December 7, 1998
I was reading everyone’s comments on the clinch covers and I agree – some of the covers are embarassing (especially if you get rung up with 5 or more by some wide-eyed young guy at the cash register) but they are also useful. I don’t just read a book by the back write-up. I look at covers, titles, authors, read inside excert, read list of previously published books, read back cover, read recommendations on the book. But there are just too many new books to do this to all unfamiliar books so I do rely a bit on the cover.
For instance – the best way to find a western romance is by looking at covers for cowboy type guys or indians, and the best way to find a sci-fi romance is to look for bits of glitter/stars/strange clothing. I used to love the Zebra books and you could tell what type of book they would be by how the cover was done. Same thing with the Avon historical romance books. And I would know I wouldn’t like certain books by looking at the covers too – if a lot of little scenes were present or the cover was typical short regency I would avoid them.
Later after starting to read the book I occassionally glance at the cover to see how well the descriptions fit – I really enjoy it when I can later pick out a point in time when the characters where doing what is pictured in that setting then I can better recall the book after having read it like the Jayne Ann Krentz covers and maybe some of the Julie Garwood and Judith McNaught books.
The best covers right now are ones with the racy pictures on an inside picture but only when it doesn’t take the place of an excerpt.
Sometimes the covers are lots of fun to look at – Johanna Lindsey and the Legendary Lovers line have that cornered right now. Yummy! The covers can be non-typical for known authors – look at the spicy hot tales of Elizabeth Lowell but balance that with other famous authors that are getting less passionate/romantic Karen Robards and Catherine Coutler to name a few. The recent bestseller list author from Loveswept fame that now only does fiction/suspense also comes to mind by I’ve forgotten her name – she did hot series romance and has toned down a lot and the covers have also.
So I think the clinchs are useful, the pictures are useful, and that often you can tell a good book (tailored to your tastes) by its cover.
Susan Irwin (email@example.com):
I have been a romance reader for more years than I like to remember, and for most of those years I have loved the books and hated the covers. I am a well educated professional, and I’m not the least bit defensive about reading and enjoying the books, but I find the typical clinch covers embarrassing. I know the book is well written, but somehow don’t want the person next to me on the subway or plane, or whatever, to see what I’m reading simply because of the cover. It’s as if I know that observer will have negative thoughts about not just my choice of reading material, but also about my intelligence. What a drag!
I also read a lot of mysteries, and have noticed that the covers on many of the new paperbacks are wonderfully creative. Not gory, or explicit at all — rather, they are abstract and colorful. If publishers can manage this type of cover for one genre, why not romances?
The other thing I really dislike is when the people on the cover bear absolutely no resemblance to the characters in the book. I wonder if these are also the books with sloppy editing and/or proofreading. It makes me think that no one at the publisher has actually even read the book. Could that be possible? Years ago I worked for one of the really big publishers in New York, and did a bit of proofreading as part of my job. Trust me, no book ever got out of the editorial office until it had been fully edited and proofread. I think perhaps there is too much reliance on spell checkers for the latter, but can’t explain the lack of professional pride that allows characters to have different names, eye color, etc.
I’m into unPCness, so I want more sexy, clinch covers. But only under one condition : they must be beautifully rendered.
Lucia M. Hill (firstname.lastname@example.org):
This is more tongue in cheek than anything else, but I’ve been reading all the comments about the pros and cons of clinch covers, well how about some of those titles!
I too have a problem with covers, but I use a canvas book cover, it not only takes care of that problem, but also keeps the book from getting dirty, etc…
Has anyone commented on titles? Some of them are a real hoot! (IMHO).
- Lord Sin
- Lord Savage
- The Wild Baron
- A Dangerous Man
- A Spirited Seduction
- Sleeping Alone
- The Baddest Virgin In The West
Any of which would be sure to raise a few eyebrows among my coworkers! Just like you shouldn’t judge a book but its cover, you shouldn’t judge it by its title either!
I just want to express my dislike of the Avon Romantic Treasures Line. Don’t get me wrong, the novels are usually treasures and the back covers of the hero and heroine are beautiful. The problem is that there is no synopsis of the story!!! Avon publishers attempt to compensate for this by writing a little blurb inside! There are two very short paragraphs describing the hero and heroine…but that’s it!! In reading them, I don’t get a sense of the story!! Unless I read a review of the novel, I won’t buy the book. What’s your view on this Line of Avons?
