We have so much fun chatting with readers (in the comments). So we’re introducing a new regular mini blog: the ask @AAR. We’ll post a question and you, beloved readers, will let us know what you think.
Our first question is this:
Cartoon covers–do you love them, hate them, or feel they’re terribly misunderstood?
Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day.
I don’t like them at all. I sometimes use the cover of my romance books to complete my romance fanatsy! I’ll even Google various types of images to give myself a further in depth description.
I am definitely a fan of these kinds of covers. I love the quirky and fun look. I always hate how romance covers look so dull or hypersexualized. So its a nice change for the better.
I recently had new covers designed for my traditional Regency romance The Weaver Takes a Wife (a DIK here at AAR!) and its sequels, and hired a young Japanese woman living in Budapest, whose manga-influenced work I had seen at deviantart(dot)com. (I regret that I don’t know how to post an image, but you can see the Weaver cover here:
I went with the cartoon look for a couple of reasons. First, the options for Regency-specific stock photography are so limited that it’s hard for any single book to stand out; the same models, couples, and costumes turn up again and again, so much that they all tend to run together. Then, too, I dislike photographs on historical novels; they look anachronistic to me, even though I’m well aware that people didn’t really look like paintings. I also wanted something that would convey the tone (and yes, the level of sexual content, or lack thereof) that readers could expect. I write PG-rated romances with lots of humor, and I think the artwork reflects that. Response to the new look has been mostly positive. I think the problem (as it was several years ago, the last time cartoon covers were briefly in vogue) is that publishers insist on using them regardless of whether or not they fit the content, style, etc. of the book they’re used for.
I really like your cover! It does have a manga look but it’s really fun.
I personally don’t much like the cartoon covers, but in reading over these posts what jumps out at me is that you can’t please everyone with one thing. So…why not a variety of cover styles? I love the gowns, falling off and otherwise, I also enjoy the occasional studly guy. But I also like pictures of mansions and castles, people on horseback, old-fashioned paintings, and detailed drawings.
And plain covers work for me, too. My first copy of Outlander, which I knew nothing about, was the one with the solid blue cover with that oddly shaped drawing in the center. It has since become my all-time favorite book/series, after 55+ years of obsessive reading. I grew up reading library books, and in those days they were nearly all hardback books with ‘library covers’, which usually meant no illustration at all. Lack of a picture never slowed me down as long as I had some general idea of content. For centuries, all books had plain covers and people who had access to books still read them, shared them, and discussed them.
Cover art is fun, and should be. It is a great marketing tool. But there will always be people who hate this or that style, just as there are those who will hate this or that trope. So if the publishing industry is reading this (fat chance!), I say mix it up! Give me strands of pearls sliding across purple silk on one cover, manly physiques on another, and stiff portraits of pioneers on yet another. I won’t not read a book based on It’s cover alone.
I hate the cartoon covers.
Two books I got from Book of the Month in August have these 1960’s Rom-Com movie covers (think Doris/Rock opening credits).
And they’re interchangeable and forgettable.
They look like the plastic Colorforms I played with as a child.
I hope the trend plays out soon…
I’m quite picky with cartoon covers. It depends on the art style, sometimes I find them very pretty, sometimes I hate the style that is used. I actually find the Evie Dunmore cover very visually appealing, but I’m not sure that it fits the genre, I’m undecided.
I definitely agree with the people who say they signal funny, lighter contemporaries. I would feel misled if the book were depressing, angsty or a tough read. (for instance I heard that The Friend Zone deals with a tragic event. I don’t think that cover is a good fit for that kind of subject matter.)
In general I don’t mind that they are becoming a trend, I enjoy seeing covers evolve with time. As long as they are well executed and match the content (characters don’t have a different hair or eye colour from the text for instance) then I’m happy to see more of them. I do resent a little that for some reason these covers are better accepted than the usual romance covers. I see them more in bookshop displays, etc. It’s a shame that people still dismiss the genre unless they are given a trendy cover.
