30 years ago finding lesbian fiction at all was near impossible. You would have to travel to a big city with a large gay and lesbian community and then seek out that lone feminist bookstore. A place filled with incense and macrame, multicolored painted shelves and more Georgia O’Keeffe art on the wall than you’d ever seen before. Somewhere past the aisles of serious feminist tomes you’d find a few shelves of lesbian fiction.
These were the dark years before On Our Backs, before lesbian sex was celebrated, in this dark time it was still the “love that dare not speak its name”. The fiction on these shelves were “classics” of the genre; Rubyfruit Jungle, Beebo Brinker Chronicles, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and plenty of pulp stories from the 50’s and 60’s. What you wouldn’t find though was anything particularly sexy. Most lesbian fiction of the era was full of drama, angst, feminism and an unhealthy dose of self-loathing, but very little sex.
As more gays and lesbians became visible, so did our fiction! Evolving from fan fiction to original stories we started a boom in publishing that has yet to slow down. This second wave of lesbian fiction has both good storytelling and sex; hot sex. The only thing that seems to have trailed behind in our advances in storytelling and publishing… design.
I’ve said it before and I’ll harp on it again, I have seen more painfully bad book covers in lesbian fiction than a Jr. High art class. There may be some really great stories but your covers have turned me away. I’m not just being mean, I’m very serious. Surely there is a graphic artist, a designer, with a degree or experience who just happens to be a lesbian who would want to work for a publishing house and oversee the covers. Hell, even someone with some good taste and a keen eye. I know the ladies creating these covers are working hard, maybe they’re overworked, I don’t know. Not all of the covers are awful, most are fine (nothing spectacular but good enough), but once in a while you have such glaring horrors that make you gasp, wondering if this is some kind of joke.
Below are a few examples of what I am talking about. Let me preface this critique by saying that I have unfairly singled out Bella and Bold Strokes Books, because although they may not be the only publishers out there but they are likely the best known and most prolific and their authors are by far the finest. Their art and design teams may need some help.
Suggestions on improving cover art for publishers
1) Stop using computer generated women. Your character from Second Life may be totally hot in a computer game, but on a book cover it looks bad, it doesn’t look sexy, it looks like Jem and the Holograms are making girlsmut.
2) Choose between animal themed or sexy. Stop trying to do both, it comes off as horribly awkward and looking like something out of a zoophiliac‘s fantasy. I know that lesbians like their pets but sometimes it goes a bit too far.
3) For the love of all that’s holy please stop authors from using their art, or fan art as a cover. I think it’s laudable you want to use your longtime fan fiction beta reader’s portrait of your characters, but it’s just not cover worthy. Put it on the inside, or better yet have a whole art tribute page on your website, but please don’t put it on your cover. It’s hurting your sales. Here is but one example. Of the covers below, one was recommended to me as a great book and when I hesitated the bookseller said “I know the cover sucks, but seriously, you’ll like it!” she was right, I did, but I had to be convinced to look past the cover. Another cover is my vote for most awful book cover ever, I purchased it used specifically to illustrate just how shitty a cover can be and still be published.
4) Stop the overloaded collage covers. This includes both collages that have too many elements overlayed making it a confused mess that leaves the reader wondering what’s going on, or the worst kind of copy/paste collage that looks like someone’s child glued random items to a cardboard background.
5) Creepy eyes in the sky. Not sure what you were going for here, but unless it was creepy you failed.
6) Last but not least covers that seem alright initially but on further examination you wonder WTF? Things like WTF how is that helicopter casting a shadow at night on the skyline of a city? WTF is that reflection in the armoire? WTF she’s standing at an elevator and her pants fell off? WTF is this cobblestone street on the cover when it’s nowhere in the book? WTF is there a woman with a pistol on the cover of a book called Battle Axe? WTF is she looking at the flags above her head? WTF is she getting trampled by the horse? WTF is there body painting in this book? oh wait never mind it looks like the artist has made a blue stripe down the center of the book. WTF why? Make the cover relate to the book. When it doubt follow the time honored guidance of K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid).
How does any of this entertaining rant have anything to do with ebooks? Well let me tell you. No longer do we need to have that other bookcase, the one in our office, in our bedroom, in a closet to hide our collection of lesbian fiction. Sure we read it and will own up to reading it but displaying it proudly; not so much. Now we don’t have to. We can save a tree and save ourselves from feeling like we should explain why we feel smug about mocking straight romance novels, but ‘supporting the lesbian community’ by buying lesbian romance is totally different.