Tag Archives: romance book covers


Covers of the Week #75 – Gothic Romances

gothic romance covers

Theme: Gothic Romance Covers for Halloween

Gothic romance covers stick to a standard formula. A beautiful woman flees from a castle, mansion, manor, or plantation. Usually, the images are set at night, presumably in late fall or early winter, as the trees are bare of leaves and appear menacing with long, needle-like branches reaching out into the darkness.

In the hands of a talented artist, these images can appear fresh even as they adhere to the form.

It’s almost Halloween, and no genre in romance captures the essence of this frightful holiday better than Gothics do. We’re celebrating the holiday of Tricks or Treats with hauntingly gorgeous cover art.

The Covers

We wonder what evil lurks behind those windows and inside the imposing walls of those homes. Or does the danger lurk outside, luring these women to their doom?

This week from Monday, October 24, 2022, to Sunday, October 30, 2022, for this installment of our Covers of the Week, we’re displaying some eerie Gothic covers where the heroine cannot hide her terror nor escape it.

lord carews bride

Covers of the Week #62


Theme: Regency Bride and Grooms

We’re continuing our celebration of June as the traditional month for weddings. We’ve found many Regency romance covers with brides and grooms that fit this theme.

These Regency-era novels feature the heroines being embraced by their men. Some look thrilled; others not so much. We wonder what’s going on there!

The Covers

This week from Monday, June 13, 2022, to Sunday, June 19, 2022, here are some traditional Regency romance covers displaying wedding embraces.

gay romance

Two Gay Romance Firsts: The Happily Ever After Ending and Clinch Cover

gay romance

Gordon Merrick, Victor Gadino, and Peter and Charlie

Gordon Merrick created the legendary and popular Peter & Charlie gay romance series. The trilogy portrayed the first mainstream love story between two men that concluded happily ever after.

The books provided another milestone for same-sex fiction when reprinted in the 1980s. A young artist named Victor Gadino illustrated the iconic clinch covers. Never before had male couples been pictured so intimately on the front of romance novels.

On the front of The Lord Won’t Mind, the blond pair are gazing into each other’s eyes and reaching out to hold hands.

the lord won't mind
The Lord Won’t Mind, Gordon Merrick, Avon, 1980 edition, Victor Gadino cover art

Gordon Merrick, Writer of Gay Melodramas and Romances

Gordon Merrick was born in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, in 1916. The new 20th century was moving on a more socially liberal trajectory. Merrick would be part of that cultural momentum.

The son of a stockbroker, Merrick studied French Literature at Princeton. He then got into acting, performing in several Broadway productions. Later, Merrick became a television screenwriter and journalist.

Merrick made history as one of the first novelists to depict graphic homosexual fiction for a mass audience. His tawdry novels were full of melodrama, sex, and beautiful men. Usually, they concluded in heartache for the main characters. Merrick’s books were tantalizing reads akin to those of Harold Robbins, Judith Krantz, or Jackie Collins, only much gayer.

Modern readers might chuckle at the almost-innocent vulgarity and campy nature of his works. Or they may cluck their tongues at the “outdated” themes and unapologetic preference for ultra-glamorous, gorgeous, continent-hopping, wealthy protagonists. Merrick essentially wrote man-on-man bodice rippers, after all.

Merrick wrote fourteen books over 40 years. He would die in Sri Lanka in 1988.

His final novel, The Good Life, was co-authored with his partner, Charles Hulse, and published after his death. Like most of Merrick’s books, it was a bestseller.

Gordon Merrick
Gordon Merrick

Merrick’s Peter and Charlie Trilogy

The Lord Won’t Mind, the First Mainstream Gay Romance (Sort of)

Merrick’s piece de resistance, The Lord Won’t Mind, came out in hardcover in 1970. The book told the turbulent and forbidden love story of two beautiful, blond Ivy Leaguers–one named Peter and the other Charlie.

