Nancy: Cover Redux: Paint It Black Edition

What would you think if your lover gave you a black rose?

Last week, we Ladies spent a lot of time looking at, talking about, and sharing book covers. By the end of it, I thought I was ‘covered’ out; then I quickly realized I have to engage a graphic designer for my January release, pronto. That sent me back to the interwebs, down rabbit holes and into quicksand pits. Eventually I emerged, a little worse for wear, but brimming with ideas not just for One Kiss from Ruin, but for the other books in the Harrow’s Finest Five series as well.

And one of those books might get a black cover.

Just like weddings, it’s all about love, romance, and the dress

As you might remember from my cover reveal last week, the cover of my series-launching novella features the heroine in a Victorian-era dress. A very pink dress. As a general concept, a woman in a period dress without her face showing has set the tone for the series covers. However, none of the other books in the series are the same low-heat (formerly known as sweet) level, so the innocence of pastels won’t be a hallmark of the series branding.

I already know the heroine on the cover of the first full-length novel in the series will be in green. The hero loves her in green, as it brings out the color of her eyes and makes him all swoony. And I found a stock image of a woman in an amazing green dress that I hope my designer can use (although that’s not necessary, as dress color is apparently a pretty easy thing to change). Then there’s the heroine of the third novel, who’s a fiery redhead, a femme fatale, and – so Society thinks – a merry widow. She wouldn’t show up to the event of the Season in anything less than a red dress.

As for my second novel’s leading lady, she would look lovely in blue. However, in the first few scenes of the book, she’s the mysterious woman in black. That black dress gets the hero’s attention, tugs on his – ahem, let’s keep it G-rated and say heartstrings, and is referenced occasionally throughout the book. I would love to have a cover with her in her black dress, holding her sparkling masquerade mask from the same scene, and maybe featuring another fun element that I’ll keep under wraps for now. But a black cover on a romance that’s not gothic or erotica? Is such a thing done? I’m so glad you asked, because I did some research, and here’s what I learned.

Everybody wants a cover like that

Well, maybe not everyone wants or has a black book cover, but some of the biggest names in historical romance have taken a walk on the dark side.

First case in point, Hello Stranger by Lisa Kleypas. The first thing you notice about this book cover, however, probably isn’t the  character’s black and white dress. It’s probably the background. Talk about pink! While this isn’t of the pastel variety of my novella cover, the deep pink says romance, and provides a great contrast to really make that dress pop.

Stark contrast is a theme with black-dress covers. Next up is Sarah MacLean’s Eleven Scandal’s to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart. In thumbnail, not only does the pink background catch the eye, but the pink skin of the woman’s arm and leg also draw attention. Unfortunately, in thumbnail, the light gold title gets lost in all that pink. MacLean’s name, at least, is in black, and if you’re Sarah MacLean, your name is going to be enough to sell books. If you’re not of that ilk, though, you should consider using sharp contrast to your advantage with all of the cover text.

Ms. MacLean must have liked the black and pink cover contrast, because a few years later, she went all in on the color combination again with One Good Earl Deserves a Lover. This time, though, the dark gray background doesn’t make the dress pop, but the gray and black do make the pink text stand out. Even in thumbnail, both the author name and book title show up reasonably well because of it. Again, the pink color indicates the book is neither gothic nor erotic romance. According to the book description, though, the hero is known for his wicked ways, which probably explains these color choices.

Not every black book cover uses dark pink to make a statement. On Mary Jo Putney’s cover for her two-novella collection Weddings of the Century, gold and white provide the contrast. Again, in thumbnail the gold title is hard to see, but also again, the author’s well-known name, which is the most important thing to highlight, is in bright white.  I do wonder if everyone agrees this is actually an example of a black cover, though, as the dress could be construed as dark navy (like my midnight-blue car that my husband insists is black).

