Erotica Cover Watch

Why only women on the covers of erotic books?

Archive for the ‘maxim jakubowski’ Category

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