Friday 22 February 2013

Judging Young Fiction By Their Covers - Yanks vs Limeys

The online magazine The Millions is judging books by their covers again.

"As readers, we are undoubtedly swayed by the little billboard that is the cover of every book we read," writes former bookseller C. Max Magee. "...I’ve always found it especially interesting that the U.K. and U.S. covers often differ from one another. This would seem to suggest that certain layouts and imagery will better appeal to readers on one side of the Atlantic rather than the other."

Here on the Slushpile, we were so captivated by the comparisons we thought we'd do a random survey comparing the US and UK covers of the teen and young fiction books in our orbit.

Here's a totally UNscientific selection of US and UK covers (based on suggestions on Facebook and things that occurred to us) compiled in a fit of enthusiastic procrastination.

The US covers are on the left and the UK covers are on the right.

Teri: I'm afraid I can't comment! Much like those with children, I love them both equally
Candy: Sorry, US, I prefer the simplicity of the UK cover ... and the blurb across the top.
Jo: At risk of being kicked off the Slushpile... I prefer the US one. I personally fin it more eye-catching.
Addy: I prefer the more pleasing proportions of the UK cover. The cityscape is a distraction.
Maureen: I prefer the UK cover. This story is all about Kyla and her slated head and this cover reflects that.

Teri: I'm torn. I love the colourful UK cover, but I think the US cover hits the age group better. I'm sitting on the fence with this one.
Candy: The UK version seems a lot younger than the target reader of this wonderful book. I wonder if some teens might not pick it up because it looks too young. Shame if they don't. I don't know why the telephone booth is brown in the US version but ... in this case I vote for the US cover.
Jo: This is a good one! I personally prefer the US cover - I'd be far more likely to pick this one off the shelf. But I'm an adult and (drumroll please) a GIRL. When I'm in my local indie, and recommending the book, I think the UK cover helps the cause. The US cover doesn't show the sense of humour of the story, only the gritty. The UK cover also works really well in terms of how they carry on the design theme inside.
Addy: Ack. I think the US has reflected the age of the reader but I love the UK cover for its bold madness. The words barked out of the dog's mouth are genius. 15 days is a book with heart and which is also funny and I think the UK version just about hits the right note.
Maureen: Neither cover works for me. The US looks too dark and doesn't reflect the warmth and humour in the book. The UK cover makes it look like a funny book for younger children, which it isn't. It's a heartwarming truthful insight into a child's life.

Teri: The Lost Girl is creepy weird sci fi in premise. The UK cover could be any story about anything with a girl in; the US cover is weird and bizarro and so fits the story better than the UK one. And also I'm sure the character shouldn't be blond!
Candy: I haven't read this but I like the US version - especially because the blurb is so intriguing.
Jo: I like the US version too. Completely weird and brilliant.
Addy: Oh, the US version easily. It's sharper, classier, more intriguing than the UK version which looks a bit like a few other covers.  
Maureen: I prefer the US version too, it's arty and interesting.

Candy: I picked up Uglies by Scott Westerfeld because I LOVED the weird UK cover on the right. If it had been the cover on the left which looked like a lot of other teen books, I might not have purchased it. They have subsequently released an ultra commercial, lets-look-like-all-the-other teen covers version. And one that looks a lot like the cover of Gone. I quite like this new version which has the spookiness of the original UK cover above.
Teri: have seen loads of different versions of these - like the UK original best of all
Jo: Oh my god - I really am going to get told off by my fellow slushies - but I prefer the US one. The UK cover is just a bit too weird for me. Also, I think I'd find it a difficult cover to recommend a book to a teenager (especially if parents were present!)
Addy: I haven't read 'Uglies' (I know - I will, I will!) but would not have bought the US version cos it doesn't say anything to me, except for girl plus possible jungle involvement. In fact, I wouldn't even bother reading the brilliant blurb. The UK version is the one for me - weird and disturbing and different. 
Maureen: UK again. Love the metaphor of broken people. It looks quite controversial.

Teri: What I don't like about the UK version is how YOUNG the figures are on (there are two versions, one with a boy and one with a girl). They look way younger than the characters they represent. So US it is.
Candy: I bought the Hunger Games' UK book DESPITE this cover.
Jo: I'm with Candy (finally!). I wouldn't have bought this myself - I was leant it and almost didn't read it because the cover was so girly. The US cover is simple and stunning.
Addy: US cover by a long way. The UK cover seems to be trying too hard with its Hammer bits of red and the messed-about-with title. The US cover is clean and clear. It means business. 
Maureen: I actually prefer the UK one to the US. It needs to say this book is about blood and death, so watch out. The US cover could be about anything, vampires falling in love, for instance.

