The Story on the Cover of a Romance

By Poison Ivy,

What kind of romance cover makes you want to pick up the book (or comic) and read it?

I’ve always been attracted to covers with brides on them. Bridal gowns are so special, so elaborate, and so individual. And women usually only wear them once. Sure, celebrities or Hollywood types may have fabulous white (or off-white, oyster, pearl, or cream) designer gowns for each of their innumerable weddings. But for the normal woman, there is usually just one wedding in white, and then the other weddings, if they happen at all, are far less formal. I even know a couple whose second wedding was in Vegas, officiated by an Elvis impersonator. (Considering the number of people who do that every year, you probably know someone, too.)

I never thought much about what I liked on the cover of a romance, what drew me to pick it up and maybe buy it or check it out from the library, until an editor told me that romance readers play favorites. And then I realized she was right. Certain themes, such as marriage of convenience, or amnesia, appeal to me. So if a cover of a romance hinted at either, I would pick up the book. (Sales professionals say that if a customer gets the book into her hand, the book is pretty much sold.) Thus a bride on the cover would not just signal “nice dress,” but would also signal the kind of story set-up I like to read about.

Obviously, showing amnesia isn’t as easy as showing that there’s a wedding in the story. Usually a tag line will explain that amnesia is involved. And maybe the hero and heroine look a bit puzzled. I love to read those stories. They always seem so fantastic. And I love how the person with amnesia gets to start over in life for a brief period and discover their personal likes and dislikes anew. But I have a friend who does not find amnesia in the slightest bit romantic ever since a relative suffered brain damage in an accident. So it’s not a romance theme that is to everyone’s taste. Perhaps if you know someone who actually had to contract a marriage of convenience, you might not be amused by that storyline, either.

And then some people like stories set on islands. I hadn’t thought of myself as a big island fan, but come to think of it, I’ve been watching “Lost” on TV and that all takes place on an island. Or supposedly it does. Or maybe twin islands? Who knows? Often, island settings are beautiful. And private. So there’s a back-to-Eden theme underlying many romances set on islands. Of course they could just be inhabited islands that cater to tourists, such as in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean. Then there’s the having-a-fabulous-vacation theme.

Beautiful clothing on a heroine appeals to me. (See bridal gowns, above.) Every once in a long while, the actual faces of the characters depicted on a book cover appeal. But since they are meant to be rather blandly beautiful, they usually don’t do much. When I think about it, probably the people on book covers who are most appealing are the ones taken from real life. Either cover models with something distinctive about them, or swipes of celebrity or movie star faces. Needless to say, no politicians!

Bodies? Especially hot bodies? I know it’s been a big thing for years to have clinch covers and semi-nude heroes, especially on historical romance covers. But despite my visual orientation, these depictions don’t excite me. I think the reason is that the men are too muscular, too beyond what I would find comfortable in real life. (True story: I once shared an elevator ride with three men from a professional sports team. They were enormous, just enormous, and not one of them had an inch of fat below the waist. It was way intimidating physically. And I am neither short nor tiny.) On the other hand, I do enjoy a good looking cowboy or a sheriff. Not a city cop. That uniform doesn’t appeal, probably because I spent enough time in big cities to encounter plenty of those guys. Way too beefy for me. But highway patrolmen seem more lithe, gracefully manly without the excess meat. And that vertical stripe on the side of the uniform pants makes any man’s legs look long and strong. Now, is this a sexist, objectifying series of comments, or what? Sorry guys. We do look and assess.

Hmm…what else? What do you look for in the cover or the instant visual for a romance? The setting? The hair color? The time period? The apparent wealth of all involved? A big castle in the background? Scottish tartans? Glamorous locales or industries such as movies, music, or sports?