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Romance Novel Covers April 23, 2007

Posted by lindamc in America's Next Top Model, Christine Feehan, Fabio, magazines/photography, objectification of men, romance novels, sex sells, tv.

I can’t remember the season, but in one episode of America’s Next Top Model, the girls had a fashion shoot where they posed with Fabio in order to grace the cover of a romance novel (it was on reruns this weekend if anyone saw it:) I have always had this thing about romance novels: I think they are really trashy and a sad excuse for literature…but I find an absurd amount of pleasure reading them…

I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day and actually my sister about our obsession with romance novels. They both said to me that they don’t just pick up the occasionaly book in the airport when they travel, but they follow authors and plot lines at such a disgusting rate (according to myself) that they treat the books (in my opinion) like fine literature. They are both Amherst grads who live in big cities and have successful careers. I was at a loss for how they could be not just using the novels as secret pleasure (like, for example certain TV shows are for some people: I love NY or The OC), but a very much out their discussion about what the great romance novelists are writing. I know it could just be a personal thing for them, but I find it fascinating that these two women are so obsessed with books that paint romance in such an unrealistic and unattainable light (especially my sister’s favorites which are placed in historical settings: on a Southern plantation in the 1840s, or in London England during the Revolutionary War). I love them for being sooo bad, but my sister and friend are against me, and say they are an extremely good form of entertainment…and I don’t mean to get too sexual here, but that’s what they say.

Sorry for that tangent, anyway, the real point of this post is to, like the America’s next top model episode, discuss the covers of romance novels. In a recent blog post on ReadersRead.com, a major romance publisher’s ad for new male models was discussed:

Harlequin’s Looking For a Few Good-Looking Men
Book cover of Dark Secret by Christine Feehan Book publisher Harlequin is looking for a few good-looking men to grace the covers of its romance novels. So what, you might ask, is wrong with the male models that traditionally grace the covers? Apparently, they’re too small in the pec department, for one thing.

Representatives of Harlequin Enterprises, the world’s biggest publisher of romance novel series, inspected the assets of about 200 men who lined up at a Toronto casting house on Saturday to prove they could flutter readers’ hearts better than professional models.

“We’re looking for some guys that are not your usual models, but have that iconic look that women go for — sexy, sensitive, beautiful and fit,” said Harlequin spokeswoman Marleah Stout, who attended the open casting. “We want real men … exactly what you think in your mind when you’re fantasizing or imagining that ideal man.” Toronto-based Harlequin, a division of newspaper group Torstar Corp., sold 131 million books in 94 countries last year. It estimates that a third of American women have read at least one of its titles.

Until now, the publisher relied on modeling agencies to supply bodies for its concupiscent covers. But the readership — predominantly female and averaging 42 years of age — was upset when slight, young cover models clashed with the brawny, mature heroes described within.

“Some of the heroes are captains of industry, billionaires,” said Deborah Peterson, a Harlequin creative designer and a judge at the audition. “A lot of the models were too young, men in their twenties … and our audience likes men a little bit older, a bit bigger, than the runway models.”

We went browsing through the romance titles on our to be read shelf, and we were struck by how many romance novels don’t even have men on the covers at all. We’re seeing more women on the covers and cartoon characters. Lots of cartoons. Oh, and lots of vampire covers. Those are super hot. But back to Harlequin’s troubles. We think they should chat with Christine Feehan, who writes a gazillion bestsellers for both Leisure Books and Berkley. She and her publishers’ art department seems to have the macho cover thing down cold. And, of course, we read everything she writes. In fact, we are getting quite grumpy waiting for the arrival of the next Carpathian book, Dark Possession, which is due out in August, 2007 from Berkley.

I thought it was really interesting that this blogger found fewer covers with actual models on them, especially since the ANTM made such a huge deal about the characters and Fabio, and these are books for women and their fantasies (at least that’s what i presume). My sister is a fan of Christine Feehan, and i wonder if it has anything to do with the objectificaiton of men (especially those with extra large pecks?) in her book covers (provides more of a starting point for ones imagination, or if other companies think that using cartoons allows for each person to pick their own ideal man? I think I will need to do more research on my own about these covers, but if anyone has more first hand information, that would be helpful:)



1. Gina - April 24, 2007

I’m surprised that there might be fewer romance covers with actual models on them because I’ve always noticed that the covers usually show chest-baring men. Last summer I worked in Berkley Editorial and I remember that during the meetings where we discussed possible cover options, romance covers were always planned to attract women through the presentation of strong male bodies on the front. The big thing that was always focused on was, “Is the cover SEXY enough?” But I wonder (in the same way you wonder how some women could be obsessed with books that paint romance in such an unrealistic and unattainable light) why women are attracted to these men that are very hard to find in the real world? What makes these men so alluring? Are romance novels creating the vision of the ideal man?

2. andyw - April 25, 2007

I’m not sure how well this fits into the discussion, but I’ve always seen romance novels and science fiction/fantasy novels as being counterparts (the former being marketed primarily to females, the latter to males). This, I think, at least complicates the problem of what people are getting out of these books: if women are looking for the ideal man or the ideal relationship, what are men looking for in their respective genres? Also, there seems to be a fairly big gap between science fiction and fantasy genres: to what extent is there a subdivision (or subdivisions) within romance novels? Are the covers different because the books are from different sub-genres?

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