Teri: I much prefer the UK one! Love the trolls. They look too cutesy in the US version.
Jo: Goodness - they just did such a fab job with the UK one - how can you beat that? The great thing about it is that it's instantly recognisable. I as an adult recognise it and kids recognise it. Brilliant. I especially love the juxtaposition of cartoon and photographic textures.
Candy: Muncle Trogg is by our friend Janet Foxley. I have to say my vote goes for the UK cover.
Addy: I don't know what's going on with the US cover! It's a tad treacly for my taste but the UK cover is great and strikes the right tone for this ace book.
Maureen: I'm afraid Muncle just doesn't look anything like this (US). He wouldn't stand like that or smile like that and it's giving the wrong impression of his character. Neither does he look like this (UK) but I much prefer this version. It's fun and quirky and there's so much humour to it.

Jo: Honestly, I'd happily pick up and buy either of these. The US one is maybe missing a trick without the red circle and the tagline - both are which are integral to the story and pull you in.  The US cover probably plays better to the book's adult appeal though.
Teri: I think.... probably the US one in this case. For some reason when I look at the UK cover I get some weird double face optical image thing (probably just me; have spent too much time looking at optical illusions as an optometrist)
Candy: I haven't read this book yet but from what I've heard, it's STONKING. So I'm really looking forward to it. I like the artiness of the UK cover, the US one has a touch of Twilight to it.
Addy: Must read! The UK cover is for me; death and beauty in one image and so clearly a wartime story. It's probably me but I glanced at the US cover and thought bondage and no that wouldn't make me more inclined to buy it. (Jo's note - I didn't mean adult appeal in THAT way, you know, just in case anyone is wondering...)
Maureen: Well, if you thought bondage on the left, I thought romance on the right. I have read and enjoyed the book and the US version is definitely nearer to the point. But it still doesn't give a clear message either. I'm not sure either image truly reflects the book.

Candy: Rachel Ward told us on Facebook that the covers of her US and UK book were wildly different and it's mind-blowingly true! The red eye in the US cover suggests horror ... I think I prefer the UK cover.
Teri: I go for the US one here: I like the weirdness!
Jo: The red in the eye is perhaps a little strange, but again, I'd happily buy either of these. The beauty of the UK cover is the way they took the themes in the design through the series. (Also - if you haven't read this one and like or write books for teens, you should go hunt down a copy!)
Addy: Ooo, I prefer the US version - it's really dramatic and clever. I'm a bit confused by the UK cover.
Maureen: I'm with Addy. The US cover is striking but also intriguing.

Candy: Helen Grant pointed us to the covers of her Carnegie nominated book. What a contrast! In this case, I prefer the cat cover - it's less storytelling than the UK cover but very intriguing.
Teri: I'm going for the US here - though (confession) it may just be because I like cats.
Jo: I love both. I'm not sure about the font on the UK cover - it strikes me as a bit 'of a certain generation' but still, the white silhouette is intriguing.
Addy: I love Helen's books! It's a bit of a toss-up between the two for me but the UK version edges it because it has trees in it and it looks spooky.
Maureen: I seem to like covers that leave something for me to think about so the US version wins this one. But I might have thought it was about a vanishing cat if I hadn't seen the UK version. But then I have the question - is Katharina turned into a cat? Is that why she's vanished? I don't know, because I haven't read the book, yet.

Candy: The Seraphina covers was suggested by Amy Butler Greenfield (her debut YA novel Chantress is out THIS  YEAR! Can't wait!) ... I think I'm inclined towards the US version. Love the art. And I like the dragon.
Teri: This is a tough one but I'm leaning towards the UK. To be honest if I were browsing books on the shelf I'd skip over the US one - not enough colour. Also to me it suggests a younger story than what it is.
Jo: Again - interesting. I personally prefer the US cover, but I'd find the UK cover much easier to recommend with - I think a British teenage girl is more likely to pick this one up.
Addy: Definitely the US version. Gorgeous black and white like a fantasy woodcut. 
Maureen: Me too. Gosh, I'm really getting an idea of how hard it is for illustrators to actually come up with something new and eyecatching. There are definite genre stereotypes and it must be difficult to persuade publishers to break with these when the books need to sit on the shelf in that genre. Making them stand out must be a real problem.

Candy: Kath Langrish's book has different titles in the UK and in the US. The US feels like a medieval adventure and the UK ... well, I'm not sure. Which one would I be drawn to? Maybe the American cover which may be traditional but is far more explicit about what's inside.
Teri: I'm going UK on this one!
Jo: I like both again - and I can see easily how each is trained directly to its market. The one on the right fits in much better with UK designs, but I think the one of the left would look equally good on a US shelf.
Addy: Not the US cover which looks a little generic and traditional. The UK cover is edgier and holds more interest. I like the hook.
Maureen: I'm for the one on the right too. There's an air of mystery and threat and there's an anticipation of movement, of entering the story.

