Friday, December 19, 2008

A Question of Covers

On Wednesday, the UK newspaper The Guardian ran this article:

Ad agency St Luke's is set to redesign Mills & Boon covers. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/Guardian
Romantic fiction publisher Mills & Boon is planning its first new
advertising campaign in six years to "ignite passion" in younger readers.
The publisher, which celebrated its 100th birthday this year
, has appointed ad agency St Luke's to develop a new campaign for its novels.
St Luke's, which won a pitch for the account against two other unnamed agencies, will launch the campaign next summer, and will also redesign the covers of Mills & Boon's books.
Mills & Boon said the aim of the ad campaign is to "ignite a passion for the brand among a new target audience of younger readers while continuing to fuel love and loyalty among its very sizeable fanbase".
The company said that more than 7 million Mills & Boon books are sold in the UK each year.
"It is not every day that you get to work with a client listed in the Oxford English Dictionary," said the St Luke's business development director, Liz Little.

Now this intrigued me. In the almost 25 years I've been writing for Mills & Boon, I, and my books, have been through heavens knows how many changes in the design of the covers. There were the original covers with different coloured bands at the top. (The bands were supposed to be dark or pastel depending on the sensuality of the covers, but in my own books it seemed more that they picked up colours in the actual cover art work)

Then there were the 'half a heart'covers. Covers where the different halves of a heart, one facing right, one facing left, were meant to be displayed so that on the shelves they made up one whole heart. They never were displayed that way - at least, I never saw them.

Then the lines were split into Romance and - then it was Mills & Boon Presents - and there was the solid band of blue. The band of blue became a blue swirl with - oh dear - photographs that so often made the heroes look about 3 years old and often very gay. The heroines were too frequently emaciated too.

The photographs disappeared. We went back to art work. But it was still a matter of luck if you got a good cover or not. You could describe your hero and heroine till you were blu in the face, send in magazine pictures that were meant to show what your characters looked like. Sometimes it seemed that the artwork department listened - sometimes . . . NOT! I once foolishly said that my hero was an actor, a film star - Robert Redford type.

What I got was this. RR's older, fatter, less handsome cousin maybe - but Redford himself??
I'm intrigued by this Guardian article in two ways.
One is that the covers tend to be matters of fashion. And luck. Sometimes you get a great one. Other times you get ones that have you wincing and crying 'No!'

Who could forget the glory of 'The Blob' that was the cover of Desert Affair - though you had to see it in the pink hardback library version to see it in it's true horror.

And my other point is that 'younger readers' bit. How young? I've met readers of romances who range in age from 16 to 86 . And none of them buys the book solely because of the cover.

If we design covers for younger readers do we need to use - say Zac Efron - as a cover model as opposed to H-I-A-T?

Well, Zac's pretty but he's not my Greek Billionaire or my hard-bitten, brooding Santos Cordero in my next book.

And what do you want on a cover? The hero and heroine? A clinch? Flowers? Hearts and flowers? It seems to me that you can't please all of the people all of the time - and unless we go down the Harry Potter route, with one cover for the adult version and one for the younger market, we will struggle to create a cover image that appeals to everyone.

So what do you think? Are you a 'younger reader'? Do you think romance appeals to you and your age group? Is it anything to do with the covers that appeals/puts you off? Would a change in covers make you want to pick up a book or would one of those The Amnesiac Greek Billionaire's Secret Mistress's Secret Baby titles make you put it straight back down again?

And what does everyone think? No matter what your age or how long you've been reading romance. Do you buy because of the appeal of a cover image? Or is it the title (is it really??) or the author's name . . .

I'm interested - and I'm pretty sure St Luke's ad agency is too.


Caroline said...

St Luke's is the 'whacky' ad agency isn't it? The one where the staff can pretty much come and go as they please and everyone owns a share of the company. It'll be interesting to see what they come up with.

I was thinking of you the other day; I read a review of Australia and the reviewer was waxing lyrical about Hugh Jackman in the shower!

juliemt said...

Hi Kate!

I've been reading M&Bs ever since Adam was a boy and the main attraction for me when picking up an M&B is not the title or cover, but the author. I've a list of favourites whose books I buy without fail and try out new writers by borrowing their books from the library.

