Monday, October 8, 2012

Looking For A Hero...

With the death of a much beloved and wonderful cover model this past week I've been giving some thought to a real issue within the romance writing industry:  that of the cover model with the bad attitude. Angelo Riguero was not one of those models, far from it.  There were no strangers in Angelo's world - only friends he hadn't met yet.

The Late Angelo Riguero
One Of The  Good Guys
As a reader or an author, would you pick up a book by your favorite author if you knew that the stud on the cover thought that readers were stupid? Or that he felt readers were delusional overweight tramps who only bought the books so they could fantasize about him instead of enjoying the storyline?  Believe it or not, there are a few of those out there….  In fact, one of the men displayed in today’s blog is a complete and utter asshole who thinks that romance writers are fat, disgusting bitches who can’t get a man and that readers are pretty much fat, lonely women who need our books to masturbate by.  Yeah, that didn’t make me very happy when I heard him say it either. (And no, it's not Fabio, lol, I will say that much.)

Interestingly, that mentality blossomed in the 90’s for reasons unknown.  For a long time it went ignored.  We, as authors, had a hint that it was out there; we just had not encountered it in person yet.  Slowly, over time, the day came when one of us finally saw some true colors.  My own 'true color' moment happened about ten years ago when I finally had the opportunity to choose my own cover model.  The guy was someone I knew through a friend, and he fit the character  - until he opened his mouth.  He made condescending comments regarding the buyers of romance novels and he had a less-than-nice attitude regarding the people who bought our books.  While it made me uncomfortable, there was little I could do since contracts had been signed and there was no escape clause for being offended by the model’s bad attitude. 



That one moment put me on high alert for the rest of my career.  From that point on I vowed that I didn’t want some ass on the cover of my books.  My next four books all had flowers on the covers because there was no way to vet models with those particular publishers.  

Then came Heart of Stone – again I was offered a chance to choose my model.  I chose a model recommended by a friend and only found out later that I had not asked the right questions. That guy turned out to be someone who not only thought badly of romance authors and readers, he spoke disparagingly of both. 

However, I was ready that time.  I demanded that the model be replaced, and I was pushy about it.  Bear in mind, it’s never a good idea to make demands of a big press, but this was a smaller publisher that was making good money from this particular book and didn’t want things to get messy.  They quickly replaced Model One with Model Two. Model Two proved to be a fantastic guy who I got to know very well – along with his wife, his kids, AND his evil little Chihuahua aptly named “Hemorrhoid”.

'High alert' evolved into 'completely wary' from that point on, though.   I made it a point that I had to know the guy before he made it onto the cover.  Yes, I know that’s a bit of a stretch, but if the guy wasn’t a nice guy in some way, I didn’t want him on the cover of my book.  To me it was a no-brainer.  

When the late hubby and I started developing the NABSU series, I  knew exactly who I wanted on the cover.  I made it a required part of my contract.  My long-time friend (and former PR client) Jonathan Joss, aka the voice of John Redcorn on FOX’s King of the Hill, was more than happy to step up to the plate. 

I knew Jon respected what I did; he’s never been disparaging of my career or my fans; he’s somebody who, as a public figure, appreciates the fans of any medium because he understands that without them, there’s no career.  Jon flew up to South Dakota, where we had one heck of a fun photo shoot (nothing like wardrobe changes in a cemetery along a busy street!), and that gave me literally hundreds of photos to choose from for the next six books. 


Now, yes, most of the time we authors don’t get a say. Not all publishers are open to letting their authors have a say regarding their covers or allowing authors to have much input with their individual art departments.  Thankfully, Indie publishing is changing that – and for the better, in my opinion.  Indie authors are responsible for their own covers; therefore, they can actually go looking for whoever they want to grace the cover of their books.  

I had heard that author/photographer Jenn LeBlanc used nice guys who were as sweet as they looked, so when I started looking for the perfect cover model for my upcoming book, Illusions, I contacted her. What I had heard proved to be very true.  Jenn’s model, Karl, looked very close to how I had pictured hero, Clayton Emerson.  Interestingly enough, Jaci, the woman modeling with him, was pretty darn close to how I envisioned Olivia Sheffield, Illusion's heroine – it was the perfect pairing as far as I could tell.
Karl Biermann - The Cover Model For Illusions
The Proof That Sold Me On Karl & Jaci!
Jaci Horsing Around The Photoshoot
Karl Being Manhandled By Our Favorite Photographer

One of the first questions I asked Jenn when I contacted her was whether Karl was a nice guy.  Jenn made it clear that Karl was a very nice human being and told me that she only worked with nice guys.  That told me that I was okay to move forward with the book cover.  Had I found out otherwise, I would have kept on looking no matter how closely Karl had resembled the hero in Illusions.  (Interestingly, I’ve never heard a female model make disparaging remarks regarding romance readers.  In fact, there have been quite a few over the years that I’ve heard compliment the dedication of our fans and speak appreciatively of the attention their covers have brought to their careers.) 

The Finished Product!

More and more authors are looking to find their own cover models, and they’re choosing men that they themselves would or could be friends with. They want approachable cover guys who will be nice to the fans and will remain nice when they walk away.   As Jenn so aptly put it, “I don’t work with douchebags”.   Another author told me, “I refuse to work with any guy who wouldn’t date a fat chick. If he has no ability to see inside the soul, he doesn’t belong on the cover of one of my books.  As a fat chick hearing this from a very skinny colleague, I found it an amazing stand to take.


