We’re a people separated only by language, or so we thought. I am speaking, of course, of our British relatives across the pond. Now I’m an Anglophile of the first order. Grew up with the stuff, maternal grandparents were British until they became American citizens as adults, watched Masterpiece Theatre and lots of Brit films all my life. Devoured Brit lit. But even I, when I went to England some thirty years ago, stumbled over some of the dialects. “I’m sorry, could you repeat that? I only speak American,” I found myself saying. But it’s more than dialects, isn’t it? That’s a long way across the Atlantic and we’ve grown apart in many ways. Perhaps it happened even longer ago when we dressed like natives and tossed their tea into Boston harbor. After all, it only took about 100 years for our own dialects to diverge from our Brit brethrens from the time our ancestors landed on Plymouth Rock till the Shot Heard Round the World.
“I know it sounds like a stereotype, but British readers are much (more) reserved than their US counterparts, on the whole. Americans tend to be unrestrained in their enthusiasm - which is great, but a bit of a shock the first time we Brits encounter it! “When I do bookshop signings in the UK, booksellers often tell me that readers really want signed copies of my books, but they won't come into the shop while I'm there - because they ‘don't want to bother the author’. At talks and library events, when it comes to the Q&A I usually 'plant' the first question with a member of staff, because I know no reader will want to be the first to put their hand up with a question. Once you get over the barrier, they're fine. But I've never had those problems in the US! British readers also don't like the 'hard sell' approach by authors which I see in the USA sometimes.”
Oh we garish Americans! Yes, it’s true. We’re a noisy lot. And, apparently, we don’t go in for subtly where book covers are concerned either. According to Carol Pinchefsky in her blog entry from 2005, “American book covers were more colorful, almost garish, while British book covers were more austere and muted. Big empty swathes of negative space filled the British covers, and they looked practically empty next to their busy American counterparts.”
Rita Frangie, an assistant art director at Penguin Books, explains. "Here [in the United States] we tend to want to use every inch, to fill [the cover] up with color, and to get it to do as much as it can do. Everything here is bigger, more commercial, more targeted to sell and to advertise. In Europe, the covers are geared to look more like the way they dress: very simple. Their use of negative space goes along with the theory of less is more."
There may be something to that. Meanwhile, I’m still on tenter hooks waiting for my own cover art. Since it depicts British subject matter and British subjects but is an American publication, it could be anything, from subtly garish to negative space on one side and crammed with brightly-colored buildings and people on the other. At any rate, you’ll see it here first.