Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Romance Needs a Makeover

dus-dis-match-my-complxshun.jpg
moar funny pictures

Romance is an easy target for dismissal by critics, both insiders and outsiders alike. Respect that the genre deserves isn’t being earned despite the tremendous buying power that the genre readers command. Science fiction and mysteries are more honored and more respectable by mainstream press and critics.

This past summers brou ha ha over the costume arose out the anger of authors such as Nora Roberts and Jennifer Crusie at how the costume was all that the press could talk about and how it diminishes the genre as a serious concern.

There have been alot of reasons tossed around as to why the romance genre does not get respect: It’s written by women. It’s about love. It features the a happy ending. It’s formulaic. It’s about sex.

The problem that I see is much more cosmetic. It’s the titles, the covers, and the whole package that is put out there for everyone to see. With the majority of non romance readers and with the common misconception about what romance actually is (i.e., whenever LKH is referred to as a paranormal romance author, I cringe and not just because I think LKH’s writing has totally gone in the shitter, but because that is not what romance is – group orgies and woman with unlimited power).

I don’t think the genre will be taken seriously until there is a shift in the covers, the back cover blurbs and the titles. The book by Joanna Bourne is so delicately wrought and so intelligently written that I believe it could stand up to a serious literary critique but with its man chest cover, who would take it seriously. For non romance readers, the cover already characterizes the book as fluff.

I am much more hard on those within the publishing industry than I am on those outside of it. Genre authors, publishers and editors should know better than to make scurrilous statements about the romance genre based solely on the covers, the sex of the writers, the formulaic constraints of a genre.

Can you really blame the outsiders, though, for creating negative assumptions when the main exposure to romance is the factory-like, horribly named books with the clinch cover or the man titty cover? When the major representative of our industry from the reader point of view is RT and its man-a-tastic festival of oiled chests and pleather?

You can’t blame the outsiders for our negative image. We’re part of it by accepting the covers and titles, making excuses for our deficiences, attacking without questioning. We can, however, be part of making it more respectable. By allowing spirited debate. By acknowledging our flaws. By speaking out about issues that we think are important to the issue of romance as a genre.

It’s not about keeping certain genre topics out, i.e., not permitting the forced seduction books. Those are obviously a cherished part of the genre and should be given their due. But there are changes, particularly cosmetic ones, that could happen within the genre such as better covers.

Ned is currently reading the Golden Compass series but from October and November he read nothing but romance novels: Meljean Brook, Claudia Dain, Shana Abe, CL Wilson. I asked him if he felt like he was a romance reader now. He looked at me curiously and said, “I guess if that is what romance books are, then I am a romance reader.”

The stories within the covers have universal appeal else they wouldn’t sell so well. Shouldn’t the covers and titles reflect that? Shouldn’t the image of the genre reflect that?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

123 Comments

  1. Mrs Giggles
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 05:09:36

    But do romance readers really want a makeover?

    No, I’m not being facetious here, I’m really curious. For example, I read somewhere that Johanna Lindsey actually loves her clinch covers and actively resisted for a long time any attempts to make her covers more “respectable”. Bertrice Small also loves her clinch covers and have them framed in her house. And I wonder whether readers (not necessarily online folks, but folks in real life as well as here) want a makeover.

    After all, the covers, the titles – they are part of the identity that is the genre. Harlequin is pretty savvy when it comes to marketing, they know titles like The Cowboy Sheikh Millionaire’s Pregnant Virgin Widow Baby Maker Plan For Christmas may embarrass the hell out of the author and some readers, but they won’t keep using this kind of titles if they don’t help make the books easily identified by readers and move the books off the shelves.

    A makeover to covet respectability from critics is a reasonable concept, but I wonder whether the average romance reader who doesn’t go online and read blogs but get her books from Wal-Mart – I’m sure there are many, many of such readers out there – will prefer the cheesy covers because it makes their favorite kind of books easily identifiable.

    Also, with romance in essence being an optimistic genre with its affirmative messages about love and happy endings, I think we will always have an uphill battle to climb towards respectability. Changing covers won’t do much, I think, because the very nature of the stories in the genre is unfashionable in today’s cynical environment. “Mainstream” and “literary” fiction that get oodles of respect from critics thrive on tragedy, irony, and sometimes, cruelty, because many folks that have the power to bestow “respectability” upon things are enamored with such “realism”. Love and happy endings in romance novels are deemed unrealistic even by Oprah, so I tell you, if Oprah, the Fairy Godmother of Feel Good TV, doesn’t support romance novels, we really have our work cut out for us.

    Besides, romance genre sell, sell, sell. It is POPULAR. And let’s face it, many critics don’t like to admit that they like popular things. Must keep up the mystique that they only appreciate things that 90% of the world are too stupid to “get”, you know. If we want to appeal to these critics in those literary magazines, I don’t think it will happen anytime soon, heh.

    What is respectability anyway? What does it gain us? Universal acclaim from haughty entertainment writers and pretentious literary critics?

    As a reader, I think I’d rather not care anymore what these people think. If they think I am a lesser person for reading romance novels, they can go suck on my middle finger.

    ReplyReply

  2. TeddyPig
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 05:38:01

    Johanna Lindsey’s clinch covers are classics. Hell, I’d frame them myself if I could find big enough examples. I would love to see a coffee table book that had the classic clinch covers in big and beautiful detail with information about the book and author.

    For a keepsake type deal. Memories of the clinch reads.

    ReplyReply

  3. Erastes
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 05:42:41

    AMEN, and many more of them. Well done for stepping up and saying what many of us have been saying in our smaller blogs for a long time. Granted yes, some people DO like the cheesey covers but in this day and age it gives such a crap impression of the genre as a whole. If you’ve got a half naked Scottish “Laird” on the cover of your book, in a KILT for example then I for one am only going to mock, and never read, because if your publisher can’t be arsed to get the cover right, what does that say about the writing? It doesn’t encourage me to read them – and that’s a shame because under the worst cover (see “A Different Sin” by Rochelle Hollander Schwab as a classic example there is often a great story.

    Some publishers provide different covers – such as the Potter books, one cover for the kiddies, one cover for adults – can’t Romance Publishers do the same? One cover for the “average Wall-mart reader” that Mrs Giggles talks about who don’t care hooey what critics think and loves them clinches, and one cover for people who like to read their romance on a bus or a train without having to use a spare dust jacket to save their blushes.

    I know that there are certain traditions which some RWriters like to uphold, such as illiterative cheesy titles too , but when I see one like I saw yesterday called “The Sword and the Sheath” by mind just shuts down.

    There will always be mockery, I’m afraid – whatever the genre, but I do agree that by not putting themselves in the firing line with the OMG MY EYES covers and titles, it would help. But then *shrug * that’s what a lot of people LIKE – some people’s main ambition is to write the next The Lord’s Wench or The Princes’ Whore.

    ReplyReply

  4. Kristie(J)
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 06:44:24

    Jane – you said it!! I agree with you whole-heartedly. I loathe so many of the cheesy covers and the inane titles and I wish the inside people would get a clue!!
    Sadly I think Mrs. Giggles is right though. While there are very many of us who want respectability for our reading tastes, for the genre as a whole, there must be some reason why Harlequin Presents is the best selling line, why Avon – the worst offender for me in terms of titles and covers is the one publisher most people think of first. In a sense we are almost battling ourselves. For example, I read a review just the other day of a Cassie Edwards book where the reviewer gave it the highest grade and and said it was a fine addition to the Savage series that she had read and enjoyed. My first reaction was horror (and it still is to be honest – I will never trust that reviewer for anything I might read, that’s for sure) but I also realized there is actually readers who go for the very kind of thing that so appalls so many of us.
    So while the publisher insiders need to get a clue, we still have a great many readers who are happy with the way things are.
    I don’t know what the answer is – but I’m firmly in your camp.

    ReplyReply

  5. Kristie(J)
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 06:46:14

    Jane – you said it!! I agree with you whole-heartedly. I loathe so many of the cheesy covers and the inane titles and I wish the inside people would get a clue!!
    Sadly I think Mrs. Giggles is right though. While there are very many of us who want respectability for our reading tastes, for the genre as a whole, there must be some reason why Harlequin Presents is the best selling line, why Avon – the worst offender for me in terms of titles and covers is the one publisher most people think of first. In a sense we are almost battling ourselves. For example, I read a review just the other day of a Cassie Edwards book where the reviewer gave it the highest grade and and said it was a fine addition to the Savage series that she had read and enjoyed. My first reaction was horror (and it still is to be honest – I will never trust that reviewer for anything I might read, that’s for sure) but I also realized there is actually readers who go for the very kind of thing that so appalls so many of us.
    So while the publisher insiders need to get a clue, we still have a great many readers who are happy with the way things are.
    I don’t know what the answer is – but I’m firmly in your camp (says *gulp* the person who has posted way to many pics of fine looking men lately – but at least they are clothed)

    ReplyReply

  6. Kristie(J)
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 06:47:32

    Oops – I thought that first one didn’t go through. I can’t see a delete post button.

    ReplyReply

  7. francois
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 07:00:30

    A publisher doesn’t have to have cheesy covers to convey a sense of uniformity. Just look at Little Black Dress books. They are tasteful, uniform, suitable for carrying on the train, yet still manage to say Romance.

  8. Nora Roberts
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 07:01:46

    I hesitate to comment as I’m on massive antibiotics to battle the onset of pneumonia, and fairly foggy. But I wanted to say Jane makes a good point–as does Mrs. G.

    I have a writer pal whose last book featured the naked torso of a cowboy–which had little to nothing to do with the actual story. She hated it. I did a signing with her, and while she had several other books–one particularly with a gorgeous and tasteful cover, the readers flocked to the naked cowboy. She sold out of that title.

    My stand has always been we, the writers and the readers, can do very little about covers and titles. What we can do is present ourselves professionally, and write wonderful books within the genre.

    That’s about all my brain on drugs can put together at one time.

    ReplyReply

  9. Meriam
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 07:05:21

    I’m in agreement with Jane. Covers have long been a peeve of mine and I seriously believe that the genre does itself no favours with some of its more obnoxious offerings. Having said that, Johanna Lindsey belongs in a league of her own and her covers should rightly be revered. There’s always room for campy, kitschy stuff but it shouldn’t be the rule.

    I posted a while ago on the difference between UK and US covers. Authors like Loretta Chase, Eloisa James, Galean Foley, Stephanie Laurens and Mary Balogh have some truly beautiful UK editions (although JR Ward get’s shafted).
    Take a look at these:
    Simply unforgettable
    Lady of Desire
    All About Passion
    Remember that hideous Lord Perfect? Here’s the UK edition.

    These are the books my library service is buying (at long last), and the ones that are displayed at my local WH Smiths. I believe the UK is generally more snobbish about romance, and perhaps we as readers are less tolerant of garish covers. Being a more reserved and uptight lot…

    ReplyReply

  10. Meriam
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 07:08:48

    Ooops. Here’s the very pretty Simply Unforgettable.
    Hope that’s works…

    ReplyReply

  11. francois
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 07:09:37

    …But I forgot to say that Little Black Dress books aren’t all romances and there is a definite series problem going on there. But if they they are my favourite publishers, purely going on covers.

    ReplyReply

  12. Sarah Frantz
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 07:15:31

    Get better soon, Nora!

    I read Harlequins and Temptations in the 80s and 90s and they didn’t have those awful awful titles then. They were much more tasteful, more indicative of the feel and atmosphere of the book, rather than the plot elements. But there must be a reason that the titles have changed to be uniformly representative of plot elements. While we can go on and on about the literary aspects of the novels, Harlequin and M&B are businesses, and they will do what it takes to sell the books. So someone’s buying and they buy more and better, obviously, with the books titled the way they are.

    And I’m sorry, maybe I’m a lone voice in the wilderness here, but I *like* the man-titty covers. The tastefully done ones, that is. Not the clinch covers (too much violet eye-shadow!), and not the old-school mantitty with the flowing shirts and the well-placed sword, a la Kinsale’s original releases, but the modern images of just a man’s face, or just a man’s chest–I like them. I’m unabashedly heterosexual, in love with the masculine form, and I like seeing hunkalicious covers and I gravitate toward them in the store and I buy those books more.

    Laura Kinsale has said (somewhere) that the first book of hers that featured Fabio alone (I think it was Prince of Midnight) sold exponentially more copies than any of her previous books. We can hem and haw and say that people had finally recognized her genius, blahblahblah, but we all know it was Fabio. There’s a reason he’s the only male supermodel anyone in and out of the industry can name.

    And as a literary historian, I can tell you that women’s novels were disrespected way before the advent of covers with pictures and silly titles. So while they certainly don’t help and they provide non-readers with an easy reason to ignore and dismiss the genre, another reason would present itself is we suddenly went to plain brown wrappers.

    So while I might agree with you theoretically, my own buying practices, industry numbers, and history all don’t support you, unfortunately.

    ReplyReply

  13. Meriam
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 07:20:27

    Okay, one of my comments is ‘awaiting moderation’ so the other makes no sense, but the point I made was, I think in the UK there is a demand for more tasteful covers, and this is reflected in what we get: beautiful, tasteful covers for Balogh, Eloisa James, Galean Foley, Stephanie Laurens, Loretta Chase etc.

