Cover Snark; Or, Bring On The Mantitty!

Now, perhaps you think the Risky Regencies’ Ladies are in perfect accord when it comes to everything. Not so; we would hardly be risky, would we?

One area some of us have discussed here–on- and off-stage–are romance covers. When she’s cheating on us, Janet Mullany posts as Jane Lockwood over here, and her most recent post discussed the Dishy Guy On Covers phenomenon.

This is not new. As long as people judge books by covers, alluring covers will be sold, no matter what the inside is like. Cases in point:

One thing to notice here is that most of the exploited images are of women; I’m not a vindictive person, so I don’t think it’s right that men are exploited more on our covers (good for the goose argument doesn’t hold water in the face of exploitation), but it is interesting to note.

And I doubt if hardcover books ever get these kinds of covers. Do they?

These aren’t even the most salacious of covers I’ve got in my files (I love pulp covers, btw, and have absolutely no problem with the mantitty).

Why do publishers put these on books? Because–and here’s the most obvious thing ever said–SEX SELLS. So do hot, beefcakey men and cleavage-laden women.

What I would suggest is that next time someone ribs you about the quality of the book inside the cover, whip out a copy of the Maltese Falcon, and be grateful our covers–and books–have come a lot farther than Swamp Hoyden or Pleasure Resort Women.

So where do you stand on covers (not literally; I could figure that out myself)? Do you bend back your covers in public, or show ’em off to anybody who curls a lip at your choice of reading material?


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30 Responses to Cover Snark; Or, Bring On The Mantitty!

  1. As curious, horny preteens, my someday-to-be-husband and I were wont to stare swoony-eyed — me in Long Island and him in Manhattan, but who knows, perhaps at the same moment — at this graphic, which adorned the cover of the Signet version of 1984. It was the ANTI-SEX LEAGUE button, screaming SEX!! as it did, that pushed it over the top for each of us.

    How nice that I’m being published by Signet nowadays…

    Oh, and we have the original cover framed and hanging on the wall.

  2. Kalen Hughes says:

    I’m more of literati cover girl. I like Pam’s covers, Candice Hern’s new covers, and Julia Ross’s covers. I loathe clench covers. Just hate β€˜em.

  3. Pam, you naughty girl you. And your to-be-husband!! This must have been the crest of the slippery slope you’ve slid down….1984 cover art leads to erotic romance! Who knew?

    Megan, I love those covers (except the one showing the sexual assault, of course). There’s such over-the-top drama in those covers!!


  4. Kalen, I understand how you feel about the clinch covers, but I do think they sell books. Just as those vintage covers Megan shows us, we’re attracted by sexual images and drama.

    Some of the covers I like the least are covers with flowers, or tea cups or something that tells me nothing about the story. I want to see people on the cover!

    I love the art covers but I’m not sure the reader is as attracted to those beautiful art covers as to a dramatic scene between a man and a woman–specially if the man is handsome!

    Put a handsome man on the cover of a romance novel and I’m bound to pick it up to read the back cover copy.

    Now some of the clinches are turning into cliches so they don’t attract me, because they look like all the other books that went before.

    Diane (rambling….)

  5. I’m with Kalen. I find clinch covers eye-bleedingly painful to look at. And the problem with handsome man covers is too often the art department’s idea of a “handsome man” is my idea of “bland, boring beefcake.” Now, if you made men like Sean Bean, Ioan Gruffudd, and Nathan Fillion cover models, it’d be a different story…

  6. I don’t even think that the most compelling actors would make wonderful cover models — I don’t think we realize how much of an actor’s attractiveness is in how he moves through space. Freeze and flatten him into a small rectangle and he begins to look like a… model. For me, one of the challenges of language is as a medium to suggest movement and multidimensionality.

    And the reason “art” covers work so well is that the painters had to approach these problems in their medium already.

  7. Pam said:
    And the reason “art” covers work so well is that the painters had to approach these problems in their medium already.

    But Pam, that is what a good photographer does as well! I think good romance cover have a lot of life and movement in them. Look at the image of the inset of The Wagering Widow above. There is motion there, and emotion– and attractive people on the cover.

    And the cover of A Reputable Rake is so good because the model has life in him–he’s not a flat image.


  8. I agree with Pam about seeing the fluidity of a person’s movement making him sexy. I don’t mind torso covers at all, ’cause like Susan, I don’t find the usual cover model suspects–as they’re painted, or whatever–as attractive as real men.

    But, to reiterate, I do like naked torsos. Fine with that.

  9. I don’t even think that the most compelling actors would make wonderful cover models — I don’t think we realize how much of an actor’s attractiveness is in how he moves through space.

