Yvonne Payne (edspitzer-siny@worldnet.att.net):
I prefer non-pictorial covers ala Krentz/Quick. I don’t need graphic portrait of what the h/h look like. I have a very good visual imagination – that’s why I read more than watch TV/movies. The covers are usually way off base in their representation anyway. Never have I seen body hair on the hero’s body in the portrait while the book usually has the heroine grasping at his chest hair; doesn’t the book editor or author have some say over this inaccuracy in the graphic portrait? Also, I read while commuting into NYC and while I know one should disregard glances or notices at what one is reading from perfect strangers, still I am a little(a lot!) embarressed to be seen reading some romance books which have really lurid covers. And the portrait usually has absolutely no relationship to the story line.

Rita Carroll (jecarroll@tcnet.net):
I never buy a book based on the picture on the cover. Usually, the picture looks absolutely nothing like the description of the herione in the book. And those guys on the inside covers of Johanna Lindsay books! I mean, really, have you ever seen a real life man that looks like that! My best friend has often said she would like to know where the artists find those models, because we sure haven’t seen anything that looked that good around here.

Cathy Leming:
I definitely don’t buy books based on cover. As a matter of fact, I’ve never bought a book with Fabio on the cover. I suppose this could be causing me to miss some great stuff, but I don’t necessary like the image burned into my brain before I’ve had a chance to conjure it in my mind from the writer’s mind.

Although I do admit to liking some visuals, e.g. the cover of Shanna, she epitomized the visual image I’d hoped for. Also, Mary Jo Putney’s Fallen Angels series has some excellent character and surroundings visuals on the inside front cover. This is where I think they should be — it helps advance the reputation of this genre not to have dumb covers!

Sue Tatham (statham@dragnet.com.au):
I’m a new reader of your column, but I have been reading romances for about 14 years (since I was 12). I am a big fan of both contemporary and historical. I usually buy romances based on the author first, then the story/review, and maybe if I am desperate I will look at the cover. Although I have to admit I do like a nice cover, and a handsome hero, it does not really influence my choice!!

I am a recent convert to romantic fiction and what I am going to say will probably raise a few hackles but here goes anyway. For a long time I subscribed to the “trashy”, “not real” books view of romantic fiction.

I have pretty catholic tastes in reading and have tried most types of books. Out of curiosity I read a few category romances about 6 or 7 years ago and hated them. The heroes were overwhelmingly macho and the heroines wimpish and helpless and the plots were contrived and thin. Not surprisingly I stopped reading them and I must admit to dismissing them as trash.

Thanks to recommendations from a very good friend I dipped my toe in again and have discovered some of the best and most moving fiction I have ever read.

I also think the way romance books are marketed (esp. in the UK) have a lot to do with it. The publishers make it easy for people to be snobbish about them. The illustrations on a lot of the covers, the “purple prose styling” and the lurid colours can be quite off-putting and lead people to dismiss the contents accordingly. There is a series of erotic fiction for women published in the UK which have “discreet” covers of people in historical costumes or whatever is relevant to the book. Books that can be read even on a train without a blush. Don’t get me wrong – I am not ashamed of reading romantic fiction (even in public ). More sophiscated styling may lift the profile of romantic fiction. It certainly has worked for the bigger authors such as Nora Roberts whose non-category books have stylish modern covers and are not shoved into the romance ghettos by the big bookstores.

Jennifer Stevens (jlstevns@aol.com):
I don’t know if I am an average romance reader, but the way I pick books is as follows:

  • I have certain authors I buy automatically whenever they have a new book out.
  • I have certain other authors that I sometimes like and sometimes don’t. I will solicit opinions on their new books and buy them or not.
  • I sometimes am attracted to a book by the cover, and will read the back and inside front to decide if I want to pay all that money for it.

Since I read voraciously, I depend on recommendations and used book stores for a lot of my reading. I am very reluctant to spend good money on an author I have not tried before, in case I don’t like them. I don’t want to waste my money.

The Venkarel (ldang@lausd.k12.ca.us):
About being ashamed of reading romances. Mea culpa. Actually, it’s about being ashamed when caught reading romances. A lot of it has to do with the covers which feature half naked men and women in ridiculous poses. Nowadays, I rarely look at covers; I’d like to see the artist’s conception of the hero and heroine but I don’t need to see their passionate clinch. Still, when someone asks me what I’m reading and the book happens to have that sexy cover, I’m more likely to change the subject and hide the book rather than show it off.

Bonnie (lexo098@shadow.net):
I’m new to this column, having just read all 28 of your newsletters this evening. Can’t wait ’til the next one.

