Your Handy Guide to Romance Book Covers

We’ve all seen them — romance covers where the guy barely has his pants on and the girl is showing only a naked back. To someone who is new to the genre, it may seem that all romances have sexy covers because, yanno, sex sells. Well, not always. These covers are as gratuitous as you might think. Romance book covers actually have a code. So you know what you’re reading, here’s a handy guide to what you might expect in terms of raciness based on the cover, alone.

As always, these are just the observations of a professional analyst (really! I am!), not an expert.

Warning! Racy Covers Ahead! All images link to the novel’s publisher page.


Sweet romances don’t venture beyond passionate kissing, and even if it does, everything is going to be behind closed doors. It isn’t an ironclad rule, but most sweet novels will have tender covers that don’t show a lot of skin. The man and woman will be standing chastely together.

This particular book is an inspirational romance. Note the child between the couple, and the lack of a close-up.

BTW, inspirationals don’t have a monopoly on sweet romances. Remember Sleepless in Seattle? That would be considered sweet because they didn’t even meet until the end, when they simply held hands. Sometimes, the plot doesn’t even allow for the possibility of sex. These are usually sweet romances.

“Mildly Sensual”

Mildly sensual romances go into the bedroom, but don’t get into a lot of detail. The cover modes will be fully clothed, but in some sort of embrace. The more passionate the embrace, the more passion within. I’m going to guess–based strictly on the cover–that Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacy is mildly sensual. The blurb seems to indicate that the plot would not leave much room for hotness, unless the couple steals a few minutes alone in the woods away from the family campsite.



This should be evident on the cover. The sex will be descriptive without being explicit. As to how much sex, let the back cover copy be your guide. Caddy Girls refers to men trying to score “on and off” the golf course, and Rakes and Radishes includes a man who “discovers that he’s interested in sowing wild oats as well as radishes” (and I’ll soon find out if I’m right, because I have it on my nook and am reading it now). I have already read The Sergeant’s Lady, and it did have about as much sex as I expected.

If there is only one person on the cover and skin is showing, then you probably should expect some sensuality, but not a traditional romance. On my own cover, there is a girl who is essentially nude, but is covered by leaves. It is sensual.



The embraces are more passionate and the cover more obviously racy. The cover copy should confirm it. These novels venture into erotica, but aren’t quite there. If you have never read true erotica, you might misclassify these as such.



This will usually show at least one nude male chest. The lower the pants, the more erotic. For threesomes, there will be three people on the cover and a lot of skin. For gay romances (which can also range from sweet to erotic), you will see both partners.

Please feel free to bookmark this handy guide for future reference. As long as you know the code, you will always know what you are getting.

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6 Thoughts to “Your Handy Guide to Romance Book Covers”

  1. *grin* Thanks for decoding the mysteries of romance covers. It’s a handy checklist to have around.

    Now, have you cracked the code for fantasy covers yet? *wink*

    1. Well, I’m not Tia, but I’ve noticed what they’re dividing. In both Fantasy-and-Science-Fiction and in Romance, subgenre is of primary importance. Cultural influences are of secondary importance in both. Heat level is another secondary concern in Romance. In FS&F, heat isn’t as important as tech-level and prevalance of magic. {Smile}

      Unfortunately, I don’t have Tia’s expertise at analyzing these things to figure out what the codes say. However, I hope this gives clues for where to look. {Smile}

      Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

    2. Tia Nevitt

      I actually think Fantasy is going to be a bit more difficult, because it generally is not warning the reader about content. If you want to read about magic, look for glowy magic effects. If you want to read about swordfighting, look for a sword. I go for the swords, myself. I’m meh about magic.

  2. For what it’s worth, the last cover wouldn’t make me think erotica on its own. I’d guess sensual-to-hot paranormal. Reading the cover copy makes me think you’ve categorized it properly, but I don’t assume erotica unless the cover image is the kind I’d hide from my 6-year-old for fear of her asking awkward questions or tuck into a hidden drawer if my more conservative relatives are coming to town. 🙂

    1. Tia Nevitt

      Ok, so I went with a more chaste erotic cover. Yes, it can get much racier. Much, MUCH racier.

  3. Chicory

    I’m with Susanne on the last cover, but that could lack of experience. Thanks for decoding the romance for us. 🙂

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