I’ve saved my favorite black cover for last. The cover of Elizabeth Boyle’s Confessions of a Little Black Gown just calls to me. I love the pop of the white glove against the black dress, and the use of near-white text for her (again, prominent) name and title. Add to that the luxurious look of the gown and the bouquet of black flowers, and I’m ready to dive right into the book to find out what it all means! And in the end, that’s exactly the purpose every book cover needs to serve.

One more thing I learned while researching these book covers

Another thing these book covers all have in common is that they’re on books written by romance writers whose work I’ve read and loved. And yet, I’ve read none of the books I’ve highlighted here. A lot of that is attributable to the sheer number of great books out there just waiting to be read. A little of it is beacuse I try not to read too heavily in a genre when I’m eyeballs deep writing in it, with a few planned and notable exceptions, like the week in August when I read ten historical romance novellas before diving into the revision of Too Clever by Half.

Doing this cover research made me realize just how much I miss reading the masters of this genre. So I bought every one of these five books and I’m going to have a paint-it-black readathon during the week between Christmas and New Year’s day.

Have you read any romances with black covers? Do you have any recommendations of books to add to my pile for my readathon? And for the writers out there, have you ever considered a black book cover for your own work?

6 thoughts on “Nancy: Cover Redux: Paint It Black Edition

  1. Hurrah! What an interesting compilation! I guess I’ve never thought of featuring black strongly in a cover of my work, but then again, I don’t think in terms of color first. I think in terms of setting. So, yeah, maybe the one set in a cave would use a black cover. Paranormal, so black would also be genre-appropriate.

    Black is the color of mourning, and the color of witches. It also signifies a special sort of elegance. Black-tie. (-: If I had a main character who warranted it, I would have no problem putting her in black. I love the way your covers have managed a black dress without making things gloomy and dark.

    (And yeah — that’s navy. Close enough for a lot of cases. The quirky black!)

    • I think that one, and maybe the One Earl cover, too, look especially blue in comparison to the dresses on the other covers. A relativity thing. My car does tend to look its bluest when it’s parked next to a truly black car, but when it’s sitting in our driveway next to my husband’s gold car, yeah, it looks black.

  2. As a redhead, I wouldn’t wear a red dress – it drains the colour from my hair, and makes me look dull; which is the last thing you want if you’re trying to attract attention!

    If she really needs to wear red, possibly heavy black lace over the red? Something that an unmarried woman would not wear.

    • Ah, but then there’s Christina Hendricks, who might be on a one-woman campaign to show that (some) redheads not only can wear red, but they should! (I can’t embed an image, but you can check out her many stunning red-dress looks on google or pinterest.)

      BUT this is one of those things that could stop some readers cold, so thank you for bringing it up. As the hero of that book is a strawberry blond himself, perhaps one or more of his sisters has reddish hair, so he realizes how unusual it is, but thinks about how it works for this woman…I’ll try to make sound better in the story :-).

      Two of my three siblings are redheads, as are all four of our nieces from my side of the family, and this discussion has come up more than once (ok, maybe more than a hundred times!) amongst them. My sister is firmly in the ‘wouldn’t be caught dead in red’ camp, while the nieces are a toss-up.

      • Culture has gotten to me, too. I can’t wear red (I think it clashes with my hair, and I know it brings out the floridness of my complexion), and it did stop me dead. However, you are good enough of a writer to get me going again!

        I don’t have a strong relationship with red, anyway. I much prefer calmer colors. But if your girl has a thing with red, then she’ll buck any trend to wear it.

        Oddly enough, my home ec class in high school swore up and down that I looked good in deep purple. That’s another color that I don’t have a strong relationship with, and I’d only choose it if there weren’t any blues around. Or greens. Looking good and feeling good in a color are two different things.

  3. interesting cover evaluations, Nancy! You’d think that putting a black dress on the cover would be a no-brainer in terms of getting high contrast with the type elements, but in at least two cases that you show, that doesn’t happen. Black is always a high-drama choice for a cover, and it can really work. That Boyle cover looks terrific.

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