Wenchling Talpianna sent me the link to this very interesting article, which compares American and British styles of cover art. (Thank you, Tal!) http://tinyurl.com/zkku7 Most of the examples are from fantasy and science fiction, but even if you don’t read those genres, it’s still interesting to see the differences.
The general conclusion is that that British book covers tend toward simplicity and minimalism, while American covers go for more action and color. The examples support that, and really, it’s not surprising. American culture seldom shys away from excess. <G>
It’s not possible to do a comparison of British and American romance cover styles because there really isn’t a British romance genre that is equivalent to the American. From what I’ve heard, British publishing tends to be dignified and male, which means that it hasn’t much use for the mushy emotionalism of romance. Girl cooties, you know. The exception is Mills & Boon, which produces ‘cookie cutter stories for shopgirls.’
I don’t know any British publishing executives so I can’t say if the conventional wisdom about their opinions is correct (and I did recently meet one British female editor actively shopping for American romances publish in Britain). However, I’ve lived in Britain and read the newspapers and it does seem that romantic fiction doesn’t get much respect there. Heaven knows that American romance readers and writers often complain that we don’t get enough respect, but the situation is worse across the pond.
Note: I don’t know any profession that feels it gets enough respect. This is a theme one sees in all kinds of trade publications in all kinds of professions. Apparently the world is running a respect deficit. Except for nurses—I recently read that they are the most respected group in America, and that’s fine by me! But I digress.
Very few American romance writers are published in Britain unless they’ve become mainstream bestsellers. And yet the readership is there. This blog has regular British readers, and over the years, I’ve received plenty of fan e-mails from Britain, among other places. In the day of the internet, sophisticated readers all over the world can find romance novels, though shipping charges make buying American romances an expensive proposition. I’ve heard from readers in Argentina and Venezuala and Caribbean islands. South Africa and Australia and India and Singapore. Holland and Germany and Spain.
The ones who contact me are almost always reading in English, which means a high level of education if English isn’t their first language. I’m always impressed by their diligence in hunting down American books. And I also think there must be millions of readers around the world who would equally enjoy American romances if they could get their hands on copies. (The illustrations for this blog are for Spanish editions of my books, largely because I found a very well done Spanish language fan site that had a lot of the cover images, which saved me from scanning covers.)
The fall of Communism in Eastern Europe led to an explosion of rights buying of American romances. Once I read some intellectual who deplored that instead of reading real literature as they did under the Soviet system, newly liberated Russians just wanted to buy tacky romances. The market speaks! And yes, Russian publishers bought quite a few of my tacky romances. <g>
Foreign rights are a big business. Countries that are too small to support a sizable publishing industry can buy language specific rights to American books, including romances, for a fairly modest amount. (Very modest in the case of small language groups.) The publishers have to pay for translation and production costs, but in the end, they can produce books by first rate American writers in Bulgarian or Norwegian or Czech. (My Czech editions are published under the name Mary Jo Putneyova. <g>)
I regularly think how lucky I am to be a native English speaker, with the largest potential audience in the world. The large market here can nourish a lot of potential writers. There must be very talented people in countries that are simply too small to support writers in their native language, so they may never have much scope to exercise their potential.
We authors cash the foreign rights checks, and keep our fingers crossed that the translations are good ones. Several of my early traditional Regencies were published in Germany as skinny little magazines that couldn’t possibly contain all my golden prose. I’ve since learned that publishers often reserve the right to cut to a particular length. Again, one hopes it was done well.
Once I traded some information with a German born writer of American Regencies. She read one of my German editions and reported back that if any of her books were published in Germany so that her family could read them, she hoped she got the same translator. This was comforting.
Incidentally, American romance cover illustrators also have agents who sell European rights to their work, so it’s not unusual to have a foreign edition show up at your door with a cover that was on a different American book. The book on the left, the Spanish version of Thunder and Rose, was the cover for Laura Kinsale’s The Shadow and The Star, and I’ve had Johanna Lindsey covers and other such illustrations. It’s all part of the fun.
The one company that publishes romance all around the world is Harlequin, of course. Harlequin writers get the fun of seeing their work published in many languages, and they get to compare the cover art styles, too. I’ve heard that the bestselling Harlequin lines in much of the world are the oldest and most traditional lines, Harlequin Presents and Harlequin Romance because the characters do the best job of reflection the reality of many women’s lives.
Yet despite Harlequin’s best efforts, I suspect that zillions more romances could be sold around the world if they were readily available. For years, I’ve had a dream where a bookstore would have single copies of a whole lot of books. Customers could browse to find what they wanted, then go to a production kiosk and punch in the book’s code. Five minutes later, the kiosk would have produced a bound, printed volume. This would make millions of books available around the world at much lower prices because there wouldn’t be the shipping costs. It would also mean instant gratification—instead of having to wait for days or weeks for a special order to arrive, you could walk out of the store with the book right away.
The technology to make my vision come true isn’t here yet, but it’s getting closer. In the meantime, all over the world, dedicated readers are looking for stories of love, challenge, and commitment.