Erotica Cover Watch

Why only women on the covers of erotic books?

Archive for the ‘alison tyler’ Category

Erotica Cover Watch: The End

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Men! We have men on sexy books! Doesn’t it make your heart sing? Got a Minute is a brand new cover on a hugely popular title by Alison Tyler (pub Cleis Press) while Abby Lee‘s memoir, Girl With a One Track Mind, Exposed, is the follow up to her 2006 bestseller, Girl With a One Track Mind. If you want ‘before and after’ shots, here’s how it used to be:

My, haven’t we grown? Followers of this blog will know, in the past, we’ve been highly critical of Cleis Press, progressive indie publishers, champions of marginalised sexualities and producers of top quality, seriously hot fiction who, paradoxically, have been responsible for creating some of the industry’s most sexist book covers. Our issues with Cleis have been compounded by the refusal of two of their top-name editors, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Violet Blue, to accept we have a valid a point when we say:


I view that statement as fact. I wrote it in big shouty letters to help the hard of thinking. Seriously, I fail to see how anyone can even consider arguing against our fundamental point. And anyone who claims Oh but, women like to identify, the book trade will never change, hot men are for teh gays etc is basically saying ‘sexism is OK’. Listen up: sexism is not OK. It must be challenged. We don’t know if the new cover of Got A Minute has anything to do with our campaign, nor if we were influential in Cleis’s choice of cover for Kristina Wright‘s forthcoming anthology, Fairy Tale Lust (right). But we do know we totally fucking love these designs, especially Got a Minute for its high male:female flesh ratio and its knee-quivering hotness!

Kristina, 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 hunky dude on the cover?‘ We really hope sales of these two Cleis books are sky-high and that Cleis will continue to broaden their remit as to what constitutes a suitable cover image for an erotic book. Because, along with many other female readers, we’ve seriously had it with T and A.

Zoe Margolis, aka Abby Lee, has been a staunch supporter of Erotica Cover Watch since the early days, commenting on our posts with intelligence, passion, wit and barefaced lechery; sending traffic our way with tweets and links; and being the unwitting inspiration behind LOLtits. We’re pretty damn sure Zoe’s publishers (Pan Macmillan) aren’t readers of ECW but it’s safe to say, the cover of Girl With a One Track Mind, Exposed, which officially hits the UK shops tomorrow (March 5th), wasn’t the first design Zoe was presented with. Or the second or the third …

Not all authors and editors get a say in the covers assigned to their books. But some do. And some people fight for what they believe in … and the upshot for Zoe is, a guy’s denim-clad butt appears in hundreds of bookshops and on 294 poster sites on the London Underground where, ordinarily, since this a sexy memoir, a woman’s eroticised body would have been the default representation (irrespective of the author’s gender).

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And as Zoe has pointed out to us, you really need to check out the woman’s toes on that cover: yup, this is definitely about female pleasure for a change – toe-curling pleasure! And so, hurrah, the message spreads: the erotic does not have to be signified solely by the female form; authentic female desire is not rooted in the gratification of men; a woman with sexual appetite is not, as contemporary culture would have us believe, doomed to express this via pole dancing and burlesque. Women lust. Women want. Women like to look at men. Please shift the gaze from us.

The point is: change is possible! Small things lead to big things, and we can all play a part in creating a better world. Or at least, as far as our campaign goes, in creating better bookshelves – bookshelves crammed with deliciously sexy books whose covers acknowledge female desire.

This is the last Erotica Cover Watch post. After 18 wonderful months, we’re closing the blog in a spirit of hope and belief and with enormous pride at what we – and you – have achieved. Our reach and success has gone way beyond what we thought possible. Here’s some of our best bits:

1. Xcite Books, the UK’s leading publisher of erotic fiction, have started to feature guys on their covers, thanks to us and you.

2. Filament magazine, backed by us and you, ran a highly successful ‘erection campaign‘, enabling them to afford a printer who wasn’t too scared to print a pic of hard cock. Filament are going from strength to strength and have recently secured an international distribution deal, covering all major English-speaking countries (except the UK because this country is weird). Issue 4 is out now!

