Kathleen Brannan (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I, too, read the back cover to get a "glimpse" of the book. The ones I like the best are the ones that capture the H/H's personalities. The ones I like the least are the one-line reviews of other authors and book reviewers that tell me nothing.
Jill Scheppler (email@example.com):
Interesting topic! I'm not wild about clinch covers, but I'll buy books with them if I like the author. Clinch covers have probably kept me from buying books by authors I'm not familiar with. I like stepback art a lot, but my biggest gripe is artwork that doesn't match the author's description of the h/h, whether it's on the cover or in stepback. I liked the covers of Jo Beverley's Forbidden, Tempting Fortume, and Dangerous Joy - eyes peeking over fans. They're different, but attractive.
On the other hand, apart from the issue of what other people think, some people do enjoy looking at the covers. That is perfectly fine. To me the covers don't provide the same kind of visual enjoyment. I can look at a picture, and say yes, he's handsome, or that is a nice picture, but I'm reading a book, and the pictures on the cover hold no relevance for me. It strikes me as the equivalent of a pinup picture from a magazine. Not always related to the product, but designed to get your attention.
Andra Atteberry (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I'm a new visitor to your site. It's great fun.
A good cover can add something to a book. I pick the book because I want a very good story with a great plot and wonderful characters with real problems. If it has a great cover – and that includes a gorgeous hunk on the cover – so much the better. Joanna Lindsey's book Warrior Woman was great fun and had a gorgeous male on the cover. That was my first romance novel. I've been hooked ever since.
I like to look at great looking males when they fit the story. I also love covers like Amanda Quick's novels have. I think there is room for all kinds of covers in this genre. I have the most problem with covers that don't seem to fit the story whether they are clinchers or flowers.
My advice is to lighten up and don't create so many rules about what a good romance book has to have to be good. If it's fun and moving and you like the cover – that's the best.
Karen Brooks (email@example.com):
Lauren's Letter and the responses to it mesh very well with the cover controversy. Both deal with literary snobbery and self-conciousness. I find myself bothered by the number of people who want the covers changed so they "can read them in public". I go almost nowhere without a romance and actually kind of enjoy the shocked looks. Given a conversational opportunity, I make a pitch for the genre. Among old friends, I have a very undeserved rep as an intellectual heavyweight, due to having refused to read novels for nearly twenty years (IMHO, most American "literary" fiction sucks eggs) and I've played on that to make inroads on ignorance about the genre. I even took one to a church retreat and read it in public. That earned me a new friend who also is a romance reader! So I speak in defense of the much-maligned clinch.
Please give a thought to appreciating them as a part of the genre. Beyond that, ask why you care so much what other people think about your reading material. Who was it that said "Never explain ( apologize?) - your friends don't need it and your enemies won't believe it anyway."
What will truly help the genre gain respect is not changing the covers; it is the readers themselves developing a real pride and willingness to proclaim that pride openly that will change minds and garner respect.
Author Marilyn Grall (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I like clinch covers! There, I've said it. Now I can don my flame-proof underwear.
To me, a big part of romance is about intimacy and sensuality. Therefore, hunks and hunkesses on the cover of the book fit right in. Okay, okay, I know that means the book will be looked down upon by literary snobs, but frankly, I don't really care. (I guess I better put on another layer of asbestos). Why are we in romance constantly trying to impress literary snobs anyway? If I want to read a literary classic, then that's what I'll read. If I want to read romance, a clinch cover sets the mood for me.
I think Rickey Mallory did a wonderful job on the cover of my book (Taming the Lion) for New Concepts. However, my initial request was for a "clinch." And for those who wonder, no, authors don't usually have much say about the cover. I was lucky. New Concepts is small enough and new enough that they still care about author input. The cover is classy and beautiful, even if there's not a semi-clad body in sight!
Maybe I should start a fan club for those of us who actually like clinches. . . Anybody want to join?
LaNita Cornwall email@example.com:
Isn't it amazing how passionate people get on this issue?
Personally, I refuse to be embarrassed by a book cover. The lurid covers some mysteries have bother me a lot more than the most tasteless romance cover. Bodies covered with blood, knives sticking out, etc.
First, I do not buy or not buy books based on the cover. It may attract (or repel) me, but the bottom line is whether the author is one I read or the story sounds interesting.
I don't think a blah, generic flower/object cover is going to do anything for the genre either. Oh sure, they are safer, but I'm not sure I want to be safer. They sort of all blend in together, and that's not what publishers want to happen either.
I think it's more important to work on getting the back blurb right. I've just about quit paying much attention to them. And that's not a problem just in romance. It's on all types of books. I learned to ignore back blurbs a long time ago. I open the book, read the excerpt in the front (and I hate it when there's not one, just a bunch of quotes telling you how great the book is), and maybe the first couple of pages, if it's one I haven't read a review of or know the author.