Teri: US all the way for me. I've read this one and I love the US cover; I don't get the red dress in the right, in a world where all wear grey.
Jo: OK, I'll jump down on to one side of the fence, and say that I prefer the US one. It's the girl in the background with her hands over her eyes that seals the deal for me.
Candy: I'm definitely drawn to the cover art of the US cover. It's so cool!
Addy: The US cover without a doubt - mysterious with a hint of horror.
Maureen: I love both. But having read the book (recommend) I can see that the US cover suits the story more.

Jo: I have a different cover which I prefer to either of these. I'd be more likely to pick up the US one, but I think the one on the right is probably more appealling to British teen girls. It is very girl-cetric cover, isn't it? What with the daisy and everything. Awesome tagline, though.
Candy: I LOVED this book but sorry, I don't think I like either of these covers although I love the blurb on the UK cover. I've got the UK edition and the black comes off on your hands!
Teri: I haven't read it, but I want to. Probably if I knew nothing about it, I'd be more drawn to the UK.
Addy: I don't think either cover does justice to the book. The US one is slightly messy with the story so I'm going for the somewhat clearer UK version.
Maureen: I prefer the UK, just because I like the hook. I don't have any clues about the story from the US version.

Jo: UK! Every time. Not to repeat myself AGAIN, but they take the themes on that cover through the book so well that even a chapter heading is instantly recognisable. Genius.
Teri: will this one be unanimous? UK all the way!
Candy: Well I LOVED the UK edition.
Addy: The UK version is more interesting. That knife is HORRIBLE. UK it is.
Maureen: No contest - UK.

Candy: Hmm ... both these covers actually leave me cold. But I might choose the US cover just because it's got a boy on a broom.
Jo: I love both! They're not *that* different - both have the same overall style. Although on the UK cover, Harry does look like something VERY odd is standing just out of shot...! Though, to be fair, he is about to be run over by the Hogwarts Express, so...
Teri: I know they have differences...but they 'feel' much the same to me. I think probably US but it is a tough call!
Addy: Don't like either of them. I'll go for the UK version because... he's wearing a stripey scarf.
Maureen: I'll choose the UK because it has a train.

Candy: Would I really choose a compass over a polar bear? I'm all for the US edition. So strange though that the US opted for the title The Golden Compass but didn't feature a compass on the cover, and the UK edition opted for a compass on the cover which is not mentioned in the title. Apparently, The Golden Compass ranks second in books people try to ban in the United States!
Jo: I prefer the font choice on the US cover, but the UK cover is brilliantly designed - it's a cover adults wouldn't mind being seen with. They played on the crossover potential brilliantly.
Teri: I'm going for UK on this one! but it might be because I'm annoyed they changed the title in the US.
Addy: I'll plump for the US version. I really like the artwork and think that the UK version is a little uninspired and confusingly at odds with the title. 
Maureen: Neither. Why is there a horse? If that's to do with the publisher then it's very badly placed.

And the winner of our US vs UK random comparison is ...THE USA! It's an 8-6 win after a couple of draws (which, with 5 of us voting, is something of an achievement...)

And during our research, we discovered that the UK covers of Meg Rosoff's brilliant  How I Live Now appear to be moving backwards in time!

First edition 2004 ... 2005 YA look ... 2010 Penguin edition!


  1. This is a surprise, I fully expected UK covers to come out on top, but in this selection I broadly agree that the American covers were better.

    Sci-fi & fantasy books are regularly published in the States with ludicrously generic cover art. Iain Bank's Culture novels, being the first example that springs to mind.

    Specifically regarding Northern Lights (The Golden Compass is a better title, the other two books are named after central objects)that was actually the 2nd UK version that used that cover art, the first was much better IMHO.

    1. Thanks. When we were looking for covers it was so hard to figure out which ones were the earliest version and some books were redesigned so often. That would be a great subject for another post!

    2. This was pretty much an unscientific random sampling! So not sure which country would come out on top if we did a more comprehensive survey.
      Strangely, for myself as a generalisation I tend to find that with younger fiction I often prefer UK versions, but with sic-fi/dystopian YA I often prefer US versions.

  2. Do you think the middle version of How I Live Now reflects the book? This seems to me to be a bit wrong - naked shoulders, really??? But it's a while since I read it so I may be wrong. And it's a stereotypical genre cover too. Prefer the first.

    1. I really love How I Live Now, but I've honestly never liked any of the covers I've seen on it.

    2. The middle one is totally wrong, makes it look like chick-lit.

  3. Interesting post. Thank you guys. I find the cover usually influences how I visualise the main character (no matter how hard I try not to let it) and this can spoil the read for me a little. I want to be free to construct my own heroine in my own head from my own points of reference. So for me it's covers without faces please!

