Best Served Cold Artwork – US

February 5th, 2009

Well WHAT a to-do. No sooner did Pat post Orbit’s US cover for Best Served Cold on his redoubtable Fantasy Hotlist than the inter-tubes BOILED OVER with hyperbole, bloggers, commenters and forum members spouting outrage from every orifice. Which caused both the US and UK covers to be plastered all over the place. What a shame, what a shame…

So what do I think? Let me be completely honest here (DISCLAIMER: The management wish to point out that Joe Abercrombie is never completely honest about anything, especially where commercial realities may be on the line. Actual honesty experienced may fall below accepted EU standards of honesty, and bear no relation to “the truth”. Always read the small print on any claims of honesty.) I really love the UK cover, and believe me, it looks a lot better in the gloriously textured wraparound flesh than as a flat JPEG.

But the folks at Orbit US, who are publishing Best Served Cold in America, wanted to go a different way, and since they are extremely highly paid professionals who know their market, being the SOUL OF MAGNANIMITY that I am, I permitted them to do so. A ha ha ha. Of course, no sane publisher would really give right of veto to an author, especially me. But they indulged me by attending to my opinion. Fundamentally, they felt it was a good idea, as far as selling the book went, to show a person on the front, that the book might appeal beyond confirmed parchment-lovers, and I kind of understood where they were coming from, and was interested, if nothing else, to see a different treatment. The first version they sent me was-a-this-one:

And I was like, “Hmmmm. Don’t know.” I thought with the half-cut-off face it looked much too much like a ladeeez historical novel. Kind of Other Boleyn Girl-ish. Kind of lowly scullery maid runs off to join the crusade and experiences adventures, romance, and big-sword-holding beyond her wildest dreams. Nothing wrong with that, except I did not write that book. Maybe I should? And, to be fair, no one that side of the pond had read the book yet, cause, erm, I hadn’t written it. So I said words to the effect of, “is it possible for it to, I don’t know, kick more ass?” They didn’t have to, but bless their kindly hearts they listened to me, and they came back with this:

And I was like, “Ooooh, that does kick more ass.” The figure was much closer to how I’d imagined the central character (I mean, not how did you get inside my mind and see exactly what I was thinking close, but close enough). But now, ingrate that I am, I was concerned that it had taken on a kind of a paranormal romance-y/urban fantasy-ish sort of a look. A gritty example of such, and not from behind like they often are but still, I was concerned. Now it is a bit of a weird book, this is true. I wouldn’t call it urban fantasy but I’m not entirely sure I’d call it epic fantasy either – in fact I’ll be interested to see what people do call it when it gets reviewed (obviously providing it doesn’t get called, you know, shit).

But I was worried that epic fantasy readers (the core of such established audience as I am cringingly grateful for, let us not forget) would look at this and think, “uh oh, he’s changed, man. He thinks he’s outgrown us. He’s trying to get him a slice of that sweet, sweet paranormal pie, and that jazz ain’t my bag.” When this jazz IS your bag, readers of epic fantasy, it IS! It’s EVERYONE’S BAG. Plus I was worried there was no sense of continuity with the trilogy, and also that the cover would not match with some design stuff we’re thinking of tinkering with on the inside of the book. I furthermore felt that the parchment-y covers of the First Law have kind of a unique look – there’s a bit of recognisable branding going on there that stands out from the crowd without standing out TOO MUCH, if you know what I mean. This cover seemed, well, a little bit like a lot of other stuff I’ve seen. I was worried, in spite of the texture and the rest, it might fade in amongst the many leather-clad swordswomen on today’s genre shelves. So, bless ’em again, they didn’t have to, but they listened to me (probably with teeth well-gritted) and they came back with the cover shown at t’top of t’post which, y’know, combines the two.

Some might say it’s a bit schizophrenic, a cover in two halves, but I actually quite like that aspect, think it makes it quite striking, odd, potentially attention drawing (which is kind of the point, after all). And textures, foils, embossing and so forth (which you don’t get the benefit of on your new-fangled computer screening devices) will hopefully further underline the divide. The inclusion of the map (which I understand will wrap around the spine and back as it does on the UK version) gives it some continuity with the trilogy and also some of that sense of unique-ni-ness.

Of course, some still complain that there’s a woman with a sword on the cover, so it still looks a bit like paranormal romance/urban fantasy but, you know, the main character is a woman. With a sword. If you want to put someone on the cover, who are you going to put on there? Some big barbarian in a posing pouch? That’d be weird. We’ll probably do that on the next book.

