Books as Objects and Notable Articles

Judging Books by Their Covers: U.S. Vs. U.K.

By posted at 6:00 am on February 8, 2012 65

Like we did last year, we thought it might be fun to compare the U.S. and U.K. book cover designs of this year’s Morning News Tournament of Books contenders. Book cover design never seems to garner much discussion in the literary world, but, as readers, we are undoubtedly swayed by the little billboard that is the cover of every book we read. Even in the age of the Kindle, we are clicking through the images as we impulsively download this book or that one. I’ve always found it especially interesting that the U.K. and U.S. covers often differ from one another, suggesting that certain layouts and imagery will better appeal to readers on one side of the Atlantic rather than the other. These differences are especially striking when we look at the covers side by side. The American covers are on the left, and clicking through takes you to a page where you can get a larger image. Your equally inexpert analysis is encouraged in the comments.

cover cover
The American cover is especially striking, with the bird and skeleton looking like something out of an old illustrated encyclopedia. And the wide black band suggests something important is hidden within. The British version feels generic, with the beach-front watercolor looking like a perhaps slightly more menacing version of the art you’d have hanging in your room at a seaside motel.
 
 
cover cover
Maybe these big black bands are a trend in American book cover design, but I think it wins the day here as well, imparting plenty of mystery on the half-hidden, murky photograph that it partially obscures. The British cover is somewhat striking as well, and I do like the watery, bleeding text effect. And whoever thought that floating dandelion seeds could impart foreboding? Maybe this one’s a tie, actually.
 
 
cover cover
It’s always interesting when the two covers are riffs on the same motif. I like both, but I think I think the yellow on black of the British version grabs me more.
 
 
cover cover
Both are good, but I love the creepy addition of the flies on the British version.
 
 
cover cover
The U.K. cover tries admirably to evoke the campus setting of the novel, but I love how the U.S. cover offers a stylized suggestion of the lettering used on old baseball uniforms.
 
 
cover cover
I don’t love either of these, and the painted out face and the hedge maze both seem a bit heavy-handed in the visual metaphor department.
 
cover cover
There’s something too advertisement-slick about the U.S. version, while the British version has a dark playfulness that I like.
 
cover cover
The American version isn’t doing much for me, but I love pretty much everything about the British version, up to and including the way the white splotch behind the title is seeming to reference the sun or moon.
 
cover cover
The American version is surprisingly bland, while the U.K. cover is a great riff on classic ocean liner posters.
 
cover cover
The British cover goes with another generic, tropical landscape, while the American cover has some great, mysterious detail going on in that border.
 
cover cover
I don’t love either of these. The American version is visually convoluted, while the British one feels underdone.




Share this article

More from the Millions

65 Responses to “Judging Books by Their Covers: U.S. Vs. U.K.”

  1. Meg McAllister
    at 7:30 pm on March 3, 2012

    Great post. We didn’t agree on most of the covers, but I did enjoy your perspective. Made me take a second…and sometimes a third look in determining what motivates me to pick a particluar book up for a closer look.

  2. Anything is Possible « Curio.us
    at 10:40 pm on March 17, 2012

    […] of the book, doesn’t match what you see on Amazon and in American bookstores, it’s because, once again, the American cover has been dumbed down, diluted, and graced with the mandatory cat. Yes, American […]

  3. Alisa
    at 4:28 pm on March 31, 2012

    I’m from the US and prefer the covers marketed towards us! Except for The Tiger’s Wife and The Cat’s Table…

  4. elz
    at 7:47 am on April 23, 2012

    i recently purchased The Marriage Plot here in Amsterdam, and I love this cover. I was pleasantly surprised that it was different than the covers I had seen previously. I didn’t even realize it was different for a reason, as in, there are different covers for US books & European/UK versions.

    I just moved to AMS 6 months ago, so needless to say I am still learning & adjusting to all the differences.

    interesting post, good read.

  5. Claire King | Tomatoes, Tomatoes, Potatoes, Potatoes, Book Covers.
    at 10:08 am on April 29, 2012

    […] Some very interesting comparisons of the last year’s novels on The Millions. […]

  6. Na prvi pogled: Deset(ak) odličnih naslovnica knjiga | LITERO
    at 8:50 pm on June 15, 2012

    […] of Book Cover Designs and Designers The Book Desing Review The 20 Most Iconic Book Covers Ever Judging Books by Their Covers: US vs UK Sviđa ti se?Sviđa mi seBe the first to like […]

  7. Paul Levinson
    at 4:40 pm on October 5, 2012

    Interesting analysis. Authors, in general, do not have much say about their covers. I was shown covers to all of my novels and nonfiction books, but did not really have veto power. The ultimate call was my publisher’s. In contrast, Kindle can give authors that power. I decided to keep the cover for my “author’s cut” of The Silk Code exactly the same for the US and the UK – because I like the cover so much, and think it has universal appeal. See this discussion about judging books by their covers for more http://karensdifferentcorners.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/judging-a-book-by-its-cover-part-3-cont-and-5-more-covers/#comment-1040

  8. I say “The High Street”, you say… “The Main Street” !?!! | Greyhart Press
    at 4:25 pm on November 27, 2012

    […] Interestingly, it doesn’t work the other way around. It is very rare for adult American fiction to be translated into British English by major publishers, but they are nearly always given a different cover. Here are some examples. […]

  9. Welcome to the Great Anglo-American Cover-Up! | thegreatangloamericancoverup
    at 2:13 pm on December 6, 2012

    […] such as The Millions who have been compiling an annual comparison (usually of titles of American Origin) for the last […]

  10. Book Covers — a Web Miscellany | Vic Books
    at 4:29 am on March 10, 2013

    […] Cover Design: US vs. UK […]

  11. Brenda
    at 1:38 pm on April 24, 2013

    I will design my own covers, the covers will help me with my fictional novel i am working on. thanks for this post.

  12. Bookish Recap | Books and Cake
    at 2:48 pm on August 18, 2013

    […] book snobs say:Translated • The 36 year old audiobook virgin • Fitness for book nerds •Judging books by their covers: US v/s UK •The point of the paperback •What the death of newspapers really means for writers •10 of […]

  13. Josh
    at 10:54 am on July 6, 2014

    A great article and just goes to show the subtle changes that you’ll see from within cultures which share a great many similarities. I work on covers for authors from both sides of the pond ( you can see examples here http://www.jdandj.com ) and have found that when working directly with the authors most of the time their needs and expectations have stayed very close regardless off nationality.

  14. Judging Book Covers: U.S. Vs. U.K.
    at 6:56 pm on November 14, 2014

    […] in the United Kingdom. For the same book! I found this article about book covers over at the Millions Blog and thought you might be interested. Read the entire article here. Visually, I thought these were […]

  15. Murakami’s Strange Library | RA Crossroads
    at 5:58 pm on December 2, 2014

    […] Additional comparisons between U.S. and UK versions of a range of book covers can be found in the Millions article “Judging Books by Their Covers.” […]

Post a Response

Comments with unrelated links will be deleted. If you'd like to reach our readers, consider buying an advertisement instead.

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments that do not add to the conversation will be deleted at our discretion.