Monday, July 18, 2011

The dilemma of cover art

I've posted here  a couple of times about the bad cover art that shows up on some books, and the whole issue of cover art on romance novels is nothing new.  We went through the nursing mother covers -- heroines portrayed as young women so well endowed that they must have been lactating -- and of course Fabio and the Topaz Man and on and on.  Back the day (1970s, '80s, and into the '90s) there were a number of artists whose work was almost instantly recognizable.

Morgan Kane will always be my personal favorite

but I've loved the work of John Ennis,

Robert Maguire

James Griffin

and many others.  But these were one-of-a-kind paintings, often commissioned by the publisher specifically for that book.

Somewhere around the mid-1990s there was a switch from the "fine art" portrait style to the flowers-and-jewelry cover, sometimes with a fine art step back, sometimes not.  Was this a cost-cutting move on the part of publishers?  To be honest, I don't know.  What I do know is that some of the cover art could not have cost what it used to.

Cover art was a matter of pride for the authors.  Did the people on your cover match the characters in your book?  Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't.  Were the colors attractive?  Was the lettering for the title (and your name, if large enough) legible?  Did you get embossing or foil or . . . . or anything?  Back in those days, your cover was your main selling tool, and very often authors had little to no control over their covers.  Johanna Lindsey made news when she demanded -- and got! -- a naked man on her cover, by another favorite artist, Robert McGinnis.

But now, as we're more than a decade into the 21st century, we're getting into a whole bunch of new issues with cover art. 

As documented here and here and here on Smart Bitches Trashy Books, cover art gets recycled, sometimes the paintings and sometime with photographs.  Stock photography such as found at and and others is inexpensive and plentiful, and a graphic designer armed with Photoshop or any other graphic manipulating software can turn out some pretty cool stuff. 

The problem is, so can anyone else.

Or these:

While the first two examples appear to be books self-published by new authors, the latter two are from authors established in print in the 1980s.  And the worst of it is that both pairs of books were released in the same month on Amazon.

What's an author to do?  Laugh it off and say at least both of them have good taste?

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