Erotica Cover Watch

Why only women on the covers of erotic books?

Welcome to Erotica Cover Watch!

with 68 comments

Welcome to Erotica Cover Watch!

Erotica Cover Watch is part of our spanking new campaign to Banish Inequality on Covers in Erotica, Porn and Smut (BICEPS). It began after a massive row heated debate on the wonderful Jeremy Edwards‘ blog – where Jeremy was very gracious and didn’t complain once about the hijack. (Thanks Jeremy, we love you!)

But we think this issue needs to be examined further. So Kristina Lloyd and I (Mathilde Madden) have decided to take the debate and start our own blog to explore the problematic topic of erotica covers and moan about why we never get to see so much as a beefy bicep when women’s arses are pretty much required. Because we’re women. We’re women who like men. We find them sexy.

And we know we’re not alone.

Below are the edited highlights of our original discussion, a healthy exchange of ideas which culminated in Maxim Jakubowski promising to buy Kristina Lloyd a beer in order to secure his physical safety.

It’s quite long so feel free to skip to the end if you’re desperate to tell us what you think (please do!). And don’t miss our answers to the most frequent excuses for sexist erotica covers

Kristina Lloyd
I am so tired of seeing covers which completely ignore a readership of straight women. Erotica still seems to be stuck in the 70s, its target being primarily het men. And the argument used to defend this goes round in self-fulfilling circles – straight men are (always have been) the main audience, therefore we must market to them if we’re to make any money … therefore men are (still) the main audience.

I really wish there was an erotica publisher willing to move forward from this. […]

Kristina Wright
Kristina, I haven’t seen demographics on erotica readers, but I’m willing to bet the current numbers skew toward the women these days. After all, there is a reason there are so many “women’s erotica” anthologies being published– not to mention the popularity of erotic romance!

I’d be willing to compromise: give me a sexy couple… or threesome…

Kristina Lloyd
Women are increasingly buying and writing erotica. They may even be the majority consumers in some areas (though I’m willing to bet a significant number of men are highly interested in ‘women’s anthologies’).

Similarly, women are increasingly drinking beer, learning how to use powerdrills and riding motorbikes (no, not at the same time!). None of these are ever marketed at women because to do so would be to ‘feminize’ the product and risk putting men off. It seems erotica works on similar lines ie don’t put the blokes off. The only ‘safe’ place for beefcake to appear is on the covers of gay fiction or erotic romance – two areas where straight men don’t stray. Occasionally, a couple will feature on an erotica cover (usually with most space given to the woman) but the default is a sexualised female body. […]



In short, more clinches! More het couples on het erotica. That really ought to be the default.

Craig Sorensen

I agree. It is peculiar that the TOCs of most erotica anthos are predominantly women, and yet the covers are clearly meant to appeal to men. But I don’t think that erotica in general is stuck in the seventies. Erotica is much, much more mature now, and that is largely due to the fact that many of the movers and shakers in erotica are women. Perhaps the covers reflect a seventies ideal, but in defense of Maxim, this is not just true of his anthologies.

It is indeed time to mature the approach to Erotica covers, and the idea of couples is an outstanding one. Erotica is about contact and action; covers should reflect this.

Mathilde Madden
I gave a talk recently at the South bank centre and demonstrated the point that mainstream erotica covers ignore straight women by showing Rachel Kramer Bussel’s Yes Ma’am and Yes Sir covers. People actually *gasped*.

Maxim Jakubowski
May I plead both innocence and publishing reality. As an editor (and sometimes author) may I point out that we are rarely consulted about the covers we get and, conversely, although there is a degree of sexism involved in always having undraped women on covers (although when it comes to my titles I would hope somewhat tasteful ones…), it’s something the chain and supermarket buyers who wield the purchasing power would insist on.

Erotica's 'kiss of death'

Erotica's 'kiss of death'

Unless it’s a vampire or supernatural piece of erotica, a male figure on the cover would spell out ‘gay market’ to the (conservative) book trade, and would be the kiss of death to a book. I actually have a couple embracing in the altogether in next month’s Mammoth Kama Sutra volume, but the nature of that book is different.

So, I understand Kristina and others’ feelings, but it’s a question of getting the book into shops/published that’s more important in my eyes.

Kristina Lloyd
The ‘reality of publishing’ argument is one that’s often cited by publishers and editors, and I really don’t think it’s a satisfactory answer. Publishers, in focussing solely on profit margins, are complicit in perpetuating this sexism. It’s well known in women’s magazine publishing that a black cover model results in a drop in sales. Magazines should be prepared to take an occasional drop in the hope they can bring about gradual change and counter racist attitudes. And some do.

Change has to come from the publishers. They are the ones making the covers.

The idea that a half-dressed man = a gay man is very prevalent and deeply entrenched in our society. Why shouldn’t an eroticised man be seen to appeal *also* to women?

Go on, Maxim. Give us a bicep for 2010!

Mathilde Madden
This attitude, that only women are allowed to represent ‘sexy’ outside the ghettos of gay male and romance fiction is getting so tired it positively creaks. And in bed next to is the lame implication that male hetness is so fragile and delicate that it must be protected from naked men at all costs! Are men really meant to be still so scared of homosexuality these days? None of the men I know are.

The erotica publishing industry is not some remote powers that be dictating what can be on covers – it is all of us. We can change it. We all need to raise our voices and keep on saying that this is not okay. Because it isn’t. It really isn’t okay that erotica publishing (which so often like to place itself at the cutting edge of liberal thinking on sexuality) cannot grasp basic equal opportunities.

Maxim Jakubowski
Ah, worthy words and sentiments, Brighton ladies…

Might I be malicious and point out that many of the covers you’ve been given yourselves by your publishers have also displayed their quota of naked female skin (unless they were in the paranormal sub-genre, which appears to be ok as I mentioned earlier), or whenever there has been a token male torso or more, it has been of buff models which few of us compare favourably with and could well raise the opposite problem/attitude from potential straight male readers.

