US vs UK Book Covers

by August Wainwright on June 15, 2013

As I’ve talked about here before, the cover of a book has huge implications for how that book is perceived. It is probably the single most important aspect when marketing a book to a potential reader.

Readers are swayed by book covers, now more than ever. Head over to Amazon or Kobo or B&N, search through any category, and you’ll notice just how many of those little covers are jammed onto every single page.

What’s interesting is that, for at least some (if not most) traditionally published books, the cover of the book is different for US and UK audiences. Are the audiences so different that a completely different design is warranted?

I honestly can’t answer that – and what’s brilliant is that the publishers themselves probably can’t answer it either.

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the recent books that have been released with different book covers on different sides of the pond, and see which ones we like better…

The covers on the left are from the US; covers on the right are from the UK.

 

inferno

Dan Brown’s Inferno – I actually think both of these covers are pretty damn good. It’s hard to get a good look at all of the little intricacies of the US version (left) without seeing it in person, but if you have, it fits Brown’s puzzle/code/mystery theme perfectly. That being said, I personally prefer the UK version. I don’t love the gold “Inferno” mark, but everything else is great. The mood set by the UK cover is so much more mysterious and haunting. I find it to be more striking. Also, I think the UK version would do better online as a thumbnail.

For me, this one goes to: UK

 

wheredyougo

Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Now this is interesting because of how similar each version is. For online stores, I’d say the UK version is a little better. But overall, the “cleanliness” of the US version is the one that immediately catches my eye. It’s brighter overall, and having “BERNADETTE” be the large text at the bottom seems smart.

Winner: US

 

hope

Shalom Auslander’s Hope: A Tragedy – When I first saw these two next to each other, my eye was drawn towards that damn rooster. Why? I have no idea. I’m a fan of chickens apparently. But the US version is better in almost every way. The green background is much more striking (and simple) than its UK counterpart. And it’s way more interesting. Having “Hope: A Tragedy” crossed out is just double ballsy. Plus, your book is good, I get it; all the papers love it, great. Don’t plaster that crap on the front of your cover – I don’t care what the Spectator thinks.

Better in every way (sorry chicken): US

 

byblood

Ellen Ullman’s By Blood – Damn. These are both incredibly awesome book covers. I’d be ecstatic with either one if my cover designer shot me a “What do you think of this?” email. The US version is ridiculously well done – did you notice the way the circles sort of weave their way between the title and author names? That’s really good. If you’re judging for online use, I would have to give the nod to the UK version by just a little. White backgrounds tend to blend into the page online, whereas you can’t get much more bold than black and red. This one is tough, and I’m tempted to call it a tie, but from a purely design perspective, I’d rather have the US version. Personal choice here.

Winner: US (by an absurdly slim margin)

 

orchardist

Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist – Wow, again, two amazing covers. How sad is it that there are so many great books written by great writers that don’t sell because of crap covers, while other books are graced with two fantastic covers? Life’s not fair, is it? Anyways, The scene and simplicity of the US version is extremely well executed. The font treatments are great, the sort of “vintagey” look helps with the feel, and I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I’m going to get before I ever read the first word.

All that being said, the UK version is AMAZING. Why is this book cover not plastered everywhere? I will admit that I don’t know of Amanda Coplin, and I’ve never heard of the Orchardist; honestly, it’s probably not my exact type of book. But seeing the UK version of the cover makes me want to buy it immediately. I’m opening an extra browser window right now to find out more about it. That is what a great cover can do for a book.

The little apple “O” in the title is great. The UK version is even simpler in layout than the US version and the imagery is haunting, enticing, striking, please stop me…

I’d also be interested to find out how the frayed edges looks online. I have to think it would do wonders for helping the book stand out against all its rectangular competition. (Might have to steal that idea).

Winner: UK

 

entwined

Sylvia Day’s Entwined with You – Uggh, can we call this one a tie and crown them both losers? Look, I don’t read Sylvia Day, BUT I have absolutely nothing against it, the genre, or those who read her stuff. None – I swear. What irritates me here is what I talked about in the article ‘Your Cover is Killing Your Book‘; you should strive for a cover that is somewhat genre-specific, while avoiding genre-cliche. And right now, there are countless covers that look just like Sylvia Day and E.L. James. They don’t stand out, they don’t make me want to look twice, let alone read the damn book. But obviously I’m not the target audience. And they seem to be doing just fine without my opinion… so… yea…

Winner: US (because one version has to win and it’s better executed)

 

sweettooth

Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth – Ok. These are better. Only a little better, but still better. It’s interesting because I would have thought the US version would have been the more contrasty black and white, and the UK version would have been the subdued vintage version. Neither cover is spectacular, but I think the UK version gives me a little more insight into what the book is about, what with the case file/folder and the man in the shadows. Unfortunately, I don’t find the UK version very appealing. It doesn’t really look like a book cover; more like a poster you’d see at a state courthouse with a blurb like “stalking is bad for everyone – just say no”.

Winner: US (solely because of aesthetics)

 

thisishowyou

Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her – Two very difference approaches and two very different covers. And, because of it, I get two distinct feelings about what this book is going to be like based on the covers. This is a perfect example of how the cover of a book can set the mood for a potential reader before they read a single page. Even though the US version uses a heart graphic, the UK version is the one that resembles a romance novel more. This is just my opinion, but I would guess that the UK version is marketed specifically at women, where the US version is marketed more gender neutral. I prefer the US version with it’s contrasting colors, interesting graphic and minimal font treatment.

