Poll: When the Cover Matches the Contents

Book Cover In the past few days, we’ve been talking a lot about cover makeovers and the photoshoppery that creates multiple covers out of the same image – and stay tuned, because there is MORE coming. I know, how can it possibly be?

Since I began reading romance sites online, I’ve encountered with some regularity the frustration that some readers have when the cover models look literally nothing like the characters described inside. Sometimes, when the character in a romance is a short, curvy, buxom woman with a dark pixie haircut and the cover model is a lithe, extremely slender redhead with curls down to her backside, it drives romance readers right over the edge.

Personally, I’m so used to cover models NOT matching the characters that I’m surprised with they do. I remember being charmed when the heroine in Julie James’ Something About You wore a dress in one scene that was described exactly as it appeared on the cover – only to find out that James made that change after the fact when she saw the images from the cover shoot. It was so unexpected that I still think how neat it was.

So: behold, a poll! Try to contain your excitement. Does it matter to you that the cover models resemble the characters inside? Or do you not care much?


General Bitching...

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  1. 1
    Chris says:

    I keep meaning to do a Misadventures in Stock Photography post about the stock photo used for that Julie James cover. I think I have 5 or 6 examples of it used on covers…

  2. 2
    TD says:

    I used to care if the photos matched, would look at the covers and try to imagine them in the story.  That is probably a holdover from the days I read regular fiction and science fiction, where the covers matched a bit more.  In romance, it is off so much that I think I started ignoring the figures in general.

  3. 3

    As readers most of us have wonderful imaginations and don’t need too much in the way of visual aids, but I also think that that makes us attuned to details. So it’s not to say the cover has to be a dead ringer for the characters, but for all the effort they put in to creating those things, you’d think they could at least get in the right ball park. Because, as many of the publishers are learning….we do notice! Is it a deal breaker in buying a book? If the mistake is egregious enough it can be, but most of the time…probably not.

    The cover should be a way to grab me, the reader, quickly and transport me into the story visually. The blurb on the back (or the first few pages) should finish the job. They can’t do that if I am standing there flipping back and forth going…but—doesn’t she have long red flowing locks? Why’s the cover model got blond shoulder length hair?

  4. 4
    Elizabeth says:

    I don’t always mind, but when an aspect of a character’s appearance is emphasized in the story—such as the fact that The Parasol Protectorate’s Alexia Maccoon has remarkably large breasts—and it’s not reflected in the cover art, I’m disappointed. Also, any kind of whitewashing is totally unacceptable.

  5. 5
    Journeywoman says:

    Most of the time I don’t really care.  That being said, I think it was one of Suzanne Brockmann’s books (Into the Fire? maybe?) that had an Asian female protagonist but the woman on the cover was not.

    It is hard enough to find characters who are not white, is it so much to ask that when one is written the cover show that?

  6. 6
    Black Velvet says:

    I agree with what Elizabeth above has said, I don’t really mind, but sometimes when you realize you miss out on a book, for example when I’m looking for more books with Black characters, only to realize that you missed a new author because the cover girl was not the same race…its a little sad.  I can’t read everything, but I like to pick up some new authors when I can.  If they’re not going to mimic the physical characteristics of the characters with the cover then why bother.  We eat with our eyes.  If you were vegetarian you wouldn’t eat tofu if it were made to look like steak would you?

  7. 7
    Cris says:

    It matters to me although I tend to overlook it if I really get into the story.  What I’d like to see see is the “plain” heroine that the hero nonetheless thinks is lovely.  What is the author envisioning?  Certainly not the supermodel on the cover, that’s for sure.

  8. 8
    Lori says:

    It’s not a make or break issue for me, but it does irritate me when the cover image is totally, obviously wrong. Kristan Higgin’s book Just One of the Guys is my go-to example of annoying wrongness because it’s so mismatched with the text. The woman’s legs on the cover are in a skirt and shoes that the heroine would never wear. Worse, the fact that she doesn’t dress like that is a huge plot point. And worse yet, the cover shows the wrong breed of dog. What the heck were they thinking with that disaster?

  9. 9
    Jennifer Armintrout says:

    I feel personally insulted when a heroine is described as being “plus-sized” or some other variation on fat in the book, but on the cover she’s really thin.  I love Gail Carriger’s books, but Alexia Tarabotti is described all through them as having a “substantial figure” and on all the covers, she’s this teensy model.  As a fat person, it makes me feel like I’m being told that, once again, that bigger people can be heard, but they absolutely should not be seen.

