Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Foreign covers

by Jim

The Guardian has managed to put together one of the world’s most ridiculously obvious articles ever regarding book covers.

Did you know that one of the reasons book covers might be different from country to country is that there are cultural differences? Shocking, I know! And sometimes book covers don’t represent the actual content of the book in explicit ways (stay with me): they just try to make you buy the product. Breathe deep: this is a lot to take in.

I think the real difference between getting their North American cover versus their foreign covers for an author is just timing and input. You see your US cover early and have a chance to call someone up and ask, “What in the hell?” Your foreign editions sometimes just show up already published. And while the question remains the same, it doesn’t make any difference.

But the one thing I really dig about the article is the gallery of side by side comparisons. I love the French cover of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo though was surprised to see the title translated to (high school French don’t fail me now) Men Who Don’t Like Women. I’m a little obsessed with the Chinese cover of Birdsong but wonder if that kind of subtlety really has a place in cover design.

One of the best chroniclers of their own foreign editions is Charlie Huston who has blogged about cover design on his website Pulp Noir.  He even describes an edition as looking like “the poster for a hip-hop dance interpretation of a novel by S.E. Hinton.”


  1. It's the English version that changes the title to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the original was Män som hatar kvinnor – Men Who Hate Women.

  2. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a far more compelling title, IMO.

  3. I think the Chinese cover of Birdsong is a perfect example of playing to cultural differences. While it might seem too subtle for a western reader, I looked at the cover and immediately thought, "China." I've spent a lot of time in China and their aesthetic is completely different than ours. In both their literature and art, "white space" is very important. Often what's left out of a painting or poem is as important as what's included.

  4. Is Harry Potter dressed in a mouse costume in that one? That's definitely a what-the-hell? moment.

  5. Even if the article was obvious, it was still cool to see examples of covers in different countries. I see a lot of British covers on the web, but hardly any from elsewhere. I'd love to make a big gallery.

    I can kind of see the logic behind the German cover of House of Meetings, honestly.

    I'm less puzzled by the title change for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (although from the comments above, I see that the US version is the changed title) than by the fact that the French version appears to have Wednesday Addams on the cover.

    I'm going to second Stephanie's comments on the Chinese cover of Birdsong. I'm not especially well-versed in Chinese culture, but I work in Collection Development at a library and most of the catalogs come to me. The Chinese publishers' catalogs always have very sparse covers in comparison to those from any other country. They seem to really appreciate blank space.


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