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Happy July: Free Books! Cover Competition!

So six of my friends and I were discussing US and UK covers one day, and we compared and constrasted and generally came to very few conclusions about the difference between US and UK covers. We were focusing on young adult covers, as we're all young adult authors, and I thought it might be interesting to share some of our waffling here. Possibly even enlightening!

Okay, it was all Saundra Mitchell's idea and anything enlightening was probably said by her, and definitely not by me.

But as a reward for listening to my babbling, we thought we could give away seven books at once.

In the US, I think young adult fiction is seen as slanted more towards adults, whereas in the UK young adult fiction is seen as slanted more towards kids: with the landslide success of Twilight everywhere this is changing as we speak, but for now I've noticed that in the US teen sections are kept quite separate from and sometimes far away from the children's section, and in the UK they tend to be together and quite often to blend.

So, there's the question of different audiences for the US and UK people.

There's also the question of different sensibilities: I know a couple of US covers that were changed because 'that's too sexy for the UK market.' This overlaps with the question of audience, but might also have something to do with notions of propriety this side of the pond. ;)

And there's the question of timing. Some of us have always loved young adult fiction - for instance, you can try prying my copy of Margaret Mahy's The Changeover out of my cold, dead hands - but it cannot be denied it's exploded in recent years, and especially since Twilight, though there were signs of its rising popularity well before that. And Twilight had a much slower start in the UK than the US - possibly due to their very different covers. So I think the UK is less certain of young adult fiction: it has lots of experiments in style.

One example of such experimentation is a book I know of that was sold as straight-up YA fantasy in the US, was sold as YA fantasy with a different UK cover, and at the same time as adult fantasy with yet another different UK cover and a different title. This was deeply confusing for me. I very nearly bought the same book twice.

UK Covers on the Left, US on the Right, and Jump!Collapse )

Now, having seen so many US versus UK covers, you probably have opinions. You probably have favourites.

I cannot hear them. (NO. SERIOUSLY. PLEASE DO NOT TELL ME. SERIOUSLY, PLEASE DO NOT.) Books are not significantly like our children, as selling one's children in the marketplace is frowned on by many. But book covers are like our children's faces in a way - they mean a lot to us, and we don't have control over them. They're also marketing tools, so people should feel free to express their opinions on them: but doing it to the author is liable to just make the author collapse in a tragic heap of smelling salts and brandy. (Medicinal, of course!)

I would like to hear anyone's thoughts on the trends in covers on both sides of the pond, possibly how US covers sometimes get new covers in paperback but never adopt the UK ones, and how the UK industry often changes to the US covers to see what will happen. I'd also like to hear guesses on what the UK covers of the other three of the seven debaters - Saundra Mitchell of Shadowed Summer, Sarah MacLean of The Season and Sarah Cross of Dull Boy - would look like.

But if you want to pick favourites, good news, that's how you win seven books at once!


Go here to vote for Team US or Team UK, and possibly win either the seven books in the UK package complete with UK covers, or the seven books in the US package complete with US covers.


( 183 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jun. 30th, 2009 12:45 pm (UTC)
I tend to read more space opera than fantasy, but I noticed almost 15 years ago the distinct difference between US and UK book covers. In SF, US book covers usually feature illustrations of some of the main characters, whereas UK versions tend to have either planets dancing merrily round strange suns or are just a plain cover with the title and nothing else.

I pondered why this should be but when I emailed Lois McMaster Bujold's publishing house to ask why the difference I received the reply, "That's because one cover is for the US and the other is for the UK".

Which was certainly true, but also spectacularly unhelpful.
Jun. 30th, 2009 12:47 pm (UTC)
It's funny - a couple of months ago my friend Melissa and I reviewed a couple of fantasy book covers on our blog (my pick was Knife, come to think of it!). She's in the US, I'm in the UK, both the books we picked have different covers for the US and UK and we both coveted the other person's version VERY badly.

Her pick was one of the covers from the Mercy Thompson series. The UK gets these very monochromatic, graphic covers while the US get these these absolutely gorgeous oil painted covers by Dan Dos Santos that make me sick with jealousy.

The UK Knife cover is again, simpler and more graphic (but we did both prefer it. Melanie Delon is a great artist and she did a beautiful job on the US version but, you know, Brian Froud. If you're going to get ANYBODY to rock faery art, it's Brian Froud.)

