Reading Rage: Why I Hate TV and Movie Tie-In Book Covers

12 June 2014 by 66 Comments

I am a late adopter of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. I actually bought it several years ago—long enough ago that I recently discovered I had actually purchased it at Borders—on recommendation from a friend, but I couldn’t really get into it. I finally decided to try it again on the way back from my honeymoon after my husband was glued to it for two days straight (yes, also during our recent honeymoon). I’ve recently started reading A Clash of Kings on my iPad because I didn’t want to wait for a hard copy to be delivered… and also, I couldn’t seem to find a paperback edition to match my edition of A Game of Thrones.

All I could find were either mass market paperbacks (my copy of A Game of Thrones isn’t mass market) or they’re ugly HBO tie-in editions with the red banner splashed across the top of the cover. I’ve always avoided any sort of tie-in edition out of principle, but never actually explored why tie-in editions make me feel squicky. After thinking on it for a while, I’ve come up with a few reasons why tie-in editions are pretty much the worst.

The original cover art is pretty much always better. TV show and movie tie-in covers almost inevitably end up as nothing more than posters for the show or movie. If I wanted a poster, I would buy one, but I don’t; I want a book. Here are a few in particular that annoy me:

Great Gatsby Original   Great Gatsby Movie Tie-In

The original cover artwork is just so iconic, and the tie-in cover is literally just a poster. I love me some Leo, but GTFO my book covers, plz.

pride-and-prejudice   Pride and Prejudice Movie Tie-In

Who knows what the original original book cover looked like (probably just plain bound leather, if there was a cover at all, I would imagine) but this is the first one I owned and I think it’s beautiful. Keira Knightley isn’t bad looking, but—much like with Leo—she doesn’t belong on the cover of my book.

Never Let Me Go Original   Never Let Me Go Movie Tie-In

Again with Keira Knightley and the not belonging on my book covers thing. I adored this book, but I don’t really think it would translate well into a movie—it seemed too introspective to me. (Has anyone seen it? Opinions?) The original cover just screams vulnerability, desperation, hopelessness—and the movie tie-in cover looks like…a poster. Sigh.

The TV show or movie suddenly becomes the book’s raison d’être. I mean, duh, why else would you read a book unless it was also a movie? Why would you read a book just to, you know, read a book? BECAUSE BOOKS ARE AWESOME, THAT’S WHY.

I hate the implication that just because this book is now a movie, that magically makes it worth reading. I think it cheapens the experience of reading, to an extent—it’s as if these new labels are screaming “You should read this book because it was good enough to be turned into a movie, the greatest and most wonderful of all media!” (I’m sure there are plenty of people who see movies this way, but I’m not one of them.) As if the goal of all authors is really to write a pre-screenplay, not a book to be valued on its own. As if other books not made into movies aren’t worthwhile.

The movie or show then becomes the primary media by which people will consume this author’s brainchild. That, to me, is so wrong. Movies and TV shows can only convey so much. Movies in particular are far more restricted than books: they often can’t adequately display a character’s inner turmoil the way words on a page can; they’re restricted in subject matter if they want anything more family-friendly than an R rating; they have to jam days or months or years into an easily-digestible, 2-hour timeframe. And yet, despite all these failings, the book is reduced to an advertising ploy for the movie. (I realize that the HBO series Game of Thrones addresses a lot of these issues, since it’s a series and not a movie. But look at the DVD sets for each season. Do you see any mention of the book or the author on the cover? No.)

A book’s most valuable quality, to me as a reader, is not how “movie-worthy” it is; while I’m grudgingly happy for the authors (because I love them and respect their work and want them to make lots of money and produce MORE wonderful books), I almost always hate when a book I like has been made into a movie. I hate even more when I read books that are practically written to BE movies (The Hunger Games series and the Divergent series both come to mind; though I did enjoy both series, at least until Allegiant killed the whole Divergent series for me, I was sort of annoyed at how much they read like movies). It’s disappointing to me that authors feel that, in order to be successful, they need to write a book that a) is easily made into a movie and b) that people will want to see as a movie.

(This is going to sound terrible, but) They appeal to the lowest common denominator. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a little elitist and a bit of a hipster about my books. (If I wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t be doing this whole book blogging thing in the first place.) If it takes a major motion picture to motivate you to read a book, I’m pretty sure we won’t get along.

“Isn’t it always the goal to get more people reading, though?” Yes, yes, I hear you, and I agree. But I feel the same way about certain books becoming movies as one of my friends does when he hears a band that he “discovered” on the radio. It feels like they’re selling out to the masses. (I never said I was going to be rational about this.) It’s like how the first seasons of a show are always the best, until the rest of the world discovers it and then all the characters eventually just become caricatures of themselves. (Big Bang Theory, I’m looking at you.) Much like Sandy at the end of Grease, these books have changed their exterior so people will like them more.

I do realize that the impetus behind tie-in covers is marketing, and publishers wouldn’t sell them if they didn’t support their business and their authors. I get that. I really do. I want authors to be supported as much as the next bookslut, and if tie-in covers are going to do that, then so be it. I will just continue to support my favorite authors by buying their books before a tie-in cover has a chance to make a debut.

How do you feel about tie-in book covers?

