Earlier this week, our own Liz Fielding published a blog about her series covers over 30 years of her writing career. It was fascinating. And it made me think about brands and series.
What makes Series Covers?
Harlequin Mills & Boon have been producing different series for decades. Readers may be fans of one or more of these series. Perhaps they love Medicals (left), or Historicals (right).
Readers expect to be able to identify their particular series covers the moment they look at the shelves in the bookshop. It used to be easy because of the colour coding: for example, Medicals were the jade green shown above; Historicals were Dairy Milk Purple. Modern and Romance (of which more below) also had the swoosh against blue (for Modern) and orange (for Romance).
And within their favourite series, readers want to be able to pick out the authors whose books they love. Preferably without having to peer at tiny or barely legible print. The two cover images above don’t get very high marks on that front. It would have been easy to remedy, though.
To give the paying customers what they want.
Simples, no? Isn’t that what branding is about? Well…
Mills and Boon Modern Series Covers
One of the points Liz made in her blog was about how series names can keep changing. The Mills & Boon Modern Series (Harlequin Presents in the USA) has kept its series name for a couple of decades now. Just to confuse you, M&B was also using Presents as the series name back when the series started in the late 1990s, though it soon became Modern and stayed that way.
What’s more, having decided on blue as the main colour, M&B stuck with it through various redesigns of the series covers, as you can see from the gallery images below which date (left to right) from 1998 (Kendrick), 2008 (Donald), 2014 (Walker)
So buyers in the bookshop could go for the blue covers. What’s more, for some authors at least, their name was big enough to be read without a magnifying glass. And then?
And then M&B seems to have stopped doing blue, at least on the individual Modern series covers. This Sharon Kendrick title (right) dates from 2018. Oh dear.
Why? Dunno. Did someone say: “Blue is so old hat”?
Still, something must have got through because, nowadays, M&B are trying to sell four titles in one go (on Amazon, at least).
The individual covers are still sort of dark brown/black, but the surrounding frame is—guess what?—good old Modern blue.
What about the readers who want to buy paperback versions in the shops? How do they find their favourites? Your guess is as good as mine. The only thing they have going for them is that the series title is still Modern.
Mills and Boon Romance Series—or is it?
As Liz explained in her blog, the Romance series changed names over and over again. Having previously been simply Romance, it became Enchanted in 1996, then it became Tender Romance, then Cherish, then True Love, then part of a series called RIVA and now it’s simply True Love. How did the readers ever find the books they wanted to buy? Beats me. Especially as the colour of the covers kept changing, too.
No consistent blue for Romance/Enchanted/Tender/Cherish/True Love/Riva. Goodness me, no.
Enchanted had orange stripes from 1996, yellow from 1999; Tender had orange with white swoosh from about 2004 (I think). The orange stayed for a bit and then there was Cherish in pink in 2010 and more pink in 2015…
I’m not sure that the RIVA series cover merits any comment except “what on earth were they thinking?” And it’s more purple than pink.
These days, the series is True Love and nods towards the pink once more by having a rectangular pink blob towards the bottom of the cover. Does that help readers find the book? I doubt it, since the title is almost illegible (especially if it’s long). Can you read the two words after “Christmas Reunion”? If you can, you must have 20:20 eyesight. The author’s name is at least in black but it is so tiny it might as well not be there at all.
In my opinion.
All of this blog is just my opinion, of course. (And while I’ve been concentrating here on Mills & Boon’s UK covers—because I’ve got lots of images of those—the principles could be applied to branding other series covers from other publishers. This blog is not just about M&B.)
What do you want to see in Series Covers?
If you’re a reader who wants to find series paperbacks on bookshop shelves, what do you want the covers to look like? Which of the versions above would help you to find what you’re looking for?
Any of them?
None of them?
My own mantra here would be: IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT.
In other words, when a publisher has got a good cover design that helps readers to find the books they want, it’s better to avoid changing the brand just for the sake of change.
I’m sure the marketeers would disagree with me. Changing the brand packaging every few years seems to be part of their credo. I think that, in marketing-speak, it’s called refreshing the brand. How many times have you been driven mad in a supermarket because some marketing bright spark has changed the packaging of the tea/coffee/biscuits/whatever that you want to buy and you can’t find it on the shelves?
But what do you readers think about branding series covers? When it comes to books, you’re the paying customers, after all 😉
How interesting, Joanna. I was convinced that Modern had stayed blue – and Modern – throughout. The dark brown isn’t exactly attractive, but you can at least read the title and Sharon’s name Obviously an eye-catching image is the first imperative, but the next thing has to be the title and or author name. And with genre series, instant recognition.
As you know, Liz, I agree with you strongly. I fear that more than one of the series has gone dark and brown/black. The Historicals (obviously an interest of mine) are now very dark and monochrome, too. As for instant recognition, I think it’s been ditched.
I suspect that this is another example of the ageism of our society. The marketers have divided us into age groups and think that is what consumers identify with. Consider the way tabloids put every actress/teacher/murder suspect’s age in brackets after their name.
The theory is that if your mum reads it, you won’t. You’ve seen your mum reading blue-covered sexy romances, so when you might want to read something like that, you really won’t touch read what your mother read. Ergo, the cover has to change.
I think it’s a mistake. My mother recommended some of my favourite books. We shared recommendations until she died. And when we didn’t like something the other one loved, it was never because of age-related assumptions, it was personal. (Sadly she never got P G Wodehouse, though otherwise an absolute paragon among women with a seriously sneaky sense of humour.)
Your hypothesis may be correct, Sophie. My own feeling has always been that marketing has a lot of pseudo-science about it and it’s used to keep marketing people in jobs. So they justify their existence by saying that brands have to be refreshed every few years in order to bring in new customers. (Possibly younger ones, as you say.) However, how much attention do they pay to the customers they lose by changing things? Not sure anyone pays attention to that. Classic case, I’d say, was M&S changing their clothing ranges to attract the young things. They didn’t get many young things but, boy, did they lose a lot of older and very loyal customers.
Couldn’t agree with you more regarding if it ain’t broke. One of the frustrations of writing for Mills & Boon was the constantly changing cover designs. Not to mention names of series. My favourite remain Masquerade and my pet hate Legacy of Love.
I had forgotten those changes of name for the historicals, Liz. They were used when I first read them, but by the time I was writing for them, I think they were just M&B Historicals. The powers that be don’t seem to consider the loyal readers and what constant change means for them in terms of confusion. It’s all about “let’s have a whizzy new name and get all these new readers”. Does it work? I doubt it. Can you detect that I’m not a fan of 12-year-old marketing geeks?