It was a graphic page-turner and sold like pancakes at the old World’s Fair. The Lord Won’t Mind spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list.

The mass-market paperback edition was then released by the publishing house Avon in 1971. This was a year before they gambled on Kathleen Woodiwiss‘ slush-pile manuscript for The Flame and the Flower.

The Lord Won’t Mind (from left to right): Bernard Geis Publisher, 1970, first edition hardcover; Avon, 1971, paperback edition; Alyson Publications, October 1995 paperback edition

A Genuine Romance Novel About a Same-Sex Couple

Due to societal changes, there was a hungry audience out there for explicit fiction. Merrick’s work was just that: raunchy and schlocky.

“For the love of God, have mercy on my aching cock. I want you in bed.”

“That, sure lord, is where I want to be.”


Even so, The Lord Won’t Mind was also sweetly romantic. The forbidden lovers vowed to be together forever.

“I say, if it’s love, the Lord won’t mind. There’s enough hate in the world.”

 The Lord Won’t MinD

Readers anxiously hoped for the pair to end happily but were left hanging instead. It would take two more books detailing the erotic, taboo relationship for fans to find out what would happen. The sequel came out in 1972; the final book followed in 1974.

Enter Artist Victor Gadino, Another Gay Icon

The success of the series led Avon to give Merrick the star treatment. His books would now receive extra attention to detail—especially the cover art, an area where Avon excelled.

In 1977, an up-and-coming artist named Victor Gadino landed the job of creating new covers for Merrick’s backlist. He started with An Idol For Others. This mass-market paperback showed two males–one in a suit, the other shirtless–in a positively seductive manner.

“Avon books decided to rerelease the Merrick novels as typical mass-market romance paperbacks. Up until then they had simple covers and were sold in specialty shops or from “under” the counter. The head art director was a strong female with vision and a great eye.

“It was the early days of gay liberation and she recognized the time was right. She saw my talent and gay sensibility and gave me the assignment for the first cover, the most conservative one, An Idol for Others. I never met Mr. Merrick, but I was told he was not happy with the mature model I used and thought he looked too old.

“He was, however, very pleased with the eight covers that followed, all using handsome young models.”


One For the Gods (Charlie & Peter Book #2): More Gay Romance, But No HEA Yet

The sequels to The Lord Won’t Mind documented Charlie and Peter’s glitzy lifestyle as the golden duo engaged in a thrilling, illicit, on-again-off-again relationship. The second book, One For the Gods, introduced a third person into the mix to form a crazy love triangle.

First there was Charlie and Peter.

Their love affair broke a lot of conventions… but it didn’t break them all. For Peter and Charlie are in love–with each other–and with Martha. And Martha is passionately in love with them both.

From St. Tropez to Athens to Mykonos, this powerful, moving novel follows their devastating triangle of romance and desire through a world of sun-drenched pleasure and Mediterranean adventure.

One For the Gods, Gordon Merrick
One For the Gods, Gordon Merrick, Bernard Geis,1971,
One For the Gods, Gordon Merrick, Bernard Geis,1971, hardcover
One For the Gods, Gordon Merrick, Avon,1972, paperback edition

The Gadino cover art is more intimate than the previous one, with the couple holding hands. However, the third wheel in this romance is prominently pictured, showing all is not well in paradise.

One For the Gods, Avon,1981 reissue, Victor Gadino cover art

Forth Into Light (Charlie & Peter #3): A Gay Romance with a HEA

Finally, in 1974, Forth Into Light concluded the romantic series.

In the final chapter of the bestselling epic love story of Peter and Charlie, the two men are forced to fight for their relationship like never before

For two men with the looks of Adonis and Narcissus, it’s no surprise that Greece was the destination for a romantic getaway. Once there, however, the two men fall into the beds of others, with the duplicitous Martha striving to steal Charlie away from Peter after he has a moment of infidelity.

