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UK Readers Haven’t Swallowed Nora Roberts Kool Aid, Yet.

Little, Brown (and not Penguin UK) did some “extensive market research” to ascertain why US mega bestseller Nora Roberts isn’t making the same waves in the UK. Apparently it is the covers. The focus group readers said that the covers were too old and didn’t represent the “strong female characters” that the readers found synonymous with Roberts’ books. I do remember seeing this nightgowned chick cover on Karen Scott’s blog and thinking that’s a whole lot of fug there, but is the second rendition much better?

In response, Little Brown is giving Nora Roberts’ the fly away hair cover because nothing says “strong female” like whispy, out of control hair, and a cute, strapless frock. This looks like a Susan Elizabeth Phillips book. Way to go Little, Brown.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Joy
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 15:56:35

    hmmm – the new cover is more modern but soooo does not say “strong female character”. However, I’m not sure I would have bought/checked out the us edition based on the cover alone. Fortunately, I have drunk the kool-aid :-)

  2. Gina
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 16:29:20

    Oddly High Noon sits at the front of my bookshelf in hardcover and I have to wonder – what was wrong with the US cover? It worked for us

  3. Robin
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 16:52:15

    No offense to Roberts, but how much do you think that “extensive” research cost? Although I’m sure her books earn enough to cover it, lol.

    Wouldn’t it be cool, though, if Kool-aid actually named a flavor “Nora Roberts”? Talk about life imitating art. I wonder what it would taste like — would it be more like pineapple lemonade or bing cherry.

  4. Jane
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 16:56:59

    Depends on the focus group and who is running it which means it could run anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000. Focus groups really aren’t that expensive. Each individual in a focus group is paid about $100 for a day of “work”. The real cost is the people who run the focus group and analyze the data produced from it.

  5. Jill Myles
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 16:58:34

    Color me a shmuck, but I really like the second cover and would have bought it. Heh!

  6. Jane
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 17:43:21

    what color is schmuck in the crayola 64 big box.

  7. Jaci Burton
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 18:58:07

    I bought the big Sam’s Club carton of Nora Roberts Kool Aid a long time ago.

    But are UK readers different from US readers? Why different covers? I know Harlequin does this too, between their US/UK releases, not only with covers but with titles, and it flummoxes me. Then again I just write books. I don’t presume to understand the publishing machine.

  8. Shannon Stacey
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 19:40:17

    I’ve been chugging the Kool-Aid a long time so that NR flash is the only part of the cover I care about, but that second cover is almost like an anti-Phoebe.

  9. Anonym2857
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 20:37:22

    ~~The titles will also move from A-format to B-format, which reflects the general move in the UK market, said Cazalet: “It does have connotations of being slightly more upmarket and more aspirational, but it’s mainly part and parcel of the move in the market.”~~

    Anyone know what the ‘A nd B’ formats are? Is this like moving from mass-market to trade-sized PBs?

    I’ve never understood why British covers always have to have actual people on them – especially since most of the cover people don’t fit with characters in the story line (at least on the ones I’ve seen/read). The IN DEATH covers are especially baffling to me.


  10. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 21:42:12

    I’m another NR Kool-Aid drinker.

    The second cover is an improvement, but it doesn’t really convey NR type storylines, either.

  11. Rebecca
    Apr 15, 2008 @ 00:33:14

    Yeah, the second cover does not portray a strong female character. Rather, it seems to convey a sense of “I’m getting the f*@# outta here.” And la Nora’s heroine’s never say those kinds of things – even without the bad word.

    They don’t run. They met their challenges and grow as people as a result….

    I think, to make the second cover stronger, that Little Brown needs to capitalize on the British love of the iconic Old West and slap a cowboy hat on the model’s head, put some six-shooters in her hands (barrel facing toward the viewer) and chaps on her front.

    Then we could at least pretend that she’s fighting back against something…

  12. Marianne McA
    Apr 15, 2008 @ 01:16:45

    Wonder what the sale stats are? She’s certainly always got several books in my local bookshop, both as herself and as J.D.Robb. She’s also one of the very few authors they have in their Polish section. Sales can’t be dreadful.

  13. Rosario
    Apr 15, 2008 @ 02:29:42

    Ditto what Marianne says, there’s quite a few of hers at both my local library and bookstore… even almost a full shelf of In Deaths in the latter (which I spent some time ordering chronollogically… I’m pathetic, LOL!).

    But yeah, the covers don’t make much sense to me. They don’t seem to worry at all about them reflecting the tone of the book. The single titles feel like women’s fiction, and the trilogies are the worst kind of generic. Has anyone seen the cover of Blood Brothers?

    (Trying to insert an image here, but it’s not working. Just go here: )

    In what world do pretty pebbles mean scary horror?

  14. Laura Vivanco
    Apr 15, 2008 @ 03:53:11

    Wonder what the sale stats are? She's certainly always got several books in my local bookshop, both as herself and as J.D.Robb. She's also one of the very few authors they have in their Polish section. Sales can't be dreadful.