I can see that. I think, though, that many of our readers, over the past ten years, have said how freeing ebooks are in that they don’t feel judged for their reading choices. So, even though I wish fervently that people would stop dismissing romance, I think losing the coding that says to many here’s a trashy book, is probably a good thing.
@Mzcue: I agree, the Mercy Thompson covers are gorgeous and the Ilona Andrews Innkeeper Chronicles and Kate Daniels from Magic Breaks on are brilliant, but the Hidden Legacy covers are awful.
I have bought four Mercy posters: Shifting Shadows, Storm Cursed, Night Broken and Fire Touched. I put them in my office so I look at them often.
I am in the same camp as JCG in that I too read mostly ebooks. My requirements for covers are fairly simple then – that I can read the name of the book and author easily from the thumbnail in my Kindle Library Collection. (Trust me, you can’t always do that and I find it vastly annoying!)
There are stunning book covers around these days that are neither naked torsos nor primitive artwork. Patricia Briggs’s covers for the Mercy Thompson series are breathtaking. See Silence Fallen and Storm Cursed. Ilona Andrews covers are also works of art that jump off the screen.
To achieve the ripped musculature in typical romance novels, models dehydrate themselves and limit caloric intake to dangerously. If we recognized the harm done by fashion and entertainment industries by promoting an ideal of underweighted-ness as beauty, celebrating it in book covers is hypocritical. I’ll take drawn covers every time over a depilated, dehydrated, and hungry man.
Everything is a problem if you’re looking for one. Are you saying we’ve got to ban fashion and entertainment? I’m over the idea that everything we enjoy is bad for us.
Your masturbation fantasies aren’t more important than the health of others.
Whoa. That’s a bit much. Please try and refrain from personal attacks. Thanks.
Yikes! I turn my back for five minutes and, when I get back, AAR has morphed into a Politics Subreddit!
I’m not talking about what turns me on sexually–I’ve got The Rock for that, thanks.
If everything is analyzed through the concept of how is this bad for the world, two crap things happen. The first is that all sins or whatever you call them feel like they are equally bad and that isn’t a good thing for the things that really are. The other one is that people stop feeling OK about things way more. This is bad because today there is an epidemic of depression, suicide, and aloneness. We need more cheer.
I’m apparently in the minority but I like them. It’s kind of fun to see cover releases that aren’t all man chest, Regency couple with clothes falling off, or white stock image couple embracing. It’s been a nice change.
The complaint that it’s trying to draw in non-romance readers boggles my mind. There is literally nothing wrong with that! If people don’t see publishers folding left and right and authors that can barely feed themselves from their work and think there’s a need to bring more income to the genre, I don’t know what to say. Refusing to read a book for the cover art is also…something. A great book could be wrapped in a paper bag and still be a great book. Not to mention, authors don’t typically get a choice on their covers so it seems weird to assume the authors have bad intentions.
I can see that people are worried about the heat level and thinking non-romance readers will be upset by sex scenes. However, The Kiss Quotient was very steamy and it was one of the first to use a cartoon cover, yet it did very well.
I can definitely see that they don’t fit books that aren’t romantic comedies as well, and I agree. Although I think there is a way to have something besides clinch or man chest covers that could still represent that. More abstract covers for one, or different kinds of art. Looking at YA shows there’s plenty of options for cover design.
I agree with you, Haley. I think books need to do whatever they can to thrive.
I don’t care for the covers.
Sometimes I wish all romantic fiction had plain brown covers no matter what genre but good cover art can be very enticing. Here are two versions of one of my favourite books by Georgette Heyer. Both, IMO, are very attractive. The first is a US cover and the second a UK cover. I think the US version conveys the spirit of the book far better than the UK version but both are good in that they reflect the period (Regency) and are most definitely HR covers without stupid jerks half dressed on the cover (both the H and the h!!!). Apologies that I am inserting long links but can’t figure out how to copy over just the picture.
