Erotica Cover Watch

Why only women on the covers of erotic books?

Archive for the ‘violet blue’ Category

Erotica Cover Watch: Temptations, ed. Miranda Forbes

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Erotica Cover Watch: Temptations, ed. Miranda Forbes, pub. Xcite Books


Dear All,

Having a lovely wank holiday. These men are The weather is seriously fucking hot. Been doing lots of sightseeing. Violet Blue Someone said our argument hotel was very 1970s but we think maybe her sunshades are too strong because as you can see, it’s excitingly fresh and modern around here. We’re loving all the cock …
tails. Luckily for us, they are called names like ‘Three’, ‘Two’ and ‘One’ so we don’t have to struggle with the usual stuff like ‘Screaming Multiple Outrage’ and ‘God Bollocks It’s Another Naked Babe on a Book for Women’!

Our biggest problem is deciding which one we like best! We’ve done lots of taste tests and I think ‘Three’ is my favourite. It reminds me of the many Cowboy Cocktails I’ve sampled. Last night when I asked Mat for her favourite, she couldn’t actually speak! I think she’d had a bit too much!!!

Hope you are all well and aren’t missing us too much!

Lots of love,

Kristina and Mat xxx


The Temptations series will be launched in November in the UK, each book costing only £2.99. Xcite say ‘The cover designs break with tradition but reflect a recent Xcite customers poll which revealed that 43% wanted to see a male on the cover, 30% a female and 27% a couple. The Temptations series deliver four mixed-theme erotic stories primarily aimed at female readers which feature a semi-naked man on each cover.’

And why did Xcite initially question the predominance of female models on erotica covers? Because they read our blog and they listened, giving Erotica Cover Watch its first glorious victory earlier in the year! It’s wonderful to see Xcite are continuing to feature hot guys on their covers. I truly love these images! And wonderful, too, to have a publisher who takes note and responds so positively instead of, ah, you know … not.


Written by Kristina Lloyd

September 17, 2009 at 6:48 am

Man Candy Tuesday

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Whilst Kristina was recovering from Thursday’s arse fest, I unexpectedly took yesterday off. I’d like to claim I fancied taking Labor Day as a holiday – but I’m in the UK – so it’s down to plain old forgetfulness. Too much Man Candy, it seems, rots the mind. A price I am more than willing to pay.

But, my lateness, has turned out to be fateful, because it means I can bring you this news just in:

Our last post touched a nerve. In the last year we’ve criticised publishers and editors of erotica. We know we’ve hurt feelings, but, for the most part, we’ve found the people we have engaged with on this problem have mostly been interested in what we’ve had to say and responded positively one way or another. Some have changed their view of erotica covers, some have re-thought policy, some have laughed at us.

But now we have our first blacklisting from an editor.

We always knew this was a danger in what we were doing. Erotica publishing is a small world. We have tried not to get personal and have always hoped that the blatant and obvious nature of what we were saying (because, well, it IS sexist that the covers of erotic books for straight people only ever feature women) would protect us like a magical cloak of righteousness.

A sad day. And honestly – after a year of useful and progressive dialogue – a surprising one.

Written by mat

September 8, 2009 at 8:41 am

Erotica Cover Watch: Best of Best Women’s Erotica, ed. Violet Blue

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Erotica Cover Watch: Best of Best Women’s Erotica 2, ed. Violet Blue, pub. Cleis Press

Watched by Kristina Lloyd

Erotica Cover Watch is officially en vacances but clearly I’m a workaholic heading for a heart attack because there we were, Mat and I, sipping pina coladas by the pool, when I was struck by an overwhelming urge to call the office and yell, ‘What is it with all the women’s arses? Seriously, what the fucking fuck is wrong with you? Can’t you do anything right? I left a memo saying: HETEROSEXUAL WOMEN FIND MEN ATTRACTIVE. And what do you give those bitches to look at? More women’s butts! You’re FIRED!’