    ReplyReply

  14. Shiloh Walker
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 07:35:09

    Personally, I hate clinch covers and I’m not a big fan of the nekkid or partially nekkied type covers, either. With my epubs, I do get a little bit of say in how I’d like my covers to look, and I thank God~the cover artists are talented and I usually get covers that while they convey sensuality/romance, they don’t just scream Nekkid Man Within, either. But I’ve been told time and again that the more explicit covers tend to sell when it comes to ebooks.

    Doesn’t change my opinion, my viewpoint or preferences however. ;) I bet the cover artists at my epubs could recognize one of my cover request just by my wording alone at this point. No name needed. And I’ve gotten lucky with the standalones I have from Berkley~no clinches!

    If people want the genre to be taken seriously (and I know some don’t care) then we have to show outsiders, when given the chance, that it’s not about the sex, it’s not about the sexy hero, and it’s not about fantasizing that you’re the heroine. That’s one of the common misconceptions I’ve run across, people assuming that I read romance because I want to be the heroine. Uh, I don’t. I wouldn’t trade my life for the lives of any heroine I’ve ever read about, thanks.

    Making people see past the misconceptions is key and getting overly defensive when people don’t get it doesn’t do any good. Hiding the covers, blushing when people see it, being embarrassed, all of that adds to the belief that romance is nothing but sex and not to be taken seriously.

    I think Nora says it the best, though. (and hope you feel better soon)

    My stand has always been we, the writers and the readers, can do very little about covers and titles. What we can do is present ourselves professionally, and write wonderful books within the genre.

    ReplyReply

  15. Sarah McCarty
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 07:43:28

    Covers- Forget changing them. I just pray I get a cover rendered by someone who has seen a graphics program program before. Not the given one would assume.

    In general- I’m not sure why, as a genre, we need to worry about influencing people who don’t read the genre and wouldn’t read it no matter how respectably it was packaged. One thing I’ve always thought about the romance market is that it’s one market that’s pretty fine tuned to meet the requirements of it’s target market.

    ReplyReply

  16. Bonnie
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 07:45:16

    Jane, I agree 100% and have been saying as much since I began reading romance.

    This genre will never be respected with the ridiculous and laughable book covers I see at the book stores. But as others have mentioned up-thread, respect doesn’t seem to be the goal. They’re selling books and that’s the bottom line. I don’t think it’ll ever change.

    ReplyReply

  17. Gennita Low
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 07:52:51

    I don’t understand. You can write about a sexy man who stays up all night pleasing his woman, but you can’t put a picture of a sexy man on the cover because that’s OMG too much???

    That’s just my tongue-in-cheek reaction.

    TBH, I don’t see that many clinch covers any more. The ones the Smart Bitches mock are pretty old. Today, if I stroll down the Walmart aisle, I’m more likely to see the tattooed back of leather-clad missies with swords in one hand. And yeah, isn’t it strange I immediately would know those are urban fantasy/paranormal books?

    Some of us do enjoy a sexy cover. Hey, Meljean’s next book features a hunk I think should be on my book, dammit.

    I do see your point, Jane, but I also think the excoriation from critics are mainly because of the past covers and their reading of romance books twenty, thirty years ago. They use the same phrases over and over; I think “heaving bosoms” is one of them. We’re never going to convert these people.

    Our genre, as I see it, is fun. Hollywood. Absolutely the hated stepchild of intellectuals who want to make serious films and write serious books about being and nothingness because our stories have happy endings. There’s nothing wrong with their choices of “realism” too–yeah, Frey’s, anyone?

    Besides, I really don’t think it’s the covers (maybe the titles) because fantasy books have about the cheesiest ones I’ve seen, what with those impossible Amazon chicks in chainmail bras riding on an elephant with three horns.

    I’d like to add that this kind of sexist treatment of genres is debated from the other side as well. Here is a fantasy geek whose reading taste is really not as different from those of us who enjoy vampires, strong females, magic, and sci-fi thrillers, who is worried that his favorite genre is not attracting women readers because of its sexist covers:

    He made many similar points about his favorite genre’s covers that we do about ours, except that he was complaining about half-naked women instead of bare-chested men. I thought it an interesting comparison.

    ReplyReply

  18. Leslie Kelly
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 07:55:20

    Presents has been mentioned here–did you know they’re going to 12 titles a month? And I can’t help thinking that despite how much I personally dislike those titles (and suspect the authors in that line do, too) they really are working in the books’ favor. Because readers in a real hurry who want to grab a comfort read that they know will provide x (an alpha hero) y (a foreign/exotic setting) and z (a passionate read) can immediately weed out what she wants with a few key words. Want an Italian or a Greek? There’s this month’s. A billionaire (vs. a millionaire?) There he is. Prefer a virgin over a secret baby? Got it.

    It’s instant grab-and-go shopping, no reading back cover copies or exploring the pages, you know what you’re going to get, just like when you stop and buy your favorite brand of any product at a convenience store. The avid category readers obviously want that and are used to it, and would probably resent it if they lost that convenience.

    ReplyReply

  19. Gennita Low
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 07:55:51

    Sigh. Here’s the missing link that didn’t show up in my post above:

    Musings of the Mad Biologist

    ReplyReply

  20. Jennifer McKenzie
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 09:07:07

    I think Sarah is right. No matter how it’s packaged, romance will not be regarded with the same respect as other genres.
    I’ve had mixed results with my covers. Anne Cain is BRILLIANT and understands when I say “Concept” covers, I really don’t want digi people or man titty.
    Having said that, I do have covers that haven’t worked out for me. One is my best title. Go figure.
    The romance genre isn’t any more wacky than other genres, but when a best selling author does something, it gets more attention. If you hang out with other authors (sci fi or mystery especially) I think they’re just as quirky and do weird stuff too. But Best Selling Romance authors get the press–bad or otherwise.
    That kind of scrutiny is tough, I think.
    Anyone ever read Elizabeth Peter’s book “Die For Love”? The romance genre is portrayed tongue in cheek. I do love my romance, even with the clinch covers, man titty and cheesy titles. For me, the trick is to recognize that what’s between the covers makes the author, not the publisher or the cover itself.
    Nora, I hope you feel better soon!

    ReplyReply

  21. Ciar Cullen
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 09:27:56

    Oooh, I’d be real careful about that “average WalMart” reader talk. I recently ran a contest and mailed holiday jewelry to 25 people who won. Small sample, admittedly, but these folks (except for one in Finland and a few in Australia) were from the heartland.

    I live in the Northeast, and I think we have a tendency towards elitism. I recall in the last election how shocked my university compadres were at the result. I pointed to a map of the country with “red” and “blue” states and asked why they would be so surprised.

    I don’t like the majority of romance covers, but I don’t think most readers care at all. Not reviewers, not authors, but those people who shell out their precious dollars on books at Walmart.

    ReplyReply

  22. Meredith
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 09:29:59

    There was a discussion of this issue somewhere else not too long ago, and one of the things that was mentioned was that clinch covers, or half naked men covers, signal to the reader that the book is actually a romance and not women’s fiction, and so has the requisite HEA.

    I think that whoever said that (I can’t remember! I’m getting so old) has a good point. If I’m going into a bookstore to pick up a book, and I see two books–one with a demure scene of a tree and the other of a half naked man, and I don’t know either author, I’ll probably get the half-naked man book, if only because as a reader, I know what to expect. This was always my issue with the romances that sort of bled over into chick-lit–it would be an author I knew from romance, but the book wasn’t a romance, and I would be disappointed.

    Harlequin and the other serial lines clearly are targeting a particular market, and yes, the titles are nuts, but you definitely know what you’re getting when you buy one, right? There’s nothing I hate more in a romance novel than a secret baby, so when I see that in the title, I know to steer away.

    I’m actually quite partial to the types of covers that are artistic these days, for example, Kresley Cole’s Hunger Like No Other, or Lilith Saintcrow’s cover for the second book in the Dante Valentine series. You don’t see their faces, but the art itself is hawt. Of course, I also have a soft spot for Fabio’s Lindsay covers, which I think are beautiful.

    The more we debate this question of trying to get people to accept this genre, the more I wonder why we’re even trying. Especially when I’m finding that trying to convert my friends and acquaintances to the genre is less about the “stigma” and more about the level of sexuality between the covers, lurid or not. The level of sexuality in romance novels today, in general, is a far cry from the novels of the 80s, and it’s always what my friends want to ask me about. I’m all for it, personally, I prefer a lot of sex in my novels and I think the shift is a great sign of female empowerment (and so does my husband, by the way, who appreciates the education I’ve gotten from these novels) and maybe THAT’s what we need to start discussing. Who gives a rat’s patoot that the NYT reviews the genre? It seems to be selling fine without their commendation.

    Just a thought from a reader.

    Meredith

    ReplyReply

  23. Jane
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 09:31:00

    I have alot to respond to and will later today, but I wanted to comment on one thing and that is Lauren Willig’s flower series is packaged as serious fiction but the two books I have read of hers are clearly romance (and not particularly inventive or interesting romance at that). She’s taken seriously, is she not?

    ReplyReply

  24. karma
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 09:37:39

    Not long ago I had this very talk with my publisher, and he brought up some rather interesting statistics. Basically, the whole thing is a Catch-22. Nora Roberts mentioned what happened with her fellow author at the book signing when it came to what drew romance readers’ attentions. And it’s very true. The romance fans are drawn to certain types of covers while non-romance fans aren’t. Yet the romance fans seem to purchase the most books (unless Oprah promotes one of her mainstream bookclub titles).

    If I remember correctly, my publisher said that covers featuring semi-naked men are typically the highest sellers, covers that feature women (clothed or unclothed) and no men come a distant second, while covers that feature no people at all (or fully clothed people in decidedly non-romantic poses) virtually kill a romance (especially an erotic romance) book’s potential sales. (This is e-publishing, not New York, BTW.) And, from what I’ve seen regarding e-publishing sales figures, it’s generally true.

    It would be fascinating to see what would happen if one book (same blurb and everything) were to come out with three very different covers (the three styles mentioned above), which one would be the most popular version. I will bet it would probably be the “hunky naked guy” cover just about every time.

    Although the current covers need to be “quality” covers (not cheap garbage that couldn’t pass for good kindergarten art—thankfully several of these publishers folded this past year…a connection I wonder?), it seems to be what romance fans crave/expect, yet at the same time, it seems to “turn off” all non-romance fans. But since the current customers spend tons of money each year on their prefered genre, does a publishing company change the status quo to “clean up” their covers and risk alienating current fans who “assume” the books within are “tame” and non-romance? In other words, a company has a better chance of maintaining and enticing current romance fans (a HUGE market) with the tried and true, as opposed to “convincing outsiders” to try them, then watching the sales of new books fall into the toilet by this “experimentation.” I’d much rather have my books sell than languish, so I trust my publisher to give me the type of cover that generally brings in the most sales for the current market/fan base. Certainly grabbing new customers/romance fans would be nice, but…

    As I said, it’s a Catch-22, and until romance fans embrace something that goes against the “norm,” publishers would be either very brave or very crazy to risk their incomes. If an author already has a name and a huge following, less risk, so the company can not worry so much about the cover content and could tame them down. But for new authors…? It is a business, after all, so the phrase the “customer is always right” applies here, and what they want, they should get, especially if any e-publisher has a chance to survive for long.

    ReplyReply

  25. Jaci Burton
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 09:41:52

    Great, thought provoking blog post, Jane.

    I believe that no matter what we do, no matter the titles or the covers, there will always be those who look down their noses at our genre, who will look upon what we write and read with disdain. And no change in cover or title will change that.

    But why do we care so much?

    I believe that to this day romance writers and readers still continue to cringe and apologize for what we read and write. Is it because of the covers and titles, or because of the content? I don’t know.

    I love all my covers, and my titles. I proclaim proudly to be a writer and a reader of romance, and I ignore the sneers and disdain, which I really don’t think will change even if covers and titles do. It’s a perception that we’re ‘less than’, something we’ve been combating for a very long time, and probably will continue to battle.

    As Nora said, there’s not much we can do about others’ perceptions of us. All we can do is present ourselves as professionals and write great books. (Hope you get better soon, Nora!) And as readers, pick up a romance, hold it proudly and prominently in your hands, and when someone asks, “Are you reading THAT STUFF?”, say “Why yes, yes I am. Why aren’t you?” Then educate them about what they’re missing out on.

    :-)

    ReplyReply

  26. Beth
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 09:44:35

    I would never have started reading romance again if I had not been in a Rite Aid in Miami and picked up JR Ward’s Lover Revealed, not even noticing that it had a couple on the cover, thanks to the artful way it was presented. Now, about 50 romances later, I am hooked.

    I would never have picked up a clinch cover because I would have assumed that it contained purple prose, one dimensional charcters, and an incomprehensible (or nonexistent) plot generated soley as a device to loosely connect gratuitous, unrealistic and possibly misogynistic sex scenes.

