COVERING THE PASSION
By Angela Knight
OK, I'll admit it -- I just love romance covers. Not because I think they're amazing artwork, though some of them can be. I love them because there's no better way to get somebody to buy your book.
I'm going to A.) Date the hell out of myself, and B.) Admit something a bit embarrassing. Back when I was in college, I walked into my favorite bookstore -- B. Daltons, a now defunct chain. And stopped dead as a bolt of pure admiring lust shot through me.
There, in a cardboard display, was a set of books with a painting of a handsome bare-chested man walking out of the ocean. He had an utterly amazing body, backlit by the moonlight, the wind whipping his long hair, and his face was hawklike, utterly masculine, yet incredibly handsome.
I bought the book on the spot -- and discovered the work of Laura Kinsdale, a lyrical and wonderful historical writer I quickly came to adore. And the hunk on the cover? Kinsdale fans already know: Fabio, who was on damn near every cover of every book she published in the 1980s.
I told you it was embarrassing.
This was long before Fabio was attacked by a duck or shilled margarine or anything like that. But that book taught me the power of cover art, because it got me to buy it, and I discovered a wonderful writer as a result.
I learned the other side of that equation around the same time. Romance novelists and readers decided they hated those embarrassing "clinch" covers staring Fabio and some girl with giant white titties. They wanted something subtle, classy, yet romantic.
They wanted flowers.
And for a while there, every book New York published had a freaking flower on the cover. Walking into a bookstore got to be like strolling into a Teleflora ad. After a while, it got hard to tell whether you'd read the book or not. (Kind of like now, when half the covers star a headless white guy.)
Then there was a whole year when my favorite romance series, Loveswept, had nothing but the same damned flower on a cover. Four books. Every month. Same damned flower.
Now, I loved Loveswept and its authors -- people like Debra Dixon, Sandra Brown, and Iris Johansen, to name a very few -- but after awhile, I had no idea whether I had read any given Loveswept or not.
Within the year, the line went under. And I was not surprised. Covers are the way readers tell books apart. They're Important. That may sound shallow, but it's not.
A cover tells readers who a book is aimed at -- if a brawny torso, it's either female romance readers or gay men. Submarine blasting out of the ocean? Probably Tom Clancy fans. A guy dressed in leather riding a dragon? High fantasy lovers.
I can be all the way across a bookstore, and I can still tell if I might be interested in that book. Yeah, I'll have to flip it over and read the blurb, then the first few pages to see if the writing sucks. But it's still the cover that gets me across the bookstore.
And that's the kind of cover I want as a writer. I want a cover that grabs eyeballs from thirty feet away.
The bar is even higher for e-book covers. Covers on most e-tailer sites are about the size of a postage stamp. (Remember those? You stuck them on the front of snail mail.)
Yet that 200 pixel by 150 pixel image has to hook eyeballs, tiny or not. I'm a cover artist for Changeling Press, so I've had to think about what makes a great cover.
The key bit is the central image. It needs to be dramatic, striking -- and simple. Thus half-naked headless guys. In leather. Yum.
But you need something juuuuuuust a bit different too.
As an artist, I've had writers tell me these wish lists -- "I want a bear and a spider and a mountain lion and two Native Americans in a hogan..."
"Baby, you've been snorting toner again. What part of '150 pixels wide' didn't you get?"
Pick one thing. One really important image about your book -- a tattoo on a powerful shoulder, say -- and build the cover around that.
Then I ask myself, "Would I cross the bookstore for a better look at that?"
Use lettering in a color that contrasts with the background -- white against midnight blue, for example. No curlicues in the font. That pretty pink script may work great in a bookstore, but fuck if you can read it at 150 pixels.
What I do when designing my covers is zoom the heck out until the cover is teeeeeeeny tiny, tampon-for-an-ant size, and see if I can still read the title and the author's name. If I can't, I fiddle with the coloring and the font until I can. Nice bold lettering, usually light against a dark background works best.
Then I send the cover out in search of eyeballs.
Angela Knight is the New York Times bestselling author of the Mageverse series. Look for Master of Shadows, out now. For more information, visit her website at www.angelasknights.com.
An Excerpt from MASTER OF SHADOWS:
The knight filled the doorway with his height and swordsman’s solid brawn. He was dressed all in black – He would be, she thought. A black knit shirt tucked into black jeans over soft black boots, the darkness broken only by the glint of the silver belt-buckle at his narrow waist. His hair fell around his shoulders in thick, blond strands that gleamed like expensive silk.
Tristan had the face of a Renaissance warrior, long and square-jawed, his cheekbones precise juts, with sculpted hollows and a determined chin. His mouth was wide and far too sensual for her peace of mind. His eyes glittered vividly green under his thick blond brows demanding and more than a little arrogant.
“Sorry to interrupt your party, but I’ve got a nasty situation on my hands.”
Belle gave him a smile sweet enough to rot the fangs right out of his head. The kids, of course, were staring at him in hero-worshipping awe. “Come on in, Tristan.” Since you already let yourself in my house without knocking. “We’re celebrating Davon’s first mission.”
“Congratulations.” Tristan didn’t even glance over at him. “Look, Belle, I’ve got a pissed-off werewolf waiting for me. It’s kind of urgent.”
She bared her teeth. They weren’t fangs, but they apparently got the message across; he flinched. “I’ll be happy to open a gate for you to go meet your fuzzy friend, but I’m a little too busy to accompany you just now. I’ll join you once the party’s over.” Damned if he was going to stroll into her house and start ordering her around. Not when he’d been treating her like a Black Plague victim for weeks.
“Belle, if you need to go on a job, we can clean up,” Cherise said earnestly.
“I think we can all be trusted not to get drunk and trash the place.” Richard gave her a lazy grin, shameless flirt that he was.
Tristan glowered at him before turning the glare on her. “Look, I realize I’m interrupting fun and games with your . . . boys, but the Direkind needs us to investigate a murder. And they’re convinced magic was involved.”
Belle stared, making the instant leap. “Warlock.”
“That’s my thought.”
“A murder?” one of the kids asked. “Who?”
“What happened?” Davon looked uneasy.
Tristan didn’t reply, his gaze hard and demanding on Belle’s.
Dammit, there was no choice in this one. She had to give him what he wanted. Again. Warlock and his daughter were the only Direkind werewolves who could work magic, and he was both immortal and incredibly powerful. He was also murderous, ambitious and insane.. Belle and Tristan had locked horns with him the month before, and had damn near died doing it. If he’d surfaced again . . .
Belle stood and looked around at the Majae. Unlike the vampires, they did eat, which is why she’d spent the day cooking for them. “There’s more hors d’oeuvres in the kitchen, girls. Please finish them off. Stay as long as you want.”
As Tristan stepped aside, she stalked past him through a chorus of good-byes. “All right, where am I opening this gate?” she said after he’d closed the door behind her. “And what the hell’s going on?” And why have you been avoiding me?
Today Angela is giving away two copies of MASTER OF SHADOWS. To enter the draw, tell us what you like to see on the covers of Erotic Romance novels! Or comment on Angela's post in some other way. The contest will close at midnight tonight and the winners will be announced tomorrow on this thread.