Romance novels are delightful for many reasons, but as any true fan knows, the fun starts before you even open the book—with the cover. Cover styles vary from author to author, but no matter the sub-genre, there's a good chance the cover will feature sexy people doing sexy stuff. Artist and illustrator Anna Kmet, who's been creating romance covers for "many years," broke down her process and explained what makes a cover truly great. One of her most recent works is the cover for An Affair With a Notorious Heiress (above) by Lorraine Heath, who stresses the importance of a cover model's hair matching the character's. Notorious Heiress is the fourth book in Lorraine's Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James series, and features a sassy heroine who doesn't like to do what's expected—hence her unbound hair and loosely fitting dress. "The gown off the shoulder a little bit...made her look a little more daring and risqué," Lorraine explains. "Sometimes it can just be something subtle about the way that they're posed."
Anna Kmet: I get info on the book—who the characters are, physical descriptions, the synopsis of the story—from the publishers. Sometimes they have ideas of what they want for the cover and sometimes they don't; sometimes it's up to me to come up with different concepts. They might suggest having just the female lead, as in this cover for An Affair With a Notorious Heiress, and I try to come up with an idea. Then I choose models that fit the descriptions, and I have them approved with the publishers. Before the shoot, I research the costumes, then rent those. I set up a photo shoot with my photographer, Michael Frost. We take probably a couple hundred pictures, to cover all the bases and get a wide variety of shots in case they want to change directions. It's usually a one-hour photo shoot; it's a lot to do within an hour.
Then I get the photos, make some selections, have them approved, and then go on to sketch mode. I work in Photoshop. I used to be a painter, and for many years I did cover illustrations with oil paints on large canvases. I basically do the same thing now, but I work off of a computer with a drawing pad, and I can still do a lot of the same things that I used to do. I still draw and paint to create the final image. Sometimes it's a lot of back-and-forth with the art directors and the editors to get exactly what they're looking for.
Lorraine Heath: Usually, my input is just giving them information about my hero and heroine, like their hair color or anything else that might be a distinguishing characteristic. They'll ask if there are any poses that I like or any other covers I've seen that I like. I give them a short description of what the story is about. For this cover, they sent me five pictures of cover models, and they let me select which cover model I thought best represented my heroine. I hadn't done that before.
Anna: I'm friends with a couple that has collected costumes for years, and I rent them from them. There are only so many costumes out there that I can rent for a reasonable price. It’s not a movie set—this is a one-hour photo shoot for a book cover. What I have to do with the costumes is make a lot of changes. I embellish them. I put my own color scheme to them. A lot of it takes place when I sit down to work—I make a lot of changes and try to make them more interesting.
Anna: They should be pretty rugged-looking, and they have to have a good build. A lot of times I don't find models like that anymore, because models have gotten to be slender, non-muscular. I often have to work doubly hard to enhance their build.
Lorraine: He needs to look strong and bold. Appealing. A lot of times I think it's more the persona that he projects, because there are covers where the hero isn't wearing a shirt and covers where he's fully clothed, and in both of them the hero can come across as compelling. It's more the way the model portrays himself during the cover shoot. That's important.
Anna: They need to look very sensual, very beautiful, with a great build. The poses are more important than the individuals. If it's a romance with the couple in a clench, they need to be very in tune with each other. It has to look like a real, natural kind of scene.
Lorraine: The way she portrays herself is important as well. Like for this particular cover they let me select the model, and then they sent me two images of her, one where she had her hand on her face and one where she had her hand at her side and her gown was off of one shoulder. When I saw the one with the gown off the shoulder a little bit, I thought it made her look a little more daring and risqué, which is what my heroine is in this book. Sometimes it can just be something subtle about the way that they're posed.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD COVER:
Anna: It's hard to know! I try to make it beautiful—a beautiful scene, beautiful people, beautiful costumes. I'm not really into flashy types of covers, where some artists might be. I try to keep it looking more classical, and I concentrate on the beauty of the scene.
Lorraine: Romance readers do base a lot on the covers. That's the first thing that they look for—the cover has to grab their attention, particularly if the book is by an author they don't know. I've seen readers post that they've picked up books simply because they wanted the cover that was on the book.
It needs to be a little provocative. It's also helpful if it tries to capture the mood of the story. This might seem trivial, but the hair color needs to match the character's in the book. Readers are really sensitive when they're reading a book and the hair color on the cover doesn't match the hair color in the book. They'll email, or make comments on Facebook that they were disappointed that the hair color didn't match.
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.