Berkley, a Penguin imprint, is spicing things up a bit with one of its major summer releases. Virgin by Radhika Sanghani will be released as a trade paper original on August 5 with two different covers and two different ISBNs.
Sanghani’s debut novel is about a British university student desperate to lose her virginity; Berkley is promoting it as "Bridget Jones’s Diary Meets HBO’s Girls." A starred review of the novel in this week’s PW calls it a "story for millennials” that is a "wonderful blend of modern angst [and] old-fashioned sweetness.”
That the novel features dueling covers came out of both Penguin's commitment to the book, and a solid show of work from the publisher's art department.
Cindy Hwang, Virgin’s editor, said that Penguin’s art department produced two cover concepts for Virgin; company executives responded positively to both, but considered that each cover would appeal to a distinctly different audience. The impasse prompted publisher Leslie Gelbman to take the unusual step of approving both covers at the outset.
"Everyone has a different take on which cover people will respond to,” Hwang said. Hwang speculated that men might prefer the “edgy” cover with the image of a young woman on it, while women might prefer the graphic cover with roses forming the letter “V.”
The "V" cover seemed to gain traction on Penguin’s “Love Always” Facebook page, whose followers are being asked to vote on their cover preference. Among 29 comments posted as of Monday morning, 21 endorsed the red V, and 20 of those endorsements came from women. There were six votes for the image, three of them by men.
It’s a “great way to make everyone part of the experience,” Hwang said, although the “logistics are complicated.”
There was little consensus among the booksellers PW contacted regarding their pre-orders.
At Anderson’s Bookshops, with several locations in suburban Chicago, co-owner Becky Anderson said her brother and business partner, Tres Anderson, had ordered the title with the image from his Penguin rep, Brian Wilson. “But I like the cover with the flowers,” she noted, after looking up the book on her computer. “If it had been me, I would have ordered the other cover. Anyone who’s read Judy Blume, anyone who’s watched Girls – I think they’re going to go for the V. That other cover is a guy thing."
Rachel Cass, head buyer at Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, Mass., ordered six copies of the edition featuring the woman, saying she thought it “more eye-catching,” and that customers would be more likely to pick it up. “The roses are more generic [and] bland,” she said.
Tom Campbell, co-owner of the Regulator in Durham, N.C., was the only bookseller PW queried who was going along with Berkley’s marketing strategy. He ordered both editions, saying that he “didn’t have a problem” with either cover, but felt some readers would be “put off” by one cover, while drawn to the other.
“It’s a way to accommodate my customers,” he said. "It'll also be fun," he explained, noting his plan to place both books next to each other, face-out, on his shelves.