What’s in a Cover?

Romantic Times says that Alison Henderson “…writes a beautiful story that you won’t be able to put down.” I have to agree, but I’d also like to say she’s  a wonderfully warm human being and a gift to our local writers group. Please join me in welcoming her to the convert.

Scroll down the right side of this blog. What do you see? A whole stream of beautiful covers. After author name recognition, the cover is probably the element that most attracts readers to a book. For a new author, it’s critical.

In a bookstore, readers can browse the shelves looking for artwork that catches their eye. A brilliant cover may draw them to an unfamiliar author. And what about e-books? Even online, covers are essential to attracting readers. Whether scanning a major online retailer, social media site, or book blog, we are instantly drawn to colorful and intriguing covers. More than depicting specifics, cover artists work to capture the essence of the story—the mood and subgenre.

The most exciting day of my writing career was the day I received the cover for my first book, Harvest of Dreams—even more exciting than receiving the contract. The cover brought the book to life, made it seem real for the first time. This was the image I could show my friends and family, the image I would use to promote the book to strangers. It represented the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the writing, not to mention the work necessary to finally bring the story to readers. And I ADORED the cover of Harvest of Dreams—still do.

Depending on the publisher, most authors have some input into the cover art. At a minimum, we’re asked to provide basic information about the story, characters, time period, and setting. My publisher’s art department also asked about any important or iconic objects or animals, the time of year, and any suggested color scheme.

Because my first two books were historicals, they warned me they might not use images of the characters because of the difficulty finding pictures of models in appropriate period dress. That didn’t bother me; I was just as happy to have the artist concentrate on creating something beautiful. When the cover for my second book, A Man Like That, arrived with the floating heads of a couple who looked nothing like my characters in the upper left corner, I asked the artist to remove them, and she did. I’m much happier with the end result (I’ve never been a big fan of floating heads).

I tried to suggest elements that would reflect my books’ non-traditional Western settings; although I’m not sure I succeeded. I think both covers are beautiful, but they don’t shout Historical. I hope readers will be attracted enough to check out the cover blurb and excerpt. If so, the covers have done their job.

I have a new story in editing right now, and I’d love some feedback before I send in another cover spec sheet. What attracts you most about book covers? Are you drawn to eye-catching colors, lavish gowns, or naked male torsos? Do you prefer to see the characters’ faces or just their backs? Or do you like depictions of the setting? Do your choices vary by subgenre?

Thanks so much to the Riders for inviting me to join them today, and thanks to all of you for stopping by to chat.



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42 Responses to What’s in a Cover?

  1. Liz Flaherty says:

    I love both your covers, Alison. Although I have only actively hated two of mine , I’ve only ever been thrilled with one. Not that I’ve had bad art–it just doesn’t fit the story. I blame myself in part because I must not be able to get my point across on art sheets, but I surely think you have! Great post.

    • Alison Henderson says:

      That’s what I’ve worried about, too, Liz–that they don’t fit the stories. I had a reader tell me she never would have guessed my books are Westerns, and since they aren’t traditional cowboy stories, I’m not sure that’s so bad.

  2. loisgreiman says:

    They ARE beautiful covers, Alison. I just love them.
    I think what attracts me to a cover does change with the subgenre. Some of the beautiful lavish gowns really do draw my eye. (Ummm and yeah, the guys sometimes.) But other times I’m looking for something entirely different…depending what I’m in the mood for.

    • Alison Henderson says:

      Thanks so much for inviting me to join the Riders today, Lois. I’m thinking I need to do a better job of tying the covers to the stories, although artistically, I do love them.

  3. Your covers are lovely and that would attract me. I like covers that give a hint as to what it’s really about. Covers with just a sexy guy or a guy and a lady in a hug rarely does it for me. Now if the couple or sexy guy are doing something different or dressed differently, that’s eye catching. I’ve not been thrilled with a couple of my covers (close to hated) and been happy with a couple of others.

    • Alison Henderson says:

      I think that’s what we’re all looking for, Brenda, a cover that catches the eye and is distinctive in some way.

  4. barbaralongley says:

    Your covers are lovely, but they don’t say “romance” to me. They say general or literary fiction. I’m thinking about all the historical covers that have drawn my attention, and they all have characters on them. If not both the hero and heroine, at least one of them, usually the heroine. I wonder if you couldn’t do a search on Amazon or somewhere, and find some covers that reflect your story’s era, and ask your publisher to take a look?