The covers of romance books stink! I wouldn’t even try a Fabio book just because of the cover. Why do all of the men nowadays have flowing hair, but no body hair. Who needs to see all of those muscles? Put some clothes on folks! Better yet, why can’t we have heros/heroines on the cover that actually match the descriptions in the book? I’ll bet more romances would sell to first time people who wouldn’t normally give them a chance if the covers were not so embarrassing and stupid.

Another pet peeve. I don’t buy based on book cover (and don’t not buy with the exception of the aforementioned Fabio), but do buy based on blurb. (Especially with new to me, or not often read authors). What really gets my goat is when it is misleading. Don’t lie to me, or I won’t trust you next time.

Jennifer (jendoll1@aol.com):
I think perhaps many romance buyers do purchase by cover. More than we like to believe anyway. I don’t purchase this way — I read Romantic Times, The Romance Reader, and other newsletters. I know exactly what I want when I go to a store to buy books. Most of my friends buy this way as well, but I think there is a very large population out there of women who don’t know about these magazines, newsletters, etc. and buy books “blindly.” I’ve met quite a few of these women at work and other places.

Dee Campbell (campbell@trump.net.au):
As one romance reader I buy my books almost purely by author, then by the blurb on the back of the book. I never buy from the cover alone; it actually gets very little attention from me except for finding the name of the author.

Susan (slzerner@aol.com):
I’ve been thinking about the issue of those demeaning, silly romance covers for awhile now. Here are some of my thoughts.

Romance covers now are very much like the silly covers science fiction and fantasy books used to have many years ago. Way back when, science fiction got no respect and the book covers reflected that. The publishers thought that only nerdy adolescent boys read this genre. Finally, after decades and decades, (not to mention the success of Star Trek) the publishers finally woke up and realized that science fiction is really a huge market! Not only that, but it’s now respectable literature. So now there are very few covers that look like Barbarella.

In much the same way, I think publishers are convinced that basically only 13-15 year-old girls, and perhaps some frivolous, silly women read romances. Romances are not considered real reading, and there is no respect for the genre, so the covers reflect that lack of respect. Publishers don’t understand why we would want to read romances and why they are fulfilling a real need. They don’t understand that by using covers that are demeaning and embarrassing to the buyers, they actually are keeping a large market from becoming a huge market.

Personally, I looked down my nose at romances for most of my adult life, put off in large part because of the covers. It wasn’t until I accidentally actually read a good one that I realized they could be funny, warm and wonderful. And I only read it because there was absolutely nothing else I could find to read. Think of how many other readers there are out there who aren’t fortunate enough to find out what romances are really like.

What about sponsoring an E-mail or write-in campaign to let publishers know who their real audience is? Or even just sending romance publishers copies of the responses you get to this If we could convince them that their covers are actually preventing them from raking in lots more money, maybe they’d change their ways.

Mary J. Kremer (mkremer2@augustine.helios.nd.edu):
Glad to hear that you are having a whole issue on the cover issue. This is something that has been bothering me since I began reading romances. First of all, the picture on the outside almost never matches the descriptions of the people on the inside. (I am talking about those horrible pictures on the covers of historicals, with some icky Fabio-type dude with hair to his butt clutching some half naked woman on a rock or something equally inane. I can’t really speak for the category romances, because I don’t usually read them.) Second of all, isn’t the whole point of reading fantasy? How can you imagine what these people look like if there is a (usually awful) picture of them on the front. My third, by far the biggest, gripe is those yucky (I can’t think of a more appropriate word) clinch pictures. It seems to me that a large part of the problem of people not taking romance seriously is those covers. People see that picture and automatically assume that that is what is on the inside of the book — sex, from cover to cover. I personally favor the covers that feature a flower, treasure chest, or some other article that’s pertinant to the story on them. Perhaps if more books had this type of cover, more people would read romances who wouldn’t otherwise (i.e. with the icky cover).

Katsy Siedschlag (lynns@powerweb.net):
I buy books mainly by checking out the back to check out the general storyline, and then paging quickly through the early part of the book to check out writing style (if it’s an author with whom I am not familiar). I agree that a really good-looking hero on the cover is sometimes a draw, but is not a consideration in determining whether I will purchase the romance. The one exception to my guideline was when I first began reading romances, and one author’s name was just as unfamiliar as another. The book was The Wind & the Sea by Marsha Canham and the cover hero was to die for. He was bare-chested but was wearing pants. Later I was to find out that this would be considered a lot of clothing in comparison to later scantily-clad heroes in the book store. It just turned out that The Wind & the Sea was a terrific read and thus began my romance buying. I’ve learned to ignore the snickering at the mall book stores by lingering teen-agers but I will still put a romance face-first down on surfaces in between readings at home or if reading in public. Since most of my romance purchases are through the net or by phone (I’m 20 miles from the nearest bookstore) based either on magazine reviews or the fact that I liked the author’s works before, I usually have no idea what the cover will look like. I do have to admit that if in a store the hunk covers do get my attention.

