Discussion: Cover… MY EYES!

It’s a fairly well known that that Romance – and by this I mean heterosexual Romance – (Harlequin, Avon, Mills & Boon and the like) – generally have a certain sort of cover.

You know the type…
There’s always a strong wind; the heroine is being clutched, their clothes are (yet) being blown away The hero is buff – he looks like he works out obsessively but strangely it’s never mentioned in the book, the heroine has long flowing hair which never ever tangles in the wind….

You get the picture.

I have noticed at least one m/m writer, (MJ Pearson), has slipped into this style of cover with her books, (The Price of Temptation, and more particularly A Discreet Young Gentleman, and bravo, Seventh Window Publications – it’s a lovely and wonderfully sly nod to the Harlequin style, especially as the Big Boys of Romantic Fiction are having nothing to do with that “perverted” genre! (yet)

There’s a nice strong wind, clothes are being blown around and there are muscles to die for. I’m trusting it’s an affectionate spoof, and if so it’s amusingly done. I have to draw the line at The Price of Temptation as the hero looks like he’s got a small panda down his trousers. I don’t remember the Kangaroo pouch look being fashionable in Regency England.

However, I do have a problem with male erotica covers in general. Because in general… they are boring at best and ghastly at worst.

Do they have to be tasteful? I hear you ask. Well, your mileage may vary, but I prefer to have a book that I’m not ashamed of carrying around with me. The book I’m reading at any point in time might be full of pornography but I’d rather it didn’t have a cover that would make me go beetroot red if it fell on the floor in public, and I’d like to be able to sit on the tube/bus without having to find a loose cover for Day of the Triffids so that I’m not embarrassed to let people see me reading what is obviously gay porn. After all – Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover never had a picture of Mellors and Constance rolling around half naked, even with today’s reprints – and even today, that’s a pretty porny book.

I suppose some of the problem is that a lot of m/m books are e-books. These tend to have a lot of CGI covers and the talent used to create said covers varies from pretty good to OMG MY EYES!

I may be the minority in this, and as it’s my article then I’m allowed to be so, but if I were published in e-book form, I’d still want my cover to be something that didn’t make the reader feel physically ill. I spend a lot of time describing my characters, and generally they are pretty beautiful. If they were then represented as something that looked like Gollum and Bilbo’s love child (and yes, I’ve seen CGI covers that are that bad) then I’d be absolutely gutted.

I do understand that a lot of writers don’t have a lot of creative control over their covers, and that’s a shame, and perhaps new authors particularly are too excited to actually be published, or too cowed by The Power of The Publisher to put their feet down and say – “NO NO NO!” (Politely) and just think that if they complain too much they’ll be dropped.

But consider this. A cover is marketing for your book. The expression “judging a book by its cover” rings true no matter how old it gets. It should:

  • Intrigue
  • It should draw the reader in.
  • It should attract.
  • It should want the reader to pick it up and read the back cover, and not out of horrified fascination.
  • If your reader is sitting on a train, it should advertise itself.
  • If your reader has to wrap it in a paper bag, or another dust jacket then you are losing sales.
  • It shouldn’t elicit gales of laughter or sporkage* from various websites. There’s no need to show your hero with what appears to be a small puppy down his breeches, just because it’s a male/male romance. I don’t ever recall seeing a “proper” (by which I mean the above mentioned M&B Avon… etc) publisher of historical romance having men with bulges in their breeches to match the bulging of the heroine’s heaving bosom
  • So where’s the happy medium? How do we get from two Fabio’s clutching each other in a gale, or frog faced CGI horrors to something acceptable? Pressure I suppose. My idea of an ideal m/m romance cover is something that hints at what’s inside, but doesn’t push its rigid cock in your face. But where are they? Please link to them if you know of any.

    When I was in Harry Potter fandom, there were many many incredibly talented artists who drew male erotica and I am sure that any of them would die happy were they commissioned to do a cover, and although I don’t know how much CGI artists are paid, I’m sure that it’s the sort of sum that a completely unknown artist who’s dying for a break would work for.

    At the risk of using MORE cliches, perhaps its time for publishers to start thinking outside the box. Outside what they’ve “normally done” and or for the authors to get more involved in the cover design, and to perhaps suggest an artist, or to bring an artist in with him or her at the beginning process. Don’t be afraid to negotiate that contract! You are the money spinner for that publisher after all, remember. A better cover can only mean a better book and better sales all round.

    ETA:  THIS POST

    and

    THIS POST

    sums up the sort of thing I would LOVE to see for m/m historicals.  Aren’t they beautiful?

