Judging Fifty Shades of Grey By Its Cover

50 Shades of Grey, as we all know, is the worldwide best-selling erotica that made E.L. James an instant millionaire and inspired complex debates of whether it was the funniest book ever made or the most insulting, disgusting, and insensitive book of the 20th century. FSOG, as we all know once more, details the love story of the meek Anastasia Steele and her relationship with the mysterious Christian Grey, who brings her to the world of classical music, chains, butt slapping, and divine orange juices, otherwise known as BDSM, atleast in 50 Shades lore.

But we’re not going to talk about how funnily awful or awfully funny (depends on your perspective) this book is. Instead, we’ll talk about the iconic covers of FSOG. 

I’m sure that anyone who sees these covers already knows what FSOG is all about by now. When I first saw the cover of Fifty Shades, I was immediately allured to it despite being ignorant of its story at the time and to my genuine surprise, it was An Erotica. I was pretty convinced before that erotica follows a creed that there must be butts and abs on their book covers. Or naked people, perhaps. This also appears to be a trend in romance novels where we see couples being intimate with each other complete with bright colors with little negative space to breathe in. The term used for these sort of covers is the ‘The Clinch’ where we see two scantily dressed people clinging to one another under the throes of passion, though, I’m pretty sure this isn’t how people look at each other when they’re inlove.

The Clinch is also a well known strategy in boxing where two scantily dressed men aggressively embrace each other. Either way, they both scream attention and being human, you give it to them. The positive thing about Clinch covers is that you could quickly tell at a glance what kind of novel you’re looking at. It’s easy to point out the contemporary novels from the historical ones, the fantasy from the suspense-thrillers or maybe the ones more suitable to your age. These covers already tell a lot about the theme and setting of the book.

Clinch covers have the same allure as the subtle appearance of 50 Shades but the sort that makes you feel ashamed reading, especially in public. Sensual and vibrant, The Clinch are attractive to the eyes but it stands out too much, almost an intrusion of privacy, which these sort of covers lack. These covers are blatant and revealing that may shy the readers away. For instance, Trial by Seduction by Courtney Milan is, what I thought, a complex and well-written romance novel that I wouldn’t mind recommending to people who are fond of the genre. My only concern is the cover, which I am too embarrassed to show to anyone.


The book I hide beneath many layers of clothing in my closet

Twilight is a notable example of a romance book that screams otherwise. And it works! Colors suggest varied emotions and feelings from people– dark colors suggest suspense and mystery while red colors suggest passion, romance and emotion. Twilight primarily used these two colors– black and red– to provoke curiosity than attention. One thing terribly lacking in Clinch covers is subtlety. Twilight knew how to keep things mysterious by showing less than more, leaving audiences to figure out the picture on their own which requires reading the book.


FSOG, on the other hand, kept an appearance of class and sophistication. It uses dark colors with minimal elements– a shiny gray tie in a black background with text that doesn’t scream at you. It doesn’t feel too cluttered or too revealing, it doesn’t cry PEOPLE HAVING SEX HERE PICK ME UP and yet it stands out.

The negative aspect I see in this kind of cover is that it could be misleading. If I didn’t know Bared to You was an erotica, I would have categorized it as a suspense-thriller at first glance. I understand why most publishers prefer the attention-grabbing Clinch to subtlety. Clinch covers attract the right audience while subtlety attracts a certain crowd. FSOG already had a pop status even before it was published so I could see why it had become a hit in a matter of days. It set a bar to similar novels in the genre, not only because of the recognition it got but the look it established that later on influenced the face of erotica or any adult romance for that matter. Some writers have to rely a lot to the appearance of their novels to gain readership so everything depends on how you want your book to be seen by the public and for New adult romance and erotica– either you choose to be bold or quiet.

Now, excuse me while I delete my History log for a moment.


What do you think about the cover of Fifty Shades of Grey? Do you think it’s a good cover or not? Do you prefer the Clinch or subtlety? Share your thoughts on the comments below!

12 thoughts on “Judging Fifty Shades of Grey By Its Cover

  1. augustmacgregor says:

    I actually like the FSOG covers, as well as the Twilight cover. I understand the draw of a cover with a swooning couple, as it immediately clicks with readers what the book’s about. I hadn’t heard of the label “Clinch” — and you did a great job describing the draw of Clinch covers. Readers of romances are used to seeing these types of covers. I’ve gone down the road of showing an intimate couple on some of my covers (erotica and romance ebooks). Also, I like trying other directions for covers. These covers won’t yell “romance!” as loudly, but it’s nice to try something different.

    • I do think the trend of subtle covers is growing as I’ve seen recent releases of novels that are following the Fifty Shades look. I think there are just so many ways to express romance, or any genre at that matter, though a cover.

      • augustmacgregor says:

        I definitely agree … and those many ways to express genres keeps things interesting.

  2. Great post! I do like the more subtle, less-is-more look of FSOG and Twilight. Since I don’t read much romance in general, the “clinch” type of cover has no appeal for me — and you’re right, I’d be too embarrassed to ever read them in public!

    • Ah, I guess that’s another drawback of The Clinch. It isn’t as approachable as FSOG’s cover is. Clinch covers serves its own sort of crowd. Ahahaha. I don’t think I’d like people to see me holding a book with naked people in the cover. It’s the kind of book you hide from your parents.

  3. I guess my only problem with clinch covers is that they really attract attention. And as a reader, I like to be kept alone and away from judging eyes aha. But if it helps in sales then so be it! I just like subtlety a bit more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s