Having spent fifteen brief years in advertising, I should know a thing or two about graphic design.  In fact, I always thought I had a fairly good eye for design — or at least knew precisely what I liked and what I didn’t.

No more.  Five years as a writer has completely scrambled my brain on the subject of book covers.  Usually the ones I like are the ones the sales department tch-s over sadly, as in, “Oh that one. Disastrous. Didn’t sell at all.”  Of course the problem I had in my former career was that I lacked any sort of common touch, which suddenly makes me doubt whether I’m capable of judging what should be on the cover of my books. I loved the American hardback cover of The Bride’s Farewell, but it was deemed too cold.  All that black and white, maybe?  But the horse, didn’t everyone love the horse?  I guess not.

The new paperback cover is, if possible, even more beautiful (though sadly lacking the horse).  Will it prove….too artsy?  Too subtle?  Too female?

And what about the two UK covers?  The hardback is lovely, but I don’t like our heroine’s position on the horse (head thrust forward) — something probably no one else on earth would notice. And what about the paperback, which has turned Pell into a blonde?  I dunno.  I never saw her as a blonde, but who am I to judge?  The wild look is certainly right, I just sort of wish she looked a little more as I wrote her.  And yes, I’ve made a couple of changes in the text to allow her to be blonde on the cover.

Not that I want to be inflexible, but when my German publisher told me they’d put a golden labrador on the  cover of How I Live Now, I commented (rather sweetly, I thought, for me) that perhaps they didn’t have  border collies in Germany?  “No no, came the answer.  We just liked this picture of a labrador.”  Again, appropriate changes were made in the text.

When faced with a roomful of people  telling me that “the  whole sales team swooned when they saw it!” the courage of  my convictions tends to wobble.  And I never really see myself  as a wobbler.  Except occasionally in the mirror, after a shower, and that’s a whole  different story.

In bookshops, I’m always seeing covers I love.  Covers I KNOW I love.  I would fight  anyone who told me that the cover of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is not  genuinely brilliant.  And I bet it sold well, too.  I should know.  I bought a copy for  the cover alone.

Which was just as well, because in my heart of hearts, I thought  Pride and Prejudice read fairly well without the zombies.


16 thoughts on “Judging books by their covers

  1. Phil 9 years ago

    In my experience you have as good a visual sense as anyone. I would trust your instincts over many others who might suggest they know more.

    1. Meg 9 years ago

      Thanks, Phil. But remind me…how many of our genius ads did we actually sell?

  2. bookwitch 9 years ago

    The zombie P&P is horrible!

  3. Meg 9 years ago

    The book or the cover?

  4. Katherine Langrish 9 years ago

    Er, it’s striking – “P&P + zombies” – but I’m too fainthearted for it. Would have to turn it face down every time I saw it – which is hardly the point.
    I like your black and white horsy cover!

  5. Scott 9 years ago

    Wow, I really wouldn’t have guessed from the US covers of The Bride’s Farewell that it was a young adult book – which is wonderful. The British paperback is, well, I wouldn’t be tempted to read it, sorry to say. Book covers are such a fickle thing – I’m surprised that you don’t get more of a say in them. Though is that responsibility you really want to have?

    1. Meg 9 years ago

      Hi Scott. Well there, you see? I’m published as an adult writer in the US, which explains the sophisticated cover.

  6. Claire 9 years ago

    I think book covers are a little like blurbs, in some respect – having written, rewritten and thought about the book for so long, it’s very difficult to have perspective on something much smaller and less detailed which will a) accurately sum up your book [because nothing will!] and b) appeal to the people you hope will read your book [which may be a different group to the people the publishers and booksellers hope will read your book]. I didn’t realise changes would be made in the text to make the covers make sense, though – certainly know I’ve read books where the covers had fiddly details wrong but still worked as covers.

  7. Lesley Martin 9 years ago

    I love the UK hbk cover for the Bride’s Farewell (loved the cover for How I Live Now too) but I have to say the pbk cover looks like a Jodi Picoult novel – which may be the point, sales-wise, but does a huge injustice to the book. Not that I haven’t enjoyed some Jodi Picoult titles, but she’s not in your league Meg…
    And it doesn’t look like my idea of Pell either, she’s definitely dark!

  8. C 9 years ago

    I really like the US black-and-white cover. It’s dreamlike, like an old photograph, and the horse can either be Jack or a metaphor for Pell (or both, I suppose). Pell, in my imagination, is dark-haired.

    1. Meg 9 years ago

      Sigh. In my imagination, too.

  9. Julia 9 years ago

    Love the US hardcover. The US softcover looks beautiful too. UK soft-cover looks cheesy, UK hardcover is ok but not as stunning as the US cover.

    Being the proud owner of a Shetland Sheepdog I have to say “for shame!” to the German publisher 😉 Just my 2c

  10. bookwitch 9 years ago

    Adèle Geras changed the colour of the bridesmaids’ dresses for the paperback because the artist had done such a lovely cover image that it was better to change dark green to pale green.

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  12. Maria 8 years ago

    Well, can I just say I ordered The Bride’s Farewell on Amazon earlier today, and chose the hardback rather than the paperback due entirely to the cover, as (in spite of a lifelong stinginess habit of buying paperbacks) I just couldn’t face the paperback cover. I’ve not read it yet, but I can’t imagine anything you’ve written deserves such a generic-looking cover!
    PS I absolutely loved How I Live Now and re-read cover-to-cover several times after I discovered it on my younger sister’s bookshelf.

    1. Meg 8 years ago

      Thanks for that, Maria. I’m going to send all these comments to my publisher….I’d love it if you’d write back when you’ve read the book and tell me what you think.

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