Thursday's Thoughts: Unromanticizing the Romance Cover

Thursday, September 27

I've always been attracted to book covers, most especially romance book covers :)  What's not to love?  After all it is a visual representation of the love story inside....that is until recently.

There is no doubt that Fifty Shades of Grey has been great for the romance & publishing industry in general, but it has also led to what I call "The unromanticization of the romance cover" with book covers that represent not a person, but an object, and I am very saddened by this trend.  I know some may not agree with me, but I can't help it.  I hope with all my heart this trend dies a quick death.  Let me explain.

Because of the success of Fifty Shades, publishers have been scrambling to redo book covers to give them a "look" that doesn't say "Hey I'm a romance book", but is instead a visual, "If you liked that, then you'll like this too, so buy it!".  The Fifty Shades covers are a lessen in less is more, much like the original Twilight series.  And I am sure this was no mistake.

The Twilight covers focused usually on one object that had a tie in to the story, as well as featuring a prominent color (red) against a dark background.

Then we have the Fifty Shades covers.  Again featuring one object, significant to the story, and a prominent color, this time in a gray blue....for obvious reasons.   I've done some searches to try and see if the book covers were changed when they were acquired by the larger publishers (as often happens), but I've never been able to locate an alternate cover from the original publisher which leads me to believe that this is the look they gave the books originally.  I could be wrong about that, regardless though I think it was a brilliant way to market these books considering it's origins, and frankly very economical.

It's kind of hard to argue with that kind of success.  You have a series that is wildly popular and has been made into blockbuster movies, and you have a derivative of that that was also HUGELY successful so why not ride on it's coattails?  I guess it should come as no surprise that this recipe for success is being replicated by publishers left and right...and backwards.

The first book that I noticed to get the Fifty Shades makeover, much to my disappointment, was Bared to You by Sylvia Day.  Keep in mind that Ms. Day's book was already a very successful seller before being acquired by a NY publisher and given a new cover.  So it's not that it's sales weren't good.

I for one really loved the first cover.  I loved the colors, the visual representation and the fonts.  I thought it was a stunner!  I'd click on that one again and again to read more about it.  The new one....I'm ambivalent towards.  Nothing about cufflinks says "Romance" to me. But obviously it's not a far jump from the Fifty Shades tie cover to the cufflink cover.  Still I would probably pass over it if it didn't have Sylvia Day's name on it.

A cover that I was kind of shocked that got a makeover was Lora Leigh's Wild Card....the first book from her Elite Ops romantic suspense series (which just so happens to be one of my favorite Lora Leigh books ever).  We went from a book cover that is very typical of this sub-genre of romance to a romance cover a la Fifty Shades.  Muted colors, an object significant to the least this time they did at least keep the dog tags from the original :)  Again it would be the name that would give me a clue that is a romance book, not the cover.

Then there are Megan Hart's covers.  I have to admit that I thought that the makeover the publisher gave The Space Between Us, before it was even published, was a complete crime against book covers.  I really loved the first one, not necessarily for the colors or the fonts used, but the visual representation of the image of the two people and how it related to the title. I loved it.  Then they gave it a Fifty Shades/Twilight makeover and I hated it.  Megan Hart's story are so far from Twilight in sensuality, and extremely complex emotional issues, that the two should never be associated with each other!  Even if it is all in the name of marketing.

Did you notice the tulips with the red tips?  Does it remind you of the Twilight series cover.  It should.  To be somewhat fair they gave several of Megan Hart's books flower makeovers.  And while Georgia O'Keefe was known for her flower paintings and their erotic representations...these covers don't quite achieve that same sensuality.    This is what they did :(  They went from this, which I thought were beautiful and relevant representations of the stories:

To This:

*sigh* I hate the new covers ;( Not because they are bad designs, but for what they represent....or their lack of representation. The originals in each of these instances had personality...and that is what I really hate about these new covers.  They lack personality and any connection to love.  These are love stories, involving two (or sometimes more) individuals with what is so wrong with having an actual Human Being representing that love, something beyond impersonal inanimate objects?  We are talking LOVE, and there is nothing more personal than that.  There is nothing wrong with that.  So why try to hide what the books are about?