For the final installment of the Peter & Charlie Trilogy, Gordon Merrick widens his focus on the couple to include the village in which they’re staying, creating a web of deceit and lust that comes to a head in unexpected and satisfying ways, while the love between Peter and Charlie is tested repeatedly with the emergence of a passionate young man named Jeff. The bond between these two has spanned the years and the globe, but it could well meet its end here on the lush Greek shores. 


Below is the original cover for the conclusion to Charlie and Peter’s epic romance. The artwork is neither overt nor titillating. The two hands reaching out to touch the other appear reminiscent of Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel.

Forth Into Light, Gordon Merrick, Avon, 1974

Gadino Masterpiece: A Gay Romance Clinch Cover

Gadino’s clinch cover for the monumental gay romance Forth Into Light is more emotional and evocative than the original. The two men have their arms around each other’s shoulders. Their backs face the viewer as they stare out at an ocean sunset.

Readers knew this was not just another sex adventure by looking at the cover. This was a true romance novel, one for gay men.

Forth Into Light, Gordon Merrick, Avon, 1982, 6th printing, Victor Gadino cover art

The Peter and Charlie Trilogy by Gordon Merrick was monumental mainstream gay fiction. Unlike the slashy melodramas of the pulp era, the love story finished on a positive note. The protagonists got a joyful ending.

Merrick’s audience-pleasing, optimistic conclusion, and Gadino’s sensual clinch cover make the Peter and Charlie series–and Forth Into Light especially–pivotal in gay romance history.

Your Opinion

Have you heard of or read Gordon Merrick and the first gay romance novel with a HEA? Did you know about Victor Gadino’s history-making 1980s clinch cover art for the reissue of the series? What do you think about these romances and covers?

As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

Different Books, Same Cover #2

Double Vision: Cover Twinning

Have you ever noticed you own two different books with the same cover? Recycling cover art is quite common in the book industry. Publishers often re-use artwork to save money or time.

Hat Tip to Biologistreadsromance

Previously I mentioned the Instagram hashtag #covertwinning. This was the brainchild of biologistreadsromance, who also created the hashtag #stepbacktwinning. The images of the beautifully arranged books come from her Instagram account, so I recommend checking it out.

The hashtag #covertwinning allows posters to show off their duplicate covers.

The Hawk and the Dove & Gentle Rogue by Sharon Spiak

We referred to this twinning combo last time we discussed recycled cover art.

The 2007 Avon reissue of Gentle Rogue uses the same Sharon Spiak illustration for Virginia Henley’s Dell-released, The Hawk and the Dove.

Notice the dress and the ship. In the revamped version, the protagonists’ hair colors are altered, and there’s no castle in the back. Nor are there any birds and flowers in the foreground.

The new cover is pretty enough. But the clothing and sword are about 150 years too early for the Regency-age Gentle Rogue.

the hawk and the dove
The Hawk and the Dove, Virginia Henley, Dell, 1988, Sharon Spiak cover art
cover recycling
Gentle Rogue, Johanna Lindsey,
Avon, 2021 re-issue (1990 orig. pub.), Sharon Spiak cover art

Reckless Abandon and Moonlight Enchantment by Renato Aime

Dorchester Publishing was notorious for doing everything on the cheap. Whether it was selling books through BMI at a discounted rate–thereby providing little to no royalties to authors–, not paying authors outright, or using recycled cover art for their books, they were awfully cheap in their endeavors.

The cover design for Reckless Abandon by Jolene Prewit-Parker and Moonlight Enchantment by Deborah Martin is a most blatant case of cover twinning. They didn’t alter the image at all.

The art design is the handiwork of Renato Aime, who, along with Harry Burman and Pino, was one of Dorchester’s most commonly used artists.

cover twinning
Reckless Abandon, Jolene Prewit-Parker, Dorchester, 1988 Renato Aime cover art
cover recycling
Moonlight Enchantment, Deborah Martin, Dorchester, 1992, Renato Aime cover art

Lorielle and Love Only Once by Elaine Duillo

When covers are recycled, it’s usually by the same publishers. In some cases, the artist owns the right to images and can reuse them as they wish. That looks to be the case here.

