Romance author Roni Loren on the ‘eye-catching’ illustrated cover trend (plus her new cover!)

Yes, and… she hopes you love her new cover. Roni Loren has been writing romance

Yes, and… she hopes you love her new cover.

Roni Loren has been writing romance since 2012, but her next book Yes & I Love You, which hits shelves March 2, 2021, marks a new chapter for the author. After penning erotic romance and an angsty series about survivors of a school shooting The Ones Who Got Away, she’s tip-toeing into something a bit more lighthearted. And she’s got the dreamy illustrated cover, which EW can exclusively debut below, to match.

“I wanted to get readers who maybe wouldn’t necessarily pick up a mass-market couples’ cover book to consider it and pick it up and look at the back and see if they would be interested in it,” Loren says of her new foray into the illustrated cover trend. “Because I think there’s a lot of people who are romance readers out there who don’t realize they’re romance readers.”

Yes & I Love You is the first book in a new series for Loren. It follows Hollyn, a young woman who hides behind her anonymous online identity as Miz Poppy, a vibrant reviewer whose commentary brightens up New Orleans nightlife. Faced with orders from her boss to add video to her blog, Hollyn has to confront her deepest fears, which lead her to aspiring actor Jasper Deares. In Hollyn, he can get the media attention his career needs, while helping her come out of her shell — and together, they can find their voice and maybe something more.

We called up Loren to get the details on her new cover, what inspired this latest series, and what she thinks about the controversial illustrated cover trend. Read more after the cover image.

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ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This launches a new series for you after the very emotional Ones Who Got Away series. Can you tell us more about it and whether you were eager to go for something a bit lighter after the darker backstory of the previous series?

RONI LOREN: The dark backstory was a heavy one, but I felt I really wanted to tell that story so I’m glad I got the chance to do that. This new series is set in New Orleans in a co-working space. The tie-in point of the series is going to be everybody who works at the co-working space, so that gives me an opportunity to play around with a bunch of different jobs. If you’re running out of a co-working space, you could be doing anything. The heroine of this book is an entertainment blogger, but then the next one is a true-crime podcaster so that’ll be book two. I’m originally from New Orleans, but I’ve never set a book there, so I wanted to use my hometown. But it will still have an emotional component just because that’s who I am. I was a social worker before this and a therapist, so all of that plays into my books still. It’s more lighthearted as a series, but there are still some things for them to overcome.

Your main characters are an actor and a successful blogger/critic who’s being faced with stepping into video. What made you want to play more in the realm of entertainment?

My heroine has Tourette’s, and she also has social anxiety because of it. Pretty severe social anxiety. So, she blogs under a pen name with an avatar so no one knows that that’s what she does. She’s gotten to the point where she feels like she’s not leaving her house and her social anxiety is getting crippling, so she rents space at Work Around, which is a co-working space to try to push herself out of our comfort zone. But when she gets there, it obviously doesn’t fix the problem. She’s still super nervous; she has a lot of facial tics so it turns people away because they think she’s being rude or menacing. And she doesn’t know how to explain it to people without freaking out. I wanted to give her a job that she was able to be anonymous, but also is something that she’s got to go out in the world. She’s going to review local shows or she’s going to movies, so it’s constantly putting her in a situation where she’s dealing with this anxiety. I thought that was a good job for her to have because it would give her a reason to need to get past it if she wanted to move further in her career.

Were your characters inspired by any particular actors or reviewers out there? Or can you tell me a bit more about your research?

I did more research for him because he’s an improv actor. I tend to pick things that I’m curious about, that I want to research because I love research. Improv sounds fun, but I’m very shy so the thought of improv is like my worst nightmare. I was really curious about it though because I know it can also be used in a therapeutic way where people who are socially anxious can go and try improv classes and get used to having to think on their feet. There’s no mistakes in improv, so you really can’t mess up and you have to say, “Yes and…” which is where the title comes from. I read a stack of books on improv. I’ve always liked shows like Whose Line Is it Anyway? so I’ve had some experience of watching it. For her, I didn’t need as much because I used to blog. Not entertainment-wise, but I’m familiar with blogging and then my husband’s in a local band so I’m used to going out to little bars. That’s what she’s doing is local things, so I felt pretty comfortable with her doing that. Then the Tourette’s part. My son has a tic disorder, so I have personal familiarity with it. I also did deeper research because one person’s experience is not everybody’s experience, so I wanted to make sure I got that right and didn’t misrepresent that in any way.

