Basic Romance

What is with some of those covers?

Have you ever wondered why there are so many shirtless, glistening men on the covers of romance novels? Some of the covers are akin to glorious works of art. Others are hilariously cheesy and cliché. Sometimes I take time to admire them. And sometimes they make me actually cringe. Without a doubt they all definitely indicate that the content of the book is a romance of some kind. The right cover can really impact how well a book sells. One of my favorite authors recently released a fantastic book that did not have initial sales that met expectations. Within a week, an alternative cover was focus group tested and changed.  Upon release with the new cover, book sales increased immediately. The author and the content was exactly the same… a different cover made all the difference in the world. Some covers feature the intense, burning stare that grabs your attention:
Others aren’t focused on the eyes at all. I don’t consider it objectification, by the way. It’s appreciation of the major effort that the male models put into their work.
There are times when the cover seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the content of the book. One of my pet peeves is when the hero is described in the book as dark-haired, but the picture of the man on the cover shows him as blonde – or the other way around. Ditto for the heroine. I recently read a pretty good historical fiction novel set in Victorian England, and noticed that the cover depicted a woman in  Regency Era attire. The Regency period was 1811 – 1820. The Victorian Era was much longer, planning from 1837 – 1901. But they do not overlap at all. Whoever chose or approved that cover was not paying attention. There are often cover clues to indicate the literary trope of the book content. The title is the first indicator, of course, and it is often not subtle. Then there is the imagery. A shirtless guy in a cowboy hat, a muscled man with a military haircut, someone buff wearing part of a Scottish plaid, a pirate with a sword, an entwined couple in 19th century formal wear … all are content clues. But then you do have cases where the imagery tells you nothing really about the content …
If you recognize the name Christian Grey, you probably recognize this as the cover of the book that introduced him to the world almost a decade ago, and made BDSM a much more common topic of conversation than it probably had ever been before. Nothing about the image would at all indicate that it was erotica. When choosing reading material, online ordering and e-books put innumerable choices at our fingertips. The e-book bonus is that you can enjoy your favorite genre or trope without anybody passing judgment, because your choice is not visible to them. To use myself as an example, this past week you would have found me reading a biography about President Theodore Roosevelt, material about communications consulting, a manuscript that I am providing feedback about, research info about Navy SEAL training at Coronado, a historical novel set in Scotland, and a contemporary novel set in both California and New York. Everything is stored neatly in my Kindle, private and easily accessible only to me. Literary trope? What is a literary trope: “The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works.” The books that sell are filled with tropes. Success often results when authors take the time to put their own spin on these time-tested, best-selling storylines, and make them into something new and different. Something unique. It combines the comfortable familiarity of a trope with dynamic creativity. Tropes are also sometimes combined, to great effect. Themes can be layered upon tropes. I have actually looked into it quite a bit, and my investigations show that themes are often called tropes as well. It can make the subject confusing. If you consider dark romance a theme, you can find any of the tropes below within a dark romance framework. There are sports themed romances. Within sports themes, you can find Hockey, Football, Baseball… just about everything. Always read the description, don’t just decide based on the cover Always read the book blurb! The blurb is the description of the plot that’s offered on the back of the book, or on the website where you’re purchasing it. That and the cover will usually give you Serious clues to the content. You’ll sometimes see mention made of “trigger” warnings. Such warnings might refer to topics that include drug use, addiction, domestic abuse, trauma or other things that might impact an unprepared reader personally. I have found that authors and publishing companies tend to include those warnings wherever they think it might be necessary. There is no guarantee, though. A terrific author whose work I enjoy very much startled me when a main character in one of her series turns out to be someone who served time in jail for killing a woman when he was driving drunk. That is a very personal issue for me, and the reveal of his crime and punishment was unsettling for me. It’s a good book, and I finished it, but I think it should have had a trigger warning and it didn’t. Within almost every category, there is a range of sexual explicitness. The level of explicitness in romance novels ranges from absolute zero, to kisses on the cheek, fade to black love scenes, intimate contact only within marriage, intimate contact but not overly descriptive, extremely descriptive, to BDSM, kinky and beyond. When a book blurb or review describes a story as “sweet” that is usually code for the lower level of the scale. “Steamy” or “hot” indicates the higher level of the scale. Searching online for tropes you might like My favorite book and e-book retailer is Amazon. Don’t get me wrong, I always loved bookstores and libraries. Big time. But as a disabled and widowed single parent of 3 kids, getting books through Amazon has been a godsend. I do sometimes use Barnes and Noble ( and it is always reliable as well. When you’re looking for new books online, you can enter the name of any trope or keyword in the search box and get a variety of options that you might want to consider. Websites such as Goodreads and Bookbub have detailed reviews, recommendations and suggestions based on your interests. If you use a Kindle or the Kindle app, then Kindle unlimited is like a library card. It’s pretty simple: If you subscribe to this service, you are allowed free access to more than a million books, including magazines and audiobooks every month. A subscription to Kindle Unlimited costs about $9.99 a month, and allows you ‘take out’ up to 10 titles at a time. No late fees ever. I paid s fortune in library late fees in my life, lol! Avoiding the risk of that is a good thing. There is usually a 30-day or 60-day free trial of Kindle available if you want to check out the service. Most popular mainstream categories When you’re looking for new reading material, here are some of the most popular mainstream tropes:
  1. Friends to Lovers
  2. Soul Mate/Fated
  3. Second Chance at Love
  4. Secret Romance
  5. First Love
  6. Military/Former Military/Bounty Hunters
  7. Reunited Lovers
  8. Love Triangle
  9. Sexy Billionaire/Millionaire
  10. Secret Baby or Accidental Pregnancy
  11. Stepbrother / Stepsister
  12. Best friend’s sister or brother
  13. Paranormal (Shifters, Vampires)
  14. Single parent or Guardian
  15. Mistaken identity
  16. Cowboy/Rancher/Rodeo
  17. Mafia/Bratva
  18. Motorcycle club (MC)
  19. Erotica
  Details and recommendations about just a few I’m not going to write a paragraph here about each category listed above. But below is more about a few of them, and a book that I would personally recommend in the category: Enemies to Lovers Sometimes the 2 main characters in a novel continually clash. Then something happens and they gradually, or even suddenly, start to realize that their feelings of loathing are masking feelings of growing attraction, affection and love. There is often a fight scene where angry words suddenly lead to one of them blurting out the truth of their love.
Childhood Friends When two childhood friends realize as adults that they are hopelessly in love with one another, it’s almost always excellent - except in a romance book, where some drama is needed. One of the friends may realize or acknowledge the true feelings before the other does, and of course there are going to be all kinds of obstacles to overcome.  But they will both figure it out and achieve their happily ever after (HEA).
The Slow Burn These tend to be the most torturous type of story, sometimes extended over 2 or 3 books (which is commonly known as a duet or trilogy).  If the story is well written, the reader is drawn in and on some level invested in the relationship. When the slow burn finally ignites, after all the waiting and angst … it can be very rewarding. These other covers for the 3 books of the Legend Trilogy, in order:

