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My Big Fat Cover Rant from Heather, The Galaxy Express

Fry Message

Allow me to tell you a story.

Recently, I had the honor of premiering a cover for a science fiction romance book on my blog. The cover for R. Garland Gray's Darkscape: First Heir excited me because it had a combination of SF and romance elements that hit the right balance. Naturally, I'm thinking, this is pretty sweet because we're one step closer to establishing an identity for science fiction romance covers.

When I pointed out that the current covers for the works of Linnea Sinclair (Rebels And Lovers) also possess a quintessential science fiction romance "feel," Ms. Sinclair revealed in the comments that her covers would be soon changing, and not necessarily in a good way:

They ditched that look as–and I quote–they don’t want any tech on the cover. Okay, here’s the actual quote from Bantam to me: “…we want to go a bit more mainstreamy the covers, and even less techy, so as not to scare off any readers who might not think they’d like SF, but would still love your books.”

If that wasn't bad enough, author Jessica Andersen (Demonkeepers) had her own cover woes to share:

I have the same thing going on with my series (paraphrasing): “We’re losing the pyramids and going more mainstreamy so as not to scare off any readers who might love your books but don’t think they would like the Mayan mythology and 2012 stuff.”

All of which made me realize that while I'm all for homogenized milk, I'm not so keen on homogenized romance covers.

What's going on here? What do the above situations with authors Sinclair and Andersen mean? Is the economy a factor? I can only hope that it is, because otherwise I'm about fit to be tied over this new development. Reading between the lines, it seems like "so as not to scare off" might be code for "we're cutting costs."

Do cliché/clinch/man titty covers cause more sales or are they simply correlated with sales? If they really do cause sales, then for heaven's sake, put a hot, half-naked man on every romance cover regardless of subgenre because then authors might actually be able to make a living from their work! Seriously. Why hold back if profit can be that lucrative?

On a related note, I discovered an interesting experiment at author Ellen Fisher's blog. Ms. Fisher has re-released a few of her books on the Kindle (contemporaries and a science fiction romance). Her book Isn't It Romantic? originally had a cover featuring a wedding couple. Despite the romantic image, sales trudged along like the proverbial tortoise.

Then, she blasted it with a man titty makeover.

You can view the two covers here. This is what she had to say about the results:

And then there’s Isn’t It Romantic? It limped along most of the month, not doing terribly, but not doing really well, either. Finally I gave it a new sexy cover, and boom, up went the sales.

(Cover images might not be the only factor as Ms. Fisher priced her books at .99 cents. But the jump in sales occurred after the cover change, not the price change).

So if the current economic challenges dictate the royal man titty treatment, or a variation thereof, I am resigned to it because that is reality, after all. If authors sell more books as a result, great-but, um, only as long as we can return to covers that reflect subgenre content when the economy improves. If, indeed, that is the reason for such a turnabout.

I can't help but speculate about why publishers would go to the trouble of stripping out the visual elements that make a subgenre unique. Don't we find these visual cues helpful when shopping for books? Who are the readers who quake in their shoes at the thought of seeing a starship, dragon, or ancient ruin on a romance cover? As long as the characters and overall design featured on the cover clearly convey romance, what's the problem?

Then I started wondering-I know romance readers have diverse tastes, but does that extend to our feelings about covers?

Would you rather have a cover that attempts to capture the story, or do you prefer covers that deliver a hard sell of the fantasy lover and/or the romance, regardless of whether or not it accurately represents the book’s content?

The answer might even be both, depending on whom one asks. Smart Bitches posted snippets of conversations overheard at the 2010 RT BookLover's Convention. Check these out:

  • "I love covers that have elements from the story. I like covers that have context."
  • "I like covers that show the man's chest, in jeans, with one button undone."

During my quest for answers, I perused a cover survey conducted by The Book Smugglers. It, uh, uncovered a few interesting points:

According to the results of this survey, folks literally aren't buying the whole "similar covers sells!" That is, they personally do not equate a book with a similar cover to a book they have previously read and enjoyed. However, survey responses also indicate that these same readers believe that *others* DO make this association with covers – as noted by the consensus response that readers find cover "cliches" do inspire a sense of familiarity and thus sell."

My head is still spinning-‘do similar covers drive sales, or not? But then I read this part:

-readers that responded to this survey rather see covers as the artistic embodiment of a book and thus should be accurately representative of a book's genre, tone, and/or characters. This answer took the clear majority at 62%.

In this economy, I can't afford to care about romance book covers. I've read mediocre stories whose books have amazing and highly representational cover art as well as wonderful stories with astonishingly bad or generic cover art. I understand the key role covers play in marketing books even as I have stopped relying on them when making purchasing decisions.
What are your thoughts? Are "artistic" and "mainstream" romance covers mutually exclusive? Or is there a happy medium?

Guest Reviewer

106 Comments

  1. Tweets that mention My Big Fat Cover Rant from Heather, The Galaxy Express | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
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  2. Pat Brown
    May 18, 2010 @ 04:15:57

    Maybe I’m in a minority here, but I am so sick and tired of every cover being swathed in half naked bodies. I want a cover that has context. It would sadden me to think readers are so bereft of imagination that the sight of a spaceship or pyramid would send them running.

    Personally my eyes tend to glaze over when I’m confronted by a rack of shirtless men.

  3. Nadia Lee
    May 18, 2010 @ 04:16:17

    I don’t think publishers make random decisions when it comes to covers. They want to sell as many books as possible, so if their sales data seems to indicate, “Romance readers love man titty covers”, they’ll put man titties on the covers.

  4. Ella Drake
    May 18, 2010 @ 04:17:10

    Ack! I think the end of the post is cut off.

    FWIW, I prefer the current covers for both Sinclair and Andersen. They both write novels that are world-building heavy and to kind of gloss over that could be a major disservice to the buyer.

    I do admit that pretty covers make me pick up a book, but I also pick up books with covers that convey a sense of a scene or a flavor of the genre.

  5. Jay Bell
    May 18, 2010 @ 04:35:37

    I find this all a bit depressing, since I am only attracted to classy covers, and assumed my readers would feel the same. Will a trashy cover with tame content inside upset readers hoping for something sexier?

  6. Linnae
    May 18, 2010 @ 04:57:21

    One fact I’ve learned, from being a part of the Cover Cafe website, is that everyone has their own unique preferences and pet peeves when it comes to covers but they seldom determine the final sale of a favorite author.

    However, there are so many books available today that covers need to scream, “Pick-Me-Up-Now!” and they need to immediately communicate what is inside the cover.

    A naked man on the cover leaves little doubt as to what’s inside but there better be a naked man somewhere in that release or the buyer will be angry. :>)

  7. sami
    May 18, 2010 @ 05:06:55

    For me it’s got to have context. I hate it when I pick up a book with a tall dark handsome guy on the cover, and in the book itself the hero is blonde. HATE it. I love a blonde hero as much as a dark one, and I want him to have an equal shot at the cover. Why not? Are blondes as bad for book sales as guys who keep their gear on?

  8. Maria Zannini
    May 18, 2010 @ 05:33:35

    As a reader, give me context.

    As a writer…I have to be honest and say do whatever will draw attention.

    Context can work against you. After looking at Ms. Fisher’s covers I assume the cover with the couple is a bride story, and frankly those stories don’t appeal to me. I wouldn’t even pick it up to read the blurb. Yet, I might pick it up to read the blurb if it had the shirtless man on the cover.

    Speaking as a former art director, I think I would combine the elements. Maybe keep the shirtless man, with a bouquet of wedding flowers on the floor. That might be enough for me to read the back cover blurb and make an informed decision.

    In order to make sales it has to catch the eye, but I’m tired of half naked people too. A little context subtly integrated into the scene might not be instantly recognized as such by those not interested in brides, SF or Mayan history, but those who are would pick up on them right away. The brain is thinking even if the eyes are not.

  9. Jane
    May 18, 2010 @ 05:40:08

    @Nadia Lee I actually think that person who mentioned context was saying that they liked elements of the story rather than just man titty.

    At RT, when we talked contemporary covers, there were definitely readers who were “more man titty” and then there were readers who said that they wanted the covers to tell them something about the story. One of the covers we held up was On the Steamy Side by Louisa Edwards which has a picture of a frying pan on it.

  10. Booklover1335
    May 18, 2010 @ 06:35:10

    I like man titty covers just as much as the next gal, but I really love covers that tell a visual story preferably one that relates to the book :)

    I really don’t like it when the cover is misleading or doesn’t represent the book it is selling. It’s just as bad as a back blurb that tries to disguise, hide, or mislead what you are about to read.

    A good cover will make me pick up the book, but the blurb will sell me on an unknown author.

    One question I do have though is if bookstores and online retailers continue to shelf/sort by genre will the publishers really be gaining a new audience for the author, or will they be alienating the readers who are interested in the genre. Personally I’m not interested in fantasy and sci/fi so I don’t even bother to go past that section, or browse through that category when shopping online. No matter what the cover looks like, I most likely won’t be tempted because in the end it doesn’t change the story.

  11. msaggie
    May 18, 2010 @ 06:36:04

    I think the end of the post got cut off – Jane could this be fixed as we all want to read the conclusion to the post!

