[NB: Amanda collected a few minimalist covers, and it turned into a whole conversation with Sarah about how each responds to cover art, and what the different artistic elements signal in terms of genre.]
Amanda: Admittedly, I’m playing a bit fast and loose with “minimalism” in that I’m just going with a singular central image on a cover. I’d love to see more minimalist covers in romance over clinch covers because the former really piques my interest in terms of how the central image reflects what’s inside the book.
Sarah: Oh, that’s really interesting. I think that if you’re advocating for minimalist covers in romance, you’re also advocating a larger shift in marketing shorthand.
Amanda: I love the royal element to the skull. Everything is gold or bejeweled. And the skull gives an otherwise pretty cover a sense of foreboding.
Sarah: Is this a romance?
Amanda: It’s a YA fantasy.
Sarah: Exactly what I thought! I see single items of power (crown, weapon, etc) and think, oh, that is YA probably fantasy. I don’t think it’s a romance.
The minimalist imagery on YA fantasy could likely be traced back to Twilight, though I could be wrong. I think that was the big shift in codifying imagery to genre.
Sarah: I think the contrast between how you see minimalist imagery covers vs how I interpret them (to wit, “pretty but that isn’t my genre”) is really interesting.
I think part of the difference in perspective is that I’m a good 15+ (?) years older than you so I did my influential shopping for romance amid fuchsia and manchest and mullet.
Amanda: But do you LIKE the manchest and mullet? Or is it part of a Pavlovian response to reading romances during your formative years?
Sarah: I don’t like them, in fact.
As you point out, the art/painted clinch covers for historicals were part of my formative experience when I first encountered romance. I don’t love them except with silly nostalgic fondness, but that said, I don’t always know what speaks to me as a reader. I dislike the photograph covers currently popular in self published historical even more.
Amanda: There are things that I find I don’t like more often than not, but there are always covers that will prove my wrong. I hate clinch covers because I think they’re a bit melodramatic? (Which LOL given what’s usually waiting inside the books) But tell me those Alisha Rai covers aren’t stunning. So there are often many exceptions to my dislikes.
Sarah: Oh, yeah, the Rai covers are beautiful. And The Belles cover I just received, which is YA. Wow!
Amanda: We featured that previously and it’s interesting that YA is featuring a “character” on the cover, since I usually associate that with the romance genre.
Sarah: Good point. I also understand your struggle with the frozen intensity of the clinch covers. Whereas, with contemporary romance, clinch covers can be so interesting and the variations are terrific. I have gone on at length about how much I liked the cover for A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole, too. (There’s a whole podcast about the story behind that cover, too.)
But historical is where I struggle with cover art. I get the reasons behind them, but I don’t often like photograph covers. I get that painted covers are no longer feasible, and I get that the marketing signals that communicate quickly “what genre” and “what type of romance” include the assembly of gowns, cravats, and clinch positions, perhaps a side order of “O-face.” I get that the easiest bridge between the fuchsia painted art of back then and the historical readers looking for books now is the photograph. This is not to say that there aren’t some very talented photographers developing stock art portfolios for historical romance, either. Some are exquisite.
For me, what I dislike is the mostly undressed, extremely muscular dude, especially if he’s staring at me.
But then, I also don’t see hypertrophic muscles and think wow. They are not a turn on. Dudes in glasses?
Ahem. I am listening.
Amanda: For real, we need more dudes in glasses on covers.
Sarah: Lord, yes. I mean if we’re placing orders, dudes in glasses and soft shirts reading books.
Amanda: I think the knitwork cover is really cute and portrays a sense of hominess, like stuff you’d see hanging up at grandma’s house. I also noticed that the “trim” elements vary with each over. This one has tools, which is a reference to the autobody shop where both the hero and heroine work. Other covers in the series have things like mistletoe, pawprints, etc.
Sarah: Agreed. I think that’s meant to be cross stitch, which is adorable. A sampler cover is definitely going to stand out on a bookshelf.
Amanda: Tara Sue Me’s books have a lot of minimalist covers, but this one is my favorite because it’s kind of dirty once you think about it. Or…once I think about it. Often, a woman’s nether regions are described in flowery language. Usually, “petals” are involved. The flower on the cover is also a nude pink and very similar to a skin tone color.
And the flower looks like a peony, which is my absolute favorite flower.
Sarah: This is a good example of that shift in visual marketing for covers which is traceable to Fifty Shades of Grey, which was of course (in more ways that one) influenced by Twilight.
What’s that, my outstanding (not) memory? Why, yes, I wrote about that back in 2014: “Fifty Shades of Cover Art,” looking at the parodies and the marketing mimicry of the 50 Shades cover.
There were a whole bunch of flower-isolated-on-a-black-background covers, too. Including re-issued classics, I think.
LISTEN. I AM REMEMBERING THINGS. This is clearly a sign of the end times. GET IN THE BUNKER. GRAB THE BOOKS, CHOCOLATE, AND WINE AND FOLLOW ME.
Amanda: Sarah remembering things is a sign of the end times!
The isolated image that’s not a weapon or a crown or symbol of power, especially if it’s some sort of foliage, signals contemporary erotic romance to me. I think you’re right about the “flower,” “petal,” “euphemism” connection, as there are a number of botanical covers. The common language of erotic flower covers is probably a very good thing marketing-wise, though eventually folks will run out of flowers.
(First person to bring me an erotic contemporary romance with kudzu as the cover image – a real one! – gets a prize!)
Amanda: Now that I think about it, the cover reminds me of a fancy sex toy that you leave out for decoration and no one notices.
What about you? Is there a minimalist trend in romance you’ve spotted that you like? What covers are working for you?