  10. 10
    JamiSings says:

    I often choose my romance novels based on the heroine’s looks. I admit it, I read them because I don’t date or have sex, I am one of those pathetic stereotypes. So yeah, it matters a LOT to me. I want to read about overweight blondes getting the love I don’t. So if there’s a curvy blonde on the cover, I don’t want to read the book to find out that the heroine is a willowy, tall, brunette!

    Covers should ALWAYS match the books. ALWAYS.

  11. 11
    Jan says:

    It always bothered me that Harlequin heroes were ALWAYS equipped with an abundance of hair on the pecs, but when it came to the cover – where they naturally HAD to appear half naked – there wasn’t a hair in sight.

    Why stress the fact that the heroine loves scrubbing her nipples against his bush of chest hair when the cover has him all baby skinned? Really, it boggles my mind.

    If either cover or story would have a normal amount of hair, I wouldn’t probably notice.

  12. 12
    Jane O says:

    I voted yes because it would be nice, but I really don’t expect it. Even when the model on the cover fits the description in the book, she (or he) rarely fits the way I imagined the character. That may be why I actually prefer the headless covers. At least they don’t interfere with my picture.

  13. 13
    jennifer says:

    Hey, the misrepresentation also happens to males on the covers—- I actually harumphed (yes, I made that sound) when I was reading Street Magic by Caitlin Kittredge, and the male protagonist is a skinny, drug-addicted mage/rocker (of course!), but the male on the cover is *built* (seriously, looks like he emigrated over from a JR Ward cover).

    But really,  I’m more offended by bad design, poorly chosen fonts,  and incoherent blurbs on the book ‘s back cover.

  14. 14
    megalith says:

    As a visual artist, I rely on book covers to tell me how a book is being branded or positioned in the market. I notice whether covers are illustrations/paintings or photos, and whether the photos used are from stock collections. I look for and remember cover design credits on covers I especially like (or dislike). I can generally tell when a cover photo is a stock photo, just by looking at it, and it impresses me when cover art actually matches a book’s content. If a cover photo looks like a stock shot, I usually dismiss it as more about marketing than actual content.

    That said, I’m afraid I remember this Julie James cover, but for all the wrong reasons. I kept looking at it because I absolutely hated the stock photo they used. I thought the dress did not fit the model and was extremely unflattering, and I kept trying to figure out if the dress would hang better if she weren’t in such a weird stance. Or why someone would cut and construct a dress in such a way that it would be universally unflattering to any human woman. From there I moved on to musing about the vagaries of men’s and women’s fashions. Then I got to pondering whether the German-sounding stock company name meant the shot had been produced for European audiences and that’s why the styling of the clothes seemed so off to me. It was somewhat distracting from the story, to say the least. So, when I got to the point in the book where the heroine describes that exact dress, but in very flattering terms, I was no longer able to dismiss the cover as a bad stock shot. It was like watching the big reveal on a makeover show and thinking o_O. Not good.

    So, I appreciate the lovely beefcake shots for their entertainment value, but sometimes 1000 words *are* better than one photo, and I’d rather you just let me use my imagination, thanks.

  15. 15
    cories5 says:

    I really don’t care either way especially for e-books.  Of course, after the horrors of weird covers on children’s books from when I was a child, nothing fazes me anymore.

    I do agree that the dress on SAY (love the book!) is a weird cut – I hope the poor woman has no breasts to speak of – although I love the color.  I also hope the man doesn’t have sweaty hands.

  16. 16
    Ros says:

    Mostly, I just wish the covers were produced by people who had actually read the book.  I know, I know, this is cloud cuckoo land, but really that is what I want.

  17. 17

    Others have already mentioned this, but I’ll mention it again because it’s important: cover models that don’t look like the characters inside are especially annoying when they’re not even the same race.

    I’ve specifically made a point of buying books by authors who’ve had the whitewashing problem and whose publishers fixed it, just to vote with my money and show that yes, if a book I want to read has a non-white protagonist in it, I want to see a non-white protagonist on the cover. Justine Larbalestier’s Liar is one such book I bought, and so is Alaya Johnson’s Racing the Dark.

