US vs UK book covers

For those that are self-publishing e-books, the simplest solution is to have one cover across all markets.

And of course why not?  Hollywood blockbusters have the same look from one market to another – as do CDs and games.

The rise in importance of the internet and social media in fact make it all the more sensible to have one cover.   If your marketing is global, so should your packaging be, right?

But here’s the interesting thing – it doesn’t often work that way in publishing.

That is partly because of the way publishing rights are often carved up and sold to different publishers in separate territories, each often with a unique vision in how to best position that author in their market.  However, I’d also argue that there is a definite consumer preference (in the UK certainly) for covers tailored to their own market.

Let’s look at a few examples of the different covers in the US and the UK for some big brand name authors who are successful in both.  Which covers would you be more likely to pick up?  Do your choices broadly align with the market you are most familiar with?

Working in the UK publishing industry, I quite often find US covers completely unsuitable for our market.  That is not to say that the US publishers have done a bad job with the cover design – we’ve just looked at several examples of pretty different cover styles that have worked very well the States.  But would the US covers have done equally well if they were used in the UK?

I’ve seen first-hand the massive difference a cover can make to sales – both in terms of selling the book into retailers (admittedly not an issue with publishing digitally) and in terms of consumer purchase.  In the majority of cases US covers just don’t cut it for the UK market, and I would imagine exactly the same is true visa-versa.

A lot the reason for this is that a reader’s frame of reference for what a good thriller, or romance, or historical novel look like is coloured by books they have read in the past.  And given the divergent cover art traditions, those frames of reference are defined by where (which country) they buy their books.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some cover designs that work in both markets – Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series is a perfect example of one that has.  In fact, with the paranormal genre in general, as strongly led as it is by US authors and without a strong existing tradition in cover art, the same covers are more often used in both the US and the UK.

In the next 5-10 years, I think we’ll see a big move towards one cover design being used for an author across all (or at least most) markets - prompted by the rise of e-books and the pressure for simultaneous publication across the globe.

Taking into account the contrasting starting points for consumers though this convergence will have to be handled carefully.  And to maximise sales across all markets, those covers will need to be designed with a global audience, not just the US or UK, in mind.

So, what is the answer for authors?

If you are self-publishing, then for most authors having two different covers designed won’t be an option.  What might be worth considering in your cover brief is researching and referencing both US and other English Language markets to ensure you’re not alienating readers elsewhere.

If you’re a published author, when judging the covers that your publisher is using in the different territories, have a check what the covers of your closest competitors look like in those markets.  If your designs stand up well against those designs, then likelihood is that your publisher is doing a good job.

9 tips for writing a great blurb

Being able to sell your book in just a few words is massively important to its (and your) success – whether in pitching the book to an agent, selling it to retailers, or persuading consumers to buy it.

Of course condensing your masterpiece novel, which has been months, or even years in the making into less than 200 words isn’t going to be easy – but here are some tips that will help.

1)  Sell, don’t tell. A back cover blurb shouldn’t be a synopsis – if you give away most of the story, the reader won’t need to bother reading the book.  Pick out the strongest ‘hooks’ that your book has and focus on them – intriguing the reader to read more.  Think of it as writing the voice-over for the movie trailer to your book.

 
2)  Put your strongest line at the top – taglines are there for a purpose – to draw readers into the rest of the blurb.  If the tag doesn’t interest people, they’re not going to read on – so put your strongest bit of copy here.

3)  Do your research. Whatever type of book you’re writing a blurb for, someone else will have done it before!  Pick out the best-selling authors in your genre and have a look at what works for them – you’ll be sure to pick up some ideas.

 
4)  Less is more – Whether consumers are reading your blurb at the book chart in a supermarket or on Amazon, you can almost guarantee that they are going to be pressed for time.  Your job is to communicate to them as quickly and persuasively as possible – keep it succinct.

 
5)  Unanswered questions – a great technique for hooking readers in without giving too much away.  Focus on the central dilemma of the book – and be sure to make it a question that the reader will want to know the answer to!

 
6)  Shortcut headings – often used in crime and thriller novels, three or four taglines that head sections of text are an excellent way of providing an even quicker sales pitch for the busy reader without removing the full blurb for those who want more detail…

From James Patterson’s Judge and Jury:

It’s the trial of the decade…  The judge is terrified of the defendant…  So is the Jury…  The verdict: Run for your life

 
7)  Include an extract – after all, you’ve spent months getting the writing just so – pick out one of the strongest, most intriguing (but relatively short) lines and include it as part of your blurb.

 
8)  Use endorsements – if you have any quotes from recognised publications, blogs or authors then include them!  Don’t feel the need to use the full quote – but pick out the best bit.

 
9)  Use ‘postioning statements’ – OK, if you’re Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer, the reader has a fair idea of what they’re getting.  But the reader who is unfamiliar with your work (and this will cover 99% of authors) it helps to have an idea of what the book is similar to. If you have a quote that says that you’re the next Stieg Larsson, then use it – and make it BIG! (this recently propelled Jo Nesbo from circa 20,000 copies per book in the UK to 150,000+).  If you don’t have a quote, it doesn’t matter – think of other authors, films or TV shows (the bigger the name / sales the better) that your writing is like and make a comparison.

Finally, remember to ask for feedback –– and be prepared to tear it up and start again if it doesn’t work.   Remember that you know the story and your characters intimately, but your blurb has to work for people who have no idea what your book is about.