3. We’ve written articles for The Guardian pertaining to women’s erotica, female sexuality and porn (see Comment is Free in sidebar). On one memorable occasion, our article was illustrated by a guy’s torso up top on the front page of The Guardian website. Woo-hoo!

4. We’ve been heard by many of the major players in the business: editors, authors, publishers. Some have ignored us; some have engaged with the debate but refused to budge; some have listened and changed their way of thinking; some are changing their way of marketing. In nearly all cases, even when there’s been significant disagreement between us and others in the industry, we have continued to work together as professionals and, in some cases, as friends. Nearly all …

5. Um, I (Kristina) have been blacklisted by Violet Blue and won’t be appearing in her anthologies again, a sure sign we touched a nerve.

6. We’ve illustrated our posts and demonstrated our point with images of book covers: on het books, at least 125 covers featured solo women, 14 featured couples (including sex guides so I’m being generous) and 17 featured solo men (5 of those were from Xcite and a result of our campaign and most of the others are from erotic romance, so again, I’m being generous.) If anyone wants to check my counting, feel free!

7. We’ve had 72 Man Candy Mondays and your all time favourites, according to hit rates, line up like an increasingly randy strip show:

3 2 1

8. Twice, we’ve been called  ‘dykes’. This still hurts my brain. How, when there is so much cock about the place?

9. Mathilde fearlessly tackled Fleshbot head-on, criticising them for using ‘Straight’ and ‘Gay’ filters where straight = hot babes and gay = hot dudes.

10. We’ve received 890 comments and have only had to block 4 for being abusive. Thank you, all of you. The quality of debate and the level of support we’ve received has truly been outstanding, not to mention inspiring! We’re thrilled.


We’re closing Erotica Cover Watch because we think we’ve made our point. Much as we’d love to go on making this point in the hope of reaching an even wider audience, we both have other projects we want to work on. We hope, with this campaign, we’ve raised awareness and set something in motion within the erotica publishing industry. Please help us to carry this forward. Please keep the energy of Erotica Cover Watch alive. Keep the links and Man Candies coming, complain about sexism, celebrate sexy men and support publishers who are trying to break the mould.

Once again, huge thanks for your immense support and enthusiasm. We couldn’t have done this without you!

Kristina and Mathilde x


Written by Kristina Lloyd

March 4, 2010 at 9:14 am

Erotica Cover Watch: Young Studs, ed Cecilia Tan

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Erotica Cover Watch: Young Studs, ed. Cecilia Tan, pub. Ravenous Romance


Okay, so we’re in a recession and you can only afford to buy one of these two books. I know, life sucks. But which one will you go for? Think carefully! Money’s tight, remember. And this is a tough call. On the one hand, you’ve got …

Oh, so you all just bought Young Studs and a copy for your friend. I see.

But here’s a thing: there was no need to choose. I fooled ya! MILF Fantasies and Young Studs are the exact same book – well, on the inside at least. Now, this isn’t a publisher trying to trick you into buying the same thing twice; this is a publisher responding to its readers.

Cecilia Tan, editor of the anthology, got in touch with Erotica Cover Watch to tell about this ‘victory for the female gaze’. When MILF Fantasies was first released as an ebook early in 2009, it barely sold. Cecilia was informed it was one of Ravenous Romance’s worst selling anthologies. Then the book was repackaged, the pretty woman on the cover vanished and along came three young dudes baring their rock hard abs – result! Within days, the book shot into RR’s top ten.

Ravenous Romance are primarily an erotic romance publisher. As we know, there’s beefcake aplenty on romance covers because, in catering explicitly to women, the genre doesn’t have to worry about deterring male consumers. But RR are also publishing straight erotica such as Young Studs (contributors include names familiar to anyone who reads smut: Rachel Kramer Bussel, Elizabeth Coldwell, Andrea Dale, Sage Vivant) and, because these are ebooks, again the publisher needn’t fret about passing guys going all weird at the sight of another guy with his kit off. As Cecilia wrote: ‘What [RR] have found is that the ebook audience is so overwhelmingly female that the “normal” rules of erotica publishing (you know the ones, the ones that say a woman has to be on the cover) Do Not Apply.

I think this is progress. Sure, we want to see men and couples on covers that exist in spaces other than those reserved for women. We want men to be sexualised in the way women are sexualised. We want het erotica for men and women to be represented by men and women on the covers. It’s called equality. And if ebooks can nudge erotica publishing in that direction, I’m happy.

