Cheesy male torsos

Posted by Barbara Monajem | 10:45 AM | 20 comments »

A few months ago, my editor and I had a brief email exchange about book covers. I said I wasn't picky, but that I didn't care for cheesy male torsos. I had just read a book where the entire front cover was taken up by a nude male from neck to just below the waist. I would never have bought that book based on its front cover. (Back cover, sure. The blurb was great, and the book was a good read.)

Since then, I've been paying attention to male torsos, and I've changed my mind somewhat. The covers of a lot of romances sport gorgeous guys in various states of undress. A lot of those covers look really, really great, and I assume those torsos sell lots of books. If so, I'd be crazy to complain.

Anyway, I'm conducting a little survey here.

How do you feel about naked or semi-naked male torsos on the covers of romances?

Would you pick up a book because of an attractive torso? (Picking it up is all that matters. The torso, in theory, leads you to look at the back cover blurb or the first few pages or both, after which you buy the book, or not.)

Would you NOT pick up a book because of a male torso?

Would the amount of cover space taken up by the guy and his torso affect whether you picked it up? In other words, would you prefer a smaller picture of a guy against a background that tells you more about the story, or is the hunkiness of the dude what matters most?

Would you prefer the semi-nude dude on his own or in a clinch with an abandoned-to-passion girl?

Or what?

Curious minds want to know, or at least mine does.


  1. Nancy // April 26, 2009 at 1:01 PM  

    Hi, Barbara--I prefer faces, but I'm okay with the torso thing. I do find its sudden popularity a little puzzling. I'm more likely to pick a book up and check the blurb because of the title than the cover art, but maybe that's just me. So the guy torso doesn't influence my choice either way.

    As far as cover art goes, I'm more likely to be influenced by a full-figure illustration of a character doing something (clinch is okay but not especially appealing to me) than by a partial figure or a face.

  2. Barbara Monajem // April 26, 2009 at 1:11 PM  

    Nancy, I'm of a different mind re faces -- I don't dislike them, but far too often the faces of male models don't appeal to me at all, whereas the torso is okay because it's anonymous. Strangely enough, I'm usually fine with the looks of the women they choose for covers.

  3. Scarlet Pumpernickel // April 26, 2009 at 1:19 PM  

    Barbara, good topic for discussion. I for one don't care for this. It limits where I can read the book. Don't want to take a book with a nude male on the cover to school to read at lunch! I run into this problem with a lot of the romance covers. Have to put them in a plain paper cover. To me the blurg is important, but I have learned not to trust those and always read a few pages in the book before making a purchase. So, yes I am less like to buy a book with a male torso dominating the cover.


  4. Sheila Connolly // April 26, 2009 at 1:44 PM  

    Would you believe I actually have a book on the shelf (but not dead yet) in which my heroine, who loathes romance novels, sneers at one she is forced to read because the cover characters have no heads--which she feels represents the whole genre.

    On the plus side, if you are looking for a romance, you can see it from across the room (personally I run the other direction, looking for covers with...cats and teapots).

  5. Anonymous // April 26, 2009 at 1:49 PM  

    great topic, Barbara.

    I want a cover that I'm not embarrassed to read anywhere. Nude male torsos can pose a problem for me. Not get me wrong...I LOVE the look of a hunky male torso, but I'm thinking it's getting overdone. I also think I'm probably in the minority of romance readers.

  6. Barbara Monajem // April 26, 2009 at 2:19 PM  

    Scarlet - I'm totally with you on the blurbs. They're often so misleading! I always read the first few pages, too.

    Sheila - Heh. I never thought about the headless thing that way!

    Cyndi - I guess one of the problems with the male torsos is that the book may be mistaken for erotica. Just for fun, I think I'll go to the romance section and do a comparison - cheesy torsos on erotica vs. regular romance.

  7. Edie // April 26, 2009 at 3:35 PM  

    On Romantic Reads blog, Leah Hultenschmidt has said that covers with partially undressed men sell better than the kind of covers I prefer -- without undressed men or even without clinches. She didn't mention if it sold better heads or headless. lol

  8. Linsey Lanier // April 26, 2009 at 3:48 PM  


    Good topic.

    It's usually the title on the cover that gets my attention, and maybe a graphic that illustrates the main idea of a story.

    I generally don't like headshots of hero or heroine, because I always imagine them differently. But a torso is okay, although you do have to be careful where you read those books. I like the anonymity, as you mentioned.

    Can't wait to see what they pick out for you!


