Mar 1, 2010

Covers that grab...

by Nikki Logan

I’ve been amazed and amused at the reactions of various people to the cover of my June release – Their Newborn Gift. This story is the final of a three-book continuity called “Outback Baby Tales” (April, May, June) with fellow Aussie authors Melissa James and Michelle Douglas (One Small Miracle and The Cattleman, the Baby and Me respectively.)

I was so excited by the potential of a series set in WA’s red Kimberley and I flooded the art department with fantastic images of emerald green billabongs set into blood-red rocks, wild brumbies and aussie homesteads. But then Melissa and Michelle's covers came through and were indoor/nursery images with no visible signs of Aussieness and, although they were lovely, I started to get nervous. So when I got my cover and saw red dirt I was relieved. Then I saw the hot cowboy with his Akubra and was even more pleased (plus he’s virtually the spitting image of the model I used for my hero, Reilly). And then I saw that little baby and its fat bottom and chubby little fingers and my heart just melted. For me this cover has what I'd be looking for if I was standing in Walmart or Asda or KMart – The only thing that would have made it more like what I had in my head was a brumbie wandering through the back of shot.

This is not to say that everyone has been as enamored as I. Someone suggested the baby has a ‘freakishly wide mouth’, someone else asked why it was set ‘on Mars’ (Kimberley, people…Kimberley!) or that he’s 'the best-groomed cowboy since Brokeback Mountain'. One comedian asked me if the baby was the heroine.

You guys crack me up... No, really...

Between chuckles it did reinforce for me the complicated issue of cover design and how to set a tone that will ‘sell’ to the maximum number of reader personalities in a marketplace. It must be super hard given how many diverse tastes and preferences are out there. I would love to hang out in the art department and watch how covers are put together (from concept to final render). While I have no doubt that they whiz them together proficiently (I'm sure they have a mountain to get through each week) I know from a decade in the advertising industry that nothing is left to chance and that every element is there for a reason. I’d like to know those reasons.

Anyhoo…all of this made me think about covers that really ‘worked’ for me which sold me a new author (or even sub-genre)… so I turned to my bookcase (real and virtual) to see what was there that stood out.

Denise RossettiGift of the Goddess
Do I really need to explain? This cover was the sole reason I purchased my first erotic romance and I’ve bought everything of Denise’s since then. I regret not buying the print version now… so I could have Bryn outward-facing on my shelf.

JR WardDark Lover (UK cover) I love the vulnerability of the heroine, leaning into her hero, wet, bedraggled. It’s sexy and gentle at the same time. It’s stock-photo but it works. And I love that you can’t make out much of the hero’s face, which allowed me to picture Wrath my own way… Again, this cover was the reason I picked up my first JR Ward… the rest is history.

Kate HewittThe Italian’s Chosen Wife – I’m not a crashing fan of the ‘clinch’ and (for a Sexy/Presents/Modern) this one was so tasteful but sexy. Classy but brazen (something about busts, bare feet and buttonless shirts). Would love to know how loyal Presents readers responded to it. Sadly in UK and US the beautiful setting was all but obliterated by the standardised cover stencil...

Deanna Raybourn - Silent in the Grave This cover jumped out at me because it spoke of a non-traditional romance with a female lead and a historical, London setting. The colours and tones spoke of elegance and restraint (look, no clinch!) which suited the story very well. Another author I now have on my 'must buy' list thanks to picking up one randomly in the bookstore based on the cover.

Tony Park - Silent Predator I include this because Park's work has been called romance for blokes, but in fact his books are as well read by women as by men. This cover leapt off the shelf (no pun intended) because of the stunning colour of the cover and the romance of the image. Africa. Leopard. Dawn. Or maybe twilight. It's hard to tell. But I took it home and then went back and bought all of Tony's backlist.

By the way, yes, I pick wine and Melbourne Cup horses the same way. Good label or nice looking horse. So far it hasn't failed me! What do you think? What do you like in a cover? Can you think of any that really stood out for you? Do any of these covers do it for you or are you thinking 'meh...'.


  1. Nikki, I think covers are a huge selling point for most readers - especially so for first time readers finding a new author.

    If you look at most of the one's you've displayed the simplicity of subject, colour, and clarity of the title/author's name stand out, even on the category romance. All vitally important elements.

    Like you, Denise Rossetti's covers grabbed me as I was sifting through piles of books at the last conference. Gift of the Goddess I couldn't resist, not with such a hunky hero on the front cover. Then in the ST cover art competition The Flame and the Shadow drew me like a magnet.

    The colours used on the covers of Shadowfae & Shadowglass (by Erica Hayes), and all of Sydney Croft's novels are visually stunning.

    I also think real photo's or near real digital images of the characters also connect with the reader. Take Tracey O'Hara's Night's Cold Kiss for example. The heroine is a model, the cover has all the elements I mentioned before. The heroine has a visually provocative pose and her gaze is piercing. It connects with the reader.

    I rarely read historical romance yet I saw a large poster of Helen Kirkman's debut novel, FORBIDDEN, on a wall at an RWA several years ago and the cover on it of the hero. Bare from the waist up, back turned, hands tied, and the side profile of his face was riveting and I bought it based purely on the cover. I never read the blurb.

