Karen Wheless (kwheless@rockland.net):
I never seem to read your column without making some comment or another – but I guess you already know I’m opinionated!

About covers – I don’t pay much attention to covers. Clinch, flowers, whatever, I’ll buy them all. But, when I read that the typical cover costs $5000!! What a waste of money (not to knock the artists, who are very talented). I think that the publishers could spend that money much more productively elsewhere. Why not spend it on advertising? I really have no idea what ads cost, and I suppose an ad in a mainsteam magazine would cost much more, but what about smaller magazines like “women’s magazines”? If a new computer program is coming out, the manufacturer will contact the major magazines, give them information and free samples, and interest them in the product. And guess what – the magazine publishes an article on it. Surely the major book publishers could do the same (and not just concentrate on Romantic Times and Fabio.) And if they want to reach that Target or KMart shopper, why not push harder there, for in store publicity and recognition? (How do they pick what appears in the KMart circular, anyway?) For all of the publishers insistence on “selling”, they aren’t doing a very good job at it.

I sometime will not buy a book because of it’s cover. There is much to say about trying to read a book in public, ie park, theater, school(college), and trying to not be embarassed. My favorite covers are the ones that leave the clinch pictures in the inside and have a nondescript cover on the front. This double cover provides a picture if I need it, and lack of embarrasement when I read it in public.

Marina Richards (Litmari@aol.com):
Romance novel covers are one of my pet peeves. Surprised, right? It’s nice to know I’m not the only one with this particular afflication. I was beginning to feel like a freak (or maybe a wimp?) for absolutely hating romance covers. Not just the clinch poses, but also the “shirtless, buffed chest, hair to his navel, testosterone man,” covers. They are demeaning to the genre. They are passe. They are childish. I especially agree with the reader who said that publishers are missing a huge number of potential romance readers with these cheesy covers. For example, I stopped reading romance for about 10 years after college. Became a literary snob, only reading the classics and trade fiction. But, I wanted to see what was new with Romance. And I’m glad I did! The stories have definitely grown with the times and are richer than ever. Unfortunately, the covers are not. They stink. Big time.

That’s why I sometimes feel myself breaking out into a sweat over buying a romance novel at say, Barnes & Noble. (What if someone I know – or worse, barely know – catches me?) Sorry, but I’m not that brave. The covers are just awful. Really, really embarrassing. So I don’t do it. Instead I go the way of used bookstores or buying on-line. So if you’re a published author with mega clout, do something about this. If you work for a publishing house, fix this. And you’re a bookseller, please, please talk to the stupid publishers. Get it through their (I’m guessing male) brains that these covers are sick. And they do not represent the stories inside. Personally, I want these covers to go the way of the dodo bird. Rant over. : )

Lisa Jennings (rolijen@concentric.net):
I know we’ve all run into this problem, where the back cover leads us to think the story is a certain way, but ends up a bit different than we were lead. Recently, I read a book that was even worse than that! The back cover spoke of the hero (an Earl, of course) having a carriage accident outside the heroine’s home, and her nursing him back to health, and you never know where you’ll find love, etc., etc., etc. Inside, the book went into great detail describing these two and their lives. But, by the end of the book – the heroine fell in love with the neighborhood doctor and the hero walked away a better man for having known her! Gag! Talk about a book hitting the wall with great force. I was utterly disgusted. I think the author and editor should have been shot! At least, the person writing the back cover should have been for making it sound like the two main characters were going to get together.

Katy Cooper (madellio@msn.com):
I have finally figured out how I feel about covers – I’m bored by them.

I glanced through the covers of my non-romance books, trying to look at them by genre: mystery, scifi/fantasy, history, biography, general fiction and seeing the wide variety of cover icons and styles, I saw how dull romance covers really are. Neither the clinch covers – in all their voyeur’s delight variety – nor the flower covers really show much originality. It’s as if there’s a stock pattern that has to be used over and over and over again.

Of course, there are exceptions, such as Mary Jo Putney’s River of Dreams, but by and large the covers are . . . generic. Some of the step-backs are nice: I adored the cover of Heather Graham’s Rebel for example. The cover to Mary Balogh’s Silent Melody conveys a good sense of the feel of the story – a nice touch.

