U.S. vs U.K. (& What’s in a Cover?)

Well, hello Spectacle! It’s my first official post on the blog, so let’s get started…

I recently returned from a few weeks in the U.K. (it was originally scheduled to be two, but ended up as three due to good ‘ol Eyjafjallajokull), and while I was there I had a chance to scan the kid’s and teen sections of the country’s two largest bookstores.

First off, it was nice to see a couple of teen fantasy/sci-fi series riding high on the overall book chart (sitting alongside adult blockbusters like Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy). Amongst all the vampire stuff, the Skulduggery Pleasant and Percy Jackson series seem to be doing particularly well, the latter adorned with new covers that make it seem more epic and adult compared to the (admittedly awesome) North American ones.

Which brings me to the main point of this post, and something that has always interested me: book covers.

In general, the big difference I notice between North American and European markets when it comes to sci-fi/fantasy covers is just how much the illustrations scream sci-fi/fantasy. It seems like American covers often go for artier, more mysterious and subtle approaches–things that have a better chance at pulling in the masses. Whereas in England, covers fall more on the comic-booky, movie poster side. Take The Hunger Games (US/UK) or the Darren Shan books (US/UK), or even Harry Potter (US/UK). And then there’s those only-in-the-UK releases, like Keith Mansfield’s Johnny Mackintosh trilogy or Alex Scarrow’s TimeRiders, both of which have very in-your-face fantastical covers

Maybe it’s the influence of Dr. Who and its ilk (and it is still a big influence), but Brits seem to be less self-conscious about throwing it all out there on the cover. Aliens, magic, beasts… the more the merrier. I can’t say that I have an overriding preference for one or the other, but I’m glad for the diversity. What do you guys think? Do you prefer the more mysterious approach or something a little more action-movie?

Nick James thinks there’s gotta be a story in a volcanic ash cloud that holds an entire country hostage, though Eyjafjallajokull might not be the catchiest title…

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8 responses to “U.S. vs U.K. (& What’s in a Cover?)

  1. LaWanica

    Well, ‘ello Nick. I’m a bit biased when it comes to book covers as I am an art director by day, and a really fantastic book cover can render me oblivious to critical things like plot and good writing. I’m a sucker for a good cover. Right now I’m salivating over the covers for Fat Vampire by Adam Rex (http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_6rmrKLiBYfA/SxLlagS03kI/AAAAAAAADvA/MT5c7h8dF3A/s1600/9780061920905_0_Cover.jpg) and Matched by Allie Condie.

    Last year I got hooked on Lovereading 4 Kids UK (http://www.lovereading4kids.co.uk/) as they offer “extracts” for download, as well as images of UK cover art.

    Some foreign covers can certainly be a downgrade (Like Hunger Games, for example. The US version is way better.) But sometimes I prefer the UK version of a cover. I think the Gone series by Michael Grant is stronger in the UK. The simplicity in graphics and typography are more intense than the soap opera-ish covers for the US.
    :) LaWanica

    • Nick

      Funny, I was almost going to write a little bit about that Gone cover. I was surprised when I saw it for the first time.

      Not too keen on it, myself, though the American ones don’t really say much about the book either. To me, the U.K. one is almost too simple to the point of being forgettable. Could just be me, though!

      • LaWanica

        That’s totally a fair assessment, Nick. I guess if I had to choose between the two, I’d go with the lesser evil (which is the UK version.) This is just my guess, but maybe the US version was designed to be more female friendly. The story is told through multiple viewpoints, but Sam is the dominant character. Having a couple on the cover may have been a way to appeal to both sexes. Or it could have been a way to show that the story is more character driven. The UK cover feels more masculine, but also more encompassing of the situation rather than the individual characters. Okay, I’ll stop blabbing about this. :)

  2. Natalie Aguirre

    I haven’t seen all the covers so I can’t say. I do like the US Percy Jackson cover better. I do appreciate the UK influence in general because I think there are a lot of fantasy lovers there and I think they’ve definitely helped fuel the love for fantasy in the US.

  3. Parker Peevyhouse

    Wow, look at that minotaur. I think I prefer the US subtlety. It does seem to be a trend in UK covers to go younger, even with YA novels, whereas US covers seem to strive for a wider age range and cross-over appeal.

    • I also noticed when I was there two years ago that, generally speaking, the UK covers slant “younger” — both for the kids on the covers, when there are some, and for what appeals to the apparent audience. But I think that must be a cultural difference overall — in the UK, it’s okay for kids to be kids, whereas in the US, nobody can grow up fast enough, and advertising and marketing both reflect that across the board, including in books. I see so many book covers here — including, unfortunately, one of mine — where a 12-14 year old MC is depicted as someone who looks 20.

  4. Whitney Ebert

    Overall, the US covers are more appealing to me. I do like a little subtletly without all the monsters in my face before I even open a book. I usually judge a book by its cover and title, then I might read the back blurb if the cover draws me in!

  5. I tend to like some of the grittier covers and you’re right. American covers are normally not put in this category (at least for kids).

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