Elaine Duillo illustrated the cover for Lorielle in 1980. After Avon hired her to paint Johanna Lindsey’s books, they reprinted Lindsey’s first Malory romance, Love Only Once, using that Duillo cover. The original Love Only Once was published in 1984 and designed by Robert McGinnis.

I can’t confirm when the Duillo version was issued, but I recall seeing it in 1990 when Gentle Rogue–the third Malory entry–was released.

cover twinning
Lorielle, Marilyn Granbeck, Jove, 1980 Elaine Duillo cover art
cover twinning
Love Only Once, Johanna Lindsey, 1984 (original release) Elaine Duillo cover art

Scarlet Lady and Scoundrel’s Kiss

Here is another Avon case of cover twinning. Scarlet Lady and Scoundrel’s Kiss are strikingly similar, except for the colors.

Max Ginsburg painted the first cover. At first glance, it looks like the same artist’s work, but look closer. I doubt it’s Ginsburg, as the strokes are not as precise as his usual style.

I assume Avon just had a different artist paint a new cover for A Scoundrel’s Kiss using the same original image.

scarlet lady ginsburg cover flowers
Scarlet Lady, Marlene Suson, Avon, 1997, Max Ginsburg cover art
scoundrel's kiss
A Scoundrel’s Kiss, Margaret Moore, Avon, 1999, cover artist TBD

Victor Gadino’s Tribute To Robert McGinnis

Besides his fantastic talent, one of the numerous reasons Victor Gadino is my favorite active cover artist is his sense of whimsy. He has great respect for the field he works in, taking pride in his work. Many artists who have designed romance covers seem embarrassed of that fact or bluntly state they only did it for the money.

Not Gadino. He embraces sensuality and romance wholeheartedly, putting his best efforts into his pictures.

One of my best-loved covers is the legendary “first naked man” painted by Robert McGinnis for Johanna Lindsey’s 1980 bodice ripper Fires of Winter. I loved this cover so much as a teen I would draw copies of it repeatedly, just changing the hair colors and backgrounds.

For Elizabeth Lowell’s medieval romance, Enchanted, Gadino paid homage to McGinnis’ cover with a couple posed in the same position. A black-haired heroine lays between the blond hero’s naked thighs while he grasps her in his manly embrace. Instead of a white ermine rug, the couple rests on various colorful, multitextured pillows.

It’s a truly stunning step back.

It’s hard to say who did it better, McGinnis or Gadino. What do you think?

fires of winter
Fires of Winter, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1980, Robert McGinnis cover art
same book different cover
Enchanted, Elizabeth Lowell, Avon, 1994, Victor Gadino cover art

The Barefoot Bride and Wild and Wicked in Scotland

This cover twinning case had one photo used as a prototype for the two covers. In this case, they were painted by different artists 17 years apart.

Rebecca Paisley’s The Barefoot Bride came out in 1990 and–I think–was illustrated again by the prolific Max Ginsburg. However, I’m unsure who the artist is for Melody Thomas’ Wild and Wicked in Scotland. A change of hair, dress, and background color doesn’t disguise that it’s the same picture, recycled into a newer cover.

The publisher for both books was Avon, yet again. To pinch pennies, Avon created two lovely covers from the same original photo, a decade and a half apart.

cover twinning
The Barefoot Bride, Rebecca Paisley, Avon, 1990, Max Ginsburg cover art
copy cat covers
Wild and Wicked in Scotland, Melody Thomas, 2007, cover artist TBD

Your Opinion

What do you think of these copy-cat covers? What are your favorites? Who did it better, the original or the copy? Please drop us a comment, and let’s talk romance.


