poster.

Krissy fell into this camp: “This cover reminds me of those teen-crisis pregnancy posters the school nurse would hang up in the halls at my old high school. However, it would be interesting to read a book that looks like it would try to convince people that undetermined paternity is somehow romantic.”

Cydi had some interesting theories about the scene: “The lurking dark faceless figures on Momma’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe take first place for me. The just give off creepy vibes. The woman is hiding the one man’s eyes from. . . the lover standing just inside the door, sending strong thug-with-an-attitude-for-hire signals. Not to mention the man clutching the woman seems to be in pain, and both of them look to be made out of pillows, making both orange man and blue woman look equally pregnant. They also appear to be standing the middle of an endless orange and purple cloud, escapable only through the pink door.”

Diane thought that perhaps the artist just didn’t have time to finish: “The artist forgot to finish it—or maybe he just abandoned it. Can it also win for worst title?”

My favorite comment about this cover came from Nana, who ended up casting her vote for the “winner.” But this was too funny not to share; I laughed so hard I almost wet my pants: “Momma’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe, aside from meriting a ‘Worst Title’ nomination, looks like a safety guide you’d find in the airplane in the seat pocket in front of you (‘In case of intrusion by shirtless, faceless man, please place hand over the eyes of the man cowering next to you, cover your nose and mouth with your finger, and breathe normally.’)”


In sixth place was The Pirate and the Puritan, a ridiculous shipboard scene that boggled the mind of many a voter. This was my personal choice. While I find many of the covers unattractive, I find this one downright insulting to romance readers. I can’t believe someone thought it was a good idea to portray a couple (with heavy metal hairdos) going at it in the middle of a storm. With an enemy ship approaching. On deck. It’s 2003—can’t we move beyond this kind of thing?

Peg shared my horror: “The Pirate and the Puritan was truly outstandingly awful. Why are they boinking on the ship’s foredeck in the middle of a storm? Why is the ship flat in the middle of a stormy sea ? Also the ship seems to have lost its portside railing (not good in terms of staying afloat). Tell the artist to walk the plank!”

Emeyln agreed: “Ah, there he is, getting undressed inside a trunk on deck, while the puritan apparently seizes the first opportunity to slide her dress off and stare meaningfully into her abductor’s eyes. Meanwhile, a ship nearby may pose a danger, but the pirate, deep in the charms of his puritan, feels it more necessary to take her in full view of his crew than to navigate the ship. They appear to be actually in the act. This is the sort of cover romance novels get their worst comments for.”

Kristin also wondered about the physics involved: “First of all, even if someone were ‘overcome’ with passion I doubt anyone sane would attempt to make love on the deck of a ship in the middle of what is obviously a bad storm. Not to mention the fact that there had to have been at least a couple of sailors there trying to keep the ship from sinking. Also, where did he get his hands on the AquaNet and exactly how many bottles did he have to use to keep his hair in that ponytail?”


The seventh place cover was Material Girl, which happened to be the un-favorite of several Coverballot members. The legs in midair provoked a “what were they thinking?” response from many a voter.

Carol was succinct and scathing: “Worst. Legs. Ever. Model has no butt and legs appear to be from a seventy year old woman.”

Coverballot’s Teresa reeeeally hated this one: “This is the absolute worst cover design on so many levels it’s astonishing. The horrendous color choices for the background and title fonts for one. The hideous chicken legs on the model, and the way she’s dressed like a 5-dollar ho for another. The position of her legs in the air like she’s waiting to be mounted, and the bizarre effect of words coming out of her butt finish the deal. None of the other covers in this slate even come close to approaching the horror that is Material Girl.”

SeGate also could have done without this picture: “I found that it gave me a serious case of the heebie jeebies! Look at those legs! The background color and the larger knit of the fishnets make those legs look bony and lumpy. I am left imagining that these are really the legs of some old, gangly woman with rigor mortis. And did I really need to see the hint of the model’s butt? Thanks so much for giving me this image to burn into my retinas.”

Sil Intimate Moments

A Kiss in the Dark came in eighth. Voters couldn’t really figure out what was going on, or why it had to be blurry.

Cai said simply: “FOCUS, dammit, FOCUS!”

Several understood exactly why any kissing would happen in the dark, including AAR’s Anne: “The woman in A Kiss in the Dark looks like a refugee from a zombie movie. No wonder he’s kissing her in the dark—if the light was on, he might run away screaming.”

Jessica agreed: “This cover is horrible! The woman looks like a drug-addict needing either a good meal or her next fix. No wonder he’s kissing her in the dark! He’s a brave man to even attempt it at all.”


Coming in ninth was Living Large. Voters compared the hapless heroine to several unattractive entities, but this one from Jess was my personal favorite: “Is it just me, or is this a black version of the sea witch Ursula in The Little Mermaid? Do legs really bend like this? No. No they don’t. Yet all this was obscured by the haze of my tears, my body’s natural defense to seeing colors this hideous combined into one blinding display of pain. It could have been worse, but I don’t see how.”

She wasn’t the only one to draw this comparison. Coverballot’s Leanne voted for it too, and thought the heroine was an unflattering caricature of Star Jones. Again, she was not the only one.

Several readers, including Cindy, thought the cover was insulting to African American women: “This is not only horrible it leaves a stigma of the Black woman being overweight. This cover could have been done much more tastefully. There are so many large beautiful women out there that could be used. Doing this cartoon image of a large woman is degrading to all of those plus-size beauties and it makes me angry. For that alone I would not buy the book and may miss some wonderful stories because of it.”

BET Books

In this category, coming in last is something of an honor; you get to be the best of a bad lot. In this case it was When Perfect Ain’t Possible. Those who voted for it thought the title was eerily appropriate for the characters’ deformed look.

Maudeen said: “They must have figured the title of the book had to go with the artwork!!”

Malvina was disgusted as well: “What’s with THIS? She looks like a scheming bitch, and he looks like one side of his head got squashed and realigned, badly! This certainly ain’t perfect {shudder}.”

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