Covers that Tell the Story

By Poison Ivy,

On Halloween, children and adults run or slink around in costumes, most of them trying to look like superheroes, fairies, or spooks, scary or sexy as they choose. For the last several years, the hottest trends in book covers have been what amount to Halloween settings. Dark and spooky. Sometimes bloody. Often featuring young women garbed in tight leather, toting enormous weapons. Yet some of these books are romances dressed up to look spooky, just as we dress up at Halloween and pretend. Given this popular cover trend, how can we tell if there’s a romance inside?

It certainly helps if there’s a clinch cover. The hottest new romance self-promotion item this year is trading cards. Author Keri Stevens had them made to promote her paranormal romance, Stone Kissed. You can check out both front and back on her Web site.

Sometimes, we know the book is a romance because the cover is beautiful and features a woman who does not look as if she’s about to kill someone. Take Darker Still, by Leanna Renee Hieber, for instance. This cover impressed me with its beauty, its simplicity of design, and its artful, romantic glow. The sales copy describes a yearning, otherworldly romance with a tortured aristocrat trapped in the world within a portrait. That’s fine, but the cover itself sold me. I truly did not need the details. In the past I have bought many romances because I loved the covers. A picture is worth a thousand words and sometimes is more effective, too.

I picked up these promotional pieces at the New Jersey Romance Writers conference. I had to ask author Lisa Dale if Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier was a romance or what’s called women’s fiction or a “book club read,” often a story of an older woman and possibly several of her friends, and entanglements of the distant past, or about a family problem, or even a coming-of-age or a coming-to-terms heroine. Lisa says this story is a strong romance with additional elements. The cover is attractive but misleading, I think. Someone looking for a romance might pass it by.

Vicky Burkholder, an author whose bookmark I picked up at the same conference, has some books out whose covers didn’t immediately appeal to me. She told me she did not design them. Ah, but her bookmark, which was her choice, spoke strongly of a romantic sensibility. It’s so romantic. Her Web site header is a sunset afterglow, which I find equally romantic.

The cover for Echoes at Dawn, by Kathleen Ann Gallagher, struck me as even more dramatic and romantic. And nary a weapon to be found. Thanks, ladies. I’m looking for romance, after all.

But I admit I couldn’t resist picking up the sexy cover to Surrender to Sanctuary, which clearly is a tale of another gun-toting strong female. Her spike heels and black hose also give an indication that this romance is likely to be hotter than some, as the sales copy also states.

These book covers all impressed me visually, made me curious, and made me interested in the books themselves. The best of them also gave an accurate indication of what kind of romance I would find beneath the covers.