    I too am dismayed at the path covers are taking – but they have their market research, and all those clinch and mantitty covers must sell better than tame ones depicting flowers, whatnot. I understand their take on “readers being scared away by techno stuff, starships, dragons, etc” (to paraphrase). I think it goes back to the recent post at SBTB – the large majority of romance novel readers (and buyers) are not online, and only buy on “impulse” and would buy from Walmart, CVS, etc – they never read online reviews, and probably don’t know that there is a generation of online-romance readers who don’t like man titty covers, etc. But, they do. And they are the larger market, so the industry caters to them – especially as this is a time of economic hardship, they want to get every buyer who might buy a book, and don’t want to risk turning away a buyer scared off by techno stuff, starships, etc – something not familiar to them, and something they don’t think they will enjoy. Will this trend only change in another 10-20 years? I don’t know – it might, as more and more readers get online and follow the romance blogs and websites and share opinions, etc. We are the minority. That’s the reality.

  12. Jane Lovering
    May 18, 2010 @ 06:38:32

    Whilst I bow to the fact that publishers have a better idea of what is going to sell than I, as a mere writer, I think sometimes they go too far in pursuit of sales. I’m lucky in that my own publisher (Samhain) gives author say-so in cover design, but even they have a policy of wanting men on covers. I fought for Slightly Foxed, and Samhain let the man be so much a figure in the background that my daughter thought it was meant to be a ghost! But I definitely DID NOT want a man anywhere visible – the story is about a woman and her relationships, not one particular man, and especially not one man with his shirt off. And does anyone else find these headless torsos slightly eerie and demeaning? If it was (for example) men’s fiction and featured a headless, topless woman, would we not be up in arms?

  13. DS
    May 18, 2010 @ 06:53:53

    One thing with Kindle books is the buying experience. The cover has to have some strong design elements and something, like a bit of strong color, that attracts the viewer. The small size of the image in the list view means it is easy to ignore covers that don’t stand out. The Kindle doesn’t have color so the only time the reader is going to see the cover in color is on a web site.

    I’m not surprised the monochromatic look of the first cover by Ellen Fisher didn’t do well on Amazon. Also man titty does draw eyes. I really don’t like the typeface she is using on her half naked men covers though. If I was browsing I would skip over both versions.

    I don’t know how much a professionally designed cover would cost, but I think I would look into it if I was trying to build a career with ebooks. One thing she said that is true is that it doesn’t do to fall in love with a cover.

  14. Ellen Fisher
    May 18, 2010 @ 06:55:31

    I personally agree with those of you that prefer a little context on your covers. However, preferences are one thing, and sales are another. I don’t know about books from publishers, but I am absolutely convinced of the value of man-titty covers for indie romance authors on Amazon. The book that Heather mentions that sold so anemically with the bridal couple on it is now my best seller. I think that’s mostly due to the amazing selling power of man-titty.

    If it sells, it sells, I guess. But like many of you, I’d prefer to see (and use!) covers that are a bit more descriptive of the book’s content.

    DS: I do have one professionally done cover up now. So far it’s not doing as well as the man-titty, but it’s hard to judge what a book will do from its first month on Amazon. So we shall see. But so far the nonprofessional covers are doing fairly well for me, mostly, I think, due to the nude dudes.

  15. Michelle
    May 18, 2010 @ 07:03:12

    For books in a series I hate it when they switch the design midway. It lacks continuity.

    I like covers that relate to the story. But they need more animals. I mean just think how well the LOL kitties do. That is the answer add more kittens and puppies to the covers.

  16. Marissa Turner
    May 18, 2010 @ 07:08:12

    I’ve passed by many books with half-naked anyone on the cover. I’m not a fan of the man titty cover, I’d rather the cover tell me about the book, not about his muscle defination and body fat percentage.

    If I want to see half-naked well-built men, I’ll go to the gym, because there I can actually see *them*, and see them in action as well.

  17. Jody W.
    May 18, 2010 @ 07:14:15

    I vastly prefer a contextual cover, but covers don’t really influence my choices. Well, a cover might influence what book I chose to read in public, but it doesn’t influence my initial purchase. I wonder if folks who dislike sf/f feel cheated if they pick up the standard headless hottie and end up with sf/f? Guess it would depend on whether the blurb snaked around the issue too.

  18. CathyKJ
    May 18, 2010 @ 07:16:21

    The Book Smugglers did a cover content survey a few weeks ago, asking some of the same questions as Heather. It’s interesting that this issue is gaining traction on multiple sites at the same time.

    Personally, I’m not a fan of mantitty covers. I think they just reinforce the argument that these books are written porn. Also, they’re all the same – very muscular, usually tanned, no chest hair, no scars or other imperfections, very well-defined abs, and no abdominal or (on some covers) upper-pubic-region hair. Boring.

    I have a Kindle now, and I’m glad to miss out on the mantitty.

  19. Joanne
    May 18, 2010 @ 07:41:11

    The mantitty covers are sort of a code, aren’t they? They say HERE, RIGHT HERE, is a book like the other ones WE like.

    Publishers don’t have altruistic interests nor do they care about the romance reader’s ‘feelings’ or intellectual needs. They want in on the money we spend and since we have bought mantitty covers in the past they keep giving them to us.

    Little do they know that we read the cover blurbs. Or that we look for a synopsis online. Or that we would follow certain authors/story lines no matter what’s on the cover. Or that we may have an interest in the “Mayan mythology and 2012 stuff.”

    The answer is that we stop buying the books with the mantitty covers. Ain’t gonna happen- because they’re on the books we want. Round and round the circle we go.

    Personally, I’m more apt to pick up a bare chested (waxed, really? yuk)cover then a bride & groom cover. This does not apply to Nora’s bridal series.

  20. Jay Bell
    May 18, 2010 @ 07:43:12

    I’ve only released a fantasy novel, so this hasn’t been an issue so far, but when my romance novel comes out I’m using huge, flabby moobies with lots of nipple hair.

  21. Lynne Connolly
    May 18, 2010 @ 07:47:01

    It’s happening in all genres, and I think this was an excellent post.
    About historical covers: In the recent cover art for “A Betting Chance,” “Eyton” and “Hareton Hall” the artist had difficulty locating people with the right period “look.” Since my books are set in the 1750’s, it was harder getting those images, rather than Regency-style.
    Most cover art is based on stock photos, either bought in or commissioned by the publisher and they are getting more “stock.” It’s getting harder to find specific requirements.
    I think that’s why we’re getting the plethora of covers of women in modern makeup in generic bridesmaid or prom dresses to represent historicals.
    So it’s not just SF and fantasy where it’s happening.

  22. Deborah N
    May 18, 2010 @ 07:48:52

    As a reader, I’ve never been attracted by man-titty covers, but with my editor hat on, I see what a difference those covers can make in romance sales — although they are certainly no guarantee.

    Headless figures don’t bother me. In fact, I quite like them. They allow me to see myself as the heroine and to see the hero however I’d like to envision him. They also keep the focus on action and context.

  23. Nadia Lee
    May 18, 2010 @ 08:02:43

    @Jane: It was my tongue-in-cheek moment. :-)

    Of course some people want context, but that doesn’t always translate to sale. Ultimately no matter how gorgeous, if the cover doesn’t make you want to buy, it failed. Does that make sense? :-)

    I also wonder if it’s the other extreme of the clinch girl covers from the days. You know…a woman with her breasts almost spilling out of her bodice, etc.

  24. RLJ
    May 18, 2010 @ 08:22:28

    These days my reading/buying criteria is based on two things. If I’m buying, it’s because I’ve already read the book and like it (love my library) enough to read it again, or it’s an author I know I will read repeatably. If I’m reading it’s either based on knowing the author or having read a good review. I’m not a browser, so most marketing schemes are completely lost on me.

  25. Bianca
    May 18, 2010 @ 08:22:59

    Not really a fan of man tit; I generally tend to pass them over without reading the blurb. I realize that I’m in the minority, but it’s just embarrassing to be seen in public, on my lunch break, reading a book with a man’s giant disembodied, sweat-slicked six pack on the cover.

    The covers that do draw my eye are professionally done, give a hint as to what the story’s about and not generic stock photos accompanied by Palatine font.

    I do understand the publisher’s side, though. They are in the business of making money. If man tit and more generic covers make them more money…then I understand. I don’t *like* it, but I understand where they are coming from. ;)

  26. Jane
    May 18, 2010 @ 08:25:30

    @Nadia Lee No, I’m sorry. I meant to provide context to your context. I really believe, like others, that the man titty cover sells a message “herein lies romance with an open bedroom door”.

    And I am not immune to the man titty cover. I think the cover of Jaci Burton’s 2011 football book is incredibly hot.

    But there is a sameness to the mantitty covers. Look at the Lydia Dare covers from yesterday. Even if the covers have different colors, the look is almost too similar.

    I recall having the same difficulty with the Kresley Cole back to back books (with the impossible names). Those covers begin to run together and I can’t believe that is good either.

  27. Joely
    May 18, 2010 @ 08:43:03

    I must admit to wondering along these lines myself. For my first book at Drollerie Press, Deena came up with two very lovely but very different covers. One had a more traditional romance clinch with a very bare-chested, muscular man; the other had the heroine with a sword. As far as context and artistic beauty, they were both gorgeous, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the mantitty cover — his cleavage was bigger than the heroine’s!

    We went with the heroine and sword cover, but I must admit to wondering what my sales would be like if we’d gone with the more romance-centric mantitty cover (even though the Shanhasson books aren’t exactly romance).

  28. Virginia Kantra
    May 18, 2010 @ 08:53:10

    @sami

    I love a blonde hero as much as a dark one, and I want him to have an equal shot at the cover. Why not? Are blondes as bad for book sales as guys who keep their gear on?

