The Stepback’s History: The “Tip-In“
The history of stepback covers goes back to the early/ mid-20th century. Stepback covers are also known as “tip-ins.” That is what industry types called the inserted page(s) originally added after the binding of a book.
Tip-ins can be placed anywhere among the pages. They could be placed inside the front cover or before the back. These inserts were usually glued in. The paper is usually of different stock and texture than the rest of the pages.
“Tip-ins” were used first in hardbacks. These pages were for special additions such as the author’s autograph, offset prints, photographic images, maps, etc.
Early 1970s Stepback for The Terminal Man
In the early 1970s, these covers were popular in pulpy genres like science fiction and horror.
I have yet to determine what the first mass-market paperback published with a stepback cover is. Fortunately, I have come upon an early example. Surprisingly it’s one book, Michael Chrichton’s The Terminal Man, but with two versions, both with keyhole designs.
Special thanks to @arkhamlibrarian on Twitter for these images. If you’re even the slightest bit of a bibliophile, I highly recommend following her account.
The American paperback version is simple, revealing the only artwork on the page, a floating head connected to wires. When opened, there is no illustration, just the blurb.
And here is the British Corgi edition of The Terminal Man:
Front cover and interior page of The Terminal Man, Michael Crichton, Corgi, 1974, artist unknown
Lou Feck and the Stepback Cover
1976 would see several stepback covers in various genres with artwork created by talented artist Lou Feck.
First, it was the cover for the Bantam published Burt Hirschfeld potboiler, Aspen. Feck created a tawdry clinch on the front. Inside was a sketch showing an assortment of faces. The image stretched from the edge of the cover to the end of the attached page.
Aspen, Burt Hirshfeld, Bantam, 1976, Lou Feck cover art
Then later that year, Warner Books‘ paperback reprint of Thea Alexander’s “macro-philosophy bestseller” 2150 included a die-cut keyhole cover showing the faces of a man and woman. It reveals a head floating in an outer-space background and a couple who look right out of Logan’s Run when opened.
Pocket Books and the Stepback Cover
In 1977 Pocket Books created a stepback with a design similar to what Warner had used for 2150. It, too, had an inner page of artwork and an exterior with a die-cut/keyhole opening. This famous cover was for the bestselling Young Adult/Gothic Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews. This style became so successful for the publisher and the author that the term “keyhole stepback cover” is now synonymous with Pocket Books and V.C. Andrews.
Staring through a red-shuttered window was the face of the heroine, Cathy Dollanganger. When you opened the cover, it revealed an image of Cathy and her haunted-looking family with their creepy-looking old grandmother looming above them. The artist is Gillian Hills.
The History of the Stepback in Romance Novels
Kathleen E. Woodiwiss‘ Shanna was an exception to the lack of stepbacks in 1970s romance–sort of. This hefty romance had a map insert that you could unfold that showed the Caribbean island of Los Camellos. The fictional island was where Shanna’s family had their plantation. I’m unsure if the original 1977 mass-market edition contained this map or not. My Avon seventh-printing edition (circa 1989) does include it, so I don’t see why not.
However, as nice as the map is to look at, it doesn’t count as artwork. The history of the stepback in romance begins not with Avon but with another publisher.
The 1970s expansion of the stepback into genre fiction was simply the beginning. Which paperback romance novel was the first to employ a stepback cover? We’ll let you know in the following article!
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.