History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

28 September 2007

A Very Different Look

I'm much more a verbal than a visual person. Before my first erotic novel, Carrie's Story, came out in the 90s, and someone asked me what kind of cover I was hoping for, I mumbled something like, "oh I dunno, a woodcut or something maybe?"

But pictures and cover pictures in particular are on my mind big time these days with Almost a Gentleman soon to be out (December 4) in mass market reissue.

My first published romance novel -- the story of a woman who masquerades as a Regency dandy and the guy who makes her drop the masquerade -- has gotten a steamy new look.

Gotta get the new cover up on my web site. The new edition is already available for pre-order on Amazon.

The good news is that it’ll cost half of what the old one cost. So I'm hoping to get some new readers - either because of the svelte new price or the sexy new cover with its pretty people and ultra violet lighting (hey, the book does have a sexy bathtub scene so maybe the tanning salon effect isn’t so far off).

Who knows, maybe the purple will signal the book’s hotness quotient to potential readers. Which I don’t mind, because the book was designated as “scorching” by its reviews when it came out. And I’m fine with the color, because although I do write hot, I don’t write purple.

So mostly my thoughts are on the excitement of having something new-looking and perhaps face-outable in bookstores. But the occasion has also set me to thinking about how what a fast-changing industry we're in.

Because check out Almost a Gentleman’s original cover, with its plumes and garlands, and tell me it doesn’t have the look of an entirely different era in romance publishing.

Fascinating what a very coherent statement those older Kensington Brava covers made. Their sometimes quite abstractly patterned covers in jewel-like colors were wildly successful in branding themselves as Brava, which for a while was publishing the most erotically explicit romance fiction around.

And yet not only wasn't there much skin on the Brava covers of that time - often as not there weren’t even people. In fact they sometimes weren’t even remotely narrative - which to my mind is particularly noteworthy in a genre whose readers invariably demand “a good story.” The word I’d use for at least my Brava covers of that time would be “thematic,” and sometimes accurately and wittily so: I’m still knocked out that they gave my French Revolution book, The Bookseller's Daughter, a cover design of quill pens and real rococo flourishes.

And here, below are a few others from that era that I particularly liked....

But I keep talking about “that era,” like it was sometime around the Peloponnesian War. When the truth is that the “old” edition of Almost A Gentleman came out practically yesterday, in 2003. It’s like with dog-years - a marketing year is about a decade in people-years, in terms of how hard it is to keep up with changing styles. Too fast for me, I sometimes think, this business.

But anyway…

…of course I’m interested what you think about Almost a Gentleman’s new cover and how it compares to the old one. (And if you’re interested in what’s inside the covers, you can read my post at my other home in the blogosphere, The Spiced Tea Party. Or on my web page, where you can enter my contest to win a free copy of the old edition).

But I’m also curious about your thoughts about romance covers and specific “moments” in the romance genre’s quick-moving development (those candy-colored chicklit covers is another thematic “moment” that sticks in my mind, and maybe so are today’s male torsos).

And which of these moments are more coherent or effective than others - or more indicative of real change in content or attitude.

The medium, the message, the moment, the market. What do you think?



Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Gotta say, Pam...love the new version of the cover for ALMOST A GENTLEMAN! Very stylish. He is very sexy---his bare chest isn't even showing!

9:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congrats on the new edition, Pam! I like the new cover--it stands out and the people have interesting faces. But I have to say the original cover would be more likely to pull me in--it feels so historical and it has a wonderful texture which promises a richly textured story within the book. I remember when the big new thing in romance covers was flowers rather than people. They were often a bit insipid, imo, but they were a big break from clinch covers. The big trend in historical fiction now is paintings of women with the head either not visible or partially visible. They seem to be moving toward showing more of the woman's face on these covers, which I much prefer. I love my cover for "Secrets of a Lady" which combines this look with other elements from the book (letter, ring) and I just go the first proof of the cover for the May re-issue of "Beneath a Silent Moon"--it's a sort of collage of a painting of a woman and a painting of the Thames by moonlight--quite lovely and atomspheric.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Call me madcap, but I prefer the original cover, especially if the novel is "period."

And you all will REALLY think I'm weird when I say that I don't tend to respond to novels with hunky guys on the covers. I totally understand the marketing reasons for it, and for your sake I hope you sell a gazillion copies, but I prefer my sexy guys between the covers. :) Also, the models the publishers typically put on covers always look dumb-as-a-post, and therefore aren't my type anyway.

I'll shut up now. But I do think those Kensington Brava covers were quite elegant and reminded me of British editions of some classics -- maybe it was their Penguin editions of Emerson, Dickens, etc. A good category to be in!

I agree with Tracy -- I'm not a fan of "disembodied" figures on the cover, particularly women -- I actually won a battle with my contemp. publisher when they showed me a cover that cut off half the woman; I said I had a visceral violence-against-women response, which I was certain was not at all in their minds ... nevertheless.