Winner: US

 

aliftheunseen

G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen – Both covers are pretty amazing, with lots of intricate details. The US version is a hands-down winner for me, with a more focused idea and better executed elements. The colors are more vibrant, the font treatments are very well done, and the patterns are excellent. Doing this cover round-up, I’ve realized that UK versions of book covers seem to be much more likely to use blurbs all over them. I think the blurb greatly reduces the quality of the cover. I can’t imagine that anybody cares all that much about these blurbs, and if it absolutely must be on there, the US version of Alif shows how it can be added without becoming a dominating element.

Winner: US

 

round-house

Louise Erdrich’s The Round House – Again, two amazing book covers. My eye goes to the UK version first, with its beautiful artwork and bold colors. I can’t really point out a single thing wrong in the UK version. It has great atmosphere, sets a mood for the reader, uses solid design elements and treats the fonts well. I wouldn’t change a single thing. The problem is, I don’t know if I’d change anything about the US version either. I honestly think the UK version is better, but there’s just something about the US version… I don’t know what it is… wait… are those…

Are those pieces of bacon on the cover? That’s what it is – I can’t stop looking at the US version because it makes me think of bacon.

Winner: US (because bacon is an underutilized design element)

 

There are countless other examples where publishers have used different covers for US vs UK books. What’s worth pointing out is that after going through 10 different examples, I (a US citizen) preferred the US versions on 8 out of the 10 books; maybe publishers have a better grasp on their customers than I would have thought. Or maybe the designers are just more in-tune with the consumers. Not sure, but I think it’s an interesting observation.

I’m sure you’ll probably disagree with a few of my choices, and that’s great, so which ones did you like more? US or UK? Leave a comment below – and feel free to drop links to other great examples of US vs UK book covers.

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9 comments

This is an interesting, entertaining, and thoughtful post. I found myself agreeing with most of your choices, August, but I wasn’t as seduced by the bacon as you. True, bacon is an underutilized design element, but I don’t think it quite overcame the great layout, artwork, and impact of the UK cover.

by Joel Friedlander on June 28, 2013 at 5:50 pm. Reply #

Joel,

Thanks for stopping by and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I, along with many other indie/self-published authors, value your design opinions so it pains me to say that I must disagree…

Great layout, artwork, and impact are all very important elements of design, but I believe the official chart goes:

1. Bacon
2. Great layout with appropriate use of white-space
3. Beautiful, attention-grabbing artwork
4. Overall visual and emotional impact
5. Bacon (in case you missed it the first time around)

(I’m fairly confident you can verify this information on Wikipedia… where all things are 100% true).

Good day sir.

by August Wainwright on July 1, 2013 at 2:56 pm. Reply #

Fantastic post–I just loved looking at these. I’d never noticed that UK covers tend to have more blurbs and endorsements on the cover; interesting.

This page shows a wealth of Harry Potter covers–the differences between the Bloomsbury kid editions and adult editions are striking. http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Cover_art

by Shar on June 30, 2013 at 9:49 am. Reply #

I found the blurb thing interesting too, although I’m pretty sure 10 is not a large enough sample size to really say it’s a pattern.

I remember reading somewhere (can’t remember the exact location) about the Harry Potter covers and how they were re-released with those adult covers because lots of UK adults were complaining they would look ridiculous holding the children’s version while on the train. So they changed the covers, marketed them to adults and saw a large uptick in sales.

Shows you how important a book cover can be…

by August Wainwright on July 1, 2013 at 3:02 pm. Reply #

I’m also very interested in the influence that a well designed book cover has to sell books so I really enjoyed these comparisons.

One point I didn’t see mentioned but which I thought I’d point out is the difference in importance that the covers lend to the author’s name compared to the book’s title. It seems that in almost every case, the US versions gave the title more prominence while the UK covers emphasize the author’s name. I wonder I this reflects any differences between how readers in the two geographies shop for books.

by Evan Jacobs on July 7, 2013 at 1:44 pm. Reply #

[…] Wainwright presents US vs. UK Book Covers posted at August Wainwright, saying, “Readers are swayed by book covers, now more than ever. […]

by Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies Issue #33 — The Book Designer on December 20, 2013 at 11:14 pm. Reply #

[…] familiar with in the UK. Because book covers are very interesting! This made me think about the UK vs. US covers game, and that made me want to do a blog of my own about […]

by Goodreads News and US vs. UK covers, Holiday Edition on March 7, 2014 at 9:23 am. Reply #

You should compare Debbie Macomber titles especially Mr. Miracle. For me, I think US version is more lovely as you can clearly see two persons together on the cover art while the UK version you could barely see another person.

by Leon on November 10, 2014 at 2:36 am. Reply #

Hi, I love your article and the attention to the differences between the two markets. It’s still fascinating that in such a global market there is the call for differing covers when a lot of the social culture is shared.
Many thanks,
D @ http://www.jdandj.com

by Dave on February 13, 2015 at 9:17 am. Reply #

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