Blythe Barnhill - Ballot chair

The worst category is my baby, so I can't help showing a little favoritism. To me it's akin to AAR's Purple Prose Parody contest; it pokes fun at those elements of the genre that are excessive or shoddy. This year we had more nominations in the Worst category than ever before, but I don't think that's because covers are getting worse and worse; rather, I think that more readers are aware of the contest and are looking for all kinds of covers to nominate.

Generally covers land in the worst category for one of three reasons. First, they can be badly rendered - our winner is a champion in that department. These are the covers that look like the art department not only phoned them in, but also did it from a cell phone in a moving car. Then there are the covers that suffer from an overblown sexuality that seems dated to the modern reader. The final category (and my personal favorite) is comprised of those covers that make you wonder, "What were they thinking?" These are the ones with elements or concepts so bizarre that one wonders how anyone even thought them up in the first place.

Our winner, The Other Side of Paradise, made the ballot by an overwhelming margin, and won by an equally overwhelming margin (it got almost 40% of the votes in this category; second place received about 15%). It not only got more votes than any cover in this contest, it also generated the most comments. Some voters were nearly struck speechless by the horror, and confined their comments to single words like "Shudder!" or "Yuck!" Others waxed quite eloquent, expressing sympathy for the author and speculating on the heroine's make up artist (Tammy Faye Baker) or the artist's poor attempt to imitate Picasso.

Others noted that perhaps the cover was appropriate for the title, since the other side of paradise is presumably hell. Laura said, "If that's an example of the 'Other Side' I think I'll stay this side of Paradise, thank you very much."

From AAR/Coverballot's Jennifer: "Words cannot begin to describe the horror. This is simply so bad, the more you look at it the more things you find wrong with it. I want to send the author flowers and a card of condolence. There are a lot of awful covers here (Moment of Truth?!?), but The Other Side of Paradise is hands down the worst cover I've seen, not just this year, but for the last several."

Margaret also managed to find at least some words to describe the horror: "You're kidding, right? I mean I did wonder what the artist was thinking when he set that hand wandering on Moment of Truth and what exactly was swallowing the couple on My Lord Jack. But please! None of the other covers comes close to this atrocity. I find it hard to believe someone actually 'created' this but even harder to believe the art department people didn't go screaming out of the room when they saw it for the first time. Truly hideous."

Jill confessed that Worst is her favorite category, and thought this year's ballot was "an embarrassment of riches." She added, "In this one, the yellow cotton candy hair and hot pink shirt are particularly horrible. Diego Rivera is spinning in his grave."


Harlequin Intrigue

Solitary Soldier was a distant second, and for most voters one word said it all: zombie. Many, many voters compared him to a cast member from Night of the Living Dead, and no one seemed too surprised that he was "solitary."

Susan was one of many who subscribed to the zombie theory: "He looks like a zombie coming for your braaainnnnsss."

Karen thought his transformation might be more akin to The Incredible Hulk: "This one appears to be a variation on The Incredible Hulk and makes me wonder what this man will be turning into. One clue - he'll be a bilious yellow something."

Sarah offers some good advice for all of us: "Some video game serial killer has escaped and is trying to kill me. Good reason never to pick up hitchhikers, girls."

Fortunately, Barb has an idea for our ultimate salvation: "He's solitary because he's one of the un-dead, but I feel certain that one of Christine Feehan's Carpathians will come along shortly to put us all out of his misery. Unfortunately, they next need to get cracking on the bride in The Other Side of Paradise."

The third place cover was my personal favorite (or should I say un-favorite?), Moment of Truth. Even voters who chose other covers often asked about this one, and whether the heroine was really doing what we think she's doing. To me this cover is the classic example of a "what were they thinking?" cover; surely someone in the art department noticed that the hero was getting a hand job. What really makes the matter worse is the hero's bored expression. One coverballot member's husband speculated that perhaps the heroine's technique left something to be desired.

Bina echoed these sentiments: "Is she giving him a hand job?! Look, I may not mind reading about those intimate moments but I don't want to SEE it on my cover! And the worst part is...he obviously doesn't even appreciate the favor!"

Others, like Helen, speculated on the meaning of the title: " The moment of truth is she can't help him get it up?"

Cate has another theory: "So what's the truth? He doesn't have a banana in his pocket? Or, oh-my-God, anything else?"

Silhouette Intimate Moments

The fourth place cover was Prince Under Cover (or as AAR/Coverballot's Jennifer christened it, "Look what I can do with Adobe Photoshop!"). Many voters thought he looked more like a serial killer than a romance hero, and they hated the blurry look of the photographs. Kathy said, "It's like the artist couldn't decide which photo he liked best and decided to use them all! (Which were all equally horrifying.)"

Stacey thought that this hero wasn't the only one in the bunch that looked like a serial killer - but picked him because he was the only one holding a weapon!

Harlequin Intrigue

Nana chose this cover for worst, but her thoughts on her runners up were so funny that I had to include her comments in their entirety: "These are all pretty terrible. The ominous post-traumatic stress disorder youngster on the hideous purple-and-yellow Solitary Soldier cover, Other Side's Muppets in love, Crazy-Jungle-Man-puts-palm-fronds-in-a-headlock on Paradise, Colin Powell doing C-3P0 doing Gene Kelly on To Dance Again, My Lord Jack's avalanche-lovin' with a man whose hair is definitely fresh off the hedgehog, and Nick's scrawny post-coital 'Didn't I mention my wife?' look on For the Love of Nick. But my least favorite has to be the psychotic slasher Prince Under Cover, apparently designed to showcase the different ways that the Prince could inflict severe physical damage on the unsuspecting reader. I really can't think of anything less likely to make me buy a book than the feeling that its protagonist wants nothing more than to hack me to pieces with a sword, and then maybe let a cobra finish me off. What a terrible cover."