I’d also point out that there is no erotica publishing industry, just a single publishing industry in which erotica forms just a minute island.

The chains are too powerful.

The chains are too powerful

I’ve worked in publishing for 25 years […] and can assure you from experience that if a publisher were to go radically against the grain, they would just be committing commercial suicide. The chains and supermarkets are just too powerful and if they (wrongly) believe that such images can sell the books, they will turn down all experiments attempting to prove the contrary

I strongly believe that some of the best erotic writing of the last decade or so has been by women writers, and I have always championed it and them even if it meant accepting cover artwork for my anthologies that doesn’t always reflect the contents accurately and I am unwilling to go to battle with my publishers to change this. Neither do I believe that publishers’ attitudes are going to change. It’s not so much the quest for profits, more the desire to stay afloat and pay wages, advances and royalties which motivates them. So, in that sense, I can’t see this status quo changing. […]

Call me unprincipled if you will, but I’d still prefer to see the writers I like get published in my anthologies rather than not published at all. Many of the points you raise are good ones, and this is a debate that could go on for ages. I’m not sure there is a clear cut answer to it.

Kristina Lloyd
*whenever there has been a token male torso or more, it has been of buff models which few of us compare favourably with and could well raise the opposite problem/attitude from potential straight male readers*

Goodness, I don’t think any of the women speaking here have argued we dislike images of women on covers because they make us feel insecure about our butts! To suggest that’s our concern trivialises this debate and overlooks the important political points we’re making about gender bias. And that’s not being ‘worthy’. That’s wanting to live in a world where women and men have equality.

But as you say, this discussion could run and run. Some people are guided by their principles, some aren’t. And those who aren’t usually don’t need to be. They are the lucky ones.


So what do you think of the cover of Mammoth? Is another naked woman hiding her naughty bits the way to sell smut in the 21st century? Or should she budge up and let a hot guy show us a bit of brawn? Or might that stop anyone wanting to read or write about sex ever again?

For the full picture on the covers of Mammoth Best Erotica – a very well thought of collection which features a lot of female authors – go here. Prize of a thousand million dollars if anyone spots a hairy chest.

And if you want to read the original debate go here and then here.

And tell us:

Would you like to see more men on erotica covers? Then please vote in our big BICEPS poll!

Written by mat

September 11, 2008 at 1:00 am

68 Responses

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  1. I agree that the distribution is woeful, and also often don’t mind the women on covers – the cover of my book, The Ten Visions, delighted me and seemed to reflect the heroine rather well.

    The cover of Mammoth, on the other hand, makes me see red. It makes me almost too angry to analyse why it seems abusive, demeaning, objectifying, whereas most often I can happily look at nekkid women for hours. Almost, that is – a few possibilities are…
    * the face cut off, again
    * the focal point: straight between her legs
    * the severance, the title cutting her body into Tits and Pussy
    * the hands covering her pussy as opposed to the widespread legs

    This doesn’t smell of confident female sexuality. It smells of hairy men in cellars saying “C’mon, open your legs wider – stop whining, girl, do you want to be a model or not?!” I doubt the photo was taken in those circumstances, but that’s what it smacks of. How can an anthology of erotica project an image of female sexuality as something dirty, naughty, shameful?

    Olivia Knight

    September 11, 2008 at 11:43 am

  2. It was that cover that tipped us over the edge, O.


    September 11, 2008 at 11:52 am

  3. The cover of last year’s Mammoth was awful too – and had a similar trashy red light theme going on. (Women as whores, anyone?)

    But, much as I enjoy rigorous dissection, I don’t want to be distracted into analysing why some cover images of women are worse than others. I worry I’d get stuck down that side-road forever, peering at men in the distance through my binoculars. I think the important point is there are way too many erotica covers featuring women and not enough featuring men.

    We hear a lot of talk about more positive representations of female sexuality – and, yes, that’s important – but I’m eager to move away from the ubiquity of the female form and hear more talk about positive representations of David Beckham in very small pieces of underwear!

    Being able to look and lust ought to be a key part of positive female sexuality. It’s not just how women are *seen* but how we feel, what we do and what options are available to us. And I want more eye candy because it makes me feel good!

    (But, yeah, you’re right, Olivia! That cover’s particularly offensive.)


    September 11, 2008 at 1:25 pm

  4. I believe female erotica is very progressive and liberating in terms of female sexuality and I find the covers of the books hugely irritating in their assumption that I want to see some naked lady. The covers of the books serve to completely undermine the progessive nature of the contents.

    I find the similarities drawn between erotica and the advertising of other ‘male’ products very interesting as it reflects the notion that this is still very much the domain of men.

    Isabel Rose

    September 11, 2008 at 4:12 pm

  5. “The idea that a half-dressed man = a gay man is very prevalent and deeply entrenched in our society. ”

    Do you know what… so what if he IS gay?? If he’s naked and sexy, us ladies are going to look at him regardless! Bring on the naked men – straight, gay, bi. I don’t care.

    I have always thought it odd that men struggle so much with other men. If I wanted to buy a book, and the cover had a naked woman on it, it wouldn’t bother me in the least. In fact, if I thought she was attractive, I’d probably appreciate the cover. Not in such a lustful, drooling way as I would if there was a man on the cover (see Lust at First Bite… when I get my hands on that I think it’s going to take me a long time to stop staring at the cover and get stuck in!), but I wouldn’t ever go “Eergh, there’s a woman’s bum on there, I’m not buying it!”

    I think a lot of it boils down to the opinion that girl on girl is “allowed”, therefore it’s OK for women to look at women… society (or at least, younger and more open-minded generations) seems much more OK with lesbianism, whereas being a gay guy is still “disgusting” and wrong.

    I don’t get it. At all. I’m quite happy to look at a guy or a girl on the cover of the book. It should be attractive and fitting to what the book is about! Why on earth does it matter if it’s a guy? It doesn’t mean that the book is gay erotica, after all (not that there’s anything wrong with gay erotica either. Happens to be one of my favourite kinds of erotica). It simply means that there’s a guy in the book who’s highly likely to get his cock out. No big surprises there then, eh?