Covers of the Week #56

heidi oberheide

Artist: Heidi Oberheide

Heidi Oberheide is an artist whose style has long intrigued me. Lamentably, I’ve only come upon a few romance covers illustrated by her. Most of them have been stepbacks, making for a delightful sight when one opens the front.

Oberheide’s illustrations express a soft sensuality, often displaying a glorious abundance of bright flowers.

She was born in Germany in 1943. However, Oberheide has lived most of her life in the Pacific Northwest, both in Canada and Washington State. She attended Southern Illinois University, where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1969. She also earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in drawing and printmaking from the same institution in 1971.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Oberheide found her inspiration from the environment. Her art focused on the relationship between nature, humans, and animals.

 With her drawing, painting, and lithograph skills, she creates images that demonstrate great sensitivity, depicting beauty and light in dark, unexpected spaces. Oberheide has referred to her creations as “color shape paintings,” as she focuses on color more than form.

“[Oberheide’s] work…reaches out to a…universal humanity and experience. In the simple mobility of outport life, she has found greatness.

Peter Bell, Gannets and Tidal Pools publication, Memorial University Art Gallery, 1978

Her pieces have been shown in exhibitions across Canada and the United States and various private and public collections.

Heidi Oberheide lives in Washington, US where she continues to create and display her fine art.

The Covers

All but one of these stunning Oberheide covers portray a man and woman surrounded by an exquisite kaleidoscope of flowers. Just in time to celebrate Spring and May Day!

From Monday, May 1, 2022, to Sunday, May 6, 2022, our Covers of the Week spotlights the romantic painting of Heidi Oberheide.

Top to bottom:

  • Annie’s Song, Catherine Anderson, Avon, 1996
  • Paper Roses, Patricia Rice, Topaz, 1995
  • Lilacs on Lace, Linda Ladd, Topaz, 1996
  • Texas Rose, Patricia Rice, Topaz, 1994

Covers of the Week #54 – Renato Aime

renato aime

Artist: Renato Aime

Renato Aime made cover art for romance novels that was glorious tp behold. He was among the many talented artists of Italian heritage who entered the romance novel illustration field during the 1980s. These also include the gifted Alessandro Biffignandi, Franco Accornero, and of course Pino Daeni.

Renato Aime covers graced Kensington/Zebra, Dorchester, Bantam, Avon, and Harlequin romances. He is one of the more prolific artists of the genre.

Aime worked in primarily oils as well as other mediums. While he has his own unique technique, his art has similarities to other artists’ stylings.

He lived in New Jersey until his passing on November 1, 2014. Renato Aime left behind a loving, wife and daughter.

The Covers

For the week of Monday, April 18, 2022, to Sunday, April 24, 2022, our Covers of the Week focuses on the romance novel covers by Renato Aime.

secret jewel jean monti

Covers of the Week #52

jean monti

Artist: Jean Monti

Last year on Twitter, @ArtoftheClinch posted images of a few charming covers. To me, they appeared similar in style. Subsequently, this led me on an internet search to discover a “new” artist, Jean Monti.

Back in the 1990s, Monti worked as a book illustrator for several NY city publishers. Within a span of ten years or so, she created about 100 romance covers.

Born into a large family in Rhode Island, Monti stood out for her talent in artistry. After high school, she studied at the Rhode Island School of Design. She painted beautiful covers for romance novels for a brief period. Then she focused on her family life.

Later, she had a stellar career as a fine artist. She would go on to paint for many years, to much success.

This is according to her website:

Fine artist Jean Monti is a nationally recognized painter, specializing in contemporary oil paintings of women and children…Monti, owner of Monti Studio, is a nationally recognized, published, award-winning fine artist. Jean’s work is recognized for her innate talent and exquisite use of light, which became a trademark for her paintings.


