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The Face Of Romance?

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Long before the internet, cover models became viral sensations. As “The Topaz Man,” Steve Sandalis graced the covers of over 700 novels. CJ Hollenbach has been a fan favorite at conventions for over twenty years. And the average shopper probably can’t walk past the dairy case without thinking of Fabio (the undisputed king of romance) and his disbelief with regards to imitation butter spreads.

For as long as modern romances have existed, male models have been an integral part of their marketing. Readers love them, and love interacting with them. In 2016, Nightline somehow managed to go to a convention full of women and single out these men to profile (rather than the female authors or readers who drive the industry).

How important are models? You can see the perspectives of readers in the video, but as one woman bluntly stated, “If the book ain’t good, you can always put it on the shelf and look at it, honey.” Author Beth Williamson stated that the cover of the book was “almost” more important the content, because it was all about making a first impression with the reader. That’s not a reality that’s lost on authors or publishers. But recent developments within the romance community have many questioning just how important these men are to the success of the genre–and how much authors and readers are willing to put up with.


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Since Fabio’s heyday, fan interaction has been an important part of a model’s career. In a 2015 story for Jezebel, Romantic Times founder Katheryn Falk explained the appeal that made the golden one so popular:

Katheryn Falk, the founder of Romantic Times, says a great cover model can “look a woman in the eye.” Falk adds, “Like Fabio, he was bigger than life. He thought every woman was beautiful. And he had a lot of charisma. The accent, the name. He wasn’t overdoing it, but he would pay attention. He would look them in the eye. He appreciated women and it was part of his nature and part of his charisma that all women ruled over him.”

The personality of a model was once as important as looks in becoming the object of reader fantasy. Respecting the authors and readers wasn’t just a key to success; it was a job requirement.

So, where did it all go wrong?

Recently, Faith*, an author, pleaded with romance readers and writers via Facebook, warning them of a model she’d worked with who’d harassed and stalked her. Faith says the model repeatedly asked her sexually inappropriate questions via text message, tried to pressure her into signing a contract guaranteeing him a portion of her royalties, and physically threatened her at an event. Faith initially feared retribution from her publishers and from convention directors who’d warned her against going public. Even when she eventually did, she declined to mention the model’s name. Emboldened by Faith’s story, other authors who’d had similar interactions with the model came forward, and were more than willing to name Jackson Young as their tormentor.

Public content on Young’s Facebook page features bible verses and a profile photo declaring that he loves his mother. Readers and authors have tagged him in photos from the Romantic Times convention in Las Vegas, declaring how much they enjoyed meeting him. This public persona of the aww-shucks-cornfed-country-boy has given him ample camouflage to abuse the women signing his paychecks, as well as the voracious readers who swoon over his appearance on their favorite novels. When the story went public, readers and authors alike rushed to defend him and declare Faith a liar and an attention seeker.

Another model, Paul Blake, recently posted the following tirade on Facebook:

I’m going to keep this real simple. If I see you post anything that has to do with body shaming I will delete you. Let me clarify. If you are That person that has a weight problem and your always posting these memes about how it is wrong to “body shame” I am deleting you!!!! Becaaaaaaause you are the reason many of our youth is thinking it’s okay to be obese. Idiot!!!!! You SHOULD be ashamed of yourself.

When one woman objected, Blake responded:

you should go eat your last Dairy Queen Blizzard and then hang yourself in the closet

Screenshots of the altercation quickly circulated on social media, yet some of Blake’s fans still felt that his “honesty” was refreshing. One wrote:

I know so many “big girls” who are big by choice because of poor diet and lack of exercise that have passed their poor eating habits on to their children and it frustrates me so much! Then yeah will be like curvy girls do it better and I just want to slap them because curves means you have big hips and a smaller waist line not a muffin top hence the word “curves”! I agree with you completely. Preach on, I love it!

Blake’s response?

Thank you that’s what I’m talking about I care nothing about book covers or a following. Im not a fuckin celebrity.

When damning evidence of his behavior circulated, he warned one woman via Facebook messenger:

You and all the other fat slob offers going screenshot this and pass it around I don’t give two f**** what you old horny b****** think about me that’s why your big fat ass sits behind the f******* computer and types romance novels about the dick you will never have you will all pathetic lazy b******* so you can say what you want just like I say what I want I don’t give two s****

How did the genre move from readers worshipping at the feet of Fabio, a man who worshipped and valued each and every one of them right back, to muscle-bound meatheads who proudly degrade women and tell them to kill themselves?

