Covers are a source of joy and angst for authors. I have these images in my head, but I’m not artist enough to transform them to the visual page myself. And then there’s the question of what readers want. What will draw attention? What will appeal? What will sell? What image represents the story I worked to put into words? And if an author or publisher decides to put a face on our cover, who is that guy?
Faces on M/M book covers draw all kinds of comments, good and bad. No picture looks like every reader’s mental image of a main character. And stock pictures have real limits. Like, real limits.
So do we try to find our man?
One option is to go faceless. That might be a lovely, non-figural cover. Or a man who is our MC, but turned away. Or one of the many variations of the headless guy(s), some of which are lovely, and which also have become a code for M/M romance.
Or we can take the plunge and put a face to our man, or men.
My very first pro book – Life Lessons – was published when I had very little understanding of covers and stock sites. I think some readers don’t really know either how cover images come about. If you don’t go for an art cover (like the lovely King Perry by Anne Cain above) then most covers are done by photoshopping purchased images.
It is possible to buy an exclusive image. For a couple hundred dollars, give or take, you can own the rights to a picture that no one else will get to use (or, for more $$, the rights to a whole array of pictures of that model from a particular photoshoot.) That’s a great way to give your cover uniqueness and get the look you want.
But when quite a few M/M novels don’t earn more than $1000, and when paid editing may cost half to 2/3 of that amount, adding hundreds for a cover image is beyond many budgets. So we often go to stock photo sites. These are places to legitimately buy the rights to pictures that can be adapted, edited and used for covers. The pictures may cost anywhere from a few cents to $10 or so, depending on the deal you have. That’s a huge difference in outlay. But…
For Life Lessons, I handed in a cover request. The cover artist (Lex Valentine) found me a couple of guys to look at. I fell in love with my Tony, and readers have liked him too, through the series. But Tony represents one of the issues with stock sites – good looking guys with pleasant expressions who are neither grinning like tooth-whitening ads, nor posing stiffly, are not thick on the ground. And they are in demand. So you end up with a guy who may appeal to others too. My Tony gets around.
And, from where readers have spotted him, selling everything from toothpaste to condominiums. (I love the emails that say “I saw Tony cheating on Mac with a blonde in an ad for financial services…” but some readers get annoyed by the repeats.) He’s still my Tony, but I have no issue with all the others who find him appealing. Still, it can be a concern to have someone pick up a different book, see the cover, and have my Tony’s warmth, integrity, and sunny intelligence in mind before they meet the actual MC inside. Or of course, for my readers to be expecting Jared’s steadfast self-denial, or Rob’s cheerful Regency rent-boy, as they meet Tony. But with the limits on stock picks, it’s gonna happen.
Mac represents the other issue with stock sites, that comes into play when you have a series. The artist’s first choice for Life Lessons was too waxed, too smiley, too gold-chain confident. I asked for someone less conventional, more brooding, more hair (and finding guys with chest hair is harder.) I got Mac, and loved the cover. But I hadn’t told the artist there was a sequel, let alone a series. And Mac is one of those stock site guys who is a ham, a clown, and a chameleon. But not one with a dozen great poses. Oh, Mac. Honestly? Yes, that’s the same Mac.
I did manage to find one I liked for the re-release cover for the free short stories (with design and photo-manipulation from Karrie Jax.) Lessons learned, for a future series.
So will I put guys on my covers going forward? Yeah, no doubt. It’s become my cover style, and there is a joy in finding just the right man for the story. Like my Brian, who I believe helps people envision the man I’m writing about – very blond, bigger, but soft not muscular, sweet, and solid, with his own kind of strength and a big heart.
Will I continue to wrestle with stock site options? No doubt. Am I exploring more exclusive options? For sure. (Check out Dan Skinner’s photography, for example, and other new sites with M/M pictures coming available.) Is there an answer to the perfect M/M cover? You tell me…