Actually, their cover proposal utterly sucked and after a lot more wrangling, I ended up with a very different image that was a lot of fun (and cleavage). BTW, it's the cover of my latest release from Avon, "Herself".

My cover for ROYAL AFFAIRS is at least an equal-opportunity beheader, cutting off the tops of the heads of a regally attired man, his hand just barely toying with the nipple of a woman clad in a something that just looks diaphanous -- it's not a garment; more of a length of gauze. It's a very titillating painting and perfect for the book -- but why do they cut the images' heads off, even partially?

10:57 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Well, I bought the old version long before I met you based on the fact that I loved the cover . . . but when any book comes out in MM it's a good thing for the author!!!

And readers, if you haven't read Pam before, now's your chance to get in!!!

11:22 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Glad you like it, Kathrynn and Tracy. Fingers crossed that readers will -- and I very much like the cover of Secrets of a Lady, Tracy.

But I have to confess to liking the cropped versions of period paintings, like the cover of The Slightest Provocation. Because to me, if you show a whole painting, the cover risks being about the painting, and one's book almost never is, unless you're writing in the Vermeer subgenre of historical fiction.

Whereas if you show a piece of an image, you get an effect, a hint, a suggestion, a feeling. Which is what I think a book cover should be about -- the message I most prefer is something like, "if this feeling intrigues you, open the cover."

Weird, I guess, for a romance writer to be singing the praises of what has been called an "alienation effect," but there you have it. I like romance (and erotica) where distance is part of the aesthetic and the come-on.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I see your point, Tracy, about suggesting distance, as well as not making the cover visual about the painting itself. And in my view the famous or semi-known paintings, even if cropped, also suggest a certain elegance, and for that reason I respond positively to them. In bookstores, drawn by my visceral reaction to certain covers, I make a beeline for them, and almost invariably they turn out to be historical fiction, or high-end historical romance. I LOVE the perfectly provocative Madame Recamier-style portrait on "The Slightest Provocation."

To address the issue of those pastel colored chick lit covers, I was the victim of those ... my first chick lit novel, MISS MATCH (actually, I loved that cover because it reminded me of a dime novel cover from the 1930s) was lemon yellow; but the cotton candy-pink cover of my second chick lit novel, REALITY CHECK may go down in history as the worst and most inappropriate cover (for the book) to ever hit the shelves. I seriously believe that cover affected sales, as much as the MISS MATCH cover aided them.

But I am on record as detesting the cartoony covers so popular for chick lit novels, because I thought they trivialized the writing, giving readers the subliminal cue that the characters and plot were as one dimensional as the cartoony covers. Sometimes, alas, that was the case ... but not always.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I make a beeline for the elegant historicals too, Amanda.

But in paradoxical truth I don't know much about how bookstore shopping psychology works. I've done some reviewing, and my husband's an independent bookseller --so we've floated through life on books that we've bought at deep discount, or borrowed overnight from the shelves, or gotten free one way or another. There's a proverb about a cobbler's children not having shoes, but it's not true about a bookseller's wife (or daughter, I guess).

In consequence I tend to be pretty agreeable to whatever my publisher suggests coverwise -- though it's also true that the painting for the cover to The Slightest Provocation, Margaret, Countess of Blessingham, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, was one of my very circumspect suggestions.

12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the cover for "The Bookseller's Daughter"--but I may be biased since I love what's between the covers as well. *g* Even though clinch screams "historical romance", my eye is more inclined to pick up on the sorts of covers bestowed upon historical fiction--the paintings, portraits and pastoral scenes--since I'm an artist and recognize a lot of artists from the Georgian era to the Modern era of painting.

The use of portraits also gives me a feel for the mood of the book: TSP cover for example captured the witty, erotic essence of the book Cheryl Sawyer's cover for "The Code of Love" combined two paintings that wove the entire plot into that one cover.

I do notice cover cycles. After a long reign of torso covers, I began to notice a slight trend towards the bodies and legs of women--a trend I find more elegant than the usual beefcake, abdomen covers that have now shifted to erotic romance. But I do love the covers given to Urban Fantasies: spooky and tough.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Pam, I loved the first cover for ALMOST A GENTLEMAN. For one thing I could easily read it on the subway without someone making a comment about the cover, plus I thought it went with well with the Regency setting of the book. I also love the cover for The Slightest Provocation. Personally, I prefer more historical covers on my historical romances and fiction, no matter how hot and steamy or sweet they are. As for cartoon covers on chick-lit, it depends. I've seen some great ones, and some horrible ones. I loved the covers they did for Emily Giffin's books. As for covers affecting sales, I know that Suzanne Brockmann was appalled when she found out that Harlequin had issued one of her Intimate Moments with a hero who looked like he'd eaten too many donuts. It definitely affected her sales because he didn't look remotely heroic.

