Thursday, February 13, 2014

A historical fiction cover art matchup, US vs. UK

Two weeks ago, Becky at the excellent readers' advisory blog RA for All mentioned the side-by-side cover design analysis of popular novels in their US & UK editions from The Millions.  I posted the link on the Historical Novel Society's Facebook page, which has members from both countries.  There were many historical novels featured in the tournament, and much discussion ensued.  More than a few readers stated that none of the covers in the analysis appealed to them much or would prompt them to pick up the books.  I had to agree.

So I thought I might repeat the comparison idea but change the focus.  Rather than looking at the literary heavy-hitters of 2013, I'm including cover pairs for all historical novels I could find that (1) were published in either January or February and (2) had editions in both countries. Overall, compared to the books in The Millions piece, these designs are less avant-garde and more typical of the historical fiction genre, yet there are still some striking examples and some noticeable differences.  I'll provide my reactions below, but I'd love to hear which ones you prefer, and why.

In these examples, the US cover is on the left, the UK on the right.


The setting: Viking-age England.  These are nearly identical, aside from the zoomed-in approach in the UK edition, the fonts, and the placement of the author's name and book title.  I'm going with the UK edition here simply because, call me superficial, I like the font used for the author's name better.



The setting: Elizabethan England.  Having read The Tudor Conspiracy, I'm choosing the UK edition here, too; it gives a much better sense of the historical atmosphere and heightens the fact that this is a mystery-thriller.  It gets me curious about what's in the packet of letters the protagonist is walking away from.



The setting:  Georgian England.  The US version emphasizes the woman's-period-piece aspect, while the UK design, combined with the elegant font of the title, playfully hints at a woman's subtle act of disobedience.  I like it.



The setting: London, 1920s.  I'm not sure which I prefer, the original painting of the US edition, or the UK edition with its eye-catching colors and close-but-staggered placement of the title and author.  Even if the woman reminds me of the US edition of Tyringham Park, below.



Setting: the late 19th century, in Europe, America, and the South Seas.  For me, the US edition wins by a mile, not just because it features a representation of one of the title characters, but because it conveys both the brightness and shadows in the relationship between Robert Louis and Fanny Stevenson.  The tropical scene with its rainbow background doesn't work for me at all.



Setting: antebellum South Carolina.  Invention of Wings is the newest Oprah pick, so there's perhaps less need for an enticing cover to draw readers in. I find the US interpretation rather generic and self-helpy.  Its UK counterpart has some ornate flourishes to take up all of the (literal) white space, and the background colors don't entice me, but otherwise I like it for its visual interpretation of the novel's plot, setting, and themes.



Setting:  pre-WWI England.  The woman on the US cover has a look of Lady Mary from Downton, doesn't she?  The attempted tie-in with the TV series is obvious, but it's also thoughtful and elegant in how it conveys the era.  It makes for a gorgeous package.  The UK cover just says "women's fiction" to me, but since I haven't read the novel yet, it may be more appropriate than it first appears.



Setting:  the late 19th century.  Having read this novel, I feel the US cover is perfect, with its deep green color and evocation of the haunting mystery around which it centers.  Plus, the ship's name is in italics, as it should be. In comparison, the image on the UK cover is too plain and faded to be effective; at first glance I didn't spot the ship in the background.



Setting: upper-crust early 20th-century Ireland.  Both of these work for the novel (which I've read) although I feel the UK version is less generic and more accurate to the storyline.  The title character is a troubled young woman whose problems weigh her down, so her expression fits.  And it's always a plus to see a woman's full figure rather than the headless/faceless look.



Setting:  South Africa, 1919.  Both evoke the African setting and are gorgeous for different reasons, although the UK version acknowledges not just one but both protagonists (a white Irish expatriate and the black daughter of her housemaid, whom she befriends) and reflects the storyline more precisely.  I have copies of both editions and am not sure I want to give up either one.



Setting: the Aleutian Islands, WWII.  I love the US cover, which would persuade me to pick it up immediately to discover the meaning of the title and image.  I understand the effect the UK cover was trying to get at, but the two faces within the bird seems awkward and strange to me.


Setting: New York State during the frozen winter of 1897.  Both work very well, and the red lettering in both is apt.  The UK version emphasizes the novel's action and its thriller aspect, and the font is an even darker, bloodier red, so it's my choice as most appropriate even though I find the US version more visually appealing.

