A picture is worth…

What do publishers give cover designers to work with? Why are the heads cropped off on so many romance novel covers? Cover designer Kim Killion describes the process of negotiating with publishers to figure out just what they need—and the process of selecting the right models for the job.


What do publishers send to you?

Author name, title, series title. And then I will want the back cover blurb so that I can get a sense of what the story’s about. I ask what the era is, what the coloring is of the hero and heroine, which doesn’t matter a lot to me because I can change hair coloring. You know, are there tattoos? What’s the heat level? Do you have a tagline? Do you have a quote? And it’s a one-page questionnaire, you know, and then I ask them for links to other book covers that fall into that same genre [. . .]

[. . .] sometimes they’re kind of all across the board, you know. It’s like, do you want a couple? Do you want a guy? Do you just want the girl or do you want no models at all? And sometimes we have to go back and forth to see what they want.

How do the covers differ by genre?

The suspense typically will have “man chest.” Just the guy and sometimes not, I mean, sometimes they’ll want the girl on there too, but typically they’ll just want the guy. A lot of Regencies, if they’re not super hot, they’ll just want the girl and sometimes the girl might have too much cleavage and sometimes that’s too sexy and I’ll have to pull the gown up in the picture, you know, to cover some of that. Or pull the sleeve up because it might have fallen off. So I’ll have to raise the sleeve. But, you know, a lot of paranormal sometimes will just have the guy only. It’s really up to the author, but sometimes they’ll come back and they’ll say, “Well what do you think? Should I put a guy on here?” And “I kind of want them to have a t-shirt on.” “Okay, well, ‘man chest’ sells.” “Oh, okay, okay,” you know. So nine times out of ten they’ll go with the guy with the gun with his abs and we might have to cut his head off, here or here.

Why do you crop the head?

Well, that way we can reuse them, you know, we can use different guys and you don’t want the same hero on every cover. And while we do different hairstyles, you know, one of my models has very curly hair and it’s long and we straightened his hair once so we got a variety of different looks out of him from that, and Billy has natural curly hair and he wears it down and we slicked him back at one point in time and I prefer that look on him because it’s very Greek; you can get a lot of different looks out of him that way.

What do you look for in male models?

What we look for is a very strong jaw on a man and also very thick lips, because when they’re going in for that almost kiss—that’s the shot that we take more often than anything—is I want you right there and I want you to stop and it’s the almost kiss. It’s about the seduction and when their mouths open, their lips are spread so if they have fuller lips, you’re going to get that sensuality, you know. The Adonis nose, you know, we want that, we want the bigger eyes on the guy. Dark—tall, dark, and handsome sells every time. Blondes are very hard to come by in men, because their features are washed out because they’re faint.

And your female models?

Porcelain skin, very young. Same thing—big eyes, the lips are important. It’s nice if they have breasts. [laughs] Something to work with, you know, but a lot of them are 105 pounds soaking wet and they’re just not well endowed, you know. So we do things to fix that [laughs], including you hold her here and push it up so we get the cleavage.

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