    My editor told me that blond is really hard to render in production. (This when I was singing the praises of the wonderful Tony Mauro, who did a fantabulous blond hero cover for Immortal Sea.) I’d heard the same thing some years ago from my editor at Silhouette.

    As a reader, I love it when a publisher gives an author a signature look. I love Jess’s covers, for example. But that kind of packaging costs money. And sometimes the decision to change the package is driven, not by the publisher, but by the buyers’ preferences and perceptions. If man titty packaging sells more “units” (books) for the account, then that decision is driven by the bottom line.

  29. BevBB
    May 18, 2010 @ 09:05:44

    @Lynne Connolly:
    I think that's why we're getting the plethora of covers of women in modern makeup in generic bridesmaid or prom dresses to represent historicals.

    Heh. For some reason this sound very familiar. ;-)

    I really believe, like others, that the man titty cover sells a message “herein lies romance with an open bedroom door”.

    This sounds right to me because the sentence that stood out to me on Ellen Fisher’s website about the bridal couple cover was: “I have a feeling it’s saying “sweet romance” to my readers, which is not an accurate reflection of the story.”

    So, I think the code we’re overlooking and publishers aren’t is more of a, um, sensuality distinction than a genre one. Or even a sub-genre one. And I have to tell you, that as a reader trying to pick out books on the fly sometimes, that is a big deal right now what with how erotic romance has bleed over into the mainstream. So, it goes both ways.

    Subliminal the images might be, but they still mean something.

    To me the problem isn’t about the missing spaceships, it’s about the books all looking the same. Which brings me right back to those bridesmaids dresses on Wendy’s blog the other day. In some ways, it no more different a problem than having keyword titles. Eventually, they all bleed together.

    I mean think about it, how can anyone of them jump off the shelf at the reader if they’re all basically the same image?

  30. Kimber An
    May 18, 2010 @ 09:15:53

    ‘Similar Covers’
    I can understand the logic behind it, but I don’t see it play out. Rather, they backfire because readers are struck with an aisle full of similar covers and find it frustrating to pick out one book they’re confident they’ll love. ***They Don’t Have Time For This.*** Instead, they must rely on blogging book reviewers, like Dear Author, to find out what the books are really about.

    It’s understandable, though sad, that they’d want to eliminate anything techy from Science Fiction Romance, because the sad, sad reality is this subgenre cannot support itself in the regular print market. It’s a ‘damned if you do an damned if you don’t’ situation. Readers who love or could potentially love SFR can’t find what they’re looking for, but by themselves these readers can’t make SFR a big enough moneymaker.

    So, the Paranormal Romance readers need to be pulled in.

    Unfortunately, most SFR readers I know are very different than the regular vampires-and-witches PR reader. SFR readers love to explore the vast reaches of existance, they want to boldly go where no reader has gone before. PR readers like the same thing done new again. So, trying to lump them in together is problematic.

    The only thing I can see changing any of this is for a Science Fiction Romance novel to burst through the stratosphere on the bestselling chart. Then, it will be cool to be a girl-geek.

    I think the market is primed for a new phenomena, like Harry Potter, but I really don’t see how to make that happen.

  31. Julia Rachel Barrett
    May 18, 2010 @ 09:16:05

    Covers is such a loaded topic. As a writer, I want a cover that incorporates some aspect of my story, but I also need a cover that will sell the book. Whether we like it or not, I am utterly serious when I say that a partially naked man on the cover will sell a book. Cutesy does not sell. Gimmicky does not sell. I’ve had publishers try to give me busy, cute, P-G covers for extremely hot books and I’ve pitched a fit – for two reasons – 1. the cover is misleading and it will piss buyers off when they read what’s beneath that cover and 2. the book plain old won’t sell.
    What would I prefer? Well, I’m happy with the covers I have now, for the most part. If I had my druthers, (can I say druthers?) I’d prefer a plain black cover with red lettering. That’s it. That’s what I want as a reader and a writer. Nobody will ever give me that, I guarantee it. A plain cover allows me to read the back blurb and peruse the book without any preconceptions or misconceptions.

  32. DianeN
    May 18, 2010 @ 09:27:33

    In an ideal world what you get on the cover is what you get inside the book, but I think we can all agree that this isn’t an ideal world. I think any image that increases the chances that a book will be purchased is the right image. If man-titty does the job, so be it. That’s the unpublished writer talking.

    As a reader, cover art doesn’t matter to me either. I only purchase books that I know something about–the author is an autobuy for me or I’ve read good things about it or the story hits some personal hot button. (No, not THAT hot button! Okay, maybe that one sometimes…) My purchases could all come wrapped in brown paper, as far as I’m concerned! And I’ll also add that a gorgeous cover might very well stop me in my tracks, but cover art alone would NEVER convince me I needed to buy the book. I might read an excerpt or write the title down so I can see what the reviews are like, but that’s about it.

  33. Lane
    May 18, 2010 @ 09:33:15

    Oh, you can have a half-naked guy on the cover and still give a feel of what the book is about, it’s just that you don’t see it done well often.

    I think Fisher’s almost ‘painted’ image effect on her new cover brings it up a class factor, even if it changes the ‘feel’ of the novel being sold.

    Granted, I have a thing for ‘painted’ covers. I adored Luisa Prieto’s Dark Designs cover. Sure it’s a half naked dude, but you still get a ‘this is a fantasy’ vibe because of how the cover is presented.

  34. Joy
    May 18, 2010 @ 09:37:41

    I expect the cover to telegraph, broadly, what *kind* of book to expect. Certain fonts and cover art signal historicals, as do certain kinds of clothing (even if the clothing is not entirely ON the cover models). The extent of nudity and/or clinchiness of the cover may signal sexual content (or not. I remember the era of covers with just a graphic of flowers or a manor house on the front which were totally full of sex. But these also communicated “historical” at the time; there’s a current trend showing a woman’s corseted back which does much the same thing)

    Mantitty in isolation just doesn’t telegraph much. Is there a poofy shirt? tattoos? A tux half-torn off? Werewolf claws? I mean, is it a historical, contemporary, or paranormal? Are there weddings involved (tux)?

    Personally, mantitty doesn’t do much for me, but I am mostly likely (if judging by cover for an impulse buy) to grab something that telegraphs “sexy Regency-era historical” or “sweet traditional Regency”) . And, by way of digression, I totally loved the old Signet Regency covers. They successfully signaled what kind of book they were, and reliably so, and were easy to spy in a shelf populated by other kinds of covers.

  35. Lynn M
    May 18, 2010 @ 09:53:54

    Clearly I’m in a minority as far as bookbuying is concerned based on these facts that man-titty sells more, but I’ll actually avoid buying a man-titty’ed cover. The book has to be highly recommended by many people for me to overcome that aversion (ex: The Spymaster’s Lady with the old cover). I’m old fashioned enough to be embarrassed to be seen reading a book with naked people on the front cover in public, and I don’t want to buy books I feel I have to hide. My Sony E-reader has solved this problem to a degree, but I’d much rather the publishers put content-specific, classy covers on all books. As a writer, I would want a cover that sells. But talk about red-faced when I send copies to my mother and aunties!

  36. Jill Sorenson
    May 18, 2010 @ 10:03:17

    Good rant! I don’t want sameness on the inside or out. Historical romance used to be my go-to subgenre, but I buy it less these days, and try out fewer new authors, maybe because of those uniform covers/themes (aristocracy). How do I know if something is unique and fresh by looking at those tired, falling-off dresses in screaming jewel tones? Not every dress cover is bad, and I like shirtless men as much as the next gal, but I also look for new, edgy, and different.

    I’ve been blessed with fantastic covers for my books. They’re sexy and reflect the actual content, even some setting details. It can be done.

  37. Ros
    May 18, 2010 @ 10:28:03

    For me it’s simple: I would like covers that are produced by people who have actually taken the time to read the books inside. I know this is ridiculously idealistic but seriously, it’s all I want.

  38. Chicklet
    May 18, 2010 @ 10:30:37

    I’m so over the half-naked cover I don’t buy them anymore, regardless of author, story, or positive reviews. I think they just look tacky and desperate. As a result, I’ve expanded my reading into other genres whose publishers don’t think I spend my weekends shoving dollar bills into a Chippendale’s dancer’s G-string.

  39. DS
    May 18, 2010 @ 10:39:54

    @Ellen Fisher: Is that the Wrath of Jan cover? I was dithering about the story. I ended up sending myself a sample and will buy if I can’t stop reading at the end of the sample. It was the review that made me think I might like it, not the cover. That’s my new MO with Kindle books.

    I can delete samples if the book doesn’t work out, but I seem to be stuck with any ebook I buy on Amazon for life– and maybe beyond. I wonder if I should make special provisions in my will for guardianship of my Kindle account?

    I do like the cartoon covers though.

  40. Lisa
    May 18, 2010 @ 10:51:04

    A good cover design can be both sensual/sexual and in context. Why does this have to be mutually exclusive? I understand that publishers are trying to build a readership, but why turn off the existing readers? Science fiction readers expect complex world-building and are turned off by its lack — to not include some clue as to the setting of an SFR novel will leave those readers adrift.

    Also, if there’s a naked torso on a cover I expect a certain steam level and I don’t think I’m alone in that. If there’s an only mildly steamy story with a naked torso cover I’d feel gipped. I read all heat levels, but I want to know what to expect from the beginning.

