Warfield on Covers

Carol Roddy - Author

Carol Roddy – Author

Covers. You can’t have a book without one and, if the old adage is to be believed, you can’t judge the book by its cover. Oh no? Readers use the cover as at least one criterion when they choose a book. They may read reviews and blurbs before they buy, but it’s the cover that draws them in first. Creating or purchasing a good cover is one of the challenges of an indie author. The covers required by publishing houses aren’t always such a bargain either. I’ve been lucky.

The cover art department of my publisher, Soul Mate Publishing, blessed me with three terrific covers. Complements from readers frequently mention the gowns on the cover models, and those are quite lovely. However there are a few more subtle things that I like about them.

The first and most important thing they do well is branding. If you see one of them and you are acquainted with one of the DANGEROUS WEAKNESS2 (5)others it is easy to identify the book as mine. Readers who like the first book will be drawn to the second and so on. The fonts are consistent. All three have a single female figure in full length. None of them show her face. All three have architectural backgrounds. My name appears in the same font readers find on my Web site and in memes.

The backgrounds may not register consciously with readers, but I think they send a subtle signal. My books have strong historic and geographic elements. The backgrounds communicate that even if a viewer doesn’t know that the one for Dangerous Works is an academic building in Cambridge, the one for Dangerous Secrets is Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, or that the one for Dangerous Weakness is the Maiden’s Tower off the coast of Istanbul. (Weakness has corsairs also, so I was glad to see the sea.) If readers do know, all the better, because events in the books take place in those cities.

The covers also hint at heat level. My books fall into the middle between super steamy and sweet. So do the women on my covers. Their clothes are on, but none looks exactly innocent either.crop1 - 1[1]

Of course, I’m just one reader, but I have a Pinterest board I call “Great Covers.” When a cover causes some sort of emotional trigger that appeals to me, I pin it. I haven’t gone after my favorite books, or my friends’ books, or best sellers. It is a random spontaneous collection. Looking at it today I noticed some themes.

  1. I like the people clothed. Naked chests and unbuttoned gowns are yawners to me. I like beautiful gowns. I like men in uniform but formal dress works too.
  2. I don’t particularly need to see faces. I ignore them any way when I read a book and create the hero in my head.
  3. I lean heavily to Regency and Victorian covers (no surprise) but I also like Roman ones. Rarely does a Viking or Medieval cover catch my attention. Obviously that will be different for other readers.
  4. I like subtle hints in the background: another man, a rumpled bed, a grand house.
  5. I do like kilts but I don’t see a lot on covers I love.

So what about you? I suspect it doesn’t matter to you that the Maiden’s Tower dates to the sixteenth century when it replaced a twelfth century keep, but does background catch your eye or are you too busy ogling the hero? Do you prefer the heroine, the hero, or a couple on the cover?

These are not idle questions. I have another series to plan and I want the covers to be different. I’m think this time the hero.

Caroline will give Kindle copies of both of her earlier works, one each to two randomly selected people who comment.



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  • Helen says:

    Hi Caroline

    Firstly I do love these covers what always draws me to a cover firstly is the colour 🙂 then perhaps hero of heroine but like you I always form my own impressions of the hero and heroine in the stories I read so I don’t mind if they are headless and I am also happy with a naked mans torso those abs 🙂

    Congrats on the release

    have Fun

    • Hi Helen!

      LOL on the naked man’s chest on the covers. I heard a big name author say recently that Amazon suggested she redo her covers without the man chest. She did and her sales plummeted. Fortunately she saw what was happening and put the covers back. We do like our many men! 🙂

      • Fascinating, Donna. Clearly I’m in the minority about that naked chest thing. I think it I feel that way because they are so much alike. The only one I can say attracted was, oddly enough and I kid you not, The Whisky Laird’s Bed. I think in that case it was the kilt, the tartans, the bed, and of course the whisky. I love that cover.

        • Thanks Caroline.

          We’ve had a few man-chests here in the lair though those are often contemporaries (Tawny Weber) or paranormal (Nancy Northcott). I think Christina Brooke had a Regency series with naked chests but I can’t find those in the RB library. LOL the RB library version of Whisky Laird is the old one – the one without the chest.

      • Saralee says:

        Wow! LOL I guess there are lots of readers who do like the naked man chests — fair enough, if it works then go for it! Nothing wrong with that!

  • Mary Preston says:

    An interesting background helps to gain my attention. I tend to take in the cover as a whole.

    Gorgeous gowns do catch my eye & a well kitted out gent beats a naked chest every time.

  • Lianne says:

    I like covers that are relevant to the book, and for a series to have some continuity in the covers such as having the hero of the story on each cover.

  • Robin Gianna says:

    Your covers really are beautiful, Carolyn! Everything about them appealingly works together – the colors, the gowns, and as you mentioned, the hint of setting in the background.

    Interesting idea to have a Pinterest board of covers that appeal to you. I honestly hadn’t put much thought into my personal preferences, and will have to do that. While it’s important to ‘brand’ books by the cover to show readers what they’re getting, it seems to me that publishers go overboard with that, and all books in certain sub-genres start to look boringly alike. Though I’m sure that ‘branding’ a book while coming up with something a little different isn’t easy!

    So. I guess I would have to say whether or not the hero, heroine, or couple are on the cover would depend on the story, and who it’s primary about! But, as a romance reader and writer, one thing I do want to see if it’s a couple? The hero needs to be attracted to or adoring the heroine. I dislike covers where the heroine is fawning over the hero and he’s not looking at her at all. 🙂

  • Kat Sheridan says:

    You have been truly blessed with your covers. And I LOVE all the little details and the especially the background. I tend to prefer men with clothes on (maybe it’s my age). And I like to find things on the cover–like your architectural elements—that are little “Easter eggs” that hint at more of the story!

  • Interesting thoughts Robin. The important thing about setting up a covers Pinterest board is not to think about it. By that I mean I choose by gut instinct. I pick ones I instantly like. The value is in going back later and figuring out why.

    As to the branding business, I some publishers brand themselves, not the auhor, in their cover designs. I am grateful that mine brands **me**. Mine don’t look like any other soul mate author’s books.

  • charlene says:

    I love your covers, i especially like colorful covers, whether the scenery is there or not, love hero or heroine on cover or the couple. mostly i like a cover that reflects the story.

  • Oberwon Wonch says:

    I love your covers, Caroline! The gowns (almost) make me wish we wore clothing like that today. As a reader, I never in a million years realized how much thought and design go into a cover.

    As a reader, I’m pretty forgiving on covers. I like a wide variety, but I guess I do especially like to see both the hero and heroine on a cover, and yes, background is important to me. That’s where the tone and setting of the story are conveyed for me. I used to love the old “step backs,” I think they were called, that were like lushly detailed paintings, an added bonus with the purchase of the book.

    I enjoyed your first book and can’t wait to read the rest of the series!

  • Patty L. says:

    I am a cover buyer when I buy paperback books, but when it is ebook I actually don’t pay as much attention. I love a vibrant color on book coverages. It could be a gown, or a building in the background with with flowers that catches my eye. So I guess what I am saying is I love color.

  • Liette Bougie says:

    You know, with time, I realized it’s not necessarily the hero/heroine on the cover that draw my attention, it’s more the background, the title, the fonts used, the choice of colors and the general feeling I get when I look at a cover. I’m not overly fond of naked chests and half-dressed ladies/men but it seems to be the norm for many books nowadays. I prefer something more subtle.

    • Hi Liette!

      What an interesting name! I think the idea of the cover is to give an immediate impression to the potential reader. Historicals have a “look” and the beautiful gowns play into that. I’m not sure the naked chests do – unless it’s to say this is a warrior type hero. The bedroom scenes are to imply that this is a sexy book and usually include a half-dressed heroine on the bed (need that gown to say “historical”). I’ve experimented with non-couple covers for my time travel but those just didn’t go over. It’s an art form designing a cover.

    • I am fascinated with how many people have mentioned cover specifically. Romance is all about emotion and color is a major trigger for mood and emotion. At one time book after book was in purple. Not so much lately. I like red and deep blue.

  • Saralee says:

    What a great post, Caroline! I really am drawn to good book covers — they’re what make me stop and check out a book a little more closely. I see something in a great cover that piques my interest, and then I almost always want to find out what the story is.
    I love pictures of great ball gowns, because then I feel like the cover is telling me, “This will be you, if you enter the world of this story!” Beautiful settings please me too. I also liked the trend in historical novels where gorgeous oil paintings of lords and ladies are used — but I’m not a big fan of bare torsos and stuff. Also, I’m like you, in that the faces on the cover don’t mean much, because they never look the way I imagine the characters to look.
    All that said, however, so many things can catch my eye! Your covers are all beautiful.

  • Sally Schmidt says:

    These are beautiful covers. I hadn’t thought too much about what appeals to me until I read this. The cover does get my attention but then my imagination tells me what the characters look like and completes the setting. I must admit sometimes I do get tired of the standard embrace with the big, sexy guy and the gorgeous woman (although that is usually how I picture them!) and I prefer a drawing to a photograph.

    • Hi Sally!

      Unfortunately a drawing is much more expensive to acquire than a photograph (says she who is currently trying to arrange for a cover). Berkley had an artist paint my first covers, and for the most part they were gorgeous. The artist did one that didn’t really match the book and we were stuck – no way to change that. After that – it was all photographs. I think these things most run in trends.

      • Sally Schmidt says:

        Oh wow, never realized that, didn’t think about the cost. I just prefer to leave more to my imagination than the hero looking like someone I’ve seen in a TV movie.

  • Interesting observation about photographs. Do all cover models begin to look alike after a while?

  • Beverly Ross says:

    I love your covers ! I think like you I would rather see the well dressed gentlemen and the women’s pretty gowns . and I like the background showing where it takes place ! Your covers are always nice!

  • Kathleen Bledsoe says:

    The interaction between the hero and heroine one the cover is what draws my attention most. One of my favorite covers just has them staring into each others eyes with the hero’s hand cupping the heroine’s face.

  • Caroline, welcome! What a fun post, and I love your covers. I’m fine generally fine with the hero, the heroine, or both on the cover. As far as backgrounds go, I like them to fit with the story and add some atmosphere.

  • Thank you, Caroline. I too love cover art. And collect my faves. But I’m afraid you and I must agree to disagree about faces. To me a cover isn’t complete without them.

    As for romance covers, I believe that if a book is about two people in love, that’s what should be on the cover. With their heads intact.

    I know a thing or two about historical clothing, especially in the periods that interest me the most. So it helps if the artist makes an effort at authenticity. And avoids glaring anachronisms. As in one cover by an artist I admire in which he created a charming Regency courtship scene, but had the man offer the woman a box of chocolates. Sorry, that was too soon for chocolate candy. Not exactly an earth-shaking error, but an error nonetheless.

    My pet peeve? Shirtless guys. I dig a nice male physique, but it’s been way overdone on romance covers. Worst of all are covers with nothing on them but a shirtless slab of meat with his head cut off.

    As for how much skin should show—well, I don’t want to fall into the old Hays Code mentality of “Don’t show this”. But if the cover figures are naked or close enough, or if they’re getting it on, that tells me the book is an erotic romance or erotica. Which I don’t read. So the cover still sends me useful info. It tells me to avoid this book.

    Good luck with your new series!

    • Good to hear from you, Mary Anne. You are obviously very conscious of detail. it might be fun to go through my collection and compare notes! Your point about some covers telling to avoid the book is well taken. Bottom line in all this, I think, is the cover should be specific to the book and reflect the actual story. That’s my conclusion after a day of reading comments.

      • Thanks, Caroline. Yes, it would be nice if covers were that specific. And once in a while they are.

        But the economics of bookselling, especially independent publications, often if not usually means generic covers. A self-published writer typically gets a cover from a website that sells them.

        And they tend to be generic. A cover focused on a woman in an elegant Regency gown can be used on just about any Regency romance. And a cover focused on a shirtless guy can be used on any romance, period. Which, come to think of it, might be part of why they’re so common.

        If I ever get one of my own works published, I’ll try my best to get a cover that gives a good sense of the story. And pertains only to this particular story. Will that be possible? There’s just one way to find out!

  • Linda says:

    If I’m just scrolling then yes a beautiful cover definitely catches my attention. I like bright & pretty colours and details. Not too fussy if it’s the hero, heroine or couple but I like some background too. I don’t like cropped off faces tho.

  • Wow. I pondered these issues further on my blog and they popped up here. I’m not sure whether to laugh or apologize.

  • Sorry Caroline – I’m guessing this is a new problem caused by that hacker we had a while back. We’re still dealing with moderation issues – but this is a new one! I’ll let the fix-it guy know.

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