Romance novels have always been the domain of women, from the majority of editorial staff, agents who represent clients within the genre, to the authors and readers. Even romance novels about gay men are written and consumed predominately by cis heterosexual women. The genre has made millionaires (Nora Roberts, E.L. James, Danielle Steel, among others), and boasts a loyal and hungry fanbase. So then why, in an industry driven by women, are these abuses allowed to happen?

The actions of these men are their own responsibility, and only they are accountable for them. But the fostering of the toxic culture within romance that has elevated them to near untouchable status lies squarely on the industry. Authors, publishers, and conventions have gleefully touted the importance of a square jaw and rock-hard abs as an integral part of fully enjoying the romance experience. Some authors even hire their cover models to attend their signings, in the hopes of drawing a larger crowd. When the models begin to believe that they’re so important or noteworthy that they no longer need the authors or readers, something has to give.

Change in the genre must come from within. While many authors and readers stepped up to publicly shame Blake and Young, social media outcry isn’t enough to protect future victims of harassment. Authors and publishers must agree to stop hiring any amateur with a nice body because he’ll settle for a low paycheck. Background checks should be mandatory before models can attend reader events (during the social media backlash, Blake boasted to one author that he had spent time in prison on weapons charges). And when an author or reader levies serious accusations against a model, those accusations should be investigated, not hushed up. Romance is a billion dollar industry. Surely it can afford to safeguard its readers and authors.

*Name changed to protect the individual

64 Comments

  1. Stella
    Stella

    100% this. Hell I go out of my way to make sure I dont deal with or work with models, because while you are right that people expect the candy on the cover, what i care about is the words between the pages. a striking cover is important, but I think a LOT of authors also forget that not every woman is into the no neck muscle bound meat head , and as a woman who doesn’t like them, I have a tendency to NOT buy books with them on them, because that’s not the kinda romance couple I want…

    And I realize I’m in the minority there but I have found amazing books that dont feature the beefcake on the cover.

    Also, my conventions that *I* run dont ALLOW these assholes to attend. And let me tell you, NOT having them there works in the favor of the authors. Readers are talking to the authors about the BOOKS, creating connections with the talent, not the guy that stood still for 3 seconds to grace the cover. And whats more I have had readers and authors alike thank me for not allowing models at con, because they feel uncomfortable around a lot of them.

    And I have been running events for 8 years. Both times I relented, allowing a single model to attend under the “watchful eye” of their author handler ended with some serious shit and readers and authors unhappy.

    May 9, 2016
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    • Honestly, for as much as I don’t like the 50 Shades books, I prefer those cover styles because you aren’t given a character – heroine or otherwise – to imagine. You can imagine whoever you’d like based on the writing. Less is more, as it were (though maybe not in the 50 Shades case, heh).

      Also, thank you for doing that for authors at your conventions. I had no idea any of this has been going on, but I appreciate that you put the effort in for the writers.

      May 9, 2016
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      • anon
        anon

        I do most of my print reading in public places, so I’d actually *rather* the cover design be something more ambiguous than “half-naked guy”.

        (The actual content of 50 SOG is awful, but I think the covers are cool.)

        May 9, 2016
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        • Also I would be kind of weirded out if I were to go to a book signing/book con and see the cover model there? Like all the dude did was pose for a photo, he didn’t write anything.

          May 9, 2016
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          • Chris
            Chris

            Absolutely! I never even knew that the models were invited to sth like that…why should they??? Doesn’t make any sense to me, at all.
            And to be honest, I never like these kinds of covers. They are unimaginative, interchangeable (is that the right word?), don’t really tell you or hint at anything (interesting) about the book and just…I don’t know…look silly to me.

            May 10, 2016
          • mary
            mary

            There are real professional models that have written and sold their own books. They understand that they are representing an author’s work and act in a professional manner. If you see them on a cover you see the whole man. His expression and pose will make you feel his emotions.
            A professional model loves his work and doesn’t belittle or say abusive things about authors.

            May 10, 2016
    • Laina
      Laina

      *raises hand* I’m asexual and I like reading romance. (People seem to think we don’t exist…) The asthetic is nice sometimes, sure, but not a reason to buy a book, lol.

      However, I wouldn’t blame authors for that. They tend to have very little cover control.

      May 9, 2016
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      • Katsuro Ricksand
        Katsuro Ricksand

        Hopefully this isn’t an offensive question–what’s the appeal if you’re not attracted to the protagonist?

        Don’t get me wrong– obviously you can still enjoy the clever plot, charismatic characters, nice turns of phrase, etc. that a good romance novel offers. What I don’t get is why you’d specifically seek out a romance novel, when those qualities can be found in all genres.

