Thursday, January 23, 2014

Romance Book Covers with Polly Iyer

What makes a striking romance book cover? What does a cover say about the subgenre of romance book? Is it Contemporary, Paranormal, Historical, Romantic Suspense, Regency, Gothic, New Adult, Western, or Fantasy? Oh, and there are subgenres to those categories. Whew! Is your book sweet, funny, or dark? Is it erotic?


These are questions every writer should ask when either choosing a designer or creating the cover, especially if s/he is self-publishing. I’ve had three erotic romances published by e-publishers, and I had nothing to say about the cover, though I fortunately liked two out of three of them. The third, not so much. Maybe bestselling authors have more input. I wouldn’t know, not having reached that status. I bought back the rights to Sexual Persuasion and redid the cover. It happened to be a cover I first used for my sexy romantic suspense, Hooked, but too many people thought it was an erotic romance. So I changed Hooked and later used that cover minus the New York scene. Big difference, as you can see.


As I looked through Amazon, something struck me. Runaway bestselling books had many imitators, some with the stories and others with the covers. I started with the erotic romance, or Mommy Porn, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, and noticed the slew of blatant knockoff titles with similar covers and fifty shades of something in the titles. There are even a few parodies. Ugh, I thought. I followed the James’ book with another bestselling trilogy that reviewers said was a direct knockoff of the F.S. of G. story, Sylvia Day’s trilogy. All six covers say to me is that these books are all about the man—neckties, key ring, luggage tags, cuff links, masks. What does that say about the role of women in the books? Subservient, maybe? To be fair, I haven’t read either trilogy and am commenting only on the covers and reviews when a high percentage of readers said the same things. These are erotic romances, but you really can’t tell by the covers. They seemed to have done the job, however. Mega-sellers both.


I chose the next batch of covers for variety so you can see how the publishers differentiate the genres.


Self-published and bestselling Contemporary Romance author, Bella Andre’s covers are consistent: an embracing couple, heads and hands only, on the top third of the cover, then a combination of her name, book title, and scene vying for the remaining space. They spell out the genre nicely.

H.M. Ward, self–publishd, bestselling New Adult romance author, has published a slew of books in 2013, but in vignettes (to the wrath of some readers because of the cost); whereas, J.R. Ward, bestselling traditionally-published Paranormal Romance author’s series go back to 2005. H.M. Ward/J.R. Ward—hmm, I wonder. Both bookcover styles are basically monochromatic. H.M.’s are black and white with a hint of color on some. J.R.’s are either mono-colored or they depict strongly contrasted dark figures. All of these authors’ books are series, which seem to sell better than one-offs, and they have created a brand by their consistent covers.

Cherise Sinclair is a top author for erotic e-book publisher Loose-Id. Her theme is mostly BDSM, and her strong, dark, and defined covers leave no doubt of what you’re getting when you choose one of her books.

No post on romance authors would be complete without bestselling authors, Nora Roberts and  Sandra Brown. Both started out in Category Romance and have made the transition to Mainstream Romance and Romantic Suspense. Their covers have the backing of the big publishers, and as you can see, they know what they’re doing. Most of Nora’s mainstream books have a flowery look to them with fancier lettering. I added one cover from her J.D. Robb’s futuristic Death series to show how differently the publisher creates the genres. Every J.D. Robb book has the same design pattern—again consistency is the key. There’s no way to confuse the two personas of the bestselling and most prolific romance author of all time. Sandra Brown, one of my favorite Romantic Suspense authors, has strong yet simple covers. One scene, large type, her name almost always above the title. The atmosphere always says Suspense more than Romance.

I added a Harlequin Romance cover with a Western theme. When a reader orders a Harlequin book, she pretty much knows what she’s getting. Little or no sex, no bad language, and marriage at the end. Their covers are light and romantic.

One thing about covers: they need to hold up when reduced to a thumbnail. I see only one book of the fourteen I posted where the title isn’t clear, although the names on a couple of them, including mine, could be a larger.

Just remember, your cover is the introduction to your book. Making the right impression is the first step toward a reader’s purchase




Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and two books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

39 comments :

  1. Good post, Polly. I agree about making your cover show what kind of book it is. I like keeping it simple too. InSight is a great cover, one of my favorites, and the logline on Hooked makes its subject very clear.

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    1. Thanks, Ellis. It's hard enough to write the book, but in doing so, the images of the story can translate to the cover, and that does help. You do beautiful covers for your books, and the reader has a good idea what's inside. They won't be disappointed when they read your stories.

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  2. Great post, Polly. The psychology of the imagery behind covers fascinates me. When it's done well, a good cover makes a promise of what's on the page and tells a potential reader everything she wants to know before she buys.

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    1. Great to hear from you, Rhonda. In doing the research for this post, I saw a lot of covers that were plain terrible. When a writer doesn't have the skill to create a good cover, The task is best left to designers who can. The writer isn't helping himself by saving a few bucks. On the contrary.