Anyway, Lauren Panepinto, the art director responsible for this internet tempest has put together an interesting post over at the Orbit site explaining some of the reasoning and process along with showing some other prototypes, which in turn brought out some more measured responses from the blogosphere. Someone’s even running a poll to see which one folks like best but, aside from the UK version, they seem to like the lowly scullery maid one most, so, you know, some people are completely beyond help.

In summary let me be completely honest again (and I hope the hard-working folks at Orbit US won’t take this the wrong way and blow my marketing budget on opium) and say I still prefer the UK version. But – if I can still find my own opinion under all this clutter – I see the commercial sense of the US one, and I do feel it’s faithful to the content. And here’s the thing – the one person they don’t need to sell it to is me. I get free copies. And, what’s more, I’ve already read it. Here’s the other thing – and this may hurt some among you just a little bit – the other people they don’t really need to sell it to are people who already like my stuff. They’ll probably buy it because of all the wonderful little word-gifts they know I’ve wrapped up inside just for them. The idea of this is to bring in new readers. Poor, pitiable folk still sleepwalking through their lives unaware of my genius. If it can bring some of them in from the cold then I’ll be well pleased.

There’s room in here for everyone…

Posted in artwork, process by Joe Abercrombie on February 5th, 2009.

58 comments so far

  • Swainson says:

    I thought you liked the UK cover because your name was as big as the title.

    Too true, those of us who are fans of your work are more interested in the inside of the book.

    However it is nice to have continuity for the book shelf.

    That would be paperback, club hardback, trade paperback. I’m really big on continuity.

  • r says:

    I like it.
    I like the UK version a lot better, but the US version is still pretty damn good.
    You’re really quite lucky to have good covers on both sides of the Atlantic.

  • Swainson,
    Ah, man, you’re a real collector. Though that is a good point about the size of my name…

    I think I’d concur, as well as saying that I think in principle it’s not a bad idea that there should be different treatments on each side of the pond, not necessarily because tastes are SO wildly different (though they may be to an extent) but just because the difference itself creates some interest, and the two approaches always have the opportunity of appealing to two slightly different sets of tastes…

  • Steve Aryan says:

    The first one with the head cut off made me think of a something to do with the Crusades, a book about noble knights and such. All that was missing was a red cross on the knight's chest. None of which shouts out gritty fantasy from yourself. The one with the woman by herself immediately made me think of Laurel K. Hamilton and her vampire hunter books, all fangs and T & A and silk sheets. Grrrr.

    I've not seen the US versions of the First Law trilogy, but I'm guessing this new one ties into the previous three, much like the parchment feel of the UK books ties into BSC to create a "Joe Abercrombie" brand on the shelf?

    This is just me, but the woman seems too….modern maybe? I know she's in leather and wielding a sword, but to me she looks too real somehow. Like I could find her in an S and M club, or at a sci-fi convention shopping for the latest Doctor Who DVD. If she took a mobile phone out of her pocket I wouldn't bat an eyelid. Sorry, don't mean to grumble, I love the UK one so I'm happy with that.

  • Den says:

    Hmmmm, what Steve said.

    When I saw the cover I immediately thought of Kate Beckinsale in those awful Underworld films.

  • Susanne says:

    Aw man, the internets asploded again. I kinda like the US cover. And although I agree with Steve in that she may look a bit ‘modern’, she looks cool and hard enough for me to expect her to kick some serious backside, and that makes me look forward to that ARC you will be sending my way, look into my eyes, look into my eyes even more!

  • Steve,
    Well heretofore the US covers have been more or less the same as the UK, which is why I had an issue with coninuity that I feel is to some extent resolved – this after all is a book in the same world but not the same series. As for the modernity, don’t really bother me, although I actually felt she maybe erred on the side of being a little too medieval rather than more 16th/17th century, which is kind of the vibe I’ve been going for. Although I tend to keep specifics about style and clothing to a minimum that readers can kind of dress the sets the way they like.

    Little Kid,
    I’ve not seen those films, and I don’t have the absolutely highest regard for Kate Beckinsale as an actress. But I do have quite high regard for how she looks on the posters. If that comes to mind, I wouldn’t be too upset…

    The internet has a habit of doing that, doesn’t it? It’s almost as if people say things without thinking. Why are you all looking at me that way? I think someone commented somewhere that the UK one is more arty, the US one more pulpy, and I feel that’s probably not unfair, nor necessarily in any way a bad thing. As a writer, I like to try and keep a foot in both camps. Funny thing is, I feel this strange compulsion to suddenly send you an … no! Wait! Your Jedi mind tricks will not work on me!

