So, after a recent sojourn to the colonies (where I was born, so I ought not be too disparaging), and a trudge around some of Boston’s finest Barnes and Nobles, I got to thinking about the covers that publishers on either side of the Atlantic put on the same book. I’m hardly the first to notice the massive difference between jacket design between the two countries, the result of different publishers buying the rights to the same work, and/or the differing sensibilities of the intended audiences.
Book-watchers such as The Millions who have been compiling an annual comparison (usually of titles of American Origin) for the last several years. But other than the occasional blog entry or newspaper column (often aimed, for some reason, at the YA demographic), no one else seems to be trying to catalogue the differences. Well, time to change that.
The Guardian’s recent dissection of book design got me thinking, though it shows how steep a learning curve I may have in front of me in order to understand the terminology of good book cover design.
So, I may as well begin this blog as I mean to go on. A couple of pictures, a quick review, and a whinge about how shit one of the covers is compared to the other. Simple structure, no?
Obviously, I will have bias. I’ve worked with UK books for 5 years, and in general I feel the design here to be superior (with glaring exceptions). The quality of the book itself, however, varies significantly in the UK, while US books generally tend to be better made (better paper, stitching more often, and except for mass-market rubbish, better glue when stitching isn’t an option). I’ll try to tone down the bias. But whatever. MY blog.
So, here we go. Why not start with a cross-atlantic favourite, Bill Bryson? His latest, At Home, chronicles the history of domesticity one room in the house at a time, from the garden to the kitchen and the hall. He runs through ancient Rome, via the Crystal Palace and through to the pile of 50,000 corpses that make up the local churchyard in his quiet village.
The Guardian loved it,
But what matters is how they tried to sell it to the public!
UK Hardback US Hardback/Paperback
So, the UK hardback (which is very much in keeping with the way Doubleday/Black Swan have been designing Bryson’s jackets for the last few years) knows, as the US one does, that Bill Bryson’s name is currently more important than the subject he’s writing on, so it’s there, it’s big, and it’s at the top. Bryson is such a well-known figure that some years ago the Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words, which he published way back in 1983, before he was known for his travel writing, was renamed Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words.
The UK covers (which, unsurprisingly, I prefer), are a bit less brash than the bright red US one (which also commits the biggest sin in book design to my mind – the paperback edition I saw was GLOSSY!), and attempt more to tell the reader about the book. The hardback suggests directly the home, forming an image of detached rural bliss out of an iron and a pile of laundry, hinting at the history of domesticity that lies within.
The paperback is less subtle. While also placed in front of an interior wall, the four walls of a house burst with elements of the stories that lie within the pages, recounting the history of the house from the inside out. Relatively simple concept, enjoyable design, plenty of room for bloody quotes and accolades.
The US cover, first and foremost, reminds me of the UK cover of Wolf Hall, which I’ve been staring at in my line of work for months – at least the paperback isn’t red! Beyond that, it just doesn;t say much about the book. Perhaps it’s too high-concept for me – ‘you must open this book to unlock it’s secrets’, but to me, it could as easily read ‘James Patterson – At Home‘, and have been a Panic Room-style thrill ride. Plus, did I mention, the paperback was GLOSSY!?
So, post 1. 1-0 to the UK (Not decided whether to keep score yet – it’s probably unfair given my bias)