What’s Your Favorite Type of Cover?

As long as I have read romance novels, I’ve been interested in their covers. They are bright and often lurid and embarrassing. Who wants to sit on a bus, or at a coffee shop, reading a book with the characters practically having sex on the cover? The marketing strategy is something I find fascinating and counter-intuitive, but it obviously works. A lot of casual readers do not know much about many authors or sub-genres or trends within the industry. They just pick up what looks interesting in the grocery store aisle.

In looking at many, many covers, I’ve found that many of them have similar characteristics, and similar styles. While there are, of course, exceptions, most cover styles fall into one of five categories: The Cute Animal, The Cute Couple, The Faceless Couple, The Solo Star, and the Sexy/”Clinch” Cover.

The Cute Animal (or Object) cover doesn’t have any people on it. The focus is just a puppy, or kitten, or some inanimate object, like a table with a candle on it, that is tangential to the plot and makes it look like a children’s book or a decorating catalogue. The original cover of Catch of the Day would be an example of this type of cover.

The Cute Couple features a pair of models doing something those cutesy couples that are prone to PDA do, like laying in the grass or sharing a bottle of wine on a terrace or cuddling on a couch. It’s the sort of thing that might make one squirm when done in public, but telegraphs that this book is obviously a romance.

The Faceless Couple, such as that shown on About That Night is one I don’t quite understand, where the models’ faces are totally or partially cut off from the picture. Why no faces? It’s not like the people on the covers ever look like the characters — or, if they fit the basic description, who is to say they don’t? They are usually doing something that falls somewhere between the cutesy and the sexual, like wrapping their arms around each other or the woman pulling the tie of the man.

The Solo Star can be one of several options, in which only one model is featured. For men, it’s usually a ridiculously cut guy without a shirt, or a brooder in a thematic setting. For women, it’s more of the pouty model-esque pose that Tyra would say were “editorial,” not “commercial.” Meredith Duran’s books have had both types:

The Sexy/”Clinch” Cover is pretty self-explanatory. It is the stereotypical cover of a romance novel, quite popular in the ‘90s but has been re-configured for the modern cover. Mostly, this means the women have better hair. It has a woman whose bodice is falling off and a man whose shirt is undone, while they’re tangled in occasionally physically impossible positions. They’re clearly in the middle of foreplay. Or, as on this cover, are already there.

Each cover comes with a different connotation, whether it is conscious or not. A “subtle” book would usually not have a half-naked couple on the cover, nor would a light contemporary have a dark or moody cover. Often, the meaning behind the cover, the marketing strategy, is more subtle than that.

My question is this: If you had to pick up a book in a rush, without knowing the plot or author, which would you choose?

[poll ID=33]

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39 Responses to What’s Your Favorite Type of Cover?

  1. Katja says:

    I like the dreamy, slightly fairy-tale ones.
    Something like this Julia Quinn cover http://www.amazon.de/The-Duke-Avon-Romantic-Treasure/dp/0380800829/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1337773099&sr=8-9
    or the ones that look like an old painting. Like some of the Georgette Heyer covers: http://www.amazon.de/Devils-Cub-Georgette-Heyer/dp/0099465833/ref=sr_1_3?s=books-intl-de&ie=UTF8&qid=1337773205&sr=1-3#reader_0099465833

    But I confess, I’m far more likely to pick a book by reading the back blurb than by looking at the cover.

  2. farmwifetwo says:

    If it’s something I wish to read… I really don’t care. I brought a hqn blaze into the hairdressers a while ago and you should have seen the looks. I’ve been reading “mommy porn” since I was a teenager and when I crossed 40 a couple of years ago I made a promise to myself…. I no longer care what anyone thinks… their problem, not mine.

  3. Blythe says:

    I can like almost any of the choices if they are done right. One you left off: Cartoon cover. There are fewer of them now then there used to be, but you still see them. We debated them a lot when I was on the cover ballot committee back in the day (it still continues on, but without me). Many people hated them, but I usually liked them.

    I don’t mind that e-readers make this question a little less pressing. I don’t really need everyone to know exactly what I am reading.