  • ron says:

    i’m a great fan of the UK cover. it’s simply classy.
    but i think most of the people who appreciate/salivate from the UK one are those already having a general idea of what to expect from your writing.

    in that respect, the US cover is indeed catchy and smoothly conveys the idea of “badass”, “female warrior”, “bloody action” and “historical setting”.. themes that seem to represent the forthcoming novel quite well.
    the hybrid nature does perhaps need some getting used to, it nevertheless sets the cover apart from the swarm of others out there. so i believe it will serve.

  • Steve Aryan says:

    Yeah that’s fair comment Joe, a halfway point between the old trilogy and a new story in the same universe, with enough of the old style cover to make people realise it’s all connected.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m eagerly anticipating this new book and am looking forward to seeing the character kick some arse, it’s just now the person on the front is who I will see when I read it, not the person I would have made up in my head, my version of her, which will differ from everyone elses in some ways, if that makes any sense at all.

    Now it sounds like I’m being negative, I love it and I love you!

  • Anonymous says:

    Agree with you, Joe. I prefer the UK cover. Not only does it have a sort of continued theme from the trilogy, but – and here’s a personal foible, I like my own imagination to fill in the physical features/details of characters. Gets me more involved in the story, somehow.


  • Erik says:

    Somehow the US cover makes me go ‘huh?’…

    I think it is the big difference in perspective, the zoomed-in map right next to the head-to-knee figure.
    Secondly, that hand-and-a-half sword is too big for her to wield properly I’d say. What is it with girls and big… attributes?

    But! Americans are a wonder to my brain, I cannot begin to comprehend how their alien brains function. So if Orbit say this is the cover that will sell best Im the first to believe them and to congratulate all on getting the cover they were looking for. Why on earth this is that very cover, i dont know. Secretly, even, I think the UK cover would sell better – how are the Americans going to learn a refined taste if they only get to see pulp?

  • Jeff C says: was cool to read the honest insight. I was one of those who posted “outrage” at the US cover. I think the biggest issue is how FANTASTIC the UK cover is. I think anything different was bound to cause a reaction. And I read Orbit’s reasoning on their blogpost, and understand the thought process they went through. And while I understand their reasoning and thing it makes sense, it still doesn’t make the US cover any more appealing. So, while this sounds weird, I don’t think that the correct choice (from a business standpoint) always results in the right choice. Anyway, I appreciate that they (and you) explained what went on behind the scenes, but I’m still gonna have to import this one 🙂

  • innokenti says:

    Well, of course I prefer the UK artwork, but then I think that maps are frakking awesome. So I would.

    But I really like what Orbit have done with putting Monza on the cover. I see no reason why it shouldn’t be there, and it is hardly a poor effort in representing the characters. She is wearing plenty of clothes and looking distinctly unsultry.

    Compared to the many dreadful US covers I’ve seen which cannot even be compared to the UK covers of the same books, this one is a cover I’d be more than happy to see if the lovely map-sword-blood cover was lost in the mists of multi-dimensional universe explosions.

    Great to read about the insight from you and from Orbit though. It all does make sense of course.

  • Faye says:

    I agree with Erik about proportions, I think map as background with girl superimposed would have made more sense. She probably looks too modern because she’s photographed (or looks that way), next to a hand drawn map.

    I don’t get this fascination with severed body-parts on covers for years now; it started with just legs, now it’s mostly torsos…is it supposed to be artistic? Are they trying to be personal but won’t commit to a whole face to leave something to the imagination? Or is it as I hoped it would be and the missing part of the head has been eaten by zombies…

  • Ink says:

    I actually like the Orbit cover. I mean, I loved the old map covers, and the map thing was what first led me to snag The Blade Itself down from the bookstore shelf, in the hope that it would be something different from same old, same old. But we have a new book that’s separate from the series. I like the combination of the old, to keep the thematic flow, and the new, to start something different off. I mean, the maps are great… but over the long haul too much of a good thing? I mean, how many many books are you gonna write in your career, Joe? Are they all going to have maps on them? Nothing wrong with a bit of innovation, I say. So, while I love the UK version, I’ll give my vote to the Orbit production. Best of both worlds, maybe…

    Bryan Russell

  • Ady Hall says:

    Both UK and US covers are fantastic – and probably each appropriate to the nations audience.

    It’ll also look extremely nice, snug and perfectly fitting nestled on my bookshelves in the ARC cover – cos I’m going to win the competition so all you other suckers ‘need not apply’ 🙂

    And is it just me and my gay left hand – but I so wanted to buy The Very Virile Viking . . .

