Monday, July 19, 2010

Cover Story

I love covers. I could ogle them all day if I had a chance, gliding my eyes over their lovely glossy fronts... *ahem*. Since I moved to Britain, though, covers have become less of a fascination and more a perplexment (not a word, I know, but it should be).

Strolling amongst the women's fiction (chick lit! I can't help it!) books in UK bookshops, I quickly found myself lost in a world of curlicues and cartoons. The same books I'd brought with me from North America -- with sensible yet pretty covers -- now sported new, more girly designs. It was like seeing an old friend wearing an outfit that didn't quite work.

Take Emily Giffin, for example. I'm a big fan of her writing and I bought all her books when I was living in Canada.

North American cover.

Imagine my surprise when I walked into a bookshop in the UK to see... this!

UK cover.

The two looks are strikingly different, but the UK cover fits in perfectly with the cover-styles of similarly marketed books.

Which begs the question: why are covers in the UK hyper-girly, while American ones are more restrained? Does it reflect the different personality of the markets, or is it publisher driven?

At my recent conference, novelist Joanna Trollope told us we should stand up for ourselves when it comes to cover design; that our covers should be for grown-up women, not breathless adolescents. But what do women readers really want? Has anyone even asked?

So you tell me: which cover do you prefer? Are you turned off by curlicues and high heels?

64 comments:

  1. you are invited to follow my blog

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  2. Um, thanks Steve, but you need to tell me how you feel about curlicues first! :)

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  3. That's interesting, Talli, we get the UK versions too. It has to be marketing driven.
    However, I would be more inclined to buy the 1st book as the second one would automatically make me think it is for the younger market.
    So authors like yourself may possibly lose out on sales if a lot of us over 30s feel that way.
    I am not a snobbish reader, I think a good story is a good story regardless of genre but I avoid a lot of 'chick lit' because of the cartoonish covers. Instintively I would feel its not for me.

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  4. I hear you, Brigid. I much prefer the first cover. I always hated going on the Tube with those cartoony-type covers... because it's so stereotypical of what people think 'girls' want.

    The thing is, Emily Giffin's books ARE aimed at 30-somethings, and her writing is intelligent with very smart characters. It's a shame the cover doesn't really do it justice (in my opinion, anyway).

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  5. This is interesting. I think I'd be more drawn to the first cover. It's simple.
    I do like the picture of the second one but the other cover draws me to it.
    Not sure why because I love pictures on covers.
    Have a great day!

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  6. Very interesting observation, Talli. I'd definitely go for the North American cover. It just gives a more serious intent to the book and to the author. You're right, the other is almost cartoonish, which to me, suggests the writing might be too. And sadly, I'd pass it right by.

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  7. They are both good covers but I guess I'd pick up the UK cover first. Not sure why, but just would.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

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  8. Talli am with you on this, i love the first cover and the second one is very girly like almost makes you think that the second book doesn't have serious content. Along with that, i think it also goes with the culture in the U.S the first impression of a book or film is what sales and the cover speaks 1000 words for the market here because more than the content people are attracted to the cover first and what it makes them feel when they see it for the first time.

    Chat with you on twitter some time well when i get there haha...

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  9. I don't read these kind of books, so I may not be the best judge, but I definitely prefer the toned down, more subtle cover, in other words the first.

    The second one reminds me of some New Yorker cartoon that I could never get.

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  10. While I'm not a big fan of either style, the UK one is definitely better. Plain covers just don't do it for me.

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  11. Isn't it funny? I noticed the UK versions of The Forest of Hands and Teeth and Dead-Tossed Waves, they were more subdued than here in the US like we like to see violence/pain/suffering I was actually excited when my friend chose me to win the UK versions I can read them now that the scary covers are missing.

    I don't know what it is about the covers for chick-lits... excuse me, romance novels but I can say that I do prefer the american version, something more subdued, wanting you to open it with just the petal falling off the page... makes you curious. The other cover gives it all away... don't you think?

    Which one do you prefer?

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  12. I'm torn by these two examples. The US one seems too plain and doesn't give any idea what the story's about. The UK one is more interesting to me, and I'd definitely pick it up first. Yet I'm not sure I would consistently buy cartoony covers.

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  13. It's interesting because I've noticed covers have changed in the UK over the last ten years. For example, I've got some older Katie Fforde novels which have more 'serious' covers and I've seen them recently in bookshops re-launched with more cartoonish covers. These look more teenage somehow, I agree, and I probably wouldn't buy them if I didn't know what they were about. I wonder what novelists like Katie think of these changes?

