Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Headless Heroes

I believe today might be the day my novella, Love Potion #9, in BAD BOYS SOUTHERN STYLE begins hitting the stores. I say I believe, because although it has a July 6th pub date, if it were a Pocket Book, it'd be out now. The thing is, I know nothing about Brava's publishing/shipping schedule because I haven't let myself get at all caught up in the business end of this book. I wrote the story of a descendant of the Puritan judge who presided over the Salem witch trials falling in love with a practicing witch for Brava solely for a lark and the opportunity to work with the incomparable Kate Duffy. This is the sequel to Cajun Heat, in BAYOU BAD BOYS, and both experiences have been the most fun I've had in 23 years of publishing. I even love my cover. But there's one thing about it I just don't get.

Why doesn't the guy have a head? He's not alone. There's a plethora of characters appearing on books these days without heads. Is there a guillotine somewhere in New York I haven't heard about? Do models get paid less if their heads, and therefore their faces, aren't shown? Are publishers not showing faces because while they want people on the covers (as opposed to the jewel boxes, flowers, and landscape photos of the past) they don't want to risk readers complaining that "That's not what the hero looks like?"

Meanwhile, there are books out there featuring other disembodied parts. I'm convinced that if I'd written anything that had even the faintest resemblance to chick-lit, I'd have had a pair of legs ending in snazzy shoes on the cover rather than my headless hero.

Why is that? Because Sex and the City told a generation of New York editors and art directors that shoes are what every young woman lusts after? Given chick-lit's recent slump and the fact that my nail salon has, in the last year, gone from two pedicure chairs to eight, I have to wonder if all those sexy sandal covers didn't have more women thinking about getting their toenails polished than buying a book.

So, what catches your eye when you're browsing the racks? How important is a cover in your buying decision? And most importantly, do you prefer your heroes with heads? Or without?


Milady Insanity said...

Headless, without a doubt.

I think it interferes with my image of the hero/heroine too much.

Besides, sometimes the model just doesn't 'click' for you...but a cover with some nice abs? Yum without a doubt.

Nancy Morse said...

I had a hero on one of my covers once who had a head, but not much else. It had to be the world's worst, most amateurish covers you'll ever see. His face and chest were so poorly depicted that he would have been better looking with a paper bag over his head. And the heroine is looking over her shoulder with eyes straight out of Village of the Damned. I personally prefer covers with people's faces on them, and by that I mean nice, attractive faces, not ghoulish renditions of something barely resembling a human. And no headless heros for me, thank you.

Kalen Hughes said...


Or, really, almost headless. I like it when you get the jaw and maybe the lips, but not the eyes (like the hottie on Sexy Beast!).

Once you get the whole face it kind of ruins it for me (esp as nine times out of ten I find the cover model unattractive).

Nancy Herkness said...

I vote for headless too. My vivid imagination is quite capable of filling in my own personal fantasy for the face. And this way I can concentrate on admiring the muscles and sinews of a really nice chest and set of shoulders.

I adore shoes (since it's the only thing I can buy the same size in no matter how much weight I've lost or gained--usually the latter) so I love the legs with a gorgeous pair of shoes at the end. They always make me stop and look.

But, JoAnn, you want to know if I BUY those books? The honest answer is only occasionally. I buy most of my books because I've read a review or know I like the author already or it's for my book group. However, my rare impulse buys are definitely launched by cover art. Then I read the back cover copy. If I'm still intrigued, I read the first page to see if the author can write or not (see my comments on that topic on the June 26th blog!). I know what you're saying, "Picky! Picky! Picky!" If you could see my TBR pile, you'd know why! Anyway, if that's all good, I buy the book.

I'm looking forward to Love Potion #9 (being a sort-of southerner myself).

Allison Brennan said...

I think they have no heads because of the fantasy . . . we all have our own image of what's cute or sexy . . . the cover needs to entice and attract, and sometimes the mystery element works best.

Or the model had a big zit on his nose and photoshop crashed ten minutes before the press needed to run . . .

Tori Scott said...

I'm finding that lately I tend to buy books with no people on the cover at all. Books like Impulse. Or ones where the figures are in shadow. I don't really like the "portrait" covers. I do like this one for Bad Boys, though. I'm perfectly content to use my imagination to fill in what's missing.

