Recently, on the Smart Bitches Facebook page, Mary Castillo asked, "When will we stop seeing the Fifty Shades knockoff book covers?"

Short answer: NEVER!

Longer answer: Someday? Maybe.

Because the Fifty Shades of Grey covers were so distinct and so very, very not romance-like, and, obviously, so successful, there's been a lot of Shadesesque cover art of late. 

If there's a stock photograph of a monochrome close-up on some fashion accessory possibly carried by a dude, chances are, it's been on a book cover. Considering how many people bought Fifty Shades of Grey (and according to Bookscan, that number was over 6.5 million copies sold as of December 30, 2012) there's an understandable desire on the part of anyone involved in book publishing to grab the attention of at least some of those people who bought those 6.5 million copies. And if you're looking to send a message that one book is much like another at a glance, you go for similar art. 

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This is not a new phenomenon. There's a reason so many romance clinch covers look alike: They communicate clearly from two feet away in less than two seconds that This Book Is a Romance! Many romance covers, especially historical romances, have a very distinct and similar look. 

But grabbing on to the style of a runaway success is nothing new either. We saw the Twilight knockoffs after that series was a runaway success (mmm, sweet, delicious fan fiction irony!). Remember Twilight and New Moon?

TwilightNew Moon

Single item isolated on a black background with red accents? So eye catching! So simple! So…tempting!

Please meet Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, reprint editions, complete with Twilight font!

 Pride & PrejudiceSense and Sensibility

And don't forget Jane Eyre. Nothing says Twilight like Jane Eyre:

Jane Eyre

So it's not all that alarming in context: Once a particular book with a particularly distinct and unique look becomes a huge hit, similar looking covers proliferate. That's why every post-apocalyptic Young Adult novel usually features a girl in a ball gown. Everyone goes to the prom after the apocalypse, right? 

That said, the Shadesesque covers are pretty interesting, some of them. They all focus intently on a single object, usually with a very limited depth of field, and often highlighting food or some male accessory.

When I'm With You

When I'm With You by Beth Kery

Bared to YouReflected in You

Bared to You and Reflected in You by Sylvia Day

So, to answer Mary's question as to when covers will change, it's probably likely under one of a few scenarios. Perhaps cover stock photography supplies run out, and there will only close ups of toenail clippers left to use.

Or, even better, another book will become a supreme runaway success...and it will have clown shoes on the cover.

Either way, the cover art will shift again someday…probably soon. Hide your toenail clippers! 

Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. She loves talking with romance readers, and hopes you'll share your new favorite romance reading recommendations. You can find her on Twitter @smartbitches, on Facebook, or on her couch, most likely with her eyeglasses turned towards a book.