    I think that’s true–there are certainly men I find incredibly attractive in motion whose appeal I can never explain based on a still shot (e.g. Christopher Eccleston, Stephen Colbert). And I’m sure part of my liking for still shots of Bean, Gruffudd, and Fillion is based on my memory of them as actors in motion. But I still think those three are more attractive than the typical cover model, at least as far as what I find sexy. They’re interesting-looking. Handsome, sure, but not so blandly perfect of feature that you forget them five minutes after you look at them. Good strong-boned long-nosed manly-man faces–they’re way better-looking than I am, but they’re not prettier than I am.

  10. Susan said:
    They’re interesting-looking. Handsome, sure, but not so blandly perfect of feature that you forget them five minutes after you look at them.

    But the most popular cover models are the interesting ones who don’t have perfect features! The one’s you don’t forget five minutes after seein them!

    Look at the winners of the 2005 Cover Contest The winners in the various categories are mostly variations on the clinch cover or images of handsome, interesting looking, real men.

    I think there are plenty of bad covers or covers that have become cliched, but those winning covers make readers pick up the book!

    The worst cover winner in the contest also features a man, but the cover fails completely, because it is just bizarre. But nobody should point to the loser and say, “I hate romance covers with men on them!!!”

    The art covers select the art that is beautiful but we’ve had 200 years or so to lose the art that “lost the contest.”

    Diane (aka devil’s advocate)

  11. says:

    Pam, thanks for that link!

    My son is reading 1984 in high school as we speak. Just yesterday he complained to me that the novel is filled with sexual tension and oppression, and the teacher won’t discuss it because it makes her Uncomfortable.

    I e-mailed him your link. Perhaps he’ll print it out and take it to class…

    I’m reading all of the cover feedback with great interest, because I’m determined (and qualified) to do my own. As Scooby-Do would say, “Rotsa ruck.”

  12. The winners in the various categories are mostly variations on the clinch cover or images of handsome, interesting looking, real men.

    I like the model on the A MOST UNSUITABLE MAN cover, but I guess the rest is an “eye of the beholder” thing. I just know that most men I see on romance covers aren’t anything I’d find appealing.

  13. seton says:

    (small voice) I like the clinch covers. I like cheese. (/small voice)

    Those pulpy covers are awesome! I so want to read THE VIRGIN AND THE GYPSY now (even though I cant stand DH Lawrence)

  14. Yay, Seton!! I’m with you. I’d like to read that book, too.

    I remember reading Lady Chatterley’s lover in college. I wonder what I would think of it then. I liked it enough to want to do an independent study on Lawrence. Never did though.


  15. that was totally incomprehensible. I meant, I wonder what I would think if I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover now.


  16. Jane George says:

    The Virgin and the Gypsy?

    uh-uh, sign me up for Swamp Hoyden.

  17. seton says:

    Swamp Hoyden sounds good, too πŸ™‚

    Although, you just know that it was published today, it would be abbreviated to Swamp Ho’ πŸ˜‰

  18. I did one of my senior theses on religious imagery in D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow, and swore I’d never read Lawrence again.

    But then I bought Lady Chatterley starring Sean Bean.

    So that Lawrence? Not so bad after all.

  19. I love art covers like Candice’s and Pam’s. I do prefer that the cover has people on it, rather then esoteric rings or stars. However, I do like my people clothed. The exception here is Raven Prince. The cover is almost arty, though of course it’s not from a painting.

    Diane’s Rake is the perfect example of how a “genteel” people cover can still be sexy and sell.

    A clinch cover like Diane’s latest I&I or Cara’s My Lade Gamester are again genteel covers. Emotion, movement, and a sense of committment between the clinch cover is of the utmost important.

    What I absolutely cannot stand are random clinch covers: No shirt on male, cloak, knee breeches, mantitty in full view, the skimpiest thinnest silk dress on the female, full ripe cleavage, snow on the ground or wind blowing hard on the top of steep cliff, and the most important–idotic expressions of ecstacy. Does NOTHING for me other than the desire to stuff it back on the shelf.

    Editors firmly believe lots of myths: interest in Regency is dying, Regency writing must be modernized, many contemporary for current readers, once a Regency writer always a Regency writer, clinch covers rife with breats and mantities sell books.

    It was reported in a recent Economist issue that a study was conducted at an east coat university and they found that sex sells nothing but sex. Sex does not sell the product. I wonder when a copy of this study is going to make the rounds of the pubslihers. Until then, clinches are here to stay. You want to be published, smile prettily when you editor shows you your clinch cover.

    Pam: What a story! Hope your can reprise the cover on one of your future books.