Nancy Morse said...

I agree that we all have our own fantasy about what is cute or sexy, but although I prefer an attractive man on the cover, it doesn't mean I think he's the guy in the story. Remember when Fabio was on all those covers? Personally, he didn't do a thing for me, but that didn't stop me from buying the books and imagining my own dream guy in the story. A vivid imagination can turn a guy with or without a face on the cover into the one you fantasize about.

Leilani said...

When I'm browsing in the bookstore, it's the cover that gets my attention first. So I do prefer to see an entire person. Now, when it comes to my favorite authors, I'll pick up their books no matter what's on the cover. But in general, I'd rather see the whole hero.

JoAnn Ross said...

Interesting how many people like the headless hero. I'll have to think about that.

Tori, I like the figures in shadows, too, but I think that's become so ubiquitous, it can't be around much longer. I've asked for a total change for No Safe Place, the book formerly known as Fallen to show more suspense. It'll be interesting to see what they come up with.

Another funny thing about the BBSS cover, is when I showed it to some people, they complained that the fence was hiding the "good parts." I asked Kate about this and she said they had to make the fence higher there because he was holding a really goofy hat.

Oh, and Nancy, I so commiserate, but I'm betting your cover couldn't have been worse than my silver monkey death mask. The mask, which looked like a monkey face on Confessions was embossed really heavily in silver, so it stood out in shiny 3D and the eyes were black holes. And the red satin background was really garish. When I received it, I called up and asked how in the world this reflected the murder of a senator's wife in a small AZ western town. (The sheriff, natch, was my hero.) Diane Moggy said, "Look at the beading on the mask." I looked and along the top there was a bit of turquoise, which I supposed to Ontario art people was southwestern. Then I asked why a mask in the first place. Her response: No one is what they seem, they're wearing masks, and secrets will be revealed. My response was "Sh*t, I hate it when the art department gets metaphorical." I can laugh about it now, but it was a horrible thing then. Needless to say, sales dipped for that book, which was too bad because I've always throught it was one of my better RS books. Here's the link for anyone who's interested. Just scroll down to the Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Ugly.


Kalen Hughes said...

I gotta say, I'm one who buys most romance covers in spite of their covers.

The only romances I've EVER picked up because their covers just made me to it are Pam Rosenthal's and Julia Ross', and I’ve become a raving fan of both these writers.

All the others, headless, clinch, man-titty fest, whatever . . . doesn’t matter. I buy for the author and just try to avert my eyes from the image on the outside of the book.

Nancy Morse said...

JoAnn, I've seen your infamous monkey mask cover and, well, okay, so it does leave something to be desired, but at least it's not pretending to be human. Maybe we should have a "world's worst cover" contest. I'll bet some of those bodice ripping historical covers would be in the running. Or maybe Fabio with the wind in his hair. His face on a cover never stopped me from buying a book, but I sure did get tired of seeing him. Maybe they sould have put him in a monkey mask.

JoAnn Ross said...

LOL, Nancy! Have you seen the recent commercial with Fabio parodying himself? At least he can laugh at the image he so cleverly created!

And you're right. My monkey wasn't pretending to be human. At least I don't think so. Who knows what the folks in HQ's art department were thinking -- or smoking -- that day!

Bonnie Edwards said...

The first headless hero I ever noticed was on the cover of my anthology from Aphrodisia...the 'green man' as he's affectionately called. My daughter noticed the strong jawline and said how effective it was. Yeah, like she completely missed the incredible abs and naked hips. (g)

Book's still face out on some shelves and still selling. Is it b/c of the model? The odd colour (green is supposed to be a no-no for covers)? Who knows?

FWIW...I love the cover for BBSS...definitely drool worthy. The man looks ... I don't know...too intelligent to be standing around in the Georgia heat with his shirt off sweating? Yeah, mebbe that's it...he looks smart.

And I love a smart hero.

Nancy Morse said...

Yes, I've seen the commercial of Fabio parodying himself, and I respect him for doing it. If I've learned anything in life, it's that you can't take yourself too seriously. Although that bird that hit him in the nose was no laughing matter. As for those covers, the folks at the HQ art dept. must have been partying with the folks at the Dell art dept.