    Oops, I’m waffling now. Sorry. In summary, I think it should be a healthy mix and men and women on covers, and indeed, as you girlies have suggested, couples. I don’t mind either way! I’m just in it for the content, not the cover!

    Lucy Felthouse

    September 11, 2008 at 7:56 pm

  6. Lucy, agreed! If he’s got his pecs out and I can gawp, who cares if he’s gay or straight?

    The problem kicks in when, if he’s got his pecs out, he gets automatically shunted off into the section of the world labelled ‘gay’. And then, as a woman, I have to make a special trip out there with foil-wrapped sandwiches and a vacuum flask in order to see him.

    I want him and his pecs to be part of *my* world too. I want male flesh to be made ordinary and acceptable, much as female flesh is. (Even though, uh, I will always find male flesh super magical!)


    September 11, 2008 at 9:21 pm

  7. I think that featuring a solitary man on a book cover says: “This book is for women only!” where having a woman on a book cover won’t turn women off (generally).

    I would like to see erotica anthologies reflect what’s between the covers– if it’s a hetero anthology, give me a man and a woman on the cover! But, again, that is the domain of romance fiction and liable to get labeled that way. Erotic romance is doing a nice job of featuring male/female couples (or even male/female/male triads), but straight-up erotica gets the lone babe posing for a male audience.

    It’s frustrating. I hope this blog generates some much needed conversation in the industry.


    September 11, 2008 at 11:05 pm

  8. Eh, I want men on my covers just as much as women. 🙂 My first book, what I got was a statue. After that, I decided to make my own covers which currently have an equal representation of both better sexes.


    September 11, 2008 at 11:49 pm

  9. I got pissed off over a very similar issue when “300” came out. Every single review described it as being a gay porn movie (though they usually phrased it slightly more politely. If they wanted to be rude they would describe it as a fascist movie). Why? because there were a whole load of near-naked beautiful men in it. If it had been a movie about load of near-naked beautiful women would that have made it a lesbian movie? My gripe is not the imputation that gay men will like this film (I’m certain many did!) but that the female audience DOES NOT MATTER: Movies are made by men to be seen by men so only their reaction is significant.

    And once again we are marginalised.

    So yes – more power to your elbow Mat and Kristina!

    Janine Ashbless

    September 12, 2008 at 8:30 am

  10. Ah yes, that stupid idea that if you are looking at a man it must be gay or homoerotic because obviously you the viewer must be a man. Because women don’t actually have eyes… or something


    September 12, 2008 at 9:18 am

  11. I think this is all great and you have a wonderful arguement that is frustratingly accurate but not going to change anytime soon but I think the arguement goes a lot further.

    It’s all fair and well having fit men on the covers (and it wouldn’t bother me at all as a straight man at having a story inside a book with one on), but that would still not be enough at all. Erotica covers need to be broader in design and feature both sexes. As a bookseller, I know that is what people desire. A lot of the books that the writers involved here only feature men, yet the books are about both men and women and is not representative of the product at all.

    But then, I’m just happy to be published at all. I’d love to write whole books, but I have a penis and as nice and well endowed as it is, it holds me back as an erotic writer. That’s a fact.

    Mark Farley

    September 12, 2008 at 10:53 am

  12. For our answer to the but it’s not going to change anytime soon concept please see our But, but, but page

    (short answer: yes it will)


    September 12, 2008 at 11:04 am

  13. I’m hoping it will too hun. But the book industry is a very strange and fickle world. Normal arguements, standards and attitudes are so contradictory and frustrating, it’s going to take a lot more than this ‘ere little blog. As great as it is.

    More needs to be done about blending the design and focusing it upon the tone, style and content of the actual work inside, so that it is more representative of the product in question.

    What’s on a box of Cheerios? Answer: a bowl of fucking Cheerios…

    Yes, the covers are sexist. Yes, they are an insult to our intelligence. But the answer is not more with hot men on the cover. There needs to be a whole re-focus on cover design, as well as giving more freedom and input to authors.

    Just like I’m sure the makers of Cheerios get.

    Mark Farley

    September 12, 2008 at 12:36 pm

  14. You may have a problem with the covers being trashy. I do not. I may like what you call trash. So long as it isn’t sexist trash.

    This blog is not about making erotica covers more tasteful or overtly designed or anything else. Look at Alison Tylers ABC books. The covers are beautiful – but every single one features a woman. We love Alison – but we would question that. Design can be your campaign but it isn’t ours. We are about the pure numbers. We want that fixed first.

    The answer is, in fact, hot men on the covers. Sorry about that, hun.


    September 12, 2008 at 12:45 pm

  15. I get the message that you want hot men on the covers, but your very arguement is also sexist. It’s just going the opposite way. And this blog is about design. The design of the covers of your books and the ones you refuse to submit too.

    The only books that should have just a man on his own on the cover should be gay compilations, where there are no women in the stories. Are there female characters in ‘The Silver Crown’ and ‘The Silver Cage’? Some people could say those covers are sexist too, could they not?

    Mark Farley

    September 12, 2008 at 12:56 pm

  16. I never said anything about not liking trashy covers. I didn’t even mention that word. I’m not attracted to a lot of the covers with just females on the cover and neither do a lot of other men, which is part of the reason why erotica doesn’t sell as much as it should.

    Mark Farley

    September 12, 2008 at 12:59 pm

  17. I don’t see how asking that there be equal numbers of erotica covers featuring men as there are featuring women would be sexist.

    I would have thought that would be, god, *fair*


    September 12, 2008 at 1:03 pm

  18. *your very arguement is also sexist. It’s just going the opposite way*

    No, it’s not. It’s striving to redress the balance.