I only read ebooks these days – at least for fiction – so the cover is mostly irrelevant.
This is 95% me too.
I mostly read ebooks, too, but covers definitely catch my eye when I’m browsing.
I’m curious too if covers start to lose some of their relevancy in the transition to ebooks.
Cartoon covers make me think of chick lit. If I saw a romance novel with such a cover, the message it would send me is. “don’t take this too seriously, here be funsies.” Which might or might not be accurate.
Some of my favorite covers are the ones for Anne Stuart’s Ice series. So evocative.
The new ones? I think they look so misleading!
Oh, no, the older ones, the ones with the icicles. I first saw them on the Cover Cafe website and they made me start reading the books.
Yeah–I don’t like the new ones at all. Nor do I like the new covers for her House of Rohan series. The women on them look impossibly demure which is not who any of those women are.
I don’t care for the cartoon covers with the exception of some of Jill Mansell’s covers. As far as historicals, I love the covers on Georgette Heyer trade paperbacks from Sourcebooks from a decade ago and the original covers on Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series. I saw the Pink Carnation on a table at the library when it first came out and was immediately interested. The new Georgette Heyer covers from Sourcebooks are too modern.
I think it was Courtney Milan that started the “dress covers” which I don’t like at all. It was the beginning of the primary color covers.
I saw Bringing Down the Duke on Overdrive before all the good buzz and passed it by because of the cover. And then I went back and there were way too many holds!
I hate the covers. They look like they should be on a child’s book. I won’t buy any book that has this type of cover, even if reviews rave about the book.
I like them for contemporary romance. I find them a bit odd for a historical romance though.
Cartoon covers are like green eggs and ham. I do not like them until I do. And when I do, it’s a blue moon.
I’d say it’s because those books are not largely written by, for, and about women and are not aimed at women’s tastes and interests.
That was a reply to Dabney’s comment, but it doesn’t appear to be showing up there. Sorry.
I wonder if this is a generational thing as well.
I dislike the illustrated covers trend in large part because I think it factors into ongoing cultural and social attempts to make a woman’s sexual interests and expressions cartoonish and, therefore, more manageable. I may be in the minority, but the shirtless male torso covers (with or without a visible face) tells me exactly what I want it to: there’s going to be hot & explicit sexy times in this book. Can we at least agree that a book that includes the sort of sex scenes that appear in FIX HER UP or a book with the serious concussion subplot of THE RIGHT SWIPE need something other than a cartoon cover?
But… other books with sex in them–written by the patriarchy–don’t indicate sex so why should romance. #devilsadvocate
The naked male torsos are problematic to me for a few reasons. First, it’s objectifying bodies, and in the process that act puts the emphasis on physicality over the emotional experience of romance. As a romance reader, I read romances first and foremost for the emotions. I can enjoy a romance that has very little if any sex but I can’t enjoy a book that only has sex with very little emotional bonding. Second, the male torsos center men as the focus and as a heroine-centric reader, I gravitate toward books that center women in them. Third, I find them crude and entirely lacking in subtlety, and that can do a disservice to an otherwise good book. Covers aren’t everything to me, but when I see a naked male torso on the cover, I have to mentally push past my biases to pick it up and read it.
I also though don’t think that I necessarily need the steam factor advertised to me visually when I decide on a book. On the other hand, I’m a review reader and so reviewers will often signal if not explicitly alert readers to this element and so I probably already know based on what I’ve read about a book.
I think there’s a very interesting discussion to be had regarding “objectification” versus “appreciation” versus “signifiers” when we look at the shirtless-male-torso romance covers. I personally don’t think women have the culturally-supported structures in place that indulge in the sort of wholesale objectification of males that, when it comes to objectification of females, is an everyday part women’s lives. I assume that when models pose for romance covers, they are appropriately compensated and are fully aware of how the image is going to be used. To me, this is not the same as the objectification of ALL women’s bodies that is a given in a patriarchal system. I also read romance novels for the romance and not simply the on-page sex…but a male-torso cover signifies for me that, at points during the story’s romantic journey, there will be some fairly explicit sex scenes. An illustrated cover does not convey that same element for me.