        (I’m not very knowledgeable about the romance genre, so if I’ve said anything offensive or inaccurate here I welcome corrections.)

        May 10, 2016
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        • Laina
          Laina

          I do read many genres.

          Frankly, I don’t really understand the question – do you have to want to bang the love interest to enjoy a book? Because you kind of just asked me why I read books if I don’t want to have sex with the characters.

          May 10, 2016
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          • Katsuro Ricksand
            Katsuro Ricksand

            Laina: I’m sorry if that’s how I came across. ^^; I’ll rephrase my question. When we want to be scared, we read horror; when we want to marvel about the possibilites of science, we read science-fiction; when we want to dream, we read fantasy; and so on. (I’m oversimplifying a bit for the sake of the question.)

            Now, lots of people read romance novels because they like the sexy guys and/or the romance. But since you’re asexual, I figured that couldn’t be it. (In retrospect, though, I realize that many people who identify as asexual nevertheless have romantic feelings.) So I was wondering what it is about romance novels that make you want to read a romance novel specifically.

            May 10, 2016
          • Laina
            Laina

            (Ran out of nesting)

            I read about a lot of things I don’t want to do or be. I read picture books and middle grade. I don’t want to be eight years old again. I read murder mysteries and I neither want to be a cop nor be murdered. I read about people in space, but I don’t ever want to leave this plant.

            I’m grey-romantic, actually, and I still enjoy romance. Just because I don’t necessarily want something for myself doesn’t mean I don’t want to read about it.

            And, also, I find it odd you think guys are the protagonist of a romance? It’s usually the woman, or at least a 50% split. But if we’re going that route, I read about guys, and I don’t want to be a dude, lol.

            Plus, every genre tends to have tropes that others don’t, and I like romance’s tropes. Fiction doesn’t have to be about things I am, or things I want.

            May 10, 2016
          • Katsuro Ricksand
            Katsuro Ricksand

            Well, I just said that readers enjoy the sexy guys in romance novels–I never said guys are the protagonists. But sexy guys do have a habit of appearing in romance novels. =)

            May 10, 2016
          • Laina
            Laina

            Yeah… no. You said “Hopefully this isn’t an offensive question–what’s the appeal if you’re not attracted to the protagonist?”

            By that standard, any hetereosexual woman wouldn’t read romances where a woman is the protaganist.

            And there are a lot of allosexual people who DON’T read romance – why not if it’s about attraction to the sexy guys?

            May 10, 2016
          • Katsuro Ricksand
            Katsuro Ricksand

            Dang. That’s a typo. I meant to say “love interest,” not “protagonist.” I really should have proofread that post…

            (also, sorry about the double-post!)

            May 10, 2016
          • Casey
            Casey

            Not ace, but I wanted to add that I’m not at all into May-December relationships or bdsm, but fell in love with our Ms. Trout’s The Boss series. Katsuro, I think this question is difficult because there are as many different answers as there are readers. For me, the sex scenes did nothing for me in the pants region, but I love the series because I believe in Neil and Sophie, because I cared about their relationships and their lives, and because they’re just fantastic fucking books. I can’t speak for aces or aros–but they’ve certainly given helpful answers–but while I sometimes found myself tempted to skip the sex scenes, I also learned a lot. Maybe not all authors are as informative as Jenny, but I wonder if any readers not aroused by romances shared my…almost academic interest in the sex scenes. That or I’m a weirdo, but that’s not news to me. 🙂

            December 26, 2016
        • Withans
          Withans

          *raises hand* I’m also asexual and I also enjoy reading romance novels! I mean, I like there to be more plot than just the ‘how they get together’ storyline, but a romantic storyline definitely enhances my enjoyment of a book as long as it’s well-done (‘how they got together while exploring a new planet and forestalling interplanetary war’ is the plot of the first book of my favourite series ever).

          I think for me, I am just pretty soppy and I like reading about people making each other happy, which romance novels trend towards rather more than, say, grimdark fantasy novels (which I also read and enjoy, but… for different reasons). Also, I’m not aromantic (well, maybe grey-romantic), so I enjoy vicarious crush-feelings in a similar way to allosexual readers, just without any feelings of sexual attraction.

          May 10, 2016
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        • Lucia
          Lucia

          Aro-ace here.

          I enjoy romance novels (even erotic novels, to an extent), but I never imagine myself with any of the characters. It’s more like being happy for the characters and enjoying a well-written book (for me anyway). Just because I don’t want something for myself doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t have it. I don’t want a partner, but I was still happy for my mom when she remarried last year.

