It’s not really a surprise anymore how much I think about book covers and about the trends relating to them. However, there is a trend that’s becoming more and more popular, and it’s one that doesn’t bother me much on a personal level so much as it bothers me as a librarian: the mid-series cover change. I’m not talking about when a series changes appearance when it goes from its hard cover iteration to a completely new paperback look; I’m talking about when the paperback change in appearance is forced on the hard cover before the entire series has released. Before I explain why it’s frustrating, let’s look at a handful of examples.
Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan — on the left is the original hardcover book, followed by the paperback cover look. Here’s the second book in the series, and how it appears in hardcover:
Rather than continue with the dark, simplistic look of the original hardcover, Spark‘s first appearance will follow the look of Glow‘s paperback. For what it’s worth, I think the original look of the series was fantastic and gender neutral. It was stark, clean, and simple. The new designs are a little too gendered for my liking (because this series has great appeal to both males and females) and they’re way overcomplicated. There’s too much running/floating/weird expression making going on. They don’t scream scifi in the way the first look does.
Then there was the change-up in how Elizabeth Miles’s series about the three furies looks. On the left is the original hardcover look of book one, Fury. The paperback look is on the right. I’m not sure I understand the difference since the first certainly looks much more like it fits the content than the incredibly generic cover on the right. Here’s what book two in the series looks like, in hardcover form:
Envy at least has the same red flower petals donning the cover. It still tells me absolutely nothing about the book. Is it just me or does this model look like she’s in her 20s and in no way a teenager? The longer I look at this redesigned series, the more it reminds me of another series that got a similar redesign treatment. And looks just as generic, too.
Lauren Oliver’s Delirium came out in hardcover form with the design on the left. I remember thinking it looked sort of like the girl was mid-sneeze in the image. I think it was meant to be a dreamy look, but it doesn’t really look that way. The cover on the right is the paperback issue. Isn’t it strikingly similar to the Miles series in terms of having a big face surrounded by plants? They chose to stick with this look for the hardcover release of the second book and will continue it with the hardcover look of book three, too (at least at this point):
There is nothing spectacular about these at all. But at least they keep the same model on all of them. It’s a big departure from the original hardcover look, though, and looks so similar to Miles’s books.
There’s also Andrea Cremer’s series which got a makeover mid-series. On the left is the original hardcover look for book one, Nightshade. The cover on the right is the redesigned series look and is the paperback issue of the title. But that look is what carried over into the second book’s hardcover design and into the third book’s hardcover, too:
Wolfsbane is book two and Bloodrose is book three in the series. They don’t look anything like the first hardcover look, having a little more edge and urban fantasy appeal to them (the first hardcover look to me is a softer look). If you’re curious, the advanced review copy of Wolfsbane did carry the first look prior to publication but changed. I think I prefer the original look, but I haven’t read this series. I suspect the second look — the harder appearance — might be a better “fit” for it, though.
Ilsa J Bick’s zombie series “Ashes” is getting a way different look, too. On the left is the original hardcover design (which is creepy, especially in person) and on the right is the way it’ll look in paperback form. I like the look a lot, actually: it’s different and still manages to give off a nice creep factor — though in no way like the original look. The hardcover version of the second book in the series, Shadows will carry the new look on the cover:
Redesigns are into this running thing, aren’t they? I really dig this cover. I think what’s working for me in this redesign is the title treatment. It’s striking because it runs a little differently and allows the reader to sort of construct their own image of the story. Shadows doesn’t hint at the creep factor in the same way the original cover of Ashes does, but I think that might be okay. I have a feeling book two is less about the start of the apocalypse and a lot more about survival.
Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me is getting a new look, too. On the left is the original cover, which features all of the same elements that every other book does: a girl in a pretty dress. It doesn’t really tell anything about the book. It is striking in person, though, since the silver has a nice sheen to it. The right is the redesign of the series, featuring an eye floating in the air. It doesn’t really do anything for me. I guess it’s different from the trope covered in the original look. But here’s the redesigned look on the hardcover release of the sequel:
Unravel Me‘s hardcover looks so similar to the paperback release of Shatter Me that I am pretty sure they’ll be easily confused (I can imagine without doubt being asked if they’re the same book because they do look that similar to one another). I guess this cover is brighter and perhaps more hopeful as a result. Either way, it’s not a girl in a dress, though it’s not necessarily standing out anymore.
I loved the original hardcover look of Daisy Whitney’s The Mockingbirds. It’s so simple and clean and just fits the story. The paperback iterate is on the right. It’s not bad, and it, too, is pretty striking. I love the look of the girl on the cover and how it feels somewhat noir. That said, I am sad that the hardcover of the companion book, The Rivals, didn’t get the original treatment at all and went straight to the paperback look:
I wish they’d gone with the look of the ARC on this one for the hardcover release, rather than jump straight to this look. This carries that same sort of noir look as the paperback of The Mockingbirds, but it features some random guy on the cover (with weird face stubble if you zoom in enough).
Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star started out with the look on the left. I think it effectively captures the historical/mysterious nature of the book, though I was never a fan of the girl/shadow effect going on. On the right is the look of the paperback, which I really dig. It’s simple, but it captures the haunting feeling very well. The title treatment works for me. Here’s what the hardcover of the second book will look like:
I’m a big fan. BIG fan. Again, the simplicity does everything for it. You know where and when it’s set, and you know there’s something suspicious going on. And really, that is all you need to know. But this hardcover look and the paperback of The Name of the Star are certainly a departure from the very dark, shadowy look of the original hardcover.
