Erotica Cover Watch: Spank Me, ed. Cathryn Cooper
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.
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!