    And I’ll also voice my support for cover models whose figures actually reflect the description of the heroine therein. I’d also be totally willing to specifically vote with my money (and believe me when I say I buy a LOT of books, I’m already over 300 books acquired for the year so far) for covers with heroines that aren’t ultra-thin.

    Lastly, speaking as an (admittedly tiny-scale ebook author but nonetheless an) author myself, I’m absolutely in favor of a little more attention paid to making the covers match what the author wrote. I’m _really_ tired of generic ‘skinny tough chick with tattoos and weapons’ being the default urban fantasy cover, and I’m also quite tired of ‘shirtless tattooed overmuscled guy with weapons’ being a prominent paranormal romance cover, too. And after reading both of Zoe Archer’s released books, I can say with enthusiasm that I appreciate her covers all the more because they actually depict guys who look like what she wrote.

    Honestly, it doesn’t even require that the artist read the book, does it? Even one tiny little paragraph of description from the author could go a long way in tailoring the cover to better match the work.

  18. 18
    Kris B. says:

    I’m not a stickler for the hero and heroine matching the story exactly, however I would like it to at least match the genre.  Diane’s Whiteside’s Kisses Like a Devil has a cowboy on the cover and there’s not even a mention of a cowboy in the book.  In a quick in-and-out rush at the library, I was in the mood for a cowboy and checked that one out—boy was I disappointed.  Granted, if I had the time to read the cover flap, I might have put it back on the shelf.  But this cover’s so off, it almost feels like false advertising.

  19. 19
    RebeccaJ says:

    The cover models not looking like the described hero and heroine can’t be a “deal breaker” for me because I don’t know what they look like until I start reading, BUT it freaking ANNOYS me when they’re described totally different from the way they look on the cover. I have a weird habit of looking at the cover from time to time while I’m reading and if I’m reading about a blonde but see a redhead it totally screws with my disco.

    And I agree 100% with Jennifer. If the heroine is plus sized, don’t show me a size 2 on the cover. Is there some sort of shame involved with having a larger sized model on the cover? Even though we know in real life no woman involved in a steamy romance is EVER overweight……..

  20. 20
    Lindsay says:

    It appears that my comment has been eaten, so I’m trying again.

    I’m most bothered by glaring errors. I recently read Courtney Milan’s Trial by Desire (excellent, btw) and noticed that the male cover model had rather startlingly blue eyes. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except right in the first chapter there is a mention of his brown eyes. It’s too bad too, since he was a rare cover model I actually found attractive. It won’t keep me from buying a book, mostly because I won’t know it doesn’t match until I’ve read it, but it will certainly annoy me once I know.

    Unattractive covers or ones that hit my pet peeves may keep me from reading a book. Skeevy-looking models count towards unattractive covers, too. I’m all for headless covers if it means not having to look at some creeper staring at me from the page.

  21. 21
    jayhjay says:

    I hate to say that this is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. For most books I can get past it, especially when the characters are fairly generic looking.  But when their appearance is a major plot point, it makes me crazy when the cover models don’t reflect that.  How hard is it it to get hair color right? Do they just randomly pick a guy and a girl from a giant pot and throw them up there?

    My biggest bug is when the hero is scarred, tattoed, etc but nothing on the cover.  For example I was bugged when I read Beguile a Beast and the hero is missing fingers on one hand. On the cover, he has that hand clearly shown with all fingers. I realize they may not want to show something so graphic, but at least have his hand hidden or something.  Or when the hero in Gena Showalter’s book has blue hair and it is black on the cover (and his hair color is remarked on constantly in this book and others in the series).

    On the kudos column, I loved how in Sherry Thomas’s His at Night the heroine is wearing a dress specifically mentioned in the book.

  22. 22
    Alissa says:

    I really appreciate it when somebody goes to the effort to match the cover to the contents – I mean, they do it for every other genre, so why not romance?? If all they use are the same three stock photos on rotation, it just confirms for romance naysayers all those nasty stereotypes about ‘stock content’ and romance being pulp with interchangable plots and characters. When I read a book with a cover that actually matches the heroine or hero or setting or whatever, I get all warm and fuzzy and appreciative that someone out there has given the genre the respect it so often misses out on, and has treated it the same as any other work of fiction.

    /end rant! 😉

  23. 23
    Sophie Gunn says:

    I’m with Lori:  don’t care much about the people, but when they get the wrong breed of dog…kills me!

