Romance Book Covers: What do women REALLY want?

Interesting question.

Two things prompted this train of thought. First, I was reading my Kindle at a diner, glad that no one could see what sort of reading I was doing. (It was literary fiction, but still.) I had a moment as some people walked by when I thought: “Can they tell what I’m reading?” and was inexplicably relieved that the answer was no.

Secondly, I spent last weekend at a writer’s conference where we each received a bag of promotional materials – mostly glossy bookmarks with book covers splashed across them. Men’s abdomens were in abundance, rippling over low-slung jeans, pantaloons, trousers or kilts. The rest had women, displaying their thighs – some in garters and stockings – through a slit in their skirt, or their bared shoulders and backs.


Publishers will tell you that half-dressed bodies (most of which were faceless, cut off above the jaw line) sell books. I find that hard to prove when there aren’t other choices offered. It’s like saying glazed donuts sell best at Krispy Kreme, when ALL of their donuts start out glazed!

But as I discuss the subject with my friends who enjoy reading, most of them say they would prefer book covers that aren’t embarrassing to hold up in a Starbucks. Or ones that they feel comfortable leaving on the coffee table where their kids see them. On the inside cover – be as seductive as you want. But on the outside, they want classy.

This subject is particularly important to me, as I am currently designing book covers for the American historical romance trilogy which I am publishing this fall and winter. I want the covers to reflect the settings as well as the stories.

And – I want the covers to match each other in design, so it’s obvious the books belong together.

And – if my agent isn’t successful and I end up publishing my other manuscripts as well (none of which fit the publisher’s beloved “boxes”) I want ALL of my novel covers to match.

So, I want classy. The question is, am I shooting myself in the foot? Will women stay away from my novels because no one is being ravaged on the covers? Or because no man is stripped to the waist and flexing his multi-pack?

I don’t know. What I do know is that the designs I have been working on are starting to look pretty good (in my VERY humble opinion). So I’m posting two of them here and asking for your input. Your HONEST input.

Based on the covers, would you buy these books? Or flee to the ripped-bodice section? No judgment! I just want to know.

Thanks in advance.

A Woman of Choice Book Cover

A Prince of Norway Book Cover

30 Responses to “Romance Book Covers: What do women REALLY want?”

  1. 1 Judy 04/22/2010 at 10:20 AM

    Gorgeous covers, but I’ll be honest, I don’t think “Romance” right off; I think “Historical” and do I want to tackle it. That being said, take your own advice, BRANDING. What do you want? Inspirational romances don’t have the sexy covers. Then look at the covers of the books by Anne Gracie, who have no people but items that are symbolic to the story. And though Kathryne Kennedy and Donna Hatch have people, they’re shadows of faces. All lovely and not “embarrassing” covers. Betina Krahn’s Test series have knights on the cover, in full armor on horseback, looking like pictures taken from a stain glass window. Yes, covers draw the eye. I have bought books because of the covers, and then torn off the cover to keep and tossed the book and never purchased another book by that author. So, what do you really want? If you feel proud of these covers, use them! You can only please others so far.

    • 2 Jody 04/22/2010 at 12:06 PM

      I am more interested in theme-matic covers, I look for iconic images like borders of tartan for me to know it is a Scottish romance, though it would be wonderful if the books set in the Borders where they didn’t wear tartan could come up with an iconic image that reader would know right away the location if not the time period. Using the braw man in kilt or sexy cowboy doesn’t do anything for me and can be quite annoying when the story is from the pov of the heroine, but that it is just me I am sure. To me its like they are selling sex, when it should be romance not sex afterall isn’t that romance is about the romance not the sex? Too idealistic I guess.

      I have to admit that I like picture/setting covers ( like yours) more than people covers not because of reading public because that has never bothered me. I figure most people look at me reading because seeing a person actually read in public is an anomoly any more. To me these covers show the artist has acutal knowledge of what is between the pages and not some stereotype image that supposedly sells rather than the story.

      I have to admit when I first got my Kindle I did miss not having the cover to look at but now I don’t miss them at all. Personally I just wish the more money was spent on the promotion of the book or paying the author than the cover artist gets. Clinch covers done well are still iconic and again if done well are a signature of the industry so I don’t want to see them go away totally just done with more class.

    • 3 kristualla 04/22/2010 at 10:58 PM

      REALLY good advice. THANKS!

