Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Under the Covers

Sometimes, you can tell a book by its cover.
Sometimes, you can't, especially when the book covers look exactly alike.

The gay romance, or M/M fiction, as it's called, has exploded in prolific abundance, thanks to ebooks. That's great for independent authors.

What's not so great is that since many of them are free via Amazon Prime's back-end deal (You make your book free for awhile, and Amazon pays you later, or something like that), they bump other more serious works off the charts, so if you look up "Gay Fiction" under Kindle editions, you see page after page of images of headless shirtless male bodies promoting what is basically erotica.
Often, you see the same bodies, or, as prolific and hilarious book blog Stumbling Over Chaos' Misadventures in Stock Photography shows, dozens of books with the same stock images. Could there be no clearer proof that much of this work is equally similar and unremarkable?

I have nothing against erotica. But it's not literature. I've written both. With Every Time I Think of You, yes, the book starts off with a sex scene. And then, yes, there's another sex scene. But if you actually read the book, hopefully you'll see the difference.

Each love/sex scene furthers the plot. It furthers the characters' discovery, understanding, and differences and conflicts with each other. What happens under the covers shapes their relationship.

Perhaps plot happens in some of the thousands of M/M erotica "romance" books online. I don't know. I don't read those kind of books very often. Because when sex is all there is to a book, it's erotica. When there are no symbols, metaphors, phrasing, or none of the things that differentiate good writing from typing, it's not a turn on, literarily or otherwise.

So when I decided to use a simultaneously metaphoric and literal book cover, I hoped my book would stand out (You have to read the book to learn about the pine branch). Perhaps it's too obtuse, and I should have chosen a stock image of a few twinks smooching. I didn't (I did in the trailer, though, but hey. That's advertising!).

Another image I didn't use was that of a wheelchair. Many books about disabled people -memoir, fiction, and understandably, non-fiction- make it quite clear on the cover that the book is about a wheelchair user.

I suppose that's fine for some who identify as such, but isn't the point of telling a story about a disabled person to show that the chair is not the person, that the chair does not define them?

Some feature a chair prominently, like this possibly odd straight porno short story. Hmm. Check out the excerpt. Crip fetish much?

The corny Harlequin Romance covers are adorably awful. He's hot, he loves kids, he uses a chair; i.e, the perfect man for a straight woman's fantasy! Actually, he is pretty cute.

Some are serious, not gay, and autobiographical, and deal directly with disability, like Ruth Madison's (W)hole.

Rolle reviews a short story, "Permanently Legless," whose disability theme could not be more obvious by the title. But to make it even more obvious, the cover designer used not only the cliché headless torsos, but slapped a wheelchair graphic on the cover like a parking sign.

In checking out the excerpt on Amber Allure, it's pretty clear this is a story that's mostly about sex.

And yet, there's an Iraq War veteran angle, plus the British first-person narrative which might make it more interesting. Read it if you like.

My point is, a book cover that turns a possibly good story into what looks more like a box of underwear doesn't appeal to me. Apparently, it appeals to others. Good for them.

But at least none of these, or mine, have yet to make it among the Worst Gay Book Covers ever.

Other books that Rolle has reviewed under the category of disability seem varied, interesting and offer variant ways of visualizing disability.

And isn't that the point?

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