A little editorial bird told me that the origin of the clinch cover is rooted, as with anything involving boobs hanging out of tight corsets, with men. Seems men were the buyers at stores selling romance novels, and they bought more of the clinch covers, so that’s what was sold. I don’t know how true that is, but it doesn’t seem too far fetched. I mean, there’s no doubt that when I leave the buxom clinch covers around the house, Hubby tends to pick them up and take a closer look. The hetero male mind comes to complete synaptic arrest at the sight of boobs.
Whether or not the story of the Origin of the Clinch Cover is true, the fact remains that they seem to sell even now. Floral-drenched landscapes, close ups of women’s shoes, and headless torsos haven’t really made the marketing impact that the clinch has – go to the bookstore and there’s plenty of that classic clinch image on sale in the book rack: buxom mantitty grasping at half-naked women.
So I ask myself: which came first, the romance or the clinch cover? Are readers of romance trained to head for the clinch cover when shopping for reading material because so much of romance is and has been housed in that image? Or is that image preferred by enough readers of romance that the clinch continues as a iconic image of romance that will sell copies of whatever book it adorns?
In the discussion of the “Ravished” cover on the Seattle Weekly issue last week, iffygenia made a very apt comment:
I’m equally insulted by the hideous covers and *their* use of “ignorant, easy shorthand that plays into insulting stereotypesâ€…. It’s true, many people have a negative image of the genre. Not surprising, given the genre actively works to put that image out there.
In the cover survey yesterday, a lot of commenters echoed that sentiment – that the clinch covers don’t really do it for them. Chicklet, for example, said she preferred covers that “don’t depict people, either in paintings or in photographs” and that she “abhor(s) clinch covers.”
Tracy said, “I don’t think we need half naked people or people practically having sex on the covers for people to know what’s inside. I don’t like covers that scream ‘there be sex in here’” and given that I’m often reading on my lunch break while I eat, I agree with her. There’s a certain amount of professional image that one loses in a glance if there’s Fabio and a nameless model humperating on the cover of one’s lunchtime reading material. I admit: I get a little thrill reading paper-bound ARCs because they are often entirely without art, and therefore completely genre-neutral.
Teddy Pig pointed out that the older Coulter and Lindsey covers, on the other hand, “gave those books a specific character,” and he does have a point. The lurid image was a sign of the times – and may be part of what trained me as a reader to look for the clinch when it comes to shopping for romance, especially if I’m shopping for romance quickly, such as when I finished a book on a flight and grabbed something fast while I changed planes. I ended up buying a book featuring two empty beach chairs, and man oh man was it not a romance. I loved it, I thought it was beautiful, and it was marvelously well-written, but it was sad and definitely not a romance. It was in the mini-bookstore’s collection of romance mixed in with ‘women’s fiction,’ and it occurred to me that if I’d gone for a clinch cover, I would have ended up with a romance. Maybe not a GOOD one, but definitely a romance.
Perhaps that’s why clinches sell. It’s the Marketing Image of Romance Novels, and if you’re shopping without a specific title or author in mind, it’s the cover image that most likely guarantees a romance novel inside. Perhaps we are like the buxom woman on the cover: stuck in the clinch.