A tale of two book covers

Did you know that American book covers are often completely different than the UK’s versions? Amanda Stevenson compares and contrasts some of the most obviously distinct, and explains why there’s a difference in the first place.

Piles of books at a stand downtown Rome (© giulio napolitano:Shutterstock.com)

So here’s the thing: the United States and the United Kingdom have different laws. For example, Americans can carry handguns (we can’t, obviously)…but we can eat blackcurrant jam (which is largely unknown and somewhat outlawed in the States).

The same goes for laws concerning books.

Basically, in order for a book to be published, it first has to be sold to the publisher. But there are different publishers in the UK and the U.S., which–as we’ve said–have different laws. So the book has to be sold either to a publisher that operates out of both countries (like, say, Penguin), or it has to be sold to two different publishers (for instance, Jessie Burton‘s The Miniaturist is published by Picador here, but HarperCollins in the States).

Once the different publishers get the rights to the book, they get to pick their designs. Different companies means different opinions…which means different covers.

Got it? Good. Now we can get to the fun part–the pictures.

A quick note: U.S. covers will be on the left, and UK ones on the right.

we are all completely beside ourselves (us cover)We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Karen Joy Fowler‘s Booker Prize-longlisted novel about family ties and dramas has two entirely different takes for the paperback cover. The U.S. version, published by Penguin (USA), includes, interestingly, a silhouette of a chimp. The UK’s version, published by Serpent’s Tail, is decidedly more ambiguous. Both stand out, but the image of the tree for the UK’s cover, along with the children playing on it, becomes understandable as you make your way through the plot. Then again, so does the ape…

cuckoo's calling (us cover)cuckoo's calling

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

The whole premise of the novel, by a pseudonym’d J.K. Rowling, is the investigation into a supermodel’s suicide. In that sense, you can understand why the back of what looks like a Hollywood starlet is displayed on the version done by Little, Brown and Company. It’s written in the same vein as the detective novels people know and love, though–dark and mysterious–which explains the typical hunched silhouette and mist in Sphere‘s take.

the miniaturist (us cover)The Miniaturist

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Our former Book of the Month, about a girl, a miniature version of her new home, and the creations of the miniaturist, which mirror their real-life counterparts a little too well. Picador‘s version gives you a look into the cabinet-sized house: the details, the colours, and the uncanny sense of seeing into something real. HarperCollins‘take shows the prestige and the setting–17th century Amsterdam–and makes you wonder at the mystery inside. Which, by the way…oh, we won’t spoil it for you.

hundred year old man (us cover)hundred year old man

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The thing that’s present on both covers is, of course, the titular hundred-year-old man. What sticks out for Hesperus Press Ltd‘s version is the design: it’s now been (seemingly) imitated by both Jonasson‘s second similarly-named book, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden (published by Fourth Estate), and Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg‘s The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules (from Pan Books). Hyperion‘s version, too, sparked a similar design for Jonasson‘s second book in the States. They do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…

inferno (us cover)Inferno PB

Inferno by Dan Brown

Robert Langdon is, once again, called on to save the world–this time, using only a few lines from Dante‘s Inferno. The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group shows an artist’s rendering of the poet who famously depicted Hell, while Corgi Books opted for a (foreboding) sculpted bust of Dante watching from the background. Either way, the reader can sense the urgency…or maybe they’ve come to expect it from Brown‘s fictional Harvard professor.

the aftermath (us cover)the aftermath

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group gives depicts the atmosphere felt throughout the book–the devastation of a post-WWII Germany. Penguin‘s version shows a car pulling up to a home, the woman inside looking mysteriously toward something unseen. In both covers, you get a sense that not everything should be taken at face-value–something the book explores as its characters experience grief, passion, and betrayal. The fact that it’s based on a true story, as well, gives the reader a bit more to ponder…

one plus one (us cover)The One Plus One

The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

There’s more than a cover difference between these two–Pamela Dorman Books dropped ‘The’ from the title. Penguin‘s version depicts the backs of the story’s main characters, without giving too much away about any of them. Either way, the reader is intrigued enough to figure out what’s inside…

 

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7 thoughts on “A tale of two book covers

  1. Book covers are so rarely discussed and seem to have so much influence in a browser picking up a book. I like illustrated covers almost always and so I invariably go with the UK ones. Nice write-up. Thanks!

  2. I generally prefer the UK ones – we are better at making lettering attractive rather than looking for impact – but I think the U/.S. cover for the Aftermath is better – shows the reason for the note of tragedy rather than the generic pretty woman looking sad photo, which looks like a bad romance (in both senses of the phrase).

  3. I have been known to order from a US book site to get the cover I want. (Most recently the US cover of ‘American Wife’ by Curtis Sittenfeld.) I feel guilty for doing it though!

What do you think?