    I tried to find some statistics on Nora’s books in the UK and the full details of what I found are on this thread (see my comment posted at 12.35pm). The short answer is that she doesn't appear at all on the Guardian‘s list of 100 bestselling books in the UK for 2006 or 2007 but Josephine Cox and Danielle Steel do appear on both those lists.

  15. Jen Black
    Apr 15, 2008 @ 05:02:21

    I read Nora Roberts here in the UK and thought I’d comment. The covers I see are totally forgettable but I don’t know if they’re the American covers, UK ones or a mixture. As for popularity – it may be that her use of US English defeats some UK readers. She writes in what I (for want of a better term!) call modern, shorthand american and often it leaves me wondering what she means. I thought I’d picked up a lot from reading Yahoo groups, but still I am defeated by some of her phrases. That means the UK readers who do not have American contacts are going to be even more baffled!

  16. Nora Roberts
    Apr 15, 2008 @ 07:52:02

    I think my Kool-Aid flavor should be cherry tart. We need that little bite.

    I think the new cover look is more modern, and she’s pretty. I confess to knowing nothing about the Brit market. I’ve often wondered why they change the covers from the US–but figure the Brit publishers DO know something about the Brit market.

  17. Jill Myles
    Apr 15, 2008 @ 08:24:10

    Shmuck is kind of a puce color, I think. Somewhere between pukey puce and a muted chartreuse, maybe. ;)

  18. Jayne
    Apr 15, 2008 @ 08:37:29

    I remember the first time I read UK author Elizabeth Young. It was almost like a different language at times and if it hadn’t’ve been for an English friend acting as a dictionary (what does ——ing for England mean?), I’d have missed a lot of the humor. I ended up making sure to import all my Liz Young books via to be sure I got the full flavor of British Chick Lit.

  19. Jane
    Apr 15, 2008 @ 08:40:22

    Jayne – I remember you suggesting E Young and I much preferred her British books to the American translations. I was actually thinking about the “egg carton dinosaur” this morning.

  20. Jayne
    Apr 15, 2008 @ 08:44:38

    Here’s a good English < --> American site.

    Or you could always post your ‘US language/slang’ questions here.

  21. Marianne McA
    Apr 15, 2008 @ 09:01:06

    Having too much time on my hands, I looked through the Amazon best sellers lists. Nora has 7 books in the US 100 bestsellers list for Romance, 3 of which are written as J.D. Robb. She has 6 books in the UK Romance 100 bestsellers, but all of those are written as Roberts – they may count her J.D. Robb books into some other list.
    Which does suggest the books already sell fairly well.

    (Seems really rude to be talking about this in Ms. Roberts virtual presence: like speculating on what someone earns. Sorry – I don’t mean it that way.)

    I can’t say I remember any covers particularly well – but I’m not a hugely visual person. I would wonder, however, if the focus group is right: to me Nora is one of the authors that need no introduction – you don’t think ‘that’s a nice cover, I’ll look at that book’, you think ‘there’s a new Nora Roberts’ – same as ‘there’s the new Pratchett’.

  22. Jen Black
    Apr 15, 2008 @ 13:17:18

    I suppose the other thing is that Ms Robert’s stories are all* set in America, or with American heroes and heroines. And why not? The lady is American. But for a UK audience it is good to read her stories in among a whole lot of UK authors, but not as a total diet or even one a week. A little goes a long way. I like them, and I’ve recommended them to friends, (who also liked them!)but they’ll still be low on our list of favourite authors because they…it is hard to put a finger on why, but I think it is because the writing is so different. I tried the *MacGregor stories and didn’t take to them as they seemed not like the Scotland I know, and I’ve read the *Irish trilogy, which was better; but how about an English setting, and an English heroine? That might make the difference.

  23. Merry
    Apr 16, 2008 @ 03:30:08

    I’m in the UK and I’ve been reading Nora’s books for years (initially in her J.D.Robb incarnation) and it was the US covers that first grabbed my attention and made me want to find out what the book was about. If I didn’t already like her books, I probably wouldn’t pick them up based on the covers we get in the UK, as they’re a bit boring. (And being a librarian I like to have ‘sets’ of books, so I prefer it if the covers match as well. Although, that’s probably quite sad.)

    It’s not just romance that gets this treatment though. Fantasy, Urban Fantasy the covers change from US to UK. Kim Harrison, L.E. Modesitt JR. have also had (totally unecessary) cover changes. There’s one author (fantasy, name escapes me) whose books were given different covers here and, they split one of them into two and gave them different titles. It was only moving between the US/UK versions that I realised that they were the same book.

    I find it annoying (and unnecessary) to have the different covers, especially as – being online so much – if it’s a US book to begin with, that’s the cover I’ll have seen first, and that’s the cover that will have drawn my attention and made me want to read the blurb.

    I don’t have any problem with the language in Nora’s books, but then the majority of my reading stems from the US anyway (fantsy, horror & science fiction first, then romance) so I’m used to it. I certainly wouldn’t want US books to be ‘anglicised’ (nor for UK books to ‘americanised’. They should be read as they’re written. If I don’t understand something I’ll look it up or ask; if I’m really into the story, I’ll probably get the gist of a word I’m unfamiliar with anyway.
    Just my 2p!