    • Alison Henderson says:

      That’s a great idea, Barb. I’ll give it a try. Unfortunately, I REALLY hated the couple the artist initially put on A Man Like That, so I’m a bit leery. When the cover artists are working with stock photos, they don’t always have much to choose from.

      • barbaralongley says:

        I see the same stock photos used for different books. I saw one with the same characters, same pose as mine, only they changed the hair color and background. Gah!
        If you find a cover you like, they can probably use the same stock photo with different setting. Just an idea.

  5. Linda Morgan says:

    Welcome! I always appreciate being introduced to new-to-me authors. As far as covers, I probably prefer not having one with couples in varying stage of undress, but it is fine if there is a second inside cover. I read for fun, pleasure, escapism…forget self-help or non-fiction. I love my trashy novels. However, in my younger days I didn’t always care to show the world. I am now much older and don’t give a flying fart what people say or think. I guess I still pick books by the cover. At the book shelves at Walmart I shop primarily by author. (I am so old I find I can read re-releases sometimes because I’ve forgotten I read it 20 years ago). I love all Christine Feehan books, but will skip most vampire-looking cover pictures. I haven’t read historical-type romances in years except Jude Deveraux or the generations of Linda Lael Miller. I enjoyed Catherine Anderson’s Cheyenne series, but not the older covers of the handsome “savage” ravishing the blonde in buckskins or rags on the cover. If you are one of my favorite authors, I don’t care about the cover

    and will skip over women in ruffles, flounces and boobs. I like western romances, generational

    • Linda Morgan says:

      Darn…I am too old to use my phone for this stuff. As I was writing, I will buy some authors no matter the cover. When browsing bookshelves, I think I am most attracted to subtle background pictures with emphasis on the title/author and I will be tempted to pick it up to see what it is about. And I am not embarrassed to carry it in public. The flounces and boobs and ravishing line comes here. Alison, your covers are exactly the ones I reach for!

      • Alison Henderson says:

        Linda, I’m glad to hear you would be attracted to my covers! I was hoping for something classy, and I think that’s what I got. I’ve just wondered if I would have attracted more romance readers with something more sensational. And I think you did great on your phone! I’m so old I don’t even have a smart phone.

  6. Leanne says:

    Welcome Alison! So glad you could join us today! I like covers that evoke something for me — hopefully curiosity, emotion, a memory. Great topic!:)

  7. Vonnie Davis says:

    I bought HARVEST OF DREAMS because I loved the cover. I loved the story, too. I like covers that are different. Walk the romance aisles of any bookstore and what do you see? Naked male torsos air-brushed for the six-pack abs look. To me, it’s overdone. I’m waiting for the cover of my next book, and you know now that I’ve said I don’t like naked male torsos, that’s exactly what I’m going to get. Every time I open my mouth, something bad happens.

    • Alison Henderson says:

      Ha! It it would happen to anyone, Vonnie, it would happen to you! I have to agree with all the naked male torsos looking the same. Since apparently half of them use the same model, there’s a good reason for that. He’s lovely, but it doesn’t make the individual covers stand out in any way.

  8. CateS says:

    Headless male torsos just don’t really do it for me.. I do like the covers that either are either a subtle indication of a story or blatent.. I love beautiful dresses, flowers, gardens, houses, etc. But I’ll admit that i ALWAYS read the blurb… [and check the publication date of favorite authors..]

    • Alison Henderson says:

      Hi Cate. For me, it’s the cover, then the blurb, too. I do like some idea if the book is historical, paranormal, or suspense, and that’s why I’ve worried about mine.

  9. loisgreiman says:

    Interesting opinions all.

  10. Your covers are gorgeous! I imagine they say Historical on the the spine, but in a store, I would guess that they are contemporary romance and would definitely pick them up. Very pretty! More than a few times, I’ve ended up with a second copy of a book because I’ll fall in love with the cover and not remember that it’s somewhere near the bottom of my TBR stack. You have great titles, too.

    On one of my covers, the cowboy had his hat on backwards. I always plastered my “Signed by Author” stickers right over that darned hat whenever I could! 🙂

    • Alison Henderson says:

      Hi, Roxanne. I love the backward cowboy hat story! That sort of thing is always so funny–in retrospect.

