As we all know (and by now we have also sort of stopped caring since The Guardian publishes an article about it every week) the beloved J. K. Rowling published a novel, the first in a mystery series, last April under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. The book, a hardboiled whodunit, had already begun to sell relatively well for a debut novel, and had received respectable reviews. But when the real author was revealed through a partner in Rowling’s law firm in July, The Cuckoo’s Calling became the talk of the global village, and the book was predictably catapulted at the top of bestseller lists everywhere.
The news was exciting, and even more so because the book has been expected by Potter fans for a long time. Rowling has long talked of her love for the mystery genre—and anyone who has read the Harry Potter series will recognize that they are essentially constructed like whodunits (Rowling has said so herself). Moreover, it was announced a couple of years ago that the editor for Rowling’s book would be David Shelley, who has edited several popular mystery writers.
But that’s not really what I want to talk about! My interest in the affair grew when I realized how different the cover designs were for the UK and north american versions of the book. It’s a good example of completely different marketing strategies deployed for the very same product.
The British cover of The Cuckoo’s Calling is classic mystery fare. Every poorly photoshopped element on it, from the flying crows gathering in an aquamarine sky to the silhouette of the lonely inspector in his mackintosh, spells whodunit. An added touch is the distinctly British row of houses and iron fencing. Locale, of course, is always central to the atmosphere of any respectable mystery novel. In other words, you look at this cover and you know exactly what you’re getting. There is a practical aspect to this design choice, although at the same time it keeps the book from standing out besides other covers in the same genre.
The north american cover couldn’t be more different. Instead of focusing on the detective at the heart of the story, it represents the opposite end of the narrative by portraying the novel’s victim, a model named Lula Landry. The model is viewed from the back, a foreboding pose, but what catches the viewer’s attention the most is the multiple, sparkling camera flashes and the loopy, hand-drawn (almost scratched) font in which the title is written.
This cover certainly packs more of a punch—it is immediately recognizable, and it’s certainly effective at conveying the world in which the novel’s detective will be investigating. But, somehow, I have some issues with it because I also find it misrepresents the book. This image, to me, does not spell out “hardboiled crime plot.” Rather, I would expect this on a chick-lit or gossipy YA novel about the underside of wealth and fame, à la Gossip Girl.
So, while I find the aesthetics of the North American cover more pleasing, I still think the British cover is more effective because it taps into a specific tradition, and will speak directly and immediately to fans of that genre. However, the advantage of the North American cover is that it may draw a different, and broader, audience to a novel such readers might not otherwise be attracted to.
What are your thoughts?