  41. Maili
    May 18, 2010 @ 10:58:07

    Three things:

    a) I have doubts over Ellen Fisher’s assertion that mantitty sells. It could be true for new-to-romance and casual readers, or for readers with unfamiliar authors. But for the rest? It’s a chicken-and-egg thing. Which comes first – author’s name and cover? Or even, premise and cover?

    Basically, there are too many variables for me to accept Ellen Fisher’s assertion as a blanket fact, but in *her* case, it’s true and it works. I mean, I have heard of Ellen Fisher and reviews of her works have always been generally positive, but as a whole, she’s still unknown to the majority of readers. So the mantitty cover did what the generic wedding cover couldn’t do in this case.

    b) Urban Fantasy Romance as a trend exploded during my four-year absence. (Up to then, I only knew the kind like Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks and such.) And I’m still having problems getting into this genre as I still don’t know which to go for, because of the uniformity to UF covers. So many book covers are similar – heroine in skin-tight clothes or urban clothes with a sword or whatnot – that I can’t be arsed to check every blurb. I wouldn’t buy Meljean Brook’s Demon books if I didn’t know her works. I don’t buy without trusted readers’ recommendations, either. I don’t need recs and covers to guide me if author’s name is familiar to me.

    This applies to other sub-genres including historical, contemporary (or rather, romantic comedy), and such. Actually, I had a look at a list of books I bought last two months and almost all – by authors I’m *not* familiar with – have non-uniform covers.

    c) Having said that, there IS a growing trend of book covers trying to look different from other books. One example, for instance, would be Zoe Archer’s forthcoming book series. She’s posted a cover of her December release today: Stranger. Other covers from her series: Rebel, Scoundrel and Warrior. Whether these would work is something we won’t know, but I love those covers.

    I do think there’s a move to individualise covers, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s designed to attract readers from the mainstream, not romance readers. There seems a trend for this. I think it’s largely due to books like Gail Carriger’s Soulless (fabulous cover, btw) and such. And, sorry to say, when a book series isn’t doing well in the mainstream, pubs would then ‘romancifise’ covers to attract romance readers, which might explain the switch in a book series half-way.

    P.S. would it be predictable of me if I say I loathe, seriously loathe, mantitty covers? Yes, I think so! :D

  42. Anion
    May 18, 2010 @ 11:01:30

    I think we’re all discounting the enormous influence bookstore buyers have on covers. If they don’t like a cover, they don’t order many copies of that book. If they don’t like a cover, they tell the publisher’s sales reps that they “think their customers would like it more with a different cover.”

    So the cover gets changed. It’s really that simple, and I think a large percentage of covers that get changed do so for this reason. If the book isn’t being ordered by bookstores, it won’t be seen or bought by readers.

    The publisher may give this reason or that reason–they don’t want to hurt your feelings or panic you and make you think your book is going to bomb–and I’m not saying that the examples given here were necessarily in that situation (low orders led to cover change).

    But it does happen, and I think a majority of the time when a cover gets changed, that’s why. The bookstores balked, so it was back to the drawing board.

  43. Leslie Jordan Dicken
    May 18, 2010 @ 11:03:29

    Cover does make a difference. I think as humans we are visually inclined. Now I don’t think the man titty cover works for all, but a good cover can evoke different emotions.

    My upcoming historical release at Samhain – A TARNISHED HEART – just got a fantastic cover. I can’t stop looking at it. I’ve had numerous comments on it, even some saying they can’t wait to read the book.

    This same book was published with a different publisher with a hideous cover, which I hated. I had very few sales.

    I do wish publishers wouldn’t wash away the subgenre specific elements on a cover though. That’s just sad.

  44. Nadia Lee
    May 18, 2010 @ 11:52:04

    @Anion: Actually that’s probably true. Chain bookstore buyers have a lot of influence over book covers AND titles. I remember reading a blog post by Tess Gerritsen, and she talked about how chain buyers’ concern made her publisher change the cover and/or title for one of her books.

  45. BevBB
    May 18, 2010 @ 11:57:20

    @Maili:
    c) Having said that, there IS a growing trend of book covers trying to look different from other books. One example, for instance, would be Zoe Archer's forthcoming book series. She's posted a cover of her December release today: Stranger. Other covers from her series: Rebel, Scoundrel and Warrior. Whether these would work is something we won't know, but I love those covers.

    Okay, I’m sitting here ROTFL, not at these covers but at my son’s reaction to them because he’s looking over my shoulder at the moment while impatiently waiting to go somewhere with me. His summation of their genre appeal at first glance with no knowledge of the author and/or genre is:

    STRANGER – steampunk, SF or maybe fantasy set in early 1800s, certainly not romance because she’s paying more attention to that sphere than him

    REBEL – though nothing particularly magical, it’s says fantasy

    SCOUNDREL & WARRIOR – both are more passable as romance because of male model looking pretty and dangerous but could just as easily be as western or Indiana Jones type story — as opposed to the other two with a man and a woman paying little if any attention to each other

    Okay back to me alone. That odd sound you heard was me snorting and choking in the background so that I could type all that. Nope, no hidden codes at all in book covers. None at all. Oye.

    Still want to keep promoting crossovers, Heather? ;-)

  46. Evangeline
    May 18, 2010 @ 11:58:04

    I have a love/hate relationship with book covers. On one hand, when I walk past the new releases table at Borders and see a bunch of bad-ass looking women in leather, I stop to check them out because I know it’s a code for “Urban Fantasy”, On the other hand, I’ve grown impatient with the plethora of new UF series on the market with similar poses/images because they tend to be pale imitations of the books who came before them.

    The same happens with historical romance: tight breeches, jewel-toned dresses, half-naked clinches signal that it is historical romance, but at the same time, I’d like to see more covers like the ones given to Tessa Dare, or even the type of covers given to historical fiction.

    But, as a few have stated, mantitty or even half-naked clinches mean the book isn’t a “sweet” romance–and I freely admit that I roll my eyes at naked torsos and barely-dressed female models, but if a romance novel by an unknown author has scenery or cover models in a sweet pose, I’m less likely to take a second look.

    It’s all about the codes embedded in the typical cover for a romance novel or Urban Fantasy or even thrillers and mystery novels (though mysteries tend to have covers which convey the theme of the series and the tone). I think that a post examining the code of romance novel covers and their history is in order!

  47. Ellen Fisher
    May 18, 2010 @ 11:59:16

    @DS Yes, I’m referring to the Wrath of Jan cover. I wouldn’t call that a cartoon cover; it’s more of a comic cover. The artist does comics (yaoi, mostly), and I love her style. It happens to fit that particular book (spoofy sci-fi romance) very well. I don’t think her style would work nearly so well on my serious time travel romance.

    @Maili- Exactly, for me it’s true that nude dudes sell. I suspect (but don’t know) it may be true for many relatively unknown romance authors trying to make a name for themselves on Kindle. I don’t think that mantitty is necessarily the key to sales for a better-known author– they already have people looking for their books. I don’t, so I need to catch readers’ eyes. I notice that Bella Andre is using similar covers on her Kindle reissues on Amazon, and her sales rankings seem to be pretty good, but again, I wouldn’t assert that’s necessarily due to the covers; it might just be due to name recognition. There are too many variables to make any conclusive blanket statements about cover styles, but for me personally, the mantitty approach seems to be working well.

    @Lane – Thanks, glad you liked the “painted” effect. It’s a simple effect on Photoshop– simple being all I am capable of doing with Photoshop:-). But I do think filters like that often upgrade the look of a cover a bit.

  48. Sweeney
    May 18, 2010 @ 12:02:24

    One of thing I love most about my kindle is that I can read it anywhere and not be mortified of the cover of the book I’m holding! I love romance but I have never felt comfortable about the “man-titty” covers, they’re horrible and they don’t do the genre any favours in getting taken seriously.

  49. SylviaSybil
    May 18, 2010 @ 12:03:25

    Personally, I dislike man titty. Every once in a while I see one that is vaguely interesting, but mostly man titty to me says “This is just another bland book, and we didn’t care enough to put any thought into the cover.”

    I think the tone of the cover is far more important than the content. I loved the cover for Linnea Sinclair’s Rebels and Lovers because it captured the feeling of both romance and sci fi.

    And like others above, I absolutely can’t stand it when publishers switch cover styles halfway through a series. Some of the longrunning series on my shelves have three or even four different styles. It looks ugly and disjointed. One reason I love the Sookie Stackhouse series. Even though they have rereleased the books with movie style covers, they still release the newest books with the old cover style so my set still matches.

  50. Angie
    May 18, 2010 @ 12:07:45

    @msaggie: I think you (unfortunately) have a good point here. So long as huge numbers of readers are still buying their books from a wall rack in a grocery or drug store, which might have books placed on it without regard to any kind of sorting by genre, or from spinner racks, which in my experience are never sorted by genre, a book with SF or fantasy elements prominently on the cover could easily be assumed by readers to be genre-SF or genre-Fantasy, and overlooked by someone looking for genre-Romance.

    A lot of romance readers who do like SF romances or fantasy romances still don’t go for “the hard stuff,” and if they’re assuming from covers on a spinner rack and that anything with a prominent spaceship is only SF and not an SF romance, then that’s bad for the writer.

