Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Reusable Cover Art

Have you ever thought that the cover of a historical novel looked kind of familiar? Designers are getting very creative with PhotoShop lately, but your humble blogger can spot a duplicate cover image a mile away. Most of the examples I've seen depict historical women. This may reflect current trends in cover art, or it may reveal something about my powers of observation.

A few years ago, I began posting examples of duplicate covers on the HNS e-mail list. Since then, I've found a bunch more.

I realize that authors have little choice in cover design. These examples are very eye-catching, so I have no criticisms about the art in itself. In fact, the images are so attractive that they've been used as cover art more than once. Sometimes more than twice. I mean no harm by this exercise; I'm merely suggesting that maybe, it would be nice if the art department was a little more selective when browsing through the Corbis collection, or in choosing classic works of art to grace dust jackets. Perhaps there's another image of Cleopatra that could work just as well? Etcetera.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy these. Please visit Reusable Cover Art in Historical Novels: A Gallery.


  1. Those were fun! Here's a link to an article The New York Times did last year on the same phenomenon (though not in reference to historical fiction):

    It's by Andrew Adam Newman from 7/7/05 if this link doesn't take.

  2. Thanks for the link! I remember reading another article about duplicate cover art sometime earlier, but it escaped me where it was published. I think that's the one I saw.

    I was particulary amused by the images of Leaving Ireland/Queen of Camelot/Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl. Not only are they all historical novels, but two were released the same month (Feb 2002) and the other one later that year. I saw them on the same bookstore table. Two were from the same publisher, though different imprints. I guess the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing.

  3. Maybe that's why they tend to cut the heads off in recent covers. This German writer is my favourite victim of said habit.

    BTW, found you blog via Alex, too.

  4. That's funny - people generally are less recognizable without their heads!

    I wish I knew enough German to be able to read those novels in full. As it is, I can sort of make my way through the plot descriptions, but even that's a stretch.

  5. It's a pity so few German genre fiction gets translated into English. They tend to sell Russian rights rather than English. And you miss some good books. There's another writer, Rebecca Gablé, who specialises on English history, but not even her books have made it across the Channel.

    The other way round is no problem, a lot of English books get translated into German.

  6. Gabriele, maybe you can enlighten me on something I've been curious about. Is the market for historical fiction in Germany especially strong? I ask because I can think of a number of novels from American authors which have been published in German translation long before they were published in English (if they ever are, that is). Judith Merkle Riley's The Water-Devil, for one major example.

  7. It's a very populare genre here. I don't know the statistics, but a look in an average books store shows that historical fiction has at least as much shelf space as thriller/mystery and more than SciFi/Fantasy. Romance is less strong here and often paired up with chick lit.

    I could probably find a publisher more easily if I wrote in German, but I want to reach a broader audience.

  8. Oooh - lovely page, Sarah! And more books for my TBB list *g*. Interesting that the same painting was used for both Ann Boleyn books. Is the painting actually supposed to be her? I don't recognize it.

  9. Tess, I'll check to see if either of the novels (I have both at home) mentions the painting it comes from, but I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be her.

    Speaking of novels in German translation... Take a look at this additional cover image (from It's on the paperback of the US version of Maxwell's novel, too, though I hadn't noticed it earlier. Hm, must update the gallery!

  10. Found it listed on the back of Maxwell's novel. The painting is "Anne Boleyn at the Tower, Shortly After Her Arrest" (1835) by Edouard Cibot, from the Musee Rodin, France. Here's a poster from an online store with the painting on it.

  11. Then it fits the Boleyn novel at least. Thanks for the link.

    We should be grateful for the old paintings, it could be worse. It could be Fabio Mantittie covers. *grin*