Stepback Covers Are Back & Why We Love Them

stepback covers

Don’t Call It a Comeback (Stepback Covers Have Been Here For Years)

Conversations about romance cover design draw strong opinions. Are they a source of cringe or are they a form of art? What about stepbacks?

The covers with an attached interior page of artwork have been popular in the genre for over 35 years. One reason for that is discretion. With stepbacks, you can have your clinch and eat it, too.

veils of silk out stepback
veil of silk pino stepback
Veils of Silk, Mary Jo Putney, Pino cover art

Almost half of romance readers say they feel uncomfortable when seen reading a book with a “sexually explicit” image on it. Many outright dislike the provocative covers, feeling they lessen the perceived value of the genre. Even so, there as just as many readers who admire the vividly painted images.

Enter the stepback. The respectable-looking outer portion of the cover hides the more “lurid” illustration beneath. This enables one to read a romance in public without any self-consciousness.

We love the stepback at Sweet Savage Flame, but we also have zero shame about the over-the-top aspects of romance. Clinches featuring half-naked men and women are our jam!

a love for all seasons domning 19
a love for all seasons pino
A Love For All Seasons, Denise Domning, Topaz, 1996, Pino cover art (Graistan Series #5)

Fabio and the Stepback Cover

It is interesting to note cover model Fabio and the stepback cover both came to prominence around the same time (mid-to-late 1980s). I have a “Fabio-penned” book, Rogue, that features a pull-out poster of the supermodel himself. And yes, that counts as a stepback!

Rogue, Fabio (w/ Eugenia Riley as a ghostwriter), Avon, 1994, Elaine Duillo cover art
fabio loin cloth

Stepbacks have been used in many genres, even literary fiction. However, it’s the bestselling pulpy paperbacks such as horror, science fiction, action-adventure, historical fiction, and romance that fully embraced this cover design.

the vikings woman cover
the vikings woman spiak stepback
The Viking’s Woman,
Heather Graham, 1990, Dell, Sharon Spiak, cover art

The Rise of the Stepback Cover in Romance

For a romance writer to get a stepback cover for their book is a sign of elite status. It shows publishers consider their books to be highly marketable. Companies invest more for a cover design that disguises the fun, romantic artwork. This pleases many readers and authors alike.

With stepback covers, artists would be able to experiment with their paintings in ways never seen before. Plus, the era of the romance super cover model would be ushered in through the popularity of the stepback.

duke of desire
duke desire stepback alan ayers 2017
Duke of Desire, Elizabeth Hoyt, Hachette, 2017, Alan Ayers cover art

Originally this very long article Stepbacks Are Back! was released as a unified whole. We’ve now broken it up into seven parts for easy loading since it’s pretty image-and-content-heavy.

Tomorrow, we’ll re-post a revised page of Stepback Covers Part II: The History of the Stepback as its own article.

Your Opinion?

Where do you stand on romance cover art? Do you like stepback covers? Do you prefer them to regular clinches? Are you more drawn to the modern cartoon illustration style that’s being used today? Or does cover art not concern you that much thanks to e-readers?

Whatever is on your mind, we’d love to hear what you think. Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

This entry was posted in Covers, Discussion, Romance and tagged , , , on by .

About Jacqueline Diaz

Old-School, retro, and vintage romance reads are my jam, baby! The good, the bad, the cheesy, and the sleazy! I have no shame about it; I love ’em! An auto-didact, amateur historian, and reader of romance novels since 1990, I hope to offer a unique perspective on the genre. As a blogger, you may know me by several names; here, I’m Jacqueline Diaz. I’m also the aspiring author of two works-in-progress, historical romances, The Savage Noble and What She Says with Her Eyes, which hopefully will be released in 2023.

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