Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Barbara Freethy Asks: What's In a Cover?

Since it's Wondering Wednesdays, I thought I'd ponder the subject of covers. I have been both blessed and cursed by the Cover Gods as you can see by the accompanying photos. My recent romantic suspense, TAKEN, received First Prize in the Houston RWA's Cover Contest for romantic suspense. Published by NAL, I think this cover did what a romantic suspense is supposed to do -- it grabbed the reader's eye with bold colors and a different look.

However, when I was writing more in the single title romance arena, the publishers dabbled with various kinds of looks. I had a lot of flower covers, a lot of blue covers and then there was the disaster on the right. ALMOST HOME is a book set in Kentucky at the time of the Kentucky Derby. It's about a thoroughbred horse ranch and blood lines and people searching for who they really are. When Avon told me they were going to give me a "horse" cover I imagined a beautiful, inspiring thoroughbred against a moonlit sky (or something like that). As you can see I got a cross between the cartoon cover look that was just beginning to boom and well ... I'm not exactly sure what the rest of it was supposed to be ... the flowers I had before?
This cover was so bad that several major book buying accounts actually suggested it should be changed and there were plans to do so ... but then Avon got bought by Harper and there were all kinds of changes and in the midst of it all, my cover was published. Some authors would like to think that a bad cover isn't that bad ... I have to tell you that it can be ... My #'s dropped with this cover considerably. I don't think the readers knew what kind of book it was or just thought it was so ugly they didn't pick it up. Thankfully, after that Avon went back to the pretty flowers, etc.

However, "pretty" can be another problem. A friend of mine writes historicals and her covers are gorgeous, and are often some knock off of a beautiful painting, but it seems that they're almost too "pretty" or too "quiet" for the market. The book buyers seem to gravitate toward covers that hit them over the head in some way.

So I'm wondering what drives you to pick up a cover? Are there certain colors or looks that you automatically pick up? For instance do single bare-chested men attract you more than a pair of dangling female legs and sexy high heels? Or vice versa? Do you like sweeping landscape looks or Adirondack chairs at the end of a pier? (Does anyone remember when those were big?) Do you like the clinch cover? Do you feel like you know exactly what you're getting? And is that the ultimate question -- does the book have to deliver exactly the kind of story promised by the cover? Do you ever go back to check if the hero's hair color was right? God forbid the hero has red hair -- in my experience you'll rarely find a red-haired hero on the cover So, what do you think? Are there any book covers that stand out in your mind (besides Christina Dodd's three armed heroine - does anyone remember that?)


Samantha Hunter said...

Great post! Never get sick of talking covers. LOL on the horsey. ;) It does look more like a children's book.

I love clinch covers, especially creative use of the clinch -- such as the cover of Skin on Skin, which was a book cover mentioned on another blog recently. It's was a creative use of the clinch. They really are my favorite, as long as they get the people and positions right -- they also risk looking weird and awkward when they don't get it right.

I also like to see happy people on covers -- people laughing or having fun on a cover will draw me in. Several Superromancce covers have been like that.

I rarely am drawn to covers that have no human presence on them at all -- covers with just a wallpaper background and the title don't grab me.

I do like strong colors -- red, gold, red, black, and bought Bronwyn Jameson's recent Desire because the cover was so beautiful -- I didn't even read the blurb.

I love close-ups of men, but in that case I want to see their face, not just their chest. A nice sexy hero on the cover is always good, as long as they don't look like mannequins.

Picky, aren't I? LOL

The best example of stories I love, but covers I dislike, are Charlaine Harris books. I love her books, have read every single one, but wouldn't have ever bought one if my MIL hadn't handed me a copy of a Sookie book -- even then I rolled my eyes when I saw the cover, and was very surprised how great it was when I read it, and was hooked. But left on my own I would never have picked up those books via the covers.


Nancy Morse said...