Holly Black’s “Curse Workers” series almost made it through the entire hardcover trilogy of the series before getting a cover change, but not entirely. Above are the hardcover looks for White Cat and Red Glove. These covers were knockouts, in my mind, particularly White Cat. There is huge appeal for both males and females in it, and the fact the guy is so mysterious looking sells the story. Do I need to start on the creepy red glove on the girl’s shoulder in the second? Alas. Both of these books got the paperback redesign and now look like this:
These are so unremarkable to me. They look like advertisements out of the 1970s, with the look of the image and the font choices. The hardcover of the final book of the series, Black Heart, got this look, rather than the original one:
Books aren’t gendered, and I truly believe a good story can work for anyone, but these covers are definitely working toward appealing to females much more than males. I am not a fan of this new look, as I think it’s a little sleepy and won’t stand out on the shelves the same way the originals did.
And finally, let’s look at one last series which has had not just one redesign mid-way through the series, but two:
Beth Revis’s Across the Universe began its life with the look on the left. It’s standout, but I read a number of criticisms that it wasn’t authentic to the characters in the story (I don’t know since I haven’t read it). When it came out in paperback, it took on the look on the right. Still pretty standout, in my mind, though both versions of this cover have appeal to a more female readership. Here’s what the hardcover of the second book in the series looked like when it came out:
A Million Suns took the best parts of the first look for the series and mashed it with the good parts of the second book. Again: it’s striking. It looks like a space-set scifi novel. But with the paperback release of A Million Suns and the release of the third and final book in the series, Shades of Earth, all three books are getting a new look:
The hardcover of Shades of Earth will take on the look to the far right here, while the other two books will be issued in paperback with the new style. I think of the three iterations of the cover, this is the one that nails it. You know these books are scifi, and they are so neutral that readers who love genre fiction will know this is something they need to pick up. It’s completely ungendered. What’s so remarkable, I think, is that there isn’t a person or an image on the covers; it’s simplistic and clean.
Series looks change as a result of sales and marketing and for a number of different reasons. A new look can spark new interest, especially if the original look for a series didn’t necessarily hit the mark. In a crowded YA landscape, getting the look right is important to the bottom line. Working the right look for a series is tricky, too: whereas standalone titles can have their paperback look remarkably different from the hardcover and have little impact on future titles, a new look in a series can impact the sales for future and past titles in that series.
Many readers comment that these sort of series look changes bother them because then their shelves look strange. The covers don’t match, the complete set may be in differing sizes and shapes. It’s not harmonic. But that doesn’t matter a whole lot to me, the reader. What matters to me is that this sort of mid-series change, where the hardcover book takes on the new look before the series has finished its run, is difficult to work with in the library.
First, when the covers change their appearance, there isn’t instant recognition of continuity on the shelves. A casual browser wouldn’t know, for example, that The Rivals, as it appears in its new hardcover look, is the companion to The Mockingbirds in its original look. A casual browser wouldn’t know that Unravel Me‘s hardcover is in anyway related to the hardcover of Shatter Me. Part of why so much time and thought and money is invested in cover designs is because that is how readers’ attention is grabbed: a good looking cover grabs them before they dive into the flap copy or description. This is the same case in the library, in that browsers are more apt to grab a book that appeals to them visually. So when the covers are so disparate, it’s tough to know whether or not they’re companions or part of the same series unless the time and energy is invested in reading the copy (browsers have to get to that point first, though).
More than that, though, many librarians are not up on their YA. This is for many reasons, including specialties, library size, time of day a patron visits the library and who they talk with, and so forth. So when a patron approaches a librarian and asks for the next book in a series or asks if two books in a series with varied looks are related, it’s possible that the librarian would have no clue. Even if they were to go into their library’s catalog, there wouldn’t necessarily be a lot of aid, either:
Where as big book stores can more easily swap out their unmatched series, libraries don’t often have that sort of luxury. Which then brings me to wondering about whether or not libraries are doing themselves a disservice in someway by purchasing the hardcover editions of hot series books. By the time they purchase the books, a new design for the paperback might be in the works, and the new design might take effect starting with the second book of the series, which then gives them a mismatched set. Given how tight library budgets are, there are rarely times when both a full hardcover set and a whole paperback set can be purchased, so arguably, it almost makes sense to hold off on purchasing series books until they’re out in paperback form. Of course, that then is a disservice to patrons, who expect (rightly so) their libraries to be purchasing new items when they’re released — particularly if they’re buzzed, popular titles like most of these are and have been.
Even though libraries are only part of the purchasing power when it comes to publishing, it seems like these sorts of changes have a great impact on library collections. Not just because they don’t match, but because their lack of matching does make browsing, readers advisory (think about the things pointed out above, particularly when it comes to appeal of a new look to different readerships), and display marketing (think about how a display with the three different hardcover iterations of Revis’s title would look) more challenging. It makes keeping up with purchasing challenging too, since the books look different. The chances of the next book in the series to be overlooked because visually it appears so different from the first are good. This also further drives a wedge in the knowledge gaps that exist among staff who may know little or nothing about YA books and still find themselves needing to know about them.
What are your thoughts on series books that get changed half-way through? Do any of the ones above look better in their original or redesigned covers? Do you see appeal factors changed on any?
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).