When a sales rep meets with a book buyer to determine how many copies to take of a particular title, she looks at a number of criteria.  The first is sales history, if it exists. The second is the design of the cover art itself – is it pleasing? does it convey the genre?  But she’s also looking to see how much the publisher has spent on the book to get an indication of how hard they’re going to be pushing this title to attract readers and recoup their costs.

The first indication of a book’s “importance” is the format in which it’s published.  Traditionally, of course, hardcovers are perceived as the most worthy of attention, then going down the price scale from there to trade paperbacks, mass-market paperbacks and finally ebooks.  Typically, advances for hardcovers are higher, the price point is higher, and *perception* is that these are “better” books.  I’m sure everyone has an opinion on that…

But let’s jump to mass-market paperbacks, ’cause that’s what Dorchester does and that’s the predominant format for the romance genre.  Special cover treatments are often used there to indicate factors a book’s “importance” or expectation of sales.  In increasing cost order, there’s:

  • emboss and/or foil of the type (author name and title); ideally they’re both foiled and embossed
  • spot emboss, where one element of the cover is raised up (like the ornament on A CHRISTMAS BALL)
  • spot gloss – using a section of gloss on a matte cover
  • full foil, where the entire cover is shiny in some way (like the Black Dagger Brotherhood series)
  • stepback – a glossy page of color art behind the actual cover

We also talk about creating a “big-book look,” which generally features a large author name and just an element of art rather than an entire scene.  Often in romance, you’d see a fairly sedate front cover and then the clinch in the stepback.  The idea is to make it look larger than a genre book.  It tends to work best when the author has some name recognition.  Otherwise, readers might not know what genre it belongs to.

The design of the book itself can also be an indication to readers. The more money spent on making it look pretty, the more that book has to earn back and the harder the publisher needs to push sales.  Typically mass-markets don’t have a lot of design in their production, though every now and then you run into beautiful drop caps or a pretty feature to open chapters.  The whole point of mass-markets is that they’re inexpensive to produce and generally not expected to have the shelf life of hardcovers.  Jennifer Ashley recently loaned me a copy of THE LUXE, a trade-sized historical YA, which was beautiful – gorgeous script on the chapter openings, all kinds of different fonts.  It really made the book fit its title.

But I find it highly interesting that all of this goes away when you start talking about ebooks.  Ebooks are truly the great equalizer.  The format of the print edition isn’t a factor. There is no tactile cover.  Often the type design is different depending on the format and the capabilities of the reader you’re using.  And the reader can change the font into whatever they want. 

There have been all kinds of ebook price wars among readers and publishers and retailers.  Because, truly, it’s the price that’s the last great publisher-determined separator of what’s supposed to be “good.”  It will be interesting to see how the model changes as the ebook market gains more precedence.


charles paz at shoot

Charles Paz, Mr. Romance 2009, visited New York City last week for a photo shoot with artist Judy York (left) and a visit with Dorchester and RT staff.  He will appear on the cover of Connie Mason’s THE LORD OF DEVIL ISLE, currently slated for a June 2010 release.  As soon as we have the final cover, I’ll be sure to share.  With his infectious smile and incredible enthusiasm, Charles is pretty impossible not to love.  Of course, the abs are nice too.  But it was a pleasure to have him here.

The Houston Bay Area RWA chapter announced winners of its annual cover competion as judged by a number of a chain and independent booksellers.  Congratulations to the following for their first-place wins!


The full list of winners is available here.

Given some of the previous musings on romance covers, I thought it interesting to note Bantam’s new treatment for Sherry Thomas

The cover for her June release, NOT QUITE A HUSBAND:


And the original vs. the rerelease of her previous titles:

sherry-thomas-delicious     sherry-thomas-pa-new

sherry-thomas-del-old     sherry-thomas-del-new

I think the old covers were quite beautiful, as are the new ones.  But it does seem as though they’re really trying to make sure they reach the romance audience with the new versions.

With some of the recent controversy over certain covers, I thought it might be a good time to go over exactly how those covers come to be.  Each book is different, of course, and often how a cover is made is determined by the tone we’re trying to achieve, along with how much we can afford to spend based on the number of copies we project a book will ship. 

At the beginning of every month, it’s time to discuss covers.  In a week or so, we’ll be talking about October, just to give you a sense of how far we’re working ahead.  Sometimes the books are written, and sometimes they’re not.  But each author gets a questionnaire asking about the characters–hair color, eye color, clothes they wear–the setting, and any ideas that might lend themselves to cover treatment.  The editors take those questionnaires into a meeting with our art director and our editorial director.  Then our art director will pass along the ideas we agree on to the freelance artist assigned the title.   Generally, there are three ways we ask the artist to handle the assignment:

    *do a photo shoot to get an original look with specific design
    *use stock art to “assemble” the design
    *in-house we choose pick-up art, pieces that are left over from other shoots that could also fit the title we’re working on (you see this a lot with Regencies and Westerns); and then it’s given to a designer who handles only the type

Pick-up art is generally the least expensive and arranging a shoot the most expensive because you have to pay for the models and costumes.   The results can vary – we’ve had absolutely gorgeous covers made from pickup or stock art, and we’ve had some not-so-great ones that have come from a shoot. It’s not that any method is better than another, but more a matter of chooseing which one works best for what we’re trying to achieve.

Designs go back and forth between the artist and the editors until we’re happy with the result.

Most artists are very careful with any images they use–they have to be because their livelihood depends on it.   Model release forms have to be signed, and any stock photos are supposed to be carefully managed by the service providing them so artists know what is royalty free (able to be used for pretty much anything with a one-time fee) vs. what is rights managed (the terms vary by the image, but suffice it to say they’re much more stringent).

In the video below, artist Judy York talks about how the cover came to be for one of C.L. Wilson’s books.

To clinch or not to clinch?  It’s a subject that comes up all the time with authors. Generally, those opposed feel that clinches are dated and too easily mocked.  Those in favor like to be able to visualize the characters they’re reading about  and see the clinch as an easy way to find romance on the shelves, as Publishers Weekly explains in an article in its latest issue.

While no one has done a recent poll of readers to solicit their vote on clinch or no clinch, the question has elicited some lively discussions on romance blogs. Sarah Wendell, cofounder of Smart Bitches is not shy about weighing in with her readers’ opinion. “Many readers,” she says, “hate it. Hate it. At best, the clinch can be a visual exercise in Technicolor hilarity, or at worst a complete and total embarrassment for the reader. But clinch covers will probably never go away: they sell.”

And she’s absolutely right about that selling part. 

A while back I had a few new authors who were vehemently opposed to a clinch on their cover.  So I wanted to see if we had any numbers that supported a stand one way or the other.  I looked at all our new or relatively new authors writing historicals from 2006-2007 and found:

*Clinch covers averaged a draw of about 5300 more copies than nonclinches.

*Clinch covers averaged a sell-through of 11 percentage points higher than nonclinches.

Granted, this would hardly meet the standards of a rigorous scientific survey.  The sample pool was only 15 titles, two-thirds of which were nonclinch (a house, landscape, object, single woman or single man).  Not too shocklingly, the one nonclinch to buck the trend was the one with a guy.

However, it was enough to convince me that when appropriate and done tastefully, clinch covers are the way to go–at least for authors who can’t yet count on name recognition to sell books.

Obviously this is a topic a lot of people strongly about, though.  Your thoughts?