The color purple strikes me, as do attractive, real-looking characters, not some 4th grader's rendition of what adult human look like. Of course, I like to see a gorgeous guy on the cover, and yes, I do mean including his face. Headless guys just don't do it for me. Perfectly sculpted pecs and a washboard ab are great, but without a head something is, well, missing. Having a guy with a head and a face doesn't deter my imagination from visualizing any face I want. At the risk of being stoned, I might also add that I don't particularly care for cartoon-like covers.

I have already lamented my village of the demaned cover where the heroine looks like she ate the hero's bottom half. And I had a historical cover where the heroine's left breast looked like a grapefruit. You know, those perfectly round surgically-enhanced breasts that look like they all came from the same mold. Except that the story took place in the 1700's, way before boob jobs, and it was only her left breast. My editor pointed it out to me before I even saw the cover and said she would have it changed, but never did. Other than the one boob gone wrong, it's really a beautiful cover with gold foil lettering and striking purples and oranges.

Sally MacKenzie said...

I was talking to a reader at a luncheon today. We weren't actually talking about covers, but about a sort of male pin up calendar. She observed that all the guys had hairless chests--looked like plucked chickens in her estimation.

I'm not really an expert on cover models. I've only gotten covers with titles. (Sorry, Sam, but at least they do have strong colors--and rather jaunty letters, if I do say so myself.)

Barbara Freethy said...

Samantha - Interesting point on "happy people" - I don't remember too many covers where people are smiling or happy -- there always seems to be that intense look going on.

Nancy - I like purple, too and guys' faces more than just the chest.

Sally - Yes, what happened to male chest hair?

I do think that while flowers and such are pretty on covers; people are more interesting and draw the readers in. I think that's why a lot of authors don't like the clinch covers but the readers do.

Samantha Hunter said...

LOL Sally -- it's not that I won't buy one without an image, but I guess I need to be drawn in by the author name or title then.

Amen on the lack of chest hair -- all my heroes have chest hair and yet that never shows on the cover. I received lots of compliments on the chest shot they had on the cover of Virtually Perfect, but it was still the chest of a twenty year old GAP model, not a thirty-five year old man with chest hair, which the hero was, LOL.


JoAnn Ross said...

Barbara -- Having had a silver monkey death mask romantic suspense cover, which Dianne Moggy years later admitted was the ugliest Mira had ever done (interesting, they refused to see anything wrong with it when I was begging that it be changed), I can empathize, but you asked what makes me pick up a cover? Or a book?

In your case it was the author's name, which has always been an auto-buy for me. I didn't pay any attention to the cartoon horse.

I am, btw, hugely envious of your fabulous recent covers (which, I seem to recall, beat my Blaze -- which I never thought said suspense -- in the finals of that contest) and am really looking forward to seeing what NAL's art department comes up with for my upcoming trilogy.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

I like a book cover that in some subtle way has the signature of the writer... there are some books I can just look at and without seeing the author's name guess with a high degree of probability who the author is.

Sierra said...

It's hard for me to pin down what draws my eye about a cover. The author's name, of course, is a given on some books. But what catches my eye on a book by someone I've never heard of before?

I remember picking up one cute, '20s-style cover because the heroine wore a blonde flapper's bob hairstyle, and I've always secretly wanted to be able to "do" that look. It was a little too detailed to be called a cartoon, but the artist's style was certainly playful.

Sometimes a particularly warm-looking clinch will do the job for me. Sometimes appealing colors, or an image I'd almost like to hang on my wall, will pull me in. (I'm very fond of fall colors -- autumn leaves will often grab me.)

A cover definitely doesn't have to include characters to work for me. It's so easy to get them wrong -- awkward poses, odd facial expressions, etc. -- and then the cover can end up looking cheesy.

CJ Lyons said...

Barbara, I love your covers for Played and Taken! I actually like Played better, something about the movement of those wispy strands of hair, just grab me.

You're sooo right about a cover making or breaking a book, especially for a debut author! I can't wait to see what Berkley does for mine :)

Emily Veinglory said...

I like fully painted covers or anything using traditional art media in a more or less realistic way, and photos--so long as it isn't that same damn guy who is on every cover out there. Cartoons, blah. Please no digi-art.