I think the visual representation of what love is, or could be, is incredibly strong.  Just look at the recent story that I first read on Jill Shalvis' blogA love story told in 22 pictures.  They didn't even need words to convey this couples' journey that just so happened to go viral very quickly.  They were even on the Today morning show because of that post.  You couldn't tell the same kind of story using the types of images they are putting on some romance covers today because they lack that human connection and emotion.  The books themselves don't lack emotions, so why should the covers, just because one book made it big?

I understand why publishers are doing it, it's why generic brands often have very similar packaging to name brand objects (not to imply that any of the books are generic versions of Fifty Shades...far from it actually), it's just the point I'm trying to make.  And it's not a new tactic.  But I also have to wonder if the redesigns are more than just a Fifty Shades fall out, they make me wonder if publishers are courting new romance readers more than their core audience with these covers and if this is a trend that will last, or will only be around until romance readers ask for the days of Fabio back, LOL :)  (not really but hey, you can't deny the man ruled the romance book cover for almost a decade!)  Don't get me wrong, I think all of the new book covers are fine...but whose eye are they trying to attract?  And do they also not realize that from a marketing perspective that Human faces sell more than other methods? (see here for just one example.

While they may be riding Fifty Shades coattails now, will they be doing themselves a disservice in the long run when readers go back to wanting covers with people on human nature dictates will almost certainly happen?   Let me say one word to you.  Facebook.  It's called that for many a good reason :)  And it's also very popular :)

What about you? If you were to pick a favorite from each match up, which one would you choose? Regardless of my feelings, what do you think about this new trend in book covers?  Because trust me there are more out there, and coming your way.

p.s. You may wonder, since I also design book covers, will you see me create any looks like this, regardless of my feelings?  The answer is...yes.  For one simple reason.  Demand.  If that is what someone wants to buy, I'll be more than happy to provide it :)

*Seductive Musings is an Amazon affiliate and receives a very small referral fee for purchases made via the links on the blog and through the Seductive Musings Amazon Store. Read the full disclosure here.


Sheree September 27, 2012 at 12:50 AM  

Considering that I only buy books with Paul Marron or some of my other favorite models on the covers, I'm not enthused about this trend. I do recognize that some readers prefer the simplistic art so they won't be embarrassed and that these sort of covers pop when viewed on an iPhone or some other device with a small screen. It's hard to fault publishers for wanting to sell more books, perhaps to readers who haven't been buying Romances due to the hot guy/clinch covers. Still, I miss the hot guys.

Carol L. September 27, 2012 at 5:27 AM  

Simply put, I can't stand any of them. Nothing about them calls to me, nothing. They are dark and unemotional. I need my man covers to draw my attention. lol Truthfully though why even bother to ride the coattails of Shades of Grey ? When I saw the cover change for Sylvia Day I couldn't believe they thought the change was better. And Lora Leigh's cover change was another shame to me. If it weren't for the fact that I already knew these Authors I'd have never picked these books up.Let's hope they wise up and hop off the Shades of Grey coattails.
Carol L

Booklover1335 September 27, 2012 at 7:39 AM  

Hey Sheree,

LOL. I guess it's a good thing that Paul Marron is on a lot of romance covers :) I can't help but agree with you though that the new covers aren't for romance readers, but for readers that might be curious about other titles after reading Shades of Gray. And while I hope they enjoy it, because after all these are some great reads, I also hope they enjoy Romance for what it is without having to put a brown paper wrapper over it so to speak :)

Booklover1335 September 27, 2012 at 7:41 AM  

Hey Carol,

I completely agree with you. If I hadn't already known and read these authors, nothing about these covers would stand out to me.

I was at Barnes and Noble recently and I saw a bunch of them on a table with Shades, and really I think that's the reason they are doing it. Not even for online retailing, but for the traditional stores. Still, I don't like it either :(

Anne September 27, 2012 at 9:48 AM  

I'm torn. On one hand, I like the nondescript covers for reading at work or in public. I ALWAYS have a book (or two) and if I'm just sitting or standing, I've got it in my hand.

On the other hand, I would be less likely to click on or pick one of the plain covers up to read more about it if I didn't know the author.