Trapped in the Same Space Two people – who may be total strangers, former lovers, mortal enemies, or have unresolved feelings toward each other – suddenly find themselves stuck in the same space. Together. Wherever that space happens to be, the couple is going to have to interact and then deal with the consequences.
Forbidden Love The idea that we all want what we can’t have is nothing new – forbidden fruit and all that. When it comes to romance novels, there can be all types of variations of this. In real life, some forbidden situations will really put a brake on things.  In romance novels, despite the obstacles, Love Wins.  Usually after the reader is forced to endure anxiety, frustration and agitation.
Fake Relationship There frequently comes a time in the lives of book protagonists when he or she needs to pretend to have a boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife.  There are all sorts of reasons set up for this to happen. There might be chaos, hijinks, humor, awkwardness, anger, jealousy, or confusion. Real feelings can creep in and sparks can fly. The fake significant other might actually be “The One.”
Second Chance at Love and Reunited Lovers are Not the Same Thing A second chance at love happens when a protagonist is divorced or widowed, and then life presents an opportunity to fall in love again with somebody else. Reunited lovers are a couple who were separated for some reason, and then come together again some years later. It gets confusing, but there are definitely differences between these tropes. This book is an example of Second Chance at love, where a widow and a widower who are friends become something more to one another:
This is an example of Reunited Lovers, where teenage sweethearts are cruelly torn apart from each other, and run into one another again years later:
Professional sports romances And if you are missing professional sports at all during this extremely difficult year of social isolation and social distancing and quarantining … remember that there are still great sports teams playing in the pages of wonderful novels. If you’re looking online, for example, you can search for “ hockey romances” and get a whole bunch of results. Here are a few excellent sports romance series: