One of the most common ways to freshen up a backlist title is to give it a cover makeover, and a successful repackaging can do wonders toward making a book look newly relevant.
After a 2016 merger with Catapult, Counterpoint—whose imprints include Counterpoint Press and Soft Skull Press—put a renewed emphasis on visual branding, an effort that included revisiting key backlist books. The first book Counterpoint’s new creative director, Nicole Caputo, turned her attention to was Mary Robison’s Why Did I Ever, for which the author received the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction. Designer Jenny Carrow was already at work on a refreshed cover.
“I looked at the files and they weren’t working yet,” Caputo says. “So my suggestions were to go with a clean sans serif typeface and hand lettering on the cards, with a pop of neon yellow.” The publisher revamped five more Robison covers, all now featuring clean, modern designs and a bold color palette.
In 2017, Soft Skull contracted independent art director Michael Salu to rebrand its frontlist and key backlist titles. One example is Jillian Weise’s poetry collection The Amputee’s Guide to Sex (2007), which was re-released in 2017 with a new cover and new preface by the author.
“It’s in keeping with the spirit of Jillian’s work,” Salu says of the new cover art. “There’s a sparseness and introspectiveness to a lot of poetry covers, so I wanted to reference that but be visually of the now. The pink and playful typography invites reading into. There’s the idea of peeling off layers, suggesting the various parts of our bodies that we use as shields.”
At Berkley, a new push to update the covers for several staples of the Ace science fiction imprint has a simple objective, says Ben Lee, who oversees about 12,000 active backlist titles as v-p and associate publisher of paperbacks and backlist for Penguin’s Berkley/NAL, Dutton, Plume, and Putnam divisions. “We want to make sure we’re opening the door to new readers for the science fiction canon,” Lee says.
Ace’s first makeover as part of this new effort was for one of its perennial bestsellers: Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965), which was optioned for film by the team behind Blade Runner 2049 shortly after passing its 50th anniversary. The new trade paperback edition, with cover art by Jim Tierney, pubbed in April.
“The old cover was almost academic looking, like an anthology,” Lee says of the 1999 cover. “We wanted something more attractive and graphic, something that would appeal to collectors and [longtime] fans as well as new readers.”
Face-lifts are planned over the next year for William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers.
Edward St. Aubyn’s first semi-autobiographical novel, Never Mind, pubbed in the U.K. in 1992 and introduced readers to Patrick Melrose, his alcoholic, heroin-addicted antihero.
The first three Melrose books were released for the first time in the U.S. in a single 2004 volume, Some Hope, and as a five-book omnibus in 2015, The Complete Patrick Melrose Novels. A week ahead of the May 15 premiere of the five-part Showtime limited series Patrick Melrose, Picador is re-releasing the omnibus in a tie-in edition. Its cover, like the series, stars Benedict Cumberbatch.
Some makeovers dive beneath the covers. In May, comics publisher 2000 AD is releasing the first book in the three-volume space opera The Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson. The weekly comic, published in black-and-white starting in 1984, was first collected in 1986. Michael Molcher, 2000 AD’s public relations director, says that black-and-white comics are still a barrier for many readers, “and so we decided to see what a colorist could do.”
The publisher tapped Barbara Nosenzo to take on the task of coloring Halo Jones. Nosenzo says the project “was both a huge challenge and a dream come true. I was focused on being respectful of the original art.”
She worked digitally but opted for a vintage coloring style. “I chose three base tones, a different one for each book, to give a background atmosphere,” she says. “Then I worked on the palette to give each book a particular feeling.”
After the first volume pubs in May, the second and third volumes follow in June and July.