LLB: Thanks for writing in about The Cover Controversy. I too do most of my buying w/out even seeing the books, although I do browse. I remember when I started to read romance, they had just come out (this was about 5 years ago) with the non-peopled covers and so when I picked up a book with a clinch, I automatically put it down. You see, by then I had already determined that I didn’t really care for the “older style” of romance writing and that’s how I could tell if a book was new enough to be in the “newer style”. Only later, of course, I learned about reprints, reissues, and the fact that some publishers never stopped the clinch.

Tanya Tremblay (ftrembla@sno.net):
Well, I have to admit when I first started reading romance I was very embarrassed about the “clinch” covers. When I’d get to the till I’d turn the book over and hope the price was on the back so the cashier couldn’t see what kind of book I was buying. I’d never take them out into public either. There was this one time when I got brave and took a “clinch” cover book to school (a Catholic school no less) the priest asked me what I was reading and then he looked at the cover. He gave me this look as though I’d sinned in a major way, I was never so embarrassed in my life. I’ve long since given up hiding the books from my parents and never reading them in public. The covers don’t make a lot of difference to me now, I buy for the author first, then the blurb.

However I absolutely hate it (like so many others) if the picture is inaccurate about the H/H. It really bugs me because I have this thing about not reading a book where the hero has facial hair, don’t ask me why I just do, I’ve read a few where the guy has had a mustache or beard, but they are few and far between, and when I pick up a book with a clinch or step-back cover I look for the facial hair and sometimes in the picture the guy doesn’t have facial hair but in the book he does or vice versa. I must sound neurotic.

Anyway, I was very upset to see that a lot of romance readers were embarrassed about reading romance in public because of the covers, etc. Sure I can sympathize since I was once ashamed myself, but if you’ve been reading romance for years and you’re still embarrassed about the covers that’s entirely different. There’s all this talk about how the romance genre doesn’t get any respect, maybe it’s because a lot of the romance readers are afraid to support it themselves, therefore making it seem like reading romance is a shameful thing to do. It’s not; IMHO romance is one of the best genres out there. We should support our genre like other people support the mystery, horror, and other fiction genres. The cover shouldn’t matter. (But I admit that occasionally I’ll pick up a book with a really good clinch cover, check out the story line, buy it if it sounds good and then deliberately read it out in public to see what kind of looks I get, it’s actually quite hilarious some of the reactions.)

All in all we shouldn’t be ashamed of reading romance because of the covers, after all they promote love and happiness and not death, murder and other heinous things.

Rana Westbrook (carlwest@ix.net.com):
I have been a fan of yours for about a year and a half. I just got tought reading your column, about the cover controversy, an I am mad. I have been reading romance books for about 20 years, the romance clinch covers are what got my attention. The first book I ever bought was a Regency. I had no favorite authors at that time. A cover would catch my attention, then I would read the back. I bought a lot of Regency books back then. I then moved on to Historicals, then to Contemporary. I now read Mystery as well as Romance books and I enjoy then all.

The point I am trying to make is, if the clinch covers had not cough my attention I would not have bought that first Romance book. I now buy Romances because I like the author. I do not care what kind of a cover it has. Those woman that say they are embarrassed to be seen out in public with a Romance book that has a clinch cover on it should not be reading Romance books in the first place. The clinch covers are what tell Romance readers that they are buying a romance book. That is what sets Romance books apart from others books. If not for the clinch covers we the women of the world would not have bought them in the first place. The women that say otherwise are lying to themselves.

Judie (jroussel@intouch.bc.ca):
You asked about clinch covers. I have to say that most of the books I’ve read lately seem to have the clinch with the woman’s leg lifted nearly up the the man’s waist. This is not the kind of cover I want to take to Starbucks, either. Actually, looking at Suzanne Enoch’s Stolen Kisses cover, even though there’s no clinch, I still feel that these covers seem wimpy and perhaps continue to convey that stereotype of women reading flaky romance books. I’m a newbie to romances myself, but I’ve heard enough stories on the boards to have heard the harassment women get about romance novels. I would tend to be happy with no “suggestive” covers at all, so I don’t have to feel self-conscious about the book. Although I do enjoy hunks such as the guys on Border Lord, Highland Rogue, and Stolen Kisses – I just would prefer them as stepbacks so I can enjoy them privately.

My 20 year old daughter calls my romance books my “porno books” – she says it jokingly, but still!

Continue this discussion on our Potpourri Message Board