I’d like to see covers start showing a little bit about the story that surrounds the love scenes, instead of some silly rendition of two strangers pretending to make love. For example, the inside cover of The Seduction of Samantha Kincade shows a woman in the foreground, facing out towards the reader. Her hair is in a braid and she’s wearing a wide-brimmed leather (?) hat. From the guy in the string tie behind her holding a beer and the dance-hall girl entertaining the brim of a cowboy’s hat over her right shoulder, I’d guess she’s supposed to be standing in an old West saloon. In the upper left corner, it says, “She rode the West looking for a man she swore to destroy. She found something more dangerous . . . a man to love.” Shift things around a bit, like put the quote in the lower right hand corner, and you’d have a great cover. One of the things I like best about it is that the woman is clearly the focus of the story because of her dominant position in the graphic. This is the story of a woman doing a man’s job (she’s a bounty hunter) – and the cover tells you that.

I’d like to see more covers like that. For Dance, the publishers could have used Art Deco motifs, or Gustav Klimt-like designs: they would have clearly said “Turn of the century avant-garde” to me . . . and would have been very much in keeping with the book’s themes, style and tone. They might feel that they would lose sales because some readers would be turned off by a challenge like that (as if dashed expectations don’t make for lousy word-of-mouth), never thinking of the readers they might attract with fresh original covers. For heaven’s sake, they already pay an arm, a leg, and a first-born child for the covers – why not get some real bang for the buck!

Finally I want to say covers as they stand do not affect my purchases either way. I won’t refuse to buy a book because of a spectacularly cheesy clinch, nor will I purchase it because of the tastefulness of its design. . . Now if the covers got more interesting, I might pick up more books that I don’t see recommended . . . I might dare more and find new unsung writing heroines. The marketing departments ought to think about that.

Carol Carter (angelca@ibm.net):
I agree with most opinions: the steamy, trashy-type lovers do not give much credit to either the story nor the reader. I used to keep a bookcover over these books. I really like the new style, like on Kasey Michaels’ The Untamed. However, I also like the second step-back picture when it relates to the story. Sometimes while reading the story, I look back to that to get a vivid colorful picture of the H/H. It is not meaningful to me though unless it really fits in with the story. I believe we should keep the outside covers a little more classy to bring our genre the class it deserves.

Anne Hayes Cleary (bookbeset@aol.com):
Aside from not getting the storyline straight, some back cover blurb writers can’t even get the names spelled correctly. In the blurb on the back of Kate & the Marquess by Sheila Walsh (Signet), the hero’s family is identified as St. Claire. In the story they are St. Clair. A small difference but indicative of inattention to the story.

Also, don’t you love it when the heroine is identified only by her first name but the hero’s first name, surname and full title are given?

And finally, I wish the back cover blurb writer would forget trying to capture me with lengthy and overly dramatic descriptions of the everlasting love that will develop in this story. “….. with only a forbidden and tempestuous love to guide them….” doesn’t do anything to help me choose this book to read. Just give me a hint of the plot please! It’s a romance for heaven’s sake! I know there’s going to be a great love story involved. Don’t belabor the point!

Bonnie Malmat (lexo098@shadow.net):
There is almost nothing that irks me more about romance books as when the blurb on the back gives false information about the content. Since I’m the type that is not influenced by a front cover picture (with the exception of refusing to buy Fabio books), I depend on the back blurb to give me a concise synopsis of the story. It’s extremely aggravating when they mislead me.

Once I bought a paperback of a seventh book of a family series. It was a family series, and on the tame side, but I had already known this, had read it in hardback before, but wished my own copy. T he blurb on the back though, sure didn’t resemble the book I knew and loved. They even got silly on the heroine’s name. She was named Mab, short for Mavis, but the blurb insisted (more than once) on calling her Mad, and writing up the description so that one thought she was a real sexy temptress, when in fact she was a young girl who had loved someone for a long time and was just getting old enough to have a shot at him.