Lone Arrow's Pride was the fifth place choice. It's a classic example of the "extremely overt sexuality" type cover that most fans feel romance has long since outgrown. The heroine's subservient position is bad enough, but just in case the reader misses the point, there's a very phallic-looking spear on the cover. Many voters described this cover as a throwback and bemoaned the fact that it seemed to include every possible romance cliché.

Cheryl chose it for that reason: "This encapsulates all that's horrible in romance covers - the awful, submissive pose of the woman, the stereotypical Indian-white woman cliché, the bulked up beyond belief male. Just ick."

Carrie said, "Lone Arrow's Pride is the biggest stinker of them all. Nice phallic symbol and kneeling wench. But an impossibly built hero in a bad wig and a loin cloth is perhaps the biggest turn-off of all."

And this from Elizabeth who makes a good point about the title: "They're all marvelous, but this one's too amusingly phallic to pass by. Looks more like an obsessed groupie cornering a member of the Village People than any fantasy of mine. Obviously he has no issues with pride - I'm more worried about what's happened to hers." It's interesting to note, however, that several voters really liked this cover. So while some of us may feel it is stuck in the past, others feel that this type of image is what romance is all about.

To Dance Again came in sixth. Most who voted for it chose it because of the awkward body positions and bizarre facial expressions of the hero and heroine. Several readers offered explanations for their looks, but Lisa's was my personal favorite: "It's as if the man on the cover had a few too many prune puddings and is now regretting it. It reminds me of that commercial that asks...'Where will you be when your diarrhea comes back?' "

AAR's Megan had another theory: "He looks as if she is stepping on his foot; she looks fairly catatonic. Not romantic at all."

And when Ellen commented on her choice, she submitted this detailed theory: "Oh, there are so many good reasons: the muddy colors; the unconvincing fireworks; the expression on the man's face! He looks like he just smelled her muskrat shampoo. Plus, his shoulder is extraordinarily bulky and his arms are too short, so he has to squeeze her too tightly against him. She's squirming to get away - probably because her back hurts, and she still hasn't changed out of her work suit. Neither has he, and he really should have gone before they went to dance - he looks like he's crossing his legs to keep from losing it! Just an all-around terrible cover for sure."


In seventh place was My Lord Jack. What exactly is happening to the couple in the picture? No one knew for sure, but again there were lots of theories. Vanessa put forth this one: "They are trapped in the snow, aren't they? Are they trying to melt themselves out with lust? Did the publisher decide to recycle an old cover, thinking, 'Ah, if we stick 'em in a snow drift, they'll never know?' "

JL thought the couple ought to be a little more concerned about their fate: "I don't understand, are these people supposed to be stuck in a snow bank? Though it was a tough choice between this and the guy with jaundice, I love the idea of these two making out and unconcerned at the idea that they have apparently been caught up in an avalanche."

Other suggestions for the mysterious substance engulfing the couple included "blue goo" and "blue gelatin."

The author, Hope Tarr, had her own theory as well: "Heck, it may be my own book but the cover, partial bodies floating on a sea of ... mouthwash is more than worthy of this high honor." Fortunately for Hope and the rest of us, her next cover was the very attractive Tempting, which placed second in the Historical Single Cover category.

Silhouette Intimate Moments

Harlequin Temptation

Coming in eighth was Just Another Day in Paradise. Voters cited the garish colors, blurry look, and scary facial expression of the hero as the reasons for their choice. Susan was most frightened by the hero's vacant look: "I'd be afraid he'd make love to me, then shoot me. I've heard of sex toys, but surely the phrase 'shooting blanks' shouldn't come to mind when looking at the cover of a romance novel."

Barbara thought the overall composition was poor, and that the cover conveyed "an impression of various body parts, loosely assembled from different people."

For Mary Ann, it was the color combination that was scariest: "The colors are just atrocious! Orange and green and yellow are bad enough (and are also not the colors to sell a romance novel) but all that next to the purple side label! It's just blindingly horrible."

In ninth place was For the Love of Nick, a poorly executed cover that few people found attractive. Amy thought the hero looked like he was "dying of some disease," and Nathalie just found him to be emaciated.

The funniest comment comes from a voter who ended up going with Moment of Truth in the end. Heather explained why Nick almost got her vote: "Whoever green-lit that cover model needs to be backhanded back down to the mail room. Doesn't his corpse-like, sunken-in chest just scream touch me? I mean, I could probably buy it if it were a romance about a scrawny, weasely-faced social outcast who finally finds redemptive love in the arms of a red-headed temptress, only to expire in grand fashion from the terminal illness that has robbed him of any and all muscle tone and the ability to not look skeezy, but . . . Definitely one that I would paste a Colin Farrell pic over, double-quick."


The tenth place cover, Lover in the Shadows, made the ballot handily but received very few votes in the contest. The coverballot committee thought it had bizarre bestiality undertones (many of us thought the cat was the man's lover - in the shadows) and we wondered why the cat was so huge. However, the few comments this cover generated were all positive.

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