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The Wenches

  • Mary Jo Putney

  • Patricia Rice

  • Susan Fraser King

  • Anne Gracie

  • Nicola Cornick

  • Andrea Penrose

  • Christina Courtenay

In Memoriam

  • Jo Beverley
    Word Wench 2006-2016

  • Edith Layton
    Word Wench 2006-2009

Word Wenches Staff

Wench Staff Emeritae

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  • Want to read ALL the posts by a specific Wench? Just scroll down to the bottom of her post and click on her name!

June 2023

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Wenches Statistics

  • Years published: 164

    Novels published: 231

    Novellas published: 74

    Range of story dates: nine centuries (1026-present)

    Awards Won:

    • RWA RITA

    • RWA Honor Roll

    • RWA Top 10 Favorite

    • RT Lifetime Achievement

    • RT Living Legend

    • RT Reviewers Choice

    • Publishers Weekly Starred Reviews

    • Golden Leaf

    • Barclay Gold

    • ABA Notable Book

    • Historical Novels Review Editors Choice

    • AAR Best Romance

    • Smart Bitches Top 10

    Kirkus Reviews Top 21

    Library Journal Top 5

    Publishers Weekly Top 5

    Booklist Top 10

    • Booktopia Top 10

    • Golden Apple Award for Lifetime Achievement

    Bestseller Lists:

    NY Times

    • Wall Street Journal

    • USA Today

    • Waldenbooks Mass Market

    • Barnes & Noble

    • Amazon.com

    Chicago Tribune

    • Rocky Mountain News

    • Publishers Weekly


« Wise men & women | Main | Beginning the year »


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Nina P

Hi Mary Jo --

Great post. I love knowing the background on books and their covers. And now I know how to use the Border's gift certificate I got for my birthday. DANGEROUS TO KNOW… look out, here I come! (and yea, I'd buy that book on the cover alone. Very yummy.)

Where an unknown author is concerned, I will (or won't) pick up a book based upon its cover. Shallow to be sure. Last month, I picked up Jennifer Crusie’s ANYONE BUT YOU because it had a sad-eyed, ear drooping basset/beagle peeking around the spine. How could I not? He was soooo cute! But, I must confess, I shelled out the money because the heroine's name was Nina. What can I say... the book 'called' to me.

Such shallowness has proven quite useful in my life. Bought my first romance novel a year ago this month because I liked 'the castle in the sky' cover. That purchase launched a whole series of very fortunate life events which eventually landed me here. And, Word Wenches is a wonderful place to belong.

So, yea, I proudly purchase, or not, books based upon their cover. It works for me!



I think I buy books DESPITE their covers! I would much prefer the semi-naked clinch to be in the step-back, but know that most books don't have them. I'm loving the look of "fine art" that's been popping up lately. An actual historical portrait or detail of a painting certainly beats the renderings of a blind or illiterate artist. Most books make me yearn for a plain brown wrapper.


A tastefully designed cover (e.g. no bared male chests, no heaving bosoms) will catch my eye and cause me to pick up the book in the book store. But what I read in the back regarding the plot is what will cause me to take the book up to the register!


From MJP:

Nina, clearly your picking a book by a cover instincts are excellent. Crusie's ANYONE BUT YOU, with Fred the bagle hound, is a good choice by any standard.

Maggie, I'm with you about the fine art look--there have been some splendid historical romance covers in recent years. (Candice Hern's covers immediately come to mind, but there are a good lot of others.)

Beth, the plot is usually the final determinant for me, too. There are some story line that just don't work for me. But if I'm wavering, a really good cover might be enough to make the difference. :)

Mary Jo


I'm with Maggie & Beth. I have bought for cover before, but it's almost always back cover. I will pick up for cover - usually a fan or jewels cover on plain background - but not buy for it. If it's a new author or a publisher I don't buy routinely (like I did signet/topaz) then I flip to a random page and scan it.

And I'm all for the brown wrapper, yet I know too many readers who drool over the clinch covers to really say there's no market for that.


ps - thank's for the 3 armed link. Loved Dodd's run down of it.

susanna in alabama

I do sometimes pick it up for the cover - or not. I remember a Lyndsey Sands title that I bought despite the cover because I liked her work. But I flinch every time I see the front. And I think the hero would too. If I've not heard of the author, the cover can make difference. I like anthologies in part because I can discover new authors without having such a strong cover influence.

I love "Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know"! I've got that anthology and it's on my "keeper/reread" shelf. I've reread it several times. I recognized that first line immediately. It's a lovely story. But then, regardless of the cover I'll always buy a Putney story.

