So it’s come around again … that age old discussion of marketing. And more specifically–marketing books.

Wait, don’t run away. I’ve got a couple of serious questions (mostly because I’m trying to make a point to an author friend who is currently working on the cover design for their first self-published work and I hate being wrong) and so I need your help.

Most readers when looking at a new author will base their buying decision on:
1) the cover
2) the book description (or back cover blurb)
and if they’re still undecided in some order …
3) first few pages
4) reader reviews

So if that’s the case, the cover needs to reflect both the genre and the tone of the story. In this ever-changing world of publishing it’s sometimes difficult to know what readers will respond to. Romance has seen its fair share of handsome men:










and couples:









There are also the romance novels with scenery:










But times are a-changing. With the breakout success of the erotic romance 50 Shades of Grey readers are seeing less skin on their romance novels:










And these covers have done their job very well. All of these books draw readers in with their stunning visuals. We all have covers we love and covers we “live with” because they adorn the novels of our favorite authors. Cover designs aren’t always in the hands of an author, but rather the marketing department of a publisher. But with the advent of self-publishing, authors have much more control over the elements found on the book cover. We get to decide how we’re going to portray our story and draw romance/mystery/paranormal readers to our books.

And here’s what this whole blog is about. A friend of mine is finishing up edits for an amazing love story I’ve had the privilege of reading as it was developed. I know this story could be a HUGE seller. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. It makes you sigh as these two people find their happy-ever-after. BUT … and there is a huge BUT … my friend wants to use some original artwork on the cover. Think Picasso (due to copyright I can’t show you the pics, you’ll have to follow the link). You know, artistically depicted woman. Think lots of symbolism in the art.

And it’s a beautiful piece of art, but to me, it’s just not … a romance book cover. So I’m throwing it out to all of you … would you stop and even read the book description of a book with art on the cover? Because you know me, I’m curious about stuff like this.

*** UPDATE ***
My friend is watching this discussion carefully and doesn’t feel I’m giving the artwork its due when I compare it to Picasso (which, I admit, wasn’t a good comparison, but I searched the internet and couldn’t find a better description). So with permission from the author I offer you the actual artwork that is being considereed for this contemporary romance. The point is still, would this make you stop and pick up this book if you were looking for a great love story?


57 Responses to The “Eyes” Have It

  • Me, I wouldn’t. . . Unless, of course, it’s a book by an author I already know. Since your friend is a first time author, I think she’s taking a huge gamble on the cover if she decides to push through with her ideas. Just saying. . .

  • Using art as a book cover, especially for a romance is dangerous. Art is subjective and is in the eye of the beholder. I myself would rather have a Monet than a Picasso.

    I probably would not give a romance with a Picasso style cover a glance, and the book cover is the first and foremost important selling tool. If you can’t get people to look at the cover, they will never get around to reading the blurb, the first few pages, or even the customer reviews.

    The good news is your friend is self-publishing the book. If I am right and the cover holds the book sales back, she can always change the cover. A fine tool that traditionally published books cannot do. If I am wrong, your friend is starting a new trend in romance covers.

  • Good morning Nina,
    To put it bluntly – I love Picasso but on a romance cover – NADA, no way, especially for a first time self published author, unless your author friend is wanting to draw an unusual crowd amd gamble with her work. I’ll try to explain a bit more why I say this.
    When I first envisioned the covers my paranormal romance series I wanted a simple yet beautiful water scene – no people – just water. I worked for weeks finding just the right scene. About the time I was ready to put everything together I showed it to my dh – who merely shook his head and replied, “aint going to work!” Why? I asked. “If your name was Nora Robers, you could get away with it, but you are an unknown – stick to what works. People need to know it’s a romance. They arn’t going to pick it up and read the blurb no matter how good it is if they arn’t drawn to the cover.” I ended up dropping my idea (much to my displeasure) released book one with a “traditional” romantic cover hidden within a solid cover and I’m happy I did The response has been overwhelming. Book two of the series follows suit with a similar but full color design on the same solid color background to try and give the books a uniformed look. Books 3-11 will all share the same background color with a different image (couple or individual) to keep with the central theme, allowing the consumer to know that this a book in the series.
    Book covers are changing with the release of books like Twilight and Shades. This is true but self published authors do not have the promtional budget behind them those authors had either – something to seriously think about.
    I hope my first cup of coffee ramblings made some sense to you and your friend. Great article Nina!

