Books as Objects and Notable Articles

Judging Books by Their Covers 2013: U.S. Vs. U.K.

By posted at 12:00 pm on February 11, 2013 56

As we’ve done for several years now, 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 art is an interesting element of the literary world — sometimes fixated upon, sometimes ignored — but, as readers, we are undoubtedly swayed by the little billboard that is the cover of every book we read. And, while many of us no longer do most of our reading on physical books with physical covers, those same cover images now beckon us from their grids in the various online bookstores. From my days as a bookseller, when import titles would sometimes find their way into our store, 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. These differences are especially striking when we look at the covers side by side. The American covers are on the left, and the UK are on the right. Your equally inexpert analysis is encouraged in the comments.

cover cover
I much prefer the U.K. version here. The woodblock art is sublime, and the red and black are nice and bold.
 
 
cover cover
Both of these make great use of a wild ’70s aesthetic, but I like the subtle menace of the U.K. cover over the day-glo U.S. design.
 
 
cover cover
The U.S. is my winner here with that intriguing and very “meta” book on a book design. The U.K. cover isn’t quite fully realized.
 
 
cover cover
Against any other cover, the clever ripped-and-repaired look of the U.K. design would be my winner, but I love everything evoked by that big can-shaped slab of gelatinous cranberry on the U.S. cover.
 
 
cover cover
The layered look of the U.S. cover is simply stunning and very evocative, while the U.K. cover falls prey to the all-to-common crutch of “Asian” themes adorning novels about Asia or by Asian authors.
 
 
cover cover
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the U.K. covers for Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books have far outshone the U.S. covers. The U.S. covers seem to lean heavily on the old “historical fiction” look.
 
cover cover
Speaking of historical fiction tropes, these both draw from the classic “a picture of something old from a museum” look.
 
cover cover
The U.K. version is stunningly bland, while I love the big-text-over-paint look of the U.S. cover.
 
cover cover
Now this is interesting: two different versions of the same idea. I think the U.S. cover pulls it off better.
 
cover cover
There’s something more daring about the text-only, dictionary-definition U.S. cover, while the U.K. cover seems designed to signal very loudly that this is a war novel.
 
cover cover
This one’s a tie for me. I’m a sucker for the vintage text and graphics mash-ups.
 
cover cover
I don’t love either of these, but I think the painterly U.S. cover is better than the U.K. cover’s exploding flowers.




Share this article

More from the Millions

56 Responses to “Judging Books by Their Covers 2013: U.S. Vs. U.K.”

  1. Nathan
    at 12:34 pm on February 11, 2013

    I don’t know. The Yellow Birds UK cover does have Emmy winning actor Damian Lewis’ blurb on the front. That made my wife want to read it. I’d like to think that blurb exists solely to blur the line between reality and fiction. It’s the equivalent of having Martin Sheen blurb presidential biographies. Whatever sells more books.

  2. Kristin
    at 1:10 pm on February 11, 2013

    I like the US cover of Arcadia better. The UK version is a little too kiddie objectifying for me.

  3. ydm
    at 2:09 pm on February 11, 2013

    I like that the UK covers resisit the rediculous sub-title of’ a nove’ on every other book, or maybe they just hide it better.

  4. Connor
    at 3:51 pm on February 11, 2013

    Anyone else notice that the UK covers of both Fobbit and Billy Lynn tout each book as the “Catch-22″ of the Iraq War?

  5. Rusty
    at 4:04 pm on February 11, 2013

    Is the UK cover of Arcadia a Sally Mann photo?

    The Billy Lynn covers are the best of this bunch.

  6. ydm
    at 4:04 pm on February 11, 2013

    ridiculous, that is, I was typing too fast.

  7. Rachel Owlglass
    at 5:30 pm on February 11, 2013

    I hate all of those except for the UK Homes and the UK Semple.

  8. Rachel Owlglass
    at 5:30 pm on February 11, 2013

    And I like the US Heti.

  9. Karl
    at 8:58 pm on February 11, 2013

    The UK FOBBIT cover shamelessly rips off posters for the movies MASH and Full Metal Jacket. I mean _shamelessly_. Not only does that make the cover an automatic loser, but whoever designed it should be fired.