  4. Eliza says:

    I don’t care much for most romance covers, especially clinch, naked and the usual. It’s not about other people seeing what I’m reading as much as I just think too many aren’t all that well done, or they’re overdone cliches much of the time. That said, my favorites are Lauren Willig’s early Pink Carnation covers with period portraits of women. Or sometimes the color of a beautiful dress makes a nice cover. Text covers are great, or with an object like Amanda Quick’s rose, or Outlander’s crown symbol. The bigger the title and the author’s name telegraphs confidence in the author to me. If there are people, I prefer headless shots since I like to imagine the looks of the characters myself.

  5. Vol Fan says:

    I don’t like the sexy overt covers either. The half-dressed couples and/or the sexy clinch do nothing for me. Too cliche and overused. I am immediately drawn to a pretty cover or a beautiful landscape scene. I loved the cover for The Bronze Horseman and I love Robyn Carr’s Virgin River covers, along with Jodi Thomas’ Harmony books. My favorites of all are pretty landscapes though. They send me into an instant daydream of what it would be like to be there and relax in this place. I have a tendancy to buy them based on the covers alone, rather than the synopsis of the story. I have an crazy faith that they have to be good, since the picture has drawn me in so completely. Crazy, but that’s happened more often than not to me. LOL

  6. Ell says:

    Unless a book is written by an author I already know and love, then a bad (to me) cover will keep me from even looking closely at it, fair or not.

    When I first began reading romances, and had never heard of Connie Brockway, I noticed a book of hers at the bookstore. The cover had the book’s title, the author’s name and a tartan down one side. On the back was a picture of a man who looked nothing like any of the two or three male models that appeared on virtually every book at the time. His shirt was open, and he was smirking – I know, it sounds kind of obnoxious – still, he seemed so much more like a real man, a real person. I took a chance, and bought the book because of the cover, and as you can imagine – Connie Brockway after all – I never regretted it.

    I don’t think publishers use the same male model as often as they once did, but I can definitely remember standing in a book store, looking at the new romances, and seeing the same model on virtually every cover. An explorer (with his shirt open), a Regency Buck (with his shirt open), a pirate (with his shirt open), an American Indian (with no shirt at all) all lined up in a row, and every one with the same man, and his almost generic, almost Ken doll features. Don’t mistake me, if I liked the author, I bought the books anyway, and have and keep a number of these books on my shelves. But, I would never have bought them if I wasn’t already familiar with the author. I dislike the covers that much.

    For me personally, whether I dislike a cover or not hasn’t anything to do with what other people think. It’s more about whether or not I feel the urge to roll my eyes every time I close the book. Dumb or not, it’s hard for me to love a book, and hate the cover. It takes something away
    from my pleasure in it.

    On a side note (sort of): I love the cover of Loretta Chase’s Mr Impossible. Even though, or maybe because of, the top of our hero’s head is missing. I don’t recognize the model, can’t help but love that mischievous smile, and I can imagine his eyes very easily. The cover is a small, but real part of why I love the book.

  7. RobinB says:

    I recently dived deep into the TBR pile and found the first two books in Karen Robards’s Banning Sisters trilogy, “Scandalous” and “Irresistible”. The covers of these books featured generic silhouette landscapes–in other words, they are the sort of covers that would not embarrass me if I was sitting in a waiting area reading the book. Then, there’s the third book in the series, “Shameless”, which was published 10 years after the first two. The cover features the “solo star” (in this case, the heroine) with the top half of her head cut off!

    Maybe I’m something of a fuddy-duddy, but honestly, I don’t buy a book because of a cover model (or models). I buy it because I like the author, or because the descriptive blurb on the cover sounds intriguing.
    Incidentally, I’ve noticed that when older novels are reprinted, the former covers (many of which are landscapes or still lives) have been replaced by the “model” covers–the reprints of Mary Jo Putney’s “Fallen Angels” novels come to mind.

    I’m reminded of when music videos first became popular in the early eighties. I’m a rock music fan, but with very few exceptions, I really didn’t care for the videos, because when I listen to music, I prefer to form my own visualizations. Same thing for the cover models on romance novels; when I saw the cover of the reprint of “Shattered Rainbows”, my first thought was: “That’s NOT what I thought Michael and Catherine would look like!”

    While I don’t like the idea of taking employment away from someone, I definitely miss the old landscapes and still lives on the covers of romance novels!

