Monday, January 09, 2006

SB Day: Hit with the Pretty Stick (the “Come on Closer” remix)*

*Warning: This is a continuation of my on going series “Book Sense 101: Covering the Basics of Covers”. You are not required to read the first part (this isn’t school), just like anyone who read the previous post is not required to read this one. I’m just putting it out there so you know.

It's another Smart Bitches Day, and I thought I should continue with the cover theme started yesterday. Now I ideally a cover should evoke some sort of interesting or emotion, just like a piece of art. This feeling should somehow be represented by the book. Given this line of reasoning, SciFi/Fantasy covers should evoke some sense of technology, magic or other-worldness, and Romance covers should…well, rev our ovaries if they’re supposed to be hot. As the song says:

Hot temptations
Sweet sensations
Infiltrating through
Sweet sensations
Hot temptations
Coming over you

You should feel all of these things when you look at the cover. It’s a romance! You’re going to spend the next several hours of your life (if you buy this book) following the natural progression of these people’s lives and how they join them together. Emotions—love, lust, joy—run the spectrum of sexy to heartwarming, and you get to act the voyeur on it all. How cool is that?

Correction: How cool would it be if the cover actually told you this?

Currently the romance covers are the bane of most romance readers’ existence. They feature awful clinches, half clothed women, man-titty galore, and in the case of the Ellora’s Cave covers things I wouldn’t even put in a circus freak show or Ripley’s Believe it or Not (see: “Maybe he’s compensating for something”).

Do we want to see some woman’s half-naked back? Well, the female form is pretty, but it doesn’t really do anything for me. I can take it or leave it, I guess.

Do we want to see a man with a cup-size bigger than our own? Hell no!

Do we want to spend half our time looking at the male half of the cover going what the fuck is that? Not unless we’re there specifically to mock.

Romance readers have developed a hard shell against the covers of the books because what the publishers have put us through is ludicrous. You’ve seen on clinch cover you’ve seen them all; the pictures of the estates on the front tell us nothing, absolutely nothing; and you’re not going to flash an Ellora’s on the bus. You just aren’t, especially when it’s damn easy to make a brown paper cover.

I’m sure the cardboard cut out clinch covers evolved for a reason, maybe to differentiate the romances from the straight fiction when they were all shelved together once upon a time. That was a long time ago. Now wherever you go romance has its own section just like SciFi/Fantasy and Mystery. Sure it keeps people accidentally picking up a book from one of these genres when they are just browsing because some will never venture into these sections, but let’s be frank (or you be Frank and I’ll be Earnest), with the cover situation being what it is, they wouldn’t have picked up these books anyway.

And yet still they torture us, TORTURE US with these covers, leaving a whole hell of a lot of romance readers (at least) crying out, “Why can’t they get a clue?”

Well folks, it appears that they just might have. Not only are there books coming out with covers that show a great improvement on the old, but they’re actually appealing! Candice Hern, romance author and Fog City Diva, recently did a post on the changing face of historical romance covers in “Candice Ponders Historical Covers.” Her own cover for her upcoming book, In the Thrill of the Night, is a great improvement over her traditional clinch covers of the past.

The hint of lace, the luminescent pearls: very sensual touches that fit with the theme of Merry Widows getting their Merry on, and the use of a historical portrait gives us an instant recognition of the time period (as in it’s a historical novel not a contemporary). I’m not a big fan of the ghostly couple superimposed on lower left-hand side, but I a.) believe in less is more, and b.) think the edges could have been smoothed out the bit better. (Both of these points tell me that I’ve spent far too much time thinking about this.) This cover is going to pop when faced out in the romance section, just as it is will on the New Arrivals wall. The combination of the pale white skin and the purple backdrop guarantee that.

Congrats Candice, as long as this book’s innards live up to its cover you’ve got a winner on your hands.

But what about contemporaries? While a lot of the books seem to avoid the clinch cover, they’re kind of blah as if the artist didn’t know what to do. A lot of them have the cartoonish drawings going on these days, but really that only works for something that’s romantic comedy. Put one of those drawings on a book that’s mostly romantic suspense and you’re going to have a lot of customer returns. Up until this point, romantic suspense seemed to either require a picture of a woman running, or a moody, dark alley—something with a single light source. These covers have progressed lately with the shadowy imprint of a couple getting it on (see the latest covers for Linda Howard and Jayne Ann Krentz), but I don’t have to see that much to get a sense that this couple is hot for each other. I really like how they designed Alison Kent’s cover for her upcoming release Deep Breath.

Sure it has that “they’re totally getting it on” aspect to it, the naked shoulders tipped me off (‘cause I’m observant like that), but it fits with the whole theme she’s got going on for her series. The black and white aspect of the picture is very voyeur. Are they caught on camera by security? This is a spy novel. And since it is a spy novel the shades of gray inherent in a black and white photo represent the world that a spy inhabits.

The prominence of the author’s name tells us that her publishing company thinks this is a name that sells because it’s bigger than the title, and the blurb line (in this case a lead in for the title) is small, giving the impression that it’s an afterthought. What this cover says to me is that this is a moody, sexy novel that is tempered with some lightness (I get this from the fact that they chose to do Kent’s name in hot pink).

