The Production of Mantitty

Time did an article about the popularity of the military hero, which I can't find a copy of that's not behind a paywall. However, it's the video that came with it is what caught my attention this week.

 

Sales figures may prove my opinion one of a very small reader group, but the gleaming man chest?

Doesn't do it for me as a reader. I know, I know. We spend so much time mocking the mantitty in these parts, it's rather surprising (not). The mantitty has never worked for me.

But the context of the video really grabbed my attention. The phrase “seduce the reader” stopped me cold. Kristine Mills-Noble, Creative Director at Kensington Publishing, says in the video, “The fantasy is that this is the man who is going to jump out of planes to recuse rescue me in any situation. We want to be seduced; we don't want to be overcome.”

I'm nodding at the second part but the first part, not so much. What makes me uncomfortable is the fact that the cover art seems created on the suggestion and assumption that I as a reader in some way insert myself into or be present in the story, and want to interact with the hero – either having him “seduce” me as one of the people suggests, or by being charmed and lured by the image to try the book.

In the succession of images shown in the video, it's a Rockette line of manchest after manchest, shirt unbuttoned (and, yes, still tucked in). There's a cowboy hat, a military rifle, some horses – and manchest. The people involved are thinking about the position of the model, Markus Ricci, and what messages are communicated by his arms and hands, the pose of his body. They're thinking about the image they project from the covers of their books.

Videos like this provide a glimpse into the thought and production that creates a romance cover – and I don't think any of the people involved are doing a bad job at all. They're doing exactly what a market demands. (Also, the part where the makeup artist is airbrushing makeup on the model's chest made me laugh. That must TICKLE.)

As I've said many times while talking about romance novels, the romance genre is written by women, read by women, and, as you know if you've been to a romance writers' conference, edited and produced mostly by women as well. So this video shows women marketing to other women through the production of female-centered narratives. I am aware that men within the publishing industry may have a say in how the covers are made and marketed, and what art is used, but in this video, it's all women, with the exception of the photographer and the model. Women marketing product created mostly by women and produced mostly by women to a readership of mostly women.

What strikes me is that despite being a romance reader, despite reading a ton of books every week, every month, every year, I am not in their targeted market. It makes me wonder at the divide that separates me from the reader who does gravitate toward the glistening mantitty, what differences lay between her and me, since we both read the same genre and likely some of the same books.

Why does that cover image work for her and not for me? Is it because I am not interested in the hero so much as I am interested in the story and the emotions of the characters?  Are she and I looking for different things? Is it because I don't insert myself in any way into the story except through empathy for the hero and heroine? Is it because I don't involve myself in a way that other readers do?

The degree to which that video made me discomfited and confused is probably measurable with a yardstick. I kept thinking, 'This is about the genre I love and the books I enjoy – well, except for Janet Dailey but still. Why is this doing the opposite of working for me?'

[Unrelated Space Tangent: In THIS Time video, there's a profile of the Voyager spacecrafts launched in 1977. One is about to break past the boundaries of our solar system into interplanetary space. Check out the cool part with the disk of encoded information and greetings from earth that were attached to the outside of the Voyagers. SO COOL.]

What was your reaction? What did you think?

 

Categorized:

General Bitching...

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  1. 1
    Tina Chaney says:

    I don’t insert myself in the story, either.  I’m not put off by a gleaming male chest on the cover, but it’s not what makes me want to read the story.  I’m drawn in by the story and by how much I like the hero and heroine.  I’m held there by the emotion of the characters.  So, while I’m not above a little ogling, it’s not the beginning or the end of why I’m reading the book and I don’t think that I’ve ever once fantasized about any hero jumping out of a plane to rescue me or stepping from the pages in any other way.  I’m always 100% invested in his relationship with the heroine, so fantasizing that the hero wanted me would be the exact opposite of how I would want him to behave.  (That’s also why it’s probably very difficult, if not impossible, for me to finish a book when I don’t like the hero or the heroine.)