    Angie

  51. Angie
    May 18, 2010 @ 12:40:31

    I recently went through the cover art process for my upcoming novel (just over a week away, OMG!) and I definitely didn’t want a Two Nekkid Dudes cover. Not that I have anything against nekkid dudes, honestly, but because that sort of cover signals that the book has lots of sex in it, and mine doesn’t. The whole novel has only one and a half sex scenes, and I didn’t want readers picking it up expecting lots and lots of sex based on the cover, then being disappointed and posting disappointed-sounding things on their blogs. ‘Cause that’d be bad.

    I’m very happy with my cover — a very dreamy, fantasy-ish landscape, beautifully done, which draws the viewer in. My book is an urban fantasy, although not in the more modern UFR sense; think more Charles DeLint. Several key scenes take place in parks and similar areas, so the landscape is appropriate, as well as being beautiful.

    If it’s true that nekkid dudes is what sells, though, especially for lesser known writers (I’ve published a number of shorter stories, but I’m still a minnow in this particular pond) then I might be out of luck, sales-wise. Which would suck just as much as the above disappointed blog posts. :/

    I suppose I’ll find out in the next few months.

    Angie

  52. Jessa Slade
    May 18, 2010 @ 12:46:32

    A friend said her editor told her not to use a bird species name in her title because a bookseller had said that bird titles don’t sell. After we listed half a dozen huge sellers with birds in the title, we just shook our heads. There are so many decisions we will never understand made by people we will never know. It’s crazy-making.

  53. Brandy
    May 18, 2010 @ 12:58:26

    I don’t like man-titty on covers. (And cringed typing that.) I like covers than give some context to the story inside. If it’s a SFR, there should be something science fiction-y on the cover. If not, and the blurb isn’t clear, we’re talking false advertising. I get that the publishers are trying to draw in the romance readers of these markets, however they’re going to alienate the readers who originally would have bought them because of the SF aspect.
    As for plain romance with half naked guys on the front? No thank you.

  54. Tabby
    May 18, 2010 @ 14:41:41

    I don’t particularly like the “man titty” covers but I definitely shop by them. Just using the examples given I would skip right over the Darkscape cover never guessing that it’s SFR and might interest me. The same thing for Isn’t It Romantic with the original cover–that looks like Inspirational Romance to me. Put a naked guy on the cover and I’ll know it’s a romance and I’ll take a second to read the blurb to see if it’ll interest me.

    For a real life example for YEARS I didn’t read the Sookie Stackhouse books despite the rave reviews and recommendations because the covers have that whimsical look–put the typical UF cover on them and I would have picked them up in a heart beat. I know that’s true because I didn’t hesitate buying Patricia Brigg’s series once I heard about them because they had the typical (if unusually great, imo) UF covers. Another author I put off reading despite the recommendations was Kresley Cole because going only by her original covers I thought her books were historical and didn’t even bother reading the blurbs! I didn’t realize it at the time (I’m still not conscious of it as I’m shopping now) but I’ve definitely been conditioned to buy based on the “homogenized” covers.

    Now, if I bought one of those books and you asked me which cover I’d prefer my answer would almost always be the ones without the typical genre covers–they’re more interesting and often are just better. Especially once you’ve already read the book and can pick out the cover details that match the story. But if I was a new romance author without a fan base I’d definitely want a man titty cover–no matter how embarrassing.

  55. Grace
    May 18, 2010 @ 14:52:04

    In general I’m thoroughly sick of the mantitty. When it first came out, I liked it. Thought it was different and eye-catching. However, God and every publisher is sticking it on a cover, so that books sort of blur together in a sea of waxed pectorals. It may be a good branding model, but it’s tough going for a new or lesser known author to stand out in the crowd.

    I personally like covers that have some context to the story. If I have to see the mantitty, I don’t get why it can’t be combined with a visual element that reflects that context. A good example is the book Love in the Time of Dragons. We have the requisite (and dull) mantitty, but the dragon tattoo on the arm and shoulder is both eye-catching, consistent with the title, offers a hint to the story and makes the homogenous mantitty not so boring.

    Most of the mantitty cover art I see these days from both small and large publishers is the typical stock photo bought from IStock or Dreamstime, tweaked with a few basic Photoshop options and slapped on the cover with a Palantine font. If there was a lot of time and effort put into it, I can’t tell by the end result.

    Cover art will not influence me as to what I will buy…but, cover art will influence me as to what I won’t buy. The cover has to work to stand out in the crowd, make me pause at the browse button and click on the thumbnail or pull it off the shelf for a longer look at back blurb and a few pages. A homogenous cover will guarantee I’ll pass right over it for something that will catch my eye.

    I don’t have an issue with a mainstream look. I just wonder sometimes if publishers think mainstream means looking exactly like the other 9,000 covers out there.

  56. MarnieColette
    May 18, 2010 @ 14:52:05

    This depresses me. I like Ms. Sinclair and Ms. Andersen’s covers. I think they do a great job of being hot, sexy and informative in a subtle way. I want my SFR to let me know its SF. I think mainstreaming covers is detrimental to the books. The cover elements draw me to the stories based on my likes and dislikes when they all look the same I have no clue what its about.

    I also get tired of the same guy on all the covers… please my blonde hero isn’t a brown haired man find me a blonde.

    You want to mainstream the look fine but subtly keep the elements that reflect the subgenre the story falls into… if not you will be alienating the people that devour these stories – the ones that are religiously loyal buyers.

  57. Lisa
    May 18, 2010 @ 14:57:55

    @Tabby: “Just using the examples given I would skip right over the Darkscape cover never guessing that it's SFR and might interest me.”

    This really floored me because that cover definitely says Science Fiction to me. At the very least it says Science Fantasy — the crystal did make me wonder. If there had been a spaceship in the background though, I’d have no question (but this story may not have a spaceship, not all SF does). The image that struck me was how similar the hero’s uniform was to those worn in the Babylon 5 series.

    It just goes to show how subjective this all is, but the cues to me that it’s SFR are that there’s a man and a woman turned toward each other, he’s in a B5 uniform, and she’s levitating a crystal. This more casual presentation of the couple clinch seems perfect for the tone of most of the SFR I’ve read (unless it’s erotica, then the torso seems required).

  58. Ridley
    May 18, 2010 @ 15:18:51

    I’ve always said I disliked man-titty covers, but, I want to buy that Jaci Burton football player book purely based on the cover.

    I don’t like football, I’ve never read that author before AND I don’t even like that body type generally, but I want that one, just because of the cover.

    So, clearly, there’s something subliminal at work here and my stated preferences don’t seem to count for anything. I want to lick that man’s torso, ergo, I will buy the book.

    Hope it’s good.

  59. Sandy James
    May 18, 2010 @ 16:03:44

    Covers clearly go in trends, and manboobs are in right now. Look at urban fantasy with a strong female heroine — they’re all crouching Buffy clones. Chick lit covers all have their Sex in the City vibe. We’re just riding the bare-chested wave until the next trend rolls in.

  60. Susan/DC
    May 18, 2010 @ 17:21:35

    In general I'm thoroughly sick of the mantitty. When it first came out, I liked it. Thought it was different and eye-catching. However, God and every publisher is sticking it on a cover, so that books sort of blur together in a sea of waxed pectorals. It may be a good branding model, but it's tough going for a new or lesser known author to stand out in the crowd.

    Exactly. I remember buying an anthology years ago with a gorgeous male torso on the cover in part because of aforesaid torso. But now, when every third book has a clone of that cover, it no longer makes me stop and pull the book off the shelf. In fact, I recently bought a book precisely because both hero and heroine were fully dressed with all apparel appropriately situated.

  61. angryoldfatman
    May 18, 2010 @ 17:23:12

    “Man-titty”. LOL!

    Now I’m second-guessing all the covers I’ve done for my wife’s novels, especially Griffin’s Law. It doesn’t help that I’m chromosomally-challenged with that pesky “Y” one stuck in there, which makes me shy away from man-titties.

    My wife and I always clash on covers. She wants to put the entire book in pictoral form on the cover, while I try to keep it as simple as possible to make it a less onerous task (and to keep costs down… even stock photos can be pricey!).

    Now I not only have to think about pictoral content, but pectoral as well. If sales don’t pick up for the aforementioned Griffin’s, this blog entry has given me the idea to insert some mantits and see how things go.

    Thanks much!

  62. BevBB
    May 18, 2010 @ 17:48:05

    @Sandy James: Covers clearly go in trends, and manboobs are in right now. Look at urban fantasy with a strong female heroine -‘ they're all crouching Buffy clones. Chick lit covers all have their Sex in the City vibe. We're just riding the bare-chested wave until the next trend rolls in.

    Some wave. Exactly how long has it been going on?

    The earliest ones I can remember are Dara Joy’s Rejar (1997) & Mine to Take (1998). Those two covers alone caused quite a sensation at the time, never mind the books they were on. Ten Nights of Love: Dara Joy

    Can anyone think of any “man-titty” romance covers that predate those? Cause I’m drawing a blank if there were. That would still make it going on a baker’s dozen year wave, though. So, I’m thinking that’s less a fad and more a mindset, at this point.

    Whose, is the real question. ;-)

  63. Sandy James
    May 18, 2010 @ 18:13:19

    @BevBB: Agreed that they’ve always been around. There’s nothing new under the sun. Just seems like they’re everywhere right now — kinda like Fabio in the late 80s and early 90s. There are still Fabio-esque covers, but they’ve died down considerably over the years. I expect manboobs will do the same. :)

  64. Heather Massey
    May 18, 2010 @ 18:57:46

    Thanks for reading, everyone, and for all of your wonderful insights.

    Clearly, this is an issue involving multiple factors, and some of them become more prominent depending on the time period/culture.

