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Entries in romance cover art (1)

Friday
May062011

Off With Their Heads! Cropped Figures in Romance Cover Art

They’re here!  Romance fiction cover art has been invaded by hordes of headless heroes and heroines.  All we see of the ladies are their torsos and limbs, usually clad in elegant gowns.  As for the men, they come in two styles:  shirt on and shirt off. 

But what you won’t see are their faces, or at least their eyes.  The top edge of the book cover chops these figures off at the neck, mouth, or nose.  If not that, then we can’t see their faces because of positioning or shadows.

This trend has become so common that with some romance publishers and imprints, it’s difficult if not impossible to find cover figures with their heads intact.   Why? 

It seems rather counter-intuitive.  In taking pictures with cameras, we’re warned not to leave off the tops of our subjects’ heads---let alone part or all of their faces.  If we do, it means we need to aim better.

In portraiture---in photography, paint, or another medium---we’re told that an important objective, perhaps the most important one, is to reveal character, personality, attitude, emotion.  How can we do that if we can’t see the figures’ faces?  Especially the most revealing part, their eyes.

What’s more, to many romance readers---including, surprise surprise, yours truly---this trend seems creepy, ugly.  A big turnoff.  A major fail.

Okay, those are the cons.  What are the pros?

To the best of my knowledge, romance publishers and their art departments haven’t discussed the matter with potential customers.  But one point is glaringly obvious. 

Cover art isn’t designed to please the eyes of readers, or anyone else.  It’s designed to sell the books.

How do headless cover figures carry out that purpose?  In discussing this topic on various websites and blogs, I’ve noticed that two ideas keep popping up.

One goes like this:  If the faces, or at least the eyes, are missing, readers must use their imaginations to fill in the blank.  A book buyer can picture a headless hero as the man of her dreams.  The headless heroine, of course, becomes the buyer herself.  She can custom tailor the cover art to fit her romantic fantasies. 

By implication, she can do the same to the whole book.  The boundary between the fantasy of fiction and the reader’s reality becomes thinner, more permeable.  This is a trend we see in various pop cultural media, genres, and formats.

The second rationale is:  If a buyer can’t see the emotions of the cover figures, she can’t be turned off by emotions that aren’t conducive to her selecting the book at the moment she sees the cover.  If, say, she’s feeling down, and is in no mood for fun, a happy couple would cause her to give the book a pass.   She’s looking for cover figures whose mindsets mirror her own.

Alternately, another buyer in the same state of depression might want to read something that will lift her out of it.  She’s not interested in gloomy cover figures.  A happy couple would be just what the doctor ordered. 

But if both buyers can’t see the cover figures’ faces, they must provide the emotions on their own.   The first can envision a man and a woman in a tense, sullen, dramatic mood---like her own.  She’ll buy the book. 

Likewise, the second buyer will envision a couple with smiles, even laughter, in a cheerful mood---unlike her own.  She’ll buy the book.

If the artist had shown the figures’ faces in either mood, the publisher would make only one of these two sales.  By rendering the figures inscrutable, it makes both.

In short, headless romance cover art makes great business sense.

But I still hate it!

Now let’s turn the discussion over to you.  What do you think about this trend?  Love it?  Hate it?  Both?  Neither?  Can you can think of a reason for or against it that I haven’t covered? 

You’re welcome to state whatever you feel about this topic.  Thanks!

 

Mary Anne Landers