Erotica Cover Watch

Why only women on the covers of erotic books?

Erotica Cover Watch: Spank Me, ed. Cathryn Cooper

with 10 comments

Spank Me, ed. Cathryn Cooper, pub. Xcite Books

Watched by Mathilde Madden

I’ve been looking forward to this one.

Because Xcite Books are somewhat interesting. They are relative newcomers to the erotica scene in the UK and when they began they appeared to be courting a very clear market.

I spoke to founding editor Cathryn Cooper around the times the books began (We were both being photographed for a newspaper article on erotica writers that ended up being titled ‘We Think About Sex All Day!’) and she was very clear about the gap in the market for short, sweet erotic stories that appealed to women. (I’m paraphrasing wildly – it was some time ago – but I’m pretty sure she said something like this.)

And when the books appeared, Xcite did seem to have a clear idea where their slice of the market lay.

The book jackets were pretty ice cream colours –  a world apart from the erotica staple of black and red and more black. The emphasis was on sexy, kinky stories, with a leaning towards the ever popular women’s fantasy of female sexual submission.

Oh, and spanking. There was quite a lot of spanking. All good as far as I’m concerned.

In so many ways Xcite were a breath of fresh air in erotica publishing. (They even offered reasonable money for a reasonable word length!) Particularly in the design of the books. Or at least their designs were fresh and new in many ways except one. Can you guess which one?

Shall we take a look at some more of their covers at random?

Xcite books peepl – that’s all very pretty, but, hey, you ever heard of menz?

The X Factor
Oh Xcite books, Xcite books, Xcite books, how did you miss refreshing the clunkiest cliche of all? Every cover is a picture of a woman! When you went for that women’s erotica market did you never think of us poor straight women? And surely you know that in erotica books the ‘women’s arse = erotica’ connection is as dog tired as I am of seeing it.

I mean, look at these more, ahem, traditional erotica covers – these are no way as pretty as Xcite’s covers – but one thing connects these three to the last three covers above.

That last one is a Black Lace book. Now I’m not saying they – or anyone – can’t do a naked woman’s arse on the cover. Because sure maybe someone’s hot fantasy is wearing gloves and heels and sitting on a bullwhip. It’s just that rather more women’s fantasies (which is what BL books are meant to be about) might involve – huh? – a naked man.

And although BL do do that – sometimes, when they are calling themselves erotic romance – if they’ve ever done a man this naked on the cover, I missed it. Not saying bullwhip sitters shouldn’t have their representation too, just that maybe some of us with that outlandish sexual deviance of female hetness might get the odd look in too.

Fair shares – that’s all I’m saying. And if your books are aimed at women – well – you might want to let your designers know that.

But, nah. Want a naked male arse on an erotica cover – pretty much one place only.

Yep, pretty. I’d say prettier than ice cream stripes. And strictly for the boys.

Oh Arse!
The disembodied woman’s arse is probably my least favourite way of ignoring straight women when it comes to designing erotica books. The fact that so many erotic books feature a naked woman’s arse has to be the biggest insult, because there’s no way women are even identifying here. How can we? It’s just an arse. What? I’m going to aspire to be like the arse? No, the arse says (um, ‘scuse the mental image) if you are sexually attracted to men (unless you are a gay man) you can fuck off, dearie. Now move out the way so we can check out the cheeks on her!

And getting back to the particular cover under discussion. Yes, I see how if the book is about spanking a picture of an arse sort of makes sense. But if the book is aimed at women who get off on a ‘I’ve been a bad girl’ fantasy – does it really make all that much sense?

Now, I am assuming from the declarations on Xcite’s website that the books are aimed at women, that this means the books are, well, aimed at women. So how come if us women want to fantasise about some hot spanking session it is assumed we want to look at a woman’s arse for that? I don’t need an illustration of how spanking works.

If you are a guy reading this book, a guy who gets off on the idea of spanking a woman, then yes, looking at a woman baring her arse makes perfect sense. But if you are a woman who likes the idea of being spanked… well, I just don’t get it.

And who is the title ‘Spank Me‘ addressing? When it’s put together with a cover shot like that, this book seems to be overriding its female friendly colour-scheme to ooze male fantasy fulfilment. Pretty little arse asking for a spanking. What has that got to do with books for women?

Big Hard Hands and an Expansive Lap
So why aren’t the subjects of these covers more relevant to the female end (forgive the pun) of the fantasy they are selling here? (And, before I forget, I’m certain the stories inside are wonderful and do just that.) Why don’t they, in fact, feature a picture of a man? A man with big hard hands and an expansive lap? Why doesn’t the cover snarl at me with Over My Knee or Who’s For Spanking?

And when, in their blurb and their author guidelines, Xcite say they are for women (but can be enjoyed by men), isn’t a lot given away in those parentheses? Is that a bracketed promise that male customers can enjoy the books too code for ‘because Xcite won’t put any man flesh on the covers that might make poor male tummies feel a bit funny’.

Have I missed something? Would that make, erotica books like, explode, or something? Or would it put men off buying them in a way ice cream colours just don’t? Because you know, I’m pretty sure that not putting off male buyers is the real reason why erotica covers are they way they are. I just wish someone would admit it. And then maybe we could work out a way to move on. (Maybe stopping under-estimating male consumers could be a start.)

Back to Basics
Incidentally, Xcite recently brought a non-ice cream coloured book. They changed the covers back to erotica’s usual black ‘n’ red ‘n’ black for this memoir. Guess what cover element they kept the same though.