          May 10, 2016
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        • Sass
          Sass

          I’m also an asexual romance reader. I really enjoy happy books, and reading about things outside my own experience. I don’t play sport, either, but I like reading about characters who are passionate about sports in books.
          Passion is a factor, too. People and characters are more interesting when they’re passionate about something, whether it’s sports or science or the guy next door.
          Also, people are attractive, aesthetically or personality-wise. I’m still interested in people, I just don’t want to romance them or have sex with them.

          May 10, 2016
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          • Laina
            Laina

            THAT’S FOUR PEOPLE. Is that enough for a club? I want a club XD

            May 10, 2016
          • Lucia
            Lucia

            Four people is so enough for a club xD

            Also @ Laina: what you said above. I agree so much. I recently read a very interesting book about cholera. Doesn’t mean I want the real experience. I’m actually pretty sure I can do without 😉

            May 10, 2016
          • Laina
            Laina

            TIME FOR T-SHIRTS

            Haha, yeah, that’s one I’d pass on, too!

            May 10, 2016
          • Xebi
            Xebi

            Demisexual here, and while I’ve never really been into the romance genre I do enjoy a good love story. I do not ever put myself in the place of the character falling in love, because I don’t get anything out of that. I just enjoy a good story and actually I enjoy reading about people being happy. I’m always slightly disappointed when a story ends with irreparable damage done to someone’s life, even though they’re not real.

            May 12, 2016
    • Danielle
      Danielle

      While I have been to many signings that had cover models and all of them have been nice to me I understand what you are saying. I attend many signings each year and suddenly it has become all about what models will be there. Im there for the authors and could care less who is on the book.

      May 10, 2016
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    • VegasJellyFish
      VegasJellyFish

      When I went to RT I really didn’t want to be around the cover models. I was there to talk to the authors and to learn about new books. I took a few pictures of the models to tease my daughter’s friend that couldn’t make it with us, but other than that I am about the author and not the cover. The author is my celebrate rock star and I am there to talk to them and not their model that does nothing for me or the book.

      May 12, 2016
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  2. Did you see where many cover models and graphic artists are offering their services for free if you do have Blake on a cover? They’ll help you replace him…one said for the price of a DQ Blizzard 😉
    I love how everyone is banding together over this:)

    May 9, 2016
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  3. Laina
    Laina

    I only caught a tiny bit of this and didn’t realize how serious it was. I was going to make a “Fabio would never do this to us!” joke, but…

    No. Fabio WOULD never do this. Because this is freaking terrible.

    May 9, 2016
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  4. Megan M.
    Megan M.

    Wow. I had no idea this was happening. It disgusts me that people rush to defend this sort of behavior just because someone is attractive. I probably shouldn’t have read this right after reading the 50 Shades of Grey internalized sexism study.

    May 9, 2016
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    • The Unicorner
      The Unicorner

      would you happen to have a link for that? i’m curious

      May 9, 2016
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    • I’m both horrified and gratified that there exists a 50 Shades internalized sexism study and I’m almost afraid to look…

      I’ve been writing romance for 20 years this year, and reading it long before that. Fabio *wouldn’t* pull crap like this. I remember meeting him (once), and seeing interviews over the years where sometimes he’d be bemused at all the fuss, flattered, honored, and charming (and after his back and forth with Isaiah Mustafa in the Old Spice Guy commercials, having a fabulous sense of self-aware humor), but he always seemed to have a great affection for the authors whose covers he graced, and the readers who loved him for them.

      Some years ago, I do remember a kerfluffle at some behavior at one of the RT conventions surrounding the Ellora’s Cavemen that made me glad I didn’t go, and kind of mortified at the behavior of everyone (both ladies and gents) involved. I think it was a lesson RT took to heart, because things seemed to turn back from the brink after that.

      At smaller cons I encountered some cover models and I’m sad to say none of them really made me feel any desire but to get the hell out of there. For me, romance cons were akin to safe spaces, and female safe spaces at that. The gents present who were writing romance (with their partners or under feminine pseuds), or in the industry, or just there to support their wives or mothers, were respectful to the other writers and readers. Cover models…felt like a wardrobe malfunction.

      May 9, 2016
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  5. Holy shit that Nightline reporter. I just wanna shake the smarm and condescension out of him.