I’d rather have a stupid front cover than an inaccurate blurb. I can always pretend that the characters on the front cover don’t exist, after all my mind is capable of imagining what they look like without an artist portraying them, but if the blurb is wrong, the story often ends up being something that i wouldn’t have bought in the first place.

Ron Hosmer (dre@lewiston.com):
Covers are a marketing strategy to catch your eye. And some of them do. As far a being embarrassed by the cover,why? No reason to be. I am a sixty plus male who always has a regency or historical novel in my pocket. Anybody who looks down on my reading I just chuckle and agree with them. They don’t know quite what to say. I have even made a few converts in my time. I am proud of what I read and don’t really care what anyone else thinks about it. I am the one who is being entertained.

Besides hasn’t anyone ever told you that beauty is only skin deep? The same goes for lurid covers.

Janet (jdugas@startelco.net):
It’s funny, the bodice-ripping or nearly naked covers are the first to attract my attention but then I’m embarrassed to buy or read them in public. I like to read stories with intense emotions, where the characters come alive, in romances or other genres. Most books with demur covers are also demur inside, with little sweet, innocent virgins who stay that way throughout the book. The wild covers usually have the wild heroines. They start out mousey and weak (I really hate the mousey, virgin heroine but that’s a different subject:) but then make the hero and/or villians pay for what they put her through in the earlier parts of the book. I’m also embarressed by the tittles of some of the books, I usually don’t even bother to look at them because they’re always the same: Love’s Sweet Something or Other. I feel angry when I go through the embarrassment of buying one of these books and then find out that it should have had a picture of a nun on it and called Boring. A perfect example is A Well Pleasured Lady. My face must have turned 3 shades of red and purple while buying that but it sounded like it would be worth it. It wasn’t, I want my money back:( :::Janet walks off mumbling::: bad, bad, bad book.

Peggy Currington (rpc@pacbell.net):
I read some of your editorial on book covers. I am personally sick, sick, sick of people (especially my husband and 15 year-old son) making fun of romance novel covers. I buy my books according to the author, your reviews, and the local newspaper’s reviews. I am glad to see more and more covers moving away from “clinch” covers. (Leaves more to the imagination without pictures!!)

Keishon Tutt (ket25@msn.com):
The covers on romance novels used to bother me a lot. I still don’t care for people on the cover of romance novels because I would rather use my imagination. Many of the covers I’ve seen are just awful and the men that grace the cover are not attractive to me. I do appreciate cover art that is done well. Example: Mary Balogh’s recent books have excellent cover art. On the flip side, I balked at Fabio’s face on the cover of Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm. After a few months, eventually, I bought it based soley on the fact that I love Kinsale. I like covers that don’t have people on them, like Nora Roberts’ and Jayne Anne Krentz’s, to name a couple. I prefer no people, but in the end, it is the story that sells and not the covers. For me it just takes me longer to finally purchase a book that has Fabio’s face on it.

I loved your column. It was straight to the point!

When you said that when you judged the covers artistically you enjoyed them, I start to think that maybe the problem is not with the covers. What we need to change is the negative attitude to romance, the thinking that’s its garbage. Than nobody would care what’s on the covers, and I wouldn’t be embarrassed to put it on my desk.

I think I told you, that I pick a book by author, title, and story line on the back. Rarely by cover. If the cover is interesting, I might pick it up, but if the storyline doesn’t seems to me – I will not buy it. Also, if its not a favorite author, I’ll pick up the book, and only buy it if I like the story line.

Judith Anderson (DynaDental@msn.com):
Sometimes the cover of a book does entice me to pick it up….but only if it is a clinch-less cover. The book covers with flowers, or some other object or design really appeal to me because it is so embarassing to read the clinch cover books in public. (Namely, on my break at work)

But this will only make me pick up the book. I buy based on flipping through it and reading dialog, and making sure the hero isn’t a domineering jerk.