    September 12, 2008 at 1:07 pm

  19. I think that could be one for the but, but, but page

    But you are being sexist if you want to look at naked men


    September 12, 2008 at 1:10 pm

  20. I shared further views with Kristina on facebook recently, and agree we have an interesting debate going, even if I do object to my poor little Mammoths having provoked the initial argument. Compared to many other covers, I daresay I persist in thinking my covers are tasteful and lacking in vulgarity unlike many others I could mention. But then, if the covers for Alison’s Alphabet series come in for criticism too, then I feel I’m in good company as I think they are wonderful.

    But an interesting sideways point has been raised with which I heartily agree: sure, there are few men on covers, whether hunky or not, but where are all the male writers of erotica? I strongly feel we are being discriminated against as more and more of the existing publishers will not touch us, for reasons of gender rather than quality of our writing. I know 3 major US publishers of erotica or erotic romance who will not publish male writers out of principle (i was actually contacted by two and offered quite a bit of money if I were to use a female pen name!). As it is, I know that 4 of what I would consider the best male erotica writers of today either publish under a female pseudonym or use initials to cover their tracks. And I think this is even more unfair than offering eye candy for the gals on book covers. Not only are being not allowed onto book covers, but publishing outlets are closing for us!

    I have argued with Kristina that the blame lies in publishing commercial habits and urban legends (and hope she will post my private comments on this blog in due course), and that I would rather my books and anthologies get published (and offer publication opportunities to new and older writers) if the price is to have a tasteful woman in a state of part nudity on its cover.

    Life is all compromises, but I, for one, don’t feel compromised for having naked women on my covers, which allows my anthologies to sell 50,000 copies on some occasions rather than the 5.000 copies they would if I had a man or even a couple on the cover.

    This slightly reminds of the old argument we used to have back when I worked as full-time publisher about swastikas on thriller covers. As distasteful as it felt to me, it also meant considerable higher sales for the books, hence their popularity.

    This could run and run…

    Maxim Jakubowski

    September 12, 2008 at 1:12 pm

  21. Don’t get me wrong. I love Alison’s ABC covers too. I’d just love to see some cheesecakey drawings of men on there too. In a way it just shows how this rubbish standard pervades all erotica from the trashiest sleeziest covers right through to the strikingly well designed ones – there is one factor they all have in common: they only feature pictures of women.


    September 12, 2008 at 1:19 pm

  22. I’m not saying you are sexist for saying you want to look at naked men. Again, putting words into my mouth there and it is not re-dressing the balance, it’s adding to the arguement. It might be fair, but it just dissolves immediately your point.

    Covers need to represent content. They don’t if they just have a man on the cover. Or a woman. Sorry…

    Mark Farley

    September 12, 2008 at 1:21 pm

  23. There is banishing ‘inequality’ and there is putting a male torso on a book instead of a woman’s. If that’s your sole mission, it’s inherently redundant to your cause.

    Mark Farley

    September 12, 2008 at 1:39 pm

  24. Actually I am more than happy with that sole mission


    September 12, 2008 at 1:52 pm

  25. Likewise!

    Maxim, I’ll happily publish your private comments though I don’t think you actually said anything other that what you’ve said already. This is the Facebook conversation where you accused us of ’tilting at windmills’, right?

    That was funny.

    But you make an interesting point about men having to publish smut under female pseuds. I think that goes on quite a lot, and I can’t help wondering how much it has to do with men preferring to read what they believe to be an authentic female experience of sex rather than reading porn penned by other blokes. Maybe it’s part of the same problem, men not wanting to get too close to another man’s penis, whether that be as as reader and author, or reader and cover image.

    But, hey, I don’t want to derail this debate by talking about how much men suffer, the poor lambs! Sideways arguments should go get their own sideways little blogs. Although Mark will tell you it’s futile.


    September 12, 2008 at 2:42 pm

  26. I just think you both need to widen your arguement a bit. Just saying that flat out it should be men on the cover of books instead of women is as sexist an arguement as the message your blog was created for.

    Mark Farley

    September 12, 2008 at 2:55 pm

  27. Kristina,

    I’m specifically referring to men being asked by publishers to use a female pseudonym, rather than writers who use a female name deliberately and without external pressure to do so. And as far as fear of the penis is concerned, I would discount that fear wholesale. Three of the four male writers I was referring to are actually bisexual, so quite familiar with penises aside from their own… I would even venture to say that some of those authors write about the female sexual experience as well as any woman….

    Maxim Jakubowski

    September 12, 2008 at 2:59 pm

  28. We’re arguing for couples as well, Mark. It says so in the piece. More couples and more men.

    I think both would be popular choices. Right now, erotica readers have only *one* choice. And that’s indefensible.


    September 12, 2008 at 3:01 pm

  29. It’s not about the sexuality of the writers, Maxim! It’s about the publishers’ unyielding perception of the market and the readers.


    September 12, 2008 at 3:08 pm

  30. Might I make a suggestion?
    When Mathilde and you have new novels ready, why don’t you insist having a clause in your contract with Virgin to the effect that your respective covers must not feature a woman alone.. I’d love to see how Adam Nevill would react and whether your books even get published….

    Maxim Jakubowski

    September 12, 2008 at 3:20 pm

  31. Hey Maxim – having slagged your cover off myself – this issue of men being discriminated against in erotica publishing is one a number of our male readers have commented on at Lust Bites, and I agree it’s entirely wrong. (I also don’t think two wrongs make a right: covers being sexist one way and publishers being sexist another doesn’t add up to equality! If anything, it makes both cases of discrimination even more bizarre, because then who the hell are they targeting?) I’m interested in collecting male erotica writers’ input on this for a Lust Bites post – so do, if you want, email me with all the details.

    Olivia Knight

    September 12, 2008 at 3:55 pm

  32. Maxim, if it were that easy, we’d have already done it. But I think you just proved our point and illustrated why this blog needs to exist, why we need to have this conversation and draw attention to the problem.



