Let’s Talk About Book Covers

 What kind of book covers to do you like? What makes you pick up one book but leave another on the shelf?  Do you like couples on the covers? How about children and animals?  And then there are cowboys and outlaws and warriors . . . oh my! I can spend hours looking at books, sizing up the covers and reading the blurbs.

I’m thinking about this topic because the cover for Marrying the Major is up at  www.christianbook.com. This is my October 2011 Love Inspired Historical, and my thirteenth book. You’d think I’d be used to the “cover” moment, but it’s always exciting.  It goes like this:  I’ll see the email from the Harlequin Art Department, tingle with anticipation and download an attachment that’s going to give readers the first impression of the book.

My first reactions are all over the road. Sometimes I love the cover and I think, “Yes! That’s my hero!” Or “The heroine’s perfect!” Other times it’s like looking at an alien creature with extra arms and legs.  Not good or bad, necessarily. Just not what I was expecting.  

I’ve had some great covers, including the one for my first book. In 2003, it won the RWA Artemis Award for best cover in the historical category.  Of Men and Angels is still one of my favorites.  It even impressed my  teenage sons.  I’m sure they were expecting a romance cliché or a clinch, but instead I got a leg.  A thigh to be precise.

At RWA in Orlando I asked an editor from a Christian publishing house how they felt about bad boys and hero-driven stories.  I’d noticed the majority of their covers featured the heroine. She laughed and said they love strong heroes, but they put the heroine on the cover because it sells books. “The bigger the dress, the higher the sales,” she said with a smile. Cover styles change and I’ve noticed more variety, but there are a lot of pretty dresses on covers for inspirational romance.  

I tend to write hero driven stories, so I’ve gotten a lot of men on the covers.  My favorite hero cover is Abbie’s Outlaw. I also got a hero cover for The Maverick Preacher.  The cover for Midnight Marriage  has a fun history.  The guy on the cover won a Mr. Romance contest sponsored by Harlequin in 2005. In real life, he was a charter boat captain in Alaska. 

Then we get to the bad covers . . . I’ve never had anything truly awful. I’ve been very fortunate, but I do have some pet peeves.  Kids on covers? It usually doesn’t work for me, though the cover for Wyoming Lawman charmed readers. I’ve heard that kids on covers have a lot of appeal. I’m not a fan of old style clinch covers, though they served a purpose.  When the romance genre arrived on the scene, a clinch cover made it very clear that the book was a love story.

I like animals on covers. That might be why The Outlaw’s Return is a personal favorite. 

So what about you?  What do you like? Dislike? And do you have any favorites?  The “Texan” anthologies by my fellow Fillies Linda Broday and Phyliss Miranda are awesome!

Victoria Bylin
Victoria Bylin is under contract with Bethany House Publishers for two inspirational contemporary romances.Prior to jumping to the present day, she wrote westerns for Harlequin Historical and Love Inspired Historical. Her books have finaled in the ACFW Carol Awards, the Rita Awards and RT Magazine’s Reviewers’ Choice Awards. She and her husband live in Lexington, Kentucky and have two grown sons. You can learn more about Vicki at www.victoriabylin.com

32 Comments

  1. Vicki, I must admit that Maverick Preacher is my favorite cover of yours and one of my favorite LIH covers ever. Yes, they got the hero right but I think it is the embodiment of the title that got me. Who expects a bad boy preacher man and how often do we actually get the perfect illustration of what the author creates in our minds?

    I often think of the story Suzanne Brockmann told of the hero in Get Lucky look like the Michelin Man instead of a Navy Seal. http://www.amazon.com/Lucky-Tall-Dark-Dangerous-Book/dp/0373079915 Fortunately, she had a re-release years later that rectified the problem but she had nightmares.

    My biggest gripe has always been when the hero and heroine do not match the author’s descriptions. I know the authors are disappointed and so am I.

    The back blurb makes me more likely to buy the book than the cover. If I see an excellent story, I am more likely to think, “that is a great cover” rather than “that is a great book”.

    Peace, Julie

  2. PS That should be excellent cover, not excellent story. Sigh. I need caffeine.

  3. Hi Julie! That “Get Lucky” cover is legendary. Thanks for posting the link. It makes me feel twice blessed to NOT have the Pillsbury Doughboy on the front of my books. Man, that cover is just awful!

    The title for “The Maverick Preacher” came to me before anything else. I didn’t have a hero name or even a specific idea. I liked the concept of a preacher going against the tide, but for that to work, he needed to have made some mistakes of his own. I enjoyed writing Josh’s story, though I’ve gotten a mixed reaction to the cover. It’s a “Love it or hate it” thing. I’m glad you’re in the “love it” camp!

