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Yes, I Am Judging Your Romance Novel By Its Cover

Everyone knows the old adage: don't judge a book by its cover.

Too often the romance genre is looked down on by the literary community not only because of the *gasp* sex, but also because of the bawdy covers. Covers that feature embracing couples, shirtless men, scandalously dressed women, and high levels of bosom-ness. No one, critics say, wants to be caught dead reading a romance novel in public lest they be judged not by the content of their character, but by the sexed up characters on their book.

It's why illustrated/cartoon covers have taken off so quickly in the romance community. Finally, covers that we aren't embarrassed to be seen with in public (says the romance readers who still suffer from the effects of having their genre shamed so publicly and haven't yet told the world to fucking shove it). There are certainly benefits to this uptick in illustrated covers, of course. Lightening up the content and hiding the sex behind cute cartoons does appear to make the genre more appealing to romance newbies and may even have a long-term effect on male readership! Both good things.

Judging books by their covers is wrong. Wrong, I say! Or not. In my years of reading/reviewing romance novels I've come to discover that there are some perfectly good reasons to look at a book cover and think, "Now what on earth was this author thinking?" And I've come to discuss those with you now.

Now, disclaimer, this post is not meant to be a harsh criticism on any particular author/group of authors/human. It's not meant to make anyone feel bad. I'll think of it more as a guide to newbie authors/independent authors with a big dose of sarcastic humor to make my point.

Let's talk about cover models. You're surfing through a collection of stock photos and you find the perfect man for the cover of your model. There's only one problem. He's a blonde and your hero is a brunette. Oh well, you might think, no one looks that carefully at the cover, right? Wrong. Yeah, sure, there are plenty of people who prefer not to picture the cover model while they're reading, but there are some people who look to that cover as a guide for their imagination. And if you didn't even bother to put a picture of someone who at least looks like the hero in your book? That's lazy. And it's going to make me mad. And I'm probably going to either A. put your book down or B. finish it but complain to everyone I know about how annoyed I was that you put in such little effort. So, just put that perfect picture aside for your next book and keep scrolling for someone who fits your the character profile of your current book.

And, going off that... let's talk about bad photoshop. So, rewind. You find that perfect picture of a blonde heroine, but the stock photo--the perfect stock photo!--is of a brunette. No problem, you say to yourself. You have photoshop on your computer and that's probably a quick fix, right? The final product features a sloppily done photoshop of blonde hair overlayed on dark locks and looks like something you bought in a back alley deal. Now the first thing everyone is going to do when they look at your book is wonder what you were thinking when you pushed the publish button on that hot mess rather than pushing that one-click button. While we're on the topic, it's better to have a plain black background then to photoshop your characters onto some crazy background so it ends up looking like a child's elementary school collage.

While on the topic of stock photos, let's talk about bad stock photos. There are plenty of free stock photos out there than you can download and manipulate to your will. But that doesn't mean that you should use them for your cover. Promotional stuff, sure, whatever. But not the cover of your book. You want your book to look like it was carefully crafted by a publishing company and not pulled out of the bargain bin at a Walmart, right? A little money goes a long way. Check out this link for good places to buy quality stock photos.

And, last but not least on my list of complaints designed to look like an information blog post, fonts. So you have a perfect stock photo and it's photoshopped to perfection... you're almost done! You just need the font that's going to grab the reader's attention and it's hard! I can't even imagine the pressure (and this is coming from someone who spends thirty minutes deciding on the font choice for my word document that only I'm going to see). The last thing you want is someone squinting at your cover trying to decipher the title because your font is pretty but totally unreadable. And you probably don't want a flowery cursive font on your mafia romance or big, bulky block lettering on your super sweet slow burn. The font tells us as much about the content of the book as the cover, so make sure it expresses what the reader is in for. Times New Roman isn't going to cut it.

The long and short of this rambling blog post is: invest in your cover. Hire a professional to handle the details. Even if you have a background in graphic design, or took a class on photoshop, or simply own photoshop, it isn't enough. You need someone experienced in the nuances of book cover design. They'll know just the right way to wrap your book up in beautiful wrapping that will make it sell. And, at the end of the day, a second pair of eyes on your baby never hurts.

When you write a book you treat it reverently. You pay for an editor. You seek out beta readers. You solicit reviews. You promote, promote, promote. You put your heart and soul into it. So don't cheap out on a cover design. They can be pricey, but it'll be one hundred percent worth it when those sales start coming in.

Because, at the end of the day, we don't just judge books based on their covers... we buy them based on their covers, too.


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