    I now realize that romance as a genre has matured sine the late 1970s — the last time had I read it — and yet still — unfairly — suffers from a bad reputation. That reputation is fed by those truly awful covers.

    Sure, the clinch covers may be big sellers for some folks. But to my mind they mislead the reader: there is a lot more to the hero than his broad shoulders, a lot more to the heroine than her lithe figure, and a lot more to this book than the sex, or even the romance. But you’d never know that by looking at the cover.

    ReplyReply

  27. Meriam
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 09:47:02

    Leslie said of Presents:

    “It's instant grab-and-go shopping, no reading back cover copies or exploring the pages, you know what you're going to get, just like when you stop and buy your favorite brand of any product at a convenience store. The avid category readers obviously want that and are used to it, and would probably resent it if they lost that convenience.”

    This feeds directly into my seedling theory that M&B/ Harlequin are the McDonald’s of the genre. Quick, cheap and quite possibly bad for you in excess.

    It’s all very well saying that lady novelists have historically been given little respect (often by other women: George Elliot disliked Austen, Mary Woolstoncraft criticized silly female writers- “Pray Miss, write no more!”) but why don’t we respect ourselves? Is Joanna Bourne happy with her cover? What about Loretta Chase? It might lead to higher sales, but it also makes the genre very exclusive: an outsider would look at those covers and shy away instinctively. They reinforce prejudice and I think they induce guilt in the reader. I can’t bear to display mantitty on the train/ bus.

    I think we should be striving for respect. Not only for what is on the covers, but between them too.

    ReplyReply

  28. Anji
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 09:50:39

    Personally, I hate the clinch covers. I already have to defend my romance reading to some of my friends and family, and it’s so easy for them to say ‘see, this is chick porn’ (boys…). I can argue and reason and debate logically, and give them books to read, but the covers make it easy for ‘outsiders’ to pick on the readers, books and authors of the romance genre.

    (Btw, I love my ebook reader since people can’t see the cover – very convenient when you’re on public transportation and other public places.)

    I keep hearing that customers buy clinch covers over non-clinch covers, that they prefer books with titles like the Sheikh’s Pregnant Virgin Princess Cowboy Bride. But have the publishers done some research on that? And asked not just customers who buy the books or visit the websites etc., but serious market/sociological research that looks at consumers, their behavior and choices in general. That includes those outside the genre and what would influence their purchases/shopping behavior/willingness to try a romance. It’s easy to ask people who’ve already bought a book because they were attracted to a clinch cover – well yeah, they’re going to say that’s why they bought it. That’s not causality, that’s correlation – and in research, that doesn’t stand as proof.

    It’s also important to ask why people prefer some covers over others. I associate a certain type of cover with chick lit, a certain type of covers with paranormals, etc. A few months ago, I came across a book with a chick lit inspired cover, but it was a historical. And it was neither labeled as a historical, nor did the blurb make it clear it was a historical. But, if the blurb and the labeling had been better, it would have been a neat idea to reach out to a new group of readers.

    And then there’s the problem that such labeling can keep readers from discovering books because of their expectations. I recently started reading category titles – despite their titles, not because of them. (Even more fingerpointing ensued). And while the titles (especially the Harlequin Presents) seems to serve as a short-cut description of the hero/heroine/relationship/plot – i.e. an additional blurb – I kept coming up with other titles that I’d like to name the stories.

    I think the lack of quality in some of the blurbs is what first drove me to romance review sites – how to find out what’s good, if the blurb is so generic that you have no idea if the book is interesting? Or sometime a blurb gives away key plot point, describes the story arch of only the first third of the book, instead of the general concept, etc. So instead of relying on my expectations, I’d rather have some information, and hear about other people’s experiences with a book.

    Oh, and those comments by other authors that tell us that this is the best book ever or that all their readers should read this book? I don’t find them useful at all – it tells me nothing of substance. I’d like to see some research/statistics about that – it’s not that readers can look for new authors/releases by doing a search for their favorite author’s comments. (If there’s a way to do such a search, I’d be curious to see the findings!). Plus, given what people have said about the process, I wouldn’t place any weight on a cover blurb.

    Covers, blurbs and labeling seem to be a way for people to manage information and expectations of what kind of book/story they’ll get. But that doesn’t mean that expectations have to be static and don’t evolve. It’s just that the redesigned covers, labeling and blurbs will have to be better at conveying information. Different covers, better blurbs, and accurate titles (that aren’t descriptions) can still manage reader expectations while projecting a more ‘appealing’ image to those outside of the genre. Just cause something has ‘always’ been a certain way doesn’ mean it can’t change. And I’m all for more respect, for us readers, but also for the authors and the genre overall. And if increases readership, even better!

    ReplyReply

  29. DS
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 09:57:57

    Jane
    Posted: Dec 18th, 2007 at 9:31 am
    23
    Author Comment

    I have alot to respond to and will later today, but I wanted to comment on one thing and that is Lauren Willig's flower series is packaged as serious fiction but the two books I have read of hers are clearly romance (and not particularly inventive or interesting romance at that). She's taken seriously, is she not?

    Is she taken seriously? I started to listen to one thinking it was a historical mystery and ended up returning it to the library about 1/5 of the way through. The idea that there was a whole series of English spies named after flowers might have worked on a comic level as a parody but not from what I was listening to– or is it a parody and it just flew over my head? Have to admit the cover was lovely and that was one reason I picked it up.

    ReplyReply

  30. Angela James
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 10:05:41

    If I remember correctly, my publisher said that covers featuring semi-naked men are typically the highest sellers, covers that feature women (clothed or unclothed) and no men come a distant second, while covers that feature no people at all (or fully clothed people in decidedly non-romantic poses) virtually kill a romance (especially an erotic romance) book's potential sales. (This is e-publishing, not New York, BTW.) And, from what I've seen regarding e-publishing sales figures, it's generally true.

    Yes. Absolutely true.

    It would be fascinating to see what would happen if one book (same blurb and everything) were to come out with three very different covers (the three styles mentioned above), which one would be the most popular version. I will bet it would probably be the “hunky naked guy” cover just about every time.

    I would love to take that challenge. Hm. I’ll have to look into the feasibility of doing that (for an ebook).

    Ditto to what Sarah, Gennita and Jaci are saying.

    You know what? I love romance, I’ve loved romance for two decades. It’s changed, it’s evolved, it’s gotten better, it’s gotten worse, but no matter what, I love it. If no one in my life ever thought my reading material was respectable, I’d still love it. If the clinch covers of the Johanna Lindsey days came back, I’d continue to love it. No one else has to be okay with my love for it but me. I’m not going to suggest changing something I love just to make it okay for other people.

    To me, talking about making romance respectable to other people is like talking about changing your partner’s looks, speech, etc. so other people will accept them. Does it matter so much as long as you’re happy? I understand where you’re coming from, Jane, that you’re not happy, and I see some commenters agreeing with you, but I’d argue that there’s not overwhelming evidence that the majority of romance readers want the same changes you’re arguing for, just so others approve of their reading material–and in fact, given what covers we’ve talked about actually sell the most books, I’d say a good portion of readers enjoy and/or don’t have a problem with sexy covers or other things you’re suggesting be changed.

    ReplyReply

  31. Julie Leto
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 10:05:48

    because if your publisher can't be arsed to get the cover right, what does that say about the writing?

    Nothing. It says ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. The art department and the editorial department sometimes aren’t even on speaking terms. At some publishers, the editor has some control over the cover…but at others, like Harlequin, they have no say. Art and Marketing work entirely independently from editorial.

    Just want to point that out. You really can’t judge a book by its cover.

    That said, I have to say that while writers may rail against the covers and the titles, readers (the average Wal-Mart reader, like Mrs. Giggles talks about) likes things the way they are. They don’t care about being respectable. They want a hot, naked guy on the cover and they want the title to tell them what they are buying. I had the same situation once with a naked man cover and it sold like hotcakes…esp. in Australia, where in that version, they dropped his pants and there was some groin cleavage going on. Book sold amazingly well.

    So the bottom line is, if readers don’t care about “respectability,” why should we? I’ve given up trying to convert those who don’t “get it.” I focus only on pleasing the readers who do get it and will continue to get it. Everyone once in a while I meet someone who I know has the potential for being “converted” and I’ll give them books to read, but I’m tired of going after people like journalists and such who can’t even be bothered to do their proper research.

    ReplyReply

  32. DS
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 10:08:48

    Jennifer McKenzie
    Posted: Dec 18th, 2007 at 9:07 am

    Anyone ever read Elizabeth Peter's book “Die For Love”? The romance genre is portrayed tongue in cheek.

    There was also a follow up in the Jacqueline Kirby series involving the writing of a sequel to a beloved best selling romantic novel– think of Gone with the Wind– whose author had mysteriously disappeared–Naked Once More. And just to be on topic– neither of the hardcovers jacket art would have told you by the cover that the subject involved romance novels.

    ReplyReply

  33. Jenyfer Matthews
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 10:14:50

    If I remember correctly, my publisher said that covers featuring semi-naked men are typically the highest sellers, covers that feature women (clothed or unclothed) and no men come a distant second, while covers that feature no people at all (or fully clothed people in decidedly non-romantic poses) virtually kill a romance (especially an erotic romance) book's potential sales. (This is e-publishing, not New York, BTW.) And, from what I've seen regarding e-publishing sales figures, it's generally true.

    I’ve heard similar things but I still prefer not to have people, particularly faces on my covers. I always prefer to imagine the characters in books (my own and others) myself so I always request covers without people. I’m lucky that my publisher is so accommodating in that regard – I love the covers they’ve made for me. I can only hope that once they are available in print and shelved in the romance section that people will assume there is a HEA ending and buy it in spite of the lack of a couple on the front.

    ReplyReply

  34. Mrs Giggles
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 10:21:34

    Jane, I’ve been thinking of this part:

    Science fiction and mysteries are more honored and more respectable by mainstream press and critics.

    And I realize that you haven’t really defined what you mean by “respectable” so we may be talking about two different things as a result, but I really don’t see any good and solid evidence that science-fiction is being more honored than romance, unless by “respected” you mean “less ridiculed”. But that’s because science-fiction as a genre has been around longer than romance, which never really defined itself officially as a genre until Rosemary Rogers introduced the world to the wonderful adventures of braindead Ginny and her rapist boyfriend Steve.

    If science fiction has become less ridiculed, that’s because it has more time than romance to evolve and grow. I’m sure there were people back in the 1960s and 1970s saying the same things as you are now about half-naked women in submissive poses around the ankles of a steroidal Conan the Barbarian on Boris Vallejo’s covers. But the genre eventually evolved.

    I’d like to think that the romance genre is heading the same way. In the last few years, there have been a revolutionary upsurge of independent blogs that dissect the genre intelligently, a far cry from the abundance of fluff boards and cheerleader review sites that populated the community in the late 1990s. We are also attracting new generations of authors that have very different voices that attract younger readers. I think, perhaps in another ten years or so we will catch up with science fiction when it comes to “respectability”, at least when it comes to being less ridiculed.

    ReplyReply

  35. Shelly @ Bewitched
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 10:22:33

    As a reader, I wish some of the covers weren’t so darned embarrassing. I usually have a book with me wherever I am and tend to pull it out while waiting in lines, commuting, etc, etc and sometimes I spend more time trying to keep the cover hidden than actually paying attention to the book. I don’t like clinch covers at all, but I will say I do love tasteful covers with just a good looking man and his chest (like Sarah Frantz) a la the Sherrilyn Kenyon covers. But the ones put out by some e-pubs are just waaaay over the top and they do not leave my house. They absolutely mortify me.

    I agree that romance needs a cosmetic make-over, but I bet it will be a long time in coming.

    ReplyReply

  36. Jane
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 10:27:03

    Mrs. Giggles – I am cringing as I read that sentence as it should be

    Science fiction and mysteries are more honored and more respected by mainstream press and critics

    I need an editor! But what I mean by that is in year’s best lists from respected literary papers like NYTimes or PW, you often find thrillers or sometimes a sci fi book. The LA Times added a book review blog to supplement its paper review and it has sci fi/fantasy and mystery reviewers. No Romance.

    It may very well be that it takes time to make a change and that right now may be the start of it, but the covers of the sci fi seem to have changed from the Conan to something else so why can’t romance make that change as well. It is just one thing, in a myriad of things that might help increase the image of the genre, but why not take that one step?

    ReplyReply

  37. Jane
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 10:29:28

    Meredith – I wrote an article here at DearAuthor called In Praise of the Man Titty. I argued that the male naked torso cover was shorthand for a romance book.

    ReplyReply

  38. Tumperkin
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 10:37:07

    I think that Meriam is right about UK readers having a different reaction to covers as in the US. The biggest book chain in the UK is Waterstones and they pretty much don’t stock romance (although some large outlets have very small romance sections that consist of US imports). However, they do stock – under general fiction – the tasteful cover books that Meriam mentioned by Balogh, Chase etc. I have to buy a lot of books I want from Amazon/ other online stores as they are just not available in the shops here.

    It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is because UK readers just don’t want to buy books with garish mantitty covers. A very natural reaction IMO. I don’t want to buy books with covers like that either but I don’t have a choice.