  • Anonymous says:

    I’m going to buy the British edition, not for the cover but because the recent USD-EURO and EURO-GBP exchange rates will make it significantly more convenient.

    That said, I don’t dislike the US cover, but I think that the transition between the map and the figure’s background is a bit too abrupt; I’d have choose a subtler one.

  • David Wagner says:

    Kind of partial to the UK version, but of course I’ll buy whichever I can get my hands on, cover or no.

    By the way, thanks for the quick comment you left on my blog. Made my day/week/month/year.

  • Melanie says:

    Joe, do you know which cover we’ll be getting in Canada? I know it often depends on how the rights were sold. I’m crossing my fingers for the UK version.

  • Ken says:

    It looks like she got switched from being right-handed to left-handed in the cover development process. Deliberate character-based alteration or did it just look better?

  • You gotta love a book that’s controversial before you even open it!

  • Tom says:

    Here’s a thought- if the book is good, as I suspect it will be, do we *really* care what the cover looks like? I appreciate the esthetics of how it looks on your shelf, how it feels, what people will think of you when they see you reading it at the local coffee shop, etc. but I for one could care less. I’m paying for what’s between the covers.

    UK covers are consistently cooler than those we get in the US. It’s been that way for at least a decade or two. If nothing else, I’m glad you’re getting the extra pub Joe…

  • Bryan says:

    I’m not going to blow happy smoke up your ass, Joe. I think it’s busy, overwrought.

    It’s a big gamble, attempting to reach out to multiple audiences with a single cover…and potentially alienating both. You’re also diverging from a powerful brand element that the trilogy established with its cover style. I wouldn’t have immediately recognized this as your work if I was browsing a bookstore.

  • Phoenix995 says:

    i have to say that i like the last version best, i also like the german version but i uk version is the best of all!

    but it doesn’t realy matter how it looks like. The content has to be good!

    mfg form Austria
    and sorry if my english is not perfect^^

  • Sam says:

    At first glance I thought the UK cover was vastly superior. But I’m slowly coming to accept the US cover. I just think it would be a bit better if the woman was standing in front of the map (which would cover the whole front), almost as if to say “yeah, I’ve killed all over this land” or something like that. So sorta the UK cover, minus the sword, plus the woman.

  • Ron,
    I think you largely echo my thoughts.

    I hope that’s a manly, knights of the round table kind of love.

    I see what you’re saying there. That’s one objection I have, in general, to representational art. It can cramp the imagination a little.

    Erik, 2nd Anon, Sam,
    I hear you about the blending in, but I think the unapologetic half-and-half might be the best approach to mixing the two. The least uncomfortable approach, if you like. Whether mixing the two is the right approach is a different argument, I guess.

    Jeff C,
    Well, I agree with you that the UK art is a tough act to follow. Wait til you see it wrapped all the way round a proper hardback. It is freaking COOL. But I think the US cover will have some of that feeling too, I believe the back and spine will be largely the same.

    I agree with you that maps are frakking awesome. Why is everyone looking at me like that?

    I think the missing faces inject a sense of mystery. Or could it be that readers like to imagine their OWN FACE there?

    I agree with you one has to try something a little bit new. Which was kind of the idea with the book itself.

    Yes, the Very Virile Viking is some title, isn’t it?

    I am always watching…

    I’m guessing you’ll get the UK cover, but some US ones might creep over the border too.

    It’s quite a key element of the character that she uses her left hand for most of the book, as you may see, so I thought it was better flipped. It also sits better in the arrangement.

    Can’t say I’m complaining.

    You should never pay for something between the covers. Oh, we’re talking about books?

    I have an ongoing joke with my publisher about the kind of attempts sometimes made to market genre books to more mainstream audiences, and the dangers of placing genre stuff on the general shelves. “With this milk and carrot pudding we will surely bag lovers of both milk and carrots…” I agree with you it’s a bit of a risk, but I don’t think this cover will be THAT unpalatable to epic fantasy readers, and, after all, it does have a female lead. So you couldn’t say they’re exactly mis-selling it.

    Your English is far superior to most other posters here. Glad you like them.

  • JDP says:

    Interesting to read the thought processes behind these decisions. The US cover definitely seems fit for purpose given the brief described in Ms Panepinto’s post. Having a hot, leather-clad chick on the cover will inevitably inspire urban fantasy fans to pick it off the shelf and read the blurb, at which point they will be utterly, utterly lost, their soul shackled and dragged into a dank cell by a lisping albino hulk.