  9. Toni V.S. // April 26, 2009 at 4:04 PM  

    Recently, I did a review of Mexican Heat and one of the comments on that book was that the reader disliked the "anonymous male torso" covers. Ironically, the paperback version showed just that while the ebook had both the faces and bodies. I have two got covers with headless torsos but would personally prefer and features (even in profile)with the body. It supplies the hero with a face to put with the story. Itherwise, it might as well be a slightly disfigures piece of (very hunky but anonymous) sculpture. To quote from a certain sociology book (and I'm sure this will raise a few eyebrows as well as some ire) "Below the neck, all men are the same." (The author's words, not mine.)

  10. Barbara Monajem // April 26, 2009 at 5:43 PM  

    Edie - LOL. Now I'm even more interested in counting heads (or lack thereof). This is going to be a fun visit to the bookstore.

    Linsey - Yes! I always imagine them differently, too. Actually, in my imagination they're usually pretty vague.

    Toni - All the same!? Heaven forbid. But that quote's good for a laugh.

  11. Debbie Kaufman // April 26, 2009 at 5:56 PM  

    I don't mind a little male torso, but it doesn't make me pick up a book. In fact, it usually causes me to pick up the book next to it instead!

  12. Mary Ricksen // April 26, 2009 at 6:46 PM  

    Really interesting topic Barbara!
    I'm with you I like the anonymous male torso thing. If it's a guy from Scotland put a kilt on him!
    Then I get my interest peaked.
    but in the background there can be a scene that represents the story. Like a cabin in the woods? It's a combo thing, I need a bit more than just a torso!

  13. Cyrano // April 26, 2009 at 7:15 PM  

    Excellent topic for discussion.
    I'm torn.
    I enjoy the vision of a perfectly sculpted male torso whether it's on the cover of a book, on the big screen or in person (Like if I'm at the beach that is, I love my husband and think he's very sexy, but he's more the teddy bear torso than the male model torso right now)
    I guess I pick up books at the store that have hot guys on the front, but I've also been known to pick up a book that has a hot girl on the front too. I guess I'm drawn to beauty regardless of the sex.
    But...I agree with the Scarlet Pumpernickle. I tend to hide the covers that have the scantily clad models on the front. It's a little embarrasing. And I know as romance writers we should be proud of every aspect of our trade, but I still tend to fold the cover back regardless.
    But in the long run, even if a gorgeous man wearing next to nothing is plastered on the cover of some book, and I pick it up initially to salivate over him alone, the first couple of pages of chapter one and the back cover blurb are what will ultimately make up my mind if I make that purchase or not, not the torso. (Long sentence huh?)
    Great post Barbara.
    Have a lovely Sunday evening!

  14. Barbara Monajem // April 26, 2009 at 7:29 PM  

    Debbie - The next book over? LOL.

    Mary - Yeah, I like a little more than the torso, too. Agreed on the kilt!

    Cyrano - Ultimately, it's the writing that persuades me to buy, too. Thanks for posting!

  15. Romily Bernard // April 26, 2009 at 7:39 PM  

    Hate them, but then I hate most of the covers put on romance novels. I can be reading Sherry Thomas's frickin' amazing novels and the cover girls still look like they're in cheap nightdresses. Like real cheap. Like the kind that would give you a rash cheap. Sigh. It undermines the power of what's in the book and makes us all look like the sex-starved stereotypes we're made out to be.

  16. Barbara Monajem // April 26, 2009 at 8:21 PM  

    Romily - Interesting comment, especially to me right now, because I've been pondering topics like formulaic novels, reality shows, and stereotypes that are forced on us, and your comment ties right in. Thanks!

  17. Pamela Varnado // April 26, 2009 at 8:50 PM  

    Hi Barbara,
    I must be vain and sex-crazed because a good torso will definitely have me picking up the book to read the back blurb. A handsome face is even better. That's how I found one of my favorite authors--Christine Feehan. I must admit I was so drawn to her hero's handsome face and the word vampire that that I didn't even read the back cover.

  18. Barbara Monajem // April 26, 2009 at 10:03 PM  

    Hi, Pam! Thanks for posting. Maybe we should do that bookstore survey together one day. That would be a lot of fun. I'd also like to see how many vampire novels have fangs on the cover models. Fangs are great in the imagination, but it might be hard to make them look sexy on a real person...

  19. Beth Trissel // April 27, 2009 at 1:24 PM  

    What a lot of interesting comments. I can go either way on this myself, but it wouldn't be my first choice.

  20. Mary Marvella // April 28, 2009 at 6:05 PM  

    Barbara, I can't believe you posted this while I was away! Excellent topic. I look at the half-naked males, of course I do, but I buy the story. The clinches are now boring to me. They weren't always.