    May 9, 2016
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  6. The Unicorner
    The Unicorner

    tbqh I prefer romance novels without models on the cover bc the kind of model that seems popular is not attractive to me (i’m not into beefcake, what can i say). i think people are more inclined toward beautiful covers in general, not necessarily covers with models on them the reader finds attractive. like other commenters have mentioned, the 50sog covers, much like the Twilight covers they were clearly modeled after, had a streamlined, mysterious look that drew people in (too bad the content was so godawful, lol).

    that being said, it seems beefcake male model covers are such a time-honored tradition of the romance genre, it’s not like they’re going away anytime soon. but there definitely needs to be more quality control when it comes to what kind of people are being hired.

    May 9, 2016
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  7. marjorie
    marjorie

    Gross. Thanks so much for pointing this out. How dismaying — the sexism, the stalking, the size-ism, the abusiveness, all of it.

    Google searching…Is Paul Blake the “physique model” with a giant tattoo of Stewie from The Family Guy on his thigh? If so, HE HAS A GIANT TATTOO OF STEWIE FROM THE FAMILY GUY ON HIS THIGH. This is not a mark of taste and discernment. (And I say this as a proud Rhode Islander.)

    Finally: generally speaking, I echo the sentiment of those who like model-free covers. I do know that non-self-published romance authors have no control…but seeing a guy I don’t find attractive on a cover totally turns me off. One glimpse of unfortunate haircut or visible gel or tragic jeans or the “condom stuffed with walnuts” glossy waxed bodybuilder look and I’m done — just not my taste. (But then, I prefer not to see female models either — I like historical romance, and the models seldom match the author’s description of the character…and the hair/makeup/clothes are totally ahistorical, and I’m a snob.) I too would rather see a pretty photo of an object that appears in the book, a hand, a scrap of fabric. More elegant, less mortifying to read on the bus…and please, just let me imagine the characters!

    May 9, 2016
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    • Katsuro Ricksand
      Katsuro Ricksand

      I hear you on the historical accuracy part. I just want to shout “That woman on the cover has gotta be a secret time traveler from our time or something! Her legs are shaven! Her teeth are pearly-white, and all still in her mouth!”

      May 10, 2016
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      • Gennita
        Gennita

        So, you’re saying, you’ll buy a book of a straggly-haired, flea-infested woman with yellow teeth hanging on to a straggly-haired, flea-infested man with skinny legs?

        😛

        Sexy covers sell in the romance genre. Or indies and trad publishers wouldn’t use them.

        May 10, 2016
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        • Xebi
          Xebi

          Well technically, they don’t have to have people on the covers at all. Or they don’t have to be showing their teeth and bare legs!

          May 12, 2016
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    • E
      E

      I really dislike book covers with models too. I prefer shots of eyes (or hands, I’m kind of obsessed with hands) to full-face shots, and I definitely prefer faces to full bodies. Often it’s because the model looks nothing at all like the character, and sometimes it’s because the cover model makes the book look like straight-up porn. And lastly, cover models are BORING. Don’t show me a woman in a couture dress, show me a cover that says something about the book’s plot or theme.

      May 13, 2016
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    • Amelia
      Amelia

      Wait, the homophobe has a tattoo of a gay family guy character on his thigh? I don’t even like that show and I know that (and yes, its a baby, it’s weird and unfunny anyway, I gave up thinking about it) do you think he knows?

      May 17, 2016
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  8. Pamela
    Pamela

    These dudes are DIMMMMMMMM. I’m so so so glad they’re getting outed. I feel like, mediocre looking dudes who can be photoshopped on to a cover are a dime a dozen right now. I’m happy to see them run out of romancelandia.
    Fabulous post, as always.

    May 9, 2016
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    • I chop the dude’s heads off on my covers. They don’t need to be good looking at all-muscles are a dime a dozen.

      May 10, 2016
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    • Mel
      Mel

      Totally agree. I’m not a big romance reader – I tend to prefer thrillers or straight out horror – but the romance novels I see on the shelves don’t make me want to read them either. I’d rather imagine what the love interest looks like than be spoon fed a mediocre beef-cake Channing Tatum lookalike. And the majority of them are as dumb as dogshit, too. Just from those excerpts in Jenny’s post I can tell Blake has no concept of punctuation or correct grammar. It would surprise me greatly if he could even read the books whose covers he’s graced.

      May 14, 2016
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  9. Alison
    Alison

    I don’t read romance novels except for yours, so I didn’t even know cover models were still a thing. It seems very 80’s to me.

    May 9, 2016
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    • drmaggiemoreau
      drmaggiemoreau

      Jenny’s covers are so pretty, especially the Boss Series. Even if the cover models don’t match how you picture the characters, they’re still eye catching.

