Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Designing Covers that Appeal to Both Men and Women by Carol Ashby

We all know a visually stunning, genre-appropriate cover is essential for a potential reader to check out a book. But designing one can be a challenge when your target audience includes both men and women.

I write stories about dangerous times, difficult friendships, and lives transformed by forgiveness and love. Reviews and ratings tell me both men and women enjoy these historical novels because there’s much more to the plot than the romance woven through it. But for a cover to appeal to men, it must say “historical,” not “romance,” at first glance.

I’ve investigated what might encourage a man to pick up a book to read the blurb or click to the sales page for the description. Using my own covers, I’ve found four key features. When my designer, Roseanna White, captured the tension, the covers of Forgiven and Blind Ambition naturally appealed to men. Then a comment by a male friend on the first version of the third led me to investigate what could make a man see “historical” rather than “romance” at first glance. And as we all know, that first glance is all we can count on. 

Four features that invite men to check out these books:

1) A man is prominent on the cover and not in close contact with the woman.

This suggests the story won’t be entirely from the female POV. I write novels with multiple POV characters. The prominent man promises many important scenes from the POV a man naturally understands. Direct contact announces “romance,” but separation implies more to the relationship than that.

2) The woman isn’t dressed in revealing clothing or anything too feminine.

If the clothing is very feminine, she should have a body type better descripted as athletic than full-figured. This downplays the “romance” feeling of the cover. The original version (left) of The Legacy cover and the final version (right) show how subtle the difference can be between a cover that says “romance” and one that says “historical.” 

3) Direct eye contact between the man and woman shouldn’t be obvious.

On romance covers, the man and woman often gaze into each other’s eyes. As a male friend who also writes Christian fiction told me, men do enjoy romance in a novel, but they don’t want the book they’re reading to look like it’s a romance. They make a distinction between a romantic historical, which appeals to men, and a historical romance, which does not.

4) Some element of the design has to suggest action.

The covers of Forgiven and Blind Ambition both feature men in uniform. The first version of Second Chances said “romance” to my male consultants until the man was given a hand ax. As soon as he held that tool, the impression switched from romance to historical.

For The Legacy and Faithful, the background scenery suggests action. The ship promises a journey, and the amphitheater hints at men in combat. The dagger hanging on the man’s belt adds to the impression of conflict as well.

There’s so much more to this, and I’ve posted a longer discussion of a survey I did at my website, I’d love to fold in your comments there as well.

When you look at the covers, what do you see first? Does that element suggest romance or historical to you? Why?

Especially for you men: do you think the four factors have broad application outside the historical genre? Can you share anything that’s a turn-off that might keep you from checking out the book description?


Carol Ashby has been a professional writer for most of her life, but her articles and books were about lasers and compound semiconductors (the electronics that make cell phones, laser pointers, and LED displays work). She still writes about light, but her Light in the Empire series tells stories of difficult friendships and life-changing decisions in dangerous times, where forgiveness and love open hearts to discover their own faith in Christ. Her fascination with the Roman Empire was born during her first middle-school Latin class. A research career in New Mexico inspires her to get every historical detail right so she can spin stories that make her readers feel like they’re living under the Caesars themselves.

To connect with Carol and learn more about her books, please visit:

Author website: (
History website: Life in the Roman Empire: Historical Fact and Fiction (

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