    Susan & Diane: Whether a man is bland or interesting depends upon what he does with his face and his body. He doesn’t necessarily have to be in motion to get a good read of him. The reason some movie cameras do zoom-ins is to show what the actor is capable of when just his face fills the movie screen. To me it is the model’s and the photographer’s ability to distill what’s in the book and project that on the cover that makes buy a book without caring who wrote what.

    In the art cover, the emotion and everything has already been painted in by the painter. The quesion is which print to pick and why. Random arsty cover throw me off, too. The art has to convey the gist of the novel and emotions just as the model and photographers have to do,

    Say your heroine is an avid book reader. Many of Mary Cassat’s painting of her sister Lydia would easily fit the bill.

    OK. My post has been too long. This week was a bad one for me healthwise, so I’ve hardly been here. The Riskies have indeed had an exciting week. I’m so pleased to watch this site grow in popularity, variety, and content. Never short for laughs, either, or warm friendships.

  20. In the art cover, the emotion and everything has already been painted in by the painter. The quesion is which print to pick and why. Random arsty cover throw me off, too. The art has to convey the gist of the novel and emotions just as the model and photographers have to do,

    I wonder if I like art covers because I like beautiful art, especially of the 18th and 19th centuries. I might say, “That’s a pretty cover,” but I’m not sure I’d always grab it to read the back cover copy.

    The skilled artist captures the subject’s emotion but so does a skilled photographer. Images of people attract us for the same reasons no matter in what medium they are presented.

    A GOOD cover, featuring attractive people either in an exciting interaction, or in a sensuous one, or a handsome man who looks compelling, will make me pick up the book and read the back cover copy.

    I also think clinch covers brand a book. It is easy to spot an Avon Historical Romance–You can tell by the sort of cover on the book.

    Maybe “branding” sells….

    When the traditional regencies went to the cartoon covers, I think they made a big mistake. As sappy as some of the trad covers were, I knew instantly that it was a traditional regency.

    Keira, I wondered if you weren’t feeling well. I hope you are on the mend. We’ve missed you!


  21. From a personal, aesthetic standpoint, I like the painting covers, or more “artsy” people covers like Diane’s “Wahering Widow” or my own “Lady Midnight” cover. I do not like the Clinch of a Certain Sort. You know the one. The anatomically implausible couple in a backbreaking pose on the windswept cliff. “Hero” in a Seinfeld-ish puffy shirt, “heroine” in an ill-fitting, cheap satin dress. But they must sell, or the publishers wouldn’t stick with them. Maybe Diane is right, and it’s “branding”?

    I wanna be a Swamp Hoyden! Never mind that I’ve never been near a swamp. “Suburban Hoyden” just doesn’t sound the same…

  22. Nina says:

    Howdy. I slipped over from the regencyloop Yahoo group.

    Say it out loud; I love clinch and I’m proud. πŸ˜‰ I also love some of the classic art (like Hern’s as mentioned before) and even a few object d’art covers. The cover’s all about catching the eye, and unattached late-30-something that I am, funnily enough my eye tends to be caught by manflesh. My fave cover of the upcoming releases is Sari Robin’s When Seducing a Spy. I love men’s backs, and that model has a great one.

    I do agree it would be nice to see more variety of models. I like beefcake, but I like slenderly toned pretty boy too. And if the hero is the later, it wouldn’t hurt for that to be reflected in the art.

    I have to disagree about the point of exploitation. This isn’t indentured servitude. Exploitation to me is when someone doesn’t have a choice, or, in imagery, what you saw in those early covers in the article. The image and blurbs are conveying that the (usually) woman is bad and shameful. Current covers show people comfortable with themselves without subjugating the partner (if there is one) into a role the partner doesn’t want.

  23. Thanks, Nina!

    I hope you’ll come back for Richard Cerqueira’s interview tomorrow and monday.


  24. Elena Greene says:

    I’m torn on the issue of covers.

    As a reader I want the cover to pique my interest.

    The classic clinch Amanda described so well screams that the book is no different from hundreds, maybe thousands of others. Beefcake doesn’t do much for me.

    Neither do the somewhat bland still life arrangements (pens, swords, flowers, etc…).

    What does work for me? Intriguing period art. Covers that evoke the Regency setting–scenes of London, stately homes, etc… Interesting-looking men, as Susan described. Men that look brave and intelligent, like those on some of Jo Beverley’s best covers.

    As an author I want whatever will best sell the book. Yet I wonder if clinch covers would attract the right subset of readers for the sort of book I enjoy reading and writing.

