by Melinda VanLone
I’ve mentioned it before here at Book Cover 101 but it bears repeating…cover trends change. That means whatever we learned five years ago, or even two years ago, is probably already out the window.
It’s enough to drive authors and designers insane.
Since it’s a brand-new year, and since there’s been a significant shift in some genre trends, I thought I’d focus the next few blog posts on specific genres and what’s expected on their covers. First up…Romance.
Romance is a genre near and dear to my heart because it’s what I’m writing at the moment (see The Bellamy Sisters). I spend a lot of time researching what works and what doesn’t in romance both for clients and for myself, so when I see a shift in trend I tend to sniff it out and follow it.
The trend I’ve noticed in Romance over the past couple of years is the switch from photography to illustrated, graphic art, like this:
It used to be that contemporary romance, especially among indie authors, featured a hot man, usually with his shirt off, though sometimes he’d be wearing a nice suit if it was a millionaire romance.
If it wasn’t a hot guy by himself, then it was a hot couple in various stages of undress, staring into each other’s eyes or otherwise engaged in something smexy.
Graphic artwork on a romance cover used to indicate Chick Lit, a sub-genre of romance that is lighthearted, funny, definitely not angsty, and often not steamy. Artwork like that promised a rom-com read, one that didn’t dive too deep. Beach reads, I like to call them.
But now graphic illustrations are dominating not just Chick Lit, but romance as a whole. Check out the top ten romance novels of 2021 according to Goodreads (voted on by readers):
Notice the pastel colors, the use of shades of orange or peach, all the graphic art vs photos, and the way they’re using typography. All of these are listed as contemporary romance, not rom-com, and the people are…well, cartoons.
One reason I think this is happening is the sheer lack of good stock photography. If you follow such things on Twitter you’ve probably seen the debate going on about this. Existing stock photography is incredibly weak when it comes to diverse model representation, which makes coming up with a cover that is true to the characters a tough nut to crack.
More than that, though, is the lack of good stock photography period, especially with so many authors needing covers. You’ve probably noticed the repetition of models and backgrounds. I’ve seen the couple on my own cover used on at least fifty other covers.
One way around that is to hire a photographer to do a custom photoshoot, but that option is out of reach for most indie authors, and even some publishers.
It’s far cheaper and easier to find someone who can do simple illustrations, and no two are exactly alike if you’re having them custom drawn. You can also find a lot more of them at stock art sites.
I understand why this trend is happening, but it sure muddies the waters. The heat level is being lost in this transition. Not every cover you see with a “cartoon” is going to be funny. That seems confusing to readers, to me, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is, it’s a prevailing trend, for better or worse, and it’s as common with trad pub titles as it is with Indies.
There are certain sub-niches that haven’t fully switched yet, like Billionaire Romance. I can’t imagine it will fully take over Erotica either, but I could be wrong. After all, Fifty Shades didn’t follow the going trend, and see how well that turned out.
If you write romance, and you’re not happy with your sales recently, it means you should seriously evaluate if your current cover fits the current genre expectations. I’m doing that with my own covers right now, and I’m leaning toward shifting them to something with more graphics, even though my book has only been out a year.
If you write romance, it might be worth taking a second look at your covers to see if they fit the going trend because if they don’t, you could be losing out on sales.
Nobody wants that!
What Romance covers have you seen that really appeal to you? How do you feel about illustrated covers? Please share your thoughts with us down in the comments!
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Melinda VanLone writes urban fantasy, freelances as a graphic designer, and dabbles in photography. She currently lives in Florida with her husband and furbabies.
When she's not playing with her imaginary friends, you can find Melinda playing World of Warcraft, wandering aimlessly through the streets taking photos, or hovered over coffee in Starbucks.
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