The Hardcover to Paperback Cover Switch: Six to Consider

I haven’t talked about book cover changes lately, and it’s something I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about lately. I’m working on a post about series books and mid-series book cover changes (specifically, about how much they impact libraries and librarians), but in the mean time, I thought looking through some recent cover swaps would be fun. It’s always interesting to see how a cover is revisioned when it moves from hardcover to paperback, as sometimes it’s spot on, and other times, it’s worse.

Here’s the hardcover of Franny Billingsley’s Chime, and it’s a cover I’ve never been a fan of. I haven’t read the book, but from everything I know about it, it just doesn’t seem like a good fit of a cover. It’s the girl, I think — she detracts from the fantasy aspect of the story for me. I don’t care a lot for the color scheme here either, as it’s dull and almost lifeless. It’s a sleepy cover.

Billingsley’s book comes out in paperback in April, and it’s getting a makeover. This works for me, and I think it’ll attract a new range of readers. Even though I’m not a huge fan of the face-on-the-cover, this girl is much less “dead girl” than the hardcover edition, and she’s even got a spark of power to her (I see it in her eyes and the fact her hair isn’t blown across her face). Moreover, I’m a fan of the change from a drab color scheme to a brighter one. The cover kind of reminds me of the repackaged Francesca Lia Block books. I find it interesting the paperback features a blurb from Libba Bray, whereas the hardcover edition didn’t have a blurb.

The hardcover edition of Cathy Ostlere’s Karma is interesting to me because it’s so simple. I read this book last year, and it’s a lengthy verse novel about 1980s India and the search for heritage. It’s a hard sell conceptually for teen readers but I think the cover here does the story some favors in that it might entice otherwise skeptical readers. It’s pink with yellow designs that are an homage to Indian culture. The couple on the front (beneath the title and above the author’s name) make sense in context of the story, too. I love the title font and how it fits nicely with the font for the author’s name, too. Sometimes the simpler, the better.

The paperback of Ostlere’s book came out in January, and you know, I think they got it even more right in this cover. Even though both the paperback and cover fail to give the sense of time period (I’m not sure how they could), I feel like both do a good job giving a sense of place. Like the hardcover, the paperback features a great title font, though I do find the font selected for the author’s name to be a little distracting. It’s not as in sync with the title font as the different fonts on the hardcover edition are. I love, too, that the cover doesn’t appear to be whitewashed; while we don’t get to see a face, the hands and arms here are brown and not white. For me, the flowers she’s holding sort of represent the heritage aspect of the story. Although they’re wilting, the girl’s holding them with reverence and respect. More generally, I find the color palette works here, and it’s all together visually appealing. There is just enough going on to keep an eye engaged without being over-the-top.

Adele Griffin’s psychological thriller Tighter is another cover that had a dull color palette going for it, but because of the story, I think it works just fine. I like the shadowy figure against the cover, almost like there’s a film over the picture and the person is trying to see through. It’s fitting for the story and I think it helps give the book a genre classification. It’s reminiscent of a scary film. The title font works fine, as does Griffin’s name font. I do find it interesting her name is larger than the title itself.

The paperback edition of Tighter will come out in June, and I think it hits the mark pretty well, too. It’s got the sort of drab but haunting feel of the setting with the darker background color, and the girl who is ghostly captures the genre of the story. I note again the fact that the author’s name is larger than the title, which I think is an interesting choice. I like that the fonts are the same (or at least very close to the same) as those on the hardcover. They work well, and the slight blur to the title font isn’t dizzying nor distracting. My one comment on this one is I think the cover might be more appealing to female readers than the hardcover, simply because it’s more obvious it’s a girl at the center of the story.

I think that the cover of Julie Chibbaro’s Deadly is jarring because it’s an uncomfortable color of greenish yellow, but it’s a cover that stands out for me because of that (as well as the silhouette-style girl on the cover, her dress crawling with infestation). This book stands out on a shelf, and I think it does a good job reflecting the content inside. It’s a story based on the legend of typhoid Mary, and it’s heavily vested in the science of disease. I’m a fan of the red font and lower case only lettering on the title, and I like that the tag line shifts its color scheme when it’s laid over the girl. One of the themes of this story is the role of females in society and the book challenges what it was to be a female in the early 20th century, especially when it comes to being a female interested in science. I think the cover does an interesting job reflecting that in portraying a girl in a big dress and in the fact the girl’s at a full stance. Her head is up and the bugs are moving down and away. She’s got some power and defiance to her.