LLB responds: I checked with some Avon Romantic Treasures authors, and was assured that the “little blurb” inside is the same length as a back cover blurb. Julia Quinn, however, told me that “Some readers don’t know to look on the inside front cover and are confused to see a ‘blurb-less’ back. This is one of the reasons Avon decided to start putting a sentence or two on the back – so that the reader would get at least a little idea about the book at first glance.”
Margie B (email@example.com):
My choice for covers by rank:
1. Inanimate objects that detail something in the book (a la Amanda Quick)
2. Same as above but with a stepback
3. A single male on the cover but not in a bed (a la Alice Duncan)
4. A combination of 2 and 3 (a male in the stepback a la Christina Dodd’s A Knight to Remember
5. A couple doing anything but clinching (or even close to clinching), with the heroine not falling out of her clothes.
I enjoy looking at good-looking guys, and in real life it could be someone throwing a frisbee on the beach or pounding on a keyboard. I can appreciate them in ordinary situations like that, so ditto on a book cover (modified accordingly for historicals, of course). A good-looker is a good-looker; draping him on a bed adds nothing for me. (I like subtle, the use-your-imagination type of subtle, rather blatant.)
Okay, maybe I sound like a fuddy-duddy, but I like to read the spice, not advertise it.
Beth (firstname.lastname@example.org) responding to Issue #34 of Laurie’s News & Views:
I’m probably in a minority here, but I don’t care for the hero only covers.
For one thing they are embarassing to carry around. Also, if they are going to have a picture of the characters in a book, I would like to see both the hero and heroine. And not in a clinch. Finally, I do think the “sexy” men only covers do objectify men as women have complained about men doing for years. If I really like the author the cover would not keep me from buying the book, but yes it does matter to me.
Cecelia Ressir (email@example.com):
I personally don’t care if people know or like what kind of book I read. Sexually suggestive covers (bodice rippers) don’t bother me.
Having said that…I have recently bought a vinyl cover to put over my paperbacks simply so that I do not offend anyone else who might not like suggestive covers. Ho-hum, just doing my part for world peace.
Pamela Tullos (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I’m not against blatant covers, but I sure like when there is a cover over the “step-back.” I kind of prefer the newer look of flowers, sceneries and such instead. But then again, I find myself turning to the cover when a description is given of the hero/heroine and kind of miss that when I find flowers there instead.
So, I guess I’m wishy-washy. I go both ways.
Rose Light (email@example.com):
When I read in your column about reader snobbery, I was certain that you were talking about me. I’ve written to you many times about my strict standards for the romances I read, and I thought, for a moment, I was being reprimanded!
I pride myself on being openminded about many things – tax reform, religion, politics – but when it comes to picking a romance, there are certain lines that I do not, under any circumstances, cross. . . .
Probably my most blatant and irrational snobbery is directed toward the Leisure Books label. I won’t read one. Period. Regardless of characters or setting. IMHO, their cover art is horrendous and amateurish, and the printing and the paper inside is cheap-looking.
Colleen Simo (DQJZ22A@prodigy.com):
While we should read what makes us happy and bedamned everyone else, my late mother who loved what she referred to as trashy paperbacks, said it’s both a waste of time and money to read a book to please others, it’s pleasure reading right? However, if the publishers want to maintain their current clientele and increase business they would take the comments in your survey very seriously. Isn’t the customer alwasy right? I personally have studiously avoid several whole sections in the book store because of the cover art. And like many others find it annoying when the people depicted on the cover are complete physical opposites of the characters.
Tammy Wilson (firstname.lastname@example.org):
The cover of a book really does not make or break a book, in my opinion. I look for the author and then read the blurb on the back. I go by the word of mouth advertising as well as reviews. If the cover has models on them that’s okay, I also like art. These are art. I know of book collectors who collect book art. Please don’t do away with the models on book covers, things would get boring then.