  2. 2
    Vuir says:

    No, you’re not the target market, bookstores are.

  3. 3
    Abby Normal says:

    I’m a little put off by the covers that have the man staring out as if to the reader’s eyes. To me, that’s weird. I don’t want him to seduce ME, I want him to win the heroine. Or for her to win him. Living it vicariously does not mean I want to feel personally involved!

  4. 4
    sharrynight says:

    Um, I don’t insert myself into the story either. I actually find all that man titty EMBARRASSING. For me it just reinforces the ‘girl porn’ tag that romance novels get and just cheapens the whole genre. I enjoy the writing and the emotional connection I get from reading the story. Soo.. yea I wander who they are targetting too.. hmm.. stores? Really? Do they actually want all that naked male flesh..?

  5. 5

    ““The fantasy is that this is the man who is going to jump out of planes to recuse me in any situation.”

    Is that a Freudian-slip of a typo, Sarah?

    I’m like Tina, in that I’d very much rather the covers didn’t give the impression that the hero was trying to seduce me: if I’m enjoying a romance, “I’m always 100% invested in his relationship with the heroine.”

  6. 6
    Sarah says:

    The cover of Nalini Singh’s Lord Of The Abyss (first example to come to mind) kind of disturbs me (but oh my goodness I love her books). I don’t ‘insert’ myself into the story. I don’t become the heroine. I empathize, witness, enjoy, become emotionally involved, but that’s it. My heaving bosoms are grounded firmly in the non-fiction world XD
    Mantitty is scary. It won’t stop me from buying a book, but may provide incentive to read on kindle, or in the privacy of my own home :D

  7. 7
    Lynne Connolly says:

    I hate to admit it, but I do try to be honest. It does it for me. Reading romance is to me a pleasurable leisure pursuit (writing them is something else!) But I do try hard to keep the reading and writing experiences separate, as much as I can.
    And I loves me some mantitty. Not overdeveloped, not too much so you can count the muscles, just a nice, strong chest. On my romance novel? Bring it on. Girl porn? Hell, yeah, if you want to call it that. I’m not ashamed of my more visceral emotions and feelings. I’m not ashamed of the books I read, either.
    What does annoy me is inappropriate covers, misleading ones, like some of the historicals that show the woman wearing what amounts to a bridesmaid dress, in colours that weren’t available in the period, and a full, swishy skirt (is it Regency? Victorian? What? Sometimes, even when you’ve read the book you can’t tell). That goes for mantitty too.
    I do like a nice face to go with it, and I do think that many readers insert themselves into the novels.

  8. 8

    I love a good glistening mantitty and linked this video on my site a couple of days ago.

    Despite my love for gorgeous manflesh, I don’t imagine myself as the heroine.  I want to cheer for the lead couple. I want to cry for them. And I want to be happy for them by the end of the story. I want their HEA to make today brighter and give me hope for a sunny tomorrow.

    Yet the cover does seduce me as a buyer.  It doesn’t cause me to buy or not buy, but a good hunk of mantitty will cause me to stop and look. It will make me read the product description and that’s where I buy or don’t buy. 

    As a writer and a reader my POV is always over-the-top. So, yes, I liked the Kensington team in the video too!

  9. 9
    Lisa Savignano says:

    For me, it’s not the mantitty that draws me in, it’s the face of the hero and how he looks, in addition to the copy on the back.

  10. 10
    MeghanMcC says:

    Half the time you feel the need to hide the covers and defend yourself (from 12 year old sons who shake their head at the naked man cover books) and say “I read it for the story, really!” i think that many times people make a judgement about the quality of a book based on the cover and it isn’t fair to the excitement or sentiment of the book.

  11. 11
    Lynne Connolly says:

    I hate to admit it, but I do try to be honest.
    OMG, and me a writer! I meant that I hate to admit that I like the mantitty, but I try to be honest, so in that spirit, I do admit that I like it. Or wtte. Oh hell. More coffee.