The Covers

Monti’s artwork has a decidedly “Spring” vibe to it. So, for the week of Monday, April 4, 2022, to Sunday, April 10, 2022, we’ll be looking at the sweet romantic stylings of covers illustrated by Jean Monti.

secret jewel monti
Secret Jewel, Sonya T. Pelton, Zebra, 1994
modern stepback covers 7

Stepback Covers Part VII: Stepback & Modern Romance Novels

stepback covers vii

The Stepback in Romance Circa 2000

By the dawn of the 21st millennium, the stepback was the pinnacle of cover art in the romance genre. From the crests of sensual beauty…

intrigued duillo
Intrigued, Bertrice Small, Kensington, 2001, Elaine Duillo cover art

…to the heights of campy, wonder…

Ritual of Proof, Dara Joy,
Ritual of Proof, Dara Joy, Harper Collins, 2002 (2001 orig. pub.) Steve Assel cover art,
Ritual of Proof, Dara Joy, Harper Collins, 2002 (2001 orig. pub.) Steve Assel cover art

…this particular cover style ruled the day.

By Y2K, all sorts of genre changes were in swing, but one aspect was consistent in romance. A stepback was “it.” The combination of a best-selling author, a prominent artist, and fantastic design aesthetics meant quality all around.

Suddenly YOu ginsburg
Suddenly You, Lisa Kleypas, 2000, Avon, Max Ginsburg cover art

Change is always a constant in life, however. Such is the case for the artwork for paperback romances. As artists of the second-golden age of pulp began to leave this mortal plane, publishers looked to a new, cheaper style of design.

Plain covers did not sell as well as clinches, despite the embarrassment associated with the latter. The stepback was an acceptable middle-ground and proved to be constant in an era of transformation.

Romance Covers in the Modern Age

Cover art in romance has always been controversial due to its sensual nature. Today, in 2022, the most notable trend is the cartoon-illustrated design.

Many authors and readers prefer this, as this modern cover style downplays the campy eroticism and adds an air of “respectability” to romance.

Nevertheless, stepback covers are still prevalent. At least, they are in historical romance. Although the covers are no longer painted by hand, there are digital artists who design fantastic modern romance covers. Alan Ayers, Jon Paul Ferrera, Chris Cocozza, James Griffin, Victor Gadino, and Anna Kmet number among them.

a kiss at midnight
a kiss at midnight
A Kiss at Midnight, Eloisa James, 2011, Avon, James Griffin cover art

Modern Stepback Covers

The more prominent an author is, the more likely their books will have stepbacks. Modern-era romance covers can be created quickly through the digital process, so it’s easier to design a more illustrious stepback.

Writers such as Lisa Kleypas, Tessa Dare, Elizabeth Hoyt, and Sarah MacLean have received the “special” stepback treatment.

wicked and wallflower maclean
wicked and the wallflower
Wicked and the Wallflower, Sarah MacLean, Avon, 2018, Alan Ayers cover art

Digital Art Covers For the 21st Century

One difference modern covers have from those of the past–besides the digital aspect– is the exterior of the stepback is not “plain” anymore. The front may display a couple embracing. Often, the outside cover portrays a solo image of the hero or heroine. Usually, the interior artwork shows the clinch pose.

chasing cassandra kleypas
chasing cassandra ayers

Chasing Cassandra, Lisa Kleypas, Avon, 2020, Alan Ayers cover art

Another variation is instead of multiple hues vying for the eye, one solid source–often the heroine’s gown or the bedsheets surrounding the couple–will be the primary spot of color.

Though we adore painted covers, we can also appreciate the loveliness of digital images. So long as covers inspire romance, there’s always room for them on our shelves!

Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Del Rey Books, cover artist TBD

Your Opinion?

Do you prefer modern romance, cover artist TBD covers with computer-generated images or are you an old-school-lover of painted covers? Or do you adore romance cover art and love looking at them no matter what era they came from?

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.

stepback saturday vi

Stepback Covers Part VI: Stepback Saturday

stepback saturday vi

Stepback Saturday

Today, stepback covers remain widespread in romance. Many fans cherish them for the beauty they display (and hide).