The paperback edition of Deadly will be out at the end of the month, and I’m not feeling it the way I felt the hardcover. It’s dark and shadowy, and I don’t think it at all gives a sense of time — though admittedly, it probably gives a decent sense of place, as the story’s set in early 1900 New York City. There’s a definite mood developed in the image, but I’m not entirely sure it fits the story itself. The girl in the dress is in the shadow on the ground and at full stance, but I don’t think it connotes quite the power the girl in the hardcover edition does. I’m not a fan of the title font here, as I think it kind of bleeds right into the image itself. For me, this book looks a lot more like a mystery than a historical fiction, and I’m afraid it’ll blend into other books that just look dark on the shelf.

I can’t remember if I’ve talked about not being a fan of Janne Teller’s utterly bleak novel Nothing — but see, the thing is, I wasn’t a fan and yet it’s a book I think about a lot and think deep down I kind of admired for being so risky and different. The hardcover of the book is spot on in depicting the feeling of hopelessness the book conveys. It’s a late fall or early winter setting, with the trees lacking their leaves (need I tell you the symbolism there?). I quite like how the title is in a light box on top of the trees but the title itself almost fades into the background as if it, too, were nothing. I think the single girl in the middle crying into the one spot of color in the cover captures the story so, so well. I’m a little torn on teen appeal of the cover since it is so heavily symbolic and it’s not necessarily a stand-out on the shelf; however, the teens that this book would appeal to will so get the cover and appreciate it. It may be what draws them to it in the first place.

The paperback of Teller’s novel will be out in March, and it, too, gives a nice sense of the bleakness in the story. But this time, we have two people embracing one another, almost in desperation. I don’t read this as romantic at all and I think that it captures the mood of the book well. It’s desperate (at least for most of the characters). The coloring of the cover is again dulled, though this time, there’s not a symbolic spot of color quite the way there was in the hardcover, unless you count the girl’s hair. The title being centered and spread widely across the center of the image works, too, and like the hardcover, I think the simplicity of it helps it sort of blend in all together. 

I have a pile more of cover changes I want to talk about, but I’ll save them for another post in the near future — except one. Most of the changes above haven’t elicited a whole lot of reaction from me. I don’t think any of them are way off base, even though I’ve certainly preferred some of the hardcovers over the paperback. But here’s one I really don’t like. One that I think is a mega disservice.

Gabrielle Zevin’s All These Things I’ve Done has a great hardcover image. I love that the title is in red on graying image, and the only other spot of color is the dripping chocolate heart. There’s the back image of the cityscape, and while it’s shadowy, there’s enough recognition to know it’s New York City (even if in the story it’s a distant, future NYC — the shadow effect here gives a bit of the potential for the physical appearance to be different at that time). Aside from the heart, I think this is a cover with appeal to both genders because it’s fairly ambiguous. I appreciate there’s not a face or a person on the cover, and really, there is something to be said for simplicity in cover design. The other thing I think is neat about this cover is the juxtaposition of the all lower case lettering of the title with the all upper case lettering of the author’s name at the top, and yet, neither competes to be the bigger role. They’re in harmony.

Enter the paperback edition of the Zevin title and while we still have quite a bit of a blurred city image that works well, we now have a girl face. A girl face that looks a bit vamp-ish and scary. For me, this book is much less about the dystopic future of a city without chocolate or coffee but about a girl who looks like she’s going to do some pretty bad things in the city. I can’t put my finger on exactly what movie or television show image it reminds me of, but it reads much more action-adventure to me than the story really is. Although the new color palette doesn’t bother me, it’s the way the girl still manages to jump out from it that doesn’t work for me. There may also be a little too much going on in terms of the fonts, the stacking, and the color use in the title and author text.

Now I’m curious — do you think any of these do it better in one edition or the other? I’ve heard more than once that the hardcover is the one aimed toward librarians while the paperback is the one aimed at the true teen demographic, though I’m not sure how much I buy that excuse at all if the true goal is to sell a book (there’d be as much emphasis on both then to produce the best possible cover, period). Or have you seen any changes recently — say the last six months or so — that have caused you to stop and wonder why the change was made?