  8. PatH AAR says:

    I voted for “other” and I’d like to see more atmospheric/sensual covers that have a sense of the book’s tone but no people, etc. They show a fog-enshrouded moor or a calm lake with a dock or some other mood shot.

  9. Eggletina says:

    I hate the lurid covers. It’s a good thing I read romances on my ereader. I work in a very stiff, stodgy environment so I wouldn’t be caught dead carrying around one of those books with the hero and heroine contorting in impossible ways or half naked on the covers. That said, to buy a book, I’m more influenced by the character types, themes, the writing, and feedback I’ve been able to find on the author than I am by the cover. I know how meaningless most covers are.

    Ideally, I like covers that at least match the setting or mood of the book, which is why landscape covers are often nice. It’s an added bonus if characters on the covers are dressed authentically for the period and match their description in the book. The best covers for me have some kind of detail, even if its symbolic, from the book itself and show me that the publisher has put some thought into it.

  10. Vol Fan says:

    Just wanted to clarify something from my previous post. It almost sounds as if I will buy a book solely on the cover. I buy it solely on the author, then the story. However, if it is one I’m not familiar with, I do tend to gravitate to those that are pretty, rather than explicit. I have turned away from a silly and/or explicit cover, probably missing many good books, and buy the prettier cover, taking a chance that it will be the better book. If that makes any sense. LOL May not always work out, but the prettier covers will pull me in every time, whereas the more explicit and/or couples covers do not interest me at all. I rarely ever even pull them off the shelf to investigate. Unless of course, it is a familiar author.

    I guess I am totally opposite of what publishers think their readers want. It also explains why I appreciate this site so much. I’ve read many books based on recommendations here, that I normally would never have picked up due to the covers not grabbing me at all.

  11. Victoria S says:

    I have learned to overlook covers on books, because they just don’t have much to do with the content of the book, and many of them I find flat out ugly. Both examples of Meredith Duran book covers to me are flat out unattractive, and thank God, I didn’t let the ugly covers stop me from reading either book. I like the J.D. Robb covers; her name, book title, and a small stylized picture. That’s it. I’m with PatH AAR, let’s see more “other” covers, and no more people who look nothing like the characters in the book.

  12. dick says:

    If I gave diddly squat about covers or what others think of them, I probably wouldn’t read romance at all. I’ve often thought that romance publishers could, even for mass markets, easily use removable dust covers like those on hardbacks…or make covers peelable like the coupons on some products.

  13. LeeB. says:

    Ell, I love this: “. . . I can definitely remember standing in a book store, looking at the new romances, and seeing the same model on virtually every cover. An explorer (with his shirt open), a Regency Buck (with his shirt open), a pirate (with his shirt open), an American Indian (with no shirt at all) all lined up in a row, and every one with the same man, and his almost generic, almost Ken doll features.” So funny!

    Personally I cringe at the covers showing male six packs (no heads needed apparently) but if I like the author and/or premise of the book, I will read it.

    Much prefer lovely landscapes.

  14. Hannah E. says:

    I don’t read much YA, but I’m wildly jealous of the recent trend of beautiful covers for YA novels. So many adult romance novel covers just look cutesy or sleazy.

    • Jane AAR says:

      Hannah E.: I don’t read much YA, but I’m wildly jealous of the recent trend of beautiful covers for YA novels.So many adult romance novel covers just look cutesy or sleazy.

      I agree. I don’t read much YA either but some of the covers are fantastic. I loved Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy covers. They’re the back-of-the-dress style covers (a subset of covers that would probably fall into the “solo star” category), in a classy and sophisticated way, not an overly sexual way like so many romance covers.

  15. willaful says:

    The cover doesn’t matter much to me, except that I will notice if it’s obviously cheaply produced, with uncanny-valley caricatures, overdone fonts, or other clues that the people who made the book have different aesthetic tastes than I do, which is likely to be reflected by the content.

    But my preference is for pretty, “romantic” covers. The original paperback cover of Private Arrangements is always the first thing I think of when this subject comes up.

  16. Vol Fan says:

    I agree Hannah. I do sometimes read YA, but their covers have made me stop & pick up more than I ever normally would have. Kinda like the candy positioned at checkout counters. They do grab my attention and sometimes I will buy them because they look so good!