      May 10, 2016
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  10. Joanne
    Joanne

    I enjoy some beefcake covers, but prefer not to see the face, let me add that. But I also know that many men who are extremely fit and want their photos taken are usually narcissistic jackasses. When we were young my husband had a cover worthy body and he would have gladly been watered boarded than have a photo taken of himself half undressed.
    I went to Paul Blake’s FB page to see what he was like. He is one major prick. He is not my kind of handsome and may be consuming too many steroids. Any author who uses him should have her head examined.
    If they can’t be Fabios , then “don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out!” lol

    May 9, 2016
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    • Mel
      Mel

      Also, how the hell was he even a cover model for romance novels in the first place? The guy is FUGLY with a capital F!!!! Tattoos aside (and I’m not a fan of the inked all over look either), the guy is not even what I’d call mediocre looking. So was he just hired for his muscles? Because it seems as though that’s all he’s got going for him.

      May 14, 2016
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  11. Victoriana
    Victoriana

    I’m a romance reader who has always wished to attend a convention someday, but this sort of thing makes me think twice about it. I love romance and I want to support authors I love and meet them and other readers. But reading romance is a hobby for me, something I do for fun (and spend money on), and risking sexual harassment and even physical intimidation/violence for that is not worth it. Not without better policies and practices in place for preventing sexual harassment and predators.

    Thanks for speaking up about this though. I’m sorry that other authors and readers in the romance community were targets of these models’ harassment. But as you said, it reflects a larger toxic culture that enables sexual harassment and allows these men to get away with it with their careers intact.

    “some of Blake’s fans still felt that his “honesty” was refreshing”
    Just like so many of Trump’s supporters find his “honesty” (aka hate speech, misogyny, xenophobia and racism) refreshing? Why do so many people these days confuse bigotry and hate speech for honesty? It’s terrifying.

    May 10, 2016
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    • Katsuro Ricksand
      Katsuro Ricksand

      Yeah, it’s pretty horrible. If people assume that the bigoted candidate is more “honest,” it indicates that they assume everybody is as bigoted as they, and it’s just a question of varying sincerity about said bigotry.

      May 10, 2016
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  12. By in large I can think of very few cover models who I have found to be attractive enough to be a decision factor in my purchasing. There was a recurring male over at Samhain for a long while who did a lot of their fantasy m/m covers that I really really dug – I also enjoyed the books so it was win/win for me and I admit that Pepe Toth (the popular young male cover model that was EVERYWHERE after he gained popularity on the other Jennifer Armentrout’s YA “Lux” novels) was quite pretty to look at…but largely my tastes in men are not reflected on the covers of books (they’re reflected INSIDE the books, but not often on the cover).

    For me I don’t see the appeal of meeting a cover model. I’ve met a couple, usually for the YA genere, who have been unfailingly polite or charming (one guy I had a good banter session with when he heard my name was Alexandra Elizabeth and his was Alejandro Elonzo) and it truly made my sister’s 18th birthday to meet some of the “Cave Men” from Ellora’s Cave at BEA one year, but I wouldn’t place them as more important then the authors. I always want to meet the authors first and foremost (and after them editors).

    What these two and those like them are doing is horrific. Y’all are right – romance conventions (whether its RT Times or RWA or the smaller more intimate reader/author affairs like Authors After Dark) are meant to be a safe place for lovers of the genre. We’re meant to be able to go and discuss openly what we like amongst others who are equally as addicted to the Hidden Heiress in a Nobleman’s Household historical romances or Twin Mistaken Identity suspense romances or Brothers Who Share Mated Pairings paranormal romances.

    And that reporter for Dateline sort of reminds me of that, I think it was one of the CSIs did the convention/cosplay episode? They obviously researched SOMETHING about it, but they took away entirely the wrong idea of what was important and as a result the episode came off as…well condescending. Full of clichés and outdated ideas. I felt bad for the girl the reporter was talking to – he looked so dismissive of everything she was saying and genuinely gushing about.

    May 10, 2016
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  13. Katsuro Ricksand
    Katsuro Ricksand

    On the subject of those beefcake models–are there any romance novels that feature less traditionally good-looking guys? I just don’t mean guys that are less extreme in their beefcakeness but still in good shape. I’m talking skinny guys, chubby guys, extremely chubby guys… That kind of thing. Do they ever appear as love interests in romance novels?

    Now, I know Amazon offers self-published books that cater to every romantic taste and sexual preference that have ever existed (and some that haven’t, just in case). What I’m talking about is physical books that you can go into an actual bookstore and buy.