I’m currently working with Alison Tyler and Pretty Things Press and had my first epublication a couple of weeks ago. Yay me! One of the great joys has been discussing covers with Alison who’s more than happy to experiment with a range of styles. And I can promise you, in anthologies to come, there will be smokin’ hot guys on our e-covers!

BWE2010What’s particularly interesting in the redesign of Tan’s book is the title change and shift in emphasis from the woman who is fantasising to what she’s fantasising about. Erotica, still lingering in the wake of being a male-aimed genre, frequently focuses on women. It’s preference is not just for women on its covers but also for the female voice; the female revelation and confession; the authentic female experience. Erotica (like porno) often wants evidence of women having a good time and could be accused of prioritising that rather than actually offering them a good time.

It’s well known that lots of women are hot for M/M but in, for example, Violet Blue’s Best Women’s Erotica series, the writers’ call for submissions state:

The desired orientation within the main sexual element of the stories is primarily heterosexual, yet bisexuality and lesbian encounters are also encouraged. The primary focus of sexual activity must be on the female experience; female pleasure is the main element.

MILF Fantasies seems to be following in that tradition as do numerous other erotica books with titles such as Dirty Girls, Kinky Girls, Hot Women’s Erotica, Ultimate Curves etc. Women aren’t just looked at on the covers; they’re looked at in the titles and the text. And what women are looking at (in their heads, in their fantasies) is downplayed or discounted.

Hot_Dads__The_DI_49d62b151af1d As MILF to Young Studs illustrates, the content of a book can stay the same but how it’s marketed and who it’s aimed at can differ greatly. And Ravenous Romance are boldly targeting their erotica at women – and the strategy is clearly successful.

Look what’s riding high in their charts right now: The DILF Anthology.

I mean, no one would dream of designing a book like that to market to straight men, would they?


Instant gratification: go here to download Cecilia Tan’s The MILF Anthology Young Studs.

Written by Kristina Lloyd

July 30, 2009 at 7:04 am

Erotica Cover Watch: Sex Fantasies by Women for Women, ed. Lisa Sussman

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Sex Fantasies by Women for Women, ed. Lisa Sussman, pub. Thorsons

Watched by Mathilde Madden


When Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden hit the shelves in 1973 it was breaking a lot of exciting (if obvious to us in our brave new liberated world) news to the world:

The fact that women masturbated and enjoyed sexual fantasy and the diverse nature of female sexual fantasy.

Nowadays, whilst female sexual fantasy, masturbation and orgasm are firm facts of our sexual landscape (and new frontiers like female ejaculation and G-spot orgasms are being conquered and claimed), volumes of female sexual fantasy crowd the shelves.

My Secret Garden has begat a hundred daughters. What are they here for? Who are they here for?

Surely they are aimed at women. I mean, could anything, any subject, be more about female desire than female sexual fantasy?

But take a look at this cover here. I don’t feel like this book is aimed at me.

Strange. I dug out a couple more.




Who are these books for? Are female sexual fantasies now like so much once authentic expressions of female desire now just another feminised sex product aimed at men?

Sometimes it seems like every time another stride is taken towards the liberation and acceptance of female desire, it gets gobbled up and made part of the male desire servicing machine as a pure commodity. These book covers make it look like in thirty five years female sex fantasy has transformed from a groundbreaking admission of women having sexual desire too into Hey guys, come look at these horny bitches. Or is that just me?

51RSKWXp6PL._SS500_In fact this taps right into the issues we raised in an earlier post  about the idea of books of sexual ‘confessions’ and the reasons why these books are always positioned as confessions made by women (and usually to men). Isn’t this endless commoditisation of female desire into a product for male consumption insulting and also really out of place in an industry that presents itself as egalitarian, welcoming of all kinds of sexual desire? (Which I think is the image erotica publishing likes to present.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, male fantasies seem to be far less of a thing. Maybe men don’t want to read other men’s fantasies. Scary. I found this ancient looking tome. I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised about the cover. And I also found this (below left), which is a big favourite with us at Cover Watch, for the title alone.