I like covers with people on them. I would prefer it if they didn't look like they were going to need to rush to a chiropractor immediately after the sitting however. And it would be nice if publishers/artists had enough integrity to get hair color, period costume, the heroes age, etc. right. And wouldn't it be nice if the 'clinch' could be a little more romantic? Reclining on rocks looks really uncomfortable. And how about if they were actually looking at each other, not gazing into the distance wondering how long they had to hold the pose because their butts are getting numb? Or their neck's getting a crick?
Stepbacks are nice, but I don't want to pay extra for them. If they are one of the reasons book prices have gone through the roof (along with foil covers or any other gimmicks), get rid of them. Price increases sure haven't improved the quality (paper type, glue, etc.) of these books.
And I like the covers with just the hero. I like looking at hunks and there aren't a lot of places provided for women to do that besides romance covers. Lots more scantily clad females out there than males.
I don't really have the problem some people do with imagining the hero looking like Fabio, if he's on the cover. The cover model really doesn't have much to do with how I see the hero. And not reading Laura Kinsale's Prince of Midnight because he's on the cover, is a mistake.
I'm not sure publishers will ever listen to us. But in the meantime, I'm not going to let a cover keep me from reading a book. And my advice to other people, is get/make a cover for those books that embarrass you in public. It's easy enough to make one with paper. Look at it this way, you're protecting the cover!
Or better yet, refuse to let anyone embarrass you in the first place.
Lisa Harrell (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I wanted to write you about the covers of romance books. The clinch covers were a large reason why I did not read romance until recently. I used to read mainly mysteries but I didn't want to get sick of mysteries so I now read fantasy, and romance along with mysteries. I was always turned off by the covers of romance novels. I now love historical romance but I still hate those covers! The covers are just so embarassing. When I am reading a book with that kind of cover I won't let anyone see what I'm reading. I prefer books that have a sword or a flower design, or something like that. If I'm really interested in a book I will buy it no matter what the cover but I would prefer a nice design instead of a couple practically having sex on the cover. Anyway, I think publishers must think women are stupid. Do they really think they will sell more books if they have a racey cover instead of some nice design of a sword? It would do a lot for the genre if those covers were gone. Another problem with respect for romance books is that it is written by women for women and society can't seem to respect that. Mysteries and SCI-FI have both men and women writers (although in my opinion the best mystery writers are women), and since men both read and write in those genres it is given more respect. So romance may never receive much respect.
I suppose I would enjoy the "he-mounts-her" covers if I were a voyeur. But I don't like those stuffed-turkey body-builder types splashed over book covers, either. My favorite cover - on Rachel Lee's A Question of Justice. Piercing eyes - color immaterial - a hard jaw with a haze of beard showing through, a nose that looks like he hasn't always walked away unscathed in life's battles. In other words, a real man, intelligent, maybe a little wary, with natural hormones and plenty of them.
Alicia Culver (CLA@aol.com):
Just finished reading the comments concerning covers and I must say I disagree with many of the opinions expressed. From what I gather, these readers are saying that they don't like the covers based on feelings of shame and embarrassment caused by other people. My response to that is, "Why give power to people who don't know you, probably don't know about the book, and are, in my opinion, losers for disrespecting you by snickering, smirks, or whatever." The thought that some idiot can influence the way a reader feels about romance based on a cover really frustrates me! I know all about that kind of disrespect having read romance for 20 years (as you know from my earlier letters). It ain't pleasant, but when it happens I turn, face the person, and look at them straight in the eye. When I do I usually laugh (on the inside-I won't act as ridiculous as they do), because it's some adolescent boy at the mall with a couple of his friends, or a woman who is with a brother, boyfriend, or husband. I've never had a woman come up to me and express anything other than positive remarks. When men are around though, a woman will sometimes go along with bad behavior. I believe that this lack of respect originates with men who are nonplussed by the romance genre. They're not involved for the most part so they have to mock it. It is just another instance of the way some men behave when they don't understand something, or if it's important to women. Some men might even be embarrassed because they're books about intimacy, and the cover is a blatant reminder of this. I must also say this: I don't think men do these things out of maliciousness (for the most part), but because they are uncomfortable with showing themselves emotionally. I don't even think that it's the sex in the books that bothers some people, but the celebration of love and intimacy. So men make light of the books, women feel bad and sexually ashamed, and it's all about miscommunication.
Boy, don't get me started! I just want everyone to feel good about what they choose to read, and when people are made to feel bad because of a cover or romance in general, it's just plain wrong. The ones who are trying to control us need to change, not the other way around!!
I love covers that portray the characters, as long as the lovers are created with accuracy and respect to the book. The author should have artistic input and work with the designer to produce a cover that both can be proud of. A beautiful rendering of the characters is very important to me, maybe because I am an artist and this adds greatly to the enjoyment of the book. I may read a review in RT and love the plot but if I go to buy it and the cover is not what I expected, I hesitate. I won't necessarily pass it over, but I am disappointed. I really do love cover art and would love to have some originals if I could find out where to get them.