    • Thank you sooooo much for taking time to give such a thorough response, VS. These are all the things I’ve been trying to share with my friend.

  • Cover designers and indie authors will soon become hard pressed to come up with abstract symbols that actually say something to potential readers and thus interest them in a book. FSOG (necktie, handcuffs, mask) did it well, but does rushing water tell you what sort of story you might find?
    I’m in the midst of cover design for the sequel to my first novel and it’s a challenge to get the right feel from actual photos let alone something that might symbolize the story.
    Your friend’s Picasso moment may be an attempt to stand out among the naked, buff chests on many romance covers, but probably won’t work with the readers she wants to attract. Like another commenter, she can go with it for a month or two and have another cover ready if it doesn’t work.

    • Harriet – I know this person is trying to stand out from the crowd, I just worry it’s a bit to “stuffy” to try artistic symbolism on a romance novel. Thanks so much for sharing your feelings on this.

  • Zrinka – The fact is, most book buyers choose their novels (other than auto-buys) based on the cover. Yes, we all have those covers we love … and others despise. My only point was whether the artwork would stop a romance reader long enough to have them read the book description and ultimately buy the book. I’m just afraid it would be skipped over before a reader even gave it a second glance.

    And thanks for mentioning historical romance … it may actually give it that feel. Hmmm, hadn’t thought of that.

    • Zrinka – Funny, you’re the second person to mention you thought it had a “French story” feel. At this point my friend is planning on using the art work as it is … no changing of color or position. 🙁

  • I’d wonder if the art was somehow tied into the story. If the piece figures prominently enough in the story itself, i.e. it’s a piece up for auction and the two protagonists “meet” by getting into a heated bidding war over it, then I think it may be appropriate. Otherwise, I’d boggle at the reason for using it. Whether abstract or blatant, I personally like covers to make sense in relation to the story.

    I have an idea for what I’d like to see as a cover for one of my books, and it’s simply a symbol – but one with great significance to the story. If that book ends up with my idea for the cover, I’m sure there will be potential readers looking at it and saying “What is that?” However, when they read it, they’ll understand immediately what it is, and how it relates to the main character.

    While this next one is not necessarily romance, I’ll say I still don’t understand the covers of the Twilight series. An apple? A chess piece? A ribbon? I don’t see the correlation between these items and a vampire, a werewolf, and a socially awkward teenage girl.

    Carpe Noctem,

    • Des – Yes, in this case the art is part of the story as well as a depiction of the heroine. There are other elements (like a tear), but the author had to tell me they were there. I didn’t see them at first glance–hence the symbolism. I think a lot of it would be overlooked by most readers. And someone would have to first read the book to understand the cover. I just worry they wouldn’t even pick it up.

      And like you, I’ve wondered about the marketing of the book covers for “Twilight”. I do enjoy reading a novel and thinking … wow that cover really relates to the story.

  • The artistic cover can be striking enough to draw the reader’s attention, but it doesn’t tell me it’s a romance I’d be interested in, you know? More of a literary romance, if anything. But who knows?

  • Actually, for a long time I only chose books without a model on the cover and had only artwork. It makes it less embarrassing to bring in public. When I was choosing my own book cover, I wanted a very simple, artistic cover. My publisher thought otherwise and used a model. Knowing ahead of time that she was using a model my one request was, it had to be sexy enough for women to buy but unsexy enough for my father and husband to bring to work. It ended up with a covered chested soldier against a jungle and it looks really nice. I’m proud of it, but I do still get a few people commenting about it’s sex appeal.
    All in all, I would have rathered an artistic cover, but I am proud of the one I have.

    • Eryn – Of course I had to go look at your cover and I think it’s quite striking. It tells me a lot about the genre and what I’ll find inside.

      Though artistic covers do have their appeal, I like something that speaks to me about the book’s genre.

  • Modern art book covers work beautifully in other genre’s but not romance.
    Your friend is going to turn off anyone who does not share the same taste in art, which is highly subjective. Why create another hurdle to acceptance?

