I started a discussion thread on The Romance Troupe's Goodreads page titled 'COVERS!' The consensus there was that readers want bright vibrant colors and a passionate embrace (that's not too sexual) or a half naked man (abs and chest seem to be important - face, not so much).
I am with you on the colors. Green has always been my favorite but pinks and purples seem to be the industry standard.
I have always bought a book IN SPITE OF, not because of a sweaty ripped hunk of man. I prefer covers with women. These pull me in. I want to read more about these strong women. I want to read about women I can relate to and I am a leading lady type, not the wall flower. On the left, I put one of mine and on the right one from my favorite author. Both are colorful with strong women.
Rather than the embrace, I like the almost embrace. This is one of my own favorites. It shows the story at a glance. A man (clearly dominant) and small woman (clearly submissive - not looking into his eyes) are coming together under the gaze of a masculine, though not entirely human, being.
Photo vs. Painting vs. Cartoon
I prefer paintings. Sites where photography can be purchased are filled with unsexy photos so the good ones are snatched up and used by dozens of authors. I don't want my cover image to be seen on twenty other books and the same goes for books that I read - I don't want the same image for several books in my library. I won't give any examples because I don't want to hurt any feelings or call anyone out, but you all know what I am talking about. The same kiss is on a dozen books. This is why I steer clear of photography. The book on the right here is a colorful painting, with sexy men but not photo realistic pecks and abs.
<--Now, cartoons...they work fine for more lighthearted contemporary romance. HP Mallory has some very successful books that I have read and enjoyed with this cartoon-like theme.
Again, I choose these books in spite of their covers rather than because of. I almost didn't read the Sookie Stackhouse books because the covers are so ridiculous. They remind me of Napoleon Dynamite's drawing of a liger.
There is another new cover type that I greatly dislike - the single item on a plain background that only vaguely refers to the story in some symbolic way. Here are some very successful books that have this.
These repel me. I have to overcome a great deal to purchase these. It is very similar to my feelings about the still life type of old. I have never purchased one of these and don't think I ever will. It makes me think of my grandmother's romance novels. It's awesome she read dirty books but her selection options were atrocious. I am glad I am searching the current shelves and not those of 20 years ago.
What do you like on a romance cover? What makes you pause and think 'Oh,man, I gotta check this one out! Look at the _______ on the cover.'? Leave a comment and let me know.
These are my erotic short stories, all contemporary. I like that they are alike enough that you can tell they go together at a glance.
Hateful Burden is my only non-romance. It is a gaslight era horror and I think the cover says it all.