Author Photos on #BookCovers

I love books. Love bookstores. Love book marketing. Love walking the aisles, looking for trends, studying decisions made in book design.

Like the decision to change a book’s cover when the book is made into a movie.

JoJoCoverThose are fun. Makes me wonder if there should be two lines at the register: one for the book lover who bought the original book design; another for the movie lover who bought the cover with the actors on it. Want to see more like this? Check out Isaac Fitzgerald’s July 16, 2014 Buzzfeed Books article “14 Book Covers Before and After They Were Made Into Movies” for cool side-by-side comparisons.

I also find it interesting when there’s no jacket copy at all. Like Gillian Flynn’s The Grownup. I suppose, technically, there is jacket copy. A four-word question that gets to the heart of the matter. If you like ghost stories, buy this book.



And then there’s this: Sylvia Day’s One with You. A novel by an author whose brand is so huge, it’s just her picture on the back of the book. My first response to a book with no jacket copy is always one of (slight) disappointment. When I pull a book from the shelf, I expect to flip it over and read what it’s about, not see who wrote it. Now I have to hunt for the information.


But on second thought, it’s a probably a good idea to put a certain faces on the product. (Gasp! Did I just call a book a product?! Shame on me! But yes, I did.) Promoting the artist is how the music industry promotes music. Album covers and book covers require similar marketing and design practices. It’s wise to study both industries. And avid readers know what their favorite authors look like. Reading a great book makes you feel something about its author. Makes you feel connected to them. Seeing them in a bookstore provokes a response that’s like saying, “Oh, hey! There she is. Hello, favorite author. Let me buy your book.”

Speaking of hello . . . Hello, David Baldacci! You’re looking handsome on the back of The Last Mile.


While gazing upon his handsomeness, I noticed a second level of marketing decisions at play in book cover design. Sylvia Day and David Baldacci’s poster photos were on hardback editions. I assume this is because hardbacks are targeted to readers who love and follow these authors and will buy early to consume the story, and buy in hardback to collect the work of the author they love. Smart.

Here’s a peek of David Baldacci’s The Guilty in paperback. Lower price than the hardcover, with more information on the jacket, perhaps for the reader who may not “know” him and love him the way a loyal reader would. Photo, story tease, quotes.


Here they are sitting next to each other. Hardback on the left, paperback on the right.


The audiobook version appears to be direct lift of the front cover, with black borders added to conform to the square shape. So, the front cover is the same on all formats. Back cover changes for the hard and paperback.


And then there’s Clive Cussler’s The Pharaoh’s Secret. You can see Clive’s photo from across the room, but when you pick up the book, you’ll notice it’s written by Clive Cussler AND Graham Brown. Poor Graham. Where’s his picture? I mean, my gosh. Have you seen a picture of Graham Brown? Whew! So super cute. If they wrote the book together, why not put both of them on the back cover? If not a side-by-side of separate photos; if not a huge photo of Clive and a smaller photo of Graham near the bar code; then maybe a photo of them sitting together? Laughing. Being chummy. After all, they wrote a book together. Surely, they can sit for a picture.


But on second thought, with yet another nod toward smart decisions in book marketing, I’m thinking Graham’s quite okay with Clive’s image splashed across the back cover (notice the font size of each author’s name on the front cover – one is clearly the headlining author). Because hey, the smartest marketer in this set up might be Graham for landing this business venture. Graham’s first novel released in 2010. Clive Cussler’s been writing and building an audience since 1967. I suspect Graham’s quite happy reaching some of Clive’s readership – which in turn, should build his own.

What do you think? When you browse for books – do you notice these things? Or am I just a whack job with a lot of time on her hands . . .



24 thoughts on “Author Photos on #BookCovers

  1. You definitely don’t have too much time on your hands. You’re just very detail oriented! And I won’t comment about the whack job part 🙂

    • Yes, the details. Oh, the details! Keeps me up at night. And thanks for going quiet on my whack job status. I know you know the inside scoop! Fellow Beach Babe . . . 🙂

  2. I certainly hadn’t noticed the hardback trend of only having the author photo, but you’re right, these buyers are probably die-hard fans.
    As for covers changing when the movie comes out, that makes me sad, as if the publishers are saying a plain old story is no longer good enough now that big, bright Hollywood is involved. So I’m going to check out the link to those over covers which changed, for sure.

    • I completely understand, Pauline. I’m a purist at heart and would definitely NOT buy the book with the movie cover – but I do understand the industry’s thinking behind the cover change. If there’s any opportunity to hook a buyer that’s walking the aisles – it’s probably wise to do so and drive sales.

      BUT! (And this is a big but.) (Like mine. I have a big butt.) But! I don’t like it when the original cover goes completely out of circulation because of the movie cover. I’m okay if two separate covers share shelf space. Like you, I don’t like to see the original beauty of the book and it’s writer get tossed aside in favor of Hollywood and its actors. I want to think the movie cover might hook a reader for that writer that would not have otherwise bought their book – but does so because they were first made aware of the story through a movie.

      What would be really great – and more fair if you ask me – is if the movie OPENS – or at least – (a lot of hypens here) – at least CLOSES in the credits with a big picture of the book and the writer who first brought the story to the world. Hm . . . now why don’t they do THAT?!