    My personal sense of aesthetics is firmly in the UK cover camp. I like a cover to establish the flavour and tone of the novel rather than give me snapshots of characters or settings.

    I’m glad they didn’t move away entirely from the Abercrombie branded texturey cover. They’re genius.

  • Hagelrat says:

    You missed the key thing about all this controversy, you are being talked about constantly on t’web at the moment, many of us who might never have picked up your books are now desperate for the snow to clear (UK) so we can rush out and get them to see whether they are worth the fuss. Win win really.

  • Susanne says:

    Your Jedi mind tricks will not work on me!

    Hahahaha, I just totally had a vision of you as Watto, fluttering around on a pair of blue wings. “What, you think you’re some kind of Jedi, waving your hand around like that? I’m a Toydarian! Mind tricks don’t work on me, only money.”

    *writes check* Now then! Mwuahahaha!

    Word verification: steer em. Hah!

  • Liz says:

    Either way, I love both covers enough to buy a copy of each – and that’s been seen to happen.

    But I do like continuity and I do like my “old” UK covers of your first set of books, so I’ll no doubt buy UK first then add the US version later.

    Also – the more your name gets bandied about teh intranets, the better, right?

  • mickymanga says:

    I kind of like the US cover. Not as much as the UK one, but enough to consider getting both versions.

  • RobB says:

    I couldn’t understand why there was such a rash of negative reaction to the cover. Granted, it is a bit different than the previous US covers, but it at least captures a good feel for the world in which the books are set.

    It isn’t like the protagonist on the cover is showing her ass, tattooed-small-of-the-back*, holding a knife with ghosts in the background. She looks good, but she also looks like she could kick my ass.

    *disclaimer: my wife has a tattoo on the small of her back. 🙂

  • Stacia says:

    The character on the right certainly does sit better with the map in that way, but I think there’s something about the shadows on her that looks a bit off somehow. Or is it that proportion-defying splatter of blood on both her and the map that makes things seem a little akimbo?

    I’m only noticing this because I looked at the cover so long, by the way. I actually like both covers, and think the addition of the map to the U.S. cover is terrific.

  • Fathercrow says:

    I like the one with the nifty map, of course. And personally speaking I have never heard of you, so thats a non-fan type opinion there. No smarmy nice nice stuff, just clean, sweet, pure opinion. Lap it up!

  • Moyz says:

    Hi Joe, I can’t compare the covers as the link to the UK one won’t work (probably my temperamental computer!) but I agree with whats been said about the US version, I prefer to make my own mind up about the finer details and the leather looks way too modern and polished, very Dominatrix style although I do love the parchment detail it will sit perfectly with The First Law trilogy already adorning my bookshelves.
    I almost got myself banned from the local library because of you, I’d taken my mum to change her books (I don’t use libraries myself, Ive an aversion to giving back any book I’ve enjoyed!) and so I spent my time perusing the shelf marked Sci-Fi/Fantasy which is markedly smaller than my personal collection, and then wandered the rest of the shelves replacing YOUR books that had been miscategorised! Romantic fiction indeed!!! With some accompanying mutterings and mumblings about inefficient staff I then began to notice many more books that belonged in my favourite section but were obviously skiving and set about placing them on the right shelves with much loud tutting and eye-rolling and generalised stomping about I think I proved my point as I stalked past the check out desk shaking my head and sighing with exaggerated exasperation until mother clipped me across the back of the head and told me to grow up!

  • JDP,
    I hope the compromise reaches to a wider audience while maintaining some of the unique flavour already established by the First Law covers, but I guess time will tell…

    No, no, I really didn’t miss that. That’s what I meant by, “what a shame, what a shame…” Whatever one might think of the cover, I don’t think anyone can fault the way Orbit have got people talking about the book…

    Only Money.

    Liz, Mickymanga
    A copy of each? Oh, that IS good.

    Yeah, it seems a little disproportionate. I think there’s a kind of established narrative, if you will, about the US getting worse covers than the UK which people slip back into regardless, like a comfortable old pair of shoes. Everyone likes a bit of outrage, don’t they? But it doesn’t help that the UK version is very, very nice. A tough act to follow.

    Thought about the possibility of limiting the blood to the left, but I think perhaps the even scattering helps to unify the two sides – a lot will depend on what they do with the textures, I think.

    Never heard of me? Taste of my outrage.

    [clip across the head] Grow Up!

