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?

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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.