You’ve written a book, and it’s been published—now what? First of all, congratulations! It’s not easy to get to this point. If your book has done well in the domestic market, you might consider trying your chances abroad. Like any new venture, research is key. A quick perusal of international editions of books reveals that they all have different covers—even American books published in England (or vice versa) get different covers.
So, why do international book covers exist? As the publishing world moves further into the digital age, the practice of separating copyright by territory or country is becoming less common. More and more often, publishers retain “world English rights,” i.e. the rights to publish a book in English in any English-speaking country in the world. Despite this change, many publishing professionals, especially those who work in rights, have pushed against the growing tendency for world rights, and their motivations largely have to do with covers and marketing.
It may sound oversimplified, but many people don’t realize how different markets are in different areas. What sells well in Boston may not sell well in Houston or Los Angeles, and this is doubly true for different countries. Even when a publisher or agent is absolutely sure that the novel they have will do fantastically in another country, they are always aware that the book will have to be repackaged to fit its new market. This includes the positioning, the promo, the tagline—and the cover.
If you want your book to sell well in a new market, it’s always best to have marketers and designers from that area work on the foreign edition. They will know which elements of your novel will appeal to readers in their country and how to entice those readers to buy your novel.
Now that you’ve decided to publish your novel internationally, what kind of cultural considerations should be examined for your new international book cover? Not paying attention to cultural norms and differences can lead to a lot of issues down the line and can dramatically impact sales. If your designer is not part of the edition’s target culture and market, or if you are designing your own book cover, research is absolutely necessary. Do a deep dive into how covers in your genre are designed in your target market—pay attention to colors, symbols, fonts, figures, patterns, ethnicity of figures shown, etc. Always do some beta testing—send your concept art to readers in the target market and see what they think. It’s important to be open to suggestions! It’s hard to predict cultural impact, and remember that while you may be an expert on your book, you’re not an expert on your book’s target market.
Book production is a collaborative process, and publishing internationally is even more so. Lean on your community and grow new ties as you go on this journey. We live in a global digital age, so you might as well make the most of it!