A fun way to show off old and new stepback cover art is to post them on “Stepback Saturdays.”

(Cat lovers need not worry. Caturday is still and will always be in effect.)

A few months ago, we wrote about using Instagram to show off your vintage books.

One of the more popular tags on Bookstagram/ Romancestagram/ RomanceBookstagram is #stepbacksaturday. With this hashtag, bookish Instagrammers upload pictures of interior cover art or the clinches illustrated on the back covers.

Staging Stepbacks for Instagram

On Instagram, readers and collectors use filters to highlight the bright, glorious colors of the covers. Proper lighting is essential to getting your book cover to look its best.

Posters display their stepback Saturday books surrounded by fabrics, flowers, jewelry, scarves, or other objects to add some flair.

stepback saturday rebel in silk instagram

Users discuss facts about the books or the covers. They make guesses about the book’s title. Others try to identify the artists or authors. Stepback Saturdays are a fun way to share your collection with others and make internet friends.

Then the following Sunday, readers upload the front cover using the hashtag #stepbackreveal or #stepbacksaturdayreveal.

Did you guess the title, author, or artist?

stepback saturday rebel in silk
Rebel in Silk, Sandra Chastain, Bantam, 1994, Daniel R. Horne interior cover art

Here’s another #stepbacksaturday image. I put the book outside on the grass, placed some flowers on part of the cover to hide the ISBN code, and let the natural sunlight do the rest.

Do you recognize the artwork?

stepbacks rosanne bittner

It’s an H. Tom Hall illustration. Any luck?

stepback saturday

The book is Rosanne Bittner‘s Wildest Dreams from 1994, published by Bantam.

Remember Caturday? Well, if you are cat-crazy like me, you can combine the two to get the best of both worlds. Here is a lovely Ken Otsuka illustration.

stepback saturday lady valiant

This stepback reveal of Suzanne Robinson‘s Lady Valiant is paired with a lazy cat lounging in the sun. Use the hashtag #catsandbooks to show off your feline and literary fancies.


Some covers make the round more often than others. A classic is Brenda Joyce’s The Conqueror. It shows Fabio standing arrogantly with a mace and sword, a redhead kneeling and clutching at his legs, while a horse rears in the background.

It’s yet another wonderfully saucy cover by Elaine Duillo. Although she disliked hiding her art behind a plain exterior, stepbacks allowed her to get racier with her clinches.

Other popular books Stepback Saturday posters show off include Amanda Quick’s romances, with her various Pino-designed covers (most of which also starred Fabio).

From week to week, covers by the talented Victor Gadino, whom Sweet Savage Flame considers to be the undisputed “King of the Stepbacks,” are also favored. Looking at this glorious illustration for Lisa Kleypas, we see why!

Oh, what the heck, here’s another popular Gadino cover. This whimsical piece is for Catherine Coulter‘s The Scottish Bride.

It’s satisfying enough to see the hero with the heroine slung over his shoulder as John Wayne would do to Maureen O’Hara in an old flick from the 1940s or 1950s. What’s fun about this–and many other covers–is the action in the background. There’s always something crazy going on in romance covers.

Sometimes a very rare stepback makes the rounds, such as this one for Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander.

Stepback Saturdays are loads of fun. You can even post your covers on other social media platforms. Just remember to use the right keywords or hashtags, and then reveal the title on Sunday!

Your Opinion?

Have you ever posted images for Stepback Saturday? You should, it’s a blast! Everyone oohs and ahhs over the gorgeous images. It’s neat to look at all the varied ways people stage their books.

Plus, #bookishromance is a very welcoming community, with a lot of knowledgeable folks about the genres. Even writers engage in the fun.

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.

1990s stepbacks v

Stepback Covers Part V: 1990s Stepbacks

1990s stepbacks v

The Stepback Cover Enters the 1990s

By 1990 every established publishing house was rethinking the way they did romance cover art. The clinch would remain ever-present. But new covers were being introduced. The stepback was the hottest trend around.