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  14. This is such a great, enlightening post! I had no idea that the covers could be so different.

    I definitely prefer the first, more simple one. I'd feel a little self-conscious reading the second one where other's could see! A bit too girly for my taste, I think.

    I have to think it's marketing driven!

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  15. I have to say that covers like the second one totally put me off buying the book. To me they imply that there is nothing of substance within it's pages. I'm a very visual person and I think a good cover is worth it's weight in gold (If lost count of the number of books I have bought on the strength of the cover alone!)...I really wish the powers that be would stop with the girly stuff!!

    C x

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  16. Huh. This fascinates me, for several reasons.

    First of all - here in Norway we usually get the UK covers on any English language books, but in translation it appears we are getting the US covers. Or at least judging from the Harry Potter books (we have the Scolastic versions) and now Emily Griffin. I'll admit it's hardly a scientific study, but I just find it odd.

    Secondly, I normally always, always prefer the UK covers on any books. When I first visited the UK, I went insane as I entered a bookstore (seriously - I bought a new suitcase so that I could bring all my books back - and I was only there for a weekend...). When I went to the US, though, it took a while to get used to the bookstores. Or, rather, I loved the stores, but the books.. Took some getting used to.

    Chic lit isn't really my genre, though, so the books I'm talking about might not be that good comparisons at all. Also, judging from your sample there, I would be inclined to agree. The US cover is better. But for other genres - I'm a UK girl! ;)

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  17. I feel torn - I like both covers. But I'm always more interested in who the author is and the blurb on the back cover.

    I agree that the second cover looks marketed at the younger reader. It says, 'I'm chick lit'.

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  18. I'd pick up the top one to see what it was about. I wouldn't bother with the second one. To me, the top one offers a little mystery: there's a hint at a love story from the daisy petals (loves me, loves me not - you know the old game), but the cover says to me that it might be the kind of book I like, where the author will me on a journey and I don't know the final destination. The second cover screams 'chick lit' and what I find tedious about that genre is that while of course the heroine has her trials and tribulations, she always gets her man in the end, so there's nothing for me to really wonder about. I prefer novels which are less predictable - I'm not saying all chick lit is rubbish, far from it, just that it's not my genre of choice - and the top cover seems to suggest less predictability.

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  19. I don't like or dislike one cover over the other, but they almost don't seem like the covers to the same book. I'd look at the American cover and assume it was more literary, and I'd look at the UK cover and think it was Shopaholic material.

    I've heard that it's really hard for an author to get any say over her cover, too. (Wish I knew firsthand! Maybe someday... *wistful expression*)

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  20. I strongly prefer the first cover and I enjoy something more stark. The high heels make me think of Frank Sinatra for some reason, it is hard to tolerate curlicues anywhere especially in love letters but on the cover of books I have to think that someone in marketing wasn't doing their jobs well enough. It is interesting how book covers, movie posters and the like are so different from country to country.

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  21. Maybe it's what we're used to but I actually prefer the second cover (and I'm definitely not an adolescent!)

    I like the American one too, but to me the second one says 'fun' and I suppose that's what I expect from my chick-lit. Er, I mean rom-com/commercial women's fiction!

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  22. I prefer the North American cover. Of course, this is where I live. But I have a question about other genres. If you've noticed. I'm thinking more about mystery/suspense. How are they different?

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  23. This is interesting. Haven't really noticed the difference before - thanks to you for the info! I don't think I like either of them, Talli. The American version doesn't say much, it's too plain. The UK version is too 'cartooney', if that's a word. I agree with the comments that said there should be more seriousness. A real photograph perhaps? Why can't novels written by women have covers like that of Paulo Coelho's or Nicholas Sparks? Hmmm...just wondering.

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  24. I like the first one. It's simple and understated. It's crazy how they change them for different markets.

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  25. I prefer the North American one. It is beautiful in its simplicity.

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  26. Emily Giffin has beautiful covers, simple and each title and color scheme seems coordinated. I haven't read any of her books, but I remember seeing a line up of her titles and thinking, that's good marketing.

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  27. I prefer the first. Surely the whole fun of this particular book is hinted at by the title. I don't think you need the curlycues and the whimsical cartoon.

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  28. that's so interesting..

    i actually really like the first cover -- i wonder why such a drastic change??

    great post!

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  29. Wow... I knew a book could have different covers in different countries, but I didn't realize they'd contrast this much!

