Monday, July 23, 2012

Guest - Susannah Sandlin

Good morning all! Susannah Sandlin is an author of paranormal romance set in the Deep South, where there are always things that go bump in the night! A longtime journalist, Susannah grew up in Alabama reading the gothic novels of Susan Howatch, and always fancied herself living in Cornwall, although she's never actually been there. Details, details. She also read a lot of Stephen King--the combination of Howatch and King probably explains a lot. Currently a resident of Auburn, Alabama, Susannah has also lived in Illinois, Texas, California, and Louisiana.

 Her vampire romance trilogy, The Penton Legacy, begins this year through Montlake Romance. Book One, REDEMPTION, was released June 19. Book Two, ABSOLUTION, comes out on October 9, and OMEGA, book three, will be released in December.


Breaking the Cover Mold: Tried and True, or On a Limb? 
Susannah Sandlin 

 There’s a joke among writers and readers as to what separates urban fantasy from paranormal romance—two often-overlapping genres. If there’s a half-naked woman on the cover, it’s urban fantasy. If there’s a half-naked man on the cover—or a half-naked couple—it’s paranormal romance.

 I write an urban fantasy series under another name, and have the obligatory woman on the cover, although I did put in an early request to make sure my heroine wasn’t wearing leather or sporting tattoos.

 For my parnormal romance series, when it came time to fill out the publisher’s questionnaire, I looked at a lot of pararom covers. There are some really HOT covers out there. I mean, I can appreciate a good six-pack as well as the next girl, and believe me when I tell you I’m not talking about beer. And, though there is a current trend toward manly back-and-shoulder views, the fab-ab covers still predominate.

 But about the time I was filling the questionnaire out, I happened upon a series of romance covers—some indy-published and some from sizable publishers—that featured the same model in the same pose. On some covers, he’d been given tattoos. On some, half his face had been cut off. There were different backgrounds to make that shot work for those particular books but…still…it was the same guy, and the basic stock image the cover was created from was obviously the same shot. It bothered me. Am I alone in that? Maybe so.

Here’s the problem…all the cover artists out there are plumbing the same mine of stock-photo options, whether it’s iStock or Bigstock or Getty Images. Commissioning original photography or illustration isn’t practical for even the Big Six publishers these days on most books.

Eventually, I asked to not have abs or shoulders on my covers, but faces. One of the things about the vampires in Redemption and the rest of my Penton Legacy series, is that the guys’ eyes lighten or silver out when they’re hungry or upset or, you know, aroused in some way (heh). So it seemed worth the risk to go the face route.

Why is it risky? Well, there’s a big debate between several of my crit partners as to how different the guy on the cover of the second book, Absolution (out in October), looks from their mental images of the book’s hero. Because when we read, especially romance, we have a mental image of the guy that we fall in love with for three hundred pages or so. A set of manly abs with no visible face looming above is less risky, and for some readers will be preferable because they can make that face look however they want. 

 So…where do you weigh in on the cover image? Does it bother you to see the same basic photo used on multiple covers? Would you rather see a face on your romance cover, or prefer to imagine the hero however you want him?


 Redemption (Penton Legacy, Book #1) 

For vampire Aidan Murphy, life has never been so desperate. The vaccine used to treat a global pandemic has rendered human blood deadly to his kind, leaving them on the brink of starvation and civil war. In tiny Penton, Alabama, Aidan establishes a peaceful community of vampires and unvaccinated human donors. He dares to hope they can survive until his estranged brother descends upon Penton and begins killing the humans. Determined to save his town, Aidan kidnaps an unsuspecting human doctor and finds himself falling in love for the first time in nearly four centuries. 

Dr. Krystal Harris thought she was coming to Penton for a job interview, but Aidan Murphy has other plans. Infuriated by his high-handed scheme to imprison her in the small town, Krys can't ignore the attraction between them. But is it love? Or does her dangerous, charismatic captor want only to bend her to his will?

Note: The Kindle version of Redemption is currently on sale for $3.99.

Barnes & Noble 

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 Find Susannah at: Website: 


Twitter: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

-- Lynda Again, 

That's it for today. Leave a comment or say hi! I'm intrigued by Susannah's question. Face or no face? When I considered covers for my Altered Destiny, I went the 'no face' route ...mostly because I didn't think there'd be a mortal man alive who could be as handsome as Devyn MacGregor, lol, but I digress. 

What are your thoughts?

Have a Blessed Day!

PS I apologize if you saw the earlier 'skunky' display. There was a problem with html or fonts that I didn't catch before it posted. I believe I've got everything back to 'pretty' and all the links work. If you find something amiss, let me know at and I'll fix it asap.


Kathryn Scannell said...

You're very right about the stock photography problem. A writer friend had a very nice cover for one of her books - stock photography with very minor changes, but it fit the book beautifully. Then, 6 months later, someone else has another book with the same photo, and again only very minor changes - a color filter. She was devastated.

Personally I loathe the covers where the model's face is cut off. Not quite enough to damage the book to get rid of them, but they are absolutely *not* an incentive to buy. They make me think the cover was done by Uncle Frank who always cuts off someone's head in the family photos. I know that's not the case, but that's the immediate response it evokes.

Suzanne Johnson said...

