I’ll admit it! I judge books by their covers. It is totally superficial and a very bad habit, but what can one do? Good cover art for books is advertising and nothing else. It’s meant to draw you in, but we all know no book cover will appeal to everyone. One genre in literature that seems to get the most negativity in regard to cover art is the romance novel. Just thinking of a romance cover sparks an image of a ripped guy, probably with a ripped shirt, lovingly holding a small, defenseless woman as they both wear an intense, desperate look on their faces.
Over the years, this kind of visual has formed a rather ugly stigma around the books and has been known to undermine the contents to many readers. However, recently the romance novel covers have been changing. Fifty Shades of Grey sold millions of copies and was as far from the typical romance cover art as one could get. Intrigued by this changing in the romance world, I decided to break out my inner detective to see just how these book covers are transforming and do so by looking at the many, and I mean many, books of Nora Roberts throughout the years.
As many of you know, Nora Roberts began her writing career when she was trapped in her house during a snow blizzard with her two children. Looking for something to keep her occupied, or sane, she decided to write down one of the stories that was floating around in her head. Her first book, Irish Thoroughbred, was published in 1981 and was given the typical romance cover art.
As you can see, the usual couple is present with a horse in the background to hint at the storyline. Accompanying the couple, however, are some interesting choices in design. One element is the border around the picture of the couple, which consists of the words “Silhouette Romance”. The design of the border is to attract the viewer’s attention to what’s inside; the name, the title, and the image. The title of the book is written in the same dark purple color as the border; a choice that complements the light purple background well.
While this was a good tactic in the early eighties, nowadays Nora Roberts’ book covers have evolved into a general system. If you follow this link, you will see a very nice array of Roberts’ books and it will become easier to see just the system I am describing. Here I have a picture of Carnal Innocence, which in my opinion is beautifully done, but also represents the template Roberts’ books usually follow. Actually, the set up is very simple: Roberts’ name at the top in large font, the title close below, and some sort of picture that visualizes a key element in the storyline. Looking back at Irish Thoroughbred, when it was reprinted the usual set up, as I just described, was used instead as you can see here.
But as many of you know, Roberts’ usual style of writing takes form in a series. Well after her writing career began, Roberts published a series called The Mackade Brothers, which was made up of two brothers, Rafe and Jared, and each brother had two books. Below you can see all four books with their original artwork. Although the series does not follow one kind of style for all four books, the style for Rafe is set one way and the style for Jared is set as another. Although the classic design of a woman and man holding each other is present in two of the books, an important thing to note is that all four books show a man on the cover, much larger than any of the other pictures.
I’d also like to mention that when these books were reprinted, they too followed the typical Nora Roberts’ set up as you can see below. They follow the same pattern as most of Roberts’ other books, but are given just enough uniqueness so the reader can distinguish them from the others (which can be said for all of Roberts’ book covers).
One positive aspect about the changing of Roberts’ cover art is that now the covers are cleaner and easier to read. As I described before, Roberts’ name is written in large print, which is helpful nowadays since she has written so much and most people at least know of her. So once a potential customer reads her name they know they are looking at a romance. Then, they will see whatever image was selected and get a very general feel for what the book is about. Finally, the title, if it is well done, gives a little mystery to the book. Carnal Innocence for example is very likely to maximize the customer’s curiosity in the book. So although it is a simple system, it works well.
Recently, Roberts’ books have kept to the usual system, but with a more glamorous twist. One that I had to mention is the Inn Boonsboro trilogy, which can be seen below. The covers for these books are breathtaking and have a very interesting back-story. Obviously Roberts makes quite a lot of money from her writing and when she saw an old, deteriorating inn found in her town in Maryland, she had to save it. After the renovations were complete, Roberts used the inn as the backdrop for her Boonsboro Inn trilogy, which is named after the actual town. (If you’d like to hear the full story from an interview with Nora, click here.)
Now, to conclude this post, here is Roberts’ latest book, The Liar, which released on April 14, 2015. You can still see the usual Nora Roberts template, however, although it contains all the elements I mentioned before, there is one thing that is new. In the upper left hand corner, you can see a logo with “NR” written inside it. This is a new method Roberts’ publishers have been using, which tells the reader that that book in particular is in its first printing. Since Roberts is such a prolific writer and so many of her books are being reprinted, it’s now easier to know which books are more recent.
That is obviously an amazing resource for all you Nora fans out there to find her latest read and to continue your fangirling. And why not? Nora Roberts is an amazing writer and such a good person who I’m sure will release another two hundred books to come.