If you visit the romance section of the bookstore (if there’s one near you anyway) or your nearest library (which you should because libraries are awesome) you may notice a long-lasting trend in romance covers—the people on the covers have no heads.

Read the last Smart Bitches, Trashy Books on finding great romance books.

This trend is slowly changing, and on more recent releases you’ll see a head, a back, a peek of a face looking over a shoulder. In the past few years, very often the cover would reveal everything from the chin downward. On the men, stubble to hips with man titty of epic proportion in between, or for the heroine, chin to bustle, with perhaps a partially undressed back in the middle. For a while now, there haven’t been a lot of faces on the covers of romance novels.

The reason for this, I presume, is that readers do not like to have their imaginations overruled when they create the hero and the heroine in their minds while they read. We all have our own ideas of what we find attractive, and so in building a hero or heroine, readers select what they find interesting and alluring to build their understanding of the characters. Unless a character has a distinguishing mark, like a scar or beauty mark for example, my understanding of what a heroine looks like might be very different from another reader’s ideas.

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Yet heads are coming back it seems. No more decapitation of the models for us. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about that, because all too often the models are looking out from the cover directly at the reader.

I must confess, I don’t really enjoy this trend. One of the worst examples of this is the “pull my finger” viking from Sandra Hill’s The Bewitched Viking viking (Love Spell, 1999). Creeeeeepy. Granted, that cover is from over a decade ago, but there are more recent covers that feature the cover model looking directly at the reader, and I have to admit, I find it a little disconcerting.

lady of persuasion Sometimes I can’t decide if the model depicted is smirking, or if it’s a genuinely friendly smile. For example, the model on the cover of A Lady of Persuasion by Tessa Dare is wearing a bit of an odd expression. I liked this cover, and the two that preceded it, but I was never sure how to interpret the heroine’s expression. I did love the layout with the landscape at the base and the heroine depicted at the top. The covers said, “These stories focus on the heroine”—which they did—but for this one, I wasn’t sure how to read the expression of the person depicted.

Sometimes, the heroine is depicted with a head (lucky woman) but not looking at the reader, such as Jennifer Haymore’s upcoming novel, Confessions of an Improper Bride (above), which is all sorts of seaworthy drama and mystery on the cover. The heroine is looking up and over the reader, not at the reader.

What cover depictions did you like most or least? What’s your favorite cover?

Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.