    I haven't read the book, but I'm used to seeing the US cover, which I think makes me biased. But if I were stumbling upon both of them for the first time, I might choose the second. I always got the impression by Giffin's US covers that her books were more serious, but the UK cover makes me think otherwise.

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  30. I like the first one because the title stands out to me more. Also, I absolutely love all of her books!!!

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  31. I much prefer the simplicity of the American version. The UK version looks very similar to so many other titles on the shelf, which I guess it is supposed to. Having said that, they are both very nice and the UK version gives more away about the content of the book while the American version doesn't.

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  32. The US cover is more subtle: the missing petals obviously indicating playing "he loves me, he loves me not"--but you may not get that on first glance. I'm familiar with her books and have always liked the looks of the covers, but I'm with you on the UK version: um, what?

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  33. While the first one is nice, I personally like the UK version better. It makes me smile inside. :-)

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  34. Thanks for all the comments and for weighing in!

    Personally, I prefer cover number 1. I'm not a fan of the cartoony type stuff.

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  35. I like the first one too, its more interesting. I'm sort of turned off by the second type.

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  36. Thank you for posting this! I believe that both covers are gorgeous, though I do prefer the US cover -- mostly because I adore that shade of green. :)

    But I agree with Alexandra that those two covers are so drastically different it's difficult for me to think that they're portraying the same book.

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  37. I'm not sure what I want, actually. The first cover seems a little over simplified while there seems to be too much on the second one, though I like the stylish chick...or at least I covet her boots!

    As a general rule I love curlicues and spend a great deal of time doodling them.

    I love love LOVE your Hating Game cover. I would definitely be reaching for that if I saw it on the shelf.

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  38. Talli, have you followed the 'Dear Author' debates on covers? It seems that US editions are usually 'man-tittied to the max' so the first cover of Emily's book is decidedly non-typical; the US normally going for the eye-catching and immediate. Saying that, the second cover does give a flavour of what the book is about. But I'm afraid, in this instance (and most unusually) the US cover has more tasteful hinting than outright blurting, and I'd go for that one.

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  39. A definite yes for the first cover from me too. Isn't it fascinating how so many of us would happily make a comment about the book based on the cover alone. What a lot of power the book designers have and it's all very well being advised to negotiate for a cover that you know suits your book. The publishers don't always give you the opportunity.

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  40. This is such a great question. I bet part of it is publisher driven, and I bet they watch the trends in the marketplace.

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  41. The second cover caught my attention while the first seemed almost like a literary novel.

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  42. The first seemed like a self-help cover to me.
    The UK cover told me it would make a great Sunday read.

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  43. Ooooh you too are invited to follow my blog! LOL!

    Awww Talli - I love the North American one!! It's says grown up and contemporary!! The UK one looks like it's set in the mid
    1960's and a rip off of 1960's mills and boon covers!!! All stick figures and badly drawn things!!

    Sorry!! But I have to say your cover for Hating Game is bang on - I'd love to see what they do with it when it'll cross over the pond!!!!

    Take care
    x

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  44. I find it so interesting to look at covers from different countries of the same book. And I always wonder why some covers stay almost the same and then some are a complete 180. It's crazy!

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  45. Generally speaking I don't like those cartoonist, pastel covers we seem to get in the UK/Ireland, but I think that's just the market and publishers are probably wise not to break the mold. (Or lazy...?!) For readers I suppose it helps to identify books of a certain "type" and some cartoon are lovely - Ali McNamara's novel (not out yet I don't think) has a gorgeous cartoon cover, for example.

    I much prefer North American covers across the board, not just in women's fiction. Maybe they're just more advanced than us Europeans! ;-)

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  46. I like the first cover more, but think the second one tells a better story. I do think the first cover is kind of boring, but I like daisies, lol. Good thing I'm not a cover artist.

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  47. Well, Talli, it's not a book I'd normally select...
    But the UK cover is better.

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  48. Ohh.. how interesting! I only know the green cover of that book and it's the one I picked up - not because of the cover, but because of the title.

    I might pick up the other one anyways because of the guy in the shadow that she's clearly looking back longingly at - ah, I don't know!

    But covers do play an important role!

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  49. I can't choose! I love the simplicity of the North American cover but I also like the picture on the UK cover because it represents what the book is about... a woman in a relationship looking back on a previous love. If I HAD to pick a cover, I'd choose the first one because the author's name is in a bigger font. (Is that wrong?)