    May 10, 2016
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    • Its ridiculously hard to find romance novels that don’t feature Caucasians (I’m not referring to the specifically marketed romances like Harlequin’s Kimani line), never mind any other body type. There’s been a few I’ve seen where the hero is clearly meant to be Hispanic or Asian (the few males on Jeannie Lin’s covers were obviously Asian and there were several other Harlequin digital books where they had POC involved), but by in large if a book has a non-Caucasian hero and/or heroine, the cover doesn’t reflect that.

      Body types would be even harder – really anything not “perfectly healthy” is frowned on. For a while it looked like eye patches would be a thing (in historicals at least), but that stopped pretty quick, tattoos have only recently taken off thanks to the rise in popularity of the Biker Romances. And scars…well only if they’re SEXY scars. Glasses are few and far between (which makes me sad). Never mind any missing limbs or such. The “Nerd” romances had covers wherein the guy was usually pretty scrawny looking, but they were illustrated so that doesn’t really count.

      So I guess where I’m going with this…nope. Less traditionally attractive guys do not feature. If you are anything less then the conventional your cover either a) does not include you, b) has no people on it or c) misrepresents you.

      May 10, 2016
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    • Vivacia K Ahwen
      Vivacia K Ahwen

      Thank you, Katsuro! If there weren’t so many women besides me who have an appreciation for the “Dad Bod” I’d think my preference was some kind of fetish. Especially as someone who in her adolescent years –total Bowie girl– was all about the famished man look. Yep. I like a dad bod and maybe even some dude rockin’ the bald spot. Balding’s a sign of high testosterone, right? Having dated beefcake guys– just to find out what the big deal was– I know SOME of them spend far more time looking in the mirror than ANY of us women do. (Yes, that is totally a generalization, and I don’t want someone to nail me on it so I’m quickly covering my bases. That said, my experiences seem to be pretty consistent with several of my female friends.) And narcissism is not sexy. To me.

      May 11, 2016
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  14. Sheila
    Sheila

    I’m not going to deny the importance of a well designed cover. It can be a huge draw when picking out a book to read. But I also tend to find a lot of the traditional romance covers to be a bit cheesy, and it was irritating when the cover doesn’t match the description in the book. Also, as someone who now almost completely reads e-books on a device, I don’t particularly care how a cover will look on my bookshelves. One of the reasons I was so happy when I first got an e-reader was so that no one would see the covers of my books (mostly romance) when I was reading in public. I wouldn’t at all mind the models disappearing from the covers, especially if it were to solve problems in the industry.

    May 10, 2016
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  15. Linda
    Linda

    I am appalled by this behavior! I’ve been attending RT Conventions for years and every cover model that I have interacted with has been charming and a perfect gentleman! I hate to see the regular cover models who have been attending the RT Conventions for years get tarred with the same brush as a couple of idiots who let their looks go to their heads and are apparently misogynistic assholes in the first place.
    As a big girl, I’ll admit I enjoy having a handsome man be charming and flirty with me. With the regular cover models who attend RT, it’s all in fun and never crosses the border into anything distasteful! I also believe that the RT gentlemen would be the first ones to protect a woman from the type of behavior that’s being discussed. Let’s not brand all cover models as creepy predators! I love my RT guys and I want THEM at the conventions!

    May 10, 2016
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  16. mary
    mary

    I have known many professional models and they take their work seriously.
    Most really don’t make much money from it. They have day jobs but work
    hard to keep in shape for modeling because the want to be the best they can be.
    They respect the authors, photographers and publishers. The ones I know are upset that there has been an influx of unprofessional men calling themselves models .
    Yes those amateurs work cheaper than a real model can, but you get what you pay for.
    The cover is what a potential reader will see first. It has to draw the reader to the book. If you don’t like a model on the cover you will still not be drawn to a badly made cover . Reward the men and women that are professionals and pass up the bullies and fakes

    May 10, 2016
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  17. Neve
    Neve

    Not a big fan of models (male or female, beefcakes or others) on book covers. I just never pay attention to covers unless they picture a spaceship or a castle so I had to look this two guys up. Not impressed and now knowing all the rest I’m actually repulsed.

    Though looking up Paul Blake I also found out it was the name of the actor who played Greedo, so from now on if I ever come across him on a cover I’ll picture Greedo’s face on top of his body. Makes him far more interesting than he deserves.

    May 10, 2016
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    • Mel
      Mel

      Haha… Greedo’s actually cuter than the model Paul Blake so… maybe Greedo should be on the cover instead?! I can just picture the title: Who shot first?