Some big-named authors didn’t even get stepbacks plus a painted illustration. They got covers with just their names and the title printed on them. Sure there might be some embossing, or some digital images added in, but they were plain and designed to make the reader feel comfortable about reading “smut” in public. Usually, these authors, such as Judith McNaught and LaVyrle Spencer, trended away from the erotic and were more romantic anyway.

Almost Heaven, Judith McNaught, Pocket Books, 1990 & later editions

Contrary to some old-school artists’ beliefs that hiding the cover art would lower sales, not increase them, the stepback was starting to mean something special to readers. Rising stars–both authors and artists–would combine for a winning combination, and no publisher could ignore that.

Kensington’s Zebra imprint launched stepback covers for their best-selling authors such as Deana James, Phoebe Conn, Shannon Drake, and Penelope Neri. They were illustrated by their reliable stable of artists, which included Franco, Pino and John Ennis.

no sweeter paradise neri
no sweeter paradise
No Sweeter Paradise, Penelope Neri, Zebra, 1993, Pino cover art

As for the biggest publsihers in romance, Avon, they were late players in the game. They hopped on the trend in 1990. Although I haven’t confirmed Avon’s first stepback, this Katherine Sutcliffe cover was one of the earliest:

A Fire In the Heart, Katherine Sutcliffe, 1990, Avon, Victor Gadino cover artist

Elaine Duillo and Changing Cover Styles

The “Queen of Historical Romance Covers,” Elaine Duillo, had no great love for stepbacks. Unlike other artists, she had no hangups about the dazzling, sexy romance covers she created. She derided “tip-ins” for covering up her exquisite artwork. Covers were the sizzle to sell the steak! The existence of “tip-ins” in romance perplexed Duillo.

“I did have an argument with a publisher once. He thought it was very thrilling to put an outside cover and the ‘tip-in’ using the entire cover art on an inside cover so they had the whole thing inside. Big mistake! Johanna Lindsey became big and wanted that, so publishers tried to do this with other books too. The book buyers, women with a stroller with a kid and another kid that’s going out of her sight, they have to pick up book quickly. They are all aware of the ‘tip-in’, but they’re not going to do that, they’re going to pick up the book with the cover image they like and that they can see immediately.”


Despite her druthers, Duillo was the consummate professional. She almost always brought her “A” game to her stepback illustrations.

once a princess cover
once a princess duillo
Once a Princess, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1991, Elaine Duillo cover art

Avon Stepback and Back Cover Art

While other houses produced books with stepbacks, Avon–the largest and most successful paperback romance publisher–for some reason was slow on the uptake. I couldn’t find any Avon stepbacks dating from the 1980s.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t until romance superstar Johanna Lindsey requested this cover technique for her novels that Avon regularly employed its use for big-name talents.

When Duillo was unavailable in 1991 to paint the clinch for Johanna Lindsey’s Prisoner of My Desire, this gave artist Victor Gadino the opportunity to step in.

prisoner of my desire lindsey 1991
prisoner of my desire gadino
Prisoner of My Desire, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1991, Victor Gadino cover art

As for mid-list authors, or writers who were just starting out? Avon issued them covers with clinch images on the back, instead of the front. Technically, artwork placed on the back isn’t a tip-in or stepback. Even so, the purposes of both formats are the same: to place the “embarrassing torrid embraces” in a less conspicuous position.

Unsurprisingly, this design choice was a staple for Avon in the 1990s, particularly the “Avon Romantic Treasure” historical line.

timeswept bride peter attard
Timeswept BrideEugenia Riley, Avon, 1995, Peter Attard cover art

Your Opinion?

Like the great Elaine Duillo, we feel no embarrassment over covers that show off fantastic clinch embraces. We adore them! But stepbacks also hold a special place in our hearts. Plain-looking covers with a mere castle, flower, jewel, etc., not so much.

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.