Covers Change the Story: More Hardcover-Paperback Swaps

Sometimes I wonder if I spend more time thinking about cover art on books than reading the books themselves. But then I look over at my to-review pile and remind myself it’s all part of the process. Covers are so important to selling books — especially YA books — I can’t help think about how and why they change when they go from their hardcover originals to their paperback incarnations. Here’s a bunch of recent and forthcoming cover changes. Some are good, some are bad, and some don’t elicit much from me at all in terms of being good or bad.

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan is getting a makeover. The original hardcover is on the left and the paperback (due out June 12) is on the right. I think both of these covers are pretty good — the original is illustrated, which is a rare thing to find in a YA cover, and it works well. I’ve read this book, and it’s a quieter novel, and the original cover fits the tone, without overshadowing or overselling the quiet nature of the story. One of the other things I like about this cover is that because it’s illustrated, rather than a stock photo, it will appeal to younger YA readers, and it’s a story that would be appropriate for those just starting in YA books. That’s not to say it’s a gentle or easy read, but rather, it’s inviting.

As much as I like the hardcover, I really like the paperback. It’s a photograph, but there’s something in the muted blue tone that works and makes it stand out. I like the sense of isolation and loneliness the pair of boots has, and it’s nicely contrasted with the monarch butterfly by not only the spot of color, but also the sense of hope it symbolizes. I’m also a fan of the font for the title and author.

Both of the covers for Ruta Sepetys’s Between Shades of Gray are quiet, muted, and almost too easy to look at, since the book is anything but easy to read. I find it interesting that neither of these covers screams historical fiction — they’re both very contemporary looking, and I can’t decide whether that’s a strength (wider readership) or a weakness (missing target readership). The original hardcover (left) is the one I prefer to the paperback for a number of reasons. First, and maybe most importantly, it’s not a photograph of a person. Because this story is so much about human nature, I think the fact it’s a faceless cover is important and a chilling contrast. Not to mention, the nature here fits the setting inside the book. I dig the font treatment on the title and author byline, though her name almost gets lost in the snow on the ground.

I’m not feeling the paperback cover because it features the face on it. Not just any face, but a very pale, very perfect face. More than that, though. there’s something about the way the snowflakes are caught in the girl’s eyelash that bothers me. What I do like about this treatment is the font for the title and the fact the author’s name is bigger and not fading into the image itself. In fact, I think the title font might be smaller than the author’s name even (though it’s a slight difference). It’s interesting that the paperback includes a tag line to it that the hard cover does not that reads “One girl’s voice breaks the silence of history.” I can’t say it’s the greatest or catchiest. For me, the hardcover wins this round.

Kimberly Marcus’s 2011 debut novel-in-verse Exposed does it so much better in hardcover, even though I find the hardcover pretty unmemorable itself. I’ve reviewed this book before and one of the elements running through the story is photography. So as much as I don’t care for the hard cover on the left, it fits the story pretty well, and it’s a nice play on the title. I do appreciate the title font on the hardcover, and how it is spaced out and, well, exposed.

The paperback cover is a downgrade, though. First, it’s a close up of a girl’s face, which tells absolutely nothing about the story. It’s nice it’s a close up of a girl with freckles, since there aren’t a lot of those, but that still tells nothing of the story. But worse: these covers of a close up of a girl’s face all look exactly the same. Maybe it’s helpful in a sense for reader’s advisory or it could be an interesting book display, but I tend to think it’s a little insulting to readers AND the the authors. It’s giving readers the same thing over and over and it’s making the author’s work blend into everything else that’s out there. With the paperback, there was a font change on the title and it’s probably my least-favorite font choice. It’s weak and looks cheap. And maybe the thing that’s most interesting about the change, though it certainly isn’t telling of much, is that the girl on the hardcover version has long, dark hair and the girl in the paperback has blond hair. I guess both girls do have their eyes shut.

Nomansland by Lesley Hauge came out in 2010 in hardcover, and it just released in paperback a couple of months ago, with a cover change. This is an interesting one to look at because both of the covers are really similar — they use the same color palette and both appear to have the same artistic technique of using a stock image and illustrating on top of it (to be fair, I’m not sure if that’s the case or if these are actual illustrations, but I believe it’s the first). In the hardcover on the left, we have the girl shooting her bow and arrow away from the reader. We’ve got no sense of what she’s thinking, though we can tell from her stance she’s strong and determined. The girl is in control of the situation, and it’s clear in the image that the horse is just a tool (and I like that). My one complaint in the girl is that she’s almost made a little too sexy with the way her clothes are sticking/fluttering on her body. That’s not to say she can’t be that way, but it almost feels a little over the top to me, given how much power there is in her stance and in her aim. Note, too, her hair is flying in her face.