  11. Liz Selvig says:

    Hi Alison,
    Ah, the subject of covers. I adore yours and, in fact, imagined something similarly beautiful for my book. No naked torso guys for me. Hah! I totally got naked torso guy! I love my cover now, but it was a shock at first. All I can say is, my guy isn’t typical, not the same old model and I got to have his full body with a pair of gorgeous jeans attached. And it’s bright and it stands out — but … I wouldn’t call it beautiful in the way yours are beautiful. And I definitely go for beautiful when I’m just browsing. It’s all about colors. Oh, and I’ll pick up any book with a horse on the cover – lol.

    I’d be very proud to show of your covers, Alison. I think you got super-lucky!!

    • Alison Henderson says:

      Hi, Liz! I like the cover for The Rancher and the Rock Star, too, although it was a bit of a surprise. I’m glad you got a different model in a different pose and more color. It really sets yours apart . I love my covers, and my mother loves my covers. I’ve just been wondering whether something different would attract more readers.

  12. Cindy Gerard says:

    Welcome Alison and wow, your covers are gorgeous. One of the things I appreciate about writing single title as opposed to category is that I REALLY do have input in my cover designs. With H/S I was always required to fill out MULTIPLE pages of art facts sheets and then it always felt like they just tossed them in the trash LOL. Nothing I ever sent in was used. I’ve found the exact opposite in ST – they actually listen. :o)

    • Alison Henderson says:

      Thanks, Cindy. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve had TOO much input, although I really do love the results. I tend to look at covers from an aesthetic perspective, not a marketing one.

  13. I’ve always been more attracted to scenery than people. But everyone says that sex sells. Mind you, I think too much bare skin turns a lot of readers away. All my book covers have had scenery or scenery with floating heads. Artists seem to love that – not sure about readers. My next release, Nothing but trouble, has a hot couple (steamy but not too graphic) on the cover. I asked for a barnyard scene. But after the initial shock, I decided it would be interesting to see if a sexy cowboy sells books. The scenery covers (while pleasing me greatly) haven’t paid any bills. LOL I’ll be sure to let you know.

    • Alison Henderson says:

      I feel exactly the same way, Jannine. I’ll be quite interested to hear how Nothing But Trouble does!

  14. Jody Vitek says:

    As said multiple times over, your covers are gorgeous! They are exactly my type of cover. I don’t like people’s faces shown, backsides are okay, because I want the author to show me what the H/H look like and I create my own vision of who they are. To me a western historical cover should be different from a European historical cover because of the different eras. I think your covers spoke for the setting and time frame of the book. I hoping for a simple cover like yours and can’t wait to see what my cover artist puts together.

    • Alison Henderson says:

      Jody, one of the most fun things about your first book is waiting and wondering what the cover will look like. I can’t wait to see yours!

  15. Covers are so important.
    Linda Howard has been one of my favorite authors for many years. A few years ago she wrote a great book titled ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’. It took more than a year for me to force myself to read it because the background of the cover was Pepto-Bismol pink. That may sound weird, but there it is.

    • Alison Henderson says:

      Linda Howard is one of my favorite authors, too, and I’ll bet she didn’t like that cover, either!

  16. michelehauf says:

    Beautiful covers. Congrats! Covers are either a bane or boon to an author. Sometimes they can be so gorgeous, but not quite depict what the author had in mind. Other times they can just be plain awful. I’m usually happy if my characters have the right hair color and don’t look cross-eyed or in pain. 😉
    What draws me to covers are different things. I do like a handsome man on the front, and will plug that image into my brain as I’m reading the story. Gowns, gorgeous dresses, yep, they do it for me. But scenery is nice too if it puts you in the story. As for the paranormal covers depicting every darn hero and heroine with a tattoo? Oy. So sick of tattoos. And yet, if I get a tattoo on one of my covers, I’m sure I’ll be happy with it. Ha!

    • Alison Henderson says:

      Hi Michele! The one time the artist tried to put people on my cover, she gave my redheaded heroine long, smooth blond hair. That was just too far off for me. And I know what you mean about the tattoos. It seems that every popular motif gets done to death. However, I have seen some really great covers with a tattooed hero.

