Judging the Covers 2: Chris Womersley, Kalinda Ashton, The Slap

There’s been a bit of interest in the subject of book covers lately. The Millions recently compared the US and UK covers of prominent novels. Closer to home, recent Debut Mondays guest and cover design enthusiast Jessica Au has started an occasional series over at the Readings blog, sharing her favourite recent book covers.

In the second of our two-part series on book covers, we talk to Chris Womersley and Kalinda Ashton about the different covers for their latest books – and we look at four of the covers for Christos Tsiolkas’s international bestseller, The Slap.

Chris Womersley

I really love the original cover for Bereft and I think the success of it can be measured by the fact that it has been adapted for the paperback edition and the UK edition. I also really like the US one, even though it’s quite a bit darker in tone.

Covers for *Bereft* (left to right): original Australian, small-format pb Australian, UK & US

Covers for Bereft (left to right): original Australian, small-format pb Australian, UK & US

I was consulted by Scribe for the original cover. We had a few versions floating around, most of them featuring a girl – or part of a girl. I guess the aim was to represent Sadie Fox in some way without identifying her too closely, in order to maintain the air of mystery around her character, which is slightly ethereal. From memory, that final version came in quite late – just before going to press – and it immediately clicked not only for me but for everyone involved in the book at Scribe.

As for the UK and US editions – I wasn’t really consulted, but I rely on the fact that publishers know their own markets pretty well and what will appeal to readers. There will be a French edition in May that will use the same cover as the first Australian edition but I’m unsure if the German or Croatian editions will use the same cover.

Kalinda Ashton

I probably like the Sleepers cover best (this is at least partly for sentimental reasons as this is the Australian one, and the first cover). Before I saw the artwork, I had initially envisaged a photographic cover for The Danger Game; one very much, in fact, like the image that ended up being used for the first UK version. I imagined a grungy, grainy black-and-white melancholy close-up (along the lines, as I thought then, of M.J. Hyland’s first cover for How the Light Gets In). So it took me a while to adapt to a much more abstract and bold cover, particularly one which, at my first glance, did not necessarily seem to immediately/instantaneously resonate with the themes and story of the novel. Yet I do absolutely adore it.

Covers for *The Danger Game* (left to right): Australian, original UK & UK second edition paperback

Covers for The Danger Game (left to right): Australian, original UK & UK second edition paperback

Not only is it eye-catching (I have a love affair with wearing clothes of headache-inducing bright intensity, so the orangey-yellow splash felt quite right for me), but I am very fond the retro feel and the unusual placement of the title lettering on the spine. When you look closely, there are small details that suggest menace, such as the sinister jaggedness of the writing and the tiny figure literally sprinting across the top of the word ‘danger’. The more I look at the cover, the more I like it. And it stands out on bookstore shelves! My one regret is that we didn’t have an actual blurb on the back (or at least on the inside front cover) but I thought about this too late. I’ve had a lot of compliments on the Australian cover.

The original, Australian cover: 'I do absolutely adore it'.

The original, Australian cover: 'I do absolutely adore it'.

I had quite a bit of input, as the first, very early cover attempt was pink and white and involved a silhouette of a woman; I was very firm that I thought this looked far too chick-lit for a book as bleak as mine (and was possibly more of a young adult genre cover too). Thankfully Sleepers, my Australian publishers, are very consultative and supportive and generally amazing, so they came up with a new version (which is what we have now). I hadn’t been intransigent about much else during the production process – I quite like, for instance, being edited – but I tried to politely and carefully make it known that I was not a fan of the pink-and-white look. Because Sleepers are quite flexible and work closely with their authors, it was a very collaborative process. I’m pretty hopeless when it comes to actually suggesting much and I respect designers' own creativity and expertise, so I try to put my thoughts into genre and mood rather than aesthetics.

The original UK cover of *The Danger Game*.

The original UK cover of The Danger Game.

The first UK cover I’m happy with as well, although I found the back too cluttered/busy for my tastes. (I would like to emphasise I am no designer … indeed absolutely dismal at most spatial-relations. I’m just am amateur.) And I felt the dreamy/melancholy boy in the photo was probably too young-looking to depict a ten-year-old.

I did get the chance to comment, but because we were working to a very tight schedule (I think the release date was about six months after we first signed the contract) and I was actually insanely busy travelling and living overseas and doing non-writing ‘real world’ work, we didn’t have the same leisurely back and forth as with my Australian cover.

The latest UK cover of *The Danger Game*: 'I loved it straight up'.

The latest UK cover of The Danger Game: 'I loved it straight up'.

I think the latest UK cover is fantastic: I love the writing in sparklers (or fireworks) and the tiny glimpse of the top of suburbia you see at the bottom of the page. It’s very atmospheric and heightened but still very clean. I loved it straight up and only commented briefly on the lettering for the title, as there were a few versions. I have been pretty lucky. As an author I think it’s tricky to be open-minded and considerate of others' skills and ideas while managing to be forceful when it’s required – you don’t want a cover you loathe and wince at being chosen, but you need to be prepared to see your own work in a new light too.

The Slap: An international bestseller in four versions

Finally, we couldn’t resist taking a look at some different covers for The Slap, an Australian book that’s been hugely popular overseas. We’re sure there are more cover versions out there, including one that ties into the ABC TV series, but here are four we found.

From left to right: original Australian cover, first UK cover, US cover, latest UK cover

From left to right: original Australian cover, first UK cover, US cover, latest UK cover

Moving from left to right: the first, with its image of a howling child, is the original Australian cover (as most readers will recognise). Eye-catching and effective, there’s something about it – juxtaposed with the words ‘The Slap’ – that demands an emotional response, whether that’s curiosity, revulsion or empathy.

The second is the original UK cover, with an image of a middle-class suburban barbecue – reframed and matched with different font for the third cover, the US version. Curiously, there’s something that seems more English than Australian about this image; more garden party than backyard barbecue. Maybe it’s the suit on one of the men (how many Australian men wear a suit to a barbecue?), or the ladylike pastel dresses of the women.

And lastly, there’s the (again, pastel-hued) illustration of a naughty little boy, standing on a green lawn, hands planted in his pockets of his beige shorts, that is the latest UK cover. This boy seems composed in his anger, spoilt and entitled in a different way from Tsiolkas’s earth-mothered Hugo. And the crossness of this cry is far removed from the primal, grass-tugging, out-of-control howl in the original cover.

What matters most when you’re judging a book cover – that it grabs your attention in a way that leaves you wanting to know more, or that it genuinely captures the contents of the book?

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