Rebecca Ekmark (email@example.com):
Until I started reading your reviews, and receiving the Manderly catalog, I never purchased a book that had a clinch cover. I figured that if the book needed such embellishment, then it was probably poorly written. I am still uncomfortable looking at any clinch cover, because it almost always displays a dominant, oddly hairless man, and a very submissive, overly exposed, large breasted woman. My feminist hackles automatically rise. I love simplistically designed covers, such as Krentz/Quick covers, and I am more inclined to pick up one in the bookstore to read more.
However, I must add that while scanning the shelves at the local Walden Books, I overheard one elderly lady explaining to another that she "only buys the books with an Indian on the cover." Go figure.
Karen Williams (NXAL70F@prodigy.com):
I am a firm supporter of clinch covers, but I also understand that some poeple are personally offended by them. I don't want them to do away with the floral and item covers, it would be unfair to the loyal readers who buy those books (becasue they think the content might be more traditional) but lets be honest. Just becasue it has a tame cover is by no means saying it is a tame story with sweet faded out love scenes. So if you can read read the words without complianing, why can't you ignore the clinch cover, should it have one? I just read Laurie Likes Books column and it amazes me that so many people are so quick to take sides. There should be no side, and quite honestly, those clinch covers, whether anyone likes it or not, helped put romance on the map. The reader profile has changed over the years, but romance came with those covers and they are as much a part of the whole process as anything. I have floral covers, and item covers, and clinch covers on books covering the better part of my itty bitty dwelling and I have to say that I don't really give a hooey who cares. I am still amazed that this is even an issue, of course that obviously doesn't stop me from spewing my own two cents worth.
I just hate it when I hear people say that clinch covers have no place in romance because it is giving romance a bad name. That's crap! Bad writing and plagiarism, and gossip is giving romance a bad name, not cover models and bare chests.
Friederike Weber-die (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I agree that the stereotypical romance cover probably puts off more readers than it attracts. If I know the author I will buy a book even if it has a lurid cover, but I would certainly prefer something more discreet.
It seems to me that some authors can get away from clinch covers in the course of their career. Jayne Ann Krentz, in her incarnation as Stephanie James, wrote categories for Silhouette Desire which had the typical covers. But nowadays her books with any pseudonym have no clinch covers. Elizabeth Lowell likewise, although there was a slight setback with her medieval series - but at least the artist got the haircolours right! But her latest two books fortunately got away from this again.
I buy my romance books first on the author's name, second on recommendation and third on the blurb. The cover, for me, is completely irrelevant except that I would like to read the book in the tube on my way to work without having to blush for a cover that might not even have anything to do with the contents.
After reading your column, reader comments and Stef Ann Holms comments, I was struck by the fact that the reader comments seem to be overwhelmingly negative about the traditional clinch covers. These readers are all more interested in the content of the book rather than what's on the cover. I think the kind of readers who visit this site and are interested in reading reviews do represent a different population from the rest of the romance reading public. One of the comments pointed this out. The percentage of readers who buy based on reviews, recommendations from listservs, online dicussions etc might actually be small. Maybe there is a silent majority out there who buys based on what a cover looks like. I find that a depressing thought since I am firmly in the camp that hates those clinch covers. I recognized myself in the reader who commented on the cover of Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm. I have handed that book to friends and said, "Ignore the cover, it's a great book."
Okay, I admit it, I'm shallow! I love the covers with the good looking models on them! I know they're not always/most of the time accurate but they look good! I know they usually are not a fair indication on what's inside but I like them!
I want you to know, though, that I have never bought or not bought a book because of the cover so I do still retain my reading integrity!! And, I do understand the angst/anger of some authors who are offended when some cover models get more attention than all the work they put into writing the book does. It's pretty frustrating when the cover generates more discussion than the book!
I will say that, IMHO, the step-back covers are the best of both worlds. They provide camoflage(sp?) for those readers who don't want a clinch scene on their books and a clinch scene for those who want one.
I think the first thing we need to do to be taken more seriously is to clean up the covers. We look like a bunch of sexually frustrated housewives when buying these books. I really enjoy reading romance for the fantasy. I also enjoy reading writers such as Anne Rice. But when in public, people definitely have a different opinion of what I'm reading when they see the body-building naked man on the front cover. Johanna Lindsey is one of my all-time favorite authors and I am glad to see that her books are now being reissued with plain covers. I wish all publishers would do this. Let the books sell on the writing inside. Not the naked man and woman on the front.
Katherine Lazo (email@example.com):
Personally, it isn't the reactions of other people to the covers of the books I read that bothers me. If my reaction to a clinch on the cover is "cringe," I don't buy the book, period. That's one reason why I find step-back covers to be such a good compromise: it hides the clinch (particularly if it's inaccurate like a blond representing a black-haired hero), but if it's good depiction of the H/H (not necessarily in a clinch) it's available for constant reference.
The cover for His Forbidden Touch by Shelly Thacker (Avon), for one, was great despite a clinch on the back cover. It didn't hurt that the story rates at least four hearts.
A favorite cover artist is Pino. In category romances, my hands-down favorite is George Jones (although I haven't seen any of his covers lately, they grace many of the Silhouette Special Editions and Intimate Moments on my shelves).
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