That’s interesting. I guess I think that if romances are mostly for and by women–an assertion many increasingly challenge–women should get the covers that work for them. For me that would be never seeing a heroine in sky high heels again!
I agree that female objectification of male bodies has historically been absent from public discourse, largely become women have not been accorded the same rights to own their sexuality and sexual desires. I don’t though see the lusting after a headless male torso as a solution or one that symbolizes gender equality. Frankly, nothing screams objectification more that literally stripping a person’s head from the rest of their body to admire it. If you watch Jean Kildaire’s fabulous online video series Killing Me Softly, she covers much of this, though in the context of historical female objectification in advertising. Is it wrong when it’s a female body but suddenly acceptable when it’s a male body? I think there are many ways in which women’s sexuality can be celebrated without reducing men to a single body part. And actually, I have never made the leap between a male torso and an upcoming sex scene. The vast majority of romances feature sex in them and I don’t look to the cover to help me determine how hot or how many scenes. If that’s what the cover signals, then sex does seem prioritized over any other aspect, including romance.
Anyway, these are just my feelings and perhaps other readers out there do want to have a clear visual signal from a book cover that sex is prioritized in the book they are about to read and the male torso shot is their indicator. Publishers have been using these covers for a while and they must sell, though the trend seem to be moving toward illustrated covers for market reasons too. It would be interesting to have publishers with cover art control interviewed on this topic.
Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly – sorry for the typos!
In historical romance, the UK covers of many of the big name authors are quite different to the US ones. Of course, not all authors sell in the quantities required to have large enough print runs to warrant different UK and US covers (different language ones are a different issue, of course). The UK covers tend to be a bit more… in keeping with the material (no half-naked cover models, for instance). Julia Quinn does actually get illustrated covers in the UK –
And books by Mary Balogh, Elizabeth Hoyt, Tessa Dare and others have photo covers that avoid the standard half-naked clinch.
(Apologies for the sizes!)
I just don’t like illustrated covers for historicals. That Quinn cover looks a little silly IMO. (And the gows is not period-appropriate, nor is his clothing.) The Hoyt cover reminds me of Harlequin Historical covers, which are the best in the historical romance industry. The Balogh? Gah! Too much..
I also want to say that while the Hoyt cover is great, the cover implies a demure, warm heat level while Hoyt’s stories are hotter. My opinion of this may be in the minority.
Well, that Quinn is set in the 1770s, so it’s fairly period appropriate. The Balogh covers aren’t so “busy” as the US ones (and that one in particular, uses an age-appropriate cover model). As for the Hoyt covers… speaking purely personally, I would probably not form an opinon on the heat level based on the image. It’s a romance, it’ll have sex in it, is likely as far as I’d go. Judging from discussions we’ve had amongst ourselves (AAR staff), I think the heat level is less of an issue over here. I could be wrong – any other Brits out there, please chime in!
I love the Balogh!
I really like UK covers. I think they’re a little more…classy? Granted with Tessa Dare you’d have no clue of the heat level but I still like them.
Joanna Bourne has on occasion posted some of her covers from other countries that were really lovely. German, I think. And Jo Beverley had some nice ones—A Scandalous Countess and An Unlikely Countess I particularly liked.
I like illustrated cartoon covers on some contemporary romance novels: ones which are lighthearted, fluffy, have young protagonists, are not too dark despite dealing with serious issues, are in the warm category for heat level, and so on. For example, I love the covers of Helena Hunting’s books and Sally Thorne’s–the Jen DeLuca is good as well. Cartoon covers do not work with Alisha Rai’s books or on erotic romance or erotica. I don’t like them on historicals either because they scream contemporary to me.
