I read romance novels. Yep, that’s right I read them and love them. In fact if you ever find yourself in a conversation with me about books, romance novels will inevitably come up and the next thing you know you’ll have 3 or 4 books forced upon you. I will then harass you until you read them and confess how much you love them too. The only thing I love as much as reading romance novels is getting other people to read them too. Of course this applies mostly to the ladies. I have yet to convert a dude to the wonderful world of romance novels, but I’m not giving up hope that that moment will one day come.
But this blog post is not about my love of romance novels, oh no. It is a critical design analysis of design trends I have noticed in a particular genre literature. That’s right, I’m talking about romance novel covers. Like the stories themselves, romance novel covers are often repeating certain themes and working within an established formula. These themes and trends have become more diverse as the romance genre has become more diverse and refined within the last 20 years. The following are just a few of the widely used trends I have noticed.
The Classic “Get it on” Cover
This is the most stereotypical type of cover and is likely the first thing that pops into the minds of people who are not avid romance novel readers. This is the type of cover Fabio became famous for. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) this type of cover was most popular in the 70’s and 80’s and is quickly becoming a thing of the past. I think there is a number of reason’s for this. Firstly, as the romance genre markets to a new generation of women readers, the typical “damsel is distress / prince to the rescue” look is becoming out of date and unappealing to the modern independent woman. Secondly, this classic look is often so over the top that is no longer sexy and is simply ridiculous and hilarious. This cover of “Fires of Winter” by Johanna Lindsay (that has since been redesigned) is a perfect example of this over the top, ridiculousness. Is she kissing his guns? Yikes.
The third and maybe most important reason these covers are becoming a thing of the past is that they are simply embarrassing. Anyone who reads books outside the comfort of their own home, might think twice about grabbing a book that looks like this to read while waiting in a doctor’s office or on their lunch break at work.
The “Unknown Location” cover
Many of the old classic Fabio-like covers have under gone a redesign in the last 10 years to become non-descript landscape images. These covers have swung so far in the other direction that they are about as non-sexy as a book cover can get, but they have done a good job of removing the embarrassment factor of reading a romance novel in public. For example, below is the redesigned cover the “Fires of Winter” that I had mentioned above.
Don’t be fooled by their English gardens or estate homes, the content of these books can be some of the best in the genre. Below is one of my all time favorites, but I can admit, the cover needs work.
The “Man Abs” or “Naked Man Chest” Cover
This is seems to be where some of the classic “get it on” covers seem to be heading. These covers have removed the women all together and just focus on the man, more specifically… man chest and abs. I have in the past tried to steer clear of romance novels with these covers, but honestly if you are going to read romance there simply no avoiding it. The abs are everywhere!
The “Headless Women” cover
This trend is mostly in the historical romance branch and often features a woman in a big frilly dress, but she is always cut off at the head. I think the reason for this is to allow the readers to imagine for themselves what the main character might look like, but it still seems pretty brutal to decapitate all these women.
The “Ode to Twilight” cover
This theme is a bit of an offshoot of from the romance novel, but I think deserves to be acknowledged. Since the Twilight series (which is just a PG13 romance novel marketed towards teens in my opinion) has become overwhelming successful, there is all sorts of books popping up in both the adult and teen sections that have been taking on the Twilight “look”. These books always seem to have a paranormal element (vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts, demons, etc.) and always have some sort romantic element that runs throughout the story. The covers take on the same dark minimalistic look made famous by the twilight books, featuring a black background with a monochromatic image in the center, usually with a punch of red.
The modern day romance novel cover has definitely come a long way, but there is still elements of cheesiness and bad taste associated with them, which in a way has become part of their branding. It might not be the type of branding or design that wins awards, but it’s the type of branding that is consistent, recognized, and is easily identifiable. The one thing these covers do successfully without a doubt is identify themselves as being part of the romance genre. It makes it easy for romance lovers like myself to easily select them from shelf, which I guess is the whole point, right?