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  1. says

    Oh, gosh, this is one of my favorite topics ever. And this line from your post relates to my latest specific obsession: "The teens that this book would appeal to will so get the cover and appreciate it. It may be what draws them to it in the first place." It seems like many covers in the vein of CHIME are aiming to grab a particular audience — the ones who might swoon over gowns on covers — while assuming that readers who will like the content of the book will somehow find it through reviews and word of mouth. But it seems to me this is a risky strategy: the gown-lover will be disappointed, and the person who would have liked the book may be turned off by the cover.

    I used to have a theory that the hardcover was designed for quick, splashy sales, and the paperback was designed to reflect the content of the book and the demographic that has proven to enjoy it (for longer-term sales). But I don't think your examples bear out my theory.

    • says

      I understand the gown thing because it IS a huge trend on ya covers, but I'm not entirely sure if I think that's the audience for the Chime cover (admittedly, I can't figure it out either — the girl looks a bit blow-up doll to me). I'd even go as far as to say maybe it looks more gothic than I think the story is or aims to be.

      I have no idea on that theory, either. I've only ever heard the one about libraries vs. teen sales, which I don't think is true. I think — and this is purely my guessing — part of the idea of the cover change may be due to sales or mismarketed the first time around to simply as a way to reflect branding of the author/series/etc.

    • says

      ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is another interesting example that I think points to trying to broaden (or re-hone) appeal after a first attempt. The hardcover is romantic, the paperback is much more sci-fi. You might even say the hardcover is more feminine and the paperback is more masculine? (That was one of my earliest HC/PB theories, which I can't prove to be true.)

      In any case, one thing we're forgetting in this conversation is that sometimes the paperback publisher is different, and they have the choice of imagining their own cover image, or paying to use the old (if it's for sale).

    • says

      heh Across the Universe was one I was thinking of including — but I do plan on talking about Glow in a future post, which took a total wrong-way turn in the hardcover/paperback exchange (and also, it's a series look change which is a whole nother post I've got prepared). And I'd agree on AtU: I think the paperback is a wider appeal. But I don't think that's always the case (Glow, again, but I'll get to that).

      And you're right, sometimes there is the publisher change. But that's pretty rare, at least from what I understand of the current YA landscape and cover swapping.

  2. says

    This is really interesting! I think on all of these I like the hardcover best. I wonder if the book industry is changing so that now hardcovers really only appeal to the more 'classy' booklovers, the ones who really value the physical book (including beautiful cover), while the paperbacks are meant to appeal to a wider audience. I just feel like I know very few people (including me) who are willing to spend the $$ on a hardcover these days, especially when there is now also the ebook option. I think, as Elizabeth commented above, that it used to be about hardcovers being the big splashy sellers, but I think that may not be the case anymore.

    • says

      Interesting comment on the hardcover costs vs. paperback or ebook. I don't pay much attention to format when I buy. Rather it's about when I make the purchase. I'm really methodical and picky when I put down cash for a purchase (as in, if I'm planning on buying books). Format doesn't come into my mind. I'll buy hard cover if it's my option. No biggie.

      When I'm being impulsive and need to read something NOW, I'll ebook it. And then cover doesn't even matter for me at all.

      BUT it makes me wonder about teens themselves and their tight budgets (and libraries with tight budgets). Paperback is going to win hands down then.

  3. says

    The HB cover of CHIME almost hits the mark for me; it could be a bit muddier, to be honest. I'm less taken with the PB. It is far too brightly green. (I really loved the book.) I also prefer the original cover of NOTHING. The solitary figure hits the mark better; the other provides a hint of consolation that will not be forthcoming. (I really loved this book, too.)

    • says

      I could see a muddier version of the Chime cover working, especially if it made the girl less of the central image (if that makes sense). I, too, prefer the original Nothing cover, but there is something that feels really desperate in the second one, too. I can see consolation being read in it, especially for readers who haven't experienced the full force of the story.

  4. says

    I gotta say I dislike both covers of Chime. I'm disappointed in the cover of Karma, though I think the HC needed a makeover, because it almost seems too happy for me. I like the original covers for both Nothing and All These Things I've Done. I agree that the All These Things PB cover is misleading.

    What do you think of the third Holly Black Curse Workers cover change? Totally messes up my set and students will NOT believe it's part of the same series!

  5. says

    Not exactly related, but I wanted to share two vastly different covers that I encountered this week. For grad school, we are reading "Annie on my Mind", which is a novel about a lesbian couple. One student found the original 1982 cover: which is possibly the most stereotypical cover ever. The most recent cover is very different:

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