4:28 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

I have to agree that I love the original cover. I love elegant, period looking covers on books. The pastoral paintings are also appealing. I simply cannot stand the covers where people's heads are cut off. I just don't get it. Of course it is the author's name or the blurb on back that usually get me to buy. I am always afraid I will miss a great new author, just because I don't like the cover. I also have to agree that the cartoony covers are not appealing. Somebody worked long and hard on that novel and the cover should show that somehow.

7:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was actually Pam who made the point about cropped paintings making the cover not about the actual painting, but I tend to agree. However, like Amanda, cutting the head off completely bothers me. I prefer covers like the one for "The Slightest Provocation" where you see the woman's smile or the one for "Secrets of a Lady" where you see part of her profile. It's a tantalizing hint that I think subconsciously makes me want to pick up the book to learn more about that person and that story. Wheereas no face at all seems lacking in personality.

Amanda, totally agree with you about not responding to hunky guys on covers. So glad to hear someone else have the same reaction!

9:37 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks for the kind words, Kalen and Angela.

Angela, I feel very provincial -- What are Urban Fantasies and what are some cover examples?

And I was interested to hear the story about Suzanne Brockmann, Elizabeth. So far I don't think I've ever had a cover that affected sales except positively, knock wood. But it'll probably happen sometimes and I hope that when it does there are those like doglady, who look further than the cover.

While as for wanting to know more about the woman in the painting, Tracy -- I got so curious about Margaret, Countess of Blessington, the woman whose smile and cleavage adorn The Slightest Provocation, that she wound up as the heroine of the book I'm writing now. I was hoping there was another painting of Margaret, and actually there is, but I don't like it much. So I'm suggesting something else entirely. Fingers crossed for that one too (and the book, which is about 70% done).

11:36 PM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

I have to agree with Amanda and Elizabeth--I like the original cover better because I'd be more comfortable reading it on the bus or in the cafeteria at work, and the new cover could just as well be that of a contemporary as a historical. I like my historicals to look historical.

I may be alone in this, but I like headless people covers. To me, the incompleteness of the image adds an element of mystery that makes me more curious about the book. Also, the models rarely look like my concept of the characters--they're either too modern somehow, or, like Amanda said, they look vacant-eyed and dumb as a post, or they're just simply wrong. Hide their faces and it's less likely to be an issue, though as often as not then I'm snarking about visible zippers on supposedly period gowns and the utter lack of underwear beneath same. (I'm tough to please.)

8:27 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Then there are the copycat covers that cue in readers that "this book is JUST LIKE ..." [fill in the blank.] There seem to be a spate of Philippa Gregory-esque covers now, with a woman in Renaissance garb facing a window, and turning back to face us ever so slightly. It's good for the publisher to cue in readers that if they like bestselling author X, they'll LOVE Author Y with similar cover. But I always wonder whether that copycat branding is good for Author Y. I hope that will translate to big sales for them, but fear that they could suffer unfair comparisons to Author X because the similar branding might have led readers astray. There's nothing I think meaner in Amazon reviews than people saying the equivalent of "forget this book and read Philippa Gregory's [title] or Margaret George's [title]." I belong to a play critique group which another frequent poster belonged to at one time as well. We were asked during the post-reading critique to keep our comments to the play the dramatist wrote, not to a similar topic addressed by another playwright. Readers should just take the work as it stands, for itself, and perhaps suggest that readers might enjoy another author's take on the same subject.

That's where all the cover discussions led me this afternoon ... to copycat covers and what that can mean, pro and con, for authors.

Now I've begun to wonder what bestselling author X, who has worked her tush off to brand herself, thinks about who-the-heck-is author Y who now has a cover that looks just like X's?!

11:13 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Susan Holloway Scott wrote a post recently on Word Wenches about this exact same topic, wondering whether or not it was coincidence or trying to ride on the coat tails of another author. She spoke about the fact that some art departments use art that they don't have to pay for and that might be why some covers use the same artwork. Whereas with her own covers, they've had to get special permission since the art work used is off the subjects she's writing about.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I'm fairly certain it's a deliberate marketing move on the part of the publisher when we see similar covers between, say, a Philippa Gregory novel and a Susan Carroll novel.

And there are a spate of covers that are very Jodi Picoult-esque (Avon did that with my next cover -- it has precious little to do with the tone, plot, or even theme of the novel, but it's reminiscent of Picoult or Nicholas Sparks book covers), and I've noticed, from ads in the NY Times Sunday book review section that these days publishers can't seem to churn out enough of this type of cover.

4:26 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Well, it's hard to sell ANYTHING for being one of a kind, it being human nature to want more of a good thing once one has enjoyed it. Anyone who's ever been in the romance fiction biz for more than five minutes knows that ALL publishers want something new and fresh and exactly like what's selling and part of me can certainly understand that.

4:57 PM  

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