Have you ever noticed that romance book covers always show men with big muscles and women with healthy necklines and wild hair. Is that done on purpose?
Those types of novels are what is termed, as you well know, Harlequin novels; meant to visually attract those readers who enjoy stories of a sexual nature ... and they are seldom disappointed. While I've read my share of them in the past, I tend to steer clear of them of late. I would rather spend my reading time engaged in something of more "literary" value. There is no question that covers sell novels. Even my 87 year old mother was an avid reader of Harlequin paperbacks (for shame, I used to kid her).
My soon-to-be released romance novel is not, in any way, a bodice-ripper. I've given my graphic designer clear instructions that the cover is to be wholesome in nature. Would I sell more if the cover were loaded with bulging muscles and female cleavage? Probably. But I have no intentions of misleading any potential reader.
Michael, It's not just Harlequins. Bodice rippers have been a staple in the industry for decades. They were most popular in the 70s and 80s.
While most romances have some sexual content, not all romances were about the sex. Romances are relationship stories, traditionally more so from the woman's point of view. Romances have, from the beginning, been about female escapism. Most women like to be sweapt off their feet, whether physically or figuratively, and be taken on a wild adventure. That's what the cover art promised. Not that readers would be guaranteed sexual stimulation. Some romance novels were and are highly graphic, but not all.
If anything, Harlequins tend to have the most tame of covers compared to other publishers out there, such as Kensington.
Back in your mother's day, a Harlequin novel that included hand holding or showing a bit of ankle was enough to make a woman blush. Remember books like Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice? They both had chins wagging in their day, as did works of DH Lawrence and Kathleen Winsor, and of course Barbara Cartland.
Romance, and to some degree erotica, has been around a lot longer than Harlequin or today's modern romance publishing industry. The Song of Solomon isn't a modern romance, even though the title is very romantic in tone. In face, these are five scrolls in the Hebrew Bible which detail a sexual relationship between a man and woman right through to consummation. And what about Chaucer's The Merchant's Tale which is a 'bed-hopping romp' through the early 15th century?
Doesn't take an image of a lusty couple on a novel to titillate. Those covers only came into being around the same time periodicals like Playboy and Playgirl magazines started publishing. Mags like that gave both men and women more visual stimulation than a romance cover.
I wrote an article called Blowing the Curtains: The Changing Demarcation Lines of Sex in Fiction. If anyone is interested in reading it -- http://hearticles.blogspot.com/2010/06/blowing-curtains.html
I find it interesting when men write romance. I'd be interested in learning more about your work, Michael.
Kemberlee, I'm impressed with your deep knowledge of romance novels ... you make me feel like a piker. I've been a "romantic" all of my life; I'm guessing it stems from being fortunate enough to have grown up with a very loving mother. As a result, I grew up with a deep respect for women in general which is depicted as such in my novel and other creative works.
The following will be the back cover synopsis for my novel ... maybe with a little tweaking before it actually gets released. The synopsis was actually written by my copy-editor (having edited my novel twice).
A story of love, trust, forgiveness, and hope.
When a beautiful young country singer falls for a rich, handsome flight surgeon, the course of true love encounters turbulence along the way. Briana is innocent and mischievous, while Michael is serious and focused on his work for Doctors Without Borders. What starts as an easy flirtation soon becomes more complicated than either of them had bargained for.
She loves him … but can she trust him?
Briana and Michael are somewhat inexperienced in the ways of true love, although their attraction promises the deeper union they both yearn for. But a giant misunderstanding threatens their budding relationship. Will they learn to communicate, trust and forgive before it’s too late?
And now I will read your Blowing the Curtains. P.S. -- I just love the spelling of your first name.
I've read romances since I was 12-13. I thought they were adventure stories. I really didn't understand the sex parts so glossed over them and kept reading for the story. I loved lady pirates and western intrigues. I won't tell you how old I am now, but let's just say, I've been reading romance for many years.
I've been writing my own since the mid 80s. Published my first romance short story in 2006 and my first novel in 2010. Would have been sooner but I'm a lazy submitter ;-)
I also reviewed romances since 1995, though not so much anymore since I started publishing. I've had several romances published since 2006 and my husband and I have recently launched our own publishing company.
Do you have a website where your work is showcased? Your back cover blurb looks interesting. Will you be publishing romance as yourself or using a woman's name?
Thanks for the PS. I was named for my father. :-) Can you figure it out??