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  3. This is such a good summation of what a cover should be all about: eye-catching, genre specific, and exemplifying a brand, when possible.

    Most times it's obvious when someone has slapped a cover on a book to get it out there, and that's a mistake. I liken it to trying on jeans. Sure, 5 pairs may fit you in the store, but there's probably one style that goes beyond fitting you. It makes you feel good and look good.

    Settling for an okay cover is never a good idea if you're indie pubbed. With publishers, you may not get much input on a finished cover, which is why you should do your homework up front, as Polly did.

    Great post!

    Maggie

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    1. Thanks for posting, Maggie. For me, creating my own covers was an ego thing. I was an art major, spent over 25 years in the craft, and if I couldn't figure out how to design a decent cover, I should hang my head in shame. Photoshop was a definite learning curve, but like everything else, practice makes, if not perfect, an attractive salable cover. I only wish I had an idea for my next book, but first I need to finish it.

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  4. I agree that a cover should give a hint about the contents of a book, or the reader will be terribly disappointed and feel conned.

    Morgan Mandel

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    1. Many times the title or a tag line on the cover will help. Murder and Death in a title is a dead giveaway-- excuse the pun--even if the cover doesn't quite give the hint. I appreciate the comment, Morgan. Thanks.

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    2. Very interesting analysis. It explains and ties in with the frustration many writers feel when they have no control over their covers...and don't feel they fit the book.

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    3. So true, Debra. The cover I didn't like from the publisher was all pink and mauve and light. The story is not. I really felt it misrepresented what was inside. I can't complain about the cover when I'm the creator. Most designers don't read the story. All they have is maybe a tag line, and we all know how hard that is to write and make the reader aware of what's inside the cover. Hope you weren't a frustrated writer when you got a cover you didn't like. I appreciate your comment.

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  5. They say, 'you can't judge a book by it's cover,' ... but guess what? People do.

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    1. Absolutely, Christopher. I'd rather have dynamic type than a bad illustration. Thanks for your comment.

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    2. I definitely judge by a book cover - if it's really bad and amateur, I'll pass on the book. It sends a signal that the writing might be just as bad. The best money (maybe even more than professional editing) a writer can spend is that first presentation - the cover. Affordable book covers are so easy to find these days, there really is no excuse.

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    3. Missed this comment. Sorry.

      There are some very good book cover designers around, Dani. The best way to find one is to ask self-pubbed writers who created the covers you like. Most writers are happy to share information, and most designers are very affordable. You're right that it's definitely worth the money.

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  6. Thanks for the very helpful post, Polly. I'm working with my daughter who is a graphic artist on a new book cover, and I will send her a link to this. While she has done some terrific covers for me, I think it would be helpful for her to know some of the things you pointed out about picking the right image to reflect the story.

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  7. Maryann, the best teacher is looking at other bookcovers, especially by writers published by the big 5 or 6. I stress type, but I'm a type person. I like fooling with the sizes and placement. Sometimes that and an intriguing background picture is all you need to create a good cover. I hope your daughter finds something of use in my post. Thanks so much.

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  8. Polly, do you design just your own covers, or are you available for hire? Just curious.

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    1. I've only done my own, Dani. That's another profession, and I'm afraid of not pleasing a client. I can tell me I hate the cover. :-)

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  9. It all goes back to this: you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

    This article is incredibly important information that every writer — especially those who self-pub — should take to heart. A potential buyer who isn't hooked (or at least intrigued) by the cover will likely move on to another book, one that invites him/her to pick it up and peek inside.

    Excellent, excellent post, Polly. Glad to have you aboard! :-)

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    1. Thanks so much, Linda. I'm pleased to be here and pleased you liked my post.

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  10. It always strikes me as odd when a rash of books by different authors, issued by different publishers, are simultaneously released with near-identical covers. While I agree that romance titles do need to hint at what's inside, I don't feel that way about other genres. If the cover design and title are strong, I don't need a figurative cover. In fact, I'd rather have no image than one that deceives. If the book is about a brunette who always dresses in black, don't give me a cover with a blonde in a scarlet trench coat unless the story makes it clear why.

    VR Barkowski

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    1. Exactly, VR. As I said above, I'd rather have a cover with outstanding type and an interesting background, even if somewhat hazy, than a bad drawing or picture with worse composition. Having said that, I've done just about everything in my covers, but I've kept them to the story. My pet peeve is cutesy. I suppose I wouldn't feel that way if I wrote cutesy. But I don't. Thanks for adding to the discussion. By the way, The Blonde in the Scarlet Coat is a pretty interesting title. :-)

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  11. Polly, thoughtful blog as usual. I haven't been following marketing, and I suppose I should but this weekend I attended a retreat and my friend was showing us her covers. They were couple covers and they were okay...She was insistent that couple covers do better in the romance genre. However, when none of us jumped up and down over them, she was confused, e.g. they looked like so many out there and she was trying to keep up with what Kensington had done for her books.