Same with the Demon's Lexicon - they went for graphic design/illustration versus photomanipulation. I'm going to hazard a guess that's where the other three will be going too? It depends on the genre - fantasy themed books seem much more likely to get an illustrated cover although the photomanipulation trend is creeping in. I think part of it is the economy - it's cheaper to pay a photomanipulator than it is to pay someone to hand paint a cover from scratch - and part of it is that some people respond better to photos( because it brings the characters more to life for them, maybe?)
Jun. 30th, 2009 12:58 pm (UTC)
I have no idea about the US Demon's Covenant, but the UK one will be in the same style as the UK Demon's Lexicon.

I don't know about the economy's impact: photoshoots are definitely not cheap, but buying stock images might be more cost-effective? I am inclined to think that the success of some YA books with photographic covers has a lot to do with their new popularity.

I remember contrasting some of the Mercy Thompson series covers with a friend! I actually like the UK covers the most, possibly due to my sensibilities. ;)
(no subject) - goblin_dae - Jun. 30th, 2009 01:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahtales - Jun. 30th, 2009 01:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 30th, 2009 01:00 pm (UTC)
*blinks* hmmm...both Tithe and Valiant, i've got the US covers despite being in the UK. It might be 'cos Waterstones imports some books though.
Jun. 30th, 2009 01:03 pm (UTC)
Well, like I said, the UK used the US covers before making their own in 2008.
(no subject) - xdark_faex - Jun. 30th, 2009 01:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 30th, 2009 01:01 pm (UTC)
I'm drooling over the books so I have nothing too coherent to say. Because they're all beautiful and need to be devoured!! I. Need. To BUY them ALL. Also, I have to admit I had to make my (US) copy of The Demon's Lexicon turn around (and face Dull Boy) because I swear Nick was keeping me up with his pretty pretty face. If I wasn't so terrified of smooshing the gorgeousness I would have fallen asleep clutching him to my chest.

I really can't wait to see Dull Boy's UK cover, I'm sure it'll be spectacular. Because it is awesome, as you know, and if nothing else they could ditch the foil and put little scrolling LCD messagescreens reading "Buy me, or Alice gets it".

Thank you so much for this discussion post, Sarah! Now I'm gonna check out the links!
Jun. 30th, 2009 01:05 pm (UTC)
I am sure Nick's gorgeousness was most flattered. :)

And I think a cover full of threats would appeal greatly to Sarah Cross, bloodthirsty wretch that she is...
(no subject) - sarahcross - Jun. 30th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 30th, 2009 01:04 pm (UTC)
This is the best post ever! I have a scarily big obsession with UK/US covers, and the changes fascinate/annoy the hell out of me.

I definitely think our UK covers are aimed at a younger audience, which is somewhat baffling, seeing as it's TEEN fiction. Not eleven-year-old fiction. Sigh.

Oh, and you'll see The Summoning UK edition in the adult section because it was published as adult. Unfortunately. I've never quite understood that. As far as I know, they're reprinting for the teen section.
Jun. 30th, 2009 01:07 pm (UTC)
Really, I saw it in the YA section too so I wasn't sure what it was published as: that is so interesting! Is it being reprinted with the US cover?
(no subject) - edwards_heroin - Jun. 30th, 2009 01:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahtales - Jun. 30th, 2009 01:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 30th, 2009 01:27 pm (UTC)
UK versus US Covers
I have always been jealous of the UK covers of the books that I like. Usually the UK covers are like works of art, beautifully designed paintings. But seeing these YA covers it seems that the US do have a few standouts. Definitely like the Cassandra US covers better. Thanks for great post!

Jun. 30th, 2009 01:30 pm (UTC)
Re: UK versus US Covers
Thanks for reading! For me it's a split: sometimes I like one better and sometimes the other. I will confess I like the US The Devouring better, the UK one scares me because I am a fraidy cat!
Jun. 30th, 2009 01:49 pm (UTC)
I'm having trouble following the description of the Tithe covers... I think one of the references to the middle cover is actually meant to refer to the third cover, but I'm not sure which?
Jun. 30th, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC)
No, no. Both refer to the middle cover. In the US the middle one was the hardcover, then was changed to the third cover in paperback. In the UK, the middle cover was used for the paperback. Then a second paperback was released, with the third cover. And then a third paperback was released, with the first cover. Does that make sense?
(no subject) - sarahtales - Jun. 30th, 2009 02:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - shmuel - Jun. 30th, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahtales - Jun. 30th, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - shmuel - Jun. 30th, 2009 02:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 30th, 2009 01:50 pm (UTC)
I am a sucker for illustrated covers, rather than photographs of people. Some of my favourite covers ever are the US HARRY POTTER series, mostly because it's fun to open them and try and figure out how this dragon or this dementor or this thing is going to figure into the plot. My other favourite illustrated covers are the US paperback editions of HIS DARK MATERIALS by Philip Pullman.