      May 14, 2016
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  18. I have worked with and met more than a few models in the older days and you cannot put all models in the same category as the few that are shaming themselves and bringing a bad name to male models in general. Yes are are some total jerks out there, and one that everyone raves about quite frankly I did not care for at all when I met him. He was a total ass considering the company he was in and I have pictures to back it up. But what I’m saying is, some of the older models are very nice men, hard working and took their modeling seriously. They took pride in their actions and their bodies and I never heard any bad remarks about women big or thin come out of their mouths. It’s a shame though that a few has to ruin what could be good for the upcoming generation of romance readers, as well as the authors. They do not deserve to be harassed ashamed of someone unsavory and no cooth on their covers. I’m very sorry this has happened. I was not aware of this and I’ve been around in the bus now for a lot of years. I’m sorry for the authors that have had to endure this kind of treatment and I’m sorry for the descent models out there that could get a bad rap based on a few idiots.

    May 10, 2016
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  19. Linda T.
    Linda T.

    This industry needs more real men like Julian Christian and CJ. Not boys who just work out and personal train. Sorry, I like intelligent, compassionate men with more going on in their lives than their biceps and egos.

    May 11, 2016
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  20. Carolina West
    Carolina West

    I’m the kind of person that usually just ends up rolling their eyes when they see a shelf full of romance novels, especially when there’s models on the covers. Until I read this post, and that study Megan M. mentioned, my biggest problem was the books all look pretty much the same, that and I just seem to have an aversion to the genre in the first place, not really sure what causes that (and yet romance is the first thing I look for in fanfiction, which is weird). Anyway, I always figured there was a problem like this in the industry (there’s always one somewhere, right?), but I had no idea it reached to such an extent. I’ll never understand why people are so quick to defend someone because they’re attractive and/or wealthy, while people who aren’t are quick to be blamed for the same actions, whether it’s true or not. I think it speaks to just how shallow our society is, that these assholes are being excused for all kinds of abuse because they’re nice to look at. And considering what’s being accepted as romance now (sorry I keep ranting about this, but it pisses me off), I get the feeling it’s only going to get worse, since more and more people are getting the idea that that’s what romance is supposed to be.
    Jenny also brought up a really good point, as she normally does, that a billion dollar industry, or any, really, doesn’t seem willing to run background checks on these people before they hire them. I mean, they can’t be that expensive, can they? And it would save so much trouble down the road, but anything to save a buck, I guess. It’s disgusting, but I think this problem isn’t really going to go away until enough people start complaining about it, and even then it might take a serious cut in profits before the big fish do anything to fix the issue. That usually seems to be what it takes to get their attention about anything, big or small.

    May 11, 2016
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  21. Ellie
    Ellie

    Thank you for writing about this. I’m not so much into Romance as a genre, but I’m very interested in the larger picture of the industry. Every time you discuss a problem like this I see the parallels with other industries I’m more interested in like video games and graphic novels/art and their related convention scenes, and it seems to me the overarching story is the same: these industries are full of unchecked systemic problems and finally people are putting their foot down and calling out the assholes, the harassers, and the ugliness.

    May 11, 2016
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  22. VegasjellyFish
    VegasjellyFish

    I agree completely with you. I wish I knew who he was at RT because I went. I know some of the models were walking around and being friendly, but I also know a few of them were laughing at people and whispering to one another. I am sorry that there aren’t more Fabios in the world and less Blakes and Jacksons. I believe neither one of them should be getting contracts anymore and if the Jackson Young that I looked up is the same one I think it is I won’t be buying any of his music either.

    May 12, 2016
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  23. Anon123
    Anon123

    “How did the genre move from readers worshipping at the feet of Fabio, a man who worshipped and valued each and every one of them right back, to muscle-bound meatheads who proudly degrade women and tell them to kill themselves?”

    I think the romance genre was kind of fortunate with Fabio? He’s just one man, though. Now we have ebooks and the genre is more egalitarian and open to amateurs who might only ever create a couple works–writers, editors, publishers, cover artists, models, etc. So there are many, many more people out there making content publicly, which means more chances for someone to be a horrible person. I think this is just part of the price we pay for the new world we live in, where romance seems largely to be thriving better than ever.

    Yes, let’s have backlash against the jerks, and let’s not bring people who are known offenders to interact face-to-face with fans. But even you, Jenny, have been known to defend enjoying media while questioning the morals of its creators. I don’t want to see a world where everyone has to be not only talented, but also squeaky-clean in terms of morals–even if those morals *are* my feminist ones and not some cornfed-Bible-thumping jerkwad’s.

    Trash these two dudes, yes. Scrutinize every model with a laser gaze before hiring, lest you make a horrible error? Impractical and expensive, especially for new authors. My 2 cents. 🙂

    May 12, 2016
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