    September 12, 2008 at 3:57 pm

  33. @ Maxim

    I get men on my BL covers now – but that’s because they class themselves as erotic romance these days and have stopped courting male readers – not because of any hard nosed negotiating on my part.

    What I do do though is try not to submit to anthologies that I think are going to have covers that I feel are sexist and unfair. I’m sorry to say your books are on my no-submissions list.


    September 12, 2008 at 3:59 pm

  34. Olivia, my fear is they are still targeting men, hence the popularity of female images and female voices, real or otherwise. Publishers need to wake up to the existence of the female consumer.


    September 12, 2008 at 4:01 pm

  35. …and realise, as Adam says, that women buy 80% of books.

    Olivia Knight

    September 12, 2008 at 4:05 pm

  36. Mathilde,

    Not trying to be personal, but somewhat taken back by your policy not to submit to certain anthology editors on the assumption the covers their publishers will inflict upon them will not be to your liking. How can you presume to know what the cover artwork will be before a book even exists? I think you’re just damaging your own editorial prospects, as this would preclude you submitting to Alison, Rachel KB, Violet Blue, Mitzi S, X-Cite Books or myself, and we right now probably account for going on 90% of the admittedly restricted erotica anthology market… Now, erotic romance or as I would put it romance pretending to be naughty/daring is another kettle of fish altogether, and the rippling torsos and five-packs on regular display on covers (especially in USA) I find even more distasteful than some of you find some of my Mammoth covers. And the penis holds no fear for me (Kristina, you’re the one who raised that point first, no?)

    I sent a link to the blog to my present in-house commissioning editor for the Mammoth series and he had a good chuckle, but like all of us pointed out how good it would be to have actual demographics about our readers/public. I know for a fact that almost no men buy erotic romance, but a rough guess at the erotic readership here and in the USA would probably skew 65/35 female/male. In other countries (where my books also sell, and yes, with female nudes on covers again…), I think it’s nearer 55/45.

    You just can’t keep everyone happy, whether authors, readers, publishers, industry buyers, bookshops; too much of a balancing act.

    But it’s a great blog and a useful debate.

    My week-end starts now…

    Maxim Jakubowski

    September 12, 2008 at 4:37 pm

  37. Before you slate the erotic romance market, though, some of us write erotica and it gets “erotic romance” printed on the cover. A genre is no indication of quality. But you’re quite right about five-packs being distasteful. They should be six-packs. Like this.

    Olivia Knight

    September 12, 2008 at 5:01 pm

  38. I should point out that despite Kristina’s similar stance at not submitting to similar anthologies that only seem to have women on the cover, she has no problems being on the cover of this month’s ‘Ultimate Burlesque’, or are charitable compilations void from your collective and ungracious militant sexism?

    Mark Farley

    September 12, 2008 at 5:41 pm

  39. Did I say she was on the cover? Oops, I meant ‘doesn’t mind the cover’ of the book she is in.

    Mark Farley

    September 12, 2008 at 5:59 pm

  40. Collective and ungracious militant sexism, Mark? And I was so disposed to think well of you earlier! The breast-cancer-charity book you’re referring to has its own reasons for featuring the female form, as I’m sure you’ll agree. (And I think it was Tilly who doesn’t submit to collections she feels will be marketed with nekkid-woman-in-corset-and-red-light.) But “collective” isn’t an insult, “ungracious” is a slightly odd one, “militant” – erm, not sure whether they’re exactly that, unless having opinions is the new military, but “sexism“? I think what we need to keep in mind is that whatever the intense political issues around all of this are, at heart it’s two heterosexual female erotica writers saying, quite fairly, they’d like to see as many sexy men on books as sexy women. Not no women. Not more men, just “as many”. Equal distribution of filth. Because cutting out the hot blokes on gay-porn covers and sticking them on het-porn covers gets expensive.

    The discussion about male writers being sidelined in current erotica publishing lines is an important one, and one I’d love to arrange a post about in Lust Bites, but a kick in the balls has never yet cancelled out a slap in the face; both are unjust.

    I don’t really see how anyone can disagree with the basic premise: equal numbers of hot men as hot women.

    Olivia Knight

    September 12, 2008 at 6:44 pm

  41. *or are charitable compilations void from your collective and ungracious militant sexism?*

    Um, in this instance, yes. But this debate could get pretty shabby if we start using other people’s experiences of chemo in the face of a life-threatening disease in order to score points. I’d leave it there if I were you, Mark.

    Ultimate Burlesque: Raising Money for Macmillan Cancer Support. Please buy the book.

    And thanks, Olivia.


    September 12, 2008 at 6:49 pm

  42. I agree that there should be equal numbers of hot men as hot women on the covers of books, but saying that there should just be a man on the cover is as bad as saying that just putting a woman on the cover is sexist. It’s exactly the same. It’s double standards. A book of erotic fiction should be covered with something appropriate that represents the content. That’s not a picture of a just a bloke like Mathilde is so desperate and yes, militant about.

    Talking to people after her ‘Dirty Books’ talk (where she highlighted her cause by slagging off her own covers in front of her editor), as great as she was, the general consensus was of disingenuity and someone who was ungrateful with her lot. Sorry, it’s the truth

    Mark Farley

    September 12, 2008 at 7:02 pm

  43. Kris, you know how passionate I am about the UB project (I am not even going to begin to outline my involvement) but I am sorry darling, you cannot say to me that your position is thus and then appear in any book that goes so against your point of view, devoid of it’s well meaning message.