This is a beautiful and slightly abstract cover. Can you explain it a bit more and how you and the team hit on the design?

It’s really different for me because first I was doing erotic romance, so we had object covers and things. The Ones Who Got Away had my people covers. I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew I wanted a contemporary feel to it, something that didn’t necessarily look like a traditional romance. More of the trend right now is the trade paperback with the brighter colors, so I wanted to go in that direction. When they came back with it, I was like, “Wow that’s stunning. It really is eye-catching.” It’s very different than a normal romance cover, but the way I view it is she’s hiding behind so many layers because she really is this cool, interesting person, but with her Tourette’s, and then with social anxiety laid on top of that, no one can see that until the hero sees it. He can see through that, which is why he’s the hero, and push her out of that, but she’s hiding behind all those layers. That’s what I see the cover as.

So did you specifically ask for an illustrated cover?

I definitely wanted trade paperback. I originally started in trade paperback with erotic romance, but the price point is much higher and erotic romance, especially with indie publishing now, people don’t want to pay as much for that. For The Ones Who Got Away, I wanted to see it in mass-market because it’ll make it more accessible and it’s something I hadn’t been in before. Those did really well in mass market and the covers were gorgeous with the people on it. But I feel like this series, in particular, leans towards women’s fiction, even though it’s totally contemporary romance.

With the erotic romances, objects were obviously a big trend, and now illustrated covers are the hot new thing. Do you have strong feelings about being part of a trend?

It’s hard to keep up with what’s the thing if you’re not first. My very first two erotic romances actually still had people on it because it was pre-Fifty Shades of Grey. I have mixed feelings because I love a bunch of different covers. I did miss my people covers when they switched them to object covers. It’s hard to catch the trend. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the podcast Modern Mrs. Darcy: What Should I Read Next? She gives book recommendations, and there’s all kinds of genres, but it’s lots of women’s fiction and literary fiction. She’s not a romance reader, but now that the contemporary illustrated covers are coming out she’s reading romance and featuring it on the podcast. That’s the reader that these covers will get to because she doesn’t think she’s a romance reader. But these covers look like women’s fiction and like beach reads, so she’ll pick them up. I’m excited about having an illustrated cover because it does open up the market for people to try something different.

On the flip side of that though, many worry that these covers infantilize or misrepresent what is in a romance. Do you think any of that is true?

As long as the book holds up on its promise of what it is — like if it’s bright, beachy colors and it’s illustrated, and you’re offering a fun beach read story, that works for me. As a reader, I like the illustrated covers. I find them eye-catching and I pick them up. I’m not turned off by them. Back in the day, chick-lit used to have those, so it’s not like the first time that those have come about. I think any romance cover people are gonna have feelings about. The typical clinch covers — people have all kinds of feelings about that and when you’re not in the romance community, that’s what we get made fun of for. You kind of can’t win either way.

In The Ones Who Got Away, you had an African-American heroine, and another big talking point around illustrated covers is that it allows authors of color to get a more accurate representation of their characters because of limitations and racism in existing stock photos and the modeling industry. Is that also something you’ve thought about?

Obviously, it’s easier for me as a white author and there’s a lot of challenges for authors of color so I think anything that helps get their books in front of people is a positive thing. Yeah, it was challenging with my African-American heroine to find a picture with an African-American heroine with a certain look, and then also the guy to match her. It can be challenging to find that, and a lot of the illustrated covers with characters of color have been super cute. It’s wonderful that you don’t have to worry about the specific model having to match the cover. They can draw whatever matches. It also prevents a lot of people just glancing over covers and automatically going to covers that look like them. It could be a positive thing for sure.

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