The recent kafuffle about "graphic standards" for ads in the Romance Writers of America's magazine, Romance Writers Report, hit me with a double whammy. I loathe censorship, and that's how I read the proposed ban on the advertising and promotion of books from publishers who use sexually explicit covers and market "objectionable" material as any part of their list. I immediately worried about the negative impact of the proposed rules on authors who publish outside the NY mainstream -- and the message of comfort such rules would send to the extreme Right's thought police.
Then the other shoe dropped -- what objectionable and sexually explicit cover graphics?
The covers created for most genre fiction -- science fiction, fantasy and mystery, as well as romance -- celebrate the human form as a matter of course. Artfully posed nudes and less than artful half-nekkids adorn a healthy percentage of all the fiction covers displayed face-front on the shelves of my local Borders. Lest you think any Borders I patronize automatically qualifies as a hotbed of radical liberalism, I hasten to add that this Borders functions as the defacto Pentagon bookstore -- and stocks its shelves accordingly.
This particular Borders also stocks a large selection of titles from Ellora's Cave, in theory, the RWA-recognized publisher most affected by the proposed policy. If the Pentagon City Borders, the lunchtime haunt of some of the most politically conservative people in America, doesn't bat a corporate eyelash at these covers, why should RWA?
And what was RWA batting its collective eyelashes at anyway? Try as I might on a recent visit to the Pentagon City Borders, I couldn't find a darn thing too sexy for my shirt, my eyes or any rational component of my brain.
I went to the Ellora's Cave web site thinking maybe I'd get lucky -- er, discover more provocative covers. Surely that literary den of iniquitous romantica would be good for at least one turgid shaft proudly bobbing its velvet head across a swath of glossy pasteboard.
No such luck. I couldn't even find any mannequin-like Poser figures pebbling each other's tits. Stephanie Burke's ebook, Hidden Passions I, offered the closest approximation of explicit on site. Even so, it seemed awfully tame -- not much more than a slightly fleshier version of the standard historical cover clinch.
And before you start hollering about all the butt shots on the Ellora's Cave Quickies collections, I ask you to turn your attention to exhibit one: the cover of Kelley Armstrong's mainstream fantasy Industrial Magic. Not to mention all those "important literary novels" co-opting Ingres' odalisques, or the cover of any collection of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories published in the last half-century.
To my great delight, however, all my fretting proved unfounded. Member outcry forced RWA to table the proposal pending further study. While the RWA Board works on that, I propose that we have a little fun with this. Contest fun -- a Crescent Blues first.
I challenge the readers of Crescent Blues to find a book cover published by a RWA-recognized publisher or gracing the book of a RWA Published Authors Network (PAN) writer too hot to sit on the shelves of a mainstream bookstore. The prize for shocking the socks off the CB editorial board will be a collection of the steamiest romances sitting around my office, a copy of Industrial Magic and two $5 gift certificates from Maggie Moo's to help you cool off after all your, um, research.
The rules for winning the good stuff shown in the photo are simple:
We will announce the best entries (and depending on the number of qualifying entries, perhaps a few consolation prizes) in our September issue. What will constitute best, steamiest, most explicit, funniest? Who knows? Any attempt to set the boundary between sexy and lewd says more about the person drawing the line than the material that person seeks to define.
But that doesn't seem to stop any of us -- CB included -- from dragging our lines through the sand. Happy reading!
Jean Marie Ward
Graphical standards should be left up to the publishers. If the cover art they produce is believed to be in poor taste, the author should protest. It will certainly be reflected in distribution to certain chains who won't allow it. No sales may tell the truest tale.
The survey attempts to box RWA members into defining romance as either 1) a relationship between a man and a woman or 2) a relationship between two people. That excludes, rather than includes, points of view that are part of a changing readership.
The office of President of RWA exists to further the needs of the romance writer and the industry as a whole, and should not be a platform for personal agendas. I believe RWA President Tara Taylor Quinn may be attempting to impose her conservative views on the rest of the membership. If these actions continue, she should be removed from her post as RWA president for the continued health and well-being of the organization.
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