This is a guest post by Michelle Willingham, who is the author of more than thirty historical romance novels and novellas. She had the opportunity to go behind the scenes at a cover-art shoot for one of her own books. To learn more about the experience, visit her website at http://www.michellewillingham.com.
Romance novel covers are continually transforming during each decade, and it’s always fascinating to see the evolution of art over time. Covers that were popular during the 1970s are nothing like the romance covers of 2015. The House of the Scissors by Isobel Chace is an example of a 1974 cover. The heroine’s face is enlarged, and the photographer hero appears to be taking a picture of her ear. Three other sketches hover around the fashion model heroine’s head, and the back cover copy begins with, Why couldn’t he see she wasn’t a child?
The romance trope of an older hero and a younger heroine continued through the 1970s and early ’80s. Here’s a cover from 1981 titled Wolf at the Door by Victoria Gordon, where the hero appears significantly older and has gray hair.
According to cover artist Robert Papp, “The evolution of cover art has been insane. I am old enough to remember dropping off still-wet canvases at art directors’ offices. Back then, the illustrator was given much more time to create the art. Sometimes there was enough time to read the entire book in order to come up with a great concept. We were taught in school that, while looking at a book in stores, the reader must grasp the concept, characters and a bit of the story in 3 to 5 seconds. In the old days, you could “sit” with a painting to see if there was anything needed to create better art.”
The painted covers remained a trend throughout the 1980s when two different types of covers emerged —clinch covers and floral covers. The model Fabio Lanzoni graced the covers of many popular historical romances, such as Johanna Lindsey’s Defy Not the Heart. Those covers suggested stories of forbidden love, and the clinch cover became a classic trend for hotter romances.
Covers for the sweeter romances of the 1980s often involved flowers or hearts with no couple at all, as on Vows by LaVyrle Spencer. This brought romances into the mainstream with little distinction between contemporary and historical romance.
As the decade ended and the ’90s covers emerged, more floral treatments continued. These offered a softer focus on the romance for contemporary romances, as on Nora Roberts’s Born in Fire.
Another change, beginning in the late ’90s and moving into the new millennium, was to offer more diversity on book covers. Authors Beverly Jenkins, Brenda Jackson, and Jeannie Lin wrote stories featuring African American and Asian heroes and heroines.
The new millennium brought other cover art trends. Nearly headless heroes and heroines left a good deal up to the imagination of the readers. Take Terri Brisbin’s Taming the Highlander, for example, which features a Highland hero whose face is hidden.
Paranormal romances also featured this same style of cover. Larissa Ione’s book, Ecstasy Unveiled, reveals a shadowed, shirtless hero. Half-clad heroes became common for many subgenres of romance, including contemporary and historical. In addition, the painted look that was common to so many covers was replaced by photographic art in contemporary and paranormal romance. Historical covers often still received a painted treatment, to avoid appearing too modern.
Cover artist Carrie Divine of Seductive Designs points out that finding the right photograph for a cover has become an even greater challenge. “You would think that since there are so many options, that it would equate to millions of great options, but the really good images are the ones that you see over and over again.”
Moving into 2015, covers are revealing extreme close-up photos of heroes and heroines. Since ebooks are now such a strong force within the book marketplace, covers need to become more prominent in a thumbnail image. My July cover, Warrior of Ice, features the hero from the waist up and little else.
A recent erotic romance release, Grey, by E L James, features an even more extreme close-up photo of only the hero’s eye.
Harlequin art director Krista Oliver has a challenge each month, given the volume of covers required, to stay within the budget while still creating beautiful covers. “I always want to raise the bar on period accuracy; emotional conveyance and authenticity; and beautiful, accurate background detail. I think of each cover like a movie poster in terms of function. It has to communicate the genre instantly.”
As covers keep competing to attract a reader’s eye in the digital marketplace, new trends keep emerging.