Best Women’s Erotica is, to quote the publishers ‘a legendary and groundbreaking yearly series, and is the best-selling women’s erotica collection, period. Every year BWE raises the bar for explicit erotica written by and for women.’

OK, now remember that part, ‘by and FOR women.’

Here’s more from the call for submissions: ‘The desired orientation within the main sexual element of the stories is primarily heterosexual.’

You got that? It’s het. So here we have an anthology aimed at women; its stories are primarily heterosexual, meaning its main target audience must be primarily het women too. In case you missed the memo: straight women fancy men. Seriously, they do! So what are you going to put on the cover of this book? An elephant, yes, that’s right! Or … or a car. What about a large pile of phone directories? Excellent! You’re hired. The important thing is, if you want to market erotica to women, choose an image which completely bypasses their desire; try to forget the fact they even have desire. Here’s two we made earlier:

These images are both for BWE 2010. The first image was a result of a regular marketing meeting; on the agenda: ‘another book of het erotica from Cleis. Cover suggestions?’ And everyone shrugged and said, ‘Woman’s arse, the usual.’ A few weeks later, management thought a BWE cover ought to be a bit different so they put a naked women in some trendy shoes on a chair and told her to look at the camera. This is a clever trick to fool people into thinking this represents an empowered woman expressing her sexuality. Cos she’s not just being looked at, she is looking right back. Cool! Equality! Also, add some hip consumer desirables to the pic of the chick and people can’t help thinking it’s a little bit more feminist cos, look, she has agency! She’s been shopping!

Cleis Press have been featured on ECW several times. We’ve written to Cleis’s editors. No reply. Nothing much has changed – although, hang on, the recently released The Mile High Club does include a guy so may be somebody is paying attention. It’s a little too early to tell.

I have a story in the forthcoming BWE 2010 which was then selected from the last five+ years of the series to be included in Best of Best. This was the first time I’d ever subbed a story to Violet Blue so I was thrilled with the double hit. And not so thrilled when I saw the covers. If you’re an author you may know how horrible it feels when work you’re proud of gets packaged in a cover which insults your writing.

Here’s two more of the latest images from Cleis Press, Best Lesbian Erotica and Best Gay Erotica.

Doesn’t that break your heart? Or make you hopping mad? Or both? Those are two gorgeous covers accurately representing the content and the sexualities of the books’ target readers. They feature couples expressing desire, affection, sexiness, lust, love. Kissing! There is some very beautiful kissing going on!

I want kissing too! Why, oh why, can’t BWE incorporate images of men to feature heterosexual couples on their covers? Just picture that image on Best Gay Erotica with a woman below the guy with the extraordinarily lovely arm. Sexy, no? But instead, Cleis Press are selling us yet another book in which a lone woman is objectified on the cover. Does that look like female heterosexual desire to you? No, me neither. Small wonder that last year’s Best Women’s Erotica is usually riding high in Amazon’s Gay and Lesbian charts. It is confusing.

It’s particularly baffling when these covers are coming from a progressive, liberal publishing house which prides itself on championing marginalised groups. It looks as if straight female sexuality is just a tad too radical for Cleis whose het erotica covers are peddling the same old sexist shit, perpetuating the notion that straight female desire is insignificant; that straight women are happy to identify with images of women and to be the ones who are looked at, never the ones who are looking and actively desiring.

ECWstatsAug09_xCleis Press describe the BWE series as ‘groundbreaking’. The content may well be but the claim is starting to look increasingly dubious and dated when the ideology underpinning Cleis’s marketing to women comes straight from mainstream culture’s sexism.

Since we started this campaign, the growth in support has been astronomical. We’ve caused a leading UK erotica publisher to rethink its covers; have had articles published in one of the UK’s top newspapers; and have been one of the driving forces behind Filament magazine’s successful bid to print erections for the female consumer. (We also have an exciting top sekrit project in the erotica publishing pipeline – sshh!). Meanwhile, across the pond, Cleis Press are simply looking the other way, acting as if we are not here, as if our voices – ours and yours – don’t count.