    ReplyReply

  39. Patrice Michelle
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 10:39:51

    If we had a literary-looking cover and won over a few readers, who would never have picked up our book if it had a “romancy” cover, hmmmm, would those new readers then go out and tell their non-romance reading friends to buy it? Maybe not, because it’s still a romance inside. And as Nora pointed out, some covers just sell better than others do. I recently did a blog post about book covers where I asked the question, “Do you judge a book by it cover?” And what really came out of the 70 plus comments (interesting responses, btw) was that readers will pass over a new-to-them author because of a bad cover, but will pick up a book by an unknown author because of a compelling cover and read the blurb. So what I got out of that whole discussion was…an author can possibly pick up new readers because of a good cover, which then begs the question…what defines a “good cover”? Artsy? Like Twilight. Fantastic Artwork? Like Patricia Briggs’ covers. Muted, like some of the romance covers featuring flowers on them. Or more obvious…with a sexy guy on the cover? I guess it’s all in the eye of the reader/buyer.

    I think Nora said it best–authors have very little control over their covers. All we can do is write the best stories we can and be professional.

    ReplyReply

  40. Mrs Giggles
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 10:46:06

    The LA Times added a book review blog to supplement its paper review and it has sci fi/fantasy and mystery reviewers. No Romance.

    I suspect this is because the people behind the literary section of LA Times read mystery and sci fi/fantasy, heh. It’s easy to declare a genre as respectable when you are a fan of the genre.

    One thing I notice is that much of the slam of romance genre, at least online, actually come from teenagers or young adults in their early twenties to mid-thirties (at least, that’s what I gather from the details about their lives that they reveal in those forums) who actually enjoy science fiction and fantasy. Talk a look at the GAWD forums, any Livejournal blogs that mock fanfiction, or even LKH Lashouts – the folks there see no irony in slamming romance while holding on to their love of a genre that has the same ignoble roots of being disrespected like romance. This is because they don’t read romance and are just slamming the genre blindly.

    In a roundabout way, that is my way of saying that who knows, if we attract younger people to read romance, these people will eventually find their way into NYT, et cetera, where they will not view romance as unfavorably as the folks that come between them. It’s like when Beatles fans take over the media when they grow up and start insisting every other year that the band is the best that ever was when every serious music fan knows that the best band in the world is Queen.

    I’m kidding about Queen, by the way, in case any die-hard Beatles fans (like my husband) is reading this.

    ReplyReply

  41. Mrs Giggles
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 10:48:12

    Ugh, that’s

    In a roundabout way, that is my way of saying that who knows, if we attract younger people to read romance, these people will eventually find their way into NYT, et cetera, where they will not view romance as unfavorably as the folks that come before them.

    ReplyReply

  42. Shiloh Walker
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 10:48:55

    because if your publisher can't be arsed to get the cover right, what does that say about the writing?

    I didn’t even see this comment the first time through, but I’m going to have to go with Julie’s statement that it doesn’t mean much of anything.

    A lot of the time, the covers are done before the editor reads the book and usually by cover artists who don’t even see the book.

    Writers can’t be blamed for that. Yeah, we get can ridiculed over it, and we have, and we will continue to be, but we can’t control the cover art. Bigger names might have more say than others but do even they get the final decision?

    I’ve never had reason to dislike a cover from the traditional publisher I write for so I’m not sure how much say the typical midlist author has. While I love my NY covers, I had no input on their design.

    However, I don’t think my lack of input or opinion means my editor/publisher thinks my writing sucks. If they didn’t think it was marketable…they wouldn’t have bought it.

    ReplyReply

  43. Shiloh Walker
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 10:51:59

    I would love to take that challenge. Hm. I'll have to look into the feasibility of doing that (for an ebook).

    Angie… *G* I volunteer one of mine. ;)

    ReplyReply

  44. Sarah McCarty
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 11:09:59

    I’ve been checking over the covers of romance books out there from the NY houses. And the covers really do send a very specific message (in general). It’s a code that’s been perfected over the years that enables marketing to say more in an instant with the elements of the cover than they can with a back blurb about the story line no matter what line/imprint the book is sold within. (not counting Harlequin Presents and lines like that use the title the way other houses use cover elements.) Here’s my quick scan consensus.

    Semi clothed male torso- Romance (this can be erotic romance, sweet romance and everything in between but it seems the indicator that it’s romance first)

    Naked couple caught in coital moment- erotica (can be erotica with romance elements and such, but says to readers, here it be HOOOOOT first then the rest. Almost like a lure and warning label in one. )

    Jewel tone dresses and fans, very feminine feel to the cover- Historical romance with Regency feel. May actually be a regency but it seems a broader scope

    Covers with mist etc in the background- paranormal.

    Blood red prominent aspects- tends to infer vampire

    Moon-werewolf paranormal

    Cowboy- The obvious.

    Sweeping landscape- Epic

    Woman only in the cover- seems to be coming to indicate more women’s fiction feel to book

    Sketched artwork- modern sassy Chick lit feel

    Near naked woman on the cover pictured from behind-erotica with bondage element

    Almost totally exposed male body- Erotica

    It’s interesting how the art department can combine any of the elements of the cover and provide in a blink of a reader’s eye a snap shot of the book. Which again emphasizes the importance of a good cover in romance maybe more than other genres, since the reader is so trained to decode the clues.

    As I said, the marketing when it comes to romance has become quite fine tuned to the point it might be detrimental to mess with it. At least short term.

    ReplyReply

  45. Wendy
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 11:32:32

    Re: Mystery and SciFi getting “more” respect these days – I would argue it’s just SOME books within those genre. Critics tend to love the more “hoity-toity” books. The mystery originally published in Iceland 2 years ago that was recently translated etc. You don’t see critics gushing about James Patterson or Mary Higgins Clark. Every genre has it’s popcorn and critics will always despise popcorn. The difference is romance is only seen as offering popcorn and that’s why you never see it reviewed/critiqued by those outlets.

    I think this is another example of the divide between online and not-online romance readers. Do I want more respectable covers and titles? Well, yes (although I do admit to liking a tastefully done man-titty). But how about those women who pick up their romances at the supermarket and are reading snatches on their daily commutes, while the kids are napping or while making dinner? Those women who don’t frequent blogs, online review web sites, and might only use the computer to check their e-mail? My guess? Not so much. Frankly, if you read in the privacy of your own home, employ a book cover, and don’t talk to anyone (online or in person) about your reading – why would the idea of respectability occur to you?

    Incidentally this is also my theory on why Harlequin keeps churning out secret baby plots. Publishers don’t do anything without thinking of the bottom line. If secret babies, billionaire Greeks and man-titty didn’t sell – we wouldn’t have to see them every time we walked into B&N. Now the question is – is this the chicken or the egg? Do we buy the books with the man-titty and horrible titles because of them or in spite of them? That’s the million dollar question.

    So says the girl who just bought an erotica anthology because the gorgeous man-titty cowboy cover caught her eye. So yeah, I’ve been known to be part of the problem.

    ReplyReply

  46. Sandra Schwab
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 11:38:29

    A German publishing house recently tried to do away with the old-fashioned clinch covers for historicals (and if you’ve ever seen a German cover … they can be quite horrid) and put snippets of 19th-century paintings on their covers instead. As a result the books looked absolutely lovely.

    But they didn’t sell.

    Or at least not as well as those with clinch covers. :( Hence adieu 19th-century paintings, and welcome back clinch covers! *sigh*

    ReplyReply

  47. Leah
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 11:39:16

    I’ve had this debate with loads of authors who worried a clinch cover might look too dated, so I did a quick survey of first-time historical authors whose books came out in 2006 and 2007. The clinches shipped on average 25% more books than books with a landscape, object or single person on the cover. And even more amazingly, the sell-through (number of shipped copies actually sold vs. returned) of a clinch cover is 10 percentage points higher than a nonclinch. The only exception is when a single guy is featured on the cover. One author shipped more than twice the number of copies on her second book, a traditional clinch, vs. her first book, which was not.

    Stigma or not, obviously people are buying the clinches.

    ReplyReply

  48. December Quinn/Stacia Kane
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 12:07:56

    I love clinch covers, and I always loathed Wal-Mart (although after two years in the UK the thought of being in one makes me drool.)

    But then, I also couldn’t give less of a f*** what a bunch of strangers I may see on my morning commute might infer about me from my reading material. I think the covers are fun. Let them think whatever snobbish little thoughts they might think. I read what I want to read.

    (I’ve also always thought we assume other people are thinking about us, when in fact they’re too busy worrying about what other people are thinking of them.)

    *shrug* JMO.

    ReplyReply

  49. Victoria Janssen
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 12:10:27

    I am not ashamed of reading romance. I don’t think any woman should be ashamed of reading, no matter what the cover looks like. What do we care what critics say? A genre primarily for women will likely never become part of the Literary Canon until women are truly equal to men in our society, and I unfortunately don’t see that happening in the immediate future. We could be reading Proust and it wouldn’t matter.

    I am not a big fan of clinch covers, but I like that they continue, defiantly, to exist, marking off territory for romance on bookstore shelves. If this comparison isn’t overkill, I see this along the lines of “if she hadn’t worn that shirt exposing her midriff, she wouldn’t have been attacked.” Criticism of the covers of romance novels is a mere distraction from more pervasive societal issues. Nice covers are nice, but I don’t know if they would change anything much about mainstream perception of the genre, which was formed and solidified long ago.

    Genre is always ranked lower on the critical totem pole than “literary” fiction, particularly “literary” fiction which no one reads. In general, I feel a few authors will make it out of the romance ghetto in a few decades. Most will not. That happens with all popular fiction. Should that affect our reading habits right now? Are we going to let Old Dead White Men dictate what we read?

    ReplyReply

  50. Libby
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 12:31:04

    I have nothing but respect for authors because after learning everything I have in the past year about what goes into writing a book, publishing, promotion, and all that I’ve learned what little control the actual author has over her finished product. And of course, that goes for any genre. I did read the Crazed Biologist blog referenced above about how a lot of SF/F books are marketed toward men and have women with deathly-big boobs on the covers because that’s what men will buy. And I definitely understand why man-titty covers sell really well with women.

    I totally get that. Sex sells; it’s not like that’s a newsflash or anything.

    But I would like to make a few points.

    This is just an example: As much as I love the Kensington BRAVA line–and this goes for a few other publishers–I wish to all things bright and beautiful they would tone down some of the covers! Honestly, I think they have some of the most beautiful covers out there, but they scream, “I’M READING A BOOK WITH HOT SEX IN IT!!!” even though the books aren’t all about hot sex. There are several of them (as well as many other lines I like) I simply can’t put on my shelf at home because I have little ones, and I have to hide them (the books, not the kids) under my bed. I think that sucks. Why does it have to feel like a dirty little secret?

    I love romance and I will always buy romance, but if I have to hide my books because the covers leave nothing to the imagination, I’m going to stop buying perfectly awesome books because the covers are too much. One Kensington author’s covers that I do love is Shannon McKenna’s–they’re really hot books, but the covers are kid-safe and I don’t have to hide them. Why can’t more of them be like that?

    I know a lot of e-publishers have put rating systems on their books, but I almost wonder if this would be something every publisher should look into. Because so many of the covers and blurbs are misleading, it would be nice to take a look at a universal symbol or something like that and know what you’re getting into. It’s a lot more subtle than a book that has a title like “Sex On a Deserted Island With a Passionate Cabana Boy Stranger” with a picture of the lucky couple on a hammock nekkid; you know, just in case we didn’t get the point with the title.

    I have to say that for me, if it comes down to picking a book that has an artsy cover or a hottie-bo-bottie cover, I’m going for practicality and going with the artsy one. Even if I do like the hottie-bo-bottie cover a lot more.

    ReplyReply

  51. Ann Aguirre
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 12:33:58

    I don’t see the point of seeking outside validation or approval for one’s reading choices. I like what I like, and I don’t give a rat’s behind what anyone thinks about what I read. I believe Mrs. G has the right of it, however, when she says sci-fi has simply had longer to evolve. Back in the genesis of the genre, it was, in fact, called science romance, and it took all the hard knocks. Check this out:

    Scientific romance is a bygone name for what is now commonly known as science fiction. The term is most associated with the early science fiction of the United Kingdom, and the earliest noteworthy use of the term scientific romance is believed to have been by Charles Howard Hinton in his 1886 collection. The term can, however, also refer to early science fiction from several other nations as well, in particular the works of French writers such as Jules Verne and Camille Flammarion.

    SF used to get kicked around, the same as romance does today. “Serious” authors made fun of it, and SF authors probably thought of their literary counterparts as pretentious knobheads. But time wore on, and SF weathered its storm of abuse.

    Now romance occupies the “lowest” rung on the reading hierarchy. But given time — the genre is redefining itself even now — and who knows what will come along hereafter?

    ReplyReply

  52. Shiloh Walker
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 13:16:35

    I love romance and I will always buy romance, but if I have to hide my books because the covers leave nothing to the imagination, I'm going to stop buying perfectly awesome books because the covers are too much. One Kensington author's covers that I do love is Shannon McKenna's-they're really hot books, but the covers are kid-safe and I don't have to hide them. Why can't more of them be like that?