    From reading the comments here, the dominant ones seem to be the role of booksellers, the economy, the need to increase sales, and the importance of targeting romance readers.

    I don't think publishers make random decisions when it comes to covers.

    I agree, and it's why I wanted to acknowledge the role of both reader expectations as well as the economy. If publishing were booming, would man titty be so much of a trend, or would publishers feel they could take more risks?

    Are blondes as bad for book sales

    Dark and dangerous sells better, it seems.

    A little context subtly integrated into the scene

    I'd like to think that's not too much to ask!

    We are the minority. That's the reality

    Very true.

    I wonder if folks who dislike sf/f feel cheated if they pick up the standard headless hottie and end up with sf/f?

    I worry about readers displacing their frustration onto the subgenre itself as a result of obscured content, and deciding to swear off it as a result.

    I love SF/F romances but I would never, ever try to trick someone into reading them.

    @Lynne Connolly Interesting. So you think it's a supply and demand issue? Do you think it will get worse (the lack of specific historical images) as time passes? Kind of a scary thought, actually.

    I also wonder if it's the other extreme of the clinch girl covers from the days.

    Nadia Lee, that's a very good point. Maybe we'll see a bunch of trends that eroticize various parts of the body once the man titty is exhausted. Elbows, knees, ankles-‘nothing will be safe, LOL!

    If man tit and more generic covers make them more money…then I understand.

    Bianca, I understand, too, which is why I'm surprised we don't see even more of them. Or maybe they're the majority already?

    If authors and publishers need them to stay viable when the economy is not so great, then power to them. Still, publishers across the board have not committed to the exclusive use of man titty/generic covers. Makes me wonder why.

    Those covers begin to run together and I can't believe that is good either.

    Exactly. I can easily tell the difference between historicals and contemporaries and paranormals. Those distinctions are so helpful when browsing, either online or off. I believe book covers can convey “romance” without losing individual subgenre identity.

    I mean think about it, how can anyone of them jump off the shelf at the reader if they're all basically the same image?

    readers are struck with an aisle full of similar covers and find it frustrating to pick out one book they're confident they'll love.

    @BevBB & Kimber An Oh, I thought you both knew-‘publishers don't want you to distinguish between books-‘you're supposed to buy them all, LOL!

    Seriously, your observations tell me it's good to have balance.

    Still want to keep promoting crossovers, Heather? ;-)

    Absolutely! Analyzing everything is half the fun.

    A good cover design can be both sensual/sexual and in context. Why does this have to be mutually exclusive?

    THAT.

    I do wish publishers wouldn't wash away the subgenre specific elements on a cover though. That's just sad.

    Which is why it will be interesting over the next decade to see if the scrubbing lessens as profits increase. Fingers crossed that profits will increase, anyway.

    I think that a post examining the code of romance novel covers and their history is in order!

    Evangeline, I second your idea!

    A lot of romance readers who do like SF romances or fantasy romances still don't go for “the hard stuff,” and if they're assuming from covers on a spinner rack and that anything with a prominent spaceship is only SF and not an SF romance, then that's bad for the writer.

    I agree, and I'm definitely not advocating for a hardcore SF cover. At this point, I'll settle for a starry background, LOL!

    Incidentally, many SF covers feature spaceships even if they aren't integral to the story. Maybe there's some negative carryover effect from that. I imagine SF is harder to pin down in terms of covers than even romance.

    So, I'm thinking that's less a fad and more a mindset, at this point.

    Whose, is the real question. ;-)

    Whoa. Food for thought. (Or maybe another rant? ;))

  65. Angie
    May 18, 2010 @ 19:21:53

    @Heather Massey: Incidentally, many SF covers feature spaceships even if they aren't integral to the story. Maybe there's some negative carryover effect from that. I imagine SF is harder to pin down in terms of covers than even romance.

    Very true, and there are dragons on the covers of fantasy books which have no dragons in the story. SF/F has its own cover issues, and always has. There’s even a song about it, which you might get a kick out of:

    Science Fiction & Fantasy RT
    Category 46, Topic 14
    Message 457 Thu Dec 19, 1996
    M.FLYNN1 [Himself] at 21:00 EST

    There’s a bimbo on the cover of my book.
    There’s a bimbo on the cover of my book.
    She is dumb and she is sexy.
    She is nowhere in the text. She
    Is a bimbo on the cover of my book.

    There’s white male on the cover of my book.
    There’s a white male on the cover of my book.
    Though the hero_ine_ is black,
    With Art that cuts no slack,
    So there’s a white male on the cover of my book.

    There’s a monster on the cover of my book.
    There’s a monster on the cover of my book.
    He is mean and he is hairy,
    Though the stories aren’t that scary,
    There’s a monster on the cover of my book.

    There are death rays on the cover of my book.
    There are death rays on the cover of my book.
    It’s a philosophical story
    But the cover must be gory,
    So there’s death rays on the cover of my book.

    There’s a spaceship on the cover of my book.
    There’s a spaceship on the cover of my book.
    The connections rather iffy;
    But if the story’s sci-fi [skiffy]
    There’ll be space ships on the cover of my book.

    I have learned that sundry filkers have been singing this song without
    attribution. It appeared in ANALOG and is copyrighted. Filkers have
    added at least one more verse to placate the elves and fairies
    crowd.

    There’s a dragon on the cover of my book.
    There’s a dragon on the cover of my book.
    He is green and he is scaly.
    He is nowhere in the tale. He
    Is a dragon on the cover of my book.

    The tune to which all this is sung, I leave as an exercise for the reader.

    ————

    This was posted on GEnie almost fifteen years ago, but the song is older than that. I don’t when M.Flynn wrote it, but it’s gone around for a while.

    Anyway [cough] it’s definitely not just the romance genre that has this problem. :)

    Angie

  66. Suze
    May 18, 2010 @ 20:21:18

    Um, I like mantitty.

    When Fabio first started gracing Johanna Lindsey’s covers, they become MUCH more interesting. Before him, she always had these step-backs with weedy, odd-looking men inside. Fabio looked as if he could actually LIFT his, erm, sword.

    The first headless man-torso cover I can remember is Susan Johnson’s Outlaw in 1993. (Had to google that.) It was wonderful–healthy, symmetrical, nice body with no face to interfere with the fantasy.

    It has become a code, and I rely on that code. It’s a nice idea to have Penguin Classic covers for everything so that the story alone sells the book, but who has the time to read EVERY blurb, and give EVERY book the 15-page test? Not me, I tells ya.

    Now that I’ve gone digital, I’m finding that I have trouble remember whether I’ve read a book, much less whether I’ve enjoyed it, because I don’t have the cover as a colourful visual aid.

  67. BevBB
    May 18, 2010 @ 20:23:59

    @Sandy James: Agreed that they've always been around. There's nothing new under the sun.

    Well, they (male-focused covers) haven’t exactly always been around. I mean there was a time when romances pretty much had either a female or a couple on the cover. (Ten Nights of Love: Cover Gallery) Then around the mid-1990s, almost regardless of sub-genre, the covers began to change and the focus began to shift to the men.

    A lot. ;-)

  68. ehoyden
    May 18, 2010 @ 20:38:22

    Contextual covers will draw me to a book while in a bookstore. Unfortunately I haven't been drawn to a new author while in a bookstore in a long time due to the gratuitous man titty with woman in prom dress covers I keep seeing cranked out. Boring. I won't even pick it up to read the back blurb unless I've read the author is a known quantity to me.

    While book shopping on the internet, I don't care much about the covers since I've already checked out the author's books on review sites before I buy. But once I get the PB shipped to me, I'm disappointed if it's another recycled man titty cover. Ebook covers don't matter a whole lot to me right now since I see the cover once when I open it. Paperbacks, I see the covers all the time, and less man titty, the better.

    Contextual covers will get me to buy a book on impulse in a store. It would draw me to new authors. Not a man titty cover. That tells me nothing about the book itself other than it's a romance.

    Shouldn't the cover be a simple backdrop of the story and not just a generic romance icon that has become The Man-Titty?

  69. Moriah Jovan
    May 18, 2010 @ 22:18:18

    @angryoldfatman:

    Dude, I just bought a copy in spite of your Palatino. Naughty professors rule! (Don’t Palatino again, though!) ;)

  70. MaryK
    May 18, 2010 @ 23:38:12

    @BevBB @Maili: So what does Zoe Archer write? I’ve heard her name, but don’t remember what the context was. I’d probably check out the backs of Rebel and Stranger because they’re interesting covers and I’m a fairly eclectic reader. I’d expect them to be some kind of fantasy adventure. I wouldn’t give the other two a second glance – Men’s Adventure, maybe?

    BTW, I don’t care for either of the Fisher covers. The first says Fiction (maybe even Women’s Fiction) and the second doesn’t say much of anything to me.

    As much as I think man-titty covers do no justice to some of the really great Romances they get stuck on, at least you can tell they’re Romances. When you’ve got people who don’t know Nicholas Sparks from Lisa Kleypas or Danielle Steel from Anne Stuart throwing around the term “Romance”, it’s nice to have visual cues – as long as they’re reliable of course.