  12. 12
    I wonder says:

    Romance covers kept me from discovering the genre—for decades. It was only when I discovered free book downloads for my iPad that I finally broke down and read a romance. In the early months, I only downloaded books with covers that didn’t offend. [Mantitty and prom-gowned Fluffbunnies I’m glaring at you.] It wasn’t until I discovered how much a good HEA can go toward making my own life more joyful, that I began reading more widely—close to 450 books in the past year and a half—despite the covers. I still can’t force myself to buy a paper copy with a bad cover. Perhaps part of my problem is that I love great cover art. When the cover and story come together, I have my own little HEA sigh.

  13. 13
    Christina says:

    The covers are important.  Like it or not, they are usually our first impression of a book.  I don’t mind the mantitty or the well developed bodies of the models, though, I too often hide them from my kids’ rolling eyes and shaking heads.  However, I’d prefer not to see the faces.  I like to ‘see’ the characters faces as I read the story.  I like the story to seduce, not the picture.

  14. 14

    Count me in as another mantitty hater.  Particularly when the cover doesn’t show face, just gleaming chest, nipples and abs.  Imagine if the situation was reversed – would we (do we) want men reading novels where the women are pictured as nothing more than tits-and-arse (sorry, I’m British) without even so much as an expression to pin ourselves to? I read (and write) romance for the exploration of emotion, the identification with situations, with pain overcome and love triumphant. I have no desire to be rescued by a man, I can do that for myself, and I quite like my heroines to be of the same mind.

  15. 15
    SB Sarah says:

    “Is that a Freudian-slip of a typo, Sarah?”

    YUP. I am so amused.

    Also cranky that the poll isn’t working.

    But also also relieved I am not the only one who is put off a bit by epic man titty.

  16. 16
    Jan Oda says:

    I hate the faceless mantitty covers. It’s to much flesh and muscles, and they are always so naked. (Seriously, what’s wrong with a little hair people??!!??). And I swear, sometimes they are soooo rubbed with oil they almost sparkle vampire style. It’s just totally not my type of man. Too much hollywood perfection.

    So if seducing is the goal, it totally isn’t working. Then again, the whole insert myself into the heroines shoes is soooo not me. If any seducing is going on, it’s the story and characters that are doing it.

    So I don’t get it.

    Or rather, I didn’t get it.

    Because about 6 months ago the cover for Gena Showalter’s Dark Taste of Rapture was released, and suddenly my hormones went into overdrive. Seriously, that is one hot cover. And soooo not my usual style. Long story of eternal discussions with my inner horny teen short, I caved in to the attraction, read all the books that came before it in the series (and liked them better than I expected) and got myself the book. Purely because the cover got my ovaries in a twist.

    (It’s also my current computer wallpaper).

    So I guess, once in a while I can be a sucker for some beefcake, against all expectations. And I assume if it occasionally works on me, it must work on enough people to make it worth it.

    I still don’t really get it, but sometimes ovaries just have a mind of their own.

  17. 17
    alysonli says:

    Most of my romance reading now comes from recommendations online—and I don’t even see a picture of the cover half the time until I decide “that sounds like something I’d like” and go to Amazon to download a sample.  So the blurb’s drawing me in instead of the cover.

    I’ve never liked the mantitty (or scantily clad chick, for that matter) cover.  It reinforces the idea that the only important part of a romance novel is the sex.  Lust is important in romance, but I’m reading for the journey and characters (you know, the MAJORITY of the book), not just to see Tab A inserted into Slot B.

  18. 18
    Tamara Hogan says:

    I’m another long-time romance reader who has never, not once, felt any need to mentally insert myself in a story.

    I’m also not a fan of man-titty, but if it must be borne, can we please have some chest hair back?

  19. 19
    Fiona Shin says:

    I dunno. Do people not like hairy chests, anymore? I look at all these covers where the guy doesn’t have any hair, ANYWHERE, and it’s mildly off-putting in a way, because I feel like the only guys who shave/wax/whatever are just vain as heck.