    ***GROAN***

    I hear you. Some books I’ve really been interested in, I had to pass on because the covers were too extreme and there were no ebooks options offered.

    My reading time comes in bits and pieces and I usually just grab what’s close at hand. If I have to go uncover something under the bed, I don’t know if I’d mess with it. Only time I have without kids here is either when they are in bed… and usually I go to bed not too long after they do, or when they are at the sitter’s/school. And that’s my work time.

    ReplyReply

  53. Shiloh Walker
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 13:19:50

    I don't see the point of seeking outside validation or approval for one's reading choices

    I don’t know that I seek approval or validation. What I’d like is for people to stop knocking it, using that dismissive tone when they realize it’s …gasp… romance! I wish they’d stop assuming it’s always about the sex. :|

    ReplyReply

  54. Angela James
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 13:30:00

    I don’t know that I seek approval or validation. What I’d like is for people to stop knocking it, using that dismissive tone when they realize it’s …gasp… romance! I wish they’d stop assuming it’s always about the sex.

    But honestly, as long as romance is called romance, whether it has clinch covers or still life covers, sex or no sex, some people will knock it and use dismissive tones, people will say it’s for bored housewives sitting around eating bon bons (and does anyone else ever wonder if soap opera actors sit around bemoaning the lack or respect they get or if they just take their paychecks, their love of their craft, their job satisfaction, the enjoyment of their fans and run with it?).

    The only time those same people maybe don’t act dismissive of romance, and I think this has been illustrated in comments above, is when romance is called literary fiction or some other genre. It’s not just the covers that people have a reaction to, it’s the label of romance as a whole, so to get rid of that reaction, you’d have to just get rid of romance and start publishing it as something else.

    ReplyReply

  55. Angela James
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 13:31:14

    lack or respect

    lack OF respect. Of.Of. My non-existant kingdom for an edit button.

    ReplyReply

  56. bam
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 13:43:46

    how the hell do you get Ned to read romance novels? My fella touched one and almost died from anaphylactic shock (granted, it was a vintage Harlequin Presents from the 70′s).

    ReplyReply

  57. DS
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 13:54:26

    If science fiction has become less ridiculed, that's because it has more time than romance to evolve and grow. I'm sure there were people back in the 1960s and 1970s saying the same things as you are now about half-naked women in submissive poses around the ankles of a steroidal Conan the Barbarian on Boris Vallejo's covers. But the genre eventually evolved.

    It was the 50′s and 60′s for sf, the turning point was the entry into the market of writers who demanded to be taken seriously. It began in Great Britain AFAIK with the New Wave and then came to the US with Judith Merrill as one of its main champions and Harlan Ellison doing his Dangerous Visions anthologies. Of course at the same time there was also being published in translation a German paperback/magazine series called Perry Rhodan which was despised by serious sf readers but championed by those who felt that the sense of wonder was being leeched out of the genre by the serious types.

    Fantasy took a longer way around although it had the better antecedents– Arthurian romance met pulp magazine reprints and somehow ended up as Sword and Sorcery. Frank Frazetta was the cover artist I first noticed putting half-nekked women on his covers menaced by low browed neandertal types.

    Mysteries actually fought for respectability in the 20′s and 30′s.

    So, yes, romance is young as a genre. But I think one thing that made a difference in the case of each genre was academicians picking a genre up and championing it as a source worthy of study. This is already happening with Romance so it is on its way.

    I think Romance fans are going to have to accept that there will always be the Perry Rhodan of romance, Cassie Edwards will do. It looks to me like the steps are being taken in spite of the man titty covers, RT’s conventions and some truly craptastic writing in romance novels. The fans will also have to accept that Romance is changing, just as sf and mystery changed.

    ReplyReply

  58. Ann Aguirre
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 13:57:14

    I don’t know about Ned, but I started my husband on gateway books: urban fantasies with romance subplot. He gobbled those up and then we were out of fresh reading material, so he comes to me humbly and asks, peering at my bookshelf with mannish confusion, “What do you recommend I read now?”

    Sunday I put TEMPTING DANGER by Eileen Wilks in his hands. It’s technically a paranormal romance, but I think it could go as urban fantasy too. He’s liking it so far, and I’m waiting with bated breath to see what he says. We read a lot of the same books, and discuss them at length over dinner. So maybe I’ll start running “Ro-MAN-tic Impressions” or something and publish his comments on my blog.

    ReplyReply

  59. Shiloh Walker
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 13:59:23

    But honestly, as long as romance is called romance, whether it has clinch covers or still life covers, sex or no sex, some people will knock it and use dismissive tones, people will say it's for bored housewives sitting around eating bon bons

    Yeah, I know some people will. But Angie… honestly, you know me. Would you consider me a ‘bored housewife/bon-bon type’? I don’t know if that describes any romance reader I’ve ever met. Or even any of the housewives/SAHM’s I’ve met. BORED describes very few of them. Most housewives/SAHMs don’t have time to bored.

    I don’t expect everybody to like romance, but I sure would love it if some of them would lose that haughty, snotty manner.

    But to be honest, yes, some are dismayed when I tell them I read and write it… but then they ask why and I get the chance to explain the romance genre as I see it… not as it’s commonly perceived.

    ReplyReply

  60. Ann Aguirre
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:04:14

    I sure would love it if some of them would lose that haughty, snotty manner.

    It’s sooo much more fun to shock them into running away, though.

    “Ma’am, what is it you have against positive, loving relationships?” she asked loudly. “You’d rather read about bodies being dismembered than sexual intercourse and emotional bonds?”

    You’d be surprised how fast they run away. :D

    ReplyReply

  61. Shiloh Walker
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:07:47

    You'd be surprised how fast they run away. :D

    Well, yeah. The snotty types… I do have this inner demon that makes me want to tug the chains a little.

    :) lol, and then I complain when people don’t take me seriously. I’m awful.

    ReplyReply

  62. Lindsey
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:11:59

    I’d love to see romance change its image., and if covers and titles are a path to that, I’m all for it. It’s fine to say that we, the readers, know the truth and don’t have to answer to anyone, but what about all the people who might be romance readers if they weren’t blinded by cultural assumptions of what romance is? I was one for years and years. It’s blatantly obvious to me now that I was meant to be a romance reader, but for too much of my life I bought into the preconceptions about formulaic stories and mediocre writing. Now I’ve wasted years of reading time.

    Neither being a romance reader nor others’ perception of me as a romance reader defines who I am, but reading romance is empowering – it makes me feel classy and sexy and cool (which I am!) – so I’m a little sorry that’s not the image that’s associated with romance readers. Romance readers are also the best community I’ve ever been a part of – they’re some of the smartest, savviest, most supportive, and fun people I’ve ever interacted with – and I’m sorry we don’t get recognition for that either. Or is it keeping out the riff raff that makes our community so great?

    ReplyReply

  63. Angela James
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:18:16

    Yeah, I know some people will. But Angie… honestly, you know me. Would you consider me a ‘bored housewife/bon-bon type’? I don’t know if that describes any romance reader I’ve ever met. Or even any of the housewives/SAHM’s I’ve met. BORED describes very few of them. Most housewives/SAHMs don’t have time to bored.

    Just to clarify, you do understand I meant that as someone else’s figure of speech? It’s a term I’ve heard used, I’m sure most of us have. By your comment, you seemed to interpret it as though I was saying there was some legitimacy in it. If you didn’t mean that, I’m not sure I understand your point, lol, because of course I don’t think that of (most) housewives or SAHMs (I have met a few who qualify, sadly). I am a housewife and I have been a SAHM so I know better!

    My point was that it’s one more way people use to sneer at and dismiss romance, it’s a fallacy, their understanding/belief of who is reading romance–they dismiss it as being something read by “bored housewives who sit around eating bon-bons all day”. And that misconceptions encompass more than just the covers, it encompasses much of the genre as a whole, from what’s between the covers to who’s reading it.

    ReplyReply

  64. Kerry
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:23:32

    Re: Lauren Willig–she has a degree from Harvard. Seriously, I think that’s 90% of the reason she got published and why her books were put in the “general fiction” section instead of being classified as romance. I read most of the Pink Carnation and it was awful, an unwanted bastard of chick lit and historical romance that was raised by some kindly editor with a soft heart for bad lit.

    ReplyReply

  65. Shiloh Walker
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:25:19

    Just to clarify, you do understand I meant that as someone else's figure of speech?

    Yeah, I know that. I’m talking about people in general. ;)

    You know when people realize that you read romance, people who know you, people that you know, and it’s like I’m being looked at a little bit differently.

    :P you got any idea how many people assume that when they hear I’m writing for a living, it’s that I’m writing children’s stories? That’s all well and good for them…but when they learn it’s romance? ooooohhhhhh…. that’s a different story.

    not for all. But a decent amount.

    ReplyReply

  66. Kerry Allen
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:31:58

    I receive undue attention from strangers whether I’m reading Dickens or Lindsey.

    I have come to the conclusion that being seen reading in public is what they consider freakish enough to comment upon, not the subject matter or the book cover.

    ReplyReply

  67. Tumperkin
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:44:50

    I’m glad so many other people don’t give a rat’s arse if they are seen reading clinch covers in public. But I do. It bothers me. In fact, it even bothers me taking one to the cash register of a book shop. Ok – I care too much what other people think. Ok – a lot of them probably don’t think anything. Still bothers me. And I’m still keeping my clinch covers in the bookcase in my bedroom – not in the one in the livingroom.

    And I am not alone.

    ReplyReply

  68. Jody W.
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 14:54:05

    What exactly is a bon-bon? Is it like a Hersey’s Truffle-Centered Nugget? Because I don’t sit around and eat them ALL day, I limit myself to 1, snarfed hastily in between all the things SAHM’s do when they’re not bored (which is always) and hoping nobody notices so I don’t have to share. Back off the bon, kid. Since I only get one, I figure it’s a bon, not a bon-bon, eh?

    As for romance and respect, I would prefer the covers be toned down, but that’s my personal preference and not what sells books. Readers who are active on internet blogs, voicing opinions and discussing romance and respect are in the vast minority.

    My M-I-L and GM-I-L love Harlequin Presents et al, for example, and I don’t. That doesn’t mean I’m going to be snotty about it, the same way non-romance fans are snotty to me because I read and write romance. I have observed that, even within the genre of romance, some folks still need a subgenre to kick around, be it category or Cassie Edwards or ebooks or erotica or what have you. It’s like it’s okay to read romance as long as you read the RIGHT romance. (And no, I’m not thinking of any particular individuals or discussions, I’m just stating something I’ve observed.)

    ReplyReply

  69. sherry thomas
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 15:05:59

    I wonder, since I keep hearing that mantitty and clinch outsell everything else, why do any publisher put out any other kind of covers at all? Did the art department finally get fed up of heaving bosoms and heaving pectorals? Did somebody scream “OMG, one more naked torso and I’m quitting and taking my team with me?” Did the publisher have to make a bargain that the art dept be allowed an abstract, a floral, and a landscape for every oiled male chest?

    Eloisa James, if you are here somewhere, can you tell us why your publisher all of a sudden gave you a mantitty cover and then decided that would be the last mantitty cover it ever gave you?

    ReplyReply

  70. Shiloh Walker
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 15:16:18

    What exactly is a bon-bon? Is it like a Hersey's Truffle-Centered Nugget?

    *G* I wouldnt’ know. My kids would sniff out any such delight and chomp it before I had a chance. The only candy I can keep hidden are my violet crumbles and that’s cuz I keep them in the bedroom where their greedy fingers can’t find them.

    ReplyReply

  71. Karen Scott
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 15:34:21

    Count me as one who prefers non-fabio covers.

    ReplyReply

  72. Leah
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 16:05:41

    I wonder, since I keep hearing that mantitty and clinch outsell everything else, why do any publisher put out any other kind of covers at all?

    I think some of it depends on the author. For more established writers, their name is selling the book more than the cover art. As authors get bigger, publishers want to “break them out of the romance category” (though why they think that’s a bad place to be, I have no idea) and tend to put, shall we say, less-provocative images on the front.

    ReplyReply

  73. Keishon
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 16:09:43

    Joining the party late but yeah, I agree. I had to break down and buy Laura Kinsale’s book which had Fabio on the cover. Made me cringe and made me wait for a female cashier to check me out. Covers do need a change but it’s not happening anytime soon along with the secret baby and virgin mistresses, it’s a more traditional thing and a staple of the genre. Hard to do away with, I’m afraid.

    ReplyReply

  74. sherry thomas
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 16:10:21

    think some of it depends on the author. For more established writers, their name is selling the book more than the cover art.

    Very true. But what about a no-name author like me? Does my publisher not want to see me succeed? Where’s my mantitty? Or mantush? :-)

    ReplyReply

  75. Beth
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 16:53:22

    “I'm glad so many other people don't give a rat's arse if they are seen reading clinch covers in public. But I do. It bothers me. In fact, it even bothers me taking one to the cash register of a book shop. Ok – I care too much what other people think. Ok – a lot of them probably don't think anything. Still bothers me. And I'm still keeping my clinch covers in the bookcase in my bedroom – not in the one in the livingroom.