  2. 4 Tess 04/22/2010 at 10:22 AM

    I’m not a fan of the body parts covers.

    I think these are beautiful and very classy…they would be my choice!!!!

  3. 6 Courtney Leigh 04/22/2010 at 11:04 AM

    I don’t think you’ll remember me, Kris, but I’m the blond who sat to your right during the ‘Writer’s Journey’ talk at the conference on Sunday…pretty cool! I took a look at your covers and thought they were wonderful. They would attract my attention in a bookshop, especially because I tend to think of bared chests and thighs the same way I do the volume of action flicks in movie theaters– louder doesn’t translate to better. I’m the type who likes tasteful, colorful covers that contain the steam within rather than visually tricking me into believing I’m buying more than I really am. Good job!

  4. 8 Paisley Kirkpatrick 04/22/2010 at 11:06 AM

    I’d buy these covers – the are gorgeous and I love castles or old manor houses and head for historicals. What I really think would draw me are the titles. They tempt me to see what the story is about. I know I am getting old because I am SO tired of sex being used to sell everything from books to hamburgers. Don’t get me wrong, I would whip around to take a second glance at a man in a kilt (I have this addiction as you know) but I’d rather have a good plot than a lot of sex in a story I read.

  5. 10 JK 04/22/2010 at 11:48 AM

    Hi Kris,

    I think you have done a good job making the covers look like they are part of a family and I like the extension of the picture from front to back cover.

    I don’t think just because you write romances you need a couple on the cover. A setting, or object or mood to a total picture can be just as evocative for a reader. However, I think your potential cover with the water for this project might be a little too bland. The picture doesn’t tell me anything about what the story might be about and the title is a bit general too. If it weren’t located in the romance section, just looking a the cover I might expect to find in non-fiction, self-help, new-age, memoir etc. It could be anything.

    The one with the castle is a bit more specific, but still, overall nothing about it says “Romance” to me (except maybe the inset photo on the back, which appears to be a couple).

    As a suggestion, if you want to keep scenery as the predominant theme in your cover, maybe you could use sketches/paintings or stylize a contemporary photo to give it a more historical or romantic flair.

    A cover I will always remember from a historical romance that doesn’t feature a couple is that of WUTHERING HEIGHTS with Catherine a small figure, black hair blowing in the wind, in the middle of empty moors. It looks romantic, intense and historical.

    Just my two cents. Hope it helps. Good luck!

    • 11 kristualla 04/22/2010 at 11:02 PM

      Yes – thank you. The importance of the creek becomes apparent in the first 2 paragraphs of the book. But I don’t know if that’s “good enough”… Hence the request!
      Kris 🙂

  6. 12 Anthea Lawson 04/22/2010 at 1:47 PM

    Hi Kris,

    I LOVE the font you’re using, and the graphics are very clean and lovely. That said, I think the points above about the front of these covers not saying “romance” are good ones. Much as we may bemoan the clinch covers, those types of images make it very clear that the book is a ROMANCE. I’m not getting a clear romance vibe from either of these covers, though the castle on the second one is a bit more evocative. And on second glance, I saw your lovely embracing couples on the back. Will the readers be able to see the backs in an on-line situation?

    A figure of a woman, a woman in profile, maybe even the words “historical romance” on the cover somewhere? I do think the inclusion of the couple on the back helps pinpoint what it is the reader is looking at.

    This must be some hard work! But your designs are lovely. 🙂

    • 13 kristualla 04/22/2010 at 11:05 PM

      Thank you! Part of my issue is that in books 2 & 3 the hero and heroine are married. So they don’t fit the “romance” box that publishers live by.

      This is so freaking hard!!! 🙂

  7. 14 Marsha Lytle 04/22/2010 at 2:33 PM

    I like classy covers and titles.

  8. 16 Ronda Sarner Anderson 04/22/2010 at 3:30 PM

    Hi Kris,

    I agree with JK in the sense that the pictures don’t tell me what the book is about. The water picture for “A Woman of Choice” looked like it could be a religious book. And the reversed out print on the back cover looks like it could be hard to read. If you look at this from a distance, it’s a little busy with so many boxes. The same goes for the boxes around your name on the spine. I work for a company with a 256-page catalog. When you look at this from a design standpoint, be careful of anything that might be jarring to the eye.

    I think you sending this out for review before you print is a great idea. I had a critique of my book after it was done and I wish I had done it the other way around.