Is this a reflection of the inner aspects of the book? I don’t know. From the back cover copy I read at her site, I would think so, but only the author or an actual reader could say for sure.

So what do you think, romance readers: do these covers work for you?

Are we finally witness a cover revolution in the industry or are these just to throw us off our games?

Or am I once again reading too much into a cover?

If you wish to continue this series into the realm of nonfiction, the next section is Book Sense 101: Covering Covers, the Just the Facts, Ma'am Edition.


Rosina Lippi said...

These are FANTASTIC posts on covers, really. I have to think about it all and read them again before I leave you any substantive comment, but lemme say: I appreciate the time and effort that went into these.

And I dare not look at my own covers. In which I had no real say, I must point out.

Keziah Hill said...

Why oh why do romance publishers think we're idiots with no taste? Don't they realise that non romance readers might just pick one up if they're not embarrassed to be seen reading one on the train? The examples you use here are great.

Bookseller Chick said...

Rosina, I look forward to your thoughts. From what I understand very few authors have any control with their covers (something I'm going to try to explain--to the best of knowledge--in a later post), and I would really love to hear both sides of the story, so if you're friends with any editors/publishers send them my way. I think we could get a good dialogue going on.

Keziah, I think the big stumbling block for publishers is time. It used to be that an editor would only work on six books a year, lovingly ushering his/her charges through the whole project. Now a single editor has so many projects that s/he is lucky to spend a week on a single book. A good cover is usually a sign of how much an editor and the marketing department believed in a book, or what they thought they could piggy-back it off of.

Michele said...

Man, I loved this post! I laughed, nodded in agreement and was amazed at the volume of things one could say about this subject. I never paid it any mind before.

You are right! My DH now does not ask me "what am I reading". The cover says it all. However, HE cannot leave without making a sarcastic comment about either the "man" on the cover or what it shows them doing. For sure, I've been known to make sure the vivid cover stays on my lap or leg in an office while reading. Didn't want any schmuck thinking "off" thoughts about me due to my topic choice. If they HAVE to have those types of wild covers...then maybe do what I've seen and liked...the peek-a-boo cover. Outside is a plain background with a little "window' showing an innocuous scene ...that's related to something in the story. Open the first cover though and you get hit with your typical clincher/studly view. Maybe I like the hint that I could be a closet voyeur...who knows.??

Bottom I do not think you are reading too much into covers. You are spot on. And you wrote about it so well!!!

Diana Peterfreund said...

Amazing post, and no, I don't think it's possible to read too much into a book cover. They are far too important, as you covered in your earlier post. People won't pick up a book if the cover doesn't grab them.

I feel like I should be doing market research on mine now.

Bookseller Chick said...

Michele, thanks. I often look at my blog entries and think, "Shit, I'm blathering on again. Make it stop. Must. Make. It. Stop." It doesn't, of course, but I'm glad to hear that my blathering is helpful. I'm pretty open about what I'm reading, despite the ragging from my coworkers, but I don't go out of my way to advertise it by always sitting with my cover out to any audience I might have. I, too, like the peekaboo covers (voyeristic though they may be), but I think they've been overdone to a point, not to mention that they are often used as a cop-out coverart wise.

Diana, do you want a marketing analysis? If that's a copy of your cover in the corner, then all you need to do is take a cover flat with you to a bookstore and look at it in context with the section it will be sold in. Then you need to find out how much backing your pub is giving you (interviews, signings, print marketing, etc). Combine that all together and you'd have a pretty good idea of your chances. Your cover is pretty light, so that might be a problem, but I wouldn't know unless I could see its placement with books around it.

Bookwormom said...

I like the two covers you chose for this post, but I don't see it as an overall trend, unfortunately. For each cover I feel is tastefully done (or at least isn't horrid) there is a minimum of one that's awful. Ellora's Cave has done more to singlehandeedly drag down romance novel covers than anything else, IMO.

Personally, I bought several bookcovers in different sizes & fabrics & use them all the time. They help preserve my sanity & keep the mm & qp in better shape & help keep the bookjackets of the cl titles crisp.

Diana Peterfreund said...

Thanks, BS. It's really not very light in real life. Not exactly "bright" colors but very saturated and vibrant tones. But I do have a dust jacket on hand. Perhaps I will try that at Borders this afternoon -- If I don't get thrown out for loitering around the tables!

Bookseller Chick said...

Amanda, I too hold a special place in Photoshop Hell for the Ellora's Cave covers, especially now since my company is no longer giving me a choice as to whether or not I carry the books. Let me have my little bit of optimism about the rest of the publishing world, please? I know I might be disappointed later, but I'm really quite enjoying the bright sunshine and rainbows.

Diana, vibrant is better than bright any day, trust me. One of my favorite covers ever (one I didn't even show in my examples), has the most lucious purple. It looks velvet--real velvet, not the cheap-ass fake kind. As for using your dust jacket at Borders, chances are they've seen a lot weirder (weirdos looooove book stores), but if you're afraid to get caught, trying doing it as a "face out" in the section it will also go in. It's always good to know who you will be next to alphabetically.