What’s up with all the pastel romance book covers, these days?

Grace Schutte

More stories from Grace Schutte

May 10, 2023

What started out as a random book thrift in Vancouver, Canada turned into one of my favorite reads of the year.

A few articles ago, I brought up the formidable Colleen Hoover, a supreme New York Times Best Selling author who writes primarily romance novels with a dash of thriller-mystery. 

This year, authors like Hoover, Emily Henry — author of “Beach Read” and “People We Meet On Vacation” — and Ali Hazelwood, best known for her book “The Love Hypothesis,” have dominated the shelves and people’s Goodreads, too. 

With these new authors (and a new marketing strategy), the face of romance has shifted away from what it once was — covered with shirtless, gleaming men with six-packs — and toward something less incriminating and discrete. Why, though, is the question. 

Romance is one of the most popular and consistently sold genres out there — and one of the most laughed at. With a readership made up of 82% women, I have a hard time dismissing this a mere coincidence.

Now, while I do chuckle a little when I pass by The Embraced series by Kerrylyn Sparks at the bookstore (how could titles like “Eight Simple Rules to Dating a Dragon” not make you smile?), I do not see the point in making fun of the people who choose to read them. 

Just because mass-market paperbacks aren’t my favorite, doesn’t mean everyone has to buy hardcovers. 

I agree the covers of yore are eyebrow-raising, you could say — but why are we moving away from them after so many years? This is speculation on my part, but I think it has something to do with the backlash romance readers receive from the general population, more than anything else. 

Some of us are familiar with the idea of women — teenage girls, especially — not being able to have interests and hobbies without being ridiculed or made fun of for them. 

If a girl likes makeup and fashion, she’s shallow and insecure; if she likes neither, she’s a slob and doing it for male attention; if she’s in with the trends, she’s basic. Boy band fans are obsessive; bookworms are boring — and romance, therefore, is silly. Apparently. 

From this train of thought comes the “I’m not like other girls” phenomenon — a toxic, harmful idea that pits women against each other, buying into the claim that there is something to be embarrassed about when it comes to our interests. 

On paper — or on the screen — it seems obvious, but it’s a tricky cycle to break out of when the entire world is helping turn the wheel. 

But what does this have to do with romance books? 

This most recent evolution of covers has branched away from the dark and sultry ones on your mom’s bookshelf and instead toward something brighter, pastel-y and innocent looking. 

Take Elle Kennedy, for instance. Her most recent Avalon Bay series looks much different from her Off-Campus one. Same author, much different vibes (on the surface, at least). 

With the disarming, blocky fonts of The Brown Sisters series by Talia Hibbert, this could be any ole book — no one bats an eye at these ones. 

I don’t think this new approach to romance covers is giving in to the pressure. If anything, it’s empowering in some ways. 

Now, when I see a cutesy, pastel cover with two characters side-eyeing each other on the front, I know in an instant what’s going on. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a romance book cover is worth 91,000. 

There is community to be found in the romance aisle where genuinely well-crafted, laugh-out-loud funny and beautiful stories can be found. I just started “Get a Life, Chloe Brown” and have giggled my entire way through. Yes, giggled. Like a girl. Proudly, too. 

Schutte can be reached at [email protected].