15 Book Covers That Got a New Lease on Life in Paperback

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Everyone knows the old, "don't judge a book by its cover," mantra. But, of course, that's easier said than done, especially when you're actually trying to decide which book to read. How can you help it? When faced with a bookstore stocked with shelves upon shelves of options, looking at covers is often the easiest way to determine which books to pick up. If the cover is ugly, confusing, or doesn't impart enough information about the book, it's going to get read a lot less often.

Luckily for the book industry, if a hardcover gets a poor response, there's a second shot at designing a book cover: the paperback. When a hardcover book comes out, it typically sits on shelves for six months to a year before the publishing company releases a paperback version. This gives publishers enough time to look at their book sales, realize that their hardcover was hideous, and whip up a much prettier paperback cover (one without, say, a creepy baby doll or a boring clip-art image of a snake).

Watch a drawing of black rats become a painted countryside and a dated metallic title become a colorful patchwork illustration, along with other inspiring transformations. These 15 books wowed us with their improvements from less-than-great hardcovers to beautiful paperbacks.

1. Atonement

Hardcover

This cover isn’t totally hideous, but it is boring. The generic image of an old house reveals no tidbits about the dramatic plot of the book.

Paperback

By replacing an impersonal house with a character, this cover becomes much more engaging. The body language and facial expression of the girl pictured expresses the tone and emotions of the book’s narrator: reflective, morose, desperate.

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2. In the Time of Butterflies

Hardcover

From the muted colors to the odd image of the butterfly with torn wings, this cover feels boring and sad. Not the best way to sell a book.

Paperback

This cover fixes all of the color mistakes of the hardcover version, using brighter tones and a modern font. It also illustrates the loss of the butterfly by showing it trapped in a jar, rather than with torn wings, which is an easier image to handle.

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3. Ship Fever

Hardcover

We're not sure who thought underscoring the title and author name would be good idea. The cover comes off like the front page of a high school student's (boring) research paper.

Paperback

Look, color! This vivid pink image captures the word "fever" in the title, making the book seem anything but boring. In addition, the unique font used for the title achieves the perfect balance of being interesting but still legible.

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4. Oryx and Crake

Hardcover

There's nothing wrong with a nude painting, but using the mirror effect to double the image is just a little bit weird. Between the awkward hand around the "A" and the suggestively placed branch across the middle, it's too distracting to focus on the contents of the novel.

Paperback

Ah, much better. The close-up photograph of the woman's face is engaging, but not distracting, and the vibrant blues and greens complement the image. This cover is going to be much more successful at drawing the reader in.

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5. White Teeth

Hardcover

Such a bad cover for such a good book. The colors are dated, the font is snooze-worthy, and who decided that those metallic hues were a good idea?

Paperback

There are several paperback versions of this book — all vastly prettier than the hardcover version — but this one best captures the spirit of the book, while not giving any secrets away. The patchwork of the colors mirrors the blending of the cultures within the book, and makes the cover a very pleasant thing to look at.

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6. The Music of Chance

Hardcover

This cover is mystifying. It's unclear what the images represent, and the composition is crowded and dark. Also, the Photoshop job of the purple poker chips (if that's what they are) is pretty shameful.

Paperback

While this cover doesn't exactly illustrate what the story will be about, the image of a fork in the road hints at the idea of "chance" in a subtle, simple way. The clean lines and simple fonts are much appreciated after the chaos of the hardcover edition.

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7. Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Hardcover

This is not an ugly cover. However, it doesn't quite match up with the tagline of "life, death and hope in a Mumbai slum." Where are life and death in this image? Where is hope, or the slum? The background image also makes it difficult to read the title. Some letters appear blurry and some blend into the background.

Paperback

The tagline is well-illustrated in this photo. The little girl exudes hope, as well as the proximity of life and death in such a poverty-stricken area. In addition, they've slightly altered the tagline, from "slum" to "undercity," which sounds a bit more respectful.

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8. The Thirteenth Tale

Hardcover

Can you say cheesy? The font of those "T"s, the dark leather-bound books, the red ribbon; this cover is trying way to hard to give off a creepy, old ghost story vibe.

Paperback

This paperback gives off a creepy vibe, but in a fresh, modern way. The symmetrical image of the little girls' shoes is almost pretty, but has the disturbing twist of hiding the rest of their bodies. The result is a much more haunting and enticing cover than the hardcover version.

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9. Atlas Shrugged

Hardcover

Meh. This cover isn't cringeworthy, but it's pretty bland for such a powerful book. The fogginess of the green distracts from the drawing of the train tracks, which could be successful on its own. And what's the deal with that huge red circle?

Paperback

Now, this cover packs some punch. The image's relation to the title is clear, and the art deco patterns of the building and sun provide the perfect background for the golden figure in the center.

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10. We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Hardcover

The casual, hand-drawn look can work for some book covers but, on this hardcover, it's just not quite right. The title font is kind of cool, but the drawing of the cat in the grass is just weird. It's poorly drawn, scientifically impossible (the cat is basically floating in the air), and disconcertingly off-center.

Paperback

The paperback version uses a similar hand-drawn style in a more successful manner. The image is centered, gives us some hints about the story, and is basically scientifically accurate. (The girl's hand is disproportionally humongous, but we'll let it slide.)

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11. Valley of the Dolls

Hardcover

It's not the worst hardcover in existence, but it's certainly not the best, and it pales in comparison to the awesome paperback cover below. The pills feel randomly placed and have no context. Are they drugs? Medicine? Why are they different colors? The cover would be more successful with nothing but the text.

Paperback

Now this cover gives us some context for those pills. We see where they're going (that mouth), and get the sense that they're being used beyond the normal medicinal purpose. The large, graphic image grabs our attention and makes us want to know more about the story.

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12. The Slynx

Hardcover

The close-up of this cover is just gross. Too many rats with too many long, slinky tales. The pattern that the rats make is sort of nice from far away but, at the end of the day, these are rats we're looking at, and nobody (okay, almost nobody) wants to pick up a book with those on the cover.

Paperback

This bleak landscape evokes feelings of mystery and dread without including mounds of repulsive rodents. The painting is detailed and well executed, and supports but doesn't overpower the title and author name.

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13. Play it as it Lays

Hardcover

Yawn. This snake drawing looks like a bad tattoo design or a clip-art image from some early version of Microsoft Word. It's boring and uninformative.

Paperback

This photo gives us some hints about the plot of the novel and ties the horizontal woman into the word "lays," from the title. It also offers a lot more to look at. There are a variety of shades, colors, and textures, not to mention a character whose fate is unclear; is she sleeping? Resting? Dead?

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14. Poe's Children

Hardcover

Much like the image of the rats on the hardcover above, this cover goes too far in trying to impart a feeling of horror. A bloody hand, damaged baby doll, and disarticulated doll arms are not all necessary to let the reader know that this book is a horror anthology.

Paperback

This paperback takes the sense of horror and abstracts it, using black and white text and inkblots and drips. The cover successfully imparts the tone of the book, while still making it accessible and easy to look at. Much preferred over baby doll limbs.

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15. The Doll

Hardcover

Speaking of baby dolls... this cover. There aren't a lot of things that could make this hardcover look worse. The creepy mannequin face, the eye without a pupil, the eerie orange tone. It's bad. It's very bad.

Paperback

So much better, right? This paperback uses a live human (in place of a mannequin) and a pleasing black, white, and red aesthetic. The facial expression is mysterious enough to draw the reader in, but not creepy enough to scare them away.

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Image: Ellie Warren/Flickr