    And I am not alone.”

    No, you are not. Most of the folks posting here have a vested financial interest in books selling, and if clinch covers sell, then I am not surprised they support them.

    But they demean the genre and the readers. They misrepresent the text. And the “art” offends my aesthetic sensibilities.

    ReplyReply

  76. Meljean Brook
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 17:18:12

    I like a clinch better than a male torso — that said, however, I was thrilled thrilled thrilled when Berkley changed the “look” of my covers from a clinch to a shirtless male, because I know it will sell better. I’m also glad they didn’t go a non-sexy route. I’m a newbie, so my name isn’t going to get anyone to pick up my books, and a non-sexy cover, no matter how wonderfully designed and how well it screams “paranormal” (like the lightning bolt/color scheme of Nora’s BLOOD BROTHERS) isn’t going to say anything about romance on the inside. When someone picks up Nora, they know it’s romance. But a Meljean Brook? Better slap on that man-titty.

    And I’d a million times rather have man-titty than a flower … or, god forbid, a stallion rampant, a prowling lion, or whatever. (And I do think the JR Ward/Lara Adrian-style covers are a happy medium. A close up on the couple, and sexy, but you have to actually look at it to see. And in terms of respectability, is there anything there to really mock?)

    Reading in public is a different issue for me. I’m not embarrassed by my reading choices, and will take a clinch cover out without a worry. But if I’ve got — just for example — Dawn Thompson’s LORD OF THE DEEP on my TBR, you can bet that I’m not going to take that outside with me. The cover model’s (admittedly very nice) ass is half out of the water, and I know exactly what I would think of a man who was riding on the bus, reading a Penthouse, and the model on the front had her ass showing. (Not, mind you, that I care if anyone is reading porn, and I’m not saying romance novels are porn, either — I’m saying that some things are appropriate to expose in public, and some aren’t. Man-titty doesn’t go into the “inappropriate” category for me, but ass cheeks and obvious in-coitus poses sure as heck do.)

    My idea of the perfect cover is the step-back. You’ve got the discreet cover, but for those who like teh sexy (like me) you just open it up and get an eyeful, and those who don’t can just skip over the inset. Too bad they cost so much more to produce.

    ReplyReply

  77. Tessa Dare
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 17:35:36

    I guess I am in the minority, but I love a good clinch. And by a “good” clinch, I mean a clinch that depicts an actual scene in the book, with reasonably accurate representations of the hero and heroine, in a pose that does not defy anatomic possibility. Good clinches draw my attention when I’m browsing; they give me a starting place to imagine the characters in their world; and most of all, they give me a happy sort of closure at the end of the book. Right after I’ve read the HEA, when I’m feeling that lovely afterglow, I can flip to that clinch and gaze up on it and think, “There they are, exposed to the elements and transported by passion, exactly the way I want to remember them… *sigh*”

    Of course, the reading-in-public part can get dicey, but that’s why I believe the stepback to be the best invention evah.

    I didn’t always embrace the clinch, I’ll admit. Ever since I first read it, I have recommended Lord of Scoundrels to anyone and everyone, always with the caveat – “Just ignore that clinchy cover – it’s brilliant!” Now LOS is out with a new, “classier” cover – and guess what? I miss the clinch. Jessica’s back doesn’t do much for me. I miss that direct, sultry look she gives me on the old cover – that look that says, “Yes, he is a big, bad brute of a man, and I have him eating out of the palm of my hand.” Or out of the curve of her neck, as the case may be.

    As for respect for the genre – I’m not holding my breath for it to happen, clinch covers or no. I don’t think we can expect romance novels to get much respect, however, if we are continually apologizing for them. (As I was guilty of doing, with all my previous recommendations of LOS.) Don’t we have a right to enjoy well-written, entertaining stories that center on romantic love and yes, sex? I don’t see men apologizing for their fantasies, be they spy-thriller wish fulfillment or centerfolds. I can completely understand that individuals could take-or-leave the clinch as a matter of personal taste, and I’d agree that there are some covers and titles that verge on the ridiculous. But I wouldn’t like to see it argued that romance novels will only get respect once we start denying or disguising what’s inside them.

    ReplyReply

  78. Keishon
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 18:27:53

    Besides cosmetic issues there is the problem with the content, at least for me it is but that’s a tangent issue. Clinch covers, whatever, don’t do it for me. I prefer my covers without people. I like landscapes or period detail if it’s a historical. I’ve never cared for people on the cover, ruins the imagination and don’t get me started on authors who decide what the hero or heroine looks like for us by telling us that they look like Kevin Costner or Britney Spears, thump against the wall it goes. I don’t appreciate that at all. Speaking for myself of course…as usual great article of discussion, J. Adios.

    ReplyReply

  79. eggs
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 18:31:00

    Obviously, there are two competing markets here. For the market I belong to, the most important thing is to be able to readily identify the contents of the book by the picture on the cover. For those of us with very short book-buying time slots (like 15 minutes or less in the store), that allows us to read the blurbs on the backs of 5 novels that might actually interest us, as opposed to five novels that all turn out to be not in our interest area. When your bookstore shelves romance in with regular fiction (like mine does) that becomes very important.

    Then there is the market which cares less about speed of purchasing and more about what others think of their reading habits. To them, the most important thing is that the book’s cover is not content identifying. I used to belong to this market when I was younger and didn’t want the rest of the world to know what I was reading – and had endless spare hours to spend in bookstores. Glory days!

    I would hazard a guess that those of us who need to buy quickly actually buy more books than those who have the time to browse. If you have time, then you can select one book that you’re 99% sure you’re going to enjoy based on the first chapter you already read in the bookstore. If you’re like me, then you pick up 2 or 3 books and hope that one of them hits the spot. So right off the bat, readily identifiable romance novels are going to sell more to people like me, even if only one of the two we buy actually gets read from beginning to end. And I think that right there explains why clinches sell better than plain covers.

    It would be interesting to know how many romance books are read per week by those who dislike identifiable covers vs. those who don’t care/actively like them. I’d usually read about 2-3 books per week.

    ReplyReply

  80. Ann Bruce
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 18:43:45

    To echo some of the earlier comments, why do we need the respect of outsiders who can’t be bothered to go beyond the trappings? So what if they make the occasional snide comment that includes the words “heaving” and “bosoms”? It doesn’t affect my reading experience. And you know it’s always me, me, me! If clinch covers bothered me, I never would’ve picked up Lindsey or Kinsale.

    Personally, I unabashedly display romance book covers in public, like I do comic books, Kafka, Dumas, and Solzenitzen. I’m amused when outsiders become uncomfortable. I’m kinda contrary that way. I only had one stranger actually comment negatively about my reading material. I shushed her and told her I was getting to a good part. She got flustered, like she couldn’t understand why I wasn’t ashamed, then turned red and moved to another seat. Guess she was afraid my bad taste in books would infect her.

    And for those readers who are embarassed by clinch covers, there’s already a solution: ebooks!

    Some publishers provide different covers – such as the Potter books, one cover for the kiddies, one cover for adults – can't Romance Publishers do the same?

    HP is a publishing phenom. Generally, I don’t think print publishers can afford the extra expense of multiple covers for the same geographical market.

    Just look at Little Black Dress books. They are tasteful, uniform, suitable for carrying on the train, yet still manage to say Romance.

    Personally, I’ve always passed over LBD because they look like chick lit and not romance. I’m not one for browsing, so I like my romance easily identifiable.

    ReplyReply

  81. Bonnie
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 18:45:07

    But they demean the genre and the readers. They misrepresent the text. And the “art” offends my aesthetic sensibilities.

    Cheers to that! Come on already.

    Truthfully, I’m not embarrassed at the book store or reading on the train. But, I did have jury duty a few months ago and was reading Blaze and simply could not bring myself to take that book along. The thought of being closed in with strangers for 8 hours with that cover was too much for me for me to bear.

    Now see? That’s ain’t right. And generally, I’m not one to give a rat’s ass what people think.

    ReplyReply

  82. Robin
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 18:45:18

    What I see is a tension within the Romance reading community regarding the image of the genre. On the one hand readers will say that they don’t care what the covers look like or they aren’t concerned about gaining external respect, but anytime someone from outside the readership makes what is perceived as a disparaging comment about the genre there is an outcry from the readership.

    I think what Jane’s trying to say is that it’s no surprise that people who don’t read the genre think little of it given the covers, blurbs, and titles (marketing in general, really). I would go one step further and say that if readers are happy with the covers, etc. then they also have to accept that genre marketing is portraying a certain image to the general public that doesn’t invite respect.

    As for the covers themselves, I don’t know if I’ll ever be convinced that the clinch/mantitty covers sell more because readers love them *for themselves* rather than because they say *Romance* in vivid visual terms. I just think it goes back to the idea of the paradigm of Romance and the conditioning we have undergone as readers to recognize those covers and associate them with something we want (Romance).

    I also disagree, to some extent, with the idea that Romance suffers because women’s fiction has always been and always will be denigrated, in part because I think women in general these days are in a much different cultural and social position, and that the sheer number of women academics, professionals, and literary stars, for example, have shifted the cultural context in which we view the role of women vis a vis professional writing. I don’t think it’s about the happy ending, either (think of how soap operas are dissed, and they are all about disruption, melodrama, and continuous undermining of any permanent HEA for characters). Or even think about the broad popularity of a television show like The Sopranos and the way in which Chase couldn’t bring himself to have Tony whacked at the end of the series, instead portraying a family scene, with that upbeat Journey song, and nothing but the viewer’s speculation as to what will happen. I think that’s because Chase knew that one of the things that made that show so popular was the way viewers could identify with Tony as a family man, and with his wife and kids, and that he didn’t want to permanently put an end to the domestic fantasy aspect of the series.

    ReplyReply

  83. Bonnie
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 18:47:01

    I hate that we can’t edit. Grrrr….

    :)

    ReplyReply

  84. Denise
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 19:07:20

    I’m one of the ones who hates clinch covers. It doesn’t stop me from buying a book in most cases, and they’re obviously popular with many readers. My problem with them, and with the man-titty cover, is the overwhelming prevalence of the same, homogenized concept. I’d like to see something a little different that doesn’t sail right into cheesy territory. Book covers with unusual covers will catch my eye quicker than the same-old-same-old cover concept.

    I’ve become a huge fan of Ann Caine’s work over at Samhain. Subtle, eye-catching covers that manage to convey the genre at first glance and give hints of the tale within. This:

    would grab my attention a lot faster than the typical bare man-torso, but that’s just a personal preference. I think a hero can still be sexy on a cover while fully clothed.

    I have to agree with a previous commentor. Cover can make or break an unknown author. Bad cover on a relative unknown and I’ll skim by (unless they’ve been recommended to me by a friend). However, a good cover will make me stop and pull the book off the shelf or read the excerpt online. I think of covers like houses. Curb appeal counts.

    Also, I’d like to see more attention paid to back blurbs. My understanding is that NY-published books often use someone other than the author to write the back blurb. This can be good or bad. I’ve picked up books by now-favorite authors because their blurb writers penned a brilliant blurb. That also can work in reverse. There’s a natural assumption by the reader that the author penned the blurb as well. I suspect a crappy back blurb will scare off a reader faster than a crappy cover.

    As for respect of the genre, call me cynical, but I don’t see it happening in the near future even if we changed covers and back blurbs. That’s a shame.

    ReplyReply

  85. Denise
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 19:09:39

    Oops. For some reason, my link didn’t show up. I’ll try it the old fashioned way:

    http://samhainpublishing.com/romance/mirage

    ReplyReply

  86. Ann Bruce
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 19:37:18

    Completely off topic…

    Chase couldn't bring himself to have Tony whacked at the end of the series, instead portraying a family scene, with that upbeat Journey song, and nothing but the viewer's speculation as to what will happen.

    There was an episode where Tony discussed what it’s like to die with Bobby. Bobby says, “At the end, you probably don’t hear anything; everything just goes black.”

    ReplyReply

  87. Robin
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 19:42:01

    There was an episode where Tony discussed what it's like to die with Bobby. Bobby says, “At the end, you probably don't hear anything; everything just goes black.”

    Yup, you can argue it both ways (which IMO was the brilliance of the ending, not its weakness). But I think Chase also knew that if he showed Tony getting whacked he’d lose the part of his audience that wanted Tony to beat the odds, somehow (‘don’t stop believin’, hold onto that feelin’ . . . ). I think the show was so popular because it was primarily a family drama, and as nutso as Tony was, who wants to see a family you’ve grown to care about destroyed.

    ReplyReply

  88. Ann Bruce
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 20:09:26

    Yup, you can argue it both ways (which IMO was the brilliance of the ending, not its weakness).

    Definitely agree with you here. In some stories, ambiguous endings work. Personally, I still haven’t decided if I want Tony to live or die. For me, time stopped in that moment and I don’t need to know how it ends (or my short attention span could be the problem here).