In the paperback version, we have the girl facing the reader, and we can read intent in her eyes perfectly. We don’t have a body to judge, but we have a set of eyes and a gaze that gives the same feeling of determination and badassery that the first cover gives. It’s interesting this girl’s hair is flying out of her face, rather than in it, giving the reader an even stronger view of her expression. It’s sort of a refreshing change of pace from the covers with the windswept hair (especially where you know the girl is strong and powerful). I like the font treatment on the paperback cover and I appreciate how the red pops against the otherwise gray and toneless background. I don’t have a favorite between these two covers, but I do think they’re in an interesting conversation with one another.

The cover change on Susane Colasanti’s So Much Closer baffles me beyond words. The hardcover (left) nails the story perfectly. This is a book about a girl who decides she’s giving up her life in New Jersey to move to New York City in hopes of getting with a boy who just moved there himself. It’s very much a New York City novel — the hardcover captures it perfectly, and I think it does a great job of giving a sense of what kind of girl Brooke is. She’s wearing something that screams NYC to me, and seeing that her goal is to be an NYC kind of chick, well, this gets it. More than that, I appreciate the body language going on between the girl and the guy. There’s a hunt of something, the potential for romance to bloom, but there is not a  guarantee. If anything, it sort of illustrates the fact the girl is more interested than the guy (she is, after all, leaning into him and her leg is close to his). I like the font, and I like that the cover is consistent with other Colasanti covers in that her name is bigger and more prominent than the title. This isn’t a knock on the book, but rather, a smart move on the designer’s part, since Colasanti readers often read her books because they’re written by her. Titles are less important than the author.

The paperback cover gives a totally different impression of Brooke than the hardcover: in this instance, she is very much a girly girl. It’s not only because of her dress (which I think makes her look pregnant with the way it’s flying up in the front), but it’s through her entire body language — there’s the stance with her legs, and there’s the way her hair hangs, and maybe the thing standing out to me the most, which is her hands. This cover also plays up the romance much more than it plays up the NYC aspect. I can’t put my finger on what does this — maybe the font of the title and the way it’s laid out — but this cover looks much more like it’s targeting an adult readership than a teen readership. The paperback also features a tag line that reads “Follow your heart . . . No matter where it takes you,” and it fits the theme of the story. I don’t quite get the purpose in changing this cover, though it tells a much different story and gives the book a different slant than the hardcover does. But more importantly, and something I’ve been trying to figure out for a while now: who is holding up the umbrella? From the way her hand is positioned on the boy’s shoulder, there is no way the girl is holding it, unless she has Gumby arms, and from the guy’s position, the same deal holds. Isn’t his head being whacked on the inside by the way it’s positioned? Is there an invisible hand here? An invisible arm? Inquiring minds want to understand the physics behind this one.

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  1. says

    You're cracking me up with the amazing photoshopped umbrella!

    I LOVE the hardcover of I'll Be There and will accept no substitutions. Butterfly on a pair of old boots doesn't do it for me. It reminds me of the story Holly Goldberg Sloan related when we interviewed her for the Authors are ROCKSTARS podcast– they were going to change the book cover to a guitar laying in wet leaves. She hated it and insisted they change it back to the beautiful, striking, illustrated cover. Way to go, Holly! I wonder what she thinks of the butterfly and boots.

    • says

      I guess it's possible the guy is holding the umbrella awkwardly from behind, but without doubt, his head must be hitting the metal rods inside. There is no way he is comfortable.

      I do think the illustrated cover for Sloan's book is really striking, and I think a guitar in wet leaves wouldn't capture the sort of magic the story has.

    • says

      I finally caught one! I don't usually catch cover doubles. It's a much better cover for the Willo Davis Roberts book, which is about a girl struggling to deal with the death of her twin sister who then gets caught up in a kidnapping. But I have trouble getting boys to check it out, although they'll go for Roberts' other mystery titles.