  • daft sod says:

    The cover reminds me of that crappy movie Kill Bill. So does the story. But that’s ok because I know what to expect of the book. Thanks for posting the covers Joe, I usually lack the imagination to conjure up a picture of the characters in the books I read…

  • Gearóid says:

    Hey there Joe, good to see/hear your side of this whole thing. As I said over on the Orbit site I prefer the UK version, because of it’s simplicity and it’s consistency with the previous covers. Plus it really does look cool as a fold out.

    But the US cover does make sense in the marketing sense when trying to entice new readers. Those familiar with epic fantasy are more likely to be buying your books based on your name and reviews/recommendations than the type of cover i think.

    And anyway, as has been mentioned above, it has at least drawn a huge amount of attention to the book.

    Plus one other positive. In reading the orbit explanation, I spotted that you weren’t listed on Orbit’s site links, and they’ve since rectified the omission. I’m sure you were just too polite to point out their oversight 😉

  • Anonymous says:

    Joe, if you link to different places using consecutive words as you did in the beginning of your post, find a way not to have the white spaces in the links, so that readers realize there are actually several links.

  • daft,
    One revenge story does run much like another, I guess, in outline.

    I agree with you about the UK, but the spine and back of the US one will probably be relatively similar to the UK, in that the map will wrap all the way round. And I hope there’s a chance it will appeal to a different/wider readership. I don’t necessarily see that as a female readership, necessarily, so much as just a more
    commercial one.

    If I found a way not to have the white spaces, wouldn’t I just have one really long and confusing word? If you mouse over those multiple links you will note different sections become underlined, thus indicating the presence of multiple links. I guess I could make it clearer by putting some slashes between them or some such, but it would rather spoil the flow of my wonderfully conversational posting…

  • zafri says:

    First of all, wow, I’m impressed that you’ve had the time to keep up with our incessant discussion. I’m also impressed with the amount of responses that a cover page has fuelled. Looks like a good sign to me!
    Frankly, I like the US version. I think if i didn’t know how awesome the books already were, I might be more likely to pick up the US version. I wasn’t attracted to the book cover when I bought the blade itself. I was attracted because of all the internet hubbub about how great it was.
    On the other hand, the fact that your book covers are usually so different from the regular fanfare (girls covered in blood with swords) might have made me pick up the book simply out of curiosity.
    However, I think the girl just looks too bad-ass. I just looks indifferent to her situation. I think she should look angry or something. my 2 cents.

  • isis-newton says:

    I really enjoy all this ‘process’ stuff. As a scientist I like to know how stuff works.

    At WorldCon last year I listened to some interesting panels about marketing/covers. It must be rather annoying if you’ve written something and you feel you know what kind of thing you’ve written (and what you haven’t written) and then you get told it’s being marketed as something totally different. I wonder how many people (if any) have ever said, ‘screw you guys, I’m going home and I’m taking my book with me’?

  • Primavera says:

    The cover for the US version does still look like paranormal romance to me, and as such, myself being a US reader who shops in US bookstores, I wouldn’t buy it off the rack. I would pass it right by, figuring it for one of those things I can’t stand.

    If Orbit succeeds in drawing readers of paranormal romance into the epic fantasy fold, more power to them, I suppose. I rather suspect instead those readers will be disappointed with what they get. They are looking for a certain kind of fix that your book likely won’t deliver. (I assume here that your book does not contain hot sex between witches and shapechangers, one or both of which will also be a hardboiled detective.) Perhaps it’d be going too far to call the cover false advertising, but I do think it misleading.

    FWIW, datapointing: I am a woman who enjoys reading fantasy about powerful and empowered women. I also have a strong distaste for paranormal romance as a genre. I just shed my membership in the Science Fiction Book Club because I got heartily sick of their trying to push paranormal romance. After the umpteenth shill for Kim Harrison’s latest, enough was enough.

    Further anecdotal datapointing: I have friends, very smart women, who enjoy paranormal romance. Some of them also enjoy epic fantasy. What they won’t enjoy is the implicit condescension of marketers who seem to think the paranormal-romance-reading audience is too dumb to tell the difference. Check out the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog sometime. These readers are savvy consumers.

  • zafri,
    There’s no limit to the time I can waste, believe me.