Bridget

Bridget writes her own blog, Dog-Eared & Dog-Tagged, and contributes to The Broke and the Bookish as well as IB. You can follow her reviews and random thoughts on Twitter at @thebookishmilso!

66 thoughts on “Reading Rage: Why I Hate TV and Movie Tie-In Book Covers

  1. Totally agree! I dislike movie tie-in covers personally, but as a bookseller I really hate them. The minute the new version becomes available, that’s what the publishers and distributors stock, and it becomes more difficult for us to get the original covers. And our customers hate movie tie-in covers. I can’t tell you how often someone has requested a certain book, and when handed the version with the movie tie-in, says, “Don’t you have the regular one?” I’m not sure who likes these covers.

  2. I dislike tie-in covers as well and won’t buy them, on principle. I agree it is all about this idea that the book is now worthy of being read because it is good enough for an adaption. But, sadly that’s real for a lot of people who aren’t active readers. That movie cover helps them get over the fact that it’s a book (words inside, oh no!) and may lead to more sales. It is about the lowest common denominator… they aren’t trying to appeal to us, we probably already bought it when it came out originally.Great post!

      • YES. THIS. you are so not the only one. i’m picky about book covers to the point of distraction. & it’s even WORSE when it’s a bad movie poster.
        hell, i have re-bought perfectly good books just to get rid of one with a movie cover or a cover i otherwise hate.
        i *may* have a slight problem…

        • I totally feel you. I’ve done the same thing. I’m not super super picky as long as it’s not a tie-in, but I like having, for example, all of my Jane Austen books as Dover Thrift editions. Doesn’t necessarily matter what edition they are as long as they’re the same.

  3. Movie tie-in book covers have never really bothered me on any great level, but I don’t generally like them all that much and prefer not to buy them, for many of the same reasons you listed here, and because I just don’t think they’re interesting or original. They’re usually sort of meh.

    I’ve made peace with the fact that a movie of a book, created by a screenwriter, director, actors who are not the book’s author, is going to be a fundamentally different artifact of a story concept from the book itself. It took me many years to accept that, and this has made me enjoy movie adaptations more for their entertainment value (when there is some), but that doesn’t mean I always agree with those creative choices. I just try to keep the two things separate in my head and in my heart and try to feel glad for the author that someone liked the book enough to riff on it. (And my perspective may be biased because I’m an author.)

    I agree that anything that gets more people reading more books is something to be at least considered favorably. But, like you, that doesn’t mean I have to participate. As Anne pointed out in her comment, we aren’t their target demographic!

    Anyway, great post. :) I’m reposting it on my FB author page.

    • Thanks for the reply and the compliment! It’s so hard for me to separate books from their movie counterparts so I just generally avoid movie adaptations. I’ve come to the conclusion that I just can’t separate them. I still haven’t seen any Harry Potter movies past Order of the Phoenix for this reason. But I really do admire people who can separate them!

      • Thank you! And I will say it took me years to come to that willing separation. Part of it came from when one of my stories was being considered by a filmmaker for an adaptation; I had to let a certain amount of clinging to my project go in order for him to make his own.

        It also helps that there are two movies I’ve saw before I knew they were books, and then because I loved the movies I read the books, and they were so different — with the movies being vastly superior — that it helped change my mind about the whole issue.

        • I think I’ve only ever felt movies were better when, like you, I had seen them before reading the books — so sometimes I think it’s gotta just be however you consumed the story first is how you’ll always find it told “best.” (To be fair, I can only say this about the movies Stewart Little and Charlotte’s Web, because I grew up watching the animated version of Charlotte’s Web and the movie version of Stewart Little was just so darn fun. And also set in a time period I was familiar with, haha.)

          I couldn’t imagine being an author and having to give up the degree of creative control required to make a movie. Again, kudos on being able to step back that way. I could never do it. (Then again…I can’t write much besides blog posts, so it’s not like I’ll ever have to worry!)

          • I think your point is a fair one: the first way we consume something, if we like it, is the way we’re naturally predisposed to prefer it.

            And thanks. :) I think going through the professional editing process (which can be way more intense, if you have a good editor, than even working with a really strong critique group) also helps!

            Have you ever tried writing creative non-fiction (such as memoir or personal essay)? I’m really familiar with your work only through this blog, but your style is engaging and approachable. :)

  4. I agree with the points you raise about how the movie/TV-tie-in covers just seem like posters, and would add: they quickly become very DATED posters on your bookshelf. No matter how good the adaptation was, it’s not what you read the book for, so then you have a favourite book that will always remind you of that time circa seven-odd years ago when everyone noticed this book was a thing, not the experience of reading it.

    • Exactly! I’d much rather remember when *I* discovered the book, not when everyone else did. Great point!

      And that reminds me–once all the GoT books are finished, I REALLY hope they put out a nice box set without any sort of HBO tie-in.

  5. I hate movie/TV tie in covers, too. I’ve been known to hesitate a long time before buying a book I WANT to read, but has a tie in cover. I don’t know why; they seem cheap and dated somehow. I think part of that is because the movie poster usually places the book in an era that the book doesn’t actually take place in; as in, a character from the Victorian era will be made up in the style of the decade in which the movie was made, rather the era it’s set