Thursday 22 April 2010

The London Book Fair Day Two: on the Subject of Black and Red and White Book Covers ...

Here's the thing:
Of course, this was one of the burning questions at the book cover panel at the London Book Fair. Why do these books want to look alike?

When the audience posed this question, Antonia Pelari, rights director of Scholastic, did not hesitate:
As a publisher you would be mad not to put a book out there with a black and red cover. We did do a black, red and white cover (Shiver) and we did do very well.
Antonia pointed towards market research in which they asked book buyers what influenced their purchase of a book. Was it a review? A poster? A blog? Inevitably the answer was: "I saw it in a bookshop".

But what about all those books for teenagers with headless girls? If covers are supposed to help a book stand out, why make them all look alike? In 2008 I blogged about the trend for headless girls. Here is a sampling of covers (by some mighty fine authors, I might add) that suffer from display the headless syndrome:

Patrick Insole, art director for Walker Books, replied:
In the UK, we are genre-led. I've been responsible for a few closely cropped heads myself. Publishers want to do whatever the publishing conventions in the genre are at the time ... From (the point of view of the publisher) there is a demand for it. When booksellers (tell us), yes it’s just like the one that sold lots and lots of copies. Could (your cover) be a bit more like that one?
But the product doesn't stand out ... why can't publishers try to be different? To this, Insole said ruefully, "It's scary!"
It depends on the willingness of the bookseller to take a chance on a new look. It’s quite hard to take a risk like (designing) a cover that's not like anything in its genre. You might do if you’re bold enough and you put enough effort into the marketing. (But) all too often you try someting different and it just vanishes. Then you have to rejacket it to look like everything else.
Adds Antonia:
We do take risks sometimes. But risks cost. So you have to be very sure of what you are doing.


  1. It's #tagging for books + #redwhiteblack = vampirey
    #headlessgirls =teengirl love interest

    Quite #useful in its way.

  2. I find the whole subject of covers depressing - probably because writers have so little control over it. But it's all about selling books at the end of the day, so our foibles have little to do with it.

    Still, I think yours is fab, Candy!

  3. When I was at the SCBWI Conference in Bologna, I attended a panel which featured publishers from all over the world. They were congratulating the UK publisher for the brilliance of British children's book publishing -- which is taken up all over the world ... precisely because of the strategic, commercial, and yes, hard-nosed approach to book creation.

    American titles apparently don't sell as much internationally as UK books.

    It's a blessing and a curse. We sell to the world at the expense of our own young readers whose reading experience is bereft of the red double decker buses and other everyday British icons that are part of their world.

  4. It is a real genre thing. People do judge a book by its cover.

    I was gobsmacked by how many black-white-red covers there were on the tables at Watersone's. (And there would have been more on the shelves too). One one hand it looks impressive all spread out on a table, but on the other hand, individual authors don't really stand out.

    (And I do love your cover - just pre-ordered my copy of Tall Story)

  5. awww, thanks ebony!

    at the london book fair, there was a surfeit of vampires etc. i wonder what the bandwagon will be next year?

  6. I was in a Waterstones today, and there was a whole section of 'Dark Romance'..and they all looked exactly alike. Shiver does stand out I think, but few of the others. It encourages readers to stick to one formula in the books they choose, a shame really.

  7. Interesting ... I never really noticed the headless girl trend until you pointed it out!

  8. Wouldn't it be cool to be the one to spot a new, never before done, outrageously wonderful cover that is going to be the next black and red and headless leader of the pack in cover design?

    ... mind you it's not just the design but the sales (as in twilight). but then nobody copied the harry potter covers.


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