When a publisher designs a hardcover jacket, it does so with the best of intentions. It asks: Who is the audience? How do we best position a book for that audience? How do we create an eye-catching design? should the cover be all print or feature an image or several images? If an image is used, should it be photography or art, symbolic or literal? For example, if it is a novel and the heroine is a fiery redhead, does it matter that the “found art” used in the cover design shows her as blonde? What do other similar/competitive books look like? Should this cover mimic the competition, thereby sending a signal that if you liked a certain book, you’ll like this one, or should it deviate and create a fresh look? And these days, a publisher must ask, how will the cover reproduce digitally for those readers who will buy electronic copies vs. print?
If a book has multiple lives, releasing first in a hardcover edition and then in paperback, there can be a new discussion. For a bestselling hardcover going into paperback, the publisher will often choose to stick with the original design, since that has worked so well, and add the best of review quotes to the back cover copy. Remember, with a paperback, you no longer have flaps, so all copy, descriptive and otherwise, needs to fit on the back cover, and a particularly laudatory quote or two might appear on the front cover. What’s interesting with a second edition, is that the publisher now has history. The publisher knows if the book sold well, or not so well. Did the intended audience buy the book or did the book actually sell to an unexpected audience? Were reviews good or bad? How have current events that have occurred since the book was first published impact the way the audience might respond to the book.
A case in point is THE NEW SOFT WAR ON WOMEN, a collaboration between journalism professor Caryl Rivers and researcher Rosalind C. Barnett. In this instance, Tarcher, a division of Penguin Random House, first opted for a bold cover in with hot pink and black type on a stark white cover. They used bright yellow as a backdrop for the subtitle and a small icon, a pair of pink boxing gloves, as spot art. The book received some attention, thanks in part to the tireless marketing efforts of is author team, with full support from the publisher. But it also may have missed its mark a bit because Sheryl Sandberg’s LEAN IN came out around the same time, dominating the media. So with the paperback, Tarcher went back to the drawing board and came back with a new design that is quite compelling. It features a broken ladder, a great symbol for the central thesis of the book, that the war for women’s rights is far from won, even though there is a perception that it’s an old battle. The ladder dominates the jacket in a way that the pink boxing gloves on the hardcover jacket did not; they were a little hard to make out.
Both are effective jackets, but each one is customized for the task and price point of its audience. Second time around, authors should always think like a publisher and ask: What have we learned? Is there something we can do better, or just differently? If your publisher doesn’t bring this discussion up, feel free to initiate it. Paperback reprint is and can be about reinvention.