  10. BPR
    at 10:56 pm on February 11, 2013

    I find most all of these covers to be bland, aesthetically weak, and unattractive. A good cover can sell a book and even add to the overall reading experience by providing a memorable visual reference but this batch, with a few exceptions, screams boredom.

  11. The Millions : Judging Books by Their Covers 2013: U.S. Vs. U.K. « Hey Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite!
    at 12:30 am on February 12, 2013

    […] via The Millions : Judging Books by Their Covers 2013: U.S. Vs. U.K.. […]

  12. DAS
    at 1:35 am on February 12, 2013

    Canned cranberry never looked so tasty … or menacing!

  13. John
    at 3:20 am on February 12, 2013

    I want the U.S. copy of “Arcadia” just for the cover. I think I would probably look at the cover a lot longer than I would read the book.

  14. Judging Books by Their Covers 2013: U.S. Vs. U.K. « Readersforum's Blog
    at 4:27 am on February 12, 2013

    […] here to read the rest of this […]

  15. Tamson
    at 2:26 pm on February 12, 2013

    The exploding flowers are supposed to be yellow birds, right? On the UK cover? The petals are very feather-like. I like that one.

  16. Jonathan
    at 10:22 am on February 13, 2013

    The US cover for The Orphan Master’s Son is the paperback cover…

  17. C. Max Magee
    at 10:34 am on February 13, 2013

    Jonathan: You are right! Here is the hardcover: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0812992792/ref=nosim/themillions-20

    I still prefer it to the UK cover.

  18. Bill Costley
    at 10:55 am on February 13, 2013

    I was amazed to find that the James Herriot series ( ALL THINGS BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL, etc.) about a Yorkshire veteranarian were covered with Yorkshire landscapes in the USA, but boffoed (animal kicking-ass cartooned) ) in the U.K. .
    Quite a cultural diff.!

  19. Barnstorm » Blog Archive » Wednesday Linkstorm
    at 11:26 am on February 13, 2013

    […] U.K. covers vs. U.S. covers in a blood-drenched rumble to the death. Whoever wins, we lose. […]

  20. Jenny
    at 3:56 pm on February 13, 2013

    I so wish the US version of the Round House cover was the same as UK! It is so much better? I mean, what even is that supposed to be/represent on the US cover? Shards of?

  21. Eric
    at 11:05 am on February 14, 2013

    What’s with the almost verbatum blurbs from Karl Marlantes and Publisher’s Weekly for Fobbit and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk? From Marlantes for the Fountain novel: “The Catch-22 of the Iraq War.” From Publisher’s Weekly for Fobbit: “The Iraq War’s answer to Catch-22.” I haven’t read either of these novels, but this seems just…odd.

  22. Quill & Quire » Libraries “no longer relevant,” reviewing a century of bestsellers, and more
    at 11:13 am on February 14, 2013

    […] Comparing U.K. and U.S. cover designs […]

  23. Steve Weddle
    at 12:14 pm on February 14, 2013
  24. BFrank1
    at 2:09 pm on February 14, 2013

    re: Arcadia, compare the UK vs US covers for the original Blind Faith album from 1969. Maybe the UK designers have a Charles Dodson think going?

  25. Carolyn
    at 3:11 pm on February 14, 2013

    For me, it’s about half better U.S. and half better U.K. No one country’s cover artists are better than the other’s. Interesting comparisons. Thanks for posting.

  26. JK
    at 8:56 pm on February 14, 2013

    Great post. I noticed the same thing as ydm, but wondered if US book covers are for some reason required to specify that they are “a novel” (or “stories” in the case of Dear Life)?

  27. Mike Coony
    at 3:58 am on February 15, 2013

    “Judging Books by Their Covers 2013″ – enlightening.

  28. Speakey
    at 11:51 am on February 15, 2013

    The thing about the A.M. Homes covers is that in the UK that tin of cranberry sauce doesn’t carry the same cultural capital. As arresting as the image is, it just would not have struck a chord.

