Monday, February 22, 2010

Green Covers Don't Sell?

There's an old saying in publishing, according to designer John Gall (link takes you to the YouTube interview Julie posted on Thursday last) and others, that green covers won't sell unless the book is about gardening or golf. Is this true? If not, why not? Let us examine, shall we?

The old saw about green being poisonous came to light a few years ago when Harper's produced this magazine cover:

Poison on the newsstand? Nope. The cover sold like crazy, man.'s subsequent article about it (credit: Julia Turner) sheds some light on why and how the "ix-nay on the een-gray" rule probably got started--and gives us a hint as to why it persists. Some highlights:
  • "One man who helped perpetuate the myth was Alexander Liberman, the domineering Ukraine-born painter and sculptor who served as Condé Nast's editorial director from 1962 to 1994. According to one designer who worked with him, Liberman was prone to repeating, 'Green is death on the newsstand!'"
  • "'. . . some retailers speculate that the fluorescent bulbs in stores cast a yellow light that washes out newsstand greens and gives them a feeble, bluish cast.'" -- says one magazine design consultant
  • ""Like brown, [green] can be tricky to control on press and either one can migrate in the baby poop direction if the printer isn't careful.'" --suggests an assistant managing editor of Newsweek
Ew. I can see how baby-poop green might be off-putting.

But is the maxim true for kids' books? I had to know. In a jiffy, I was off to Big Box Bookshop to see if there are any green covers on kids books. (I respectfully skipped picture books, which don't seem to suffer from no-green stigma, as illustrated above.) Here's a random sampling of just a few on the shelves right now:

Love, Aubrey (Wendy Lamb, 2009)

The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis by Barbara O-Connor (FSG, 2009) (read a recent review from the excelsior file) It's half green.

Green by Laura Peyton Roberts (Delacorte, 2010) A leprechaun-based novel.

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge (HarperCollins, 2009)

Mind you, green was by no means prominent, but there was a healthy dose mixed in with all the black and purple. There were even some green covers on "big people" books that weren't about gardening or golf.

Myth busted(?)


  1. There is a LITTLE something about seeing all that green together that makes my head swim. One other thought: Certainly the color production process now must be so different from earlier decades that the "muddy" mistakes with green no longer happen.

    I'm just wondering about green details rather than green-all-over. I think the success of the cover of Ellen Howard's new book - The Crimson Cap - depends almost completely on the boy's green eyes. Right? The tattoos are good, but the green eyes are what will make people pick the book up.

  2. I actually know something about this topic, thanks to you Jacket Knackers! I went to that NYPL talk about book covers with Laurent Linn that you recommended, and he explained that the prejudice against green is -- as Julie speculated -- a hold-over from the earlier days of color printing. It was impossible for them to get beautiful greens back then. Now, that's not the case, but the myth about green covers not selling has persisted.

  3. I've been saving green covers for a while, thinking to make a similar post - but you said pretty much what I would have said, so I've posted my collection of Green Covers in response.
    Thanks for helping me along :-)

  4. Excellent post, Jacket Whys. (Hey L., what's your first name, anyway?) That post is, in fact, way better than this. Everyone, be sure to go over and see "Green Covers." You know what? I think I'm really starting to like green covers.

  5. Thanks, Carol. It's Linda. When I first started the blog, I didn't want it to be associated with my work life, thus the shortened name. But it's all old hat now. I should go in and change that.