    Mark Farley

    September 12, 2008 at 7:05 pm

  44. “saying that there should just be a man on the cover is as bad as saying that just putting a woman on the cover is sexist” – still not quite the message as I received it, which I thought was “only women for het porn is sexist, some men would be nice”. But from a marketing viewpoint, what I think you’re suggesting makes a lot of sense as a transitional phase. For better or worse, the market has been trained to understand that seeing just a man means gay porn, seeing just a woman means straight porn (not lesbian). (Of course, all this is leaving aside the lovely mixed-up cornucopia of goods we usually get between the covers, which tends to be less straightforward. Because we’re writers, not marketers.) So the kind of couples that Black Lace has been featuring, and which I think you’re suggesting Mark, would make quite a lot of sense. There is the argument that at the moment that means “romance” or “erotic romance”, but our response to imagery is more subtle than that – we’re already adept at interpreting where a couple-in-a-clinch is on the scale from Barbara Cartland to Mills ‘n Boon to erotic romance to Black Lace and how much hardcore sex we’ll find inside, so there is far more iconography to help us interpret besides the two people. Am I understanding correctly that you were calling for wider scope all round?

    Olivia Knight

    September 12, 2008 at 7:30 pm

  45. Mark, sweetie:

    A. I have never said I will not appear in books which feature only women on the covers. I’d be out of a job. What I do say is that some representations of women are way more offensive than others, and I do my best not to sub to editors and anthos where I anticipate a woman will be objectified by, say, appearing only as tits and ass.

    B. You might want to read my story in Ultimate Burlesque before you start calling my politics and principles into question. It’s about a stripper who’s sick of being looked at, and the sex scene centres around her getting off while watching two guys fucking. The woman is barely described at all. The men are – lovingly. Same issue, different way of addressing it.


    September 12, 2008 at 7:43 pm

  46. That’s exactly what I am suggesting, Olivia. The others have made it perfectly clear that they want to see ‘just men’ on the covers, which makes their whole call for equality redundant, while bathing in heated pools of hypocrisy.

    Mark Farley

    September 12, 2008 at 7:45 pm

  47. Sorry? Where have we said we want to replace *all* images of women with images of men only?

    We have argued for more men and more couples. The result would then be het erotica offering 3 types of cover:

    1. A woman only
    2. A man only
    3. A man and woman together

    This would be fair and equal. We are talking about banishing inequality, not banishing women. I don’t know how I can make this point any clearer. Why is it so difficult to understand?


    September 12, 2008 at 8:00 pm

  48. This afternoon at 1.39pm actually, unless you have changed your message since the. I asked Mathilda whether ‘putting a male torso on a book instead of a woman’s’ was her sole mession and she replied,

    “Actually I am more than happy with that sole mission.”

    Look back, it was just after accusing me of something I hadn’t said.. xx

    Mark Farley

    September 12, 2008 at 8:13 pm

  49. Yup. I think that’s fine. One book at a time will lead to a more equal, fairer distribution.

    If one publishing co, having heard what we are saying, opts to put a bloke on the cover instead of a woman in their next marketing meeting, and they actually give consideration to women as consumers, I’d consider that a victory. Small one but a start.


    September 12, 2008 at 8:28 pm

  50. I agree, but I’d start contacting them because there is absolutely no way they will come across you.

    Mark Farley

    September 12, 2008 at 8:33 pm

  51. …except Maxim Jakubowki, Alison Tyler, and Adam Nevill probably have already. And I can’t imagine our lovely Violet Blue is far behind. It’s a small pond in here. Wiggle your tail, everyone!

    Olivia Knight

    September 12, 2008 at 8:46 pm

  52. Great, but unfortunately those people are beholdent to higher powers, as already explained. As much as they would love to change things, their hands are tied. We are going round in circles and I am bored with this now.

    Mark Farley

    September 12, 2008 at 8:53 pm

  53. P.S. My brother and I have 2 rules of argument, which keep us from fratricide (on my part) and soriricide (on his). Because we’re both a teensy bit opinionated. (You noticed?) They are.. 1) Thou shalt quote thy sources. (Printed source is generally better than Man In Pub, except when Man In Pub is MD of the company in question and you can follow up the details on his card to confirm). 2) Thou shalt be prepared to concede defeat. Because the only interesting argument worth having is one where you’re discovering something, so you’re prepared to agree with the other side should their argument be convincing.

    Arguments ad hominem (vis personal abuse) aside, I think the two positions may yet be remarkably similar: equality & a branching out from the basic norm.

    Now I shall go and sing “Bridge over troubled waters” to my very bad strumming and drink red wine. Nice arguing with you all!


    Olivia Knight

    September 12, 2008 at 8:53 pm

  54. The reason a buff male body will not appear on a future volume of Mammoth (just to use Maxim’s series as an example) is strictly financial: the series would lose a good portion of their male readership. Period. And if publishers lose 30-40% of their sales, guess who suffers in addition to the publishers? That’s right, the authors.

    If statistics showed that men would buy erotica featuring a woman OR a man on the cover, there would be men on more covers. Women will buy either cover, so the publishers pander to the men because they are more likely to “judge a book by its cover.” Look at the women’s magazines. We are conditioned from childhood to look at and admire the feminine form. Boys are not encouraged to do the same– quite the contrary. If you are male and are admiring another man’s body, you’d better be at a sporting event or in the gym. So the book covers reflect a long and unfair history of gender-labeling.

    While I firmly believe that more erotic anthologies should represent their content (as Mark also suggested, I believe), I also know why they don’t. Part of my original comments on Jeremy’s blog, which wasn’t excerpted here was this:

    I worked in the children’s department of the public library for over four years. One thing I learned very quickly: boys won’t read a book with a female protagonist, but girls will gladly embrace a book or series featuring a boy protagonist. Does anyone think Hermione Granger and the Sorcerer’s Stone would have attracted the same readership and attention as Harry Potter? Not that a female author can’t or shouldn’t write children’s books about boys, but how many male authors are writing children’s books with female protagonists?

    Is it any wonder that we grow up to think it’s perfectly normal that you can’t tell the difference between a lesbian erotica anthology and a heterosexual erotica anthology unless you read the titles? As Craig said, it’s not just Maxim’s covers. We’re inundated with the female form on all kinds of books and magazines.

