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Jacket design: supermarket or upmarket?

Do judge a book by its cover.  We make all our purchasing assumptions based on jacket design. Will it be funny chick-lit? Yes, if the cover art style is cartoony, with a girly colour palette. Will it be literary? Probably yes, if a fine art painting is used. And will it be suitable for teen girls? Undoubtedly so, if a moody, romantic photograph forms the jacket. Every so often a really fresh new jacket idea emerges, such as when the Nick Sharratt pictures were teamed with Jacqueline Wilson’s brilliant stories – soon to be copied by publishers everywhere.

With the sad closure of Borders books, and the Ottaker’s chain a few years ago, we are left with a polarised market place. Classy Waterstones, or supermarket deals. We can hope, pray, fantasise about the return of independents, but in reality more and more books are likely to be bought on-line or via i-pads and other e-readers.

When I browse the children’s books available in my local supermarket, I find they are often made by packagers; imitations of titles produced by real publishers, with a key word in the title, like ‘mermaid’ or ‘beast’ which makes people think they recognise the brand. The other sorts of books that do well in the supermarkets are classics such as Paddington and Noddy.

Best sellers will always feature in the supermarkets, but the new things that do really well are often celebrity led or sensationalist. I do think it’s great that we can buy books whilst out grocery shopping and I don’t want to make argument that ‘supermarkets are taking over the world’. But, as an author, when you are dreaming up a new idea, or thinking about jacket treatments or art styles along with your publisher, you do tend to think is this for up or down market?

I’ve heard editors say: “If we design this for the top end, and they don’t take it, we’ll have ‘queered our pitch’ for the supermarkets.” We’ve heard of the crossover market habit of designing one adult jacket and one children’s jacket for the same book, but maybe we’re going to have to design a posh jacket and a mass market one too!

Publishers listen to booksellers a huge amount. My books have often had art work, fonts or jackets changed on the say so of book buyers. On one occasion, we even wrote a buyer into a story, at her request! The things we do!  

Janey Louise Jones‘ Princess Poppy books are published by Random House.

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