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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Should You Be Able To Tell a Book By Its Cover?

Since August 1st my book, A Faerie Fated Forever - Book 1 of my Forever Series - is free on almost all venues. Over 23,431 people (as of 1:50 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, 8/16) have downloaded the book on Amazon alone. If you haven't picked it up yet, click THIS LINK and then click the button to your Reader. It's free for just about everybody but Sony Reader owners (Sony hasn't been posting updates from Smashwords for a while now, I've changed prices, added The Duke of Eden, and the changes are out and about everywhere but Sony. Email them and ask them why Faerie isn't free on their site!) If you do own a Sony Reader, click the Smashwords button for your free copy. Everybody go get it now - we'll wait.

Done yet? Yet? Okay, let's continue.

One of the reviews on Amazon inspired this post. Here's the review page for Faerie, the review was from MM on August 12th. It's 3 stars and is headed "ok...definitely not for kids." As you can see, the reviewer felt Faerie was a combination of a fairy tale and modern romance novel. And this reviewer likes fairy tales but gives modern romance novels a pass. The reviewer's pretty smart because her description is pretty close to the mark in saying the book is part fairy tale, part romance novel. She says parts of it are over the top (since that's how I describe my "unique" voice - I surely don't disagree). And I want to make it clear that I'm not dissing the review or the reviewer - I truly and deeply appreciate every reader who takes the time to leave a review. This post is the polar opposite of a "dis." I'm writing it because the reviewer made me think and I thought this blog might be a good place to gather some opinions.

MM says that BASED ON THE COVER IMAGE she didn't expect Faerie to contain explicit sexual descriptions and thought it was something "for a much younger crowd." But truthfully, Faerie is a very sensual story that takes the reader right inside the bedroom. It does contain graphic sexual descriptions. The cover of the book shows a faerie dusted couple holding hands in a beautiful meadow. Okay, they weren't rolling around in a mad clench but - to me - holding hands with the person who holds your heart can be a very intimate experience.

Now, take a look at the cover for my newest book, The Duke Of Eden. It shows an oh-so-yummy bare-chested, man-tittie-showing hunk standing in a wild garden at the foot of some ancient, moss covered steps. The beads of sweat on his chiseled chest suggest that he might've been up to some pretty naughty things. But you know what? When I read MM's review and thought about it, I realized that in Duke, there aren't really any explicit sexual descriptions. There's lust aplenty and some grappling and groping, but the book never takes the reader into the bedroom. But I'll bet you the prettiest duck in the pond that MM would've automatically passed on Duke, based on the cover alone.

Is it an obligation of a romance book cover to illustrate the heat level of the book?

I've never thought about this, but my instinctive reaction is -- no it's not. But I'll bet some people disagree on this point. I have books of all heat levels on my keeper shelves and some of the raciest look the most innocuous. Some of the milder books have hunky men or a couple in a clench on the cover. I think the cover just illustrates what the cover artist considered to be one of its "selling" features. It could be the hero, the heroine, something that symbolizes the story, or just a pretty shot of the area where the story occurs. You can't tell a book by its cover.

I've been after my DH - who is the graphics genius who designs my smashing covers - to re-do all the old book covers to feature lots and lots of man titted yumminess. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, I like a well-chiseled chest as much as the next lady - and better than some, apparently. But mostly, I think that the racier images help sales. On the endless expanses of the virtual bookshelves, a customer clicks rapidly from one page to the next. Think of your own habits with anything from ebook shopping to browsing a merchant's site for a new gadget or gizmo. Something has to make you stop on one page rather than another. That something is often the art on the page.

But in the age of the virtual bookstore where the hands clicking the pages could belong to a thirtysomething someone or a fourteen-year-old someone - Do Virtual Covers Have More Of An Obligation to Accurately Illustrate The Heat Level? And if we create some code, what are the odds that the result would be authors adding heat in order to qualify for the hotter cover or the warning label? You'll recall something similar happened with the labels on video games and with the movie ratings. The cold hard fact is - heat sells.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions. So let me have 'em - now DISH!!!

Mary Anne Graham
Quacking Alone Romances
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  1. I don't really feel that this is the responsibility of the cover art. HOWEVER, I do think that the book description should give some suggestion of the "heat level" of the book. It doesn't necessarily have to be a warning label, it can be just the subtle use of words like "sensual" or "sexy". That way any reasonably intelligent reader (or parent of a reader) can tell what they're getting into with very little research.

    Slightly off topic, but I sort of DO wish more books had covers that were more relevant to the story. It's frustrating to me that every single romance cover seems to feature a shirtless, headless fellow. I want to see things from the plot. If there's a dragon in the book, I want to see a dragon. If there are spaceships, I want to see spaceships. And so on...

  2. @fairypenguin:

    Interesting points. As to the description, it refer to the portion of the curse about Nial's fated mate setting "the claws of passion" to his manhood. I'd think that should indicate the heat level verbally. But apparently this reader felt the cover should be a clue...

    Since I mentioned my desire for my DH to put more shirtless fellows on my covers, I find your second point intriguing as well. The advantage to the hunky covers is that I believe they usually stop the reader long enough to possibly get her to read the description. Your comment indicates that may not be the case. Do you stop more often for symbolic covers rather than erotic ones?

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Good topic. Those of us going through a publisher, don't have much say in what the cover looks like. We get to fill out a cover art form, but that doesn't mean anything. One of my covers is awful and has nothing I asked for, but put in the one thing I asked not to see...but the man's naked rear end indicates erotic romance and that's what the book is. Did it help sell books? I don't think so as sales were much lower than my first erotic book. I'd rather see a sensual cover leaving me to imagine what's inside. Heat levels are generally given by publishers/sellers.

  4. Here's the thing: There are a lot of shirtless men out there! At least, on romance covers there are. And I'm all for erotic stories, but there are so many! So what I want, if I'm going to spend time and/or money on a book, is a touch of originality. So I will take the dragon or the Scottish landscape or the whatever over the shirtless guy every single time. In the rare instances where the artists manage to convey both sexiness and story context, that's truly awesome.

  5. Fairypenguin . . . you hit the nail on the head. I am an avid reader and for me the cover means a lot. Yes, covers of shirtless men attract attention, no bones about that! LOL. But it doesn't mean I'm going to buy it. Some of the best books I've read had scenic covers. There's a reason "never judge a book by its cover" exists.

    I like to see the plot in a cover, a hint of what I can expect, and this, whether it be the cover or the blurb, is what prompts me to buy it.

    Unfortunately, I am behind the times and do not own a kindle, or nook, or whatever yet. I'm leaning that way but it's still down the road.

  6. The cover is the first thing I notice about a book. If it gets my attention, I'll see what the book is about. If I then find that the cover really has nothing to do with the story, I put the book down and go on to the next one. A cover should always give a clue to what's between its pages.

  7. @Everyone:

    I've been trying to reply to comments but am in a hotel with iffy & slow wireless. Thanks 2 everyone for insights. Fairypenguin did hit the nail on the head. I may have to leave DH alone about the hunky covers!!

  8. I don't think we need a heat level category on covers but I do think the blurb should give some sort of clue. But as Marianne said, author's of publishing houses don't have much say in their covers, although some seem to have more than others depending on the house and the author status. Marketing, I am told, has the final say. I think I have been fairly fortunate with my covers to date - touch wood. As a reader, it is the back blurb that gets me, along with an excerpt or a skim of the first few pages.


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