    I would like to see more male/female couples on hetero (or primarily hetero) erotica anthologies to reflect the content. I’ve seen some– RKB’s recent Tasting Him/Tasting Her covers reflect the content. Putting a solo man on the cover of a Mammoth volume seems silly to me– and detrimental to sales. Putting a couple on the cover makes a lot more sense and seems less likely to hurt sales. If I were scanning the erotica shelves at the bookstore and saw a cover with a hot looking guy by himself, I’d think it was either an erotic romance or a gay anthology because I’ve been just as conditioned every other person responding here. I might not even pick up the book if I was specifically looking for a heterosexual erotica anthology.

    I’m playing devil’s advocate because I do support what this blog stands for in terms of equality, but if the purpose is to sell as many books as possible and a woman on the cover sells more books than a man on the cover– where is the incentive for publishers to equalize things?


    September 12, 2008 at 9:25 pm

  55. Maybe I’m an exception, but I prefer female protagonists in my books and certainly in the erotica I read and all of my stories tend to be from a female POV.

    More couples and a better representation of the content is the way forward. I know customer buying attitudes and trends. I frequently advise all of the big publishers on market (after they discovered my blog about it) but unfortunately these people listen to head office buyers from chains and supermarkets more, because they (despite never working on a bookshop floor) are the ones that weild the special pen to the special chequebook, which is (unfortunately) the only bell that publishers come running to.

    Mark Farley

    September 12, 2008 at 9:45 pm

  56. So, by your comments, you believe that they key issue is changing the attitudes and men towards book covers, and erotic anthologies in particular?

    Pray tell, young charges. Do enlighten us all in how you intend to achieve your quest…

    Mark Farley

    September 12, 2008 at 10:02 pm

  57. Hello – a reader here.

    If I’m honest – I don’t want hot men OR women on covers – I want something sort of abstract and beautiful that I can read in a coffeeshop without people looking over and thinking – “she’s reading smut”. I’m not convinced that a lot of British women are out there looking for erotica books with naked men on the front. Pathetically, I buy erotica books from Amazon cos I’m too embarrassed to hand them over at my local Waterstones (even the subtle ones). Yes – it’s ridiculous. It’s also true. I absolutely defend the literary worth of these books. Just not on a soapbox in the town where I live (ahem).

    Do you have research that shows that women would buy more erotica with hot men on the covers? I know that in romance circles in the US (where romance is a much much bigger share of the book market than here) that it is strongly felt that ‘mantitty’ sells books – and maybe it does to Americans. I’m not convinced it would sell like that over here. Interestingly certain romance novels with extremely lurid covers in the US are published with very restrained covers over here.

    So far as your own covers are concerned, I liked the cover for Asking for Trouble because it wasn’t recognisably erotic. I also liked the cover of Equal Opportunities. Peep Show wasn’t really my taste but at least it didn’t scream ‘smut’. The Silver ones were ok.

    As for the cover of Mammoth – it’s very unappealling to me. It’s not just that it’s a woman – it’s that it’s an image of a woman that is not directed at the reader. She’s performing for someone and I can’t see that the person she’s performing for is the female reader. I can see that an anthology of erotica for women will cover a lot of areas of interest and that a man might not therefore be an appropriate cover image. But if it has to be a woman (and I don’t think it does) that woman should represent the fantasiser who is going to read the book. I look at that cover and I’m frankly not convinced that it will contain stories I’m going to enjoy.

    In terms of pictures that appeal to me – yes, I prefer looking at pictures of men. NO doubt about it. So I will certainly be visiting for your Man Candy Mondays.

    Hey – maybe you should go for the look of those old Avon romances with the ‘false cover’? They had a ‘tasteful cover’ on the outside then another ‘mantitty’ or ‘clinch’ one inside it. Tasteful.


    September 12, 2008 at 10:31 pm

  58. I love enthusiastic, passionate, stimulating debate. Strong opposition is powerful. Slagging people off from some self-appointed lofty position, on the other hand, is just so disappointing. No one here is your young charges, Mark; seek disciples elsewhere if you want people to merely sit at your feet and listen.

    Tumperkin – heck, babe, you’re not the only one! I write the stuff, and I get all blushy going into the erotica section (and that’s mainly to front out my own books!) I reckon we should run off some alternative covers to slip erotica into! I’ve read so many books on the tube where you don’t know whether to hold it at an oblique angle, to escape notice, or press it into your lap to prevent anyone seeing the cover but then the person rubber-necking can read everything, or hold it so close that everyone can see the cover but no-one can see your face… My solution was to move out of London. 😉 Covers that went beyond

    Olivia Knight

    September 12, 2008 at 10:51 pm

  59. …THIS IS ABOUT EROTICA would be fabulous. I give it five years, ten at the outside.

    Olivia Knight

    September 12, 2008 at 10:51 pm

  60. I think I’ve been pretty lucky. My early novels all had women (but they were lesbian novels, so that makes sense). My only complaint with those was that sometimes I wrote a Victorian novel, and two very modern stripper girls would grace my cover. But if you scan the covers on my web site (shameless plug alert!), you’ll see that out of 60 covers, I have 5 hetero couples and one threesome, one angel, one feather, one playing card, a martini glass, two pairs of jeans, and a cherry that someone on my blog said looked like a cervix. There are 3 bums, 2 sets of legs, 2 corsets, 4 pairs of knickers, and a partridge in a pear tree (I mean a girl all wrapped up in red duct tape). The early Virgin covers do show the standard doe-eyed models, but those have been replaced recently with couples, which I adore.

    My personal pet peeve has always been when the cover does not match the novel. Then there just seems to be this odd disconnect. The cover of one of my novels shows an African-American office worker, when the main character is white. Is it just me, or does it seem as if the wrong cover got on the book?

    Of course, I think it would be awesome if authors were more involved in cover consultation. I’ve never had cover approval before, aside from my PTP books. And we are working on our first male cheesecake cover—as the brand-new packaging for HERS.