  24. 24
    Megalith says:

    Ros: It’s not entirely cloud-cuckoo land. If you like urban fantasy, Rob Thurman is lucky enough to have an amazing cover artist doing her covers (I believe it’s Chris McGrath—she actually mentions him in her author acknowledgements) who clearly reads the MS before creating the covers. He re-uses models for recurring characters, and incorporates locations from the books in his cover illustrations.

    Another artist who obviously incorporates details from books in his covers is Stephan Martiniere. His covers have to be seen to be believed.

    Anyway, didn’t mean to sound like such a curmudgeon earlier. Your’re absolutely right, cories5, the color of that dress is fantastic. I wonder why it is that I don’t really expect the same level of creativity on Romance covers as I do on SF/F or mysteries? Maybe because of the sheer volume of product being generated? (I feel the same about the editing in Romance—wish it were better, not particularly surprised when it isn’t.)

    *wandering off to Whatever to let Alan Rickman usurp my narrative some more & cheer me up*

  25. 25
    J says:

    Honestly, I usually don’t even look at the covers, but the one that always bothered me was the back cover art (not front, for some reason) of the original Devil’s Bride (S. Laurens) – the heroine is so…not good looking, and has really freaks kinky curly nasty hair – every time I pick up the book to reread I look again to see if somehow magically while residing on my keeper shelf she’s gone away and been replaced by what I imagine Honoria Prudence should look like!!

  26. 26
    Sandra says:

    I’ll take Nathan Kamp on the cover anytime, regardless of whether he looks like the book’s hero. (sigh) I usually don’t pay attention to covers, because I KNOW they’re not going to match what’s inside. But there are some cover tropes that signal to me what’s going on inside—the old skool clinches, the trad Regencies, the Main Street setting, etc. I usually have a pretty good idea what to expect from that book, even though the H/h don’t match the cover models.

    Speaking of the James cover, I remember Jennie Crusie talking on her site about one of her books:  didn’t have a dog in it (unusual for Crusie) but the publishers wanted a dog on the cover. She’s one of the few authors I’ve come across who seems to have some creative control over her covers. But she lost that battle. So she went back and wrote a dog into the book. Truth in advertising…

  27. 27
    jayhjay says:


    I’ll take Nathan Kamp on the cover anytime,

    LOL, I just googled him to see who you were talking about and got quite a giggle at the link that takes you to assorted photos.  It is so funny to see all those cover shots in the same place. Look, he’s a regency guy. No wait, now he’s a cowboy.  Oh, here he is a highlander! 

    I mean, I know the same handful of models pose over and over but it is funny to see them all lined up together.

  28. 28
    becca says:

    For a truly beautiful cover that matches the story pretty closely, I love the cover of the first Sharing Knife book by Lois Bujold – but then, I believe she worked pretty closely with the artist on that one. Come to think of it, the cover of her Paladin of Souls is pretty appropriate for the book too, although the woman depicted is a bit young for how I envision Ista.

    Lois is, on the other hand, also afflicted with some pretty bad covers, as well – the cover of A Civil Campaign is a notable bad example.

  29. 29
    RebeccaJ says:

    I don’t know any of the models by name but I would LOVE to know who graces the cover of Seduction and the CEO by Barbara Dunlop. I think that’s the most perfect cover I’ve ever seen! Not to mention the sexiest:)

  30. 30
    Jackie U says:

    CE Murphy has a great article about this at Bitten by Books. http://bittenbybooks.com/?p=31749 She specifically talks about covers with white models when the character is of a different race. Her Negotiator Series has a white, if tan, model, which absolutely astounded me.

  31. 31
    Sandra says:


    I mean, I know the same handful of models pose over and over but it is funny to see them all lined up together.

    I know, he’s like the cover model du jour, but still so nice to look at, and he does them all so well.

    I will admit to one of my cover peeves beingLords of Desire. Here’s our model in all his Elizabethan glory. And every single story in the book is either Regency or Victorian.

  32. 32
    Cerulean says:

    Thank you Sandra! I have wondered who the heck this guy was I keep seeing on every other cover!

  33. 33
    Manda says:

    I don’t care because all of the heroes in the books that I read end up looking like Richard Armitage in my head no matter what.

  34. 34
    Scraps says:

    I don’t care so much if the cover matches the characters inside but heaven help me – the covers have to be PRETTY!  The cover, even for ebooks, is what catches and sells me.  Many time before I’ve even read the back of the books. 

