Erotica Cover Watch

Why only women on the covers of erotic books?

Erotica Cover Watch: Frenzy, ed. Alison Tyler

with 7 comments

41b6bp5pdbl_ss500_2Frenzy, ed. Alison Tyler, pub. Cleis Press

Watched by Mathilde Madden

Yep. We’re back. And guess what – not much has improved.

Okay, so, this cover, at first glance it really does look as if it is a picture of a woman just sitting on the toilet. Oh, except she is still wearing her underwear. And the toilet seat is down. Hmm, look again. The angle of her head… the arch of her back. Oh! Filth!

It’s actually a crafty image. In some ways. If it didn’t piss me off I’d probably like it. I like the double take factor. Because, at second glance – oh – she’s clearly engaged in some bathroom sex with a guy (okay, I’m assuming it’s a guy – shoot me). Can you see what it is yet?

So yeah, kind of fun to do something like that. An image that looks innocent (well, as innocent as a woman sitting on the lav can be) until I look again. And then I think – oh, clever. For about a nano-second. And then my thinking of ‘clever’ is overwhelmed by raging.

Because – of course – this image fits into a whole I can see no menz tradition of erotica covers. 

Because of that, because of the culture that surrounds it, this is just another insult. Another  case where the need to never ever show a man on the cover of an erotica book seems to just be going to desperate measures.

I mean, really, there is a guy there, but he’s hiding

strangerNow, look at this. This is another cover where we see some sex through a half open door. The difference here is that this is an erotic romance book. And as we have discussed before erotic romance is different. In fact, erotic romance does some really lovely covers with men on them. But only because straight men are not the consumers of erotic romance. 

In erotica, as we know, because straight men are potential consumers they become the only consumers. And because straight men are (apparently) terrified of seeing cock – or let’s face it a man’s arm – the men on erotica covers get hidden behind doors

(Although maybe we should be grateful the presence of a man is even hinted at, given erotica’s current staple cover image of a woman wanking.) 

By the way, both of us at Erotica Cover Watch know Alison Tyler. In fact we consider her a good friend. She has even joked with us about this project, wondering when her turn would be. Because, of course, it was coming. Because Alison gets saddled with truly horrid covers sometimes. Just like other editors. We know editors don’t get a say.

Authors don’t get a say too. We get published in anthologies that have covers which say really confusing and offensive things about female sexuality. I know a lot of authors feel the way we do and don’t say anything. Because it’s a cold hard world out there and getting published is often a cherished ambition.

Some people have said to us that we shouldn’t complain so much. That we should be glad we are even published authors. Well, we are glad. We really are. But, chaknow, we could be so much gladder. 

And we want to be gladder. We love this industry and this genre. Writing erotica gets so much stick. Women writing erotica get so much stick. It’s 2009 now and the erotica publishing still thinks erotic can only be demonstrated by a picture of a nekkid chick. This problem needs to be talked about.

Happy New Year!


Written by mat

February 5, 2009 at 10:42 am

7 Responses

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  1. Writers get paid less than minimum wage, when you count the hours, and publishers, jacket designers, proofreaders, editors, booksellers, the people who answer the phone in publishing houses, the cleaners at the bookstore, all get paid more per hour. They wouldn’t publish my stuff if they didn’t think it would sell and writers’ production drives this industry and creates all these surrounding jobs. I don’t feel so crippled with gratitude that I can’t speak.

    Olivia Knight

    February 5, 2009 at 11:14 am

  2. I do, O. But I will say this – perhaps we don’t get to see a man’s arm on a cover, never mind his dick, because the powers that be are skeered men might mistake that arm for a dick and be rendered limp and dickless and no longer able to read.

    Madeline Moore

    February 5, 2009 at 5:57 pm

  3. If men look at other men’s pensises, their own penises fall off. Well-proven fact.

    Madeline – try to imagine the editors having their jobs and the publishing industry running if none of the books had words in them.

    Olivia Knight

    February 5, 2009 at 6:21 pm

  4. Yay! It’s good to be back!

    And, as ever, the cover does the book a major disservice. I know this antho is jam-packed with wonderful writers. It’s by men and women, *for* men and women but the cover is stuck in the age when porn was only for the guys.

    Erotica has changed so much in recent years and it’s frustrating that the covers haven’t. I think the packaging of all smut as if it were primarily for male readers is partly responsible for people’s misconceptions about what female-penned erotica actually is. Rod Liddle of The Times thinks it’s about women pandering to male fantasies then, if it’s feminist, shooting the guy dead.


    February 5, 2009 at 7:44 pm

  5. So… in other words publishers don’t want to say they’re catering to their important, homophobic male customers. So instead they just reinforce stereotypes and claim it’s really about women and narcissism?

    Um, yeah. Real bold and progressive-like to publish erotica “by and for women.”



    February 5, 2009 at 8:51 pm

  6. Quite, figleaf! (Although apparently the “by and for women” tagline had its place – one reader commented that given the then Black Lace covers (all latexed ladies), she had NO IDEA this was in any way targeted at women or even appealing to women, anymore than Nuts magazine.)

    Olivia Knight

    February 6, 2009 at 9:18 am

  7. […] effing point if we can’t actually tell it’s a guy? We’ve seen (or rather, not) invisible men on Cover Watch before and we’ve scoffed at claims a women in her skimpies could feasibly be a […]

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