I had this duplication happen to a couple of friends, too, Kathryn. My publisher had picked out a shot for my second Susannah Sandlin book and the guy was perfect, but the editor found another book using the same shot so we pulled it. This problem's probably going to keep getting worse as more people do their own covers and the cost of custom photography gets more and more out of reach. Not sure what the answer is.

Barbara Monajem said...

All my Harlequin Undone covers are stock art, and sometimes I've been able to find the same art on another Harlequin book. Often it's a mirror image or a detail, or they've changed the color of the clothes. (Or hair -- one of mine has a red-headed hero, so they dyed his hair for me, LOL.)

I guess the issue for me is whether I like the image in the first place. I don't usually buy a book because of the cover, but if it's a pic of a guy I find unattractive, I'm less likely to pick up the book for a look unless I already know the author's work. If that image turns me off over and over on different books, I might be missing a lot of great reads. :(

I tend to prefer covers without faces -- not all abs are equal, but enough so that I won't pass over a book because of them. :)

Suzanne Johnson said...

Thanks for the comment, Barbara! I think that's the argument (and a valid one) for NOT using faces on the covers. A guy I might think is sex on a stick might not appeal to you at all. At the same time, when I'm doing my monthly roundup blog of paranormal romance releases and look at those rows and rows of headless abs...LOL.

Mona Karel said...

My first book had a man's face superimposed on a fantasy forest background. I found the face on a stock photo page, and later saw it at the beauty shop . The cover fit the story perfectly. For my second book I couldn't focus on cover ideas, and the publisher's cover person came up with something very pretty, totally appropriate. Later I saw the same couple, same pose on other covers, with different "treatments." Still most of my sales are e-books so the cover is only an issue on the buy page!

Carla Richards said...

It would bother me to see the same photo used on different covers, and recognizable. I have even been known to try a new wine because I liked the label and bottle, so I definitely buy books by their covers. I have seen, lately, covers with really horrendous art on them-and no, they aren't self-published. The duplicate photos are better than that.

Susan Macatee said...

I like to see a face on book covers and have been lucky to get some very good ones for my own books from my publisher. But I can understand why a publisher would want to leave off the face.

I've also seen a lot of duplicate or very similar covers on books out right now. But that's the stock photo dilemma. Only so many photos to go around.

Janice Seagraves said...

I loved the cover of my first book that I won in a cover contest, but it too showed up again and again on other books since mine came out.

I was shocked the first time, but now it just makes me a little sad.


Suzanne Johnson said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone!

Janice, it would make me sad too (and probably will one day--I can only see this happening more and more).

But I guess in terms of ebooks, cover exclusivity (and, as Carla notes, even cover quality) might not seem as big an issue? I don't know the answer to that. I love to look at covers, even though I rarely decide for or against reading a book because of it.

Disincentive said...

Amazing post. Well, it's actually funny when I see the same models on 10 books. It's like... Hey, we met again. This person on the cover is a character to me. And... I like to imagine character by myself. This thing is bothering. Plus, I REALLY HATE abs shots on the covers. I simple hate hate hate. Faces are often boring but they are better than half-naked guy. Especially when their abs isn't nice. At all.

Shelley Munro said...

You're right about the same stock images being used on covers. Readers notice as much as we do.

I've noticed quite a few covers following the 50 Shades of Gray path recently - same shades of grey and subtle on the cover.

I don't mind faces or abs. Either option works for me.

Suzanne Johnson said...

@Disincentive...Before I started having books out there in the marketplace, I'd always kind of roll my eyes at the duplicate cover shots. Now I wince, because as an author I'd really hate it! Yeah...the beauty of abs are in the eye of the beholder! LOL.

@Shelley...Interesting about the Fifty Shades-type covers. I also saw an article online today about all these new covers coming out with nothing but script writing on the front a la the new JK Rowling novel. Everything's in waves.

Kathryn Scannell said...

One solution to the problem of the same cover art showing up in multiple places is to use more than one image. I have a free read that I helped to design a cover for - I chose two images, one for the couple (two guys looking out over a bay, facing away from the camera) and another for background (a short of North End Boston). The artist I worked with (Sheri McGathy) combined the two beautifully in photoshop, making it look like an entirely different image. That takes more skill than just using the photo as is, with maybe a light filter on it, but it still only took her a couple of hours from when I sent her to photos to when she sent me back the first pass at the cover. We or the publisher's art directors just need to set the bar a little higher for creativity with those stock photos.

Cait London said...

I can't stand the cut-off tops of heads. I know why, because the faces don't match/look good.

You're right about the same shots being used too often. One of the best things to do for a series is to give them the same look, and that can be artist's style, a format/layout, a font. I made huge mistakes when starting out by not having a consecutive look. Working on that now.

Using the spotlight filter/effect technique is great. I see that a lot and still like it. Too many light source directions is something that has to be watched.

Dawn Chartier said...

For me it's not about a pretty face or a hot bod, it's about the colors... Colors grab me...(guess I'm different.)

For example, J.R. Ward's brotherhood series. The faces are barely shown at all, but you'll have this orangish cover or this pretty blue-gray cover...Those grab me...

Now I'm not saying I don't like a pretty face or a hot bod on the cover, cause I do, I'm just saying "colors" tend to pull me in first...

sienny said...

i noticed one images show up on different book covers. sometimes it's very similar, but sometime they are also very different. but for me, personally, as long as it's not totally the same than no problem.