In other book cover news, friend of Cover Watch, Alison Tyler, has a great post about the lack of man candy covers in her own prolific library. And she invites writers to pen some erotica inspired by images of men. I also hear the wonderful Charlotte Stein has just such a story in Black Lace’s Sexy Little Numbers so it’s well worth pre-ordering a copy of that if you haven’t yet.

And finally, Xcite books are running a poll about what readers want to see on book covers. You know we want you to go vote (bottom left). 

Written by mat

July 16, 2009 at 10:58 am

Erotica Cover Watch: Frenzy, ed. Alison Tyler

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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

Erotica Cover Watch: Mmm yes, there, there, harder, oh yes, more, more, please …

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Mmm yes, there, there, harder, oh yes, more, more, please …

Watched by Kristina Lloyd

Ladies and gentleman, a bit of hush, please. Gather round, come close. Brace yourselves as we dim the lights. Remember, no touching unless you’re wearing our specially-provided latex gloves. (Wash your minds out! I meant touching the books.) The items you’re about to see are rare and precious gems. They are examples of – and you may struggle to believe your eyes – erotica covers featuring men! Yes, men!

Oh dear. Smelling salts at the back, please.

Seriously, it’s taken me ages to find covers for this post. We wanted to say something positive and give the thumbs up to books which do something other than stick a sexy chica on the front. But I’m nearly blind from searching. Next time, I’ll stick to snark.

Lust, edited by Violet Blue, (Cleis Press, 2007) is an anthology of erotic fantasies for women and, quite wonderfully, its cover art depicts a hot and sweatily sensual, heterosexual embrace. As we know, your typical ‘for women’ collection features a woman on the front, since the eroticised female body is deemed to cover all bases. Practically no consideration is given to women who might like to look at men, or who might like to have their sexuality rightfully and correctly represented as actually rather normal and extremely common. There are an awful lot of women who get off on men’s bodies but, to look at most erotica covers, you’d think ours was a fringe sexuality, out there on the margins with people who get off on teaspoons. (Why are there no teaspoons on erotica covers? Why?)

Lust paints a different picture. Lust doesn’t merely acknowledge het sexuality by sticking a token male leg, elbow or foot at the edge of its staple hot babe image. Lust actually seems to be celebrating majority-female desire, and it’s one of the most evenly balanced, truthful and sexiest couple shots I’ve seen in straight smut. I say ‘truthful’ because I think this image portrays how sex feels for us. I confess, I’m a tad confused by those other, more widely-seen images of super-smiley couples glowing healthily on a white backdrop. The lovers there often appear closer to having a merry pillow fight than an orgasm. But, hey, maybe I should stop quibbling and be grateful couple images even exist. This one’s gorgeous.

(Incidentally, Violet Blue’s excellent blog features a Hot Boy Thursday slot to complement her Pretty Girl Fridays. You don’t get candy every week, but when you do get it, it’s blisteringly hot (there are goth boys too!) and each post comes with lots of lusty links. Highly recommended!)

Violet Blue’s forthcoming Girls on Top (Cleis, 2009) is, as the strapline explicitly says, ‘explicit erotica for women’. Unfortunately, our bloke is becoming a bit token here but he’s gamely holding on. Faring much better is the guy on Rachel Kramer Bussel‘s Tasting Him (Cleis, 2008), and we’re really fucking rocking with Alison Tyler‘s Red Hot Erotica (Cleis, 2006), its cover depicting a man and a woman having a smoulderingly good time, thanks very much!

It’s fabulous to see such an image on a book which, rather than flagging its specialist status (‘for couples’, ‘for women’), is just general erotica, a genre increasingly appealing to women, but whose covers are still invisibly flagging their traditional market (‘for men’). Because, of course, no one would label a het erotica book ‘for men.’ There’s no need; the assumption is it’s all for men, always. Defaults, perceived ‘normality’, and the stark-staring obvious don’t need labels. You don’t put a sign up to say ‘road’. You may, however, need a sign saying ‘turn left here’. It would be great if more erotica books started using bodies as signs; started to imply ‘for men and women’ by featuring men and women on the covers. It’s an easy language to read.