  71. Write Thing Blogsplosion #2 | The Write Thing
    May 19, 2010 @ 04:49:36

    […] reader?  How many sexy, galf-naked bodies do you like on your covers?  Dear Author’s got a fine discussion on the […]

  72. BevBB
    May 19, 2010 @ 07:10:52

    You can check them out @ Zoe Archer’s site and find out. ;-) Those four books seem to be part of a group called The Blades of the Rose that have their own page(s) and descriptions. I think my best tag from the descriptions would be historical adventure romance with a bit of fantasy tossed in for good measure which means I’m definitely going to be checking them out. Thanks for the heads up, Maili. ;-)

  73. Kathleen Dienne
    May 19, 2010 @ 08:15:20

    The thing to remember in these conversations is that most people aren’t… us. The people who care enough to have this conversation, to pay enough attention to publishing to recognize trends and subliminal code, we’re by definition different from the mainstream reader.

    With e-reading, being embarrassed being seen in public with a cover is a thing of the past, so going with something that says “hello, hot women’s fantasy inside” is even more important than ever.

  74. BevBB
    May 19, 2010 @ 08:22:01

    When Fabio first started gracing Johanna Lindsey's covers, they become MUCH more interesting. Before him, she always had these step-backs with weedy, odd-looking men inside. Fabio looked as if he could actually LIFT his, erm, sword.

    Oh, yeah, Fabio. I wasn’t going to say any more and then I remembered this comment. I don’t have any Lindsey books, but I checked in The Look of Love and it one of his early covers was her Hearts Aflame in 1987 – a couple with clothes, although she’s losing hers at the top. ;-) But it also says he’d done 300 by the early 1990s. Wonder how many of those were of him alone and/or open shirt/shirtless?

    Just curious. Research. Really. :-D

    The first headless man-torso cover I can remember is Susan Johnson's Outlaw in 1993. (Had to google that.) It was wonderful-healthy, symmetrical, nice body with no face to interfere with the fantasy.

    You know, I have a true love/hate thing with the headless torso craze. It can be artistically appealing. It can also be just wrong. Very, very wrong. Almost downright creepy. I mean I’m just not sure having a sexy six-pack ab makes up for not having a head sometimes. Seriously.

    See, that’s where context comes in. Even sensuality and erotica needs context, you know. And sometimes that’s the face, not the body.

  75. Persephone Green
    May 19, 2010 @ 11:13:04

    I HATE man-titty covers AND wedding covers. AUGH. Then again, I don’t like contemporaries, either, so take that as you will.

    I would read so many more romance novels if they didn’t have romance novel covers.

    Just to be clear, though, I ALSO despise 60s, 70s, and 80s looking sci-fi and fantasy covers. if you’re going to get busy with fantasy art, make it dark and gothic, soft-light, or art nouveau. Otherwise, Keep It Simple, Stupid.

    Context is great; simplicity and a non-embarrassing cover with no half-naked people is greater. Even if no one but me ever sees the cover, I STILL don’t want half-naked people on it. That’s what the imagination is for, editors!

  76. Vicky Dreiling
    May 19, 2010 @ 12:29:52

    What makes me crazy are the cut-off heads. I keep thinking of Anne Boleynn – LOL!
    I wonder if readers prefer heroine only, hero only or hero plus heroine covers?

  77. Angie
    May 19, 2010 @ 12:36:11

    Strangely enough, I’ve never had a problem with the headless torsos, dressed or not. [shrug] It never looked like a person without a head to me; it’s just photo cropping. And I’d rather have a cover picture of a headless torso, than a torso with a head which looks nothing like the character described inside the book.

    Everyone complaining that most of the blond men in romance books are depicted as dark-haired on the covers, wouldn’t it be better for them not to show the head at all, then, so you can imagine the head/face however you like? I never got the whole OMG Headless! thing. [ponder]

    Angie

  78. Nat
    May 19, 2010 @ 12:36:51

    @ 73: Art nouveau fantasy covers?! What?!

  79. Heather Massey
    May 19, 2010 @ 17:50:37

    Angie, that is priceless. It sure puts things in perspective. And again, it makes me wonder if the cover, in addition to providing codes, also serves as fantasy fodder, even if it’s different from the story–regardless of genre. Thanks for sharing.

  80. angryoldfatman
    May 19, 2010 @ 18:59:04

    @Moriah Jovan: First off, thanks for the purchase! We greatly appreciate any and all customers/readers we get, and we hope you enjoy reading the book as much as Mary Anne enjoyed writing it.

    Secondly, that’s right, go ahead, mess with me about the Palatino. Next time, I might have to jump ugly and pull out Trajan.

    ;D

  81. Suze
    May 19, 2010 @ 19:23:34

    Strangely enough, I've never had a problem with the headless torsos, dressed or not. [shrug] It never looked like a person without a head to me; it's just photo cropping.

    The sad truth is, most of the photos I take turn out with the heads cut off, so I never really noticed the headless torso as being anything unusual.

  82. Zoe Archer
    May 19, 2010 @ 19:35:51

    @MaryK: Hi Mary! Dropping out of lurk to say that my Blades of the Rose series is definitely romance. I’ve been likening it to Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider–fun books with lots of action, some magical elements, and a hot romance at the center of each book.

    I really love the covers the art department has come up with for the series. They definitely stand out and let readers know that they are in for a very different romance.

  83. MaryK
    May 19, 2010 @ 19:54:46

    @Zoe Archer: Thanks! I’ll definitely check them out.

  84. DS
    May 20, 2010 @ 05:52:14

    @BevBB: There was an early cover scandal with one of Lindsey’s books. There was a cover showing the figures in profile and while the woman was wearing a pseudo-medieval dress and kneeling front of him (covering that bit with her unripped bodice), the guy was clearly naked. In fact you could see his butt cheek– oh, horrors! In later cover states the publisher– Avon?– put a big red dot over the offending part.

    Ok, I found it. Tender Is the Storm (1985)and the cover can be found on http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/l/johanna-lindsey/tender-is-storm.htm

    But this is the UK cover I think– looks like it was reworked to bring the figures closer and plant a shrub behind him to provide just a hint of cover.

  85. Nikki
    May 20, 2010 @ 06:04:48

    @Lisa:

    @Tabby: “Just using the examples given I would skip right over the Darkscape cover never guessing that it's SFR and might interest me.”

    This really floored me because that cover definitely says Science Fiction to me. At the very least it says Science Fantasy -‘ the crystal did make me wonder. If there had been a spaceship in the background though, I'd have no question (but this story may not have a spaceship, not all SF does). The image that struck me was how similar the hero's uniform was to those worn in the Babylon 5 series.

    It just goes to show how subjective this all is, but the cues to me that it's SFR are that there's a man and a woman turned toward each other, he's in a B5 uniform, and she's levitating a crystal. This more casual presentation of the couple clinch seems perfect for the tone of most of the SFR I've read (unless it's erotica, then the torso seems required).

    I can’t speak for Tabby, but it wasn’t the SF part of SFR that failed to stand out on the Darkscape cover. Looking at that cover, I would not have assumed a romantic undertone from the man and woman simply angled toward each other on the cover. Even if I came across the book in the Romance section of a book store, I would wonder if it was mis-shelved from Sci-Fi. I think if the woman had been leaning her head on the man’s chest, or if the two people had been looking at each other lovingly, then the cover would have more of a romance vibe. It’s a shame that they plan to remove some SF elements (because those SF elements would draw me in if I were the books presumed audience–as a reader of urban fantasy, I definitely rely on standard visual cues for that genre when deciding to pick up a book and read the back cover blurb), but I hope they make the romance elements more clear with the redesign.

  86. BevBB
    May 20, 2010 @ 09:42:19

    @DS: Oh… my… g-d. That came out in 1985?!? I think my eyes just bugged out, not because of the picture itself but because of the date. How have I not heard about this one before now? o.O

    And they think that itty-bitty little shrub covers enough to make a difference, content-wise? I don’t think so. People are truly weird. ;-)

    Okay, now that I’ve collected my thoughts after that jaw-dropper – somewhat – I do have the presence of mind to wonder what in the world the context of that was supposed to be. Right. ROTFL!

  87. Maili
    May 20, 2010 @ 11:14:20

    @DS: There’s a similar cover around that time with h/h completely naked in bed, using shadows to cover some certain areas. I think it was a J Lindsey book (from the Viking series?). But yeah, my eyes were pretty much a pair of saucers when I saw this cover. And a cat-like grin. (What can I say? I was roughly 13.)

    Frankly, Lindsey’s old covers were the biggest draw during my youth. Not because of the nakedness, but because the unusual perspectives, like <a href="http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/l/johanna-lindsey/fires-of-winter.htm“>Fires of Winter. Some were quite over the top (Super long legs! Floor-length hair! Long hair as a flying pirate flag!), true, but this artist’s works were usually eye-catchers.

    @MaryK: Sorry for arriving too late to answer your question. It seems sorted now. :D Yes, I agree. I have to admit I refused to read Laura Kinsale’s Flowers From the Storm (the one with Fabio) and Anne Stuart’s historical (the one with a bad permed hair) for a long time. Shallow, true, but I used to view a book as a complete package: the story and the cover. I was paying for both. I got over this but I admit, now and then, this old habit slips back. I try not to, though.

  88. Maili
    May 20, 2010 @ 11:20:09

    @Lisa: I have to say, the Darkscape cover had me believing it was a novelisation of a SF TV drama series.

  89. Lynne Connolly
    May 20, 2010 @ 11:43:32

    @Heather Massey: I do hope not. If we make it clear that we’d like historical romances to look historical, then maybe they’ll do more poses. But with the state of historicals as they are right now, the covers tend to reflect what’s inside.