I think that if M&B want to attract younger readers, they should leave the covers as they are and try to find an accessible platform to address these readers. Advertise and feature excerpts of the books in the glossies and the celebrity weeklies and get these magazines to run articles about writing for Mills and Boon. I'm also surprised that no production company has filmed any of the books in the UK, especially when you consider how popular the books are.

I also think that the titles need to be revamped. Yes, I know that titles with "Greek", "Mistress" and "Virgin" are huge sellers, but the current titles seem to reaffirm stereotypes and prejudices about these books which confirm some people's preconceived notions about the genre and will not induce new readers to pick up the books.

Ellen said...

Kate--Robert Redford's older cousin--priceless.

In my first book, the heroine is described as having short, messy, blond hair--like a young Meg Ryan. On the cover she has shoulder-length red hair.

That's fine, except the cover lady looks EXACTLY like my baby sister. Anyone who knows me and sees the cover thinks I wrote a romance starring my own family members. That's a little...icky?

Hee. Covers. I'm with Julie on the titles, too. My upcoming book is called "The Boyfriend's Back." I like that much better than last year's "His Secret Past."


Sabrina Philips said...

Hi Kate

I saw this news too and wait with baited breath to see what they come up with! I've been reading M&B since I was 13 and obviously am now delighted to be writing them too. Now that I am, there are loads of things that influence which books I buy - author, theme, good reviews etc etc, but before that, I'm ashamed to say that cover did actually play a fairly big part in what I chose - i.e. I bought them semi-regularly and when I did I'd grab one quickly with a hero and heroine I liked the look of and a blurb I liked the sound of (I liked sheikhs best and didn't like stories which featured children - probably because I couldn't relate).

As an author I now like to think that over time people will start picking up my books because I wrote them, but I am sure that's not always the case.

As for a younger look I personally think the only way to get that is to make all of them less generic, but then you'd lose brand recognition I suppose.

I agree with juliemt that glossies as a source of advertisment would be money well spent - I've long seen the connection between the fantasies Presents fulfils and our modern obsession with celebrity culture.

Anyway, I can't wait to see whatever they come up with, and your blob of a desert mountain had me in stitches!

Sabrina xx

EllenToo said...

Being in the US I don't really see the Mills & Boon covers but then I don't pay much attention to covers anyway (Sorry). I've said this before in other places but the story and the author are the main reasons I buy the book. And to answer the age question I'm 63 and I've been reading Harlequin for a very long time.

Gina said...

Well sometimes, it depends. If l know the author it does not matter but a new author, the cover is like an insight to her story. If it looks bad it will affect how l view the story. Honestly there is no need for younger cover models to attract that age group because it may detract the appeal to its regular clients. As was said before they have to find another way.

Anne McAllister said...

It depends. If there's a particular guy in a towel on the cover, I'm sold.

Otherwise, it's by author. I've given up on titles, she said, wondering what Antonides' Forbidden Wife really means to anyone, if the author has to ask! And cover art is, er, problematic most times.

I am a survivor of the Harlequin American bowling ball covers, though, so almost anything St Luke's does will not (I hope) have the devastating effect that did. Having said that, though, I hope they don't sink all the lines trying to 'appeal' to younger readers -- or any 'subset' of readers for that matter.

Jan Jones said...

It's ALWAYS the author for me. Always, always, always.

Mind you, The Blob was intriguing in a kind of oh-my-god-what's-that-and-is-it-going-to-get-me way.

Liz Fielding said...

Ah, the Blob...

I'm with Anne - Hugh Jackman in a towel will get me every time. Sadly "Romance" authors tend not to get men wearing nothing but a towel.

I did wonder why the groom on my latest cover was wearing white tie and tails -- but not for long. You could go crazy that way.

Kathryn, St. Luke's said...

Hi there

I work at St Luke's and we're so excited to be working on the covers. It's really useful to hear your comments (Kate and Liz, thanks so much for visiting the whole buffalo!).

It would be great to hear your thoughts on how you think the covers should reflect the differences in each genre?

Happy Christmas to you all and feel free to visit us at our agency blog, the whole buffalo.


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