Book Covers and Cover-ups

The No. 1 question I'm asked about my job -- after "They pay you for this? -- is "How do you choose what books to review?"

For security reasons, I can't reveal the complicated algorithms we use, but clearly publishers think the jacket designs have something to do with which books get picked up and which are consigned to the flames.

Big houses such as Ballantine and Knopf Plain galley copy.jpgbravely send us bland, generic galleys like this:

But usually, the advance copies we get (two or three months before finished books show up in stores) have fully designed covers like this:

Fancy galley Copy.jpgAnd let's face it: You can tell something about a book from its cover, and publishers obviously put a lot of thought into conveying as much information about a book as they can. Is it a comic novel? Is it romantic? Is it serious and dark? Hip or old-fashioned? The art and the text are supposed to let us know that quickly while appealing to the widest possible audience.

But consider the curious disconnect between a hardback dust jacket and its paperback reincarnation six months or so later. Person of Interest Hard.jpg Same text but a new debut, and often that calls for entirely different artistic treatment (like moving to a new town and deciding to dye your hair) (or change your gender). Take the striking case of Susan Choi's novel about the Unabomber, A Person of Interest. The hardback had this great cover that conveys the novel's paranoid tone perfectly:

But the new paperback version tries to reposition the novel as a dreamy, thoughtful story about.... what? Gardening? Person of Interest Paper.jpgWomen love flowers, right? Put poppies on the cover.

Have you noticed some other weird hardback/paperback clashes?

By Ron Charles |  February 4, 2009; 7:18 AM ET Ron Charles
Previous: The Art of Editing | Next: Five Books for When Your Job Is Threatened


Please email us to report offensive comments.

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company