Susan Wilbanks

Once I'm hooked on an author's work, I'll buy it regardless of the cover. But a striking, attractive cover will make me pick up a book and read the blurb on the back and, if that appeals too, the first few pages.

I can't really say I've ever regretted buying a book because of its cover. Once recently I was enticed by an attractive cover to read the blurb, which hooked me so well that I bought the book without reading the opening pages, only to discover that I didn't like the author's voice and she'd made a basic historical error in the opening chapter. But that wasn't the cover's fault--it was the *premise* that had me so intrigued I didn't bother to check its execution before I plopped down my $5.99!

And I discovered one of my favorite fantasy series, Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel novels, because the cover of the second book drew my eye one afternoon when I'd taken refuge in a Barnes & Noble from one of our rare Seattle heat waves. (I swear malls, movie theaters, etc. pray for it to hit 90 in the summer here because so few of us have AC in our homes.)


Maggie has expressed my views perfectly, so I don't need to repeat them!


Having a background in art and design, too, I have tended to be hypercritical of covers, and especially of romance covers, many of which seemed to me to violate all the design principles I'd been taught. But aware that the author has little to no control over the cover, I do buy in spite of the cover very often. But I do buy because of the name, or perhaps because I've come to trust a certain publisher's line. So while a bad cover won't stop me from reading a favorite author, it's problematic with unfamiliar names. If the cover doesn't lure me, how likely am I to pick it up and check out the blurb on the back? And as to those back blurbs--for years I hadn't control over those, either, and they seemed to bear only the most distant relationship to my story.

Patricia Rice

Personally, there are times when I think the blurb on the back of my book is better than what's between the covers. It's really bad when you have one of those "man, I have to read this" moments and realize it's your own book. But it's been a while since I've seen one of those exceptional back covers.

I've bought books by author and book reviews and from recommendations for years now, so I very seldom do more than scan shelves to find an author's name. It's been years since I've bought a book for, or in spite of, a cover, and I can remember exactly which books they were. I bought Mickey Madden's EVERLASTIN' because of the superb 3D cover. I would have bought it just to own the cover, but I also liked the story. the other book caught my eye because of the title first--Terry Pratchett's WYRD SISTERS. I figured any guy who came up with that title has to be half a bubble off, and the cover itself won me over. The rest, as they say, was all clover. Why didn't Pratchett have a new book out this year? Anyone know?


I have never bought a book just because I liked the cover but I have looked at books because the cover caught my eye. I love being in a bookstore and seeing all the books that I might buy. I do look for my favorite authors but occasionally a cover catches my eye and I look at the blurb on the back. If I like it I might buy it. Sometimes I have found a new author that I like and sometimes not.


Count me with Maggie and others who buy in spite of the covers. My list of auto-buys is quite long, and I buy those authors regardless of format or cover. But I hate the clinch covers that reinforce all the negative stereotypes of romance fiction. I have recently invested in a large supply of elasticized bookcovers so that I can leave a romance on my office desk without having to deal with comments I have long been weary of fielding.


I love looking at covers, but I practically never actually buy a book based only on the cover. Because I certainly have learned plenty of times throughout the years a great cover doesn't always mean a great story or a lousy cover doesn't always mean a lousy story. But the time I might do it is for example, I notice a cover of a book that isn't on my to buy list but it's an obvious regency cover. Something like that will get me to pick it up to see what it is about. :)



I also have the original "Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know" anthology! Love that story! I discovered it when I first started reading romance and I still reread it. I'm a sucker for deathbed romances and this one is, of course, very well written. :)


I love, love, love "the Diabolical Baron". Great book. Don't miss it, those of you who haven't already read it. "The Rake" follows it, and they are great to read together. I will, of course, rush out to pick up a copy of "Dangerous to know".


I may notice a book based on its cover but I don't judge it on that alone. I have read tons of books that sadly did not have great covers! So it takes me a while to go through all the new books in the bookstore :)


The only book I have ever bought because of the cover is SUDDENLY YOU by Lisa Kleypas and it was more for the color than the image. I'm a sucker for that coral red

Re: Candice Hern's fine art covers for her Merry Widows series. They have been much admired by everyone but the fact remains her best selling historical is still THE BRIDE SALE with the cheesy Avon clinch cover.

[small voice]I always liked the Topaz Man and I like the original MAD BAD DANGEROUS cover. The new one aint bad though ;-)


From MJP:

Merry, I'm glad you're willing to buy DANGEROUS TO KNOW even though you've read the main story! I hope you enjoy the novella enough to justify the purchase. :)

It sounds as if "Mad, Bad, etc." has some fans here, which is nice to know. I have a particular fondness for that story.