I think what has happened is that publishers started painting cartoon covers with a broad brush on all books and that is why there is reader backlash. Covers set expectations of the contents of the books, and in applying the covers to all books, the messaging is lost.
In general, I dislike the half-naked clinches. Why can’t we have those old Mills & Boon / Harlequin covers? For historicals, I would love scenic pictures and fully-dressed people in appropriately period costumes, like Mary Balogh’s latest covers. Harlequin Historicals does fabulous covers as well.
I forgot to mention how fabulous C.S. Harris’ covers are: atmospheric, fascinating, and make you also eager to open the book and find out where that scene is going to occur in the book.
Yes, I had the images for the Sebastian St. Cyr books in my mind too while reading these posts. I loved the older ones but the new black and white covers with a single image of the lone Sebastian is so appealing to me too.
Harris has truly been blessed with the cover gods.
I think Julie Anne Long’s covers have been blessed by the cover God’s too.
I think all books are moving away from strong signalling in covers. So many books today are just words and an author’s name. Maybe it’s to encourage us to look closer?
Oh, you mean like the literary fiction covers? I deplore that trend. You might as well put a brown paper cover and call it a day. I like that our romance books have colorful photos and illustrations. However, I would like them to be reflective of the content.
I don’t feel that as strongly. I have a bunch of very old books from my grandparents and it’s kinda cool to see the simplicity of those covers. It lets a reader make up her mind. But I do see your point.
Could this be as much to do with the prevalence of e-books and tiny thumbnail covers on retail sites? The clearer lines of the illustrated covers stand out more?
That’s very smart of you, Caz. I bet you are on to something.
I agree with this 100%.
Landscapes, abstracts scenes/images, specific cartoon ones if the content applies and even people but dressed should always be the first choice for a cover.
There are many out there that are gorgeous and the story not and vice-versa. But if at least one element is related to the intent of the story is good enough.
No character in books (out of erotica and even those!) can be half-naked the whole story….
I haven’t gotten to read The Right Swipe yet. Was it the same heat level as her previous series?
My sense is yes.
I think I’ll take anything over the headless naked male torsos. Ahistorical images of women with dresses falling off them or in clinches that strike me as woefully anachronistic are my second least favorite.
Sometimes the cartoon images do appeal to me, but I do agree with others that context is everything. Contemporary romantic comedies like The Hating Game made good use of it. I agree with Lieselotte that SEP’s books could pull off the cartoon comedies very well.
Illustrated covers are often very appealing to me, including silhouette covers like Deanna Raybourne’s Veronica Speedwell series. Abstract covers such as Mariana Zapata’s books are appealing to me, as they often focus on an image pertinent to the theme. Penny Reid nails her Winston book covers and I adore her upcoming Ideal Man series.
I’ve been thinking about this since the discussion of the Bringing Down the Duke cover. It’s interesting because I hadn’t considered the need for the cover to signal the genre – I’m a pretty new romance reader, but I get all of my recommendations from this site, so I know what I’m getting regardless of the cover. I see why you’d want the cover to be at least somewhat descriptive, though. And I think with a few changes I would have liked the BDtD cover much more – if the script had been more elegant (as it was on the UK version of the cover that Caz shared), and if they hadn’t used Crayola colors. Like, a black-line outline of the image on a light background, or a white-line outline on a dark background both would have looked nicer, I think. I don’t read contemporaries (at least not so far) so I don’t have an opinion on those.
I don’t even mind the clinch covers sometimes – I haven’t read it yet, but I love the cover of The Legend of Lyon Redmond. They look like two people who are in love and are happy to be together. That works for me! The covers where their clothes are halfway off are less interesting to me, in part because they’re so common. (Also, so many technicolor Regency-era dresses, even if the book is set in the 1880s!) Other covers I love: Both of Scarlett Peckham’s books; Meredith Duran’s At Your Pleasure; What I Did For A Duke.
