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Judging a Book by Its Cover: Part Two – Same Book, Different Country

Judging a Book by Its Cover: Part Two – Same Book, Different Country

By Dianne Coan, Technical Operations Division Director

They say "don’t judge a book by its cover". Although noble in theory, this is easier said than done. Covers play an important role for a book. Art on a book’s cover draws readers in and can provide insights as to what they may find among the pages. Therefore, I argue that judging a book by its cover may not be as big of a literary sin as we think. In fact, it can even be useful - if you know how to do it right. This is part two of our four-part series: Same Book, Different Country.

Cover Change is Afoot

As a book nerd, I have always been fascinated by book covers. One thing that always piqued my interest was the differences between the covers of the same book when released in different countries. When I first saw the Chinese cover for Red, White & Royal Blue, I absolutely fell in love with it, even though it was quite a bit different from the U.S. version. Similarly, I like both the U.S. and the U.K. covers for Lessons in Chemistry. They are very different from one another even though Doubleday published both. This begs the question: why change the covers?

Different Places are Different

The most obvious answer is cultural differences. People in different places have different elements that may appeal to them overall. Covers are a big part of a book's marketing, so naturally publishers would want a cover that most appeals to its target market. However, it doesn’t all come down to aesthetics. An author may need to sell rights to different publishers or a different division of the same publisher in different countries. Each publisher and division have their own cover designers who then may create a different look to the cover. Just as readers interpret books differently, so do cover artists.

And Then Comes Video

Cover changes aren’t limited to country changes either. When a book is turned into a movie, a streaming series or a video game, there is often a resurgence of interest. To capitalize on that interest, as well as better associate the original text with the next iteration in reader’s minds, publishers will often produce editions with tie-in covers. These covers usually feature the posters from the movie or series or promotional photos with the program’s stars.

With the advent of eBooks and digital delivery, this is becoming more common as publishers are even able to change the covers of books you already own. In my personal experience, this happens mostly with different editions produced in the same country and, most frequently, with a movie tie-in.

A recent example of this was the cover of the eBook version of Killers of the Flower Moon, which many readers found automatically updated to the movie poster featuring Leonardo DiCaprio. Personally, I would prefer an option to disallow this, but as of writing this article, it does not appear that option exists. I presume this type of change is allowed since eBooks are not actually owned but licensed by a reader. That, however, is a topic for another article.

Look and See For Yourself

If you are interested in seeing some additional examples of covers that have changed, your best bet is to visit a site like Goodreads. Run a search on a more ‘prolific’ author (e.g. Nora Roberts, Neil Gaiman or Sandra Boynton), select a title of interest and click on “Book Details and Editions” to see various cover iterations. It’s a fun way to see the journey a book can take over its years in the public eye.

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