Falling Into Romance: On Illustrated Covers

Little bit of a disclaimer here: While I’ve been meaning to write this post since my first post on reading romance earlier this year, I’ve been struggling to actually write lately. While researching and trying to find old tweets that I remember stumbling across, I found out that a couple articles on this subject have been written on Book Riot (and probably other places as well). I’m in no way trying to copy them – it’s just been a hot topic of discussion as far as I can tell and I’ve put too much thought into this subject and this post in particular to not post it.

We’ve heard the phrase time and time again, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but let’s be real – we all kind of do to one extent or another. In an ideal world, picking out a book at the bookstore or the library would be based on synopses and content but when hundreds, if not thousands, of options are in front you, one simply doesn’t have the time to read. We reach out for what we’re drawn towards visually – either by a cover or an appealing title.

As I found myself reading more and more romance this fall, I did notice myself being drawn towards the same types of titles again and again – namely the minimalist, illustrated covers that are almost cartoon-like in appearance. And it’s happened too many times for me to think of it as just a coincidence. I’m definitely drawn towards these covers.

Now, part of the discussion I’ve seen was rather accusatory and pointed – namely that if you didn’t read romance before because of the covers, that you had something inherently against romance as a genre and needed to do a self-evaluation of why these new covers appealed to you. I’m not gonna lie. It definitely made me think long and hard about it. Was I automatically turned away from those old covers simply because I didn’t want to be ‘one of those girls’ and that romance was somehow beneath me? Was I being sexist? For a hot minute, I honestly thought that was true and it made me feel crazy guilty.

The more I’ve delved into the genre though, I’ve come to realize what things I am and am not looking for in a romance novel. Specifically, I’m here for building up of a relationship between characters that lead to those steamy moments that romance is known for. I can’t tell you the number of times where (at least one of) the characters are instantly attracted to each other and I feel a tiny bit disappointed. I want that slow burn. I want them realizing they have feelings for each other.

I also feel my sexuality may play a role in this as well. I’m demisexual and while I certainly find certain people physically attractive, there’s never any desire associated with that. That probably plays into my desire for a book that isn’t insta-attraction. When a cover largely features a bare male torso (why is it always just the torso?) or a sleeve falling down a woman’s arm, I know what to expect from the book, but it’s also not all that appealing to me. It’s a romance novel – I kind of expect that sort of thing but I want to know more about what’s inside. When I look at all the romance novels I’ve picked up based on covers, they all have some sort of fun element that has me wanting to know more.

The ‘revealing’ covers also open me up to a world of scrutiny from those who would judge me for wanting to read a book with happy relationships and even consensual sexual encounters because sex is taboo. The same people don’t seem to bat an eye at books from other genres that contain rape, incest, or pedophilia but that’s an entirely different discussion for another day.

To those who argue that the covers are ‘too juvenille’ or ‘too YA leaning’, I’d like to point out that this is a trend across genres and audiences. From the latest covers on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale series to newer editions of Harry Potter and even anniversary editions of classics. Additionally, I’d like to highlight a book from a recent post of mine, Women in Microbiology, published by none other than the American Society of Microbiology. If ASM is too young adult, then can I expect slow burn research papers on signaling molecules and some good old found family clinical reports? Hook me up with some enemies to lovers immunology studies!

And really? Without even having to get deep at all – they’re fun. Plain, pure, and simple. Give me a bright, bold cover any day!

Obviously, I’m very much here for illustrated covers but what are your thoughts? I’d love to hear.

1 thought on “Falling Into Romance: On Illustrated Covers”

  1. The cover of a romance novel definitely tends to say SO MUCH about the story inside! And this is absolutely one of those times where I always kind of judge the books by the cover. I adore these illustrated cover romances where there is more of a friendship/enemies/freak encounter to romance but I also enjoy those ones where it’s just the guy’s torso (seriously though why always just the torso) and it’s all about getting hot and heavy. It just depends on what I’m in the mood for and now that I think about it I’m kind of thankful there is such a difference in covers to help figure out the type of story I’m picking up.

    Bottom line though – READ WHAT YOU WANT! These cute illustrated cover romances are wonderful and I love them and if anybody tries to tell you they’re too juvenile just remember that they’re probably somebody that can’t find any good in the world so they want to make others feel as bad as they do.


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