  17. MEK says:

    I pay no attention to covers, nor titles for that matter. They are nothing but misleading in my opinion. I will not read a book with a lurid cover out in public, though. I just as soon have no people or bodies or faces on the covers at all!

  18. Carrie says:

    I like a variation of the solo cover, the woman in a beautiful dress. I just don’t want her with collagen-injected lips. I also like the covers with no people like several of the Mary Balogh covers I’ve seen, or Judith Ivory’s Black Silk.

    Another nice style is the cover that actually looks like it might have something to do with the story, like the cover of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Wicked Intentions.

  19. DJ says:

    Anything but the sexy clinch cover, frankly. Anything.

  20. Susan says:

    My favorite covers are the Georgette Heyer covers done recently with accurate costuming, and they all look like they might have been painted by Renoir. They are gorgeous.

    I really dislike most other cover styles. I am new to regular romance reading. I only started reading them after getting my Kindle, so now I don’t have to hear comments from the peanut gallery.

    • Jane AAR says:

      Susan: I am new to regular romance reading. I only started reading them after getting my Kindle, so now I don’t have to hear comments from the peanut gallery.

      This is interesting. I don’t own an ereader myself but I’m fascinated by how they allow so many people to read without embarrassment. My roommates are passing around 50 Shades of Gray, so we’ve talked a bit about how they have affected the boom of erotica, and brought new buyers to the romance market. Now, in a lot of ways, the cover is less and less important in attracting buyers.

  21. kathy says:

    I voted for “other” and for some reason a grey tie comes to mind;)

  22. HazelB says:

    Ditto on disliking sexy clinch covers with clothes falling off. The trend to historicals with dresses open down the back really annoyed me–where was her underwear?! (e.g., corset, chemise, etc.) Also not in favor of the generic prom dress look in colors that could never have been produced with the dyes available at the time.

    On the plus side, I have noticed that Christian fiction in trade paperback size often has very beautiful covers that appear to have some connection with the story.

  23. Jane O says:

    If I can’t have period paintings, my favorites are the ones with items or scenes on them, rather than people. I don’t really mind headless people because the ones pictured never match the image in my mind, and I did love the grin on the cover of MR. IMPOSSIBLE.

    I loathe the clinch covers, but my least favorites are the historicals that are just plain wrong—wrong clothes, wrong hair, no underwear, etc. I love Meredith Duran’s books, but take a look at the cover of her new one. It’s set in 1715, but the bimbo on the cover looks like a fin de siècle courtesan.

  24. PatW says:

    I hardly ever graze in bookstores any more, I do it on line … and covers don’t come into play. I can’t remember when I bought a paper book; I love my eReader but don’t spend much time looking at the cover images.

    That said, as others have commented, I like landscapes and period costume/paintings. Those clinch covers and solos always seem to me to have impossible clothes and they never match anything in the book. I was never one to use a cover model to give me an image for the characters.

  25. escschwartz says:

    I would never select a book by its cover, any book not just a romance. I select books based on author I’ve enjoyed or, if it’s someone new to me, then I look at reviews of that book or ratings of other books by the author. I figure that someone who has generally written A/B books might be worth a try while a C/D author is not likely to suddenly write a keeper. But I agree that having an ereader helps a lot because I don’t have to worry about the cover at all. In fact I often don’t even see the cover of ebooks I read so I don’t know what they look like. From the beginning I’ve made it a point to make plain paper covers for most books I take out in public (it’s no one’s business what I’m reading unless they specifically ask me) but I am very much more likely to do that with a book where the cover screams “sex” at anyone who looks at it. I figure the saying to “not judge a book by its cover” had to come from somewhere!

  26. Cindy says:

    My favorite covers have been “setting” covers, if that makes sense. I love a cover with a castle or a garden or a seascape… I am embarassed to buy and embarassed to read a book in public if the cover has near-nudity or an intimate embrace.