Kylie Brown (andrews@leland.stanford.edu):
A few years ago while browsing in a bookshop I picked up a Cassie Edwards book. The front cover had a hole cut out to show part of the step-back – as if it were a framed photograph of a dazed looking native american male, staring at the “camera” with a dreamy smile. The reason for his lack of focus was apparent when I looked at the step-back; in his scantily-clad lap was the face of a sprawling girl. I suppose it is possible that the illustrator’s intention was to portray her weeping bitterly on his knees.

Anyway, this incident is the only reason why I remember Cassie Edwards, especially since her writing style makes me cringe; nevertheless she brings on an inside grin when I see them in the hands of others (normally I just abandon crap books and can end up buying/borrowing them to suffer the first chapter all over again). Irrelevancies aside, I wonder why people like her books? Do they actually finish reading them or do they simply use such covers to catalyse the invention of a story of their own?

While I’m at it… my cover preferences: innate things (flowers, etc) on the cover and a step-back with both hero and heroine on it. I don’t like just one or the other. An especial pet peeve: Irish Johansen-type hero poseurs with god-i-love-myself-so-don’t-muss-me-up looks on their faces.

Andrea T (andytreeaol.com):
No clinch covers and publishers working to dispel stereotypes about romance readers go hand in hand. While I’m not ashamed of what I read, it is embarassing to hear people snickering when they walk by and see me reading a book with some buxom heroine, who bears little resemblance to the one described within the pages of the book, dress slit up to her hip, boobs falling out of her dress, leaning backward in the arms of an impossible hunk of a man (also little resembling the hero within), who looks fresh from pumping iron at the gym, badly in need of a haircut, and giving her a smoldering look. Unless it’s a drop-dead favorite author, I will pass up books with cheesy covers, and even then, I’d prefer to read it in my room.

Judith Czako (judith.czako@wto.org):
ARGH. The one thing I cannot stand about romance novels is the covers. It really irritates me to have everyone know what I am reading just by looking at the cover – it’s none of their business, and I don’t enjoy the looks – you know, the “Gee, why doesn’t she read a real book” looks. When I’m reading science fiction, it’s much the same thing. Mysteries are about the only genre where it is not immediately obvious from the cover what one is reading. I appreciate the discretion. Besides which, the publishers get the covers of romances wrong way too often – wrong clothes, wrong hair color, wrong time of year, and so on. The covers I do like pick up on a word in the title, or an image that relates to the story, or something. And could we please get better colors – Pepto Bismol pink has been way overdone.

Dede Anderson editor, The Romance Reader:
I think authors worry too much about covers. In my almost 8 years of selling books I think people rarely buy because of a cover. They may pick up a book because of an appealing cover, but they always read the blurb before buying. The only times people buy without reading the blurb is when it’s an author they love.

Just my two cents. We get so many authors that ask about marketing and bookmarks and postcards. The good authors don’t need to worry — readers and booksellers spread the word.

Emily Cartier (ecartier@geocities.com):
The cover art on romances seems to be getting a bit better. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if it is partially due to the fact that there aren’t many new books being published or if there has been a real change. Think about it. Who got the worst clinch covers? All those Zebra Heartfires, which were one of the main places where new authors got published! Now there are few new authors, and the clinch cover is disapearing. . . For a bit in the early nineties, there was a tasteful cover moment for big name authors. The covers were abstract or had a small decorative item from the book on the front, then a stepback that wasn’t embarassingly graphic. But we still had those clinch covers on the front of new authors books. Now it seems like everyone and her sister has a stepback cover. It seems like a stepback would be more expensive cause the publisher has to pay for two covers, the real one, and the interior painting. This may have helped raise book prices (which are definitely outpacing inflation. . .).

I really wish that publishers would go back to publishing new authors, even if it means shorter books. I really have a hard time with paying so much money for an untried author. To solve the cover problem, they could try having plain, single color covers showing an item important in the book (a fan, a gun, a necklace. . . you get the idea). Skip the step back, and have a couple of standard “fill in the blank” covers for the midlist lines. They could use the money they would save on graphics designers to hire some real editors to try and bring along midlist authors too. The books wouldn’t be as embarassing and maybe some of the idiocy problems in midlist books would be fixed. . . Oh well, it’s a nice dream, but much too sensible for corporate America.