I have been reading romance novels for over 28 years. I have yet to use the cover as a factor in deciding whether or not to buy the book. In fact I have noticed recently that more covers are plain with the erotic picture of the hero and heroine in the inside front cover. Who cares whether they physically resemble the characters in the story. I let my imgination to bring the characters to life anyway based on the author’s description. I have some books that are so old the covers have been torn off and my picture of the hero and heroine doesn’t change with each reading of the book.
Julie Hall (email@example.com):
I’ve never cared much for clinch covers. I like non-traditional looking characters, and I can’t count the times plain, handicapped, older, ethnic, or otherwise different characters were shown looking like they just stepped out of Baywatch. Plus, the degree of steaminess on the cover doesn’t necessarily match what’s in the text. If you like PG, a cover that’s flirting with an R is not a selling point, and I suppose the reverse is also true.
While I’m not ashamed of reading romances, I can still be embarrassed when book shopping with my kid, who likes to holler things like, “Look, Momma! Girl underwear!” and “Why him not got pants on?”. Covers without people were a big relief! If the blurbs on the back covers would just match the stories, I’d be really happy. It seems like blurb writers try to make the stories conform to what they think are the romance novel standards. Where the conflict comes from outside the relationship, the story’s still usually described as if the H/H hate each others’ guts. If a heroine doesn’t fall into the sweet and naive category, she’s generally described as if she’s got a bad case of oppositional-defiant disorder, and you’d think from the blurbs that practically all heroes are alphas.
Karen Hillis (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I applaud Fabio’s appearance on book covers and, in fact, his picture is the reason I first picked up a romance novel in the first place. I was a literature major in college and, I will admit, a bit snobbish in my reading choices. However, I was visiting my mother last year and though I could easily ignore her large collection of contemporary romances, I could not resist picking up a book with Fabio on the cover (Johanna Lindsey’s Defy Not the Heart). I am very fond of well-muscled men with long hair and Fabio is one of the best. After I finished admiring the cover, I decided to read the book since I love history and I was on vacation, after all. I devoured it and eagerly picked up the other two my mother had (Angel and Keeper of the Heart, both with Fabio on the cover!). I was hooked and determined I had to read all of Johanna’s books and even to own them. I discovered used bookstores and was able to acquire original copies of all of her books. My favorites have Fabio on the cover.
In fact, I now buy any book I see with him on the cover. I read historical romances to escape and indulge my fantasies and the hero’s picture in the cover art is a very large part of my enjoyment. I frequently glance at the cover as I read. For new authors, I usually purchase based on the attractiveness of the hero on the cover. I noticed other writers who say that they like to imagine the characters’ looks on their own. That’s fine but I’m not like that. I need the visual illustration to spur my fantasies. In addition, I think of the covers like works of art and I admire them as such. However, I do wish the heroine wasn’t always spilling over her gown quite so much–these covers are for women’s fantasies, not men’s! But I want the beefcake, that’s for sure.
I admit it’s a little embarrassing to be reading a romance novel in a public place but I’m almost over that feeling. The feeling has never stopped me anyway. I read Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, edited by Jayne Ann Krentz, and now feel very comfortable reading romance novels. In fact, I think of it as a feminist act! As one of the essays points out, the heroine always wins! What could be better than that? Anyway, I think the “stepback” covers are the perfect solution to everybody’s desires – those women who don’t want to see the hero/heroine illustrated or are embarrassed, can look at a boring cover, and those of us who want to see the big lug get to open up into a beautiful sight.
Again, another vote for well-muscled men with long hair on the cover in general and Fabio in particular (I know he doesn’t do it anymore). I don’t know the name of my current favorite but he was on Connie Mason’s Shadow Walker and Beth Henderson’s Reckless last year among others. And yes, I purchased both of those because there was a very attractive man on the cover!
Anne Ritter (AAR Reviewer):
Until I read through the submissions to the Cover Controversy, I never realized there were so many ways of looking at a “simple” book cover. I have no strong feelings one way or the other about book covers. What I mean is that a book cover most likely would not turn me away from selecting a book or cause me to actually buy a book. In fact, although I like book covers which feature delicious-looking men on them, I am usually more careful about buying those books than any others. I have learned the hard way. A good-looking man on the cover does not always equal a good book. However, I have bought and kept books just because of the front cover. Rejar by Dara Joy is a good example of this. I really didn’t like the book, but I loved the “artful” cover. I also like the covers for Amanda Quick’s books. One of my favorites of hers is the cover for Mystique. It features a shiny little jewel box complete with sparkling jewels. I also like the cover from her new book, Affair. It’s a bridal wreath that looks likes its blowing over onto the the back of the book. I guess when it comes right down to it, I think I appreciate book covers most as an art form. Of course, if the story behind a well-done cover is good, that is always a plus!!!!!
