Tag Archives: step back cover

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.


Stepback Covers Part II: The History of the Stepback


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.

duel in the sun
Example of a “tip-in” Duel In the Sun, Niven Busch, World Publishing Co, 1944
duel in the sun
Another example of a “tip-in” Duel the Sun, Niven Busch, World Publishing Co, 1944
duel in the sun
Yet another example of a “tip-in” Duel In the Sun, Niven Busch, World Publishing Co, 1944
(See how the page is glued in, not bound?)
duel in the sun
Example of a first regular bound page after the “tip-ins”

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:

terminal man corgi

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 lou feck
aspen stepback

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.

2150, Thea Alexander, Warner Books, 1976 reprint (1971 orig. pub), Lou Feck cover art

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. WoodiwissShanna 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.

Shanna, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, Avon, 1977, H. Tom Hall cover art
Shanna, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, Avon, 1977, book designer Deborah Speed

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.

Your Opinion?

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.