    I wouldn’t have thought many have said screw you, guys. Partly because they’ll have signed a contract and cover veto will absolutely not have been a condition (even, on the whole, for very well known authors) so they probably won’t legally have the right. But also because, ultimately, it is the publisher’s job to know what sells in their market, and they’re likely to know more about that than the author. Especially one from a different territory. Most writers are probably smart enough not to piss into the wind in such a manner. Or maybe not…

    I hear you, but very few covers will really speak to any given potential reader if they know nothing about the book at all.
    In general, and particularly in genre, I think you’ll sell a lot more books via good word of mouth than you will through random browsing, however brilliant and well-aimed your cover. It’s a very difficult area to judge, all round. I’m always a little sceptical of any arguments that try to group readers into big monlithic, homogenous blocks. THESE are URBAN FANTASY readers, THESE are EPIC FANTASY readers, THESE are MAINSTREAM. I’m sure there are such people, but I think they’re in the vast minority. Most, like me, read a bit of this, a bit of that, and potentially have quite wide tastes. Whether this cover will necessarily drag in urban fantasy lovers I’m not sure – for me it’s more a question of being commercial/pulpy where the UK treatment is perhaps more literary. But if urban fantasy readers do pick it up, I’d like still to believe that they’ll get a little something of what they’re after, even if it might not be EXACTLY what they expected, perhaps even they’ll read my next book. This isn’t the First Law, after all, and I don’t necessarily think this cover mis-sells. It adds a lot more grit and texture to the standard, rather slicker UF look. And then the story is a tighter and more urban story, with a strong female lead. Would the implicit condescension not be that a reader of one thing is too dumb to enjoy another if it’s done well and pushes at least a few of the same buttons? No doubt my faith in human nature will end up spanking my arse, it always has before but, you know, I keep trying…

  • Primavera says:


    I too tend to find the delineation of genre more than a little heavy-handed. Of course Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is science-fiction, the bookstore shelving be damned. Of course Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun is literary fiction just as surely as any Borges collection. But from this I must exempt paranormal romance. Paranormal romance is highly, highly formulaic and specific in its content. If I were to grasp for a ready analogy, which I’m going to go ahead and do, I’d say that paranormal romance is to the broader fantasy market as Christian rock is to the broader rock’n’roll market. Sure, you’ll have an occasional Amy Grant or Jars of Clay who may manage a crossover single, but by and large, the genre is very distinct and targets a very specific market of people who know exactly what they are looking for.

    I agree that more readers will be won by word of mouth than by random bookstore browsing — word of mouth on sites such as that romance-reader blog I mentioned, for example. I do happen to browse a fair bit, though. (Has the marketing dept. arranged for displays where the books will be shown face-out? Perhaps next to the Twilight displays, replete with those Twilight-branded chocolate bars … *grin, duck, and run*) I also tend to browse in libraries, where the only real investment immediately at stake is my time; if a book looks like something I won’t like, I’m still not liable to pick it up. I wouldn’t pick up the US Best Served Cold in a library. Thing is, my library tends to buy one or two books in a series. Once I get hooked on the series, I start shelling out money for everything else in it, and probably the other things the author has written, too …

    All publicity being good publicity, while as a reader I would be turned off by the cover itself, I’ve been intrigued by the blogoversy over it. And (again datapointing; can’t claim to speak for a wider range of readers) I personally will buy books I’ve heard good things about and want to read, regardless of the cover art. I would prefer that the art correspond to what’s actually in the book — give me the trade paperback art for Kiernan’s Threshold over the mass market paperback cover, every time, any day of the week. I have the impression that you do find the controversial US cover for Best Served Cold to reflect accurately what’s in the book, and reader expectations aside, that’s fair enough. I’m likely to buy it because the ‘Net has made me aware of it, cover notwithstanding. What someone thinks of the book they see in my hands is not a paramount concern for me.

    (random note re cover art: Waitress at the Outback Steakhouse last week took time to ask me about Michael Cisco’s San Veneficio Canon because the font on its murky cover was sufficiently unclear she couldn’t catch the title at a glance. Could be she thought asking me about my reading choices would get her a bigger tip, but I like to think she was genuinely interested, since she had lots of better things to do than stop to inquire about a book, en route to filling someone’s water glass…)

  • mickymanga says:

    To be fair, I do think that the US cover of Best Served Cold gives off a somewhat different vibe from the so-called paranormal urban fantasy cover standards.

    Plus, it would seem to me that any new potential reader will most likely be of “undecided” sort. Undecided as in having no predefined literary taste, but open enough for any sort of fiction as long as it’s entertaining.

  • Erik says:

    wow, how brilliant is this?

    Now imagine the gold coins in gold, slightly more contrast about her shoulder, slight reddish colour is the title letter é voila, kickass cover.

  • Oooh – it’s Katie Price!