Otherwise, I'm sort of torn. I like the iconic ones a lot, but it depends on the book and its contents, I think.

Also, apparently I'm US in my book cover sensibilities as I've consistently liked the US ones better (with a few exceptions).
Jun. 30th, 2009 02:26 pm (UTC)
Most interesting to note tastes, as the US Harry Potter covers just look WEIRD to me, I think possibly because I imprinted on a different illustrated style. I think illustrations of people might also be the hardest sell for me, though I am very fond of my own UK Nick, Howl on my copy of Howl's Moving Castle and RJ Anderson's (Brian Froud original!) Laurel on her UK edition sequel Wayfarer.

I also loathe the childrens' cover for the UK Deathly Hallows, and deliberately bought the adult edition so I would not have to look at peeeeople meeeeelting on my cover.
Jun. 30th, 2009 01:57 pm (UTC)
The book I saw in my bookstore yesterday is not mentioned here, but I saw it and IMMEDIATELY thought of you.

It is called "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." It's basically the Bennet sisters living in the midst of a zombie plague, and going about their daily lives meeting Bingley and Darcy and killing "unmentionables" as their warrior father Mr. Bennet has trained them to do.

Did I mention that I don't even like zombies much, but what I read of this book was hilarious?

One of my personal favorite parts is when Darcy insults Lizzie with his "She's not pretty enough to interest me" comment, and instead of getting all huffy in a ladylike Austenian way, she gets her knife out and follows him across the room with the intent of cutting his throat!

It's by Seth Grahame-Smith. The cover art is quite memorable, too, though not nearly as graphic as The Devouring.
Jun. 30th, 2009 02:10 pm (UTC)
*covers eyes* We never speak of this book here, it upsets me horribly. It's a brilliant idea, but it really creeps me out that he used Jane Austen's actual words.
(no subject) - kermit_thefrog - Jun. 30th, 2009 07:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahtales - Jun. 30th, 2009 07:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 30th, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC)
This is an awesomely interesting post. Thanks!

I, too, have a TITHE US hardcover. I didn't realize it was rare and coveted!
Jul. 3rd, 2009 04:38 am (UTC)
I, too, have a TITHE US hardcover. I didn't realize it was rare and coveted!

I do, too. :) I remember Holly doing a double take when she signed it. I guess that's why!

And yes, Sarah, great post.
Jun. 30th, 2009 02:10 pm (UTC)
Give me foil or give me death! But I also like dark, sexy, and iconic. It's interesting that you say the UK can reject for sexiness when I honestly thought Americans were considered prudes by most Europeans. Maybe not!
Jun. 30th, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)
I think perhaps not by the English. ;)
(no subject) - kannnichtfranz - Jun. 30th, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahtales - Jun. 30th, 2009 02:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kannnichtfranz - Jun. 30th, 2009 02:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 30th, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC)
Excellent article! =] I agree about UK covers appealing to the younger crowd.

Oh and the old cover for Twilight.. I didn't know it was for UK. I just assumed it was an old cover. xD I was lucky to see a actual copy of the old Twilight. None of my friends know about this pink cover.

Personally I prefer most of the US ones except for Wings. Wings UK cover is even more gorgeous! And I totally heart the UK cover for The Demon Lexicon. ;)

-Kate at Read This Book!
Jun. 30th, 2009 02:19 pm (UTC)
Thank you. ;)

The UK version of Wings also has gorgeous foil leaves on the spine. Very prettiful!
Jun. 30th, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)
This is a very interesting discussion I have to say, though I'm not entirely sure I favor one way over the other. I have a tendency to covet UK covers because they're frequently quite pretty and so very different from their US counterparts. It does seem such an odd was of doing things, having two versions with two different covers for Teens and Adults and them sometimes adopting a different cover all together.

