A big news drop Monday was the cover reveal and first chapter release for A Torch Against the Night, the highly anticipated sequel to Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes! I was one of many who collectively freaked out over the release of Ember last April when Tahir wasn’t yet signed for a sequel, devolving into a frenzied panic and offering everything short of my firstborn child to ensure Penguin continued the series. Fears now assuaged, we can all look forward to Torch on August 30.
But putting aside my love for Tahir’s storytelling, I am less than excited about the cover of Torch. I’m a graphic designer by trade, so this is the kind of thing I can get really worked up over. It got me thinking about other book covers that I’ve been less than overwhelmed by, and a trend emerged that I’ve dubbed Second Cover Syndrome. From my perspective, it’s when a series takes a sharp (downward) turn in cover design between the first and second book in a series, often signaling a design overhaul for any remaining books.
Note: this is NOT commentary on the quality of writing. I don’t want to dissuade you from picking up any of these books, and am speaking purely about their visual appeal. This is also based on US covers.
An Ember in the Ashes | Sabaa Tahir
I am a HUGE fan of the original hardcover (left). The level of detail in the way the light plays on the letters and down the cliffs is exquisite, along with the intricate buildings and the way Elias’s and Laia’s figures are mostly concealed. The paperback (middle) is less detailed, and the hardcover of Torch (right) falls right in line with the simpler paperback design. The focus shifts from the finely-crafted world to the Elias/Laia duo, following the (in my opinion) overused motif of Teen Silhouettes. I don’t want to see outlines against a stone tunnel, I want to see the Empire! Why couldn’t we get a glimpse of the formidable Kauf prison or some as-yet-unknown prominent location?
Dark Caravan Cycle | Heather Demetrios
MAJOR transgressor here. Hardcover of book #1 (left) was stunning in its sensuality and promise of jinn lore. I hadn’t looked at the paperback (middle) until I saw the hardcover for #2 (right) and thought “what the heck is going on?!” It then became painfully obvious that HarperCollins had derailed the original train of thought and gone with something that looks alarming like a James Bond logo. Why would you abandon the mystical, alluring Arabian feel for more Teen Sihlouettes?!?!
Dove Chronicles | Karen Bao
I’m about to have the opposite problem as the previous examples, but hey, that’s what opinions are for. Instead of being highly detailed, the hardcover of Dove Arising (left) was actually pretty simple. The focus is on the moon, a fitting choice since that’s where it takes place. Points docked for a Teen Silhouette, but otherwise sleek and clean, which actually fits better for this futuristic sci-fi series. The paperback (middle) and #2 hardcover (right), on the other hand, have a little more of “what the crap is happening.” In the paperback, they could just be on a spaceship; it gives no blatant indication of the unique moon setting. #2 hardcover is a crazed mass of EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE. Running! Rocks! Cities! Borealis light effects!
I’ve decided to stop here and rename my theory. Clearly, the underlying problem behind Second Cover Syndrome is actually Making Second Book Hardcovers Look Like First Book Paperbacks, but that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Maybe you don’t mind, but when I commit to purchasing a series, I want them to all LOOK THE SAME. Ne’er shall the paperbacks and hardcovers and reprint covers mix.
Part of me wants to say “publishers pay people to research target markets and blah blah blah,” but dang it, I’m part of that market! I’d much prefer to see hardbacks follow a set design scheme, and if the paperbacks are different, then that’s just dandy as long as they’re consistent between formats. A recent example of this being done extremely well is Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and The Dawn series, with the #1 hardcover, paperback, and #2 hardcover shown below. YES. This is differentiation done right.
Do you love any redesigns more than the originals, or do I have solidarity in my reactionary ways?