    36 Responses

    1. I’ve never been a fan of the CG covers, just because you have the program, doesn’t mean that you should use it.
      My favorite mxm book covers are the ones that either show a landscape, or a picture of a building, or even just a photograph of a glass. Standish, is a great example of this Books that I’m not ashamed to be seen reading in public.
      Not that I’m ashamed of what I read, I just get tired of trying to hide the covers from the nosey little old ladies who want to discuss books with me. In the interest of not sending them into cardiac arrest, I would rather not have explicit things on my covers.

      If the characters have to be on the cover, then I highly prefer it when the author or the publisher take the time/money to contact an artist with at least a modicum of talent.
      Jet Mykles new release, Heaven Sent, has some great art by PL Nunn gracing the cover.

      Still, I am a fan of just how silly and overblown MJ Pearson’s covers are. I just won’t take them out in public.

    2. Romance elements can still be conveyed successfully with the use of inanimate objects in the cover – a gentleman’s glove lying next to a crumpled waistcoat and a cravat that was obviously hastily shed, for instance. I tend to favor the “exposed ankle under a skirt” approach since subtlety can be just as effective – if not more so – than naked (or half-naked), writhing human bodies.

    3. I like covers. But most of the covers I like I will be ashamed to bring with me in a public place. And I’m not speaking of M/M covers. I’m speaking of the clinge cover, the bodice ripper genre. There are some very talented artist out there. The first cover you put is from Gregg Gulbronson. But other names are Alan Ayers, Albert Slark, Chris Cocozza, Elaine Gignilliat, Fortin & Sanders, Franco Accornero, John Ennis, Jon Paul. And last but first, the great Pino Daeni. Some of their covers are wonderful, very COVER ART. In the M/M genre or erotica I like very much the style of Anne Cain, H. Rose Meloche, P.L. Nunn, Sinamin. They create covers that seem painting. And then Christine Clavel use poser, but she is very talented. And Croco Design only digital, but he’s a wonderful digital artist.
      Some of the last work by the artists who work for the M/M genre is so beautiful that I will have no problem to bring it alone with me in a print version book, so in the end, M/M genre has more artistic and less vulgar covers of hetero romance.

    4. I agree, Renee – I would love to see the classic “headless” cover, like these – with a man with his waistcoat undone, and a cravat in his hand – or, as you say, a beautiful wooden floor, perhaps the edge of a french bateaux bed, with two cravats or something.

    5. I agree, Renee – I would love to see the classic “headless” cover, like these

      http://www.covercafe.com/contest/2005/HST-res05.html

      – with a man with his waistcoat undone, and a cravat in his hand – or, as you say, a beautiful wooden floor, perhaps the edge of a french bateaux bed, with two cravats or something.

    6. Elisa – I agree – Croco Designs are the only ones I’ve seen that are any good. This is why I can’t even get on their waiting list!!!

    7. Samhain Publishing (e and print) has some nice gay fiction covers. I think the covers for Revenant by Oliva Lorenz and The Letter by Willa Okati are subtly and tastefully done. They feature two men on the covers, but not rolling around like pups in heat. The covers leave you with the impression that there’s more to these novels than a sex scene every three pages.

      You make a really excellent point that embarrassing book covers diminish sales. I’ve been so uncomfortable with some of the covers of books I’ve ordered that I rush to grab the Amazon package out of the mailbox before anyone else in my family can get to it. Then I have to hide it while I’m reading it and donate it to the library incognito after I’m done. And it’s not because my family would disapprove of the subject matter. It’s because they’d tease me mercilessly for ever after. And I mean like the next fifty years, minimum.

      I haven’t read either of Pearson’s novels because I find the covers so off-putting. It does leave me with the feeling that if the cover looks that silly, the contents must be as bad. I’ve read a few hetero romances with such covers and can honestly say I didn’t really care for any of them.

      I know there are one or two gay fiction novelists who take pride in the lurid covers (at least they’ve said as much in their blogs), but I’d personally much rather have a less-is-more cover that leaves a little something to my imagination. Torquere Press has some fairly explicit covers (and some that aren’t so bad) and I was in a terror of anticipation that the cover for my e-book would be of the manly physiques in a breathless clinch sort. To my immense relief, it wasn’t, and I’m guessing because the sex in mine wasn’t anywhere as raw as the average e-book erotica.

      The best, in my opinion, would be a “sweet” cover, with two (preferably mostly clothed) males in subtler, more romantic pose–or if it’s a sexually charged pose, then of the sort that sends a delicious shiver through you instead of making you giggle.
      I vaguely recall having seen that sort of cover before but I will have to look around the ‘net to see if I can find links for it.