  • A book cover is more than a decoration. It tells the reader what kind of book it is, and what it might be about. That’s why the cover for FSOG was so risky.

    But it was also obliviously a success and I can understand your friend’s desire to stand out from the pack. It think it could work it if the cover is put together with originality and true excellence. However, it is a risk because lots of people don’t like Picasso.

    • Tia – Since you posted your comment, I did update the post with the actual artwork. Because like you, I think art is so subjective and I worry my friend is creating a possible road block with the readers.

  • Up until the past year, I haven’t spent much time worrying about book covers. So a bad one won’t stop me from buying a book.

  • Nina, I look at that picture and see a shabby loft in Paris, maybe she’s a prostitute, it’s literary, and she comes to a bad end. I don’t think I’d take it off the shelf to find out.

  • It’s a beautiful painting! Stunning actually. And the author should use it…when the book gets sales, reviews, a following, a name for it’self–after sales are garnered.
    Unfortunately, if you want sales as a first timer, you have to go with what gets your foot in the door. And there is a tried and true formula with romance. Check out bestsellers and see what’s on their covers.
    Keep the painting in mind for later when the book is a bestseller!

    • It is a beautiful painting, I totally agree, Kim. But like you said so well, for a first time author it’s going to take a lot of reviewers gushing over the contents to have readers believing what’s under the cover isn’t a literary story.

  • I fear I have to agree with the masses on this one. I would completely by-pass this, thinking it was either a “stuffy art book” or “coffee table book” filled with nothing but pictures.

    Now, for me personally, the only savings grace to it – as it is – is with that line of thinking: “stuffy art”/”coffee table picture book” – I might actually pick it up because I also am a photographer by nature. When I’m in that mode, this would – possibly – appeal.

    But it does not hold a symbolism of romance. Either traditional or the more recent solid color with some thing on it (cuffs, mask, keychain, whatever). I confess I have not read FSOG or subsequent squeals, nor will I ever! But, I can see the appeal for the latest way to do a cover.

    Again, it boils down to what others have said. If your friend was a ‘name’, or had a big publishing house behind her that could market the book as a romance, *with* that cover, then we’re into an entirely different realm.

    But the fact is, she’s not. All marketing and promotion is going to fall to her. And being an Author currently “houseless” myself, I understand the drawbacks, the downsides to it.

    What she should do, is submit it to a publisher and get that house behind her, if she truly wants to keep this cover. If not, and she wants to stay on her own – and I understand that too – then she might be able to use a version of this.

    The idea pops into *my* head to maybe line the outer edges with a Picaso like feel – maybe sort of a stained glass look – with a more traditional woman’s face in the center and/or couple. Just a thought…

    Hope it helps.

    Margaret Taylor

    • Margaret – Thank you so much for taking time to give such a thoughtful response.

      If I understand correctly, even if you did pick up this book, you wouldn’t expect a romance … but an “artsy” kind of story or photo book? I think that pretty much sums up most people’s feelings about the picture.

      • Indeed. I definately wouldn’t be expecting romance that’s for sure. As I said, the only bonus appeal – for me – is the photographer in me. That part of myself *might* pause, take a look at the cover for more than a passing glance. But it’s no guarantee either. Mainly because I have to be in that *mode* – for picture taking.

        These days, I spend more time writing my own than reading, as sad as that is to say. So, for *me* to even pick up a book, it’s a name I already know and read religiously OR the cover/blurb *really* catches my eye!

        And sorry to say, this would not – as a cover for a romance work.

        Like any other red-blooded female on the planet, I want manly bits – I’m a sucker for a muscled chest, I admit – and a sexy face. Yum!

        Ok, that last part wasn’t so thoughtful, but hey, I’m a woman, I’m allowed…*grins*

        • ROFLOL! *manly bits* … I love it! Yeah, this is what I keep hearing. As lovely as the artwork is, it doesn’t speak to the romance reader.

  • It’s a stiking piece, but for me the art work spelled a straight paranormal or thriller. And not a romantic paranormal or thriller. I do pick up books that have covers that give me a feel for the genre. And I bypass those whose covers reflect genres I don’t particulary care for – unless, of course, I know and like the author.