  3. Great post, Julie – great links too! I love your reasoning about hardback and paperback design choices.
    I’d like to be able to choose whether to purchase an original or a movie cover. I definitely would have preferred to pick the original cover when I bought Before I Go To Sleep (S.J. Watson). An enthralling book, but I didn’t want to be reminded of the Hollywood cast every time I picked it up. 🙂

    • Couldn’t agree more! When I took my daughters to Hunger Games (the movie) way back when – we had all read the series multiple times. It was said to think going into the first movie that the individual, unique images we all had in our minds about Katniss and Peta were about to become one vision – the Hollywood vision. Now when I reread these books, I see the actors. Not the characters I had conjured in my mind. Same applies to book covers. Do you want to see the Hollywood version of the characters? Or the characters you conjure in your mind?

      • Oh, I really dislike it when I watch a film and it’s “wrong”, and as you say, it can then spoil things when you reread a book. I have a weird combination of screen images and the pictures in my imagination with the Harry Potter books.
        But, getting back to book covers, I’m wondering if the big author pic on the back of a hardback is a recent thing, or maybe it’s not done so much in England. I’ve just looked at the hardbacks on my shelves – the vast majority purchased a good few years ago! – and I can’t see any huge pics. I’m going to check this out on my next visit to a bookshop.

        • Adding to your question of how recent the photos have been appearing on the back of books – I wonder if the use of the photos are more prevalent in certain genres. I suspect they are.

  4. Great post Julie! The book jackets definitely influence my choice of books and whether I’ll even pick up the book and have a look at the blurb. As for the movie covers, i also think that they should put a photo of the original book and author at the end of the movie. As most, if not all, times the book is better than the movie, I much prefer buying the non-movie book. Besides, the characters that I imagined in my mind as I read the book never look like the actors so it bothers me to have them on the the book cover – especially if I loved the book.

    • Ditto what I just said to Wendy Janes (one comment up from yours). I like to enter the fictional reality of my mind – not the one Hollywood dishes out.

  5. Great post, Julie. I never look at hard cover books, unless in a used book shop where I can buy one for a song. (not singing for my books, just not paying big bucks for a hard cover). I really love paperbacks, don’t ask me why. They seem less formal, perhaps. I like the original covers on books that go Hollywood. I don’t like the reminder that the book is now changed for the big screen. My own buying is triggered by my love of art, dogs, and gardens. I am a sucker for a book that conveys any of these images and will buy even if I don’t read.

    • You know what’s interesting . . . is realizing that the Hollywood version is always different than the original. To place the Hollywood version on the original COVER is to accept that the story was ultimately changed. Hm.

  6. Awesome post! And I totally notice such things. I tend toward books with jacket covers not just author photos. I distrust large photos on the backs and no words. It’s like: What are they trying to hide? Book are about words. The author is a large part, of course (of course!) and yet it kind of saddens me when I see a large author photo glaring from the back. In fact, if it were between two books, I would definitely chose the one with the description. P.S. I hate when they change the cover to fit the movie. It seems to lessen the integrity somehow because the movie will inevitably not be as good or deep as the book. P.S.S. What makes me ridiculously happy is when I find a book I’ve read years ago with its original cover. I will sometimes buy it again, just because it makes me so happy.
    Cheers and have a great week.

    • P.P.S.S. And I hate it when B&N puts a huge green discount sticker on a beautiful cover. Can’t they “train” their customers to look on the back by the bar code for discount stickers? The book community is smart. I’m sure we’re all trainable. Something about the garish discount sticker ruins the beauty of the cover.

  7. A couple comments–I’m a high school teacher and very often kids will buy the books AFTER the movie BECAUSE of the movie cover. I’m in favor of anything that gets them to read. But I’m with you–personally, I prefer the original cover art.
    As to author photos, I was in love with an author because of his photo (ok, I loved his books, too!) but when I saw him interviewed for the first time and saw the jacket photo was 20 years old … oh, the disappointment 🙁

    • Oh, the disappointing press photo taken 20 years ago. (Or the overly photoshopped press photo!)

      I agree with you. I’m in favor of anything that get readers to read. For the most part, I’m noticing that the movie cover and the original cover are both being sold at the same time. I think that’s smart. I’m sure the folks in the corporate office know there’s more than one type of book buyer. The purist and the movie-goer. Best to offer both options and not let one replace the other.

  8. I agree Julie – I too want to see who wrote the book, and a brief synopsis of the story should definitely be on the jacket. Also, good deal for noticing the difference between hard and soft cover books. Only makes sense when it comes to marketing.

  9. Well, Julie, I’ve been meaning to tell you…. Just jokes.

    Very few (very, very few) fiction books are published here in OZ in hardback. Not even someone Liane Moriarty. Our market is too small to sustain a hardback release followed by a paperback.

    So, I’ve not seen books with just the author photo on back. I get that devotees will buy it no matter what, but what about new readers??

    • Wendy Janes mentioned a similar lack of photos on the backs of books in the UK. Maybe this is an American market thing? Hm . . . we do have a larger book buying market to sustain a hardback printing and goodness knows, American culture loves celebrity. Hm. A lot to think about!

  10. I notice these things too! When I was little I took the jacket off my hardcover of The Wizard of Oz because it had a photo from the movie and the actual book was very different! (Seriously, in the book the shoes are silver- but the jacket showed Judy Garland in red shoes!)

  11. I do notice these things. I prefer the original covers and always try to guess the story and gauge whether or not the book is for me. I love book covers much more than author covers. For one think, author photos are not always up to date. I rarely watch movies, but when I’ve seen a movie version of a book I’ve already read, the book, in almost all cases, wins.

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