By Abbie Wright, Megan Coote and Juliette Tulloch
The romance genre has seen a sky rocket in popularity over recent years, and the way these novels are designed and marketed has evolved. We will give an insight into trends that have both recently emerged and those that are classics for the genre. These books and their covers are perfect for a Valentine’s gift or a cosy night in!
One of the most recent cover trends in the romance genre is the cartoon characterisation of the main characters. The use of cartoons gives the author freedom to represent their characters visually as well as through writing. Previous romance covers relied heavily on the use of real-life models. However, cartoons mean that authors and designers can work together to create an accurate yet simple picture of how the main characters look. The cartoon style is also a cheaper alternative, and can be seen as more attractive which is essential for the marketing side of book production. A number of the most ‘Instagrammable’ novels are romance based and have cartoon covers, with many finding the colours and characters visually appealing.
Cartoon cover design is usually paired with a simple font for the title, and most often this title is the centrepiece of the book cover. This further emphasises the idea that simple is better in the case of modern romance novel cover design. Casey Mcquiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue is a perfect example of a simple, cartoon cover design. Two of the main characters are placed on the bottom of the image and the reader immediately gets a sense of how these two characters will be portrayed. The title takes up the majority of the cover and the pink background gives the novel an appealing and eye-catching vibe.
Bright and Colourful
Bright, colourful books are all the rage as cover designs for the romance genre have seen an injection of colour in recent years alongside the design shift from photography of real modelsto the use of illustration. This shift has helped make the romance genre marketable to a wider audience and more aesthetically pleasing, which is essential with the rising popularity of Bookstagram and BookTokin the book marketing sphere. The shift from photography to illustration has allowed romance cover designers to be more playful with their use of colour with designers regularly leaning toward warmer, brighter tones as well as pastel hues. Romance covers which incorporated photography tended to use muted tones as the focus was the models, usually couples. Some designs which incorporate bold colours include Emily Henry’s covers, designed by our spotlight designer from Issue 64, Holly Ovenden. These feature an array of bright, but not overly saturated, blocked colours with bold typography which has a cartoonish feel, another popular design choice found in the contemporary romance genre. Book Loversand You and Me on Vacation have a modern feel visually selling themselves as light beach reads. Best-selling romance author Beth O’Leary’s covers such as The No-Show also keep to a bright colour palette with a sunny, orange background contrasted against vibrant pink chairs giving the cover a fun feel. Much like Emily Henry’s, the design isn’t busy, allowing the bold colour choices to take centre stage and stopping the design feeling overdone.
Nature and Figures
The romance genre has shifted in its representation of race, sexuality and fluidity, gradually embracing a wider variety of communities and types of love stories. This has led to the publication of popular works like Monique Roffey’s The Mermaid of Black Conch, Heartstopper by Alice Oseman and Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.
A popular design trend has arisen where nature and figures are entwined in the centre of their covers. In Ayanna Lloyd Banwo’s stunning debut When We Were Birds, the cover draws on similarities with Freya Marske’s A Marvellous Light, as the love interests are placed in the foreground while nature takes over the title and the figures' limbs. Banwo’s mythic love story is set in Trinidad and Tobago, where main characters Yejide and Darwin meet in Port Angeles’s largest cemetery. Perhaps foreshadowing to the forces that these characters will face to be together, the figures tenderly reach out to one another in the Hamish Hamilton version, making this design moving and intricate. It is clear that many designers are shying away from photography, and are opting for more fluid figures that are bolder, yet it also raises the question: are these designs losing a sense of identity when they opt for simple outlines? As discussed in a previous issue on Black representation in cover designs, this trend can also be seen as a design choice that actually limits representation to a simple block figure that doesn’t embrace Black features or beauty.