So what do you think? Do you like the Xcite covers? They are certainly new and different – but did they change the right things? And what would you like to see on the cover of a book about spanking?


Coming Soon: Two weeks ago I watched the covers of Best American Erotica. We’re thoroughly delighted that editor Susie Bright has been in touch to say this ‘scandalous’ and ‘depressing’ issue has been on her mind for years. And she’s offered an interview spilling the inside story on the state of erotica covers. Keep Watching!


Written by mat

October 9, 2008 at 7:33 am

10 Responses

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  1. I’ve never bought the “you’re supposed to identify with her, you silly little feminist” argument anyway, but it’s nice to see it — um — exposed.

    Now, instead of feeling remotely inclined towards reading porn, I shall slink off feeling small because my bottom is not so pert and neither is my waist quite that slim, while also feeling a little pained that the cover designers felt the need to point that out.

    Speaking of pointing things – are we any closer to finding out at whom we’re supposed to be pointing the finger, in this game of hot-potato-covers? Presumably somewhere in the world people brief designers or designers build covers or people choose covers. Perhaps Susie Bright could tell us?

    Olivia Knight

    October 9, 2008 at 10:24 am

  2. This is in no way meant to be a serious criticism, but – green flesh? Not attractive to this woman anyway.

    The first Black Lace book I ever read (“Avalon Nights”) had a semi-naked knight on the cover, and that was a really old one. They seem to have deliberately turned away from male models since then.

    Janine Ashbless

    October 9, 2008 at 1:12 pm

  3. What I’m trying to understand is how they seem to think a man would buy then read, presumably somewhere in public a book not just with a woman’s arse on it but COTTON CANDY colors. I’m sorry but I just can’t see a man sitting on a bus reading a book covered in my 7 year old daughters favorite colors no matter what half nekkid parts are on it.

    Actually I’ve never seen a man read anything for fun that wasn’t sci-fi or between the half nekkid covers of Playboy etc.

    Just for fun I’ve been playing around in photoshop trying to make mock covers….but I can’t even find cute nekkid mens to use, well maybe I’m looking in the wrong places since they all seem to be touching other cute nekkid mens.


    October 9, 2008 at 4:17 pm

  4. In the case of “The True Confessions of a London Spank Daddy” I can understand why there’s a woman on the cover as the main focus, because the book is about a man that spanks women as his hobby – but as for the others, I stand by what I’ve said before, more men please, and couples too!

    Lucy Felthouse

    October 9, 2008 at 7:14 pm

  5. Ooh! Look at those lovely covers on the Gay Erotica books.

    Seriously, if I was browsing around in a bookstore, I’d be far more inclined to pick those books up off the shelf to flip through than I would be to pick up any of the ones with the ladies on them…


    October 9, 2008 at 9:16 pm

  6. Sami, Lucy, you’re right – these covers make no sense. And I don’t imagine the jacket designers/publishing houses ever deliberately and consciously target men. But they’re terrified of *alienating* men so they won’t actually commit themselves to targeting women either – even when they claim that’s their market. Result: lady bum (for men) on ice cream pastels (for women).

    Sami, Mathilde and I went to every floor of the internet in search of a hot man with big hands and an expansive lap so we could do a mock cover for LOLtits. Nada. Doing this blog has made me want to take up dirty photography. But until then, this site is worth bookmarking (gay, obviously):

    Wintersinger, I’m with you browsing the gay porn, muttering that I shouldn’t *have* to! Ooh, look and here’s Olivia. And Mathilde. And Lucy and …etc etc

    And Janine, yup. BL do, unfortunately, seem to be going back to female models but I’ve seen at least one recent cover with a solo bloke on (not paranormal either!) And when I talked to Adam about all this, he did ask that I let him know of any photographers doing good het couple and male pics. So I don’t think they’re completely shutting the door on man muscle.

    So – anyone know any good photographers?

    Great post – I am also baffled by the arse factor. It’s wrong on so many levels.


    October 9, 2008 at 10:12 pm

  7. Bottom line? (no pun intended)

    Preferred book covers – innocuous

    Preferred images to drool over – nekkid men (yum).

    Images that leave me pretty much cold – women’s arses. I’ve got one of my own that I can look at all day if I want to, thank you very much.

    And you know, although my general preference is for brown-paper wrapper book covers, I’d be a lot less embarrassed to be seen reading a book with a man’s arse on the front than a woman’s.

    Oh God, that says so very many bad things about me, doesn’t it?


    October 11, 2008 at 8:38 pm

  8. Hi – great to read how people feel about our covers. I’m the editor at Xcite and we have moved on slightly from the early designs – having said that w have also been number one in 3 erotic categories on Amazon so we must be doing something right!
    Promise we’ll get some mens bums on to some covers very soon – please also let me know other things you’d like to see and read about. You might want to join our social networking site for readers and writers at

    Miranda Forbes,
    Xcite Books

    Miranda Forbes

    December 10, 2008 at 2:49 pm

  9. […] books and their newish range of titles aimed at women came under our scrutiny. Mat wrote: ‘Xcite books, how did you miss refreshing the clunkiest cliché of all? Every […]

  10. Thanks, Miranda! I just joined your site – it’s great, like Facebook for pornographers but with more space to chat.

    Really looking forward to seeing guys on Xcite’s covers. Wonderful news!


    December 13, 2008 at 11:27 am

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