  2. says

    I love the paperback cover for I'll Be There. The model on the Exposed cover also looks the the model for the cover of North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley.

    • says

      I can see the similarities — check out the comment below, too. That model has been on a ton of covers (the one on Headley's book, which might me the same as the one on Marcus's).

  3. Anonymous says

    The paperback cover for I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan feels feels grittier and more masculine to me, although both covers are comparatively gender-neutral in the sea of YA covers.

    In contrast, I feel like the paperback cover of Ruta Sepetys's Between Shades of Gray is trying to appeal to more female readers, especially with the tagline. (By the way, some part of me hopes that readers searching for Fifty Shades of Grey find Between Shades of Gray or Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey!)

    The hardcover design for Exposed is more distinctive than the generic Caucasian female Big Face (it's a cover category, y'all) of the paperback.

    I agree that the two covers for Nomansland have roughly the same design impact.

    For the paperback cover of So Much Closer, I say that the male is holding the umbrella. Also, I must be the only weirdo who holds the umbrella super-close so that the spokes and fabric hit my head. Hey, I like the way it feels!

    The cover model for North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley has appeared on the covers of several YA books: Alyson Noel's Evermore, Jan Page's Selina Penaluna, and Jeannine Garsee's Say the Word.

  4. says

    I really like the original cover of Between Shades of Gray: the juxtaposition of barbed wire, cold snow, but the hope of new growth. And I love the font of it. The paperback version is so BORING in all aspects, especially the font they chose for the title, and the boring close-up face with fake snow.

    I'm so tired of seeing close-up faces on covers. That seems to be the trend now: stock model photography. I think it's a shame because it's hard enough to get boys reading books during the teen years; but the ones who do probably wouldn't be caught dead reading one with a girl's face on the cover. It screams chick-lit.
    I get excited when I see illustrated covers like the one on the hardcover of I'll Be Seeing You. The paperback isn't bad (minus the tacky butterfly), but I much prefer the original.

    • says

      I feel the same way about the hardcover of Between Shades of Gray. The paperback is much less interesting than the hardcover, too.

      I think you hit on an important point about male readers, as well, and I think that's going to be problematic in the case of the paperback for Between Shades of Gray.

      Like you, I get excited about good illustrated covers. They're so rare.

  5. says

    thanks for the cover updates. i love the hardcover to i'll be there. i think it's so pretty and unusual. i like that it's not a photo, too. and i definitely like the original exposed cover. i think it plays into the photography them much better than the pb.

  6. says

    This is so cool. I really prefer the hardback on most of these. I hate what they did to Between Shades of Grey. It makes no sense at all how they changed it. The hardback shows the snow, the slight green of hope, and the barbed wire. That totally works.

    The paperback looks like a paranormal book about an ice princess or something.

  7. says

    "we have a set of eyes and a gaze that gives the same feeling of determination and badassery"

    That's not what I'm getting from the picture. The face doesn't have the sort of concentrated focus that you'd see if the woman was actually aiming to fire. She'd be scowling, while the girl's expression here is just neutral. Likely, she'd also have one eye closed, to make it easier to line up the shot.

    The fact that the arrow is on the wrong side of the bow doesn't speak well of her badassery either. Everything about it says "I'm not firing a bow. I'm just posing with it." So I like the first cover much better.

  8. says

    "NoMansLand: We don't have a body to judge, but we have a set of eyes and a gaze that gives the same feeling of determination and badassery that the first cover gives."

    I'm not getting that from the second cover at all. She really looks like she's posing with a bow and arrow set, not actually aiming to fire it. Were she aiming, you'd expect one eye closed, a look of concentration, and (easy to overlook) the arrow is being held on the wrong side of the bow.

    The last one can be chalked up to "I'm an artist, not an archer." But the first cover intrigues me. The second one just bugs me.

  9. says

    [[gonna try this again. OpenID doesn't seem to be working.]]

    "NoMansLand: We don't have a body to judge, but we have a set of eyes and a gaze that gives the same feeling of determination and badassery that the first cover gives."

    I'm not getting that from the second cover at all. She really looks like she's posing with a bow and arrow set, not actually aiming to fire it. Were she aiming, you'd expect one eye closed, a look of concentration, and (easy to overlook) the arrow is being held on the wrong side of the bow.

    The last one can be chalked up to "I'm an artist, not an archer." But the first cover intrigues me. The second one just bugs me.

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