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U.S. or U.K.: Why Book Covers are Not the Same
We have all heard the old adage "Don't judge a book by it's cover", but when it comes to deciding which books we want to pick up, I think most of us will admit that we absolutely do judge books by their covers. Cover design is one of the most fascinating and possibly the most difficult aspects of book publishing. How do you a) capture the spirit of the book and b)make it appealing to consumers? Amazingly enough, this answer is usually different in different countries. Unlike music and movies, which generally have the same appearance globally, book jackets (and sometimes titles) change from country to country. Take Harry Potter for instance. The Bloomsbury UK release of the original novel looked like this and is called Harry Potter and the Philsopher's Stone.
In the United States, the book was released as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and looks like this:
The British covers depict a major event in the book, while the American covers depict a series of objects and a person from the book against a common backdrop. The title change between the UK and US editions of Harry Potter was made because the word "Philosopher" denotes different things in the U.S. and the UK, and the publisher felt that American audiences wouldn't be able to derive the magical meaning of the word.
Kristen Kashore's Graceling is another example of a cover change between the U.S. and UK releases that depict very different ideas.
The U.S. cover portrays a sword and part of a girl's face in the sword, while the UK cover portrays a warrior girl wielding a sword. I like both covers, but I actually like the British cover better.
Other examples of books with different covers include: Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan:
(I prefer the U.S. Cover in this case) and Anthony Horowitz's Stormbreaker.
Both covers incorporate the lightning bolt, but are otherwise extremely different. Being used to the American cover, I tend to lean towards that one, but I think both images are interesting and attractive.
So why do book covers (and titles) vary so much from country to country? One reason is that books are subjective, and different readers interpret books in different ways. What we see as the essence of a book completely varies from person to person, and not all visions are alike. Another reason is that different countries have different markets, and our cultural tastes are as different as what we eat and what we wear. The goal of a cover designer is to make it scream "Buy Me", and how that goal can be accomplished will change from country to country. "One Size Fits All" might be a good idea in theory, but just as no one book fits every reader, no one cover fits every market. How do you feel about this idea of different covers for different countries? Do you think that books should universally look the same, or should publishers continue to jacket them differently in different countries and markets?
Rachel Seigel is the Children's/Young Adult Book Buyer at wholesaler S&B Books in Mississauga, Ontario. She also maintains a personal blog at http://readingtimbits.blogspot.com and can be found on Twitter as @rachelnseigel.