    Take Lauren Dane’s Federation Series.  I like my romance to be more urban and fantasy rather than sci-fi but OMG those covers.  MUST. READ. NOW.  http://www.laurendane.com/books/  So all of those books are on my wish list – based on cover alone.

    My first foray into digital was Moira Rogers and it was the Southern Arcana covers that totally sold me.  http://www.moirarogers.com/southern-arcana  Thanks to the fact that the books were freeking awesome this is now an auto buy for me!

    There was really only one time I was bothered by how far off a cover was from the character inside.  C.E. Murphy’s Negotiator Trilogy.  http://cemurphy.net/excerpts-short-stories#negotiator  Margrit, the main character, is black.  The author even admits in her head Margit is a Halley Berry color.  What a beautiful shade!  But the covers?  Lots of WTFuckery going on.  The cover chick is WHITE!  That’s not a little bit off (like hair color or height) that a while different race!  The cover of the second book even looks to be Asian (thanks to the beautiful dress).  So I can vividly remember starting to read the book, getting to the description of Margrit and saying….uh….what the hell?  And going back to the cover.  It pulled me right out of the story and that is never good!

    Now the Carina Press covers?  They are like crack for me.  I am so madly in love with them I want to have their cover babies.  They are so stunning that I’ve purchased nearly every book just because of that!  My husband thinks I have a spending problem.  I so disagree!  How can you resist those covers?

    Samhain puts out some good cover tail too. 

    Spam word: ill38.  I get ill when the same image is photoshopped 38 times for 38 different books.

  35. 35
    Sandra says:

    Ok, I just went back and looked at my link again. There’s something seriously wrong here. Lords of Desire I originally bought this book as a trade, and then it was released later as a MMPB. So I paid more for the trade. I wasn’t expecting a MMPB or I would have waited. But I got what I paid for—a bigger, nicer book.

    But WHY would anyone pay twice as much for an e-book version of the trade, when they can get the same e-book based on the MMPB for less than $5? What is this publisher thinking?

  36. 36
    Darcy says:

    I always imagine my own picks of actors for the characters, but I do prefer when the cover somewhat matches content. I just finished Storm Warning and was so happy that the model matched the icy-blond heroine!

  37. 37
    Maria says:

    Why bother with a cover at all if it bears no resemblance to the story or characters? I think it makes the publisher look cheap and lazy (and not in a good way).

  38. 38
    Cordelia says:

    With all this talk about annoyingly wrong cover models, I wish we could go back to the days of big vagina flowers and swirly fonts for covers. Or even better (and totally unlikely), forget about the traditional covers of and get some Jon Gray-like designs.

  39. 39
    Kelly S says:

    Ros – Totally agree!

    Sandra – The Crusie book in question is Trust Me on This.  I think the book seller was ridiculous to insist on a dog being on the cover when there was no dog in the book thinking somehow that is what will sell the book and not Crusie’s name.  I will admit to being a cat person more than a dog person.  Still, I won’t buy a romance just for a cute animal on the cover.

    It bothers me a ton when the cover is irrelevant to the story or shows things that are just wrong or never appear in the story.  A headless woman in a polka dot dress on cover, I expect a polka dot dress in the story and am miffed if it isn’t in it.  Cover model is blond, then the heroine should be blond not raven black hair. These are 2 real examples of annoyance.  Eloisa James’ A Duke of Her Own has a blond on the cover but the point of view was from the brunette. There was a blond so it kept me guessing as to which woman would Villiers end up with.  James said it was her fault as when asked for a description of her heroine she said blond but hadn’t finished the book at that time.  Things changed between then and the printing.

    So, yeah, I expect the cover to match and am grumpy with the people who make the decision for what goes on the cover especially when they are looking only at marketing and haven’t paid any attention to the story.  It’s false advertising and they should be punished.

  40. 40
    Lapillus says:

    I am always vaguely irked at inaccurate covers, independent of genre. I’d much rather have an abstract cover or a cover with an accurately depicted object, even one not prominent in the book (a pearl necklace of no particular import is just fine, for instance, or a quill, or a blackberry, or a full moon for your werewolf romances) than one where the folks on the cover bear no resemblance to folks inside.  It leaves me with the impression that the production is slipshod and rushed.

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