I so agree about Peckham’s books! Her covers were different but gave you the tone and setting of the book very well.
Are they cheaper for smaller authors?
I’d imagine they still need a good designer so if they are I wouldn’t think they’re much cheaper. (I haven’t seen any indie/self-pubbed cartoon covers yet though).
On another side of the argument, I’ve seen authors of queer romance discussing this talking about how difficult it is for them to have covers feauting photographs that accurately represent their characters and themes, so that in some cases the illustrated cover may be the way to go.
I haven’t looked into pricing but I doubt if they are cheaper, in fact may be more expensive, because the characters are art renderings, although I have read some can be computer generated. There are lots of photos with inexpensive price tags though, and graphic backgrounds, too, to create a good cover that infers a genre or sub-genre. I have a great cover designer – Jenny Quinlan. I thought Bringing Down the Duke was excellent, but I may not have picked it up based on the cover alone. I read the review here and then purchased it.
You do have a great cover designer. I’m curious, as an author, how important to you think covers are to the success of your books?
Very important, especially for a reader who has found me for the first time. I’ve got a 1 inch by 1.5 inch piece of real estate on Amazon, B&N, and other sites to inspire a reader to check my blurb. And I think the cover has to draw the eye of those readers looking for historical romance. Once readers have tried one of my books, it’s up to my writing and my story to send them looking for another book of mine. But it all starts with the cover. I’ve been very fortunate to work with Jenny in a way that brings my vision of the H/H to life. She may tell you it just takes a lot of proofs until we both agree!
I think one of the biggest problems – and we’ve discussed this before I think – is that they seem to have become part of a marketing strategy aimed at people who don’t normally read romances – “Look, you can read this without getting any of those pesky romance cooties on you!” And quite rightly, many romance readers dislike the fact that the industry is happy to take our money while at the same time dismissing us as somehow ‘lesser’ because we read romances.
I completely agree that the cartoon cover needs to be used carefully so that it accurately reflects the book’s content. Over on my review of Bringing Down the Duke Caroline makes an excellent point regarding The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez:
“it’s not a bad work of women’s fiction or chick lit – but it wasn’t a romance, and I couldn’t know that without reading it (since I was an early reader of course) or going online and spoiling it.”
I’m also tired of the headless clinch cover with the obligatory man-titty. I’m not sure what the answer is tbh – I’m in that awkward place of knowing what I don’t like, but not being in a position to say what I’d like to see instead! Perhaps some more visually creative readers will have some suggestions!
I find them misleading. They give off a chick lit rom com vibe that makes me think publishers are trying to lure non romance readers. But I think this can really backfire. There were some reviewers that were taken aback by the level of heat in Fix Her Up, for example. Anyone who has read Bailey knew what they were in for but anyone new to her who thought they were getting a Sophie Kinsella type romp were probably in for a huge surprise.
I completely agree, Gigi. Fix Her Up is a great example of a book that should NOT have had an illustrated fun cover. Luring in new unsuspecting readers to a book with that heat level would be a complete turn-off from the genre for them, and thus the publishers would achieve the exact opposite of what they were hoping to achieve.
They definitely scream comedy and contemporary, and I don’t much like them even then. But then to be honest, I don’t like 90 percent of the covers out there. Maybe 99 percent. And don’t get me started on titles!
I much prefer them to more traditional covers with dresses and boobs and bare chests, even on historicals.
What do you prefer about them? Do them seem less silly? Less mocking? Less signally?
To me, they need to fit the book.
Jennifer Crusie: yes! Alisha Rai: no!
The book should be a romp, laugh out loud funny, and yes, contemporary.
Loretta Chase‘s books: no, not even the super funny ones
In general, I would not miss them if they disappeared.
Though: the flowers on the cover were worse…
My general opinion matches yours TBH.
For some reason, I like them on contemps but not on anything else.