      Of the gay historical romances I’ve read, I’ve liked the covers of Standish and The Phoenix best. Standish’s cover works because the estate is a character unto itself and so pivotal to the story. The Phoenix’s cover is like an old Victorian novel and very attractive.

      And I too have seen fanfic artists create some pretty breathtaking m/m drawings and I wish I could have some of them draw a cover if and when I sell my next book. I worked hard on the book and put my heart into it and I would rather withdraw it from publication than let it go ahead with a cover that makes me cringe. If the publisher says, “Sorry, you’re being unreasonable” and dumps me, I’ll just live with it. That, at least to me, is better than enduring a product I’d be too ashamed to call my own.

    8. To be quite honest I’ve hated all CGI covers I’ve come across. I like black and white photography in cover art (I’m calling to mind Grimsley’s “Comfort & Joy”), as well as the use of a single bold color.

      If I were to get a book published I’d have my name, the name of the book, and perhaps somekind of icon or plot point from the book swimming on a field of red. Now that’s classy.

      Landscapes and the like are also quite good – anything painted with a brush tends to be better than CGI. And how about abstract covers? Now that would be interesting?

    9. Cassiopaya: Yes! There’s absolutely no reason why m/m covers should have m/m on them, after all.

      Look at Vinter’s Luck for example – it’s a bit of a genre buster – historical/fantasy/gay love affair and yet the cover doesn’t even really hint at any of that.

      I wish we’d get away from the fact that gay covers have to be GAY.

    10. Hi, Cyn,

      Thank you for liking Standish – I was lucky enough (rare, I know) to have a publisher who let me have first input as to the design. They don’t have a huge range of artists, and the one I worked with could only photoshop, but I supplied a picture and a design idea and we worked together and it was exactly what I had envisaged from when I’d started the book.

      I agree – I’m not ashamed of anything I read, but I can’t have some of these covers sitting on my desk at work.

      I appreciate the talent of PL Nunn, but they are a little too fan-art/yaio for my liking, but that’s a personal perspective.

      And Pearson’s books, I agree, and I think that most people agree, but I think it’s deliberate and as so, is funny with it. The artist of the 2nd one, particularly obviously has talent and I’d like to see what they could do without the fake tan and spinal disorders

    11. Hi Girluknow – thank you for popping by!

      I’ve looked at The Letter – and yes – that’s NICE. Revenant is a little Dynasty for me, and OMG orange.. but still – more tasteful than a lot- certainly give you a hint, without naked porn.

      Don’t let the covers put you off Pearson. Both books are reviewed on the site, and she does write a good story and her characterisation can be excellent – the covers are off putting I understand. I would never had read RANSOM either except that I noticed that readers of Standish were buying Ransom too, so I took a chance, the cover is hideous but the book is a really nice read.

      I am sure that any publisher would be happy to work with you regarding your choice of publisher. You may have to pay them yourself though – that seems to be the norm – but I would be happy to, rather than have a cringey one. I’ve had many cringey ones for anthologies.

    12. I’m in full agreement with the “Less is More” theory (being an architect by training, and that boy Mies had the right idea). The bulging muscle, puppy down the pants type of cover doesn’t appeal to me at all.

      For me? Either the inanimate object hinting at something, or a painting (oil or water color), or a black and white photo that’s evocative of the story, if not actually depicting a scene.

      Of course, I’m an odd gay man, who prefers men clothed — so much more tantalizing — and who thinks that überly ripped men might look nice in marble in the Vatican, but I wouldn’t particularly want to be naked in bed with one. Nope. I never go to bed with someone who wakes up prettier than I go to sleep.

    13. erastes: When I was a teenager I was reading 2 het romance novels a day and even I was embarrassed by the cover art! My solution was from Book Gear. They don’t sell these anymore, but it was a cloth portfolio thingie that would fit a paperback book. Mine was purple and it would zipper closed on three sides and it had a little handle for easy carrying. There was also a built in bookmark and side pocket for this and that. It was the best thing!

      Unfortunately in 2004 someone at Heathrow thought it was my purse and stole it! All they managed to get was my favorite romance novel, but still, I miss my little purple Book Gear. Now I have to be all bitchy and defensive towards people who comment on what I’m reading. 😦

    14. Don! Clothed sex is the best sex! 😀

    15. Yes, less is more. You’re right about the embarrassment of some covers in public. Please make ’em more subtle, publishers!!