  20. 20
    SB Sarah says:

    JanOda: I can see your point there. It reminds me of the Jaci Burton “Perfect Play” cover – and I like it because he’s not staring at me.

  21. 21
    SB Sarah says:

    Heh. In the course of designing ads for different books, I’ve used very high-res images of the covers and upon zooming in have found Epic Chest Stubble in the pictures. EEEEEYEW. Now whenever I see those gleaming waxed chests, I think how uncomfortable chesticle stubble must be.

  22. 22
    Melodie says:

    I admit my eyes are drawn to the man-titty but my brain is usually going something along the lines of “You’re pretty, but dumb. You’re in a snowstorm, button up your shirt before you freeze.” Or in the case of the video above. “Pretty boy is going to get burned, jumping into a fire with his safety equipment left off and a greasy chest.” The covers usually leave me with the impression that the heros are TSTL. Not attractive.

  23. 23
    Jessica D says:

    I don’t hate mantitty per se; I hate isolated, context-free mantitty. That’s not a book cover, that’s branding, like putting a green leaf on a package of styrofoam cups is supposed to somehow imply that they’re environmentally friendly. Isolated mantitty is just lazy, and it never draws me into a book any more than basic prom-dress-clinch-cover draws me into the book, because I want to see something that is about THIS book.

  24. 24

    I fully admit I do insert myself in the story. Maybe I wouldn’t if I got asked out once in awhile. But I do. I purposely seek out heroines that make me think of – me. Because I do want to be seduced.

    However, I freaking HATE “mantitty.” Besides the fact I like my men almost on the scrawny side (though I do love a tall man), I’m more seduced by a man in a nice suit or a tux, or even just a nice shirt and jeans, than a bare chest.

  25. 25
    Katie Lynn says:

    I find it horribly embarrassing too! It just means I won’t read it outside the house, which can be frustrating. I will tote around a LOT of embarrassing covers, but gleaming mantitty isn’t one of them.
    It just screams that I am reading something MORE than a romance.
    In fact, many times when I see a cover in the store and it looks like that I usually assume it leans more towards erotica, and won’t bother looking at the description!

  26. 26
    Sarah says:

    I’m not a fan of the mantitty covers, either. It’s not that I’m embarrassed—maybe when I was younger, but now I really don’t care what the cashier thinks. I don’t insert myself into the story. I’m reading a story about two lovers. That’s why I like the covers with both characters, preferably necking. ;-)

  27. 27
    Jan Oda says:

    Coincidentally (though maybe not?) Perfect Play is the previous book I read because of the appeal of the cover.

    So maybe there’s a type of mantitty that isn’t solely mantitty that agrees with me, and then there’s the oily hairless headless chest in your face type that doesn’t work at all.

  28. 28
    Saby says:

    “oily hairy headless chest in your face…” I think this is what bothers me about the mantitty.  I like (a) a face (b) hair (c) some subtlety, people!  No oil.  Ever.  Mantitty should not take up more than 1/3 of the cover (at most).  And maybe it would be nice if you put a shirt on?  Like, not necessarily all the way, but leave at least something to our imagination?

  29. 29
    Joykenn says:

    Absolutely hate these covers!  They scream paid model.  No hair, overdeveloped muscles, too smooth skin, very plastic and not real. Didn’t these guys ever learn to button their shirts? 
    Besides, no working man’s tan, no calusses, no wrinkles at the corner of his eyes, no slight imperfections.  NOT real life.  It’s Ken in costume gracing the cover of the novel.

  30. 30
    Christina says:

    I should qualify that I don’t care for the headless bodies.  I like when the cover folk are facing away or kissing, so you don’t get the full face.  I also agree with Saby that a shirt wouldn’t hurt.  I also wouldn’t mind a little chest hair on these guys.  What’s so wrong with looking like a man instead of a boy?

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