coverThey’re like bad relatives.  You can’t avoid sleazy Uncle Bob or foul-mouthed Cousin Betty, because Uncle Bob married to Aunt Emily (the loveliest auntie in the world), and Cousin Betty is sister to Cousin Mark (who’s like a brother).  But you’d really, really prefer not to have to see them.  Ever.

Give a romance detractor a romance novel, and I’ll bet that nine times out of ten, they’ll look at the cover and grimace.  Hell, give a romance reader the same book, and you’ll probably get the same reaction.  So much for not judging books by their covers, but really – really, can you blame them?

Creamy bosoms and hairless tanned chests.  Serifs gone mad.  Florid colors.  And the clinches – oh, the clinches.  Shudder.

Let’s ignore the fact that they’re totally generic.  Hey, romance is a genre book, and all genre books, to a certain degree, are generic.  That’s the point, so that readers can spot them from a mile away, and go, “Oh, a romance/sci-fi/fantasy/mystery novel!”

And let’s also ignore the fact that there can be serious discrepancies between the cover models and the characters.  How many plus-sized, curvy heroines are depicted like Nicole Kidman?  Or the blonde heroes, drawn with black hair?  We’re told that black hair and thin women sell; I’d argue, but there are worse crimes, so I’ll leave it there.

No, my biggest gripe is this.  Let’s pretend an alien came down to earth and landed at a bookstore in the middle of genre fiction – what would they see?  They might see a gray cover with a bloody knife, and they’d assume a dark story with murder.  Well, they’re probably right.

Or they might see a group wearing leather, bearing weapons, and a magic halo around their heads; the aliens might assume a tale involving magic and fighting in a world without technology.  And the aliens would probably be right.

But let me abandon the aliens and ask you this: Who looks at a dark-covered mystery and says, “Oh, yet another crappy whodunnit?”  And who looks at the leather-clad fighters and says, “Great, yet another Lord of the Rings ripoff?”  Few people, that’s how many.  Because the assumption is that those books might be the next George R. R. Martin or P. D. James.  And the result is they don’t assume – they just read the damn book.

But romance – nooooo, we get the crap.  Non-romance readers look at the lurid covers and assume that the book is about sex.  And they probably wouldn’t be able to make similar assumptions, even if they wanted to, that it’s the next Loretta Chase or Mary Balogh, because they’ve probably never even heard of those authors.  And how wrong is that?

As always, I blame the publishers (and I so wish one of them was reading right now).  How they can maintain a standard that promulgates romance’s bad reputation is completely beyond my understanding.  Dammit, we’re fighting for our credibility here, readers, authors and reviewers, and every clinch sets us back four steps.

I’m glad for things like the Cover Cafe Contest, which celebrates the best of romance novel covers, and there are good ones (or at least, half-decent ones).  Few books stuck out in this year’s contest (which ended yesterday), but there was one that struck me very positively.  Head in the Clouds features a girl reading a book, twirling her hair, and about to step off a porch, presumably to land on her face.  Maybe it also symbolizes her stepping into unknown territory – who knows?  Head in the Clouds fits the title, intrigues me, and now I want to read it.  That, in my opinion, is an example of a cover done right.

But honestly, I think those are few and far between.

What do you hate most about romance novel covers?  Which ones did it right, in your opinion?

– Jean AAR

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