(Above) Hachette associate art director Elizabeth Turner’s mood board for
Duke of My Heart by Kelly Bowen
whether the novel is a contemporary
love story, a Regency romance, or a cowboy tale.
At Harlequin, authors write synopses and scene descriptions
to help associate creative director Tony Horvath and his team
illustrate each novel’s theme or plot. Avon editorial director
Erika Tsang has her authors visualize the cover and send basic
From there, the art and editorial teams hold a roundtable
discussion and brainstorm concepts. For Elizabeth Turner, associate art director at Hachette Book Group, that means mood
boarding: she compiles a collage incorporating various fashion-magazine images and color palettes.
No matter the size of the house, each publisher needs to keep
its romance releases from blending together. “I attend all the
cover conferences and make sure that the five to six books Avon
does a month don’t all look the same,” Tsang says. That’s one
reason why certain covers might depict a couple, and others a
solo hero, or a close-up of an object.
Outside factors also influence cover design early on.
Alexandra Nicolajsen, director of social media and digital sales
at Kensington, says, “We look at the competition, and what the
sales look like for previous books by that author, and what’s
working in the marketplace,” in order to compose a cover that
of a Cover
What goes into a successful
romance novel jacket? PW takes
a peek under the sheets
BY RYAN JOE
When it comes to romance novels, the image of a lion-maned Fabio leaning into a love-struck woman is indelibly embedded in American pop culture. But look beyond the
cliché, and each romance cover offers clues as to its contents. In
other words, sometimes you can, in fact, judge a book by its
For each of the romance category’s countless subgenres, a
certain visual vocabulary prevails. “There was a time when
every historical romance had a clinch,” says Louise Burke, presi-
dent and publisher of S&S/Gallery. Her purview includes the
mass market imprint Pocket Books and the e-books division
Pocket Star. “Then every big author had the step-back, which
is the cover behind the front cover, which no longer seems as
popular. And when you melded romance into chick lit, it
became all about high heels.”
Given that sameness, here’s the challenge: each cover must
distinguish itself from the competition, both in-house and
across publishers, while fitting in with a particular brand or
series aesthetic—all while reassuring readers that they’re going
to get the love story that they expect.
Fortunately, romance publishers have cover design down to
a methodical process. Here’s how they do it.
The road from initial concept to final cover design can take
anywhere from four to eight weeks.
The first step involves consulting with the author, who can
articulate the book’s original vision and key elements, such as