      :))

      A
      xxx

    16. to girluknow: Both the covers you have noticed by Samhain are by Anne Cain. A proof she is very talented. elisa

    17. LOL! I’d have loved my cover if the two heroes had been clothed, because well, damn! 18th Century clothes! Uniforms with shiny braid and lace cuffs and cravats + silk stockings are 100% sexy in my opinion. A great deal moreso than generic naked torsos. But the only thing I was able to alter in my cover was the haircolour of one guy and the position of the ship (to make it more visible).

      Having said that, though, I actually think mine is not so bad. I could have done worse!

      I don’t like the typical romance covers, whether het or m/m. I too would like something tasteful which hinted at a bit of UST perhaps, but which you could read on the train.

      I’m actually thinking of producing alternative dust-covers for mine, though that might not go down well with the publisher 😉

    18. I really like The Witch’s Boy, I have to say!! No, Captains Surrender isn’t bad, but yes – WOOF – I’d have found it a lot sexier with uniforms.

      And why isn’t this book on The Big List? I’m an idiot!

      *adds*

    19. Thank you! Ah, with ‘The Witch’s Boy’, I was working with a cover artist who was also a friend, so she let me suggest what I wanted and tweaked it until it was exactly as I liked. With ‘Captain’s Surrender’, however, it was an in-house artist, and although I asked for clothes (even one of the lads in one of those big lace-cuffed shirts would have been nice), it didn’t happen.

      Still, I suspect they didn’t have to let me to be involved at all, and I can see the point in having a house style of cover, from the publisher’s POV. It may not look particularly like a historical novel, but it does look like a Linden Bay novel, which is good for their branding.

      Well, CS isn’t out yet. But when it is, you’ll be the first to hear about it 🙂 Thank you!

    20. It’s funny, I’ve spent endless nights at SB-TB com laughing and goofing over ‘romance genre’ novel covers, only because I’ve found that ‘laughing’ at m/m genre covers gets me into trouble–when I do it at my own blog. Perhaps because the creative ‘sphere’ is so small when it comes to gay comics/gay erotica, that whenever I open my mouth to give an opinion on something, some one I know get hurt.

      Anyway…I’ve noticed the trend in ‘gay erotica’ that seems written for the yaoi audience, to rely on cover arts that are native to the ‘yaoi comic’ style, in order to let ‘yaoi’ readers know that, “this fiction is for them”. At the same time, I can see why ‘gay erotic fiction’ pubs want to avoid using ‘yaoi style’ covers, because the fiction clearly isn’t playing by the rules of ‘yaoi’ – but MY G*D, what makes pubs think using royalty-free stock images and badly photo-shopped manipulations, is acceptable?

      The best covers I’ve seen promoted are coming out of Yaoi House [unfortunately, she hasn’t released anything yet, so I’m still waiting–
      http://yaoihouse.net/site/preorders.php

      But her covers display a class that I think should be the norm in ‘yaoi fiction.’

      BTW – what are your thoughts on ‘pulp covers’? They’re meant to make you go ‘Oh no…that’s tacky!’ but you open the book anyway, because you have to…

    21. Apologies, the link I gave you–I thought it had all the covers there, but it seems it only has a few. :/ Wasn’t meant as spam.

    22. Hi Gynocrat, thank you for weighing in.

      I think that perhaps my complete lack of knowledge of anything yaoi is showing – although flicking through those titles they do seem to share a common theme of “sex-slave” which doesn’t interest me. But “Once a Chieftan” is certainly gay historical, so I’ll add it to the list, and yes, those covers are certainly better than a lot of the m/m historicals out there.

      Pulp covers ? I’m not sure that I’ve seen them – have you got any links? I know that I’m certainly put off by a bad cover, which in at least 2 cases has been a mistake as the writing much belied the outside. (scuse the rhyme!)

    23. But OUCH! $29.95? That’s a lot of money!

    24. Thought I’d try the dust cover idea for mine, and came up with this:

    25. Good God, that’s lovely, Alex.

      You should consider design, gawd knows the genre needs it.

      Tell Linden Bay that that’s the cover they should have gone for, for sure.

    26. LOL! Thanks! Though all the work on that is Joshua Reynold’s portrait of Captain Hood. I noticed that the artwork on ‘Lord John and the Private Matter’ was nothing more than an Old Master with the text slapped on top, so if they can do it, I don’t see why I can’t.

      Not very sexy though, I suppose!

    27. Aren’t there other gay romances that use Old Master artworks for covers? One by Maria McCann, I thought, and also that novel Wicked Angels. I’d love to have a cover like that.

