How to Sell Romantic Suspense That Has a Fierce Female Lead

One of the challenges of being a newly published author is helping readers who like romantic suspense with a strong female lead find my book. For example, check out the ad on the right. Full credit for this beauty goes to my publicist at Sourcebooks.

It definitely brings the heat. So much so it was banned on Facebook. That should be an ad in and of itself, “BANNED ON FACEBOOK.” Haha! Although, to be honest, I’m not sure why it was banned. I’ve seen much steamier ads. I appealed to Faceboook, but they’re pretty adamant about keeping this away from the delicate sensibilities of FB users. Avert your eyes if it’s too much.

So, yeah, I wasn’t too bothered by this rejection. My romantic suspense is a bit steamy, but it’s also action-packed with a fierce female lead and a kick-ass cover that I LOVE, so I decided to concentrate on those aspects. That’s how I ran into my essential problem. People naturally assume a male lead on the cover of a romantic suspense, looking all tough and capable, is going to bring the heat. But they make totally different assumptions when a fierce female is on the cover all by her lonesome.

For some reason people see a fierce woman on the cover of a contemporary novel, they assume it’s urban fantasy. I actually received a poor review from an annoyed reader who’d thought from the cover it was an urban fantasy.* Not sure what that says about us–we can only have a fierce-looking female character on the cover of a novel if it’s “fantasy”– but annoyed readers are something I like to avoid.

Now all this doesn’t mean there aren’t any strong women characters in romantic suspense, just that those covers might not have the woman on the cover. In fact, I had a very hard time finding a FIRST book in a romantic suspense series with a tough-looking female on the cover. There were some covers–the third or fourth book in a series–that had a determined-looking female on the cover, but even that was slim pickings.

Sadly, before I knew better, I created an ad that played up my fierce female. The ad on the right features Justice, the main character in the novel, and one of my favorite quotes from a reviewer. “An intriguing premise, a cast of strong characters unwilling to back down and black-hearted, deserve-to-die villains make I Am Justice a winning start to an exciting new series.” BookPage Top Pick

I quickly realized the ad wasn’t reaching the right readers. A strong woman doesn’t say sexy-fun times to people. And the male lead in my novel, Sandesh–an ex-Special Forces hottie turned humanitarian–deserves better.

So I pulled together the ad below using Julie Ann Walker’s great book blurb. “Fast-paced and edgy, high-octane, and sexy, I AM JUSTICE is a must read!”

To me that  seemed a home run. It hit all the buttons–sexy times, abs, action, abs, leather and a strong female lead not afraid to strip a man and show off his abs. More importantly, the ad wasn’t banned. Phew. It also didn’t draw enough eyes. Too dark? Is the woman being too aggressive? Not sure. I’m sure there are a bunch of professional marketers right now rolling their eyes–write me, give me your free advice. I kept trying. A lot. Thanks for all the great support Facebook and Twitter followers! I was kind of surprised when the ad below seemed to strike gold.

“Sizzling physical encounters create trust, understanding, and eventually love between an avenger and a humanitarian on opposite paths to justice.” Kirkus Book Reviews

In some ways, I can see this ad seems to have it all too. Sexy-fun times, the hint of a strong female lead with the phrase, “she’s just getting started,” and a hint of suspense with the word “avenger.” The word “humanitarian” also makes it seem more contemporary and hopefully less urban fantasy. So how do you sell an edgy romantic suspense with a fierce female character? Apparently, by making her look slightly more approachable and feminine. Yeah. Kind of a let down for me too. But I guess when people have only a few seconds to decide in this crazy, e-world there’s not a lot of room to try something different.

Okay, I want to know what you think. Am I wrong? Can a tough-looking female on the cover work in other genres that aren’t urban fantasy? Do you have examples of first books in a series covers with a strong female on them? Or am I right? When it comes to putting a determined-looking female character on the cover of romantic suspense or any genre that isn’t urban fantasy are we behind the times?

*Shout out to urban fantasy authors. There are some kickass urban fantasy covers!



2 thoughts on “How to Sell Romantic Suspense That Has a Fierce Female Lead

  1. This is mind-boggling to me. Mind-numbing. Why? WHY??? I’m as flummoxed as you are. Honestly, I’d be turned off by the softer cover if I was looking for a kick-ass heroine. I have no idea why Facebook would ban the first ad. WTF??

    The standard “urban fantasy” cover, for a very long time and maybe still, wherein a strong female character is featured was always “woman dressed in tight black clothes, weapons strapped to her.” Usually, she’s looking over her shoulder…which generally sports a tattoo. So I can kind of see why it might be viewed as urban fantasy. Who knows!? This stuff blows my mind.

    1. What shocked me was how few fierce looking women are on covers of novels all by themselves. And when there is a man with the woman lead, he is often holding her, softening her a bit. I’m sure it’s more complicated than I described here, but it has certainly been eye-opening.

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