  24. Tumperkin
    Apr 16, 2008 @ 07:33:19

    I find the issues of US covers v UK covers a very interesting one (but also a fraught one because certain comments might be unintentionally taken as a comment on ‘Americans’ or ‘Brits’).

    It’s difficult to reach any hard and fast conclusions because many of the romances I buy are not readily available in the UK – I get the US editions from Amazon or in a small ‘specialist’ romance section in my local Waterstones (most Waterstones shops don’t have any romance section – just a few leading romance authors under general fiction). My feeling is that whilst romance is very popular in the UK, it is not as popular as in the US and the same degree of choice is not available in bookshops here as in the average US bookshop.

    In the rare cases where the books I choose are available in both UK and US editions, the covers are almost always different and the UK versions will never feature mantitty etc. (e.g. compare and contrast Loretta Chase covers – I seem to recall that Mr Impossible had a mantitty cover in the US and a ‘tasteful’ regency-striped and cameo-silhouette cover in the UK). It’s not just mantitty however. Lavish typefaces will usually be replaced by something more restrained (for example, the US editions of Mary Balogh’s Slightly series feature bold, colourful, high-gloss typefaces whereas the UK ones feature period paintings and restrained colours).

    The notable exception to this is Mills & Boon/Harlequin who for some reason usually (though not always) use the same photos but with different backgrounds.

    Interestingly, in the many discussions in the blogosphere about covers, there is always a comment along the lines of ‘but mantitty sells’. I suspect this is indeed true of the (much bigger) US market but possibly not of the UK covers. (They used to put me off hugely but I’ve gotten over that. Still I prefer an alternative if it’s available).

    Another interesting line is the UK erotic line of Black Lace. They have some very subtle covers (given the contents of the books in question) but also some very up-front ones and they’re squarely aimed at a youthful audience.

  25. Meriam
    Apr 16, 2008 @ 10:15:05

    I’ve always found Roberts’ covers perfectly fine, perhaps a little bland. I quite like the second cover. It’s not great, but I prefer it to the first, which looks a little drippy. The second is more dynamic. Yes, she’s running, but that gives the impression of action, suspense, danger. (No idea what High Noon is about, I stopped reading Roberts a few years ago, but her single titles used to be romantic suspense, right?)

    I basically second Tumperkin. Also, Roberts is very popular in libraries. Her latest novels are always bought and regularly issued.

    The American speak never bothered me. But then, I grew up on American TV.

  26. Gail
    Apr 17, 2008 @ 16:10:13

    High Noon is about a female hostage negotiator. She tends to run TO–and do I remember a scene where she winds up at an incident in “date” clothes? It’s been a while since I read it–one of my faves. Need to read it again…

  27. rose
    Apr 18, 2008 @ 09:39:38

    A cover has says a lot, first impressions and all that. For years I ignored Nora Robert books and others in this genre, because I was put off by the covers. The first printing of the Irish trilogy, “Jewels of the Sun” etc is a good example, I mean really. The covers have Improved immensely, and I am glad I got past my initial reluctance, because I would have missed a lot of wonderful stories. Flowers, butterflies, marshes, lonely little boats, cottages, castles,….turn off!

  28. Caffey
    Apr 21, 2008 @ 01:16:08

    It would be nice if they just kept the covers the US had. I just see the cover not as a romance at all with these covers shown.

  29. ec
    Apr 21, 2008 @ 08:29:45

    I think my Kool-Aid flavor should be cherry tart.

    Good flavor for a romance author. Resonates with the genre.(“Hmmm… What says virginal, but with significant erotic potential?”)



  30. Suze
    Apr 21, 2008 @ 13:49:03

    Shmuck is kind of a puce color, I think. Somewhere between pukey puce and a muted chartreuse, maybe. ;)

    Eek! Considering that puce is violent pink and chartreuse is violent green, I’d definitely call that a pukey colour. Gah. Still, that would kind of go with shmuck…

  31. Willa
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 02:56:00

    I’m in the U.K and have also been reading Nora for years. I much prefer the U.S covers – for the most part they do seem to actually represent something about the storyline, or at least it seems that way to me. The U.K versions are bland imo. For the Circle trilogy we had butterflies on the covers . . for the reissue of Three Sisters Island we had flowers! If at all possible I buy the U.S version – and sometimes you get the really neat step backs that we never get here in the U.K. Yes – I can get excited over that!!

  32. April
    May 28, 2008 @ 10:32:15

    I will never understand the “to do” that is made of changing book covers and titles between the UK and US markets.

    The Brits do it for us as well. The Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman was changed to The Golden Compass. Why? I can’t say that I’d be less likely to buy a book titled The Northern Lights than I would be to buy a book titled The Golden Compass. Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone was changed for the U.S. market to Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. What difference does it make? It’s Harry Potter either way.

    BTW–I’ve just stumbled on to this site today. Great site!

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