    I think others are right – we each see something different in a piece of art, so using art is a risk. At best, you aren’t reflecting the genre, At worst, you are narrowing your audience to the few who may have the same taste in art.

    • Delsora – It does have the feel of a paranormal or thriller, doesn’t it?

      And you know it wasn’t even my argument that art is subjective, but you and several others have mentioned it and it’s definitely something to think about. Whether the art reflects the genre or not really doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t even care for the work itself. They’ll by-pass the book without even looking at the book description. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

  • IMHO, it would be a HUGE mistake to use that cover. To me that cover screams artsy or lit, which always end badly. I wouldn’t even read the blurb. Then on the other end of the spectrum, if a reader looking for an artsy literary fiction picked it up, only to find a they are reading a romance, you’ll end up with bunch of furious readers and some really ugly reviews.

    This is the biggest mistake newbies make. They want to stand out, but they go about it the wrong way. The cover is for the reader, not the author. A good cover does stand out, it catches the eye, but it also clearly defines the genre/sub-genre.

    • Trish – I love it *the cover is for the reader, not the author*. I couldn’t have said it better myself. And I didn’t even think of the opposite happening … someone looking for a literary read finds out what’s inside is a contemporary romance (because we all know blurbs aren’t always read carefully). Yeeeeeah, that could get very messy.

  • I was going to say “no” until I saw the artwork. No, it doesn’t say romance, but it’s definitely eye-catching. And what the author needs is eye-catching. Because it’s different from the usual cover, it’ll stand out from the crowd which is what your friend needs. So Yeah, I reckon it’s a good choice.

    • Berengaria – The author is looking for something different and unique that stands out from the rest. (I only worry that the target audience will overlook this cover.) Thanks so much for stopping by and taking time to comment. I know my friend appreciates it.

  • Hi Nina,

    When I’m looking at books with a view to buy, I’m looking for entertainment and relaxation. I’m looking for something that’s going to de-stress me.

    Honestly, I wouldn’t get past the cover on this one. It’s too busy. It doesn’t hit my triggers of fun, relaxing, romantic, intriguing, or edging into the fantastic. It makes me feel that whatever is between the covers is going to take too much work to read.

    It also (and this is a personal opinion here, so take it with a grain of salt) makes me feel that the author hasn’t done her marketing homework, and that makes me infer (rightly or wrongly) that the book isn’t good.

    As a picture it’s great (although not my personal style). As a book cover … not so much. It doesn’t shout **romance** at me.

    Something I’ve found really helpful is to go into the Amazon top 100 free list just cruise down it. What is it that makes you stop at one cover and ignore the rest? Because, let’s face it, while a good cover won’t necessarily make you buy the book a bad cover won’t even get a potential buyer to stop long enough to look.

    Hope this helps.


  • I have decided I am the worst judge in the world when it comes to cover art. The cover pic is meant to encourage you to take the book off the shelf, or click on the link. I create sparkling covers that really grab my fancy, but they don’t seem to do their job.

    On the other hand, lurid American style covers fill Amazon’s sexy romance listings and I assume the readers love them – because they certainly aren’t going for mine! If I see a book with a picture of a half-naked cowboy on the cover, I automatically reject it. (REAL cowboys don’t look like that at all – take it from me.)

    To me, the Picasso cover either indicates heavy literature (and I would need a recommendation before I download a book like that), or it looks pretentious when applied to a typical romance. But read the first line of this reply again. I don’t know, and I wish some-one would tell me the secret.

    • Jacqueline – Covers are one of the most difficult parts of indie-publishing. When I first released my sexy romantic suspense series they had a barely covered couple, but then I realized what I was trying to market was the romantic suspense aspect of the story. I completely redid the covers and gave them a darker feel and the series is doing well. Sometimes it’s a matter of tweaking things until you get it right.

      Until an author has a following, I’d say it’s safer to stay with the style readers of the genre are looking for.

  • Wild – Thank you so much for taking time to comment. Those are all my concerns. Unfortunately, the author is so attached to this piece of art that they are likely going to use it, despite great arguments against, like yours.