    ReplyReply

  89. Bev Stephans
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 20:23:43

    I buy all of my books online now but at one time I haunted the bookstores. If a cover was too embarassing, I wouldn’t buy it because I didn’t have the nerve to take it to the check-out counter. Online bookbuying has changed all that so I don’t care what’s on the covers but I do think a lot of them are cheesey as hell.

    ReplyReply

  90. ilona andrews
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 20:51:36

    Equivalent to romance covers does exist:

    Boobs

    and

    Ass

    and


    Boobs and Ass

    Or this one:

    How is this NOT a Romance cover?

    Obviously, these are marketed at men and despite people bemoaning the fact that breasts are reaching udder proportions, they sell. Someone out there must want them.

    PS. The preview keeps eating my links…

    ReplyReply

  91. Bonnie
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 20:55:56

    Okay, aside from the “respect the genre” from all of the important people, there’s this:

    “WHY SHOULD PEOPLE FEEL EMBARRASSED TO TAKE A BOOK IN PUBLIC?”

    I mean, there it is. People that love romance are having problems with the covers and titles.

    That’s just insane to me. To fell like you have to hide what you love to read? Awful.

    ReplyReply

  92. Kathleen O'Reilly
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 00:25:07

    I suffer from cover neurosis as both an author and a reader.

    As a reader in the bookstore, I suffer from no cover paranoia. I love the man-titty, it captures my eye, and possibly some primitive mating instinct toward “good breeeding material.” But slap me out in the public and I’m hiding and stuffing it into Newsweeek or laying the book out flat so that no one can see what I’m reading.

    I am a shy person. I’m not a flaunter, I’ve never been a flaunter, and I think the more ostentatious romance covers are for flaunters.

    As an author, it’s worse. I’m like schizoid. I crave the hot sexy clinches, because I know that “good breeding material” translates into ka-ching, yet I cringe because most of my non-writing friends don’t read romance (nor do they mock it, at least not in front of me) and I imagine their shocked reactions (behind my back of course, because they’re nice people).

    I got my new cover for my next Blaze, and it has no naked (nor nearly naked) people on the cover. I loved it, but I worry the book will tank because there are no naked (nor nearly naked) people on the cover.

    Schizoid.

    ReplyReply

  93. Jessica Inclan
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 00:32:19

    My novel coming out in Jan 2008 and October 2008 inspired my mother to say, “Who’s the hunk? Who’s the Adonis?” Mind you, she’s 70. Mind you, she’s read the manuscript of each, niether which truly has an Adonis in the plot. Some damn fine men, but Adonises?

    So, point well taken on both covers, I think. This is what covers are for. Wrapping paper to entice. I don’t think we should take the wrapping so seriously, whether it is romance or contemporary fiction. I’ve had covers from both that don’t really relate to the story I’m telling.

    To the point–a novel coming out in summer with a beach on the cover. The plot revolved around a pool. A suburban swim team. No beach in sight. No beach in the plot. But summer . . . summer reading . . .

    And as authors don’t have much of a say, it’s something between the publishers and the readers, really, to figure out–if it is something to truly figure out. Don’t, of course, judge a book by its, oh, you know what I mean.

    Jessica Inclan

    ReplyReply

  94. azteclady
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 00:36:04

    For me the problem with lurid covers, ridiculous titles, and badly written back blurbs is not how they affect current romance readers. It’s not about respect for the genre–or its readers. Or at least, not so much.

    It is about the marketing effectively limiting the influx of new readers, and via a vicious cycle, reducing the variety and proportional quality of the genre as a whole. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay up there at comment 25, Beth said

    I would never have picked up a clinch cover because I would have assumed that it contained purple prose, one dimensional charcters, and an incomprehensible (or nonexistent) plot generated soley as a device to loosely connect gratuitous, unrealistic and possibly misogynistic sex scenes.

    Exactly. As Tessa Dare said, often we recommend truly great books–excellent story, brilliant writing, amazing characterization, what have you–while including the apologetic (and seemingly obligatory) “never mind the cover–it doesn’t represent what’s inside” caveat. And part of my brain wants to asplode and go all, “wtf? aren’t covers supposed to convey what’s between them????”

    I definitely agree with Beth that

    (the covers, etc) mislead the reader: there is a lot more to the hero than his broad shoulders, a lot more to the heroine than her lithe figure, and a lot more to this book than the sex, or even the romance. But you'd never know that by looking at the cover.

    Julie Leto said that cover “art” and back blurbs say

    Nothing. It says ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. The art department and the editorial department sometimes aren't even on speaking terms. At some publishers, the editor has some control over the cover…but at others, like Harlequin, they have no say. Art and Marketing work entirely independently from editorial.

    Just want to point that out. You really can't judge a book by its cover.

    But see, you know that, and I know that, and people reading these blogs know that. But no one else does. And we shouldn’t expect every other reader to know it either.

    I can see where people on the other side of the argument come from–there’s a built-in readership/market, why mess with a good thing? But I wonder if that truly holds, or if it’s inertia–the path of least resistance. In other words, the “chicken vs egg” thing–do these covers/titles/blurbs sell because the majority of the readership want them? (be it convenience or actual taste preference) Or is it that the majority of readers buy what is there for sale?

    Obviously, there’s no easy answer, because there are many variables adding their own shades of grey.

    ReplyReply

  95. bettie
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 02:51:43

    The mainstream disdain for Romance novels reminds me of the mainstream disdain that existed for comic books before comic book publishers decided to designate the classier examples of that genre as “graphic novels”. Comic books were stigmatized as the silly fantasies of geeky boys, as being all about bulging muscles, gamma rays and ridiculous plot twists. Fans always knew there were great comic books out there, but the greats didn’t change the fact that spandex and muscles did (and still do) sell.

    Romance is very similar in that there are a lot of books in the genre that are simplistic, formulaic and perhaps a little silly. But they sell. We can’t make over the entire genre because the virgin widow and mantitty segments of the marketplace make bank. No sane publisher would trade cash money for critical approval, and we shouldn’t expect them to.

    Instead what we need is an equivalent to the “graphic novel”. So here’s my question: What would we call this literature-leaning, classily-clad new subset of the Romance genre?

    ReplyReply

  96. Mrs Giggles
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 04:52:44

    That's just insane to me. To fell like you have to hide what you love to read? Awful.

    That’s not really the situation here, I believe. No one is ashamed. It’s more of a matter of how thick our skin is.

    For example, how you seen the cover for the Aphrodisia anthology Big Spankable Asses? I have no problems letting people know I read romance, but there is no way I am thick-skinned enough to sit in a bus and read that book with its title and cover in front of other people.

    ReplyReply

  97. Shiloh Walker
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 07:54:05

    For example, how you seen the cover for the Aphrodisia anthology Big Spankable Asses? I have no problems letting people know I read romance, but there is no way I am thick-skinned enough to sit in a bus and read that book with its title and cover in front of other people.

    Exactly! I can see why that would bother a lot of people~some people are naturally shy, naturally more reserved and reading a book like that would subject them to questions, looks. Introverts can have a hard time answering a simple, Hello, How are you... much less a … What the hell are you reading?

    And while I’m not thin-skinned, as much as I might enjoy the book, or others with similar titles/covers, unless it’s available in ebook, I won’t buy it. I’m a mom of three young, very nosy children. A book like with a title like BSA is just going to invite the question from my six year old…

    “mama, what’s a big, spankable ass?”

    It’s not something a six year old needs to see, which means I’d end up having to keep it tucked away inside my room and only read it when they were asleep or not home. I’ve got better things to do when they sleep and when they aren’t home, I’m generally working. So I never even picked that book up… or a number of others for the same reasons.

    If it’s a print book I’d have to keep out of my kid’s eyesight, then I simply won’t buy it. If there’s an ebook version…different story.

    For the record, I’m not a prude. I write erotic romance and I don’t hide it. My kids know that I write books for grown-ups. I’m not worried about them seeing artistic nudity, but at six and eight, the older two are definitely too young to be exposed to the sexualized nudity or semi nudity on a lot of covers.

    ReplyReply

  98. Tumperkin
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 08:24:08

    In response to the last two comments, I am not in the least bit shy and I AM ashamed to be seen reading some (very mainstream) romance novels in public.. I’m not talking about Big Spankable Asses but about decent books with pretty standard mantitty covers.

    Just trying to be honest here.

    I can completely understand that authors will want covers that sell. I can completely understand that many romance consumers want to be able to identify the books they want at a glance without browsing. But I think for most readers (ok, not all) the lure of these covers is about genre-recognition rather than an active fondness for garish covers. I don’t see why a makeover to more beautiful covers with different cues to genre-recognition is beyond the genre. Happily, I think to a degree it is already happening. Someone mentioned the Black Dagger books earlier and I’ve seen some Black Lace books with really nice covers.

    ReplyReply

  99. Angela James
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 09:11:27

    For example, how you seen the cover for the Aphrodisia anthology Big Spankable Asses? I have no problems letting people know I read romance, but there is no way I am thick-skinned enough to sit in a bus and read that book with its title and cover in front of other people.

    Point. I totally would not carry that book in public.

    ReplyReply

  100. Sarah McCarty
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 09:23:31

    For the record, I'm not a prude. I write erotic romance and I don't hide it. My kids know that I write books for grown-ups. I'm not worried about them seeing artistic nudity, but at six and eight, the older two are definitely too young to be exposed to the sexualized nudity or semi nudity on a lot of covers.

    Yup. It’s a problem for me for the same reasons others have stated and I have come to the same criteria for buying or not buying. Uber explicit is the only type of cover that will effect my book buying decision.

    ReplyReply

  101. Tracy
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 09:43:31

    Shiloh, I understand exactly what you are saying regarding the kids and the book covers. I’m not an ebook reader, so those books stay in my room. I have an 8 year old and a 5 year old. Both boys. Both could really care less about bodies and such. However, both are excellent readers and I don’t need the “What’s a big spankable ass?” question. With my luck, they’d ask their Sunday School teacher! bwahahahahahahaha And my husband is a part time Children’s worker at the church!!

    I was sitting on the recliner with my five year old the other day and he says “Thank you, sir” I’m like “what?” and he says “it’s in your book Mommy” whooo boy. I can’t read romance books next to him anymore if he’s going to be reading along with me!! LOL

    ReplyReply

  102. Tracy
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 09:44:41

    OR, I can see the kids asking what the couple on the cover is doing. “Oh wrestling!” LOL they might fall for it, but the adult that they say “My mommy reads books with people wrestling on the cover” won’t!! *wink*

    ReplyReply

  103. sherry thomas
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 09:46:29

    Instead what we need is an equivalent to the “graphic novel”. So here's my question: What would we call this literature-leaning, classily-clad new subset of the Romance genre?

    HEA-lit?

    I think Bettie has a fantastic point. Romances these days range from the most formulaic and lackluster to those that would astonish any readers of literary fiction with their sheer luminosity. It would be great to be able to re-brand the “up-market” subset.

    I do see books labeled “literary mystery”, “literary thriller” etc. Why can’t romances that qualify be styled “literary romance”?

    ReplyReply

  104. Lynne
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 10:15:36

    Keishon mentioned waiting for a female cashier. I do the same thing when I’m buying romance in big chain bookstores. One of the reasons I like the local used bookstore so much is that all the cashiers are women. Oh, and they have a lot of good backlist romance. :-)

    I’m not ashamed to say I read romance, but I’m not prepared to go around carrying a book with a cover that screams chick porn, either. There’s gotta be a middle ground between nearly nekkid covers and something that belongs on a collection of Emily Dickinson poems, right?

    ReplyReply

  105. Phyl
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 10:26:48

    It is about the marketing effectively limiting the influx of new readers,

    Several years ago I was a new-to-romance reader. I was in the Atlanta airport and allowed myself to be bumped to a later flight. I had a Mary Balogh book in my purse and several more of her books in my suitcase. Which went on to Seattle on the earlier flight. I finished the book in my purse and trotted off to a bookstore to find another romance novel.

    Now remember–I was new to romance. Did you ever notice that airport bookstores don’t have romance sections? They must think that all travelers are men, but that’s another blog topic altogether. Anyhow, there I was trying to find myself a romance, but with no separate romance section and no books with clinch covers I was clueless. See, I didn’t know enough to buy a Nora Roberts, which would have made the next 10 hours of my life much happier. Instead I “settled” for a Dean Koontz novel, which was OK, but SO not what I was looking for.

    ReplyReply

  106. azteclady
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 10:32:36

    Tumperkin said

    I can completely understand that authors will want covers that sell. I can completely understand that many romance consumers want to be able to identify the books they want at a glance without browsing. But I think for most readers (ok, not all) the lure of these covers is about genre-recognition rather than an active fondness for garish covers. I don't see why a makeover to more beautiful covers with different cues to genre-recognition is beyond the genre.

    Word!

    I can see how such a change would take a while to happen, but it’s a very elegant solution.

    ReplyReply

  107. Issek
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 11:07:53

    It seems to me that the industry has sort of painted itself into a corner with current practices, i.e. the lurid covers, titles, and back blurbs of at least some “category” romance novels. They work – in that readers can instantly recognize the genre that they are interested in – and it seems that they sell books as well. How many authors, given the choice, would forego increased sales by opting for more sedate, “respectable” covers? It is a business, after all.

