Interview - With Hope Tarr by Linnae Crady
Author Hope Tarr gives Cover Cafe
her take on romance book covers!
1. What was the first book you remember reading? Can you describe the cover of the book and did you like the cover?
I was fortunate to have parents who read to me every day, to the point where I’d memorized the text of all the fairytales and could chime in if they stumbled or tried to skip over parts. That makes it hard to remember the very first book I read all on my own. It was such a seamless transition.
The first book I best remember reading—but more so than reading, getting absolutely lost in—was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The cover wasn’t all that—some sort of greenish yellow background and a little girl who looked pretty pinched-face (which was accurate to the character). I can’t take credit for being high-minded and impervious to cover art, though. The book was assigned summer reading to prepare for sixth grade at a new school. I likely wouldn’t have read it otherwise—but of course I’m so very glad I did.
2. Have you ever purchased a book because of the cover alone? If yes, which one and why?
I hesitate to admit this but yes, indeed I have. Many times. ((Pausing to hang head in shame)). As an author, I really should know better. I do know better. We have little to no control over cover art. In point, one of my favorite “Hope Tarr” books, a take-off on the film “Romancing the Stone,” got quite possibly one of the worst romance covers I’ve ever seen. It also got one of the worst titles—Strokes of Midnight.
3. When did you first know you were destined to be a writer?
The fourth grade. Mrs. Cohill’s “Language Arts” Class. I wrote an historical-set story for a class assignment that used the word “lad” in it. She exclaimed over the story, told me I had a gift, and warned me she expected great things from me in not only the present but the future. This much needed accolade came not long after the school principal matter-of-factly announced to my mother that I wasn’t “college material.” (I have a Ph.D., by the way). Even as an elementary school kid, it feels really good to have someone believe in you.
4. Who gave you your first break in publishing?
I suppose that would be my first agent, Jenny Bent. We met in 1999 at a writers’ retreat held by the Washington Romance Writers. She’d been agenting for two years, then with Graybill & English, but had never sold a romance. I’d been writing since 1993 and sending out submissions on my own without much success. She was there to branch out and build a romance client list. I was there hoping to meet an agent willing to take a chance on an unpublished newbie. It was your typical pitch session. I had ten chapters of a sexy, hero-driven Regency-set historical, which afterward she invited me to send. (Back then, sexy wasn’t so in and the rule-of-thumb was that romance novels should primarily reflect the heroine’s point of view). She read the material in fewer than five days (which has got to be a record or close to it) and called with an offer to represent me. A Rogue’s Pleasure, my first romance sale and hers, was bought by Berkley to launch its new sexy, hero-driven “Seduction” romance line.
5. What was your first published book and what did the cover look like? Did you love it or hate it and why?
Per my answer above, it was A Rogue’s Pleasure, which released in 2000. I adored the cover, which showed only the hero set against a boudoir background. It was very forward thinking for its time, “classier” than a clinch and yet more evocative than the “object” covers—a single flower, jewel-hilted dagger, tooled leather bound book—that were also popular.
By the by, A Rogue’s Pleasure was recently reissued by Carina Press. And it’s gotten a facelift not only editorially but cover-wise. The new cover is even prettier than the original. That’s kind of a nice thing, an unexpected (but much appreciated) gift.
6. Do you believe a cover can increase or decrease the sales of a book? Have any covers affected the sales of your books?
Covers certainly count. What I can’t speak to, at least not intelligently, is the degree to which they count. There are so very many factors that influence sales—what other similar books are released simultaneously, the degree of in-house buzz (which may well effect the resources put into your book’s packaging), how well your previous book sold, and plain old "timing”.
7. What trends do you see in book covers currently and in the future?
Thankfully, the cartoon cover trend is finally over or at least out-of-fashion for the moment. They were fine for chic lit and humorous contemporaries, but I never understood them for historical romances. The “object” covers I mentioned earlier—the lone dagger, book, flower—seem to be on the wane as well. Some of them were attractive enough, but they don’t make much of a statement.
Disembodied male torsos have been big for a while. In point, My Lord Jack’s Carina release has such a cover and I think it’s done quite well. Not all are.
A current trend in historical romance which I love is the “dress” covers where you seen part or all of a lone heroine draped in some lovely, opulent gown. To me it’s like looking at a Vermeer painting—you can almost feel the fabric texture on your fingertips.
The clinch will always be present in some form, I think, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Now that everyone has, or is getting an e-reader, women who once felt they had to hide their romances in cover-ups are free to read openly on the subway, bus etc.
Erotica and erotic romance have such a strong e-book tradition and with the dramatic marketplace shift from print to primarily digital-first publishing, I think you may see even bolder cover art for these books especially.
Beyond that, my crystal ball gets fuzzy.
8. What has been your least favorite cover from all of your releases and why?
The cover for Strokes of Midnight is truly awful. The hero has a serious case of “man boob”—and asymmetrical man boob at that.
The original Berkley cover for My Lord Jack was nothing to brag about either—basically the hero and heroine were disembodied heads and torsos floating on a bluish white sea that (I think) was meant to be snow. Happily, however, My Lord Jack has also gotten a second life—and new cover. Along with A Rogue’s Pleasure, this book is available from Carina Press as a digital release.
9. What has been your favorite book cover from all of your releases and why?
The cover for Tempting (Berkley 2002). Again a single model, this time the heroine. It’s a profile perspective from the back, very elegant and also very evocative—she’s corseted and there’s a thin sliver of thigh revealed from the drape that’s fallen ever so slightly away.
10. Do you have a current or upcoming release to share with Cover Cafe? Please give us the details and a peek at the cover, too!
My current work-in-progress is super secret. Be sure to look for future updates at Hope Tarr.
FYI: The Tutor, Hope Tarr's 2010 Harlequin Blaze, was a finalist in the Series category in Cover Cafe's 2010 Romance Cover Contest and finished in second place, just a few votes behind first place. Congratulations Hope!
Thanks so much for having me at Cover Cafe to talk covers. Although we shouldn’t judge books by their covers, it’s irresistible good fun to chat about them.
Hope Tarr is the award-winning author of fifteen historical and contemporary romance novels. She is also a co-founder of Lady Jane’s Salon, New York City’s first—and only—monthly romance reading series.
Thank You Hope!
Linnae Crady ()(September 4, 2011)
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Author image, and covers are displayed with permission from author.