  25. Keira–I hope you’re feeling better!

    On closer inspection (using the lovely “All Your Covers” feature on LibraryThing), I don’t think my issue is so much with cover models themselves as the way they’re posed and the general aesthetic of the romance cover. Some of them are men I’d find attractive IRL, others aren’t–but the stylized poses, clinches, etc., even something about the way they’re painted, tend to detract from rather than enhance their appeal in my eyes.

    It’s not that I’m ashamed of my reading material, and there are certainly romance covers that I like–some recent examples include BEAU CRUSOE, A MOST UNSUITABLE MAN, Diane’s INNOCENCE AND IMPROPRIETY, MR. IMPOSSIBLE, and most of HQN’s Heyer re-releases. But when I look at that giant mosaic of all the covers in my book collection, most of the ones that jump out at me as unattractive or embarrassing to read in public are romances. There are exceptions there, too. I have some hideous fantasy covers on my shelves, and a few of the Sharpe books have covers I find so ugly I try not to look at the front of the books while I’m reading them–though, I’ve noticed in reading Bernard Cornwell’s website that a lot of readers RAVE about the very covers I dislike. (I don’t like this look, preferring these.)

    Anyway. I do think it’s all about branding. It’s more important to signal to the reader “this is the kind of book you’re looking for” than to impress her with your artistic skills. And hating a cover is never going to stop me from reading a book by an author I like or from following a friend’s recommendation to try something new–though it might keep me from just picking it up when I browse a bookstore.

    I know I’m rambling on, but I find this an endlessly fascinating topic.

  26. Cara King says:

    I agree with you on the Sharpe covers, Susan!

    As for me — I love art covers too. I’m not a big fan of clinch covers in general, though I do like some of them — though I detest every single one that shows “orgasmic” expressions on the couple. Ew.

    I do like people on the covers, though I also like items (mask, cane, etc) and buildings and scenery. Not a huge fan of just landscape, though, unless it has something else there too (such as buildings or masks!) πŸ™‚

    And I think the guys on the covers (particularly the more unclothed ones) do tend to be too much the same as each other, and too — well, too Fabio. Not my type.

    I’d vote for Nathan Fillion too, Susan! πŸ™‚ With a little sly grin, maybe.

    And Diane, I must say I disagree with you on the cartoon covers for the Regencies. I thought they captured the humor inside those particular novels better than just about any Regency cover ever! And they didn’t look all the same, or like they were aimed at six-year-olds… Anyway, I loved them! (And all of Zebra’s new covers, cartoon or not!)


  27. Cara,
    I didn’t dislike the cartoon covers on the traditional regencies. I just think they were so different from what the faithful readership was used to that it took an extra effort to see that this was the trad regency that I always love. I think as a marketing strategy, it failed.

    Susan, I’m glad you like the Innocence and Impropriety cover. I think that Harlequin Historicals is doing a very good job with their covers. But I like the Sharpe’s Rifles cover! I’m definitely a “people on the cover” person!


  28. But I like the Sharpe’s Rifles cover! I’m definitely a “people on the cover” person!

    I’m fine with people on the cover, I just don’t much like that particular example. Cover-Sharpe doesn’t look enough like Sharpe-in-My-Head, and I don’t care for the color and general look of the illustration.

    It occurs to me, though, that part of the reason I like the other type of cover so much better is that I read Aubrey/Maturin before Sharpe, and the editions I read had very similar covers to my preferred Sharpes:

    Aubrey/Maturin cover

    Sharpe cover

    So I think we’re back to branding again–that’s just what the cover of a book in a multi-volume Napoleonic War saga is supposed to look like, dont’cha know? πŸ™‚ (Though I do find the images appealing and evocative in their own right in both cases.)

  29. Todd says:

    I’m not really the target audience for this topic, but I do think that if men like looking at scantily-clad babes on book covers, there is no reason women can’t like scantily-clad dudes. On the other hand, if a lot of women hate those covers (as it seems), it may not be such a smart commercial move as one might think.

    And I think there are just not enough books called Swamp Hoyden published these days. Though maybe nowadays it would have to be called Wetlands Hoyden.


  30. DS says:

    I wondered in from Smart Bitches and have to admit that my favorite covers for Regencies was the E. P. Dutton dust jackets for Heyer. I also like the pre-Rafaelite paintings used on covers, but not regencies. They work on Victorians and Medievals for me. I don’t like cartoon covers on anything except contemporaries and if there is something on the cover I find hilarious, like hair blowing in more than one direction– caught in a toronado?, a back ground of misty kangaroos who seem to take a voyeuristic interest in what the hero and heroine are up to, odd bits of body parts that don’t seem to be in the right place, and strange dress– there was one cover showing a (male) pirate in leather hot pants that I really would like to find again.

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