In the US, we have distinctly separate sections for Teens because they're considered to be entirely their own market. They're completely distinct from Children's, which is why you don't often find Teen books in the Children's section any longer (which used to be the case when the Teen section was much smaller). Teen books even get their own displays, tables, and new release sections because of that. In the bookstore I work at the Children's section is actually a different department and sectioned off from the rest of the store while the Teen section is on the main bookfloor.

The other thing about the Teen market and teenagers the US is that they want to be adults. They're very big on separating themselves from children, from the perception of being too young. A lot of the popular media currently aimed at teenagers are things that 10-15 years ago were aimed at 20-somethings. Think about the rebirth of shows like 90210 and Melrose Place, now aimed directly at the Teen market when they weren't before.

There's also the matter of a lot of adults (particularly women) still buying books from the Teen section. The consequence of that is that part of the marketing job of the cover now is also to appeal to those adult readers. The UK market, because it makes separate editions for Teens/Children's and Adults, doesn't have to market directly to older teenagers with the Teen covers. It makes some sense for them to target the covers younger in that case; since there are already editions for Adult readers they'll actually increase the marketability to a wider and younger audience by not actually aiming Teen books at the Teen market but at the pre-Teen market.

Now I'm wondering about how separate the Teen market in the UK actually is. Part of this whole thing may actually be the UK trying to feel out what their Teen market is and how to sell to them. I don't know much about the way book sales are done over there, but from the looks of the covers and the duplicate editions it doesn't seem like the UK has realized that the Teen market is something that can stand on it's own yet and they're still basing their marketing on what works for the Children's market. For instance, if they had made a cover for Twilight aimed towards 16 year-olds instead of one aimed at 13 year-olds the first time around, I bet it would have been flying of UK shelves much earlier too. After all, what 16 year-old doesn't like Vampires?

Dull Boy is a bit unusual as far as I've seen in that it is certainly illustrated (though still with a person on it) and it clearly is aimed directly at boys. Most of the teen section is targeted at girls (because they read more) and 20-something women (because they still read YA). I have no idea what a UK cover would look like, maybe something more directly paralleled to the Superhero comics market and certainly younger looking, possibly with some more red and black.

And sorry about word vomiting all over your comments! I have difficulty shutting up about books sometimes.
Jun. 30th, 2009 03:07 pm (UTC)
Do not be sorry! Most interesting to get a bookseller's perspective.

And I think it's a very good idea to separate the teen section from the children's section for everyone concerned, and I hope the UK adopts that soon - rather than sometimes taking the best-selling YA books (like Twilight) and putting them on the adult shelves. Seems most unfair!

I totally agree that the UK is still feeling out the YA market, hence the experimental covers: which sometimes result in awesome, so huzzah experimentation. ;)
Jun. 30th, 2009 02:32 pm (UTC)
I found it interesting that you feel UK books are slanted younger considering Kristen Nelson found YA books cross-shelved in the adult section when she was in the UK. You would NEVER find that in a US bookstore. Even Twilight is still shelved in the YA section here!

I have to wonder if UK cover decisions are based on the character ages in the books whereas US covers tend to reflect the age of the reader. Your US and UK covers are both fairly adult-ish and the characters are older teens. On the other hand, Wings has a slightly younger protagonist, thus the UK cover reflects the protag's age and the US cover reflects the reader's age. And The Summoning has older protags, thus an older cover for the UK version.
Jun. 30th, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC)
Cross-shelving does happen a lot over here: YA books that are younger go in the children's section often and the ones that trend older go in the adult section. I feel it reflects the somewhat experimental attitude of the UK to

Chloe of The Summoning is only fifteen, isn't she? But I think Kelley Armstrong's other books being adult makes people more likely to shelve it in adult. Plus the subject matters more than the protagonists' ages, I think: Wings doesn't have any of the walking dead featured. ;)
(no subject) - marissamiranda - Jun. 30th, 2009 03:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahtales - Jun. 30th, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 30th, 2009 02:58 pm (UTC)
First I have to flail around: The Changeover!!! That is one of the books I'd love to see them reprint. I scoured the used book shops in college to find a copy to have at school.

On the covers I'd probably go more with the U.S ones, I love iconic imagery. Also I was really surprised by the amount of marketing speak on the UK covers! I used to work for a US anime company and we always had to put review blurbs and such on the DVD covers. Drove me NUTS.

I like the German cover icon!
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( 183 comments — Leave a comment )


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