Some might wonder, what’s the point? Why should we even care about the guy on the cover? Who cares if he’s a total ass?  We do, because we write about love and romance. Love and romance are supposed to contain kindness, gentleness and humility.  Heroes can be flawed; heroes can even be stupid or make bad decisions, but they should never be cruel. To have a book showcasing a model who makes cruel and nasty comments about the genre he himself is a part of is wrongPlain and simple.

Many readers will tell you that to find out that the model on the cover of the book they love is a complete jerk kills the mood of the story entirely.  Long-time romance reader Erin states: "I would never read a book with an asshole on the cover".  Cherlyn added that she would "never buy a book if the man on the cover couldn't show up at a conference and be nice to everybody".   Missy shared that she "could never read a book cover to cover and feel at ease with the story if the stud on the front had made horrible comments about romance readers". 

They're not alone in this opinion, many of us authors feel the same way.  Author Samantha MacDouglas says: “Why give a reader a reason to not read your book? If a cover model offended me, that would be reason enough for me to not pick up a book, even by an author I really liked. Besides, if he's disrespectful, it might come across on the cover. Readers might get that sense from him, even if they don't know who he is or how he feels. On top of which, if he turns his nose down at us, he doesn't need to be making money off of us. There are plenty of good-looking men out there, I'd vote to find another.”  
More of Jenn's Awesome Work! 

A Proof Becomes A Book Cover

Jenn's Got A Thing For Kilts! 

I freely admit to being part of this crowd.   If I find out that some guy on the cover of one of my favorite author’s books is a total idiot, I won’t read that book. Sadly, that’s money out of that writer’s pocket because the guy on her cover is a moron.  And, as Samantha said, why should an arrogant cuss be making money in conjunction with our books if he secretly can’t stand us or our readers?    

 Karl & The Lovely Brittany Strike A Different Type Of Pose! 

It would also make it hard to interact with said cover guy if I ever had to deal with him in person at a writers’ conference.  In fact, I did have something like this happen, and I know a few other authors who have experienced the same.  I heard a certain cover model making some very rude remarks regarding both romance authors and readers before going out to participate in a cover model contest.  On stage, he was Mr. Debonair, but backstage he was all about how fat and gruesome these women were.  To be blunt, that pissed me off.  It was too late to pull him from the contest, but I made damned sure he was never allowed to participate again. Once word got out regarding his attitude, his modeling opportunities dried up. The last I heard, he was working in a gas station. 

A colleague told me about a cover model who had been on several of her books and how she was sent some emails in which the guy was saying horrible things about romance readers in general: how they were all no-class people with no love lives, no looks, and were generally all overweight with no prospects.  This author notified her publisher that she no longer wanted this particular model considered for any of her future books because he didn’t appreciate a good thing.  She literally threatened to take her business elsewhere.  Her publisher didn’t want to lose her, so the man was cut from their roster - not just for her books but for all of their books. To my knowledge, that particular company has never used the model again.  Ironically, that guy is still part of our industry.  He still appears on the occasional book cover, but he is in no way the hot ticket he once was – because, again, word got out, and authors don’t appreciate models who have no respect for them or their fans. 

There is good news here, though: guys with bad attitudes are slowly being weeded out and replaced with men who are just as gorgeous but far more humble.  I see this as a definite plus for the romance-writing industry.  For too long the entire genre has been ridiculed and dismissed as “trash”.  It’s been a long, hard road to develop our reputation, and I, for one, refuse to allow cover models with bad attitudes to set us back.  Indie publishing has placed the control into the authors' hands as to who will be on their covers and who will design the final product.  This is a major boon to the majority of romance writers out there. 

I Get To Share A Cover Model With The Great Connie Mason!
How Cool Is That??!!

I’ve never met Karl in person, but Jenn has, and her word is good.  Since he’s a nice person who respects romance authors and their readers, I am more than happy to refer him for other projects.  That goes for any model I use in the future.  As long as they respect us and respect what we do, they’ll have a job. As long as they exhibit kindness where the fans are concerned, they’ll continue to be on covers. The minute they display a bad attitude, they should consider their career in this industry to be over.   

Looking For A Few Good Cover Models? 

Check Out Jenn LeBlanc!! 


  1. This is such an awesome post Mia. Just a little correction on the one with Karl lying on top of the girl: that model is Brittany and she's a total sweetheart. I have a total girl crush on her :)

  2. Oops! Thanks Kati! I'll get that changed today!!

  3. Loved the article, Mia! I agree w/ you. Since some of these guys sound like loose cannons who are disdainful of readers, writers, and romance in general, why continue to pay them when they are so derisive of the brand. It's harmful to the writers and publishers they represent.

  4. Thanks Terri! Personally? If I had my way? I'd make sure that every publisher's art department question their cover models before they even hire them. I also think that the nastier ones should be banned from the conventions, workshops and Mr. Cover Model contests but that's just me! ;o)

  5. Mia,

    Well said and I completely agree! (and not just because you quoted me) :) I couldn't agree more about banning them. If they look down their nose at readers, that will surely come across at conventions.

  6. I had the very amazing opportunity to shoot with Jenn earlier this month. The male model there was SO very sweet! A total dear and gentlemen. Very easy to form a connection with and I think that definitely makes a better picture. Jenn and Delilah were so much fun to work for - I had an absolute blast (what woman wouldn't?!) and it left me grinning ear to ear for at least a week :)

    I can absolutely certify that Jenn picked an amazing cover guy - looks, a kind nature, the whole package.

    I hope my lucky stars align again to do another cover - I myself enjoy the genre and appreciate the wit, dedication, and creativity that goes into the craft :)