Hi, Jo here welcoming bestselling author, Mary Balogh, back to the Word Wenches. I've been delighting in Mary's new covers, and so I'm happy that she wants to talk about the subject. Of course, we're looking forward to your views and comments, and one lucky commenter will win a copy of Mary's book, Only a Kiss. If you already own that one, then you can choose another title.
Mary's recent complete series is the Survivor's Club, about a group of men and women who shared a difficult time during the Peninsula War. The first book is The Proposal, and its cover history illustrates what Mary is going to address.
Over to Mary.
Until recently I would have said that I never choose a book by its cover. After all, the cover is the one thing over which the author probably had very little input or control. Covers are designed within publishing houses according to the current theory of what will sell. In the historical romance genre, for example, if it seems that men with bare, waxed, over-developed chests and the generic white shirt or headless women or women with billowing skirts are what readers are looking for, then chances are that is the sort of cover writers will be landed with whether they want them or not-or whether the picture is historically accurate or not. At present the billowing skirt seems to be in vogue even though the book itself is very likely to be Regency and Regency fashions, in my opinion, are more gorgeous and romantic and sexy than the fashions of any other era.
I do my reading on a Kindle and make most of my book choices by browsing on Amazon. Like most other readers, I choose largely by author and within certain genres. In those cases covers do not have any bearing upon my choice. I will buy the book regardless. But I am always searching for new authors and I like to dabble in new genres just to see if there is anything to take my fancy and broaden my reading horizons. And I have made the discovery that yes, indeed, I am very much affected by covers. I will not buy a book solely upon the appeal of the cover, but that is what makes me stop to take a closer look. There are no doubt countless books I would enjoy enormously and countless new authors whose backlists I would devour voraciously if I could but find them. But it is the cover that draws me-or repels me.
As an author, I take my own observations to heart. If I choose or at least narrow the choices by cover, then so must many other readers. It is probably an exaggeration to say that I have wept real tears over several of my covers down the years, but I have certainly wept inwardly. It is only recently, however, that I have waged battle.
It happened when the powers that be insisted despite all my pleas to the contrary upon giving me the half-naked men covers for some of my Survivors' Club books. Those covers would sell books and attract new, younger readers, I was told. Perhaps they did. Perhaps there are armies of readers out there who like that sort of cover and will pick up one of my books for the first time and then proceed to purchase every book of my considerable backlist. I ought to take that possibility into consideration, oughtn't I? After all, I am in the business of writing books in order to make money. Let's be realistic about it.
Well, yes, let's be realistic about it. What exactly do I want to accomplish as a writer? Am I just in the business of writing books to make money? The key word here is "just." Of course I want to sell books. It is how I make my living and how I have made my living for thirty years. But my stories come from my soul, from the precious talent with which I was born–and no, I am not exaggerating or waxing sentimental here. Writing stories is what I was born to do. I know that with increasing certainty as I grow older. Specifically, I was born to write about love and hope and joy, in all of which I believe passionately. I am a shy introvert and find it difficult to reach out beyond the confines of my family and a few friends with the love for humanity and all forms of life I feel. But I can do it in writing, and I have worked long and hard to do it well. I would never include anything in my stories just to sell copies. I have to remain true to myself. Ought I, then, to allow an outside entity to display my stories to a reading public with the sort of cover that is likely to sell even if it is not representative of the story within or the author who wrote it?
That is a genuine question, not a rhetorical one. I am not critical of anyone who will do anything within her power to sell the product upon which she has expended so much time and effort. But for me the answer is no. I write about love and romance. That word "romance" has given its name to a whole vast genre and sometimes becomes synonymous with "sex." Not for me, however. I want covers that are romantic and beautiful and clearly indicate to a potential reader what (s)he is likely to find within the covers. I changed publisher halfway through the Survivors' Club series and now have full control over my covers (at the expense of more work on my part!) And I must say that so far I have been given covers so gorgeous that now I can almost weep over them for an entirely different reason!
So, yes, unless I am buying a specific author or following a personal recommendation, I will continue to choose at least initially according to covers that attract me. And I will have to hope that my covers will attract readers both new and old to the love stories within the pages. If potential new readers turn away because the cover does not have a half-naked man or a woman with a skirt that billows across the whole page, then so be it.
I would LOVE to hear comments on this theme!
So would I, Mary. Many interesting thoughts there.
So, readers, over to you! What covers do you find most appealing for historical romance?
Which of Mary's covers shown here do you like most?
Any and all views and opinions on the subject welcome, and remember, there's a book for one randomly picked commenter.
Thank you, Mary, for visiting the Wenches again, and for such an interesting and thought provoking piece.