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  50. I didn't know different countries used different covers - that's very interesting! I do like the US one better of the example you gave. The other one seems a little old-fashioned to me. It makes me think of Mary Tyler Moore for some reason. :)

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  51. As a cover, I prefer the US version.

    BUT, I pick up chick lit when I want to escape, and the UK version shouts 'chick lit' to me, so when I am looking for a chick lit, I am more likely to pick that one up.

    I guess it is less about what women want and more about what women are conditioned to get. In India, chick lit always looks like the UK cover so you know what you are getting when you pick up the book. Had the first chick lits had a tartan cover with gold embossed titles, we may well be picking only those up.

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  52. From one who often chooses books by their covers -- I love color and any design that makes me want to open the book to see what's inside. I tend to spend more time in the mystery and thriller aisle than anywhere else, so curlicues and high heels don't show up too often. Of course, if the high heels were on a corpse, and the curlicue was the smoke from a gun...well, you can see that would work just fine.

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  53. I prefer the non-cartoon version, but being American-born, it might be a cultural thing?

    On the other hand, I got one of the early Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris, and the US version was so cartoony that I would have assumed it was a children's book. And the disturbing thing about that is that it's a VERY adult paranormal romance novel. The UK versions of the books use a photo of a woman on the covers, which better conveys the nature of the books.

    The cartoon on the book you showed, however, didn't look childish to me. There's a certain style of 2D line art that I always associate with the chick-lit genre now, so maybe that's the publisher's way of showing the reader what to expect inside. What worries me is when all covers start to look the same!

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  54. I don't read chick-lit too often so I'm not a great example. The curlicues and swirls are more appealing to me because they look all vintage and cool, but I've seen that style so much now that it puts me off.

    I'm not sure I'd buy the US cover, though. To me it looks overly simplistic. There would have to be one helluva blurb to go with it.

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  55. I don't like when covers are all girly like the one in the 'UK photo' here. It's like someone's insisting on how you should see the book, the plot, the characters. In Poland covers of 'chick lit' are even worse, though, they're always with big photos: protagonist's face and sometimes some hot guy's face. They look like posters of romantic comedies or...like covers of Harlequins. So, in the end UK covers are better :)

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  56. I love that the covers are so different and that both countries are trying to get across something different to the readers.

    I prefer the second one, it seems like great fun.

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  57. It has to be market driven but I can't understand the concept! I have looked over and over and I can't decide which one I like best - I am obviously an advertisers dream!

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  58. Ha ha! I love Steve's invite to follow his blog! Everyone's invited to follow mine!

    I think as Americans we tend to be more restrained artistically. Isn't that interesting? And yet I tend to think of the British as more restrained emotionally. Could be a stereotype.

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  59. I prefer the first cover - and not just because I'm Canadian :)

    I tend to like simpler designs, and I also want a cover I won't be embarrassed to read in public. This UK one's not too bad, but some of them are really silly.

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  60. I LOVE this blog post!

    I think that the UK chicklit covers are very odd. They trivialise the book's content and are, in a funny way, kind of misogynistic - as though women are children who clap our hands with stupid delight when we see a cartoon. They also imply that all chicklit is insipid and fluffy - which, sure, some of it is, but lots of books are smart and witty and sharp, and some focus on issues like depression, abortion, betrayal, divorce, families, etc... it's not all lipstick and high heels.

    Whenever I'm in the States I look at the covers and think, damn that looks like a good book. Then I get to London and think, I'd be embarrassed to read that on the tube. I'm a grown woman, FFS.

    I made a list of things i didn't want for my first cover: cartoons, hearts, stars, script font, a wistul girl in a bad outfit with a bag and a jaunty heel kick...

    And well...

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  61. I may well have purchased the first one, definitely not the second Talli.

    Although of course we all know we should NEVER judge a book by its cover :)

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  62. Oh my gosh, yesterday I was agent hunting. I came across one who caught my eye. Then I looked at the covers of the books they represented and it put me off. They were like the second one you have on show. Not for my novel, no sir!

    Now, I am a Brit as you know. The covers are changing so much in the UK, my daughter sends me books and I am not a fan of the cartoony pics, (is that a word? Who cares?), anyway what I am trying to say is this. Years ago the book covers in the UK were more like the top one you have on show. I prefer those. :)

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  63. This is fascinating because I thought the North American 1 would be all about the cartoon figure rather than the plain green background w/ the font emphasized by the daisy.

    I prefer the plain 1, but don't understand why the huge style difference.

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