    But I am definitely sad that some writers won’t sub to me anymore because of a cover issue.


    alison tyler

    September 14, 2008 at 2:49 pm

  61. P.S. Here is something very strange that I forgot to say before. His and Hers do very well for us, but Hers outsells His 3 to 1. Can’t be the covers—which are simple scans of our artist’s jeans from different angles. Hers is aimed at women. All the stories are written from a male POV. His is the reverse. Anyway, I thought I’d share.

    alison tyler

    September 14, 2008 at 3:49 pm

  62. Kristina, thanks for directing me over to your LustBites post. I understand your point better now.

    I’d love to see covers designed for the reader, not the buyer. But I’m one of those readers and I still can’t quite identify with the goal here.

    Thing 1, I despise the mantitty covers on erotic romances. Yes, I’m visual and hate the “women aren’t visual” garbage, but I find most of those covers hideous and really don’t want them on my shelf. For me, more biceps on covers = fewer purchases. I’d rather get my erotica from the library, never mind the suspiciously sticky pages, than keep some of those horrible covers.

    Thing 2, I’ve always assumed a cover image of a woman alone is code for one-handed reading, i.e. “Hey ladies, get your DIY here.” Especially given that the images I see on erotica covers are often women in sensual, even introspective, poses rather than exploitive–another way of signalling “For women”. (I think the basic language of the cover is: Eyes shut, hands between legs? For women. Mouth exaggeratedly open, bust thrust out toward camera? For men.) I don’t see that as a bad message.

    And as Olivia and Tumperkin say, the problem with the Mammoth cover is not that it shows a woman. It’s the voyeuristic style, which signals that the book’s not for a woman but for the male gaze.

    Thing 2 1/2, I actually don’t like the idea of couples dominating erotica covers. Isn’t that going backward to the idea that women are only sexy in relation to men? I have an uncomfortable feeling that some of the Second Wavers probably fought the same battle but in reverse, trying to get women on the covers of erotica.

    I know that in romance circles in the US (where romance is a much much bigger share of the book market than here) that it is strongly felt that ‘mantitty’ sells books – and maybe it does to Americans

    Tumperkin, I don’t think it’s cultural; I think it’s about reader expectations. When you see certain types of covers, you can guess what’s inside. Put out the same book in a mantitty cover versus an Adirondack-chair-women’s-fiction cover, and even I (despiser of mantitty) will pick up the mantitty because the other one looks about 40 years older than I am and could be anything from My baby died memoir through bible-thumper romance.


    September 14, 2008 at 4:35 pm

  63. Oopsy, I committed an unfortunate parenthesis. I meant:

    … “For women”. […] I don’t see that as a bad message.


    … For men.) I don’t see that as a bad message.


    September 14, 2008 at 5:26 pm

  64. For anyone who missed our recent Lust Bites piece, do check out On Patrol with Erotica Cover Watch.

    AT, it’s fab that PTP are working on a cover featuring a man for HERS. This is the image with a bloke wearing a monogrammed ‘hers’ towel, isn’t it? And vice versa for the companion antho? I think I’m right in thinking Jeremy Edwards suggested this on Lust Bites where conversation had turned to equality on covers. It’s such a neat idea, and proof to the naysayers that pushing for change *can* have an impact. (Though to be fair, I don’t think Jeremy was pushing for change, he was just casually fetishising towels. But oblique routes to goals are fine by me.)

    And, oooh, I would love to know the impossible: who is buying HERS? As we know, just because a book is aimed at women, doesn’t mean it’s only women who buy it. Men love to read about the female sexual experience, both for hotness and also to try and gain an insight into what women like. (Mark is actually quite typical in his preference for female protags. Many men similarly prefer to read female authors – which *may* have something to do with publishers allegedly discriminating against male writers. Who knows?) Black Lace’s original tag ‘Erotica by women for women’ was such a clever piece of marketing because it craftily appealed to men at the same time as appealing directly women.

    Which isn’t to imply women *aren’t* buying smut. Of course they are, in huge numbers. And as Tumperkin shows, it’s much easier now we can buy online. But I think there’s a link between the popularity of the female voice in smut, which has caused some anger here, and the packaging of that with a female cover image. Aren’t both things part of the same lingering problem in erotica: woman as product, man as consumer?

    I want more covers that recognise me as a consumer. And, of course, taste is subjective, and we could talk till dawn about our individual preferences, or whether an image of a woman speaks more to men or to women, or how empowering it is to women to have images of female nudity (and we’re actually looking at this issue on Thursday).

    For me, the bottom line is: erotica is dominated by images of women and that is unfair. And, yes, as Kristina Wright, Rfp and others have said, we’re conditioned by society and we learn how to interpret the meaning of images. But meaning is not God-given or set in stone. Society creates meaning. And we are part of society. So some of what we’re doing with BICEPS is trying to create new meanings, is becoming part of that slow socio-cultural process that leads to change.

    We want to break that vicious circle which goes: there is no point putting a hot man on erotica because that will signify gay … Because a hot man will *always* signify gay unless we start trying to make it signify something else. (And I don’t think the romance model of mantitty is our only option. There are many ways to, um, do sexy men.)

    Man Candy Monday is tomorrow. Yay! Please pop back for an eyeful! And if you want to join us in leering over hot horny dudes – erm, I mean in joining that slow socio-cultural process to bring about change, please check out how to Beef Up Your Blog.

    Thanks for all the wonderful, smart comments!


    September 14, 2008 at 9:59 pm

  65. […] justifications for this obvious double-standard are well summed up in the discussion that kicked off the ECW blog, which rely mostly on “the reality of publishing” argument, and straight men’s […]

  66. […] when we started Erotica Cover Watch? We wanted to highlight how unfair it was that sexy books always featured sexy […]

  67. […] incidentally, was there at Erotica Cover Watch’s inception, prompting us to take action when she asked, ‘But, seriously, when are they going to put a […]

  68. […] that Erotica Cover Watch, the blog I co-founded to campaign against sexism in erotica publishing, launched with a criticism of Mammoth’s covers. When we started ECW, we were concerned (and warned) that speaking out might damage our writing […]

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