Thursday, 19 July 2012

Nice jacket?

I read a really interesting blog post from Lynsey over at Narratively Speaking on the decision publishers make to change jackets halfway through series and what effect this decision has on the most important people in the chain - the fans who have already supported an author (and therefore publisher) in buying the first book(s) in the series. Without these readers, there'd be no scope for further books in that series at all and publishers bank on fans buying the next in a series from the same author, so why are we forcing them to buy books that don't match - or worse, encouraging them to buy books they already own in a different design?

It gots me thinking. I sympathise with the desire to have a neat collection of books in the same design on a shelf - and as a publisher, when I brief a jacket for a book I know will be a series, I brief with a series look in mind, so that readers will be pleased with the view of lots of perfectly co-ordinated spines on their shelf, like so:

Sometimes you need to rethink your covers. And here's why.

1) The market moves on. We published DRAGON RACER by Margaret Bateson-Hill in 2008 and in 2011, we published LEGACY OF FIRE - second in the series. A jacket that was competitive in 2008 isn't so strong in today's market - we wanted something that cashed in on the excitement a reader would feel when flying through the skies with our heroine on the back of a dragon and I think it works. We're poised to brief a rejacket of book one to bring it in line with the new series look.

2) Booksellers. Booksellers have a massive influence over jacket design. I mean MASSIVE. There are stories of books whose covers have been redesigned solely on the feedback gained at one key accounts meeting – and that could have been one (very important) person's opinion. Booksellers have the best overview of what covers are coming out and they know which ones look too samey, or too dull before a publisher might. Plus they know what consumers go for by looking at what shifts on the shop floor. So if a Head Honcho at a Big Bookselling Place indicates that your series would be doing much better if you brought it more in line with a different bestselling series, then you will listen.

3) A second bite at the cherry. Giving your books a new look? Then you have created a chance to re-sub 'backlist' books to booksellers as if they were new. The speed at which a book becomes backlist is scary and sometimes, you really really want to be able to give a book another chance and since booksellers don't really have time to look at exactly the same book twice, a new cover is one way to do this.

4) The law of diminishing returns. Book 1 sells better than book 2. Book 2 sells better than book 3. Book 3 sells better... you get the idea. There's a drop-off rate of fans and it's hard to hook in new ones if you stick to the same formula all the time. If you want to boost some seriously sagging sales, then a series overhaul is a good way of reaching a new audience and gaining a new swathe of fans.

5) Sometimes you made a mistake. I have no idea what the sales of Divergent were like in the UK, but I do know that I didn't hear enough people talking about it outside of the blogosphere and the grapevine tells me that the wonderful gender-neutral cover didn't appeal to UK readers. The mistake HarperCollins made was to trust the UK audience, who I think were damn fools not to pick up the original jacket – the Catnipper's daddy loves this book but made gagging noises at the new jackets. But still, this is a series pitched to rival The Hunger Games and I believe it's teen girls who made that one work, not 31-year-old publishing husbands, so the new jackets target this audience more accurately.

But really, all the above points are the same point: publishers rejacket books to make more money. Not from ripping off the lovely lovely fans who already support us and our authors, but by attracting new ones whose eye we didn't catch the first time round. 

So, bookfans, publishers really do appreciate you taking one for the team and having a higgledy piggledy bookshelf. Believe me, we are on the same team because the only reason publishers want to make as much money as possible from each book we publish is to allow us an excuse to spend it on commissioning new ones.


  1. Really interesting read, thanks. As a side comment, I've just read the Divergent series and I far preferred the original jacket, but then as a 30 something reader that probably isn't surprising! Like you say, different jackets target a different readership.

  2. I know people in the secondhand book business here (I know ouch!) and the husband once told me of someone who came to one of their sales looking for "a lot" of books. They had to look used but they also had to be all the same size. When asked why he was told, "Well that's the size the bookshelf is and we want them in the living area so people will think we read."!!

  3. Thank you for giving your side. I'm kinda in the middle - I do like a matching set, but I can cope if they're not.

    No 1 is a good example - I much prefer the 2nd cover :)

  4. so FAB to have a view on this bug bear issue from the other side of the goal posts. I think most of the times I can understand why covers change for the reasons you've described but it still annoys the little OCD girl inside of me.

    The worst offenders of these crimes are the Vampire Academy series (i can't even remember how many cover changes that's gone through) and the 1st 3 in the Mortal Instruments series where they changed the final book in the series to match the US covers. For no sound reason as far as I was concerned.

  5. The change in covers has never really been an issue for me. I just like to read the book, so I am more than happy to have a mismatched set. To me, what matters is what is inside and not out. Even though I have been known to drool over covers.

  6. It's fun to share the insider's view on what seem to be unfathomable publishing decisions.
    - Clover Hill Michelle (I like the first covers best too...)
    - catdownunder - may your secondhand book purchaser discover they have five differently-jacketed B-format paperbacks of the same book as punishment for not actually reading them. Tsk!
    - Michelle, glad you like our second cover look - I'll share the redesigned jacket for book one as soon as I can...
    - SisterSpooky, I am immediately going to seek out all those jackets if the internets will let me.
    - Viv, very glad to hear it's what';s inside that counts - publishers might spend money on coves, but the insides are what takes the time!