Your comments on this entry about cover design, featuring art director Claire Brown has led to a new feature, and some kidnapping on my part. I let the Anonymous Editor out of the basement, and have locked poor Ms. Brown in the comfy chair next to the furnace (don't worry, she has plenty of wine) so she can answer all our questions. I've also asked other art directors for their, um, expertise for this feature as well, so you'll see other romance cover folks joining the discussion soon.
In the comments to that entry, Susan had several questions, and I had some as well, based on this interview with Ms. Brown from this interview with Imprint. I started there, and I hope you find the conversation interesting. As usual, if you have questions about art direction and cover design for romance novels, let us hear them in the comments, and I'll ask the Art Director!
First question: your comment about “familiarity in typeface” in the Imprint profile caught my attention. What are the typefaces that work, and what hasn't worked?
Claire Brown: I would not say there are typefaces that work or do not work for author and title type treatments, it's more about finding a type design that communicates clearly emotionally as well as forming the words.
The words on the cover have a function which is obvious, telling the reader who wrote this book and what it is called.
When I started the cover I had her name and the title drawn by a hand lettering artist. The typography was beautiful and worked well. The problem was the mood it evoked was too “romantic”. While Larissa's books are romantic they are really edgy and that is what we wanted to tell a potential reader. We ended up not using the hand drawn “romantic” type and used a more contemporary font.
We are also using the typography to “Brand” the author. Once we find the “right” type treatment for an authors name, we will use it over again for all the books in the series and beyond.
For cover quotes and reading lines I pretty almost always use Goudy on Romance covers. It is legible at a small point size and it has the right mood.
You also mentioned “painterly style” but many covers are using photographs
that aren't rendered like paintings. Have you noticed an increase in the
number of photograph covers? Are there some genres in which photographs do
not work vs genres which fit photography perfectly? Do realistic photo
covers sell better, or the more painterly ones?
Claire Brown: We walk a fine line between painterly and photographic in all the Romance genres. At first glance many covers appear to be photographs. Certainly if you compare them to Romance covers in the 90's you can see we have moved away from a painterly style. However most of the romance covers are photographs with some painting over them. Of course all the painting is done in PhotoShop on the computer.
One illustrator we work who strikes that balance perfectly is Aleta Rafton. Her work is very photographic to my eye, but with her photo illustration she adds a magical quality to her work. It's a kind of hyperrealism that I think is perfect for Romance covers. We need to relate or identify with the characters in the book but the fantasy of the hero or heroine is what pulls us in. Here are some examples of covers she has done for Forever that demonstrate this hyperreal quality to the photography.
What are the core elements of the “romance novel cover formula” or the constraints you work within?
Claire Brown: Romance covers today that I work on can more or less be grouped into 3 categories:
1- A beautiful, sexy woman in a stunning dress
2- A hot hunk with rock hard abs
3- A couple caught in a moment of passion
Of course, these groups are broad, but what they all have in common is that they convey a fantasy that we know the reader wants to get lost in. While we add special touches to every book to make it distinctive, and while we like to push the boundaries to stay innovative, doing something radically outside of 1 of these 3 directions can be risky. Accounts want covers they can easily look at and say “paranormal” or “romantic suspense.” Plus, the reason these categories came into being is because they have a history of being popular with readers.
With that said, we want to keep our covers looking fresh, and one way I try to do this is by merging current fashion trends into the covers. When I'm thinking about what our heroine should be wearing and how she should be posing I look at what is happing in fashion photography today and try to incorporate it.
Covers have changed a lot over the years, but it's fascinating to me how the covers are made. Do you have questions for Claire? She's got plenty of wine, and I'm sure you have some curiosity about art direction for romance.
Thank you to Claire Brown for all her time and patience with my nosy questions, and for the cover images!