I remember as a little boy, maybe around six years old, my family and I would frequent our public library just about every weekend. My mother was an avid reader so my sisters and I picked up that love of reading. What always caught my eye was the romance novel section, specifically the book covers of many of those books. It felt taboo for me to be there for whatever reason but I still found my way in there quite a few times. (I don’t believe in censorship so I am a firm believer that all books belong somewhere.) As I walked through the stacks many times over the years, I could not understand why the romance novel industry designed their book covers the way they do but I understand now thanks to the documentary Love Between the Covers and to the research I have conducted about the industry.
There is a very good reason why the romance novel industry designs their book covers the way they do. According to Erica Tsang, the Editorial Director of Avon, Harper Collins’ romance imprint, “A lot of people say covers don’t matter, but a really bad cover can prevent people from picking up a book. It’s important to have consistency in covers for each author to develop a brand and have a certain look. Really good marketing and really good designers do this.” It’s easy for people to judge those covers but we have to understand that a romance novel is about romance. It makes sense to have a book cover that is visually appealing. Tsang went on to say that “romances in general are female fantasy: If I’m going to have a fantasy I want the best-looking guy ever, I want that very masculine, buff guy on the cover. You know what you’re getting when you pick up a romance novel.”
Just to dive into some numbers to provide context on the industry’s success: 84% of romance novel readers are women and 16% of readers are men. Put into perspective: This amounts to about 29 million romance novel readers per year! “According to Nielsen’s US 2014 Q1 Romance Landscape report, ebook romance sales have outpaced the formerly dominant mass-market paperback format, and 39% of all romance novels are purchased in digital format (with mass market now fairly close second at 32%).” It’s safe to assume that readers of this genre truly enjoy their romance novels.
What about the models that grace the covers? The industry has adapted to the change in readers’ buying habits. Covers used to be designed in a way that readers browsing book shelves would be attracted to them right away. However, book covers these days are designed to jump off a screen as opposed to a shelf. This takes a keen eye and some serious modeling by professional models. As noted by one romance cover model: “It was 2007, and I had been a clothing and ad model for 10 years. The thrill was gone, for these sorts of shoots anyway, so one Friday night I went into a Barnes & Noble hoping to find a good self-help book to inspire me. As I walked in, from the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a romance novel, and it hit me like a bolt of lightning—I was completely dialed in on this book…I decided right then that I would be a romance novel cover model—someone who would not just get on one or two covers but a lot of covers.” So there is a science behind what the industry does and it works!
I was not aware of the amazing success this industry has amassed. I became very aware of this when I screened the documentary Love Between the Covers as a Valentine’s Day adult program at the library. I sat through the documentary and was pretty amazed at the popularity of this genre. I admit that I also very much enjoyed the documentary because it provided me with a new respect for this industry and its writers. These novels are mass produced but they sell out like hot cakes.
I have jokingly said that I am in the wrong profession! Why be a librarian when I can quit my job and write romance novels full time? I might be good at it…but probably not. But if you are thinking of trying your luck in becoming a romance author, at least now you know the industry numbers are in your favor. Moving forward, I will always appreciate this industry so much more.