OK, we do judge books by their covers. And book publishers judge their readers by their book covers too (or is it their covers by their readers?)
Anway, I’ve been giving this covers question some consideration recently, for my third opus in the Moss Reid series, the one with the fierce long and catchy title.
So do you have a different cover for the hardback edition and the paperback? A special one for the eBook version? A very different one yet again for specific regions and translations?
Jane Austen Cover Syndrome
“Oh,” the brother says. “Sounds like you have a problem with the JACS.”
“Yeah, the JACS. You know. Jane Austen Cover Syndrome,” he says.
Oh-oh. Not more of his “Marketing 3.0 blah blah blah” guff?
You must have heard of her, he goes on. Jane Austen. How, like yourself, she can’t be much bothered with the lit-fest circuits or chat shows. Or the Twitter machine either. Not even Pinterest or a quick Facebook update once a week, with a selfie of herself with Fintan O’Toole or the cast of Love/Hate. She doesn’t even have a literary agent!
Yet, despite her low industry profile and lack of a social media presence, Ms Austen still manages to be a seriously major best-selling rom-com novelist. There a lesson for us all there.
And how does she do it? How come Jane has all this pulling power – or should we call it “Austen power”?
The brother says it’s all down to the JACS. Her covers.
Each one of her international blockbusters comes in not one – not two, not even three – but a dazzling range of covers. Always dozens of ’em, or even hundreds of different covers at a time.
The brother says all those covers are basically down to what Jane’s publishers would probably describe as “simultaneously targeting” – cue marketroid speak – “of key and often overlapping strata within a diverse range of (a) market strands, (b) niche demos [he means demographics, which just means how old a person is and whether they still have an outside loo, that kind of stuff] and (c) regional segments, from BRIC to EMEA, from teens and even pre-teens to adult ABC1 cinema-goers, and targeting each with in essence the very same brand – yet in completely different brand packaging”.
In other words, JACS entails different Austen covers for different audiences. Completely different covers for what is otherwise essentially the same book, identical almost word for word.
Sheer bloody genius, the brother calls it.
So here, in a nutshell, is what I have culled from his in-depth analysis. A sort of “Top 10 Ways that Jane Austen’s Marketing Departments* Churn Out Them Different Covers” if you like. Or – as they call it in the trade for some strange reason – Jane Austen covers for dummies**.
(* Several hundred departments at last count)
(** By dummies does he mean people like me?)
1. Keep it trad and painterly
Start with a nice old watercolour that won’t annoy the “traditionalists”. Note Miss Elliot’s high bustle, and how she’s inspecting what seems to be a component from one of her very long stilts. The stilts are of course a satirical reference to the theme of tension between “rank” – also called “station” (i.e. social heights) – and “retrenchment” (i.e. the social depths of what we’d call austerity).
Alternatively, give it the reliable old “oils treatment”. I’m guessing these two are Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, though some prospective readers might think the right-hand one is Miss Sense and the left-hand one is Miss Demeanours.
2. Go for the chick-lit readership…
This is a Headline edition from 2003 and it really is a doddle. Besides petals and soft pastels, all you you need is a wiggly insouciant “Jane” squiggle to attract this class of reader. Simples.
Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall in that particular project meeting. “So. P&P is really just an early 19th-century rip-off of ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’, right?” “So?” “So. I think it should have loads of hearts on the front.” “OK. What if we had really squiggly writing like whatshername uses on all her books?” “I think I’ve a font does that.” “Yeah yeah, we’re getting a bit fed up with your ‘Cold Feet’ font alright.” “OK, baby writing then?” “But instead of having a ‘Foreword by…’ we could have a “PLUS! Why you should read this, blah blah blah’ instead, which will explain, um, kind of foreword stuff.” “But why don’t we put the ‘Plus’ bit in one of those stars you used to get in a cartoon strip?” “Or on a packet of washing powder.” “Yeah, exactly.” “So. You wanna see my mockups or wha’?”
