Why so many book cover male models are headless….

If you’ve looked at book covers lately, you may have noticed that often the men’s faces aren’t visible. They’re shown looking down, turning their backs, having only a partial face showing or having lost their heads completely.

Why is that?

Six pack abs and man chests sell books, but that’s not why the guys don’t have faces. I wouldn’t presume to speak for the other authors whose book covers you see here, only myself. But…

It boils down to this: it’s hard (and getting harder all the time) to find cover models with the appropriate expression. To hire a model and a photographer and shoot your own cover is hugely expensive. So, to keep covers affordable, my cover designers uses stock photography. To be a romance cover model, a guy needs a smoldering, come-hither expression. Most of the handsome, buff models on stock photography sites are too happy, too smiley. Or they have that obvious “model” look. Or they’re goofy.

And when you find the perfect guy with the perfect expression–he’s already on a gazillion other book covers.

So, while I would prefer to show the guy’s face, for practical reasons, I often go with a partial face or I cut off the guy’s head, and hope his ripped abs and the background will do the trick.

While we’re on the subject of abs and man chests…there are practical considerations, there, too. Yes, sex sells. But when you’re writing futuristic fiction about aliens and cyborgs, a white T-shirt or a tuxedo doesn’t fit the time or place. Attire eliminates many models from consideration.

For the record, I do have many books with full-face covers, because I do prefer to see a face. This past fall, I updated my Cy-Ops Cyborg Romance series book covers, switching from a couple (full-face female and partial face man) to a full-face man. It was a challenge to find the models I hadn’t already used!

See any book covers you like? Check out the books on Amazon:
Alien Mischief | Warlord Sky | Drago| Auric | Edge of Eon
Hunted by the Cyborg | Darak | Breeder
(UnderFyre will go on preorder later this month)

What do you think about headless man chest covers? Do you love ’em or hate ’em? You can tell me. It won’t hurt my feelings (much).

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24 Responses to Why so many book cover male models are headless….

  1. Lee says:

    I like the headless covers, especially when I read a series and it has a man I’ve
    Already read about. If I find the man unattractive or he doesn’t match
    The idea in my head, I get disappointed

    • Cara Bristol says:

      That happens. I think reader do develop an image of the characters in their heads. Reading enables the reader to use her/his own imagination.

  2. Tasha says:

    I love this explanation! It’s so true that headless men are more anonymous, so we can envision the heroes the way we want!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      It is anonymous, and their are benefits to that, but I’ve heard from readers (who’ve emailed me and I’ve read it in blog posts) that they want to see faces. They want the face-to-face connection with the guy on the cover. But, sometimes, it’s just not going to work.

  3. Cynthia Sax says:

    This is a fun topic. (grins)

    As a reader, I prefer headless heroes on covers because I like to imagine someone else in the place of the hero (Often the hero is the Dear Wonderful Hubby. I, of course, am the heroine. – grins – And we go on adventures together).
    I want the hero to be MY fantasy.

    My heroes are often scarred also and it takes a lot of work to add scars that look natural yet not off-putting or distracting. (My cover artists uses shadow quite a bit to conceal scars).

    • Cara Bristol says:

      It’s especially challenging in SFR. For contemporary romances, there are a lot of choices for cover art.

      For unusual characteristics (horns, scars, whatever), the reader needs to “meet” the hero in the pages of the book before she sees him.

  4. JenM says:

    Romance book bloggers love to make fun of headless covers, so thanks for the explanation. That’s the first one I’ve heard that actually makes sense. To me, headless covers are pretty neutral. They don’t tend to attract me but they don’t repel me either.

  5. Gill Kerry says:

    Yes, I prefer headless too! I can put my own idea of a face, like Cynthia.
    Another issue is they may turn out to be moronic, like the recent debacle, and adversely affect sales!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I remember one book cover. I think the guy was supposed to be sexy. But he looked like a serial killer to me. I just couldn’t bring myself to buy the book.

  6. I enjoy the challenge of finding sexy guys WITH the right face to be my scifi romance Badari Warriors. I think I’ve had pretty good luck so far 🙂 I usually get the cover from Fiona Jayde about halfway through writing the book and it helps me to visualize the character. (We collaborate on finding the right guy and the right pose in the stock photos so I definitely have the last word on each cover. ) That being said, I certainly don’t disagree with any of the points made by Cara in her fun post, or the other commenters!

  7. Victoria Spears says:

    Headless covers, rarely do the full face match the hero.

  8. Christina says:

    Now that’s interesting. I have to admit, I don’t care either way. Actually I avoid looking at the cover so I can use my imagination how the hero looks lol.

  9. Kaye Manro says:

    Great article, Cara! And a question I have ponder recently. The Alien hero is different too, So there is another book cover challenge SFR authors must deal with when finding the right model for the cover. Wow! Thanks for clarifying it.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      So true. Where are you going find a cover model with horns? Or other unique facial features? Sometimes graphics artists can do wonders with Photoshop, but you don’t want your hero looking like an alien from a 1950s Sci-fi movie.

  10. Viv says:

    You are totally right about the goofy expressions! Is it okay I giggled a bit at that?

  11. Janet says:

    Many good points already made! I would much rather not see a face than to have something that doesn’t vaguely fit the character described in the book. I recently read a book with an alien Hero who is described as having no hair at all, yet the cover showed a tough-looking guy with a full head of dark hair! Hard to ‘relate’ to that!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      That’s a good point. Remember when Fabio was on a gazillion bodice rippers? He usually looked nothing like the hero.

  12. Ed Hoornaert says:

    Piffle tuff. The REAL reason the guys are headless is that they’ve lost their heads over the heroine.

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