But we are here and our voices matter. And we are staying and we are fighting for change.

Pass the pina colada, Mat. Same book, same time next year?

Written by Kristina Lloyd

September 3, 2009 at 8:12 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: Tickle his Pickle: A Guide to Penis Pleasing by Sadie Allison

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pickleTickle his Pickle: A Guide to Penis Pleasing, by Sadie Allison, pub. Tickle Kitty Press

Watched by Mathilde Madden

Remember when smutty books were hard to come by? Ahem.

There was no internet anonymity, and dirty books meant dirty bookshops. Not nice.

So how did people get books about sex without feeling steeped in shame?

The answer came in the form of sex instruction manuals. Self help. Smutty thrills hidden behind education. 

Some people have vivid memories of finding an old pile of crumpled magazines in a wardrobe, but others had their eyes opened when they managed to reach the high shelf where a copy of The Joy of Sex lurked. 

Which is why the covers of sex instruction books today are interesting. They were past time’s respectable smut. Could we look to them to predict where erotica covers might go in the future? 

Cruising though a whole bunch of them produced a mixed bag of results. Broadly – and hearteningly – more couples on covers than you get in sexy fiction, although I know Kristina Lloyd would rightly complain about the ‘tampon advert’ pure, brilliant whiteness of the teeth and the sheets and the skin tones. And still a large number of lone women covers: still signifying the heterosexay – and no lone men, except on gay male guides. (Lesbian books almost always have two women – I guess because one woman means straight sex.)

The cover here shows off the worst of the worst. For a book that is clearly aimed at women  – and refers (if euphemistically) to cock in the title, would an actual cock owner be too much of an ask for the cover? I mean surely the target market for people who are going to buy a book on ‘penis pleasing’ (yes, ew, but not the point) are people who find men sexually attractive. Well, clearly, fuck that, as we get a porny, dated, wet-lips woman. And a pickle representing the guy. Because, ha ha, cocks are funny, not sexy, FUNNY. Which is pretty much a great attitude to take on the cover of a book about how to do nice things to cocks.

Of course that’s often the trick: make cocks and naked men and male sexuality funny, not sexy. Because then no one needs to be scared about men being objectified and it keeps the whole closed shop around women being the only real sex objects and signifiers of the sexy. (Witness this frightful piece of sexism, for example.)

cunnilingus2Other lazy and lame attitudes can also be found. Take this pair of titles. Funny how when you get a pair of linked books the sexism can be so much more obvious. (Who could forget…?) So here we have Violet Blue’s Ultimate Guide to Cunnilingus and her Ultimate Guide to Fellatio . The cover of Cunnilingus features, oh yes, a woman. Well, fine, people who want to learn how to perform excellent cunnilingus are probably people who enjoy looking at women. Perfect sense so far.

Now, what happens on the other cover. Fair turn about?

Not quite. 

fellatioOn the cover of the fellatio book, well, yes, a man, but what’s that in the background? A woman. Er, why? Why? Just to say, oh yes, but, we don’t mean, like, gay fellatio or anything? Because no straight man would want his woman to learn how to suck his cock from a book that wasn’t strictly about teaching women how to suck cocks? No really? Really? Why is she there? Maybe there’s a simple (and non-sexist) explanation. But I’ve been sat here for ages and I just can’t think of one.

I did say these sex guides covers were a mixed bag, and I have picked out not-so-great examples here. And, yes, agreed, there were many more books featuring couples on the covers than you see on conventional straight erotica. Which was nice to see. And almost inspiring, considering that maybe erotic fiction will continue to follow the lead of those sex instruction guides as smut gets more normalised and accepted. I even found books where the male body was given more prominence than the woman’s (still a rarity even in erotica’s ‘couple’ covers).

touchTake a look at this. Whether he’s your kind of guy or not, you have to agree, this kind of representation of sexiness would be nice to see once in a while on an erotic fiction cover.

Written by mat

March 5, 2009 at 9:06 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