  • inajeep says:

    I’m more interested in the words and sentences and how they are arranged in between the front and back cover. However, having picked the first book based on the cover I can understand the hoopla.
    After all she’s got three swords! That must have blown everyone’s mind by trying to work out that little math problem.

    The newest one does seem give a pirates of small tropical islands and Underworld flavor.

    Out of the three I do like the last one as it reminds me of the First Law but with enough difference to distinguish itself.

  • Katherine says:

    This is my first comment here, though I’m a regular reader of your blog, but I just wanted to say that I LOVE the cover art for the US edition. That’s made me even more excited about the book! But then, I’m actually a fan of the urban fantasy, female ass-kicker genre anyway so my tastes are obviously somewhat skewed…

  • Primavera,
    As always with such discussions, definitions are inevitable fuzzy. We’ve moved from talking about this as urban fantasy (in it’s most recent guise) to paranormal romance, which I imagine by most people’s definition is at the more romantic end of urban fantasy, and I agree with Mickymanga that I don’t think you could really say this latest cover looks that much like a paranormal romance. Too dark and gritty, I think. I very much doubt those attracted only to the shadowy six-packs will be attracted to this. I think there are enough cues there to make someone think – this is probably darker and edgier than what I usually read, I’m not interested (or possibly, I am interested in giving it a go). And, as you say, while you might not like the art, you can’t knock the marketing…

    Not totally sure that helps…

    Night Watch,
    I thought more Eva Longoria, myself, but have it your way…

    Yeah, three swords is a lot, especially since she had a crippled hand. One for each foot, too, maybe?

  • Katherine,
    Welcome, thanks for the comment. You see everyone? It CAN work.

  • Swainson says:

    I just clicke the link in the article

    Some big barbarian in a posing pouch?

    What on earth were you doing there. Fucking hilarious. I can’t stop laughing at the names of the books: The Very Virile Viking

    I especially like the aliteration. Can’t write laughing to much, need beer

  • OK, after long and extensive internet research (man, what a chore it was poring over all those pictures), I’m forced to concede. Eva Longoria Parker she is. With swords and bloodstains and leather and…

    …and damn, put it like that, maybe it *does* work…

  • motley says:

    I’m late to the party but I would just like to comment. The final US cover looks better than the earlier iterations you posted so that is good 😉 I do prefer the UK on though.

    I have noticed that covers for US books do tend to be a bit more tacky than in the UK (I am originally from the UK but now live in Canada so I see a mix here now) I don’t really know why this is? I have wondered if it is because US marketeers assume they are dealing with teenage boys.

    One last comment on the UK style, the first thing that made me pick up The Blade Itself was how much the cover stood out on the book shop shelf. As much the paper as the graphics. With out that I would not have read the back cover and with out that I would not have read a very good story.

  • Wolfgang says:

    Well, being late as a habit – but anyway:

    These books (books in general) are seen standing in my shelfes, and if not, I am reading those things.
    Means: I would have to ask the family about any opinion they might share (certainly not, when it comes to "sharing" opinions) about the looks. For me, I do not care.

    What I do care about is the format (size) of the books, and I like to have them equally in size per author.
    Sadly Amazon only informs of the pages between the covers, not about the size of the book in question.

    So I am left with the problem, that I can not put all three books from Mr. Joe Abercrombie (4th one to arrive tomorrow) side by side, because of the vertical space available down here. So "The Last Argument of Kings" is right next to "The Briar King" (Greg Keyes), making the trilogie a divided affair.

    Back to covers: plain luck has it, that I bought only paperbacks that are "worth" re-reading over and over again (would not be that much important, if those authors would not be THAT lazy). So, after the x-th time reading they tend to fall to pieces, the reason why most of them received a real (fancy, too!) home grown re-binding. Tolkien and Martin in leather, some others in a more experimental wood fashion (no kidding), for your books >> still thinking about a suiting material.

    Anyway – following that it simply does not matter if the covers are colored this or that way.
    It would be just great, if the publishers would take more consideration about the materials involved at the time of binding the books, but maybe then they should accept that even books are consumed in some cases.

    Ok, just my two cents. Sorry about my poor English, always good for a laugh, I guess.

    Thank you (waiting for number five).

  • […] if it had been written by me.  I should point out this is to kind of form a sort of set with the controversial US Hardcover to Best Served Cold.  The MMP approach, as well as the UK cover, will be […]

  • Xamir says:

    I like the top one.

    Half map of Styria, Monza soaked in blood. Tells you it’s gonna be bloody. It’s gonna be epic. It’s gonna be fucking awesome.

    And Monza looks hot. Yep. Like it.

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