      And, Alex, I also think your dust cover is wonderful and it’s sexy. I’m one of those who thinks men are just as sexy if not more so in their clothes than out of them. And period clothes are so often just beautiful–the layers of them, shirt, waistcoat, coat, the pretty ties and fancy collars–it adds a level of eroticism that many times the nekkid boys can’t match. Maybe in part because our imaginations proceed to picture the lead characters helping each other out of all that finery. 🙂

      Elisa, I wouldn’t mind having Anne Cain as a cover artist at all!

    28. I totally agree, – I think it’s very sexy – and having ART on covers of m/m books has been done before, to great effect and makes me want to read them more than having nekkid men on them.

    29. Pulp covers – http://www.gayontherange.com/a-z/
      These are old school covers, but they’re typical of the genre. Publisher Dorchester recently began reissuing old noir and crime pulps with new artworks based on the vintage style: http://www.hardcasecrime.com/

      What I’m curious about is, Toquere’s new erotic pulp line Hard Liquor. Are those covers going to be as sensational as the vintage material? I think this will truly impact sales.

      –and yes, the price point at Yaoi House makes me shudder. I think if they plan to distribute through Amazon, you might see a 25% off price cut, but even then, it’s still about $3 over the average niche price for erotic fiction, that isn’t anthology fare. I’m must price my own releases to stay competitive: [$12.95] for gay erotic graphic novels and [$14.95] for erotic fiction.

    30. I think I would read them anyway, as they have a retro feel and a sense of social history, you know?

      is their new line in print? If not, I don’t think it will matter that much – but it will be interested to see what they come up with. I didn’t know about that line. *wanders off to check it out *

      Oh yes, print. yes, that will be interesting. I hope they do some good pastiches.

    31. Yay! Thank you 🙂 And I agree with you, girluknow, about the sexiness of period clothes – I mean everyone loves a man in uniform, and when the uniform involves shirts with lace cuffs, cravats, stockings, silver buckled shoes, braided waistcoats and full-skirted, gold braided coats with hundreds of buttons, then what could be better? It’s one of those things that makes historicals special. LOL! And yes, I have an unbuttoning scene and a slow unwinding of a cravat scene – the erotic potential of the clothes is enormous 🙂

      But if we’re not unusual in preferring our men clothed on book covers, then why are the publishers doing it? You’d have thought they’d be on the watch for anything that made the books sell better.

    32. I think partly its because publishers don’t give the author enough/any input into their cover. I’m very lucky with Standish (and hopefully with Transgressions…..*crosses fingers*) that my publisher asked me if I had any ideas for the design and I had that design for the book since the first chapter I started to write. I wanted the fountain of the book in the foreground, but the artist couldn’t do it.

      And perhaps it’s partly because – even if the author isn’t asked for input – they don’t say “Oh, no, that’s awful – I think it would be nicer….” because so many authors are afraid of rocking the boat.

      Other publishers probably think that naked men are sexy, you notice that it’s the mainstream titles/publishers (Vintners Luck, As Meat Loves Salt etc) that have the more tasteful covers – the epubs are the worst culprits because they know their books don’t have to be carried around I guess.

      And some people – authors and readers – do seem to like their horrible covers. I very very often see an author on my contact list say “squee! look at my cover – isn’t it HOT?” When I just think that my eyes are bleeding.

    33. I’m horribly biased but I think the covers Anne did for our Soul of the Night and Silk and Poison are perfect. They’re clearly m/m but not over the top with hetero “clinch” poses.

      The art looks especially wonderful on the paperback version of SotN, but as I said I’m biased.^__^

    34. I think they are perfect for the yaio reader and for the place they are set – but if I saw them in a shop I’d think they were a graphic novel. (no offence, just given my opinion.) She has talent, no doubting about that! And yes, I agree, the m/m is nicely subtle, too which is OMG so good.

      Are these historical? Silk & Poison seems to be – do you want us to review them?

    35. I’m eternally grateful that (so far *g*) I’ve been very lucky with my covers. Torquere did me an absolute cracker for Roses in December and the others I’ve had have ranged from beautiful to not bad. Only one is disappointing as it shows a naked woman on a m/m title, but that’s part of a standard range and the publisher couldn’t change it. On my first ever e-book I did put my foot down. The publisher provided three samples of artwork for me to choose from and although they were excellent, they simply didn’t match the mood or genre of the book. I put various feet down *g* and to their credit they listened, and came up with something much more suitable. Although a small (very small) part of me years for a hero with a panda down his pants…)

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