5 February 2015

Romance Covers and What They Mean

Hey everyone,

Whether you've been reading romance books for decades or have just discovered the genre, one thing all of us have in common is that we will have looked a romance cover. Perhaps that cover, or covers, may have convinced you to pick up the book in the first place. I know the first romance book I read was partly chosen because of the pretty cover. Today I want to take an indepth look at what a romance cover can tell us and the key identifiers you should look out for when trying to find you're favourite sub-genre within the romance world.

Most, if not all, of what I'm about to say is purely based on observation and therefore it could all be fairly obvious, however, I thought it be interesting to discuss the differences between the sub-genres of romance covers. Partly because despite what people think they are not all the same.

Contemporary Romance

Contemporary is a huge category and in many ways is a bit of a catch-all as it can incorporate mutliple sub-genres under one roof. Due to this I would argue that there are different styles within the Contemporary Romance Covers umbrella.

Perhaps the most obvious to identify from their covers are small-town romances. Often it'll feature a smiling couple who are probably hugging or embracing or just about to kiss, and the background will most likely be some rural setting. Perhaps a mountain and blue skies in the distance, or a deck with a lake/sea/river in the background. I've also noticed that pastel colours, particularly pink is extremely popular for small-town romances. If you like this genre look for nature, a happy couple and pink.
New Adult Romance covers are a whole different kettle of fish, these covers will often feature a close-up of a couple about to kiss. New Adult covers are the sexier, more intense version of small-town romance covers. They have a deeper intensity, often advertising the sexual chemistry between the couple, which is arguably achieved through dark colours and the near kiss pose that shows that the couple is completely focused on each other.

Contemporary Romances that border on Chick Lit will often not feature real people, or potentially not people at all. Often they have cartoon style artwork to depict either a scene from the book or some key items that are relevant to the story. Take the cover for The Vintage Girl by Hester Browne, it features an old-fashioned suitcase and a pair of shoes, clearly representing the heroine love for antiques and also the fact she temporarily moved to Scotland during the course of the book.


I realise what I've just said won't apply for every single book in these sub-genres but generally I've found that it works as a rough-rule of thumb and has enabled me to choose and avoid certain books without ever having to read the blurb.

Paranormal Romance

I'm going to again divide paranormal romance covers as I believe that there is a distinct difference between Paranormal Romances that follow a single covers and those that follow a single person (often the heroine).

Paranormal Romances that revolve around a couple will often feature a topless male. I'm not quite sure why they are so prevalent in this sub-genre but they are. It'll probably have a dark background, perhaps showing something supernatural in the background. For example if it a book about a wolf shifter it might have a wolf  in the background. If it doesn't have a topless male it will probably have a man as the focus of the cover, be it his face or his chest.


The reason why men are so promient in the couple based paranormal romance is probably because the paranormal romances (I want to call them Urban Fantasy but I think that could be something completely different? I've never read one so I wouldn't know) that follow a single character often have a female on the cover. She's probably brandishing a weapon be it a sword, a gun or something more creative. The message is she's armed, dangerous and can take on anything the paranormal world feels like throwing at her. In this sub-genre females rule the cover. 

Historical Romance

The bread and butter of the romance world historical romances are also one of the easiest to identify, partly due to the dress. If you see a book with a huge historical dress on the cover it is probably a historical romance. Espeically if the woman in the dress is embracing a partly clad gentleman. It is also highly likely that this historical romance is set in the Regency, although it could just as easily be Edwardian, Georgian or even Medieval. If I need more about the fashion in these period I might be able to narrow it down more depending how historically accurate the dresses are. But I don't, so I can't, so I won't.


There are two expections to this rule: Scottish Romances and Westerns. These are both very easy to spot. If you see a tartan, plaid or anything that looks like it could be a kilt they it is probably a historical romance. If, on the other hand the hero has a cowboy hat, or is anywhere near a horse it is probably a Western.

Romantic Suspense

Now I'm not affraid to admit I don't read Romantic Supsense, and haven't for probably a good five years. It just isn't my cup of tea, so my knowledge of these covers is limited, however, after a little bit of research I've noticed that guns, bare chest and a sense of darkness through eerie backgrounds appear to be the common connections in this genre. If I'm wrong feel free to tell me!

M/M Romance

Probably the biggest clue that the book you're looking at his an M/M will be the presence of two men on the cover. Usually one will be in the foreground and the other will be in the background. One, or both of them might be topless but then again neither of them could be.




This is, however, is not a hard and fast rule meaning you could just as easily have an M/M romance with only one hero on the cover. In those instances there isn't really any way to tell them apart from a M/F contemporary or historical or paranormal etc. Of course you can still tell a historical M/M romance from a paranormal M/M romance using the signals mentioned above. 

F/F Romance

I have noticed that F/F Romance Covers, perhaps more commonly than any other sub-genre will sometimes have no people on it at all. Instead the cover could just be a scenic landscape, an interesting object that is probably relevant to the storyline or it could just be vague impression of something. F/F Romance covers can be fairly abstract.

On the other hand more often we are now getting F/F covers that do actually depict two women. Most of them just show two women having a conversation and laughing, almost implying they could just be friends instead of lovers. Of course if it is an erotic F/F romance than it will probably feature two women with a more sexual implication.

Erotic Romance


Since the sucess of Fifty Shades of Grey erotic romance covers went through a stage of being extremely abstract and minimalist, picture a dark backgrond and just a single item. I suppose this was publishers desire to provide more discreet covers for an increasinly popular market. To some extent this is still true, however, increasinly I've noticed people returning to the covers of Erotic Romance books. Perhaps a woman against a dark background facing away from the camera. Erotic Romance like dark, plain backgrounds and in fact all the colours tend to be rather muted with maybe just one splash of colour on the whole cover. 


Of course if this is an erotic romance published purely on ebook than it seems the publishers have more of an anything goes mentality with covers featuring semi-naked couples embracing being very common. Of course if there are multiple people on the cover then its probably an erotic romance, and one that clearly involves more than two people getting a happy ever after.

So I'm not sure if this post was particularly informative but it was interesting to write and I hope you enjoyed it. Do you currently like the various signals in the romance cover world? Do you think some sub-genres need to be change-up or reinvented?

Happy reading everyone and see you next time!