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Everyone in science fiction knows romance novel covers are awful, right?

And Fifty Shades of Grey is a lurid book that can’t possibly have an understated, tasteful cover, right? Because that’s not the kind of book it is.

Well, okay, it has a tie on the cover, and it’s a, well, I don’t know what the hell to call it, frankly. Jenny Trout has a whole bunch of points about why it shouldn’t be called a romance novel, nor BDSM, nor whatever, so I’ll just link to her site and back away slowly.

In terms of marketing categories, though, erotica or erotic romance. (Yes, they are different, and they are also different from the marketing categories of both porn and sexy romance.)

Why, 50 Shades started out as fanfic of Twilight. But the cover on that can’t actually be too horribly awful (right?), given that Bella and Edward both retain their v-card throughout the duration of not one, not two, but three volumes of this saga.

So it has an apple and vampires don’t eat apples. Mmmkay.

But it is about temptation, though most of the temptation is on Edward’s side, and that’s only ever chronicled in a partially-completed manuscript, Midnight Sun told from his POV, rather than Twilight, which is told from Bella’s.

So now that I’ve basically admitted to reading all the Twilight books and none of E L James’s, how about some other covers? I remember someone recommending Outlander once upon a time. I randomly opened it, happened to be on a sex scene, and I backed away slowly.

It’s one of those where I really kinda wish I cared about it. I’ve tried to break into it a couple of times and it’s never quite caught for me. There sure are a lot of people who love it, though. Like Pam.

An oft-recommended book was Tiffany Reisz’s The Siren, which is a complex series to explain. There are a ton of interrelationships (possibly the only thing more complex than Torchwood as far as who has/had slept with whom), and a ton of plot threads. I read the four-book series over Christmas week.

I bring this one up because it is the most overtly sexual cover on her four books. Yet, it’s still quite understated, especially given the content of the book. As far as content: Nora’s a dominatrix on the side and an erotica writer by day. She’s got a difficult relationship with an editor who starts out hating everything she stands for. She’s got a live-in assistant who’s a 19-year-old virgin. (As Rick put it, “that’s just stunt casting.”) And then there’s the ex, but that would be a spoiler.

Are all romance covers like those above?

No. They are not.

Let’s go back to last year, about a claim Mike Resnick made that I’m disappointed that no one called him on.

Here’s what Resnick said (click for pic of text, quoted below)

And a lot of it abounded in bare, raw, pulsating flesh, totally naked from the neck to the navel. No question about it. It’s there for anyone to see—and of course, since such displays seem to offend some of our members, to picket.
You know where I found it?
In the romance section. I’d say that just about every other cover shows a man’s bare torso, lean and muscular, usually with a few more abs than Nature tends to provide. The man’s head is rarely portrayed. Clearly these are erotic covers, designed to get a certain readership’s pulse pounding.

Personally, I’d love to see pulsating flesh on a book cover—at least the first few times. Never have. That would be science fictional.

Last year, I posted a screencap of 25 (I said 30 yesterday and was wondering why the math didn’t add up) covers that was sort of a side commentary to the SFWA Bulletin issue. I don’t mind admitting I read erotic romance, nor do I mind admitting that I write the stuff. Part of the reason I’ve read so much was to get a sense of the market.

I’ve gone and made a current screencap, too.

In both cases, there’s no censorship about what I’ve read. These are, in order (most recent in upper left, oldest in lower right), the last 25 titles I’d read in the erotic romance genre in both pics. The only thing I’ve done is filter out the non-romance titles I’d read.

Itemizing Resnick’s points:

  1. Covers with men.
  2. Who are totally naked from the neck to the navel.
  3. Man’s bare torso […] usually with a few more abs than Nature tends to provide.
  4. The man’s head is rarely portrayed. (How many covers without heads?)
  5. How many covers with men who are naked, frontal, and without heads?

Difference is? This new batch of covers is infected with teh gay as several are M/M books or have M/M subplots. More men, therefore more likely to meet Resnick’s criteria, right?

So, here’s 25 books from last year.

image

Here’s 25 books from this year, ~8 months later. Four of the 25 are solely M/M, and two (Tiffany Reisz’s) have M/M subplots with concomitant sex scenes.

2014-02-10 17.39.33

Note: the cover for Where Nerves End got lost somewhere in the ether, but here it is for reference.

  1. Covers with men. 2013: 13 (52%), 2014: 20 (80%)
  2. Who are totally naked from neck to navel. 2013: 4 (16%), 2014: 9 (32%), though 3 of those are M/M.
  3. Frontal enough naked neck-to-navel such that one can see excess abs. 2013: 1, 2014: 1. (Tempting Adam has a frontal cover, but his abs are within the realm of normal.)
  4. Headless men (I counted them as headless if you couldn’t see most of the face). 2013: 2, 2014: 8
  5. Frontal headless men. 2013: 0, 2014: 0.

Lest you think my taste is different than the reality of the market as a whole, here’s a curated list that’s a combination of Amazon sales and Goodreads reviews. Scan down the first 100 covers on the first page and tell me the results are significantly different.

Let’s be clear here: several of the books I read (two from Maya Banks, two from Natasha Moore, one from Cathryn Cade) focus around sex clubs, and a sex club forms part of the plot unifying Tiffany Reisz’s series.

Even those covers are less lurid than the SFWA Bulletin cover for Issue 200.

Just sayin’.

As if all that weren’t enough, this Mary Sue post nails it.

I call bullshit on Resnick’s alleged experiment.

Link: Silvia Moreno-Garcia nails it.

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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