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?
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?
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…
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?
Any of them?
None of them?
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 😉