On Writing

The Evolution of a Romance Cover

With the launch of the final book in the Full Hearts Series (The Break-up) coming in less than a month, I thought it would be fun to look back at all the different covers I’ve tried—and there have been a lot of them. The seven titles in my Full Hearts Series have sported a total of twenty-eight different covers, all in less than two-and-a-half years!

One of the most important decisions to make before releasing a novel is choosing a cover. It’s what draws the right reader to the right book. To do that, it has to both fit in and stand out. Fitting in means that the cover tells readers exactly what type of story they’re getting. (I mean, imagine if an erotic horror had the look of a Christian inspirational romance. That would net you some negative reviews.) Standing out means that the cover must catch the eye and make a person want to know more.

Here’s my first attempt at a cover for Break in Two. I didn’t want to put people on my covers because I wanted readers to imagine their own perfect heroes. I wanted to go with something classic and simple, like E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, or Sylvia Day’s Crossfire Series.

Break In Two (horse cover)So I spent hours poring over stock photos until I found something I loved. A horse.

My husband made my first cover for me, patiently suggesting the entire time that maybe having a horse on an erotic novel wasn’t a very good idea.

Break in Two Final coverTurns out, he was right. But, hey, it’s given us a good laugh from time to time, so it was totally worth it. Anyway, we went back to the drawing board and found the wine heart. I still love this cover. It definitely stood out. I still get compliments on it today.

I started writing Breaking Love, and wanted a similar look, so we went with a yellow wine heart so it would match. I learned two things: 1) Color matters. The red says romance. It catches the eye. The yellow one, while matching the first cover, and beautiful (IMHO), didn’t do as well;  2) Don’t take it personally if someone says ‘it kind of looks like urine.’

Breaking Love (cover)

By this time, I had signed on with HarperCollins Canada, as well as Piatkus Entice (a division of Little, Brown) in the U.K. I still needed to make my own covers for the U.S., but they would handle all other territories. Piatkus Entice decided to stick with my original look.

HarperCollins, knowing the Canadian market better than almost anyone, decided to go with an upscale look for the books, including French-cut paper. Gorgeous in print.

Here are the covers that Piatkus and I went with for the first two books in the series, as well as the novella, Don’t Let Go:

Break In Two Reworkedv1  Breaking Love Reworkedv1  Dont Let Go Reworkedv1

Here are the HarperCollins covers for Break in Two, Breaking Love, and Don’t Let Go.

 Break_in_Two  Breaking_Love  Don't Let Go Finalv2

We learned that in trying to go a little too ‘upscale,’ we were missing out on capturing the hard-core romance fans. They may have mistaken the books for literary fiction. Having figured that out, we went with a more contemporary feel for Breaking Clear, and we saw that we were on the right track. They followed it with a similar look for Breaking Hearts.

^B01F44D426A7B145C416FE9FFA972519D03F1E48F1EDCB5CA3^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr  BreakingHearts (2)

By the time Piatkus Entice and I got to Breaking Clear (book 3), we were scratching our heads. What color do we go with now? We decided to go for an aqua heart that time, hoping that it would work. Again, color mattered.

Breaking Clear Reworkedv1  Breaking Hearts Reworkedv1

The aqua confused people who were just seeing one of my books for the first time. It could have indicated YA sci-fi, even. Add that to a title that didn’t necessarily say romance, and ‘Houston, we have a problem.’ A prominent blogger friend of mine, Lin Tahel Cohen, also pointed out that because the titles were all so similar, people who saw the books on black and white Kindles would likely think they’ve already bought it. Her advice convinced me it was time to revamp the covers.

So I decided I needed a Nicholas Sparks-type ‘almost kissing couples’ on the covers. Piatkus stayed with the originals and added a pink heart to the group for Breaking Hearts (much better than the blue for indicating romance) while I enlisted the good people at Damonza.com for help. They were exceedingly patient and professional as we went back and forth for weeks to come up with these:

Break in Two - EBook 1333 x 2000  Breaking Love - 1333 x 2000  Don't Let Go - EBook 1333 x 2000  Breaking Clear - EBook 1333 x 2000  Breaking Hearts - EBook 1333 x 2000

Beautiful. Well-branded. Still not working. This was not their fault in any way; I was driving the look and choosing each stock image from the dozens of choices they sent me. A major bummer, after all that time and cost that went into the set. I left the covers up for eight months to give them a fair shot.

Two months ago, I realized that I didn’t actually love these covers. In hopes of reaching a bigger audience, I had gone with a look that wouldn’t compel me to buy the books. It hit me that, to a certain extent, people who like what I like would like my books. Those almost kissing couples were not helping me find my audience. Almost kissing Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams is one thing. Almost kissing models are entirely another. Plus, Nicholas Sparks doesn’t use ‘almost kissing couples’ on his novels—not until he has the movie poster to use. He uses objects/scenes that suit his brand.

By this point, sales were slumping, so I decided to go back to my original way of doing things, and doing it myself. This time, I didn’t even ask my wonderful husband for help. I wanted to do it all on my own. I wanted to create something beautiful that would draw me to it. The trend in romance covers lately seems to be toward lighter backgrounds. I went back to Shutterstock to search for just the right pictures for each story. Something so pretty, you want to reach out and touch it.

I used a website called Canva.com, took their tutorials (for free), and got to work creating new covers. I also met a graphic designer, Claudia Bost, who had just finished reading my first four novels. She loved them so much, she asked how she could help me with the covers. I said I could use a set of wedding rings made from Brazilian Redwood with silver on the inside, so she made me just that. She also helped me figure out how to make them look just right among some rose petals, and the result is the gorgeous new Breaking Hearts cover.

I also bugged a few dear friends for their opinions as I tweaked and fiddled with various concepts. So, in the end, I wasn’t able to do it ‘all by myself,’ but as with most great things in life, with a little help from my friends.

Here is the result:

1 Break in Two March 2016  4. Breaking Love March 2016  1.5 Don't Let Go March 2016 Cover  3 Breaking Clear March 2016  BreakingHearts March 2016  2 The Break Up March 2016

I have to say, I’m in love with these covers. Here’s why I think they work:

– They have that red that really pops and says romance,

– They have a clean, simple look,

– It is clear that these books are part of a series, but,

– Each book has its own unique image which will avoid confusion,

– They allow readers to envision their own perfect versions of my characters,

– They’re just really frigging pretty.

With The Break-up slated to be released on May 5th, I’m hoping that these new covers will be the wings this series needs to take flight.

I’d love to know what you think. Which set of covers do you like best?

For your chance to win your own print set of the series, simply comment below with:

1. Black wine covers
2. HarperCollins covers
3. Nicholas Sparks style covers
4. White and red covers

I’m choosing a winner on May 5th!

Good luck,