No web site yet. My oldest son is a vice-president at an internet company, so he has taken on the task of developing a web site for me. I'm looking to publish in the June/July time frame; probably through Create Space as I have no desire to play the "searching" for an agent/publisher game. And yes, I will be publishing under my own name, which may be a negative given that most romance novels are, as you know, written by women. It is what it is.
A stupid question, probably. What advantages are there to having your own publishing company?
Let's see, your name?! Was your father a Kim, or a Lee, or both?
Two questions come to mind --
1) You said you had an editor go over your book twice. Was that an editor familiar with the romance industry or a general type of editor?
2) Have you considered small press rather than self-publishing?
I was interviewed this week by a Greek journalist which was published today (I mention she's Greek because she's publishing a copy in Greek for her readers at home). This is a condenced look at both small press and self-publishing for the first timer.
If you feel you might want to try small press, I can give you some referrals of companies who publish what you write . . . ours included of course :-) We only have open submissions the first week of every month (the dates on our submissions page), but if you'd like to give small press a try, please feel free to send me a sample at your leisure.
The advantages of having our own publishing company are similar to anyone who goes into business, whether one is selling bananas or Beamers. It's a good business to be in at the moment and a great way for us to consolidate our experience in the publishing world to help aspiring authors get published and to supply great books to readers.
We also operate slightly different than other small press in that our editing team act more as critique partners than editors. We work one-on-one with each author through the process, and authors have a bit more say in the production of their book.
We have a good FAQ page on the site and the submission guidelines are pretty thorough. I don't want to come over as if I'm selling anything on this service, but you asked about my personal advantages of starting the company.
As for my name, my father's middle name is Lee. Good catch! :-)
My copy editor, now retired but still edits from home, worked for some of the Big Six in that same capacity. She knows The Chicago Manual of Style forward and backward; including finding errors in the manual which the editors corrected in the next editions. In all honesty, I have no idea if her area of expertise is in works of "romance." All I know is that I feel very fortunate in having been referred to her by a published author (a memoir).
And no, I have not previously given serious consideration to using a small press; only because there are so many of them out there with reputations that are less than stellar. Its made me a little nervous when considering that route ... though I will look at your site -- thank you.
That's great that you found an editor you're very happy with. These days, editors seem to be around every corner.
I'm sorry you've had bad experiences with submitting to small press. There are a lot of them around.
Some of the ones I'd recommend submitting to include (not necessarily in this order) --
And of course Carina Press (Harlequin's digital-only publishing arm)
It's been said that women are into the emotions and men are into the physical sensations and are more visual. If that's the case, then why do the covers show "gods and goddesses", mostly in the flesh?
Well, Kemberlee, you're the expert on Jeff's question, go for it.
Romance, and erotica, is about escapism. And the romance field is so varied now with subgenres that covers have to be designed to suit the story.
What are the subgenres? Well, the usual historical romance, contemporary romance, regency romance . . .
Also, sci-fi romance, fantasy romance, paranomal romance, gothic romance, romantic suspense, mystery romance, etc. Even erotic romance, often coined as romantica or erotomance.
With any of these subgenres, you're likely to see a more toned-down cover. For example, a romantic suspense could just have symbolim that runs through the story, such as the shadow of a cross across a bloody pavement, or one or two characters on the run from an explosion, etc.
All these subgenres will have a back-theme of suspense, mystery, fantasy, etc, but there will always be a couple who have to work together to solve a crime or puzzle or save the universe or even banish the trolls, while falling in love by the end.
Going back to your question -- Those clinch covers are meant to portray both the hero and heroine's traits. Her look and body language should show her emotions for the hero . . . love, dedication, devotion. His look and body language should show his virility and capility of protecting his woman, a strong arm around her for protection, a keen eye on the lookout for bad guys or preferably, on his woman and showing his love for her in his gaze.
Usually when an author contracts with a small press, he/she will be given what's called a book cover sheet. On it are questions about the book which the cover artist then interprets into a book cover. Questions like charater looks and special traits like tattoos or scars, important scenes in the book or overall setting (like high seas or western/cowboy), if there are any symbols within the story (like special jewelry or family crests), etc.
The form may also ask what things does an author want to see on the cover . . . do they have a vision for their cover in their head?
And a good form will also ask what the author does NOT want to see on the cover . . . such as nudity or the traditional clinch.
The final version is approved by the author. And what appears on the cover is what the author wants to see.
Sometimes the cover artist gets it totally wrong or some publishers don't give the author as much say, but these are all learning experiences for an author. One learns which publishers to submit to, or not, in the future. :-)