    Her new series is extremely heroine journey based. There are heroes, but it's primarily the heroine and that evening she sent us covers with the heroine only in striking historical garb she writes historical) all of us present were wowed.

    I have a friend who writes bi-racial books and her publisher messed up the race on the cover, and never fixed it. I agree with Viva. If the characters on the cover are not representative of the story inside it can damage the author.

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  12. Donnell, so much depends on the cover. It's inexcusable for a publisher to get something so wrong and not fix it. Romance, by the nature of the genre, indicates couples, and I understand that, but many of them do look alike. I tried to highlight authors' books that created a distinctive look. Like them or not, they're identifiable. There are so many covers out there with bare-chested men, mostly in the erotic romance genre, that I can't tell one from the other.

    There is something to be said for having control over your covers, also your work, but that's another blog post. As long as the author is controlling what s/he wants to project and the designer "gets" it, everyone should be happy. In the end, it's the eye of the beholder that counts. Does the cover tell the story, create curiosity, and lure the reader to buy?

    Thanks so much for your lengthy post and insight. Your views are always well thought out and interesting.

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  13. You've done a great job on covers, Polly. I think it's a daunting task. Trying to balance the tone with the content without riding any readers away--how could that be any harder. I hope I get to find out! Nice blog, Polly, a former blogphobic.

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    1. Thanks, Elaine, for the compliment. I hope you get that book published, and I get to see your cover. It will make me very happy. No one works harder. And yes, the idea of a steady blog has always terrified me. I admire steady bloggers like you and others for bringing author interviews and writing information for people like me to read. Cheers.

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  14. Hi Polly, great post. Since I like to take a hands-on part in designing my covers, I'm sure it drives my designer crazy :)

    Except for my Christmas book, they have the theme of a watercolor in the cover, which I hope will become "my look". My Christmas covers for the series, will maintain the look I started for Christmas, again hoping to keep on with that theme image.

    I had a marketing expert, Vince Mooney do a blog on covers and what they are supposed to do on www.anindieadventure.blogspot.com. I'd love you to look at and tell me what you think.

    Your covers are wonderful. Thanks for the post.
    LA

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    1. That was a wonderful blog post by Vince Mooney. He went deeper into the psychology of book covers than I did, which was great. Thanks so much for posting that, LA. For anyone interested, and you should be because it's an outstanding piece, here's the link:

      http://www.anindieadventure.blogspot.com/2012/11/cover-art-and-advertising-headlines.html or http://tiny.cc/sw459w

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    2. Thanks Polly! Vince brought up many points I'd not considered, and I ended up changing my first book's cover. My follow up post shows new vs. old.

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    3. Just wanted to make that link shared above to Vince Mooney's interview clickable for anyone interested:
      Cover Art and Advertising Headlines Have The Same Mission

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  15. So fascinating! Don't you go to bookstores..and just scan to see what works? It's so revealing! Thanks for this, Polly. What I think is unsuccessful--is muddy, timid, tentative. We've been through the "red" phase, and then the "blue" phase....and you can always see the white covers.

    And it makes such a difference, right?

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  16. When I was researching this blog, I saw a lot of gray, so maybe we're in a gray phase, Hank. Lots of shades of gray. :-)

    I like all different kinds of covers as long as they're well done. Different colors say different things, so that's important too. Cozy mysteries seem very pastel, not my favorite palette, but it works for the genre, whereas mysteries and thrillers are darker and more vibrant.

    The biggest disappointment was the original cover for The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling. What a nothing cover. I see they've changed it now. Can't imagine why.

    It's fun to look and study covers, especially when you do your own. Thanks for commenting, Hank.

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    1. Totally agree about The Casual Vacancy cover - I was very surprised when it came out that such an influential author was lumped with (what looked like) a $2 cover.

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  17. Great article, Polly. While I make suggestions re my covers, they don't always turn out the way I envisioned them.

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  18. Thanks, Marilyn. Even when you do them yourself, they don't always turn out like you envision them. Those are the most frustrating. I must have done 50 covers for Threads before I was happy. Thought I'd tear out my hair.

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  19. Before designing my covers, I took screen shots of all of the covers I loved (in similar genres) and started identifying the elements I wanted on my own. You really can learn a lot from studying a whole pool of covers!

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    1. And you did a great job with your covers, Diane. You created more than a cover. You created a complete style that incorporated the book, the design, the type, and the feeling you wanted to convey, along with the advertising. Kudos.

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  20. I can't put my finger on why, but something that bugs me with covers in my genre (MG fantasy and sci fi) is illustrated characters "posing for the camera", i.e., looking directly out at the reader/viewer. I don't mind it if the image is an actual photo of a real life model, but the drawn/painted version creeps me out. I requested an action-based illustration from my illustrator, and I think she nailed it.

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    1. Coming from an art background, what bugs me is bad illustration, no matter where they look.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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