  27. Elysa says:

    I am not embarrassed by any of the covers. I started reading romance novel when I was in 7th grade and I was made the butt of many a joke because I do not look like the “type” who reads romance novels (I played softball, wear leather boots and Harley Davidson attire and now I am a law student – I prove the adage about books and covers). So I learned to embrace the comments I got about some of the more interesting covers. Some reactions make me laugh while others cause me to flaunt my education and reading preference just to screw with people. However, my favorite covers are the Lisa Kleypas historical kind with the lettered cover and a stepback. When done right it gives me a glimpse into that world that I may otherwise have difficulty imagining. But I like clinch covers because they seem to bug people and that amuses the he’ll out of me.

  28. What I find fascinating about the whole e-book-reading-in-public thing, is not so much what it says about what we choose to read, but how judgmental people are about others’ reading choices. Where possible now I buy mass market fiction on my Kindle, but this is more for reasons of space than anything else.
    I can recall sitting on a train many years ago (I was probably about 19) reading a Georgette Heyer, and having some complete yahoo read aloud over my shoulder. When he asked why I bothered with reading what he thought was snobbish crap, I responded that it was fun reading about men with better manners than his and told him to … well, you know what I told him to do! Frankly after that example of idiocy, I decided I didn’t give two damns what anyone thought of my reading choices and that was that. I couldn’t care less what people think, but it irritates me that they even think they have the right to judge. Especially when they’re bad mannered and stump dumb.

  29. Ann says:

    I love the sexy/clinch cover, but only if it is done right. This is my favorite type:


  30. bavarian says:

    Leafing through the May issue of rt Magazine I suddenly stopped, couldn’t quite make out what made me stop so I flipped back a few pages. And there it was: Janet Dailey, Trust. The cover shows a man with his leather jacket on and a t-shirt underneath, no naked breast, no sixpack! But…the other title in the series, Honor, shown in a small version, has it all: the open shirt and so on.
    Needless to say: I hate all these naked male breasts, but following the review boards there seem to be some readers who really love these “hot guys”.
    Sometimes one even can find women with nice clothes on, but the men have their shirts torn down in a fashion one only can ask how and why they are constraining themselves with their shirt sleeves half down.

    Lately I noticed that Revell does really nice covers, for example Olivia Newport, The Pursuit of Lucy Banning. It shows not only the heroine in a wonderful dress but also a period street scene as background. Without reading a word You get the feeling of the time and the mood.
    All that said I’m one of the party who prefers landscapes (with few people if necessary) or an item related to the plot. How nice was the earlier cover of One perfect Rose by Mary Jo Putney showing only one perfect red rose. The new cover has the ubiquitous woman with a nearly bare back.
    As for buying a book for it’s cover. I fear I more often haven’t bought a book because of it’s cover. I really must like the author or have read very good reviews to buy a book with an – in my opinion – ugly or distasteful cover. It’s part of the pleasure of reading a book to look at it without cringing! E-book readers really help!

  31. Grettel says:

    If I don’t know anything about the book. It must have a beautiful cover but not an usual one. I won’t choose a beach setting or a sexy couple, I’ll look for something intriguing (I wouldn’t read Fifty Shades of Gray but I find the cover elegant and interesting)

  32. MJ says:

    I like cover ART best of all. Meaning any picture or photograph that grabs my interests even if I wouldn’t want it on my wall. For example, Dark Road to Darjeeling or Hush, Hush or Devil in the White City. These images are evocative and provocative–they are their own mini-story. And, the covers reflect what’s between the pages.

  33. Taryn says:

    Covers don’t make me buy, but they get my attention (or not) by giving info about the time period (I like Regency, dislike Westerns), credibility (other authors i like saying they liked this book), and “spicy scale” (c’mon – you know what I mean!). That said, I decide to leave the book on the shelf if the back of the book story blurb says it’s about a 18-yr-old virgin who just has to get married. (Yawn.) There are so many more richly textured romances out there! Basically – agree with others that the story is why we buy, not the cover (but jeez I’d love it if they could make the titles less embarrassing!)

    I wonder why so many books have decapitated the people on the cover? And really, what ever happened to all those hero’s shirts? Does anyone really buy *because* of the man’s muscled chest or *in spite* of it? ;-)

  34. Karen Schoelen says:

    I like nice scenery, like the house and grounds that are depicted in the book.

  35. YaYa says:

    I prefer no faces on the guys since I like to use my own imagination. If it is a historical book I like to see the clothing and hair styles. Mary Balogh’s ” The Proposal” is a great example.

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