They say that love makes the world go around, and there’s no one who believes that with more certainly than Harlequin Books. Whether under the guise of Harlequin, Silhouette, or Mills & Boon, the Toronto-based publisher remains the romance world’s answer to Micky D’s, with zillions of romance novels sold in just about every place on earth where there’s a woman waiting to buy. Unlike most American books that require a new contract negotiated with a separate publisher for each foreign edition, Harlequin has its own publishing branches based in more than twenty different countries, all publishing foreign editions at a furious rate.
This can come as an exciting revelation for a Harlequin writer. The editors based in New York don't tend to play up the international editions, nor do they have any input into them, anyway. Not all books are published everywhere, and there doesn’t seem to be any sort of timetable for publication, either. Some are released overseas a month or two after North American publication, while others suddenly pop up a decade later. Thus, when you least expect it, five copies of your book in a new language and format will suddenly appear in your mailbox (and, with luck, on your royalty statement, too.)
But while misguided cover art for a new book can offer exquisite torment to even the most jaded writer
not to mention hysterical calls between editors, agents, production heads, marketing, and legal, all with the result that Nothing Really Gets Changed –– the foreign covers are just, well, a surprise. There’s no input with writers at all regarding the art, or even the new titles (foreign editions almost never have the same title as the North American edition.) I've heard that the actual art isn't painted specifically for a cover, but more a case of "what's around the office that we haven't used for a while." My foreign covers may have already graced other books. As for the inside, and what is lost or found in translation –– ah, the wise author will never, ever go there, not if she wishes to keep her sanity.
Thus for the sake of education, amusement, or horror, I’m posting the covers of several of my books for Harlequin Historicals, written under the name Miranda Jarrett.
One of my earliest books for Harlequin, originally published in 1992 as Columbine. Set in the New England wilderness around 1700, it fit right in with then-popular movie The Last of the Mohicans, and was full of colonial history, adventure, and an idyllic romance. When it was published in Brazil (above right), the cover art didn’t change, but the title became Insane Passion, and I swear every sentence
inside ends in an exclamation point.
Clearly covers are pitched in different ways to appeal to different markets. My British covers tend to be realistic and low-key, showing the couple happily together but usually not embracing. (They're also often the painting printed in black-and-white on the inside cover of the North American editions: the junior varsity cover, I guess.) The heat-factor rises dramatically with my German and French covers, which favor lurid clinches with plenty of heaving bosoms, bulging muscles, and flying hair. Japanese covers have artwork that's more like colored drawings than paintings, and often forgo people altogether in favor of pastel landscapes.
The original cover for Sparhawk’s Angel (1996) was almost sweet, a lace-trimmed confection. A year later, the German edition seems to promise something altogether different. This past year, the book was released in Japan, with a cover that doesn’t look even vaguely historical. All I know is that my name’s on the copyright page.
Of course, marketing shenanigans take place everywhere. The holiday anthology Christmas Wedding Belles: A Regency Christmas on the High Seas was released last year, both here and in Great Britain by Harlequin. This year, Mills & Boon is releasing it again in Great Britain. Same book, same authors, but the sailors have vanished. Now it’s Regency Christmas Weddings: Three Glittering Regency Love Stories, and features artwork that belongs on a Victorian candy-box. (I have to admit that I prefer the candy-box cover with the plump, rosy-cheeked heroine in her bonnet.)
Another Christmas anthology earned a more traditional Christmas cover in Poland (and isn't it fascinating that the English word "Bestsellers" must have the same appeal regardless of the language?) On the version sold in the Czech, a seasonal wreath has been looped around the lovers. My favorite part of that one is that I’ve become Miranda Jarrettova, and there’s new Wench Anne Gracieova, too.
And in my opinion, some of the foreign covers are a definite improvement over the North American originals. I hated the cover for The Duke’s Gamble (2006): a bilious yellow cityscape with a priggish couple and a horseless carriage. The English cover for Mills & Boon is an improvement, and especially interesting since it must have been a rejected version of the North American one — note that same blue dress with the poufy sleeves! Still, I think the Swedish version with the sly, card-holding heroine is the real winner.
The American cover for The Rake’s Wager (2007) fell short, too, with its curiously faceless heroine and the hero reduced to a mere cane and top hat (top hat??) But the couple on the Italian cover captured the relationship of the hero and heroine in a much better way, and the cover of the Mills & Boon edition –– ah, who says a smiling hero is a turn-off?
What do you think? Do you prefer the North American covers, or those on the foreign editions? And if you’re one of our international readers, what do you think of the romance covers in your country?