I read an article on book cover design recently and it got me thinking about that famous saying: never judge a book by its cover. But quite honestly, don’t we all? I often find myself picking up a book to read the back if the cover catches my attention. Unless you are after a specific title, or a book by a certain author, I think it is almost certainly the same in libraries too. But then, it got me thinking about book covers in general and that sparked this blog post.
What really surprised me when I first entered this lovely and challenging writing world, was how traditionally published (non self-published titles) can have different covers for different countries. Let’s take the front cover for Dan Brown’s newly anticipated Robert Langdon thriller, Inferno. I’ve seen both the US and UK covers.
If we look at the US cover, because he is an American author so I assume this is the official cover let’s say, we can see that it very different from the UK cover (see further down). It features a side profile view of the Italian poet, Dante, who apparently influenced the novel. I quite like this feature as it adds a sort of historical centrepiece to novel, almost giving it an air of authenticity. The brown and grey colours also make it seem much more suited to the adult market. I have read some disappointed comments on the other hand. Some fans see it as a rather drab book cover, not really inspiring or arty as the blurred background of the Da Vinci Code paperback. I do see their point and it does make you question how much say Dan brown had in the cover process.
If we look at the UK cover, because that is important too – The Lost Symbol, Robert Langdon’s last outing, saw sales of half a million in its first week in the UK back in 2009. I do love the artistic impression of Florence that seems to take centre stage in this version. And the translucent grey smoke effect gives the cover a mysterious and enigmatic feel. I am, however, not quite liking the font used for Inferno. It seems rather pointless and quite amateurish. I don’t quite see the symbolism of Dante either in this cover. It almost looks like a sceptre – was that the goal?
After much research and reading, I’ve discovered that as different publishers distribute foreign territories, they also get to interpret the story themselves, so when it comes to cover design, they usually have a different approach. And apparently, each cover needs to be suit its market. What may work in the US market, won’t necessarily work in the UK market. Although I see the US cover more adult and the UK cover more teenage-orientated, I also think the designs give different impressions in terms of themes and style. The US cover, as I’ve already stated, feels rather historic and pointed towards factual validity, whereas the UK cover seems much more supernatural and perhaps hints at a fantasy element within. Do you agree?
But country isn’t the only category that is taken into consideration when it comes to Book Cover design. Its format apparently is taken into consideration too. And when I say format, I mostly mean Hardback into Paperback – although I have yet to see different covers for a physical and eBook version. I can use many different examples for this, but ultimately one came straight to mind and I thought it would very well with the Dan Brown example above.
Raymond Khoury is an author I enjoy to read. His fast-paced, straight talking adventure/thriller novels are almost a guilty pleasure of sorts. He is most famous perhaps, for his Templar series, which started with The Last Templar, which was followed a few years later with The Templar Salvation. They follow the escapades of Sean Reilly and Tess Chaykin as they uncover some of the world’s lost treasures. The next book in the series, The Devil’s Elixir underwent three cover changes. Two for the hardback and then a complete revamp (and name change too!) for the paperback. For the purposes of this post, I’ll just talk about the Hardback to Paperback change.
Here is the Hardback cover. As you can see by the jungle-esque watercolour style along with the approaching helicopter, this cover implies that the book is an action-packed thrill-fest set in the heart of the Central American jungle. As this novel is written from Sean Reilly’s point of view, it only seems apt to have him on the front cover. It’s quite an effective design, which ultimately grabs with you with quite arty impression and I like how the colours seems to blend in with the other colours around it. This is the version I have.
The paperback, for some reason, completely got turned on its head and was totally revamped. Under the name of Second Time Around, as you can see, gives the reader a greyscale cover design of a woman, seemingly fleeing with a child at her side. Although we can still see the Central American influences, this cover doesn’t have the same effect as the Hardback. I’m not criticising this cover, it just implies different themes. Whereas the Hardback tells us a story of FBI agent, Sean Reilly in an action-packed thriller, this cover implies more about the social and political lives of the residents of Mexico. It’s a much more personal cover than the other – do you not agree?
From what I’ve read from the author himself, this cover change was also down to the market. Apparently, the Hardback market has a completely different audience to the Paperback Market and although I can see this in terms of the Train Station and Airport bookshops, where the mass media paperback is smaller – I think it is a little harsh to say that the audiences are completely different. But mind you – I do know people who, like me, prefer to get the Hardback, as well as people who begrudge the price of the Hardback and wait patiently until the paperback gets a release. But despite the price, would Paperback readers avoid The Devil’s Elixir (Second Time Around) if the cover was more like the Hardback? It’s an interesting question and probably one that won’t be answered anytime soon.
But after all of this researching and reading into different market audiences and geographical differences, does it really matter? Well actually I don’t think it really does, does it? If you were to pick up a book and afterwards you really enjoyed it, you wouldn’t say it was the cover that did that, would you? You may admit to liking the cover, possibly finding it captivating, but it is the words within that tell the story, no? If you were disappointed by the book, you may feel like you fell for a good cover, but again it’s the words that failed you, not the cover.
Do you ever judge a book by its cover? And what do you think about the country differences? Does it really matter that we are going to have a completely different book jacket than the Americans? Or, more interestingly, does it matter? Would you go to great lengths to have an American (or whatever country design you prefer (especially if you are American and you’re reading this)) version shipped over to you? Let me know …