  • If I had the option to do again the cover of my first novel, I would. I thought it was beautiful; readers thought it indicated the story was sad and consequently hesitated to buy it. IMO, your first-time author friend should pay attention to the comments she’s getting here on your blog. Taking the advice to change to an upbeat cover will benefit her sales.

    • Alethea – I do think we authors sometimes get caught up in what we think fits our story and forget to take into account what readers “see”. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  • Ok, I looked at the picture you posted and honestly it doesn’t say “romance” to me. It says horror novel! The girl looks dead, like a zombie or something. Not my cup of tea and I wouldn’t even click through to see more.

    People are shallow. Its a fact. And while we shouldn’t we more often than not judge a book by its cover. For a romance from an unknown the cover needs to either have one of the characters in a normal looking picture (or both) or a romantic setting that makes you think “romance” and if at all possible it should indicate time period, so you know if you are looking at historical, contemporary, paranormal or futuristic.

    • Nicole – Oh, you’ve got all the elements in there. Well said. Yep, the cover is the visual cue to the reader what they’re going to find under the cover.

  • First off, let me say Nina that I’m terribly grateful (and surprised) to see my most recent release’s cover on your post. THANK YOU!!! I think I did a little dance in my seat to see my hero on this blog.

    Secondly, while I love the artwork for your friend’s book and can appreciate the author’s desire to use it as a cover for her amazing romance story, I agree that it may not get the attention it deserves, except from maybe a select few (myself included). I’m one of those who never judges a book by its cover and to be honest, I enjoy covers that are different from the norm.
    One of my favorite covers is WOLFSKIN by Juliet Marillier. It is an illustration and its simply beautiful. However, Ms. Marillier is a best selling author already established as a superb storyteller. Despite what her covers look like, her books sell!

    So back to the matter at hand….I think if your friend wants to acquire sales, then perhaps that cover isn’t the best way to go. If she doesn’t care about $$ and wants to prove that covers without male skin or lone objects with a stunning visual display can still sell, then I’m behind her that way too.

    I wish her the best of luck. Please let us know what she decides!

    • Renee – From the first time I saw your newest cover I was in love! So you’re very welcome.

      Thanks so much for stopping by. And you’ve pretty much echoed what everyone has said. Unfortunately my friend is very stubborn and believes I’ve completely swayed the masses here on my blog so won’t believe the cover doesn’t reflect the romance genre until the sales tank. (Actually, I hope the author proves me wrong with this cover and it becomes a best seller and trend setter). That being said, I told my friend I reserve the right to say “I told you so”! 😉

      And I checked out Juliet Marillier and she does have a unique style to her books, but they’re all very well done and definitely she’s done a wonderful job of branding herself with that fantasy drawing.

  • Again, thank you Nina. Coming from you, that means a lot to me.

    I’m glad you checked out Ms. Marillier. She truly is a gifted story teller. Her viking fantasy Wolfskin remains to be one of my all time favorites stories EVER.

    And with your response to my reply, I had to laugh. I love how candid you are and direct. I truly wish your friend the best and I do hope you’ll let us know where and when its available. I’d like to get my hands on it.

    • LOL! Yeah, I’ve never been shy about sharing my opinion … ask Mr. Nina!

      And I definitely let everyone know when the book is released. I’d love to have others enjoy the wonderful story! (Even if the cover isn’t up to snuff. LOL!)

  • When I want to read romance, I have to “feel and see” the romance on the cover and check the description. For exemple, when I saw Renee Vincent’s book, I knew what to expect and was not disappointed. I could feel the beautiful romance between her two characters. Unfortunately, not every author has the chance to have gorgeous covers. I read an amazing romance from a new author which was breathtaking but the cover was modest. I took a chance and adore the book. Yes, for me I nead to feel romantic when I see a bookcover.

    • Aww…thanks, Nicole. Your words have melted my heart. You are such a dear! I’m so glad you enjoyed the book (from both its outside shell as well as the contents within)

      Thanks for stopping by Nina’s blog. Doesn’t she have a lovely site?

    • Nicole – And there it is. The visual chemistry should draw the reader into the story. I fear this artwork just won’t do that.

      (And I totally agree about Renee’s cover. You can just “see” the emotion between the two characters. *sigh*)

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