Re: Conversion Kits. I have only one question: what do the converters do to the covers before they give the books to the convertees? There are so few romance books with neutral covers that it seems that would be a dead giveaway. One book I would want to include would be Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm but how could I get anyone biased against romance to read it with Fabio on the cover? Do you think that calling this genre something other than romance would convert readers as well as the use of neutral covers?
I know that it is very difficult to get away from the characters being on the covers in a half dressed state. I assume that when the term step-back is used that means that the reader has to turn the cover page to the inside cover page and that is where the picture will be found. I think Elizabeth Thornton’s cover on You Only Love Twice solved the problem the best with the collage paintings of the characters found on that inside cover. Jane Feather has something similar on her later books. I know I could get someone else to read Elizabeth’s because that cover is not such a stretch for a supposedly mainstream reader. But I still don’t see how I can get such a reader to read Flowers from the Storm when I hand the person the book with Fabio half dressed on the cover! That is the only flaw I see on the conversion kit idea. Actually, if you took the terms “historical romance” which are printed on the spine of the book away and then gave the book a plain cover, I can think of quite a few romance books I could use in a conversion kit.
Romance covers for the most part, are just mass-produced art like those landscapes you find in hotel rooms, with no care to the accuracy of its contents – just ‘how well will this cover sell this book?’. Covers need to be distinctive, because the product is distinctive. If authors are allowed to give their input concerning art, I feel a lot of this “controversy” would end, because who knows better than the author what would best portray the book.
I’ve often wish there were more artists like Michael Whelan out there, who actually reads the books he does art for in order to accurately portray it.
Publisher’s note: Andrea is the publisher of New Concepts Publishing and Michael Whelan is the artist who produces the “cover art” seen online for these e-books.
Robin Uncapher (RNU08@aol.com):
I can understand how romance publishers became attached to those “clench” covers that they are sure will sell books, though I have to admit that I did not read romances for almost twenty-five years because, among other things, the covers turned me off. A great cover is a great cover. It can be Clark Gable in a clench with Vivian Lee or a simple rose as for Mary Jo Putney’s One Perfect Rose.
Sexy half-dressed men on the cover are fine but the execution for most of these is terrible. First of all many of these guys look more like body builders than heroes. For example the guy on the cover of Sweeter Savage Love by Sandra Hill looks like he has been hanging around a health club or perhaps trying to get a Calvin Klien ad. He is too young and pretty to be my fantasy and he is nothing like the hero of the book.
Second in addition to a good body the model’s expression should show the same intelligence and wit displayed by the hero of the book. 90% of these guys have a sort of blank expression in their eyes. Come on! Lets have some models who can do a little acting! Think of the sparkle in Harrison Ford’s eyes vs. the vacant look most of these guys have and you get my drift.
Third, and this is a biggie, don’t have models that look like they are still in college. Most of the heroes of these books are thirty or older and there is a reason for that contrary to the “boy toy” myth most men are a lot more attractive as they get older. If the hero of the book is a forty year old veteran of the Napoleon wars, the cover model should have a handsome “lived in” sort of face.
Fourth, female romance cover models should be attractive but should not necessarily have that perfect TV ad/soap opera actress type face that we have all seen a million times. Maybe it’s me but I can’t relate to a female model who is so perfect that it is hard for me to imagine myself in her place. Publishers should remember that this is a female fantasy. A Kate Winslet look-alike is a better choice than Pamela Lee look-alike.
Fifth, certain category romances (I am thinking of Signet Regencies here) should overhaul their covers completely to avoid the stale cliches that readers have begun to avoid. The heroes on the covers of these books seem to come from central casting. A heroine, who is described in the book as “not conventionally pretty” usually looks about as unconventionally pretty as Natalie Wood. A hero who is a wounded soldier fatigued by war looks about as fatigued as your average cigarette ad model!