What do you think?  Which are your favorites?

19 comments:

  1. Anonymous1:41 PM

    The UK cover of Judith Kinghorn's book looks like many many other similar titles published in the past decade - can you tell I've been hunting through Awesomebooks lately? Just check the covers of some of Rachel Hore's books, which for the most part are only pub. in the UK.

    Sarah OL

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    1. Coincidentally, I just finished Rachel Hore's latest novel, The Silent Tide - it was very good. Her covers have the definite women's-fiction look, and they all seem to feature doorways/gateways.

      I love Awesomebooks!

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  2. It's so different how much of a difference there is between U.S. and UK covers. I'm split on which ones I like better as a whole. I like some of both!

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    1. Same here. It seems to be the exception that the cover art is the same for both.

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    2. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. I like them in about equal measure. An arresting comparison!

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  3. So interesting! When I did the Fay Weldon interview for the Historical Novel Society, I chose the UK covers to illustrate purely because I liked them way more than the US ones. But the US publicist (who had facilitated the interview) asked me to change them over.

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    1. I agree with you - the UK covers are more attractive! That's happened to me too with the images on the HNS reviews... if the system pulls the wrong cover art, I'm sure to hear about it.

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  4. I like the US covers best for all except The Tudor Conspiracy and Wake.Did you read Under the Wide and Starry Sky, Sarah? I'm reading it now and am enjoying it. I just love the US cover for it!

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    1. The US cover is gorgeous. Glad we're in agreement on that one - I reviewed it but it was back in December (here's the link if you're interested).

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  5. Great post - it was so interesting to see the differences and how they prepare you differently for what's inside. Thanks!

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    1. That's an excellent way of expressing it! It is fascinating to see which aspects of a novel each one emphasizes.

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  6. Under the Starry Sky US cover calls to me more than the UK. Like Jacqueline Baird I thought the UK edition covers of Wake and The Tudor Conspiracy were more captivating. I wonder if I would feel differently about the covers if I had read any of them.

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    1. I might have preferred the US cover of Tyringham Park if I hadn't already read it, but the UK gives a better feel for what's inside. I'm curious if I might like UK cover of the Payton more after reading it - I have the e-galley on my Kindle.

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  7. My picks tended to coincide with yours -- but sometimes for different reasons. Then there were the titles whose jacket art for both I actively disliked -- or perhaps more accurately, were unappealing enough to not bother even picking up the book and glancing at the copy.

    It's funny with the Cornwell that the UK edition puts the author's name on top and in larger size font, which speaks volumes about the author name's sell-through value that neither a specific title or perhaps even a particular series by this author matters as much as the brand this author's name is.

    Love, C.

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    1. Exactly. In the UK especially, his name alone is plenty enough to sell books. I remember being in London once when he had a new novel out, and his name along with BRITAIN'S STORYTELLER in all caps was on posters all over the Tube and on buses.

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  8. Funny, I think the US version of The Kept is scarier. There’s something Hallmarky about the UK cover picture, to me. I like both the Cornwell covers, with a slight preference for the US, but only because the UK cover seems muted a bit. The Tudor Conspiracy seems to be trying hard to sell to the Romance crowd with the US cover.
    I absolutely love the mysterious UK cover of Sedition – the font of the S, the piano with a lingering hand, the colors, all would make me snatch that one right off the shelf. It’s my fav out of all of them. I haven’t read it yet, have you, Sarah?

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    1. For me there's way too much going on with the US Tudor Conspiracy cover, and making the woman the primary focus does make it appear it's being sold to attract a romance audience.

      I haven't read Sedition yet, but it's out in the UK now (US in April) - it's very tempting to buy it from overseas! A great deal of thought clearly went into that interpretation.

      The image on the US edition, Thomas Lawrence's portrait of Charlotte and Sarah Carteret-Hardy from 1801, has been used on many other covers.

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  9. I appreciated this side-by-side post, as I do often wonder why the vastly different covers for US and UK editions? The only thing more confusing is when they use two different titles for the US and UK editions. And yes, on the UK Tyringham Park cover, it is SO nice to see a woman who has a face AND a body! Imagine that.

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    1. Good point - all of these in this example kept the same title. It is confusing when they change! I've seen that happen when a word can have a different meaning in both countries, or if a title is duplicated with other novels in one country but not the other.

      You have a great blog! I just discovered it through your comment and know I'm going to have a good time browsing through it.

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