    I agree with you that half-naked people isn’t necessary on a book cover. You’ll add a bit of class to that group.

    I love your blog. When I see your name pop into my email, I stop everything and read it.

    • 17 kristualla 04/22/2010 at 11:08 PM

      Thanks for your input! Your comments about the boxes is very thought-provoking. I was perusing book cover designs in the RT magazine and most have so many elements going on, I thought I’d need to add a few.

      *sigh* Work in progress.

      I’m glad you like the blog! 🙂

  9. 18 Susan Macatee 04/22/2010 at 3:44 PM

    I like these covers, but I don’t buy books because of the covers, anyway. It’s the blurbs that have to catch my attention, then I’ll probe a little deeper to see if this is a book I want to buy.

    And I don’t like covers that I feel I have to hide. Yours are perfect!

  10. 20 Lee 04/22/2010 at 5:12 PM

    While I really don’t like reading clench covered books in public, I do appreciate washboard abs and kilts. Your covers are lovely, but as others have said, they do not give any indication that the books are Romances. Perhaps you could add a couple together somewhere in the scenery? The landscape would be featured, but you’d see there are lovers in the story.

  11. 22 keithpubulications 04/22/2010 at 5:27 PM

    These covers look like literary fiction, but nothing about romance. They are classy, but the cover doesn’t tell me what genre they are or sub-genre. They could be any number of books…from Historical, memoir to religious books and anything in between.

    I like covers that with one look, will tell me what’s going on in the book or what genre it represents. I don’t like covers that are contradictory of the story inside. I want the cover to represent the story I will be reading in the book.

    Yes, sex sells, and if that is what your book is about or has that element inside, make your cover art to the book. What is wrong with a guy with his shirt off? If the book is sexy, make the cover sexy.

    I like to read all romance genres. I do look at the covers and decide if I want to read the book or is that book more then I want to take on. I wouldn’t pick a landscape, unless I had heard something about the book.

    Books sell by what’s on the covers. The authors, editors and cover artists, like the story to match the cover. I’ve seen so many romance authors that want a “HOT” cover, because they know what sells. Here again, sex sells..especially in romance….even some sweet romance books.

    OK…I’m off my soap box or is it, I’m off my rocker?

  12. 23 kristualla 04/22/2010 at 11:10 PM

    I have absolutely no idea.
    Kris =/

  13. 24 Linda 04/23/2010 at 4:15 PM

    They don’t shout romance, even with the couples picture on the back. They are nice covers, but I admit I’m drawn more to the second cover than the first. Maybe it’s a little more romantic than the first-thinking castles and fairytales here.

  14. 25 Donna Goode 04/24/2010 at 7:19 AM

    Hi Kris,
    My frank and honest opinion is…I like the classy look best. I always have. It’s one of the things I have liked about Lisa M. Campbell’s book, too. One simply cannot judge the book by it’s cover. Either what’s inside sells the work or it never, ever will. Most of us who have been life-long readers look not only at the covers of books but at the blurbs on the back of the book and then the first page. If we’re hooked then that will sell the book. From first page to last, if we love the story then the next book is an automatic sale to us. The fact that some guy’s great abs and bare pelvis or buttocks are on the cover or some fabulously curvy woman is displayed there is not what sells the book to me…and it never will.

    • 26 Donna Goode 04/24/2010 at 7:32 AM

      By the way, I absolutely LOVE your covers–although, like JK and Anthea, I like the couple on the back of A Prince of Norway. It was a good idea to add it (in my humble opinion).

    • 28 kristualla 04/24/2010 at 9:07 PM

      I agree, Donna – and honestly, as more people purchase online, I think BLURBS will beat out COVERS as the deciding factor.

      That said, covers do need to be appealing. Seems I have some work to do, yet.
      Kris 🙂

  15. 29 Jennifer Hudson Taylor 04/27/2010 at 2:46 AM

    I don’t like half-dressed people on the covers. I would be too embarrassed to carry the book with me wherever I go. I have a daughter who will be 13 this summer and she watches everything I do, I don’t want to be setting an inappropriate example. The historical settings in the background with historical dressed people on the cover will draw my attention more than anything else. Something that makes me want to escape to that time period and be swept away in an emotional romance, not a relationship based on sex.

  1. 1 2010 in review « KrisTualla's Author & Writing Blog Trackback on 01/04/2011 at 12:19 PM

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