Cathy Maxwell On “Lickably Good” Romance Novel Covers

We all know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover — but that doesn’t mean that we don’t! And over the past twenty years romance novels have certainly undergone some very distinctive trends. (They don’t call the romance genre “bodice-rippers” for nothing!) Now best-selling romance author Cathy Maxwell chats about the the covers have inspired her, the trends she loves and the art she covets!

When I visited Dame Barbara Cartland at her country estate (Yes, I did that and, yes, it was totally cool. The trip was organized by RT.), I was impressed by the four hundred plus book covers she had framed and hanging in her main hallway. The Cartland covers had a single, distinctive look. 

I asked her if the same artist had worked with her throughout her career.

She said in her lovely English drawl that the covers were the work of four different artists. “They keep dying on me and I must take on another.” (At the time of our meeting, I believe she was 98 and still writing 5,000 words a day. What a great career she had.) 

And I loved her covers.

Of course, nowadays, we change up the covers all the time, especially in historical romance. We want to capture your attention. A cover artist told me that when he was in college a former Avon Books Art Director walked into his graphics arts class and began posting dozens of book covers up on the board. The Art Director then turned to the class and announced, “A good cover is one you want to lick.” 

The artist said in that moment he got it. He understood. He looked at row after row of covers and instantly grasped art sells a book. 

I agree. I’m also very happy that the current Avon Books Art Director, the talented Tom Egner, is keeping the tradition of fabulous cover art alive.

I’m loving my cover for my latest book His Christmas Pleasure. I like the emphasis on the heroine and there is a bit of retro “Cartland” to the layout. Then again, I’ve always been a sucker for a “nibbling man.” You’ve seen him on several of my covers.

My personal favorite for a cover is one that conveys the personalities of the characters. Stepbacks are great for this. Sometimes there is more energy in the stepback than in the cover. 

I don’t know how I feel about headless, half-naked men on covers I like a head on my nakedness--and you can stop grinning right now! I’m having a serious discussion here. (But you will never look at those covers the same . . . )

One type of cover I am no longer attracted to is the bouquet of flowers or delicate, romantic object. There is usually a stepback of the hero and heroine. As a writer, I used to covet this type of cover. It was a move away from the “clench” where the hero is holding on tight to the heroine or vice versa. Did we writers feel we’d be taken more seriously without a clench? Perhaps, but I think the readers have moved beyond being self-conscious about what they are reading. We readers like what we like. No apologies. No excuses. And if you are using an e-reader, no one sees what you are reading anyway.

So what about you? What cover art captures your attention? Or does it matter any longer?

And if you would like a bookplate for my latest release, His Christmas Pleasure, featuring that lovely cover art, email me at with your mailing address.

-Cathy Maxwell

You can pick up your own copy of His Christmas Pleasure on sale today!