  29. Stocking Blue - Book Covers: American or British?
    at 12:26 pm on February 15, 2013

    […] Millions has an article comparing American and British book covers from this year's Morning News "Tournament of Books" contenders.  For some weird […]

  30. This Week in Words – Feb 16 « Treehouse
    at 8:31 pm on February 16, 2013

    […] Millions resumes their practice of judging books by their covers this week, comparing U.S. and U.K. cover art for the books in the Morning News Tournament of […]

  31. Lisa
    at 4:08 pm on February 17, 2013

    What struck me is just how often the US books have the words ‘a novel’ stuck on after the title. Why?

  32. Brett
    at 11:33 pm on February 17, 2013

    The Cranberry Sauce makes me want to read that book just to find out why they put cranberry sauce on the cover

  33. Τα καλύτερα εξώφυλλα | ΤaAllaNea
    at 6:53 am on February 18, 2013

    […] Οι διαφορές που εντοπιζόνται, άλλοτε μικρότερες και άλλοτε μεγαλύτερες, έχουν να κάνουν συνήθως με τις τεχνικές του μάρκετινγκ. Από τη στιγμή που το αναγνωστικό κοινό έχει διαφορετική σύνθεση στις δύο πλευρές του Ατλαντικού, τα εξώφυλλα θα πρέπει επίσης να μην είναι ίδια και απαράλλαχτα. Για να δείτε μόνοι σας τι συμβαίνει και να ψηφίσετε, αν θέλετε, κάντε κλικ εδώ. […]

  34. Mark Thornton
    at 7:01 am on February 18, 2013

    Speaking as a UN indie bookseller, I found this comparison fascinating. For years the feeling has been that US covers are much stronger than UK, but that’s no longer the case. It’s as if the UK publishers were so focused on digital for a few years, they dropped the ball on many aspects of the physical book – but no longer. Disagree with the ‘Yellow Birds’ cover – it has real impact in the shop. The US cover of ‘Bring up the Bodies’ is abysmal, a real ‘will this do’ effort – sorry. The UK ‘Alice Monroe’ cover also works well in the bookshop setting strangely. If does look classy on a table jostling with other literary names. Madeline Miller – both poor, but the book sells strongly on word-of-mouth so no harm done. Think the US ‘Arcadia’ cover is better – but other than that and Kevin Powers I think you are spot on…thanks very much for the post…

  35. Mark Thornton
    at 7:04 am on February 18, 2013

    Of course, that should have been ‘UK’ indie booksellers. I’m sure there are ‘UN’ booksellers, but I am not one of them…apologies…

  36. Lois Leveen
    at 8:03 am on February 18, 2013

    It’s eye-opening what publishers think readers will and won’t like. When Hodder & Stoughton published the UK version of THE SECRETS OF MARY BOWSER, a novel based on the true story of a former slave who became a Union spy in the Confederate White House during the American Civil War, they put a black woman on the cover. The Norwegian edition also has a black woman on its cover (very different cover). But in the US? Nope.

    Major publishers here seem to believe that if you put a black woman on the cover, the book won’t appeal to white readers. (Once a book is already a bestseller, that can change–The Help got black women on the cover on the re-release after the film was out)

    I think all three covers have their appeal (judge for yourself http://loisleveen.com/index.php/site/blog-single-entry/judging-a-book-by-its-covers)–but the assumptions behind them reveal what happens when the same story becomes a product for different audiences.

  37. Assaying Covers | Gridley Fires
    at 9:50 am on February 18, 2013

    […] TheMillions […]

  38. USA versus UK | Matthew Dicks
    at 10:56 am on February 18, 2013

    […] Millions recently ran a piece entitled Judging Books by Their Covers 2013: U.S. Vs. U.K. that compares book covers in the United States to their literary counterparts in the United […]

  39. Shona Patel
    at 1:45 pm on February 18, 2013

    Totally awesome post. I agree with you 90%. I tend to lean towards cerebral covers sometimes too cerebral which squeaks the brain!! Authors have limited say in their design of book covers. As a graphic artist it was a huge challenge for me to let go but ultimately have I trust the publisher’s art and marketing department to know what they are doing and get on with the business of writing. Thanks for sharing this. Cheers!