  17. LauraSheehan says:

    I’m a big fan of covers that convey the TONE of the story, because so often that is a criteria I’m looking for, but isn’t a criteria you can categorize into a search function, you know? Sometimes I’m in the mood for a soft, sweet love story, other times I want something witty and humorous, and yet other times I want something edgy and suspenseful… whatever the genre is, the TONE of the story makes a big difference, and it’s nice to get a feel for that from the cover. I admit I like the well-toned torso covers as much as the next woman, but it’s fun when the cover artist get creative. I love, love, LOVE when the artists go above and beyond in trying to really create the CHARACTERS (like adding small touches of detail that make it real and personalized, like a prop from the story, or a character with distinct features that are spot on). It’s funny, I *just* talked about this topic on my own blog last month: http://laurasheehan.wordpress.com/2012/01/

    I do admit that if I find the cover model attractive (whether it’s the male or female character), I’m more likely to pick it up than if I don’t find them attractive or my type. Which is why I understand that some artists only show the characters from behind, in silhouette, or below the shoulders or some other partially obscured manner… better safe than sorry, I suppose.

    But again, the biggest thing for me is the tone. If it’s a suspense, i want to be able to tell from the cover. If it’s a dark fantasy, show me that. If it’s a quirky time-travel, give me a hint of that. I think Nora Roberts’ covers are some of my LEAST favorite. And she hardly ever has a back-of-the-book blurb, either, which drives me nuts.

    My first novel, “Dancing with Danger” just got picked up by Red Sage and I just submitted my cover design “requests,” so this is a big topic for me! I can’t wait to see what the artists put together… I’m excited, and yet terrified!

    • Alison Henderson says:

      Laura, how exciting for you! Congratulations on Dancing with Danger and good luck with your cover. I’m attracted to covers by the “tone”, too. Sometimes the artists are more successful than others. Because of the problem of cover models conveying the essence (or even the basic physical characteristics) of the characters, I don’t mind the back shots and silhouettes. Here’s to hoping you love your first cover!

  18. Hi, Alison! It’s great to have you tooling down the road with us today. I love both your covers! I hear your concerns about whether they say “historical” or “Western” at a glance. They probably don’t. But beautiful colors draw the eye, I think, and I like the way the word MAN stands out.

    An effective cover for online sales is probably a little different from what’s effective on the shelf. You have to think about that thumbnail. I think you were wise to get rid of the floating heads. You want a distinct focal point, and I think you have that. We’re in the early stages with major online book selling, and I’m sure the publishers are doing online cover market research and focus group to beat the band.

    Congratulations, m’dear!

    • Alison Henderson says:

      Thanks so much, Kathleen. Those thumbnails are a real challenge. You need to be able to attract readers enough to click through to the individual page with the larger cover image. I would think “the simpler, the better” from that perspective. But the cover still needs to be interesting to draw them in once they see it in greater detail. Nothing’s simple in the world of online marketing.

  19. chey says:

    I prefer covers that show and item or scenery from the book accurately. I’ve seen so many books where the characters on the cover is so not the characters described in the book. with hair and clothing the wrong colour and size all wrong. I’d rather see the back of a character–there’s less potential problems that way.

    • Alison Henderson says:

      Hi Chey,
      I’ve had the same response so many times when the cover models don’t match the characters. It almost disassociates the reader from the story.

  20. Kathleen O says:

    They are both beautiful covers and if I was in the bookstore, my eye would be drawn to them and my hands reaching out to pull them of the shelf.. I mean there is nothing like a hot cover on a book with a couple in a passionate pose, but at the same same time a cover where it has no one but beautiful graphics on the front draw the eye too.. You want to see what’s between the pages, that the cover doesen;t tell you..

    • Alison Henderson says:

      Thanks so much, Kathleen! I’m so glad you like my covers and don’t mind the “mystery” of not being told too much about the story. I think they’re beautiful, too.

  21. I agree with many of the comments here. Your covers are gorgeous, Alison, and would immediately catch my attention whereas the image of a couple in a clinch or a male torso likely wouldn’t since they’re been so done to death by now. No, your covers don’t scream “historical,” but they do something, imho, even more important. They evoke an emotion. It’s the thing that would make me pick up the book and read the blurb and several pages, and that’s where I’d get hooked enough to buy the book.

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