U.S. or U.K.: Why Book Covers are Not the Same

by

Rachel Seigel

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.

  

20 Responses to U.S. or U.K.: Why Book Covers are Not the Same

  1. Julie
    Julie May 30 2012 at 5:42 am #

    Hey Rachel, GREAT POST! I think the various covers of the HP books first made me aware that covers differed from country to country. Thanks for these awesome examples! <3

  2. JJ
    JJ May 30 2012 at 7:48 am #

    Great post! It’s definitely true that markets differ with regards to aesthetics, but sometimes a UK publisher will use the American cover and vice versa, depending on the success of a particular title in that particular market. Twilight initially had an illustrated cover in the UK, but then switched to the iconic looks of the US books (and even repackaged Twilight, I believe). The same with Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments books.

    (In the case of the title change for the first Harry Potter book, I believe Scholastic wanted to capitalise on the “magical” sound of the word “sorcerer”, which always irked me because a Philosopher’s Stone was a “real” object with regards to alchemy: it was believed to transmute base metals into gold in addition to creating an Elixir of Life, so the change felt unnecessary to me. Also, some American kids might have been familiar with a philosopher’s stone, even at the tender age of eleven, as I was!)

    • Rachel Seigel May 31 2012 at 12:40 am #

      It bothered me too. We got the UK editions in Canada, but I was aware that they changed the title in the U.S. I don’t think they gave kids enough credit for their ability to understand!

  3. Jodi Meadows
    Jodi Meadows May 30 2012 at 10:26 am #

    I loooove looking at the differences between covers. I think it’s so cool seeing what (marketing thinks) speaks to different people.

    As far as these, I actually like the UK Graceling cover better, and the Australian (the face) Glow cover better. I think the Glow paperback (and the sequel hardcover) is getting a new cover, though.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio
      Vanessa Di Gregorio May 30 2012 at 10:38 am #

      Yep – GLOW and it’s sequel, SPARKS, are getting new covers! I think there were a lot of mixed feelings over the original GLOW cover, and it didn’t do as well as they hoped. It’s interesting how repackaging can often bring new life to a book!

    • Rachel Seigel May 31 2012 at 12:42 am #

      The UK Glow cover reminds me of “Across the Universe” by Beth Revis. Funny because they have a few similarities too in terms of concept! I like the American cover, but I guess that just goes to show the subjectivity of covers!

  4. Tim May 30 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    Hmmm I think there’s a collasal difference between covers of Robbin Hobb’s the Liveship Trilogy. Over here we get the plain coloured background with a rather cave-painting like image on the front, but in other countries it shows (I’m talking about the first one here) a rather emanciated Althea standing near the ship.
    The plain colour probably made me by it more, since it seems more fantasy. Meh, plain colours seem to be in now:D

  5. Lori T. May 30 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    Working in a high school library, I completely understand the importance of appealing book covers. Teens want enticing book covers that draw their attention to the book. I hate to admit it, but I’ve often picked up a book that I wasn’t already familiar with, simply because it had an attractive cover (and always ended up enjoying the book!) Then there’s the flip-side of the story; not picking up a book because the cover wasn’t appealing/boring/whatever. It can be a spectacular book, but if that cover isn’t grabbing your attention, there’s a good chance you won’t flip it over or open to check it out. But I really think marketing is getting better and better with books, making really attractive, attention-grabbing covers that will draw more readers to wonderful stories.

    • Rachel Seigel May 31 2012 at 12:49 am #

      I confess I do it too. I read lots of catalogue copy that piques my interest in a book when I’m meeting with sales reps, but if I don’t like the way a cover looks I tend to be prejudiced against it from the start. I’m sometimes pleasantly surprised at the content, but it doesn’t really matter if the content is good when the cover won’t sell it. Many publishers have greatly improved their covers over the years, and I’m blown away by some of the innovations I’ve seen!

  6. Kat Zhang
    Kat Zhang May 31 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    I looove seeing how covers change from country to country. It’s so fascinating how a different cover can give a story a different feel. Plus, the more pretty, the better 🙂

  7. Lauren Jun 1 2012 at 9:46 am #

    Great post! I love seeing the difference in covers – seeing what is thought to sell in each country. It’s fascinating! I remember all the different covers for “Ready Player One” and how, while they all had the video game in mind, they each represented a different aspect of the book. Really cool.

  8. Vanessa Di Gregorio
    Vanessa Di Gregorio Jun 1 2012 at 9:51 am #

    Love this post, Rach!

    I also find it absolutely fascinating when not only the covers are changed in different countries, but also how the title of the book can change as well!

    • Rachel Seigel Jun 1 2012 at 10:09 am #

      And being in Canada, where we get a lot of UK editions as well as the U.S. Editions it gets even more complicated!

  9. Daphne Jul 11 2012 at 11:08 am #

    Great post! I love comparing different covers, but the only thing that irks me about having different ones is that usually I’ll like a version that’s not in the UK, then I have to go hunt it down or ask people travelling to the US to buy books for me.

    The more covers the better though, usually. Designs are so gorgeous these days, it’s such a visual treat.

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  11. F. A. Goodwin May 1 2015 at 9:54 am #

    Hi… I was wondering if it’s ok to have different covers in the same country at the same time so that it would appeal to the different races here in the U.S.

  12. David Jun 26 2015 at 12:10 am #

    I bought two books with the same content under different titles from Amazon. I wrote to the publisher and the explanation was that they were published in different countries. As a consumer, I strongly felt that I have have been cheated by the publisher. They were out to make money and the well-being of the customers were totally neglected.

  13. Kris Feb 26 2016 at 1:06 am #

    Hello, Rachel.
    Can the same book (well, obviously not entirely same) be published with different editing in different markets? My memoir, set in India, would do much better in India if I changed certain bits here and there, but don’t know if that sort of a thing is allowed if the title is the same…
    Is there a way to find out the general rule?
    Thanks

    • s Mar 1 2016 at 7:25 pm #

      Hey Kris, it shouldn’t be a problem since I’ve noticed that multiple authors do use different words or even ad or edit out certain parts even for UK versus the US editions. And yes, the titles are the same. I think it strange if a reader is listening to an audiobook and reading the book at the same time and it doesn’t matches. So it is done, but how ok this is…

      • Kris Mar 4 2016 at 8:11 am #

        Thanks.
        Samuel Beckett wrote Waiting For Godot in French, and then reworked it into the English version by doing more than mere translating. But those were two different languages so I wasn’t sure.

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