  40. Judged By Covers – Book Design in the UK and US | SVA Library Blog
    at 12:38 pm on February 19, 2013

    […] The Millions has a side by side comparison of book covers from the last year as they appeared in the US and UK. Can you spot any patterns of national taste in the designs? It would be interesting to see a comparison of sales in the two regions, to get a sense of the effectiveness of the respective covers in their different markets. They have previous years as well: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007. […]

  41. Book Covers | boegerpaastribe
    at 4:30 am on February 20, 2013

    […] Themillions.com interesserer sig også for bogomslag og afholder årligt en konkurrence mellem amerikanske og engelske bogomslag. Konkurrencen går i alt sin simpelhed ud på at vurdere hvilken nation, der har lavet de bedste bogomslag i løbet af det sidste år. […]

  42. aeagreen
    at 1:02 pm on February 26, 2013

    Overall, I think that the UK covers are more captivating! They are beautiful, with bright colors and details. For the most part when judging a book by it’s cover, I would most likely pick the UK books up off of the shelf over the US ones.

  43. Allison and Busby
    at 9:43 am on February 27, 2013

    […] attitudes each side of the pond. US literature website The Millions has recently posted its annual Judging Books by Their Covers competition, which nicely illustrates this. Unfortunately the US seems to be the winner overall, although […]

  44. Book Cover Design | YourWordsInPrint.com
    at 5:43 pm on February 27, 2013

    […] The Millions : Judging Books by Their Covers 2013: U.S. Vs. U.K. http://www.themillions.com/As we've done for several years now, 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 art is an interesting element of the … […]

  45. Book Cover Design | YourWordsInPrint.com
    at 10:35 am on March 4, 2013

    […] The Millions : Judging Books by Their Covers 2013: U.S. Vs. U.K. http://www.themillions.com/Both of these make great use of a wild '70s aesthetic, but I like the subtle menace of the U.K. cover over the day-glo U.S. design. cover. The U.S. is my winner here with that intriguing and very “meta” book on a book design. […]

  46. josh
    at 3:02 pm on March 8, 2013

    I generally agree with your judgements, except that I find myself not liking photos in cover designs, particularly photographs of people. It gives it too much of a feeling of being a film tie-in or novelization.

  47. Two Nations Divided by Book Covers |
    at 7:04 am on March 9, 2013

    […] Read the entire article and see more book covers after the jump. […]

  48. Comparing Book Covers: UK vs US | Follow the Thread
    at 7:33 am on March 17, 2013

    […] always fascinated by the differences in book covers between countries. The Millions runs an annual feature comparing US and UK cover art, and a similar post appeared on Flavorwire a […]

  49. Go ahead, judge a book by its cover | Robbins Library Blog
    at 1:55 pm on April 8, 2013

    […] can see more US/UK cover comparisons at The Millions, an online magazine that covers books (no pun intended), arts, and […]

  50. El santo grial | Divertinajes
    at 2:40 am on May 3, 2013

    […] En fin, si quieren seguir jugando, pinchen aquí. […]

  51. Cover Design US vs UK « AmpersandH
    at 1:00 am on May 7, 2013

    […] across this article on The Millions the other day : Judging books by their cover 2013 US vs. UK and another list of them at Wondrous Reads Blog. Very fun to compare! Here are a few of my […]

  52. This or That: Covers Edition | XOXO After Dark
    at 9:29 am on May 22, 2013

    […] prove it, grab a friend and check out this blog post on The Millions comparing US and UK covers. My co-worker and I, never short of opinions when it came to covers, […]

  53. The Book Cover Wars: UK vs. USA – Part 2 | shelf life
    at 12:44 pm on June 25, 2013

    […] week, inspired by The Millions, I compared the UK and US covers of some of the books I’ve reviewed on this blog. This week, […]

  54. The Death of the Traditional Book Review? | Julie Dawn Steenson
    at 5:27 am on October 16, 2013

    […] (Aside: The image above shows the jacket design of the US edition of Kushner’s novel, which I much prefer to the UK version. It’s always fascinating to see how publishers and designers on opposite sides of the Atlantic approach the artwork for the same book. The Millions compared the covers of some other 2013 titles here.) […]

  55. Jaie
    at 2:14 pm on December 25, 2013

    Every time I see the US cover of The Round

  56. Before & After: a new look for THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB in paperback « Two Roads
    at 11:59 am on October 21, 2014

    […] the point of changing the cover of a successful book when it comes out in paperback? Won’t that confuse readers when they browse in bookshops and […]

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.