3. Or cornflakes buyers…
This goes one stage further. You rebrand it as an “enriched classic”. As if Jane is putting the iron into ironic. It reminds me of a breakfast cereal with all that added Vitamin D. At least Fanny Price won’t get Rickets, but it doesn’t explain why she’s showing an unlikely amount of cleavage for the time. And what with all that extra Niacin and Riboflavin she must have had a growth spurt. In fact she could be in the title role of “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman”, that forgotten classic of feminist cinema. Or maybe she has just come across a couple of nasty yet much sought after collectibles in “Celebrity Antiques Road Trip”.
4. Give it the ‘Fifty Shades’ treatment
Covers that say “Reader, I bonked him.” I’m not so sure about this one though: I didn’t picture Anne Elliot as the “harsh shadows”, “sepia tones” and “tight helvetica type” type. Looks more like Nabokov’s “Lolita” – or a grim foreign film festival in Knocknaheeny. And talking of cinema…
5. Don’t forget the movie tie-in
Hey look, it’s Keira Knightley! And that bloke’s ear! It’s definitely an ear! This is for people who’ve seen the film/TV version and will be instantly seduced by the stardust of a few famous thespians on the cover. Make it look like it’s a film. Even if it isn’t an actual film, potential punters will still think it’s a still from a film. They’ll think: “No, Darren, if they’ve bothered to film it too, well it must be a good read.”
And this one says “I’m a book for Billy Piper fans. Or do you like Downton? Same thing really, only it’s set a bit earlier so there’s no horseless carriages yet (or Dame Maggie Smith).”
6. Target the modern teen reader
All very tame, isn’t it? Not quite Jane Austen Meets Tarzan, more like Mills Meets Boon. Or George Lazenby getting the initial brush-off from Diana Rigg in “OHMSS”. But pay attention, Mr Bond: see how the cover designer has cleverly sneaked in a riding whip? From the hairstyles and 3/6 price tag you might have gathered that this is actually a Paul Elek edition from the swinging Sixties, and hardly suitable for the modern teen reader. It’s not racy enough. Mind you, my mum would be less concerned about the Sixties swingers with their car keys in the ashtrays and more worried about the impending clash between that blue wallpaper and the green carpet.
Now this is more like it. Young, contemporary, blingin’, and all that jazz. Marvel’s five-part comic series (and graphic novel) is supposed to be true to the original storyline. Well, at least it should fool your mam and dad – it looks a damn sight hotter inside once you get past the cover’s prim “Just 17” pisstake.
Believe it or not this is the Harper Teen version. It has to have a tagline too: “The love that started it all.” Started what all? Line dancing? Dublin’s free bikes scheme? Reality TV? Hitler’s family tree that eventually ended? The reform of the Junior Cert? The ice bucket challenge? Or that craze for those cronutty things that are like a cross between a doughnut and a croissant? Us readers should be told.
7. And even the pre-teens
This Cosy Classics production puts the felt into “heartfelt”, yet manages to remain solidly grounded in a kind of pastoral Ken Loachy sort of social realism (see brown wool for mud stains).
8. What about the American market?
Yep, that Hollywood-style tagline really does say: “Mom’s fishing for husbands – But the girls are hunting for love…” And see how everything is not only “complete” but “unabridged” too? This unabridgement comes complete with Scarlett O’Hara’s pink outfit. Saddle up, we’ve just crossed the Mason-Dixon line. It’s Jane Austen in Georgia, we’re in “Gone With the Wind” territory.
So I guess this must be the companion reader. With cheese grits.
9. And don’t forget the earphone and iPad generation
See? Giant earphones and huge round things on the croquet lawn. And awful shadow effects everywhere.
In this optical conundrum a young woman from two centuries ago lifts her head up from her needlework to inspect the modern graphical user interface and main navigation options to her right. Don’t forget to include the single most important feature of this paradigm-shifting multimedia revolution we are currently undergoing: a Quiz option.
10. Think retro, think Jarvis Cocker…
…think pulp. This is the recent spoof cover from Oldcastle, complete with fake scuff marks. I never knew they had filtered ciggies in those days, or that Mr Darcy was the dead spit of, um, Irish music maestro Brian Kennedy. Nice one, Oldcastle. Nice one, Jane. (Actually, next to a good classic pulp fiction cover I think it looks a bit naff.)