The three books above are rare beasts in erotica since they feature the male form in isolation rather than as part of a male/female embrace. Just check out Susie Bright‘s Best American Erotica 2000 (Touchstone)! It’s a torso! A beautiful, sleek male torso, adorned with a shimmer of sweat, and he’s damn near dominating the cover! If that’s not a deliberate and delicious candification (hey, I invented a word!) of the male form, then I don’t know what is. I love this concept of a photo montage, a jumble of bodies, abstract and overt, where the viewer can take from it whatever he or she wants. (BAE 1995 has a similar design, albeit more feminine.) There’s no pairing of him with her, him with him or her with her. We are simply given images of bodies, fragmented, disordered, up close, at a distance. In some places, it’s actually tricky to discern what the image is. Much like fucking, the cover is deliciously disorientating, and it’s cleverly giving both sexes some eye candy while implicitly involving us in the dizzying thick of the action.

Cowboy Lover (Cecilia Tan and Lori Perkins, Running Press, 2007) is another rarity, an erotica cover focussing solely on a guy, albeit from a safe distance, and NT Morley‘s Master (Berkley Heat, 2005) had me practically swooning in shock when I found it. Here’s a BDSM bonanza offering ’30 spanking tales from the top’ and on the cover we’ve got the top, the torso, the muscled master himself. How very, very yum. The other half of this book is Slave, ’30 stinging tales from the bottom’, and I believe the flip side cover image is of a woman. (I haven’t been able to track this because, astonishingly and brilliantly, the publisher – who has strong romance links (quick, pull up a chair, Sherlock!) – has chosen Master as its main cover.) How about that for gender equality, man on one side, woman on the other? All we need now is a similar femdom anthology for Mathilde and the two of us would be politically and erotically happy for, oh, about ten minutes.

Hang on, everybody! Quiet, please. What’s that terrible noise in the distance? Oh god, is it … could it be …

Phew, panic over. Just my cat yawning. For a moment, I thought the world was ending but look: men on erotica covers and the world still spins.

Alison Tyler’s Open for Business (Cleis, 2008) again keeps us at a safe distance but this is a fun, cheeky image of a couple getting it on, proof that there are more ways to sell sex than via the female body. Similarly, the cover of Sex and Candy, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel (Pretty Things Press, 2007) might appeal to those who’d prefer to have candy-candy rather than human-candy on their smut. Pretty Things Press, owned by Alison Tyler, features numerous people-free covers and is one of the few publishing houses that doesn’t continually default at hot honey cover art. Yup, you guessed it, there’s not enough man candy for my taste but for anyone shy about purchasing books which scream SEX (and in buying smut, women, of course, have much more cultural baggage to put aside than the guys – three cheers for the internet!), the covers of PTP may hit the spot.

Finally, Bedding Down, another Kramer Bussel anthology, this one forthcoming from Avon Red (Dec 2008), interestingly, an offshoot of Avon Romance who are producing some fabulously erotic couple-covers. What can I say except ‘wow’? Avon Red is revealing its romance roots here with Bedding Down, offering a cover that’s sumptuous, sexy and sensual. The man and woman get pretty much equal billing, there’s no impending pillow fight, and he has quite the loveliest shoulder and neck. Again, wow! Thank you, Avon Red, for showing erotica how it’s done.

And that’s your lot, folks! I found a few more general erotica covers featuring guys but they offer little more than testosterone tokens on an image which is either non-fleshy or primarily of a woman. Trust me, I’ve been to the dustiest, dankest corners of Amazon to bring you these covers, and had to wade back so many years I virtually became a minor. I have spiders in my ears and have seen enough T&A to last me until Christmas – just don’t ask me which Christmas.

Feel free to drop us a link if you know of any other covers kicking their way out of erotica publishing’s gender bias (but please don’t direct us to covers featuring a bloke’s toe in the bottom left). And of course, while a few more images would be interesting, it’s never going to alter our fundamental point: there are way too many images of women in erotica and virtually none of men. The covers shown here are outweighed by the thousands upon thousands of erotica covers offering nothing but a sexy woman. And that is grossly unfair and utterly shameful.

So there really isn’t much to say of the above covers except ‘more, more, yes, harder, bigger, stronger, keep going, just there, please, more, more, more!’

Written by Kristina Lloyd

October 2, 2008 at 7:04 am