    Ditto to needing caffeine. I’m on cup #2 and wishing I had cappuccino.

  4. Vicki,

    The cover for MARRYING THE MAJOR is gorgeous! I tend to gravitate toward covers that feature the hero. I’ll stop and take a long look at a book with a hot cowboy on the cover where I might pass it by if it only has the heroine. I can resist a frilly dress. It’s hard to resist a cowboy. I bought Stacey Kane’s, MAVERICK WILD, on the cover alone. :o)

    As you mentioned about your stories, my stories tend to be more hero driven, as well, so that’s what I want to see. I’m not much for children on the cover. And animals are a case by case basis(I loved the cover for THE OUTLAW’S RETURN).

    I have to agree with Julie, I hate when the models on the cover don’t resemble the author’s description, at all. And poor Suzanne Brockmann with the GET LUCKY cover. That’s just wrong on so many levels.

  5. I do love pretty book covers. I guess my favorite is ladies wearing those big ole southern dresses and the dresses of the 1800s. I love reading about that time in history.

  6. Hi Kirsten! I was happy with the “Major” cover. I like the colors, and the hero — Major Tristan Willoughby Smith — is exactly right. Love the boots!

    I like “cowboy” covers too. Historical or contemporary, either way I’ll pick up the book and read the blurb. Stacey’s “Maverick” books have fabulous covers!

    About models not matching . . . That’s what makes the first look at a cover so strange. The model might match the description but not necessarily the picture in my head. Maverick Preacher is that way… I was picturing Josh with a different face.

    Thanks for visiting P&P!

  7. Hello Patsy! A big dress definitely says “historical.” Like they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Having just gone through a wedding (my son on 6/11), I get the dress appeal!

  8. I must be easy to please. I love book covers. There are very few that I don’t like, and I think LIH has some of the best covers out there.

  9. Hi Christina, LIH really does a great job on the covers. Lots of style, interestng angles, accurate characters. Some of my favorites are the semi-monotone covers, where they’re mostly one gray or tan with brighter accents. And I like anything with a horse or dog on it!

  10. I judge books by their covers all the time, I’m sad to say. I want something that encapsulates the historical time period and that captures the eye. A good looking hero certainly catches my eye, but I don’t want too much skin on the cover. My rule of thumb is that if I’d be embarrassed to have one of my kids see the cover, I don’t buy the book.

    I love big dresses, too. For me they highlight not only the historic setting but the romance of the era and the fairy tale aspect. All things that draw me as a reader.

    But ultimately, it’s the blurb that determines whether or not I buy the book. However, if I don’t like the cover first, I’ll never get to the blurb because I won’t pick the book up in the first place.

  11. Hi Karen, Your covers are excellent . . . all of them! They give such a strong sense of character. That might be what ultiimately makes me pick up a book. I want to know more about the people inside.

    Back cover copy is a mixed bag for me. It can definitely win me over, but I don’t always trust it. If I’m in doubt, I’ll read the first page or so and then decide.

  12. There have been times that I have picked a book based on the cover. When it comes to the hero, I prefer that the hero is not on the cover; I like to use the author’s descrpition of the hero and my own immagination to picture what he looks like.

  13. Hi Carissa! A good imagination is a gift. It trumps even the best cover 🙂

  14. Vicki, you’re really got a lot of variations in your covers. I like that. I like Wyoming Lawman a lot, love the bride, the rugged looking preacher is a great cover, really great.

    I have always liked NO FACES on my books. I just feel like that does something to my imagination, to have the face provided. So my books have had no faces. HOWEVER my new publisher wants faces so since I love my publisher….and trust them to know what sells….I’m good with it. And I’m getting COWBOYS on the covers. Men. I’m loving that. 🙂

  15. I prefer covers that don’t show the hero or heroine, because they never match up with my imagination, and I pass over anything that is too suggestive or shows too much skin. If I’m looking for a historical, I don’t want the cover to look too contemporary.
    I like a cover that hints at what the story is about. My favorite covers: Karen Witemeyer’s Head in the Clouds, Mary Connealy’s The Husband Tree and Margaret Brownley’s A Lady Like Sarah. I love the way Sarah is looking over her shoulder and the hole in her sleeve, both clues to her character.

  16. Great topic, Vicki. After 35 (+ or -)books, my covers have run the gamut from perfection to @#%##. Whatever’s on the cover, if it invokes the mood of the story I’m happy. Pet peeve – when I write a detailed description of my characters for the art staff, and the people on the cover look nothing like what I had in mind. I’ve never had a “no faces” cover, but I think I’d like that.