    1. *takes foot out of mouth* That aside, the Slated cover is fantastic and has huge pick up appeal. I love the way the UK cover has a grungy feel and dares to move away from a perfectly groomed beauty!

    2. You can say more without a foot in your mouth :)

  4. Great fun looking at all the covers. I HATE when they change the titles, because I sometimes end up buying the same book without realizing it. Covers are so important when browsing a shop or library shelf. Plus, you highlighted some awesome books - I have a few more to read now!

  5. This was fascinating! I voted 8-6 in favor of the US covers, too, though like Teri I tend to prefer UK covers for younger books. And of course it's harder to tell with books I haven't read -- sometimes a cover is visually striking, but it just isn't right for the book.

    Really great to see your comments, as they brought up points I hadn't considered. And thanks for the shout-out about CHANTRESS, Candy!

    1. Of course I had to give it a shout out ... It's my second most hotly anticipated title of the year( my first being my own book which I've been hotly anticipating for the past three years).

  6. Very interesting post, guys. I was busy agreeing with you (or not) when I asked my 12 1/2 year old son to rate the covers as well. He gave some very different viewpoints to mine (and I'll have to disown him about Knife of Never Letting Go: US version much better, according to him. He said it suggested more of an adventure, he liked the two moons. The UK cover 'was just writing.') He went US on Verity and Numbers versus my UK choice (He said US covers were more sinister, powerful, evil and surreal - what have I raised!)He liked the UK Hunger Games because it was more interesting, it suggested more of the story. The US one was black and boring. A similar reason for liking the UK Seraphina: it makes you think more; what's with the eye and who is she? He preferred the white ghost girl of Vanishing, over the cat, again because it told more of a story. Artistic merit seemed irrelevant over the promise of a story. Just thought you might like to know.

    1. That's so fascinating! Next time we should invite a panel of random children to comment on our random covers!

    2. Random works for me. Statistically significant results? Bah, humbug!

  7. We think we sometimes went with a cover that we were already familiar with (especially if we enjoyed the book), but that aside, here's what we thought of some of the covers (we looked at 14). Little M was split half-half, I veered more towards UK. Note that Little M is a new teen, I'm an old adult:

    1. Slated - UK for both. Little M says the cityscape looks like Divergent and the UK one makes Kyla's face look like it's half hidden in a sheet of slate (which seems more appropriate to the story).

    2. 15 Days: USA for both: UK looks too young; we haven't read book; I started it but couldn't get into it. From the opening chapter, USA cover seemed better.

    3. Lost Girl: UK for both; although Little M quite liked the USA one too. I like the pink and grey and I think it actually suits the story perfectly because the heart of it really is about being a human teen girl.

    4. Uglies: USA for both; Little M especially felt the UK one looked too creepy. She loved Uglies and owns a different version.

    5. Hunger Games - both awful; I'm not sure there are any good covers for this series which just goes to show that we should never judge a book by it's cover.

    6. Code Name Verity - UK for both: I loved this book and the UK cover; the USA cover makes me thin of some kind of bondage and I think misses the spot completely.

    7. Numbers: USA for Little M because it has numbers all over and she likes the use of the 8 as a B. For me, UK. We haven't read it.

    8. The Vanishing title: UK for Little M - she misread the USA title and thought it said The Vanishing Cat. I agree with her on that point, but I prefer the USA cover. We haven't read it.

    9. Seraphina: USA for both. We haven't read it.

    10. Dark Parties: UK for both. We haven't read it.

    11. Looking for Alaska: USA for Little M. UK for me. We haven't read it but I own two other John Green's.

    12. The Knife of Never Letting Go: USA for both. I don't like the knife image on the UK one. Little M has a different version - with the knife bu a white background. We didn't buy it for the cover. We haven't read it.

    13. Harry Potter: UK for both - USA looks too kiddy.

    14. Northern Lights: UK for both. Little M said that's the original title anyway, the other one's from the film.

    So overall, we'd probably say thumbs down if it looks childish; thumbs down if it has cityscapes or resembles too many other covers; thumbs down to creepy (even if the story is); thumbs down to confusion. Thumbs up - that's a lot more subjective and we usually only know it when we see it!

    1. brilliant, thanks so much for commenting! it is interesting to see how opinions vary so much, especially for me with Lost Girl.

    2. Hey thanks for that - it's fascinating to hear why people like or don't like a cover. As a matter of interest, how old is Little M?

  8. What a lovely distraction this post was - The UK covers just pipped it for me ( the last two swung it!) But you have to factor in the fact you've read the books - if you love them you associate the covers with that sheer reading joy. Although that is a bit of a lie because I actually prefer to UK hunger Games cover and I read it with the US cover..gah what do I know, I don't do science...PS Do a poll!!!!!


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