  90. Lisa
    May 20, 2010 @ 11:44:23

    @Maili: Now that it’s been pointed out to me I see now why some wouldn’t think Darkscape was a Romance. However, I don’t think the typical clinch couple works as well for SFR as it does for other types of Romance. Because of a limited amount of space in a story and because the world-building has to compete for that space with the love story there’s a sliding scale of emphasis. I imagine the same is probably true for Romantic Suspense. An SFR cover with a couple actually embracing will likely garner more Romance readers than Science Fiction readers and vice versa. This is probably what Heather was getting at with the example of the redux of Linnea Sinclair’s covers.

    For instance, compare the differences between the Games of Command covers.

    I understand that the goal is to go where the money is and that’s Romance readers, but if all covers look the same whether it’s depicting an Historical, Romantic Suspense, PNR, or SFR then the cover becomes useless and pointless. As a designer I know there are subtle visual cues that will engage a reader to make certain assumptions and it seems that taking advantage of this — instead of bucking against it with one common denominator — serves everyone.

    I also wonder if the homogenization of Romance book covers lends credence to the inane idea that all Romances are the same.

  91. MaryK
    May 20, 2010 @ 12:28:47

    @Lisa:

    Now that it's been pointed out to me I see now why some wouldn't think Darkscape was a Romance. …
    As a designer I know there are subtle visual cues that will engage a reader to make certain assumptions

    Ah, you’re a designer! That could make quite a bit of difference you know. People who are more artistically inclined may pick up on subtle cues, whereas some of us need a more emphatic “This is Romance” signal.

    Amazon “recommended” Darkscape to me but I didn’t pay any attention to it. Like Maili, I got a distinct SF novelization vibe from it. Then I saw a post about it, probably at The Galaxy Express, and realized it was Romance. A crisp, new copy is now sitting on top of my TBR pile.

  92. BevBB
    May 20, 2010 @ 12:50:41

    @Maili: I hadn’t actually realized how outrageous hers were for the time. ;-)

    Unless someone can find an author that predates her, I’m thinking Lindsey may win the prize for first “bare” heroes – period – and possibly even for heroes alone on her covers. The only other possibility I can think of would be to search for some of the authors normally known to write “bodice-rippers” in the seventies and see what covers they had then. Actually finding them might be the problem, though.

  93. Maili
    May 20, 2010 @ 14:36:47

    @Lisa: I agree with everything you say. Especially this bit: “I also wonder if the homogenization of Romance book covers lends credence to the inane idea that all Romances are the same.”

    That’s actually the problem I’m having with UFR at the moment. I’m largely new to this genre and because of so many similar covers I don’t know where to start, so I mostly don’t bother with it.

    @BevBB: Well, it depends. In the romance genre, probably, but I have seen similar covers that pre-date the Lindsey covers, but outside the Rom genre.
    I’m thinking of those 1950s ‘sex & scandal’ paperbacks – if we’re talking about naked men – and some of Jeff Jones’s works (The Go-Between, for example, which has a naked couple making out). For example: Gay on the Range, such as this one Lights Out, Little Hustler. But I think these were published underground?, which I suppose shouldn’t be counted.
    It’ll be interesting to research some more to see if the Lindsey covers were truly innovative in history of the Rom genre.

  94. BevBB
    May 20, 2010 @ 23:30:54

    @Maili: I keep forgetting you’re in Britain, too. Not sure how much difference that makes in the cover timelines. Some of them carry over, but some of them definitely don’t.

  95. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Here, linkity, linkity, linkity…
    May 21, 2010 @ 01:03:18

    […] cover rant posted at Dear […]

  96. Maili
    May 21, 2010 @ 03:18:32

    @BevBB: Well, actually, I don’t think I’d ever seen a British romance – or even, literary – cover having that kind of art cover. :D Romance-wise, it’s one of those things that instantly identifies it as American.

  97. XandraG
    May 21, 2010 @ 10:12:13

    Blonde Guys Are Evil…didn’t you guys get the memo? (Says the writer with a thing for blonde heroes in SF and Fantasy–thank you Rutger Hauer and Sting).

    I would have passed right over Jess Granger’s excellent Beyond The Rain because it looked like Yet Another Mantit Cover to me. Good thing I won it in a DA contest, because I discovered a great new author.

    Just as “half-dressed heroine” became code for “on-page sex,” manscaping has now become code for “explicit, on-page sex.” And “leather low-riders+tramp-stamp” is code for UF.

    What we don’t have for SFR is its own code. Many of us aren’t keen on the mantit covers, but without some other iconic image to speak to the lizard-brain that prompts “Buy Me Now!” without the intervention of the rational mind, we don’t have anything with which to go to the Art & Marketing Department. and unfortunately, spaceships don’t have tits.

    Fantasy has Boris Vallejo & Frank Frazetta, and for awhile there, all the fantasy covers had keys and elements of Vallejo and Frazetta, whether or not they were actually painted by either artist. SFR needs either a signature style or some icon with which to replace or augment the existing ones.

  98. BevBB
    May 21, 2010 @ 10:47:38

    Well, the whole “headless” thing was bugging me. And, no, that wasn’t a gutter comment. Really. ;-)

    It’s just that I couldn’t think of an example of a cover that I liked and it was nagging at me at the back of my mind that there were some recent examples. Then it hit me. I well remember my reaction when Ghost Hunter first came out. Yummy. Hey, I can do shallow with the best of them at times. ;-)

    But the point in terms of (Jayne Castle’s most recent lost colony Harmony SFR covers) is that he’s not entirely shirtless, yet it’s still in context to the story. It’s otherworldly in tone but he doesn’t over-power the background image by being a headless torso. There can actually be a background image to be in context.

    And that’s what I mean about the headless craze sometimes not even making marketing sense to me. In order for it to work, the body literally has to take up almost the entire cover. How much room is left for other stuff in terms of clues and coded images for the reader to pick up on? Particularly if the person is naked?

    It is literally about photographic perspective & image composition.

  99. DS
    May 21, 2010 @ 11:16:54

    @Maili: Fires of Winter– here it is: http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/l/johanna-lindsey/fires-of-winter.htm (ETA: Sorry, just glanced over your post and didn’t realize you already had the link) Then http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/l/johanna-lindsey/brave-wild-wind.htm where he is naked, she is in some romance version of wet t-shirt, and the tide is coming in without them apparently noticing. But my favorite is http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/l/johanna-lindsey/when-love-awaits.htm Will you look at that huge sword! Also the heroine has this preternaturally long neck.

    Agree on the Gray cover. When I first saw it I thought it was some sort of television franchise book. Doesn’t help that I immediately conflated “Darkscape” with “Farscape”

  100. Chelsea
    May 21, 2010 @ 13:30:36

    When I’m looking for a new author, I am totally guilty of shopping based on the cover. For example, I’m in the mood for a good historical, I see a cover with a woman in an enormous read satin ballgown–bingo. There’s a lot of other factors that go into a final purchasing decision, but the cover is the first step. I want something visually appealing, with lots of context clues. And theres nothing better then reading the book and discovering WHY there was a sword or spaceship or dragon on the cover. I really appreciate that extra mile it takes to produce quality covers.

  101. Moriah Jovan
    May 21, 2010 @ 13:36:33

    @DS: You and Maili are giving me awesome teenage flashbacks. Love those covers. *sigh*

  102. Susan Macatee
    May 21, 2010 @ 16:53:50

    I don’t get it! While I like to see images on the cover that reflect what the story’s about, I don’t buy a book because of it’s cover! It’s the blurb and maybe an excerpt that will catch my eye and entice me to buy. But I am tired of seeing all these covers showing male chests. They’re almost as bad as those old cliche clinch covers with the man’s unbuttoned shirt and the woman’s bosom spilling out of her top.

  103. Heather Massey
    May 22, 2010 @ 07:03:29

    @DS Wow, that’s quite a cover! Thanks for sharing. But see, at least I can identify it as a historical.

    And theres nothing better then reading the book and discovering WHY there was a sword or spaceship or dragon on the cover.

    Chelsea, I like that aspect too, when I can get it!

    and unfortunately, spaceships don't have tits.

    Don’t despair! There is a precedent! Check out this image of spaceship “Nell” from Roger Corman’s BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS.

    I can see it now–rows upon rows of boudacious spaceship bosoms will cause SFR to fly off the shelves!

    Seriously, I agree about the icon issue. With quite a few to choose from, it’s hard to agree what’s best. Perhaps a signature shot composition in addition to a common motif…?

  104. Angie
    May 22, 2010 @ 17:18:28

    @Heather Massey: Seriously, I agree about the icon issue. With quite a few to choose from, it's hard to agree what's best. Perhaps a signature shot composition in addition to a common motif…?

    Like the gold pocket watch Every Single timetravel romance had on its cover, and usually on its spine as well, back when they were popular. :)

    Angie

  105. The Book Smugglers » Blog Archive » Smugglivus 2010 Guest Blogger: Heather Massey of The Galaxy Express
    Dec 26, 2010 @ 13:03:26

    […] and elsewhere, there were many great discussions about science fiction romance in 2010, from covers to zoomorphism to the taboo nature of romance in SF to steampunk romance and even more steampunk […]

  106. Stephen Mcfatherson
    Mar 31, 2011 @ 13:06:40

    I absolutely feel bad for girls that have to suffer those unpleasant diets or intense exercise sessions to have a flat, attractive bellies. It’s great for boys that if we need muscle mass we’re going to shed our extra fat automatically, as an upkeep cost of your muscle mass. What I am saying is I’m happy I’m a guy.

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