  17. Invokes or evokes? Whichever, I probably got it wrong.

  18. Hi Mary, I’ve had a little of everything . . . heroine only / hero only / couple / child / dog! I had to get used to having people, especially people with faces. My personal favorites are landscapes, but I’m definitely in the minority.

  19. Hello Judy H, You’ve named some awesome covers. Like you said, the artwork hints at character and “story.” It’s funny how a detail like a hole in a sleeve can say so much.

  20. Hi Elizabeth, Ditto to wanting the characters to match the description sent by the author. Probably the biggest complaint I hear on covers is that the characters don’t match the descriptions in the book.

    About “invoke/evoke”… I cant’ help myself. I went to Dictionary.com. “To evoke” is to illicit or call forth. “To invoke” is to declare as binding, as in to invoke a prayer. I’d go with “evoke” here, mostly because I like the word “evocative” when it comes to covers. You’ve had some really beautiful ones with HH.

  21. (Boy, I just got the weird e-mail stuff right now.)

    Hi Vicki, great post and cool covers. I tend not to like faces on the covers because they don’t always match my own mind, but anything with a cowboy hat kinda makes it worth it LOL. My first cover was absolutely horrifying as I recall.

    And I so agree, the Give Me series is hot-looking covers and great stories combined! oxoxox

  22. I think they are wonderful Victoria.. but the Wyoming Lawman… well kids and cowboys on a cover just melt my heart..

  23. Hi Tanya, Isn’t it strange to see an artist’s idea of your book? That first-cover look can be unnerving! I’ve definitely liked some better than others, but so far, so good!

  24. Hello Kathleen! Wyoming Lawman is a scene I suggested, which is kind of cool. Deputy Matt Wiley’s a wonderful father and it shows!

  25. Hi Vicki:
    I’m one of your loyal readers. Just wanted to comment on the two covers you mentioned. I liked Wyoming Lawman especially because it matched his character–a rugged man secure in who he is and what he is but who’s heart is wrapped up in his little daughter. I thought it was appropriate to show him with her in his arms. My other favorite cover Outlaw’s Return. His matches his character by depicting a rugged individual who looks like he’s on the run but has his loyal dog beside him–makes him look like a tough guy with a tender heart which he was–and in need of forgiveness. The covers can grab my attention but I agree with Julie Steele, the blurb on the back is more likely to make me buy the book or the combination of the blurb and cover–not the cover alone; however an eyecatching cover will get me to pick up the book and read the back to see if I want it. Lastly, I prefer the hero’s to the heroine on the cover and if they’re in a suggestive clinch or bodice baring scene, I suspect it not to be a good clean or christian novel for me.

  26. Hi Susan! I’m delighted that you enjoy my books. Many thanks! LIH authors submit something called an Art Fact Sheet for the covers. For “The Outlaw’s Return,” I sent a picture of Fancy Girl and even filled out a character profile for her. I’m glad she made the cover! My editor pushed for the dog, too. Fancy was such an important part of the story. She deserved the attention.

  27. I remember a book…one that I LOVED BTW that had a really cute heroine sitting on the hero’s lap.
    Pretty curly brown hair on the heroine. A great cover.

    Trouble was, there was a running gag through the book about hair disasters. She’s got long blonde hair at the beginning, long black hair in the middle and short red hair at the end. Never ever was it brown and I don’t remember any curls, either. 🙂

  28. Hey Vicki,

    First the covers are great….I love animals on the covers too. I also like nature scenes. I cannot wait to get my hands on thes books either…

    Walk in harmony,
    Melinda

  29. Hi Mary, Sounds like the cover artist threw his or her hands up in the air and mixed all the colors and got brown 🙂

  30. Hello Melinda! Among the ideas I sent for the Marrying the Major cover was a scene with a kitten. I like the landscape with the horse in the background. It’s more suited to the story. Take care!

  31. You have indeed had some good covers. Clinch covers have never been ones that I cared for. I didn’t read romance books for a long time because of them. It is the feel of the cover that counts. Your THE OUTLAW’S RETURN is perfect. Kids on covers work if their relationship to the hero and heroine is an important part of the story and that relationship is reflected in that cover. Dress covers are OK if the dresses are period accurate. The one of the bride above is nice, but the dress and veil seem too modern.
    A nice scenic shot is always good.

  32. Hi Patricia, I agree about the Bride cover being too modern. The western background establishes the setting, but the gown has a 1950s look. It reminded me of mom’s wedding dress, so I didn’t mind 🙂

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