    Any movement towards acceptance and respect is going to take place gradually. Personally, I’d start by firing the people who come up with titles like Virgin Slave, Barbarian King that have very little to do with the plot of the novel.

    Who writes these titles? Are they former headline writers from the tabloids?

    ReplyReply

  108. Meljean Brook
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 11:18:54

    I don't see why a makeover to more beautiful covers with different cues to genre-recognition is beyond the genre.

    Do you think that it’s already taking place? There has been a shift in covers (whether because of the popularity of JR Ward or some other factor) and many aren’t as garish as they were. The up-close, color-washed faces are great; you know those people are naked and getting their sexy on, but it’s not even close to a couple spread out on a bed with only a satin sheet covering their party bits. The full-on clinch isn’t as common as it used to be (although the man-titty is there) except in historicals. Sub-genres like romantic suspense have pretty much done away with any cheesiness, and with the rising popularity of urban fantasy, I can see paranormal romances with guys wearing clothes following. Deborah Cooke’s KISS OF FIRE is one that springs to mind — the model is wearing a shirt, and it’s still a great, sexy cover. If covers like that sell well, I can see that shift happening — so that maybe the cue is no longer the naked torso but the faded/color-washed kiss in the background.

    ReplyReply

  109. Chicklet
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 11:29:46

    I can’t help but think that the half-naked covers and bad titles sell the genre short. We all know that romance has a lot of great books, but the marketing materials (covers, titles, blurbs) don’t give the impression that the book within has deep characterization or well-written prose. The best example I can think of is The Spymaster’s Lady — I know for sure that if I hadn’t read umpteen glowing reviews of the book, I wouldn’t be buying it, because that cover is horrid. Not only is it an inaccurate depiction of the hero (who’s described in the text as plain), it ignores the (strong, capable) heroine ENTIRELY, and makes it look like the plot involves nothing more than watching a shirtless guy. In short, the cover cheapens the fantastic book within it. Why do we want to make ourselves look cheap?

    ReplyReply

  110. Madame B
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 12:00:03

    I'm a newbie to romance having had the attitude all these years that romance was just mindless silly fluff. Ok, you can all shoot your arrows at me, I deserve it! In my defense, it just generally wasn't a subject matter that I was attracted too. I never really judged anyone for reading it; it just wasn't my cup of tea. But I'll admit, I've always thought those clinch covers to be really silly and even now will not buy such a book.

    Now that I'm into romance, and I have to be honest and say that I read mostly erotic romance, I'm faced with the dilemma of the cover situation while reading in public, or buying such things. The first romance genre book that I bought was Dangerous Lover and when I saw the cover I thought, oh gawd, I can't buy this and not feel stupid, and I don't really blush that easily and I'm certainly no prude, or I wouldn't be reading this stuff. So, I went and got a bunch of other, more “respectable” books so that I didn't look like a pathetic “middle aged housewife that sits around eating bon-bons.” Yeah, it's a cliché, but people think that. One thing I have to say is that compared to romances with clinch covers, many erotic romances have covers that are not embarrassing to read in public and I will site Shiloh's as an example. So that has worked out for me.

    I proudly tell friends and family what I'm reading, even that I'm reading erotica, and I now have no problem buying these books. However, I do work in peoples homes, some homes in which the client or their family have moral values that wouldn't include erotic romance, so I find that I do have to cover up what I'm reading, or I always place the book face down.

    I've also managed to turn some friends on to romance through paranormals, but I always have to say, oh, don't worry about the title; it's cheesy I know, and the book does have romance in it, but this book, or these books are very intelligently written and it's not only about romance. So I do make excuses. And then I've told several acquaintances that I'm reading romance and they confess to me that they do too, but then they almost always add, well, you know, during vacation. As if reading a romance other than on vacation time is shameful. Personally though, I don't really care if people think it not respectable to read romance. I like it and tough patooty to those who would judge me for it.

    As far as what covers attract me, I will most likely never buy a book with a clinch cover. I'm still prejudiced in that way as I think books with clinch covers are mostly silly fluff, still. If I'm over at Ellora's Cave, or Samhain, then I'm attracted to covers with real people on them, or man titty, if it's NOT Fabio and covers that don't show any nudity, but pics of the genre, like if I'm looking for romantic suspense, then a guy and a girl dressed, with a gun, or something like that will grab me first. I will click on those books first to see the synopsis before I click on any others.

    ReplyReply

  111. Missy S
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 12:06:25

    I don’t have time to read all the comments now, but will hopefully get to them later.

    But after your first paragraph, I couldn’t help but think how ironic that in cinema, it’s the musicals and comedies or the science fiction and fantasies that don’t get respect b/c of what they are. Yet in literature, these are just as respected as the historicals and such. At least, they seem to be.

    And I’m all for some fluff covers, but I had no clue that Shana Abe was a romance author b/c I started with her drakon series. I assumed she was a fantasy writer with romantic elements in her books. Funny, huh?

    ReplyReply

  112. Jackie L.
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 12:23:16

    I worked my not-so-tiny hiney off yesterday, so I missed most of this. But OM Gawd, Brain-dead Ginny and her rapist boyfriend Steve.

    I’d blocked that book out. Brain bleach. What a great start for the genre. This is why we love Mrs. Giggles.

    ReplyReply

  113. Jill Myles
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 13:15:41

    Any movement towards acceptance and respect is going to take place gradually. Personally, I'd start by firing the people who come up with titles like Virgin Slave, Barbarian King that have very little to do with the plot of the novel.

    I bought that book after seeing the title. *g* Instant win for me. And it did what it was supposed to – caught my eye, made me pick up the book, and I bought it.

    And mantitty sells. Whether or not I like it or not, I’m hoping for a big, lurid man nipple on my cover to go with my lurid title.

    I find that if the art is tasteful, I don’t care how naked or up-close the hero is. SPYMASTER’S LADY is pretty tasteful mantitty. I have seen others that are embarrassing as hell and I would rather pay shipping and order them on Amazon.com than walk up to a register with it.

    ReplyReply

  114. Patricia Rice
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 16:58:39

    I have this blog forwarded to my mailbox so I’m coming in late to a discussion near and dear to my heart. I’ve worked with editors in publishing houses that truly do try hard to reflect the spirit of our books while still giving mass market buyers the marketing clues necessary to sell as many books as possible. For publishers, that’s always going to be bottom line–selling as many books as they can. We’ve gone from clinch covers to jewel covers to lady’s back covers and now to floating faces. (Sarah, your description of the marketing clues is pure genius–my historical paranormals have the fog and the floating faces) So we can’t say publishers haven’t tried to legitimize the genre and put it into the hands of bookstore readers as well as walmart readers. They have bookloads of numbers to judge how different covers sell, but the cover isn’t the only marketing tool involved.

    A recognized name with fairly high sales can receive a different treatment from a new author because name recognition sells books. A new author is more likely to get a clinch cover simply because those do sell better.

    But what is happening now is that romance sales have hit a peak, and publishers are desperately attempting to push sales higher with every trick in the book. Some are going back to the clinch cover in hopes of picking up new readers for old authors. I have no idea if this is successful.

    In women’s fiction, it’s even harder because publishers have yet to find anything beyond adirondack chairs to appeal to that core audience. So romance authors need to be glad that clinches still sell in nice numbers.

    I think what we need is talking book covers. :) If a reader picks up erotica, the cover can literally say “This is hot, hot, hot!” Short of that, I don’t know what else we can do to reach new readers in an ever changing marketplace.

    ReplyReply

  115. art director
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 22:16:15

    I just want to add another opinion to the mix in regards to how things work at Harlequin. At Harlequin there are over 12 Art directors working with dozens of editors and marketers. Depending on how each team works, there is actually a lot of communication between the editor and the art and marketing. I am lucky to work within teams who respect and understand each others roll to play in the process of capturing a reader for an author.

    I work with 3 separate teams- and I trust the judgement of my Editor in each and every team. It’s many times their suggestions that a concept emerges from. They understand that at the end of the day, we are trying to create an audince for the story that the author has created. We ALL comprimise where we have to.

    We all go through the “what were they thinking” vibe sometimes, but I think the key to the whole process is respect. I am, in many ways, an artist- and I want your cover to be true to your story. But then, I am also a commerical artist, and I want a reader to notice your book amidst 100s of other books. 100′s.

    A few years back we changed the looks of a few series, making them less “sexy” and “corny”. And guess what? Your fans didn’t buy them. They TANKED. The marketplace doesn’t seem to want subtle.

    So iconic went out, and clinches came back in. And the fans returned.
    We can give you classy. We can give you subtle. But you may not be happy with the sales of your book.

    Love and respect this Holiday season to you and yours! :)

    ReplyReply

  116. Shiloh Walker
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 22:42:07

    We can give you classy. We can give you subtle. But you may not be happy with the sales of your book.

    Well, that’s a little depressing… lol.

    Although I’ve been checking out some covers lately and thinking back, I do think there is a slow, subtle change in cover styles taking place.

    I guess any major, noticeable change across the board is one that will have to take place over a period of time and not right away.

    ReplyReply

  117. art director
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 22:52:07

    Ha ha- you’re right… I was a bit over the top!
    All in all, we are listening, and we’re doing what we can to find a balance- if a cover has a clinch, then we’ll find a new way to light it. Or if it is a man on his own on the cover, perhaps it has more of a movie poster feel.
    Don’t worry! Trends come and go- but with teams working together (my initial point I was making) we are making changes…

    ReplyReply

  118. Mrs Giggles
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 23:24:12

    Yup, I know what art director is trying to say. I remember years ago when Bantam was publishing the Loveswept line. They opted to do away with the clinch covers and instead put floral borders around the title and author’s name on the cover along with an occasional photograph of a hunk looking broodily at the reader. Big mistake especially for a line that is already showing signs of faltering sales – readers complained that the covers were boring, they couldn’t tell the books apart, et cetera.

    Regarding clinch versus respectable versions of a cover, didn’t Avon carry out an experiment by publishing one of Stephanie Lauren’s books – third or fourth Cynster book, I believe – with either a clinch or a floral cover? Likewise, I believe Dorchester did a similar experiment with one of Sandra Hill’s viking comedies by putting out cartoon cover versions as well as himbo meat on display ones. I don’t recall ever reading which cover outsold the other, but I can guess…

    ReplyReply

  119. rhonda
    Dec 22, 2007 @ 11:58:30

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pNDxna9l4I

    Saw this on cover snark-
    thought it related. when you see the covers at the end, they do look classier then, say, 10 years ago.

    ReplyReply

  120. rhonda
    Dec 22, 2007 @ 12:01:28

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pNDxna9l4I

    not as bad as 10 years ago.

    ReplyReply

  121. Denise
    Dec 23, 2007 @ 10:34:45

    Obviously we aren’t the only ones bemoaning the sometimes hideous cover art put on romance novels. I got this google alert to this blog. The blogger has an entertaining post about crap covers on science fiction/fantasy novels, with multiple examples of a Phillip Jose Farmer book.

    http://whenwillthehurtingstop.blogspot.com/2007_12_01_archive.html#734511218707641029

    ReplyReply

  122. MCHalliday
    Dec 24, 2007 @ 12:52:49

    I write romance and several other genres with elements of romance, and have to say, I prefer my titles non-sexual with covers the same. (Although what lies between the covers always contains some sexl.) The first book in my historical trilogy about a woman who rises from the gutter to become a successful dancer in a Victorian music hall is titled, I CAME UP STAIRS. Taken from William Congreve’s play, Love for Love, “I came up stairs, for I was born in a cellar,” it seemed most fitting and suited the voice of the heroine. My first noir mystery with romantic elements, A BRIBE AGAINST THE INNOCENT, is borrowed from a line in Psalms, chosen for near the same reasons. My release with Samhain in February, THE KING’S DAUGHTER, is about witches and wizards in medieval Eire but the title simply reveals the heroine, and the style of this book.

    Am I trading sales for my preference? Likely. But I cannot ignore what feels right to me and hold faith that one day, it will be my name that sells.

    ReplyReply

  123. Corrine E. Lagacy
    Apr 18, 2008 @ 11:28:56

    i.e., whenever LKH is referred to as a paranormal romance author, I cringe and not just because I think LKH's writing has totally gone in the shitter, but because that is not what romance is – group orgies and woman with unlimited power

    Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you for this! I was outraged a while ago when the RWA’s members-magazine, Romance Writers’ Report, featured her as a romance novelist that I nearly left the RWA altogether. If that’s what people think of when they think romance, then I do not want to be affiliated with it.

    I’ve been saying since the first day I joined the RWA that romance needed a makeover. If you just look at the RWA website, it’s elegant, yes, but hopelessly dated. You just expect Meryl Streep in a frilly pink dress (a la She-Devil) to pop up at any moment.

    The covers of books have gone from bodice-rippers with disgustingly pretty men with flowing hair to cutesy chick-lit cartoon characters. Of course outsiders don’t take us seriously – we don’t take ourselves seriously.

    ReplyReply

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

%d bloggers like this: