Thursday, April 24, 2014

Romance book covers: The trends, the politics

Gotta bring this up again. I confess even my books' covers have shirtless guys but at least they have HEADS! But I think the tide is turning. I've seen a number of new m/m, erotic and billionaire/BDSM (God, when are they going away?) releases with guys in SUITS with HEADS! Hey, could it be that the gay community is demanding better covers because it's known for sartorial elegance and art departments want to reflect it in the new covers. Right? Sounds good. Think "Will and Grace." Slim, impeccably dressed  guy who loves opera and interior decor. Yeah. That's the ticket. Or, I'm completely wrong and art departments are sick and tired of trying to pose the same ripped, tatted, headless, naked, White guy across beds, motorcycles, doorways, rugs, deck chairs and other ripped, tatted, headless, naked, White guys. Just me thinkin' out loud. But mark my words, clothes seem to be makin' a comeback for male romance cover models no matter the genre.

Covers in regular contemporary romances (if a guy is even on the cover) have guys who tend to run toward Dockers, khakis, boat shoes and polos. Very boy-next-door. But that can be deceiving because the boy-next-door today is usually the Dom-next-door. So his closet probably has scads of leather too.

The women. Well...the trend for every freakin' historical romance cover I've seen has been a ball-gowned female draped across a set of stairs, a divan, a window, a balcony. a desk or slumped against a bare-chested man. And the dress is always hanging off her. And this is the trend no matter the historical era.

Contemporary romance cover heroines tend to be the messy haired, angst-y, tank top, jeans slung low wearing, broken girls of New Adult. The paranormal/urban fantasy wardrobe is set in stone. Hero: leather. Heroine: leather. Oh and sharp weapons and tattoos. Even the angels. No exceptions.

But what's not makin' a comeback (or if it ever was present in the first place) are truthful depictions of race on romance book covers. Another uncomfortable truth at work here is, come closer kiddies, "Books depicting non-White characters and that announce it by their covers, do not sell well." And to be able to make a blip on the public's radar, one must make sales and appeal to the "mainstream public." Oh my, what's a non-White writer of multicultural and interracial romance to do?

At the smaller pub I get published through, the art department has always depicted the AA heroine in my paranormal series as the African-American she is. Yeah, yeah, I know. I know We come in all shades but the artist has never "whitewashed" her. Tina is clearly NOT Caucasian. I love the art department for that. But...if one publishes with a major publisher (and you get big props for that if you are non-White. We mostly get rejected) and your non-White character carries the story, that book cover will show "color-neutral" characters. Who the Hell invented that friggin' insulting out? Some bean counter for sure. And why? Because the sales of books released by the bigger houses with covers showing non-White characters are quite low. Unless said house has a division for multicultural works. And publishers do not like losing moolah. Another way out of depicting the character is to NOT show them at all. Just paste a pretty picture of some items associated with the theme of the story. Let's call it what it is people: ERASURE. Plain and simple. To preserve a bottom line and appease an audience that mostly doesn't like what the cover implies: a story not written to the default ethnicity of romance by a writer of that default ethnicity. Shudder! Shudder!

This is where Sci-fi romance and paranormal romance get my vote. At smaller pubs, they don't care! They want a good story. Straight, gay, fluid, multicultural, alien. Come one. Come all.

There, I said it. One more thing. I recently saw a cover reveal for a romance coming out in August. The cover showed a nude, from the waist up, muscular, BLACK man (no head) with the arm of a clearly Caucasian female draped across his neck from behind. I could hear the squeeing through my PC. Romancelandia and Harper Collins will be patting themselves on the back when this appears. Can't wait to hear if this will be touted as "ground breaking." To me, if it sells, that'll be ground breaking. Then again the author is White. It could do well if she fulfills her fans' fantasy. Folks do crave dependable agency. I could say soooooo much more but let me shut it down.

PS. Just had a flash of horror! My latest will be a historical set in Colonial America. The main characters are a free African-American female and an indigenous Oneida male. Oh God! Visions of a cascading headdress (I believe only the Plains tribes wore them and not all the friggin' time, people!), feathers, loincloths. Oh man. No. Just no. I want them in Colonial attire. I can see the emails flying back and forth now. Not gonna be easy because the "Indian romance" has mostly always been set in the American West with a male from some Plains tribe and a white female captive. Covers have forever shown a half-naked, noble savage clutching a, at first, unwilling blond/brunette/redhead who warms up quick and never wants to return to CIVILIZATION after getting to know him, or is that getting known by him, in the biblical sense? A certain, prolific, popular, romance writer comes to mind. Her ENTIRE career has been this tired plot device. And has made her monster cash. All I can say is, my story is different and calls for a totally different cover. I know my art department will come through.

That's all I have for this installment. Meanwhile, I'll keep checking the virtual shelves for any new cover stuff.

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