I'm not surprised to learn that while most of us are attracted to a good cover, that's not usually the deciding factor. It does underline the importance of strong covers, especially for new writers with unfamiliar names.

As to Candice Hern's bestseller being The Bride Sale with the cheesy cover--well, the book itself is a factor, and that's a terrific book. It was one of Library Journal's Top Five Romances that year, IIRC. Word of mouth is still the best sales tool!

Mary Jo


I rarely buy a book based on its cover. I usually rely on word of mouth, recommendations from the RRL listserv and a few websites, and reviews in Library Journal. It's worked fairly well the last few years. :)

The last exception to this was when I bought the "Chicks in Chain Mail" anthology. The title and cover made me giggle, and the story about the Bronze Bra Guild made me laugh out loud. I bought it on the spot and I've never regretted it.

Jane George


Did your editor tell you what the illustrator was getting paid? Rates for illustration haven't changed much since the Seventies.

That said, being an illustrator of romance novels has an even worse rep/rap than being a writer of romance novels. You'd never catch Brad Holland or Chris Payne near one.

I hope to convince an editor I can do my own covers, as I actually am/was an award-winning illustrator with a degree and everything. I couldn't make it pay, so I embarked on this next even more lucrative endeavor.

All I can say about zippers and 3-armed ladies is that those artists must have been working very, very fast or else they hadn't eaten in days...


Book covers do not tend to influence my purchases, but word of mouth and positive buzz on blogs and message boards certainly does. I love blogs like WW, Squawk Radio and Fog City for example, as we tend to get a glimpse of a writer's particular voice and many a time if I like how a particular writer blogs, I'll pick up one of her books (It's via this blog that I decided to buy a Loretta Chase novel as I hadn't previously read her books and now have ordered most of her backlist!)

As for covers, give me anything BUT a half naked man or a clinch. I love castles, landscapes and gorgeous headless figures!


I don't buy a book based on the cover but they do often call out to me when I'm in the bookstore and jummp in my hand. When that happens, I write down the title and read more about it when I get home. If it sounds good, it goes on my list for the next trip to the store. I love the cover for Dangerous to Know!


Eidtors seldom agree with me about what I consider a good or bad cover.
But I confess I want to buy books by their covers and doubtless have passed on some good ones because of that. And I'm phony enough to be sure that books I take on planes have respectable covers.

And Pat: Pratchett did have a new book out this year: Wintersmith. It's a Tiffany Aching book, with the wee free men.
I'm hoping for a new one for grown ups too.

Sherrie Holmes

From Sherrie:

I posted an erudite, thought-provoking comment *g* on this subject yesterday and then accidentally deleted it. Was so disgusted that I didn't attempt to re-do it. However, here I am back today, and because the subject of book covers is one of my hot buttons, I can't let it go.

I have an art background, and am an artist myself, but that doesn't automatically confer the Crown of Good Taste on me. My tastes are extremely eclectic. I've been known to frame a pretty greeting card, or to purchase a musty dusty oil painting from Goodwill, or to pay far too much for a lovely sculpture, or to buy a battered folk art piece at a garage sale because it simply appeals to me. Every wall and surface in my house is covered with artwork.

That said, my tastes in book covers are highly personal and often run against popular opinion. Unlike Liz, who has Very Good Taste, I do not like covers with fans, lace, jewelry and flowers. They tell me nothing of what's inside, and there is an inexplicable part of me that feels vaguely offended that a publisher thinks they can buy me off with a foo-foo cover. (Probably has deeply disturbing psychological roots, but there you have it.) I just feel like I am being devalued--that if the publisher throws something feminine and fluffy at me in the way of book covers, I will fall for it.

As has been mentioned, Candice Hern's covers are gorgeous. I love classical portraits. And the covers where you only see a glimpse of the lower portion of the face are enticing. I love Mary Jo's DTK--that man's lips are sexy as all get out!

Sherrie Holmes

Forgot to mention clinch covers. Not particularly fond of them. I prefer a single male or female on the cover, not both. It seems whenever you put the two together, they forget they're in public and do something naughty.


Like most of the people who have posted, a book cover will catch my attention but not make me buy the book. I always read the back (or inside cover) and usually the first couple of pages, if it is an author that I have not read before. I do have a list of authors that, regardless of the cover, I will buy their new books. I say new books, because I probably already have most of their older ones - and yes, Mary Jo is definitely on that list!


I don't pay any attention to covers. I pick up a book and read the first paragraph. If I like the writing, I read further. This probably works because I don't read all kinds of romances. I mostly read historicals set sometime from 1700 to 1900--in England. I usually only read books with other settings if I am already familiar with the author. I confess, I am terribly limited. De gustibus non est disputandum.

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