Re: publishing industry killing itself – It doesn’t help when. . . publishers insist on putting musclebound (yet oddly hairless) apes on the covers of books that make many women embarrassed to be seen reading the books. . . The fact that many in the publishing industry look down their noses at romances may explain why they give the go-ahead for absurd price increases and other marketing decisions that are bound to prove foolish in the long term.

Terry Lindstedt (rlindstedt@sprynet.com):
Can’t stand a cover where, for instance, the man has blond hair and the woman has brown – when, in the story, he’s got brown hair and she’s a redhead. C’mon, y’all! Make the cover match the characters! Also, I love the step-back covers. My favorite cover artist is Pino.

Susan Kuykendall (kuykendall@cvm.msstate.edu):
I agree with you that I do not buy books based upon the cover! The first thing I do is look for authors that I know I have enjoyed reading in the past. If the synopsis on the back of the book is of a time period I usually do not enjoy, often I won’t buy the book. Sometimes the story line is so intriguing that I buy the book anyway. I have enjoyed many time travel, futuristic, angel, etc. books this way. Often I have to pick up books from authors I have never read before because the tried and true have no new books out and I have already acquired their past books.

Before I purchase any book, I read the synopsis on the back cover! The last thing I look at is the front cover and that never influences my decision to purchase that book or not. I will admit that I would rather have a step-back cover to be more comfortable reading in public. I do enjoy seeing /wp-content/uploads/oldsiteimages of the characters and do not mind those that show “skin”, but they can be awkward to read while waiting at the doctor’s office or the auto repair shop, or while waiting for my child.

Teri Dave (teri_dave@msn.com):
Honestly, I hate, despise, detest clinch covers. Covers do matter to me. I don’t want to read a book with a naked guy on the cover! (Unless it’s a photo of Mel Gibson, but I doubt they can afford Mel.) The pubs say “Oh, well, people buy books with clinch covers.” But hello!!!!! If 95% of books published have clinch covers, what can the readers do? Just don’t buy them? I didn’t buy several books because of clinch cover. I used to hate buying Joanna Lindsey’s booksdespite the fact that she’s one of my fave authors because of the clinch cover. (And Fabio. UGH)

Luella J. Rogers (lue@mailhost.tcs.tulane.edu):
I have been reading romances for more than 40 years. As a bit of background, I was an English teacher for 20 years and then sat on the copy desk of four different newspapers. No book cover has ever enticed me to buy a book. Quite the contrary. I buy art to grace the walls of my home. I buy books to read — and that means the plot synopsis and the author are my guides. There are about 15 authors whose books I would buy without question, and I have found several new authors courtesy of Romance Reader reviews. But marketing research that shows people buy books because of the cover is something I find truly difficult to believe. Laura Kinsale’s books, for example, are wonderfully crafted, beautifully written historical romances, and the publishers actually insult our intelligence by implying with their cover choices that these books are mindless sexual romps. As well, too often the models for these covers bear no physical resemblance to the hero and heroine in the book! Not only do they make the mistake of believing we read these books just for the sex scenes, they don’t believe we pay a bit of attention to the color of the hero’s hair or eyes. A pox on them!

Cynde (Sholomit@aol.com):
I hate the suggestive covers. I buy based on author and recommendation (a lot of time yours), and don’t like to have to hide the cover in a cloth cover (which I think was made for romance readers). If the covers were “normal”, I don’t think that the sales would go down. The hidden covers are fine with me for that reason. There are times the books are not as suggestive as the covers!

Nicole (nix831@aol.com):
As a reader of all sorts of books from romance to classics to “fine literature” (if there is a real definition of “fine” literature) to nonfiction on various subjects of interest, I am here to say that I do not buy romance books for their covers. (However, an interesting cover can draw my interest in the general fiction/literature sections, especially newly released books like Vintage International).

With romance books I tend to avoid what I consider to be an embarassing cover, those ridiculous covers with women clinging or groveling at the hero’s feet. I hate those things. (He should be groveling at her feet for a change. . .but that is a different email).

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