    The use of colour on the first few Anna Campbell books was gorgeous. I now wonder why they steered away from this format as they were so easy to pick on bookshelves. Your eye was drawn to them immediately.

    The more complex the covers get the more I tend to skip over them - they're just too busy. The only time I don't is when they're ones of author's I already read, and then the deciding factor to buy them is based on their reputation alone. Then it doesn't matter what the cover's like, that comes secondary to the story.

    So combine the elements I've mentioned and reputation and the author has a winner all the way round! :-)

  2. Nikki, I loved the cover for The Italian's Chosen Wife and was sad the statues got obliterated as you said in the US and UK covers. The hero and heroine look just like I imagined and I love Meghan's nightgown. Why are statues sexy, I wonder? Anyway, thanks for posting :)

  3. Great post Nikki,
    if a cover cathes a potential reader's eye, half the battle is already won!
    Personally i don't go by the covers, but by recommendations or buying author's I already love - sometimes a book blurb.
    Still, I'd be cheesed off if my cover was a rotten one! LOL

  4. Nikki, I love the cover of your book - it makes my heart melt, too! There's something about a gorgeous masculine hero who looks comfortable holding a baby.

    All the covers you've posted are very appealing. And I went over to Tony Park's website to have a look at a larger picture of his cover and I really like the theme he has going on his covers. Silhouettes are used to great effect!

    I can't say there's any one thing that makes a cover work for me. They have to be well composed, a good balance of busy-ness and quiet space, thoughtful use of colour. And what can be a great treatment of a subject by one creator can kind of jar in the hands of another. And then that's in my eyes - someone else might feel exactly the opposite! So when you look at it like that, those cover designers have a very tricky job, don't they!

    :) Sharon

  5. Hi Nikki.
    I love any cover that has an Empire style gown on it. I know then its a Regency and if its under the romance tag in the store, I'll buy it. Sigh. I just love those dresses.
    :) Tam

  6. Kylie - yes, forgot about direct eye contact and how effective that can be. It is about simplicity, I think. Clean lines, clear images, appropriate colours.

    Kate Hewitt - you must have terrific google alerts going to have found your way in. Welcome to the LoveCats! Great to have another Harlequin author here visiting. It must kill the graphic art departments when their images are squeezed right down into Playschool's 'round window' for US release. I think statues take on a 'sexy' aura because they're such silent witness to events. And so cool and smooth under the fingers...

    Mel - ooh, a non-cover person. Interesting. One day when you pick up a book becuase the cover speaks to you, think of me *smile* Question is... would you NOT buy something because it had a bad cover?

  7. Sharon - Another vote for colour (and yes, 'thoughtful' is a good way of putting it). So much depends on the artist and so often they get no credit at all.

    Tamara - Good to see you here :) It's interesting how there are shapes in our culture which are indicative of certain things. The distinctive shape of a top-spreading acacia tree against the sky instantly says Africa without having to do a thing more on the cover. And the empire line - yes regency. The use of dark shadow on covers is becoming synonymous with paranormal (at least the vampire ones too). Crop circles = aliens. What else... (hmmmmm...)

  8. Covers are very important. I can be turned off a book by a sucky cover. I loved my first cover - it was totally perfect, not so sure about my next one.

    BTW - I think the baby is just adorable - I can here the babyish giggle as Dad blurts on the side of his next :)

    BTW2 - my word verification for this post was bumbrace - WTF - mental images abound.

  9. Oh, I do love covers!!
    I dream about what my covers will look like (and talk about them a lot as you know from bootcamp lol!!) but other author's books, I just want a good read - an eye appealing cover is just icing on the cake.

  10. Hey Nikki!
    Thanks for featuring Mr Gorgeous! (My pet name for him.) Even after all these years, he's still the wallpaper on my laptop and iPhone. I just adore him.

    How lucky was I to have a cover like that for my very first book? I'm sure Mr Gorgeous has sold more copies than all my purple prose. ;-)

    Congrats on your fabulous cover. There's something about a strong man with a baby that sends me all cave woman. Basic survival hormones, I think. Virile mate, healthy babies, survival of species. *grunt*

  11. Bumbrace (*grin*) I am dying to see your next cover but I get that with a knock-out like your first one it would be hard to repeat that. I'll be patient. You know, unless you accidentally posted it to the slideshow or something :) Kinda like tripping and pressing 'post'...

    Mel - you raise an interesting point. Nothing as irritating as a cover that *over*sells the book inside it. You feel cheated. So yes, story has to live up to the cover... Oh, speaking of living up to the image...

    Denise - *mwah* so lovely to see you here. I should have known that where Mr Gorgeous goes, you will follow. Yes, there definitely is something about a 'doer'. A capable keep-you-both-alive-on-a-desert-island kind of man is *very* sexy.

    Ladies, thanks for swinging by to chat covers. See you back with the cats soon.

  12. Nikki, I laughed out loud at your report of the comments on your cover."Freakishly wide mouth"? Hello, happy laughing baby!
    I think it's a very nice cover and who doesn't love a hero who is so gorgeous yet so tender with a baby?
    Really enjoyed your comments on the covers.