Booklover1335 September 27, 2012 at 10:00 AM  

Hey Anne,

I understand where you are coming from about some of the book covers and reading them in public. That is why I love e-readers so much, LOL. You get to have your cake and eat it too, LOL.

And I am also with you that I would be more likely to pass the new covers up when looking online for my next read. Especially when looking at them in thumbnail size the names are sometimes not even readable since they are not very large in the design. So even if it was an author that I knew and loved I still might pass it by if I didn't know they wrote it :(

Carin September 27, 2012 at 3:40 PM  

I am so glad I am not the only one that doesn't care for this trend!
I would also like to point out that if you would be worried about someone looking at you for having a highlander on the cover or your book do you really think that everyone on the planet doesn't know what 50 shades is about and if you have a book that is in that same design they wont know your reading a smutty book. LOL ;0)
I just think the covers are BORING! I don't want to go back as far as covers with Fabio on horseback shirtless but the old covers of these books there was nothing wrong with!
Just one other pet peeve, when I buy books for my e-reader and then they change the cover I can't find them anymore :O( Makes me nuts!

Kaylyn D. September 27, 2012 at 5:11 PM  

I hate the new covers. I understand them but I don't like them at all. There is no personality to the new covers.

Anonymous,  September 27, 2012 at 5:22 PM  

I thought this was a great post... and I agree with you. I want my covers to depict a bit about the romance I'm reading. I really loved the original Bared To You cover *sigh*

I hope it's okay... I mentioned this post on my blog and linked up to it :)

Maria D. September 27, 2012 at 8:34 PM  

Great post! I hate the new covers and I'm so over the ties in to 50 Shades....I know the book has sold a lot of copies but not every romance reader in the world was interested in the books or bought them. On another note, I also feel that the new covers are an intentional misrepresentation of the product - on the older covers you know you were getting a romance between a man and a woman - if your kid picked up the book in a store - you knew that they were picking up something that you would be interested in but was maybe not right for their age group - with these new covers - not so much. As for the racy book covers in public, that's what cloth book covers were created for and I have a bunch of them for either trade size, hardcover or mass market. Plus I have ereaders too.

Lexi H September 27, 2012 at 9:17 PM  

I agree with you on this sad trend. Especially the Bared to You cover, loved the original. This is romance, e-readers have helped end the "I am embarassed to have this book seen in my hands" so I hope that the trend goes back to covers with passion and some skin.

Booklover1335 September 27, 2012 at 10:26 PM  

Hey Carin,

That's a good point that you make about associating 50 Shades with a look a like book cover. So I guess it's smutty with a traditional romance cover AND a cover makeover :)

And LOL withe the Fabio, I don't think any of us want to go back to that, but you are right. There was nothing wrong with the original covers of these books! Sad to change them :(

Booklover1335 September 27, 2012 at 10:28 PM  

Hey Kaylan,

I'm glad you agree :) Let's just hope the powers that be will learn what romance readers want...bring back the human touch to romance covers!!!

Booklover1335 September 27, 2012 at 10:31 PM  


I had questions about the misrepresentation as well. You have no clue as to what kind of book it is by looking at the cover...unless you know of and have read 50 Shades, and even that isn't a guarantee. I've not read 50 Shades, and I don't know if I will, but it sounds like it was pretty tame even if it is labeled erotic romance. But if someone picked up one of these other books, not knowing what they are getting...well I bet there will be an angry email heading the publishers way.

Booklover1335 September 27, 2012 at 10:33 PM  


I will do my part to hinder the new trend! Just wait until you see the covers for the makeover cover for the Connie Mason/Mia Marlowe book I am working on....and the covers for the Delilah Marvelle School of Gallantry series....that last one...should go in the book cover hall of fame...I have a feeling the male model is going to have a lot of new fans!!!! He is just yummy :)

gamistress66 September 27, 2012 at 11:06 PM  

add me to the list of those not too fond of the new trend. I don't get any feel for what the book might be about -- is it a romance, mystery, ya, light reading, erotica, ????. little if anything (other than name recognition) would lead me to pick it up (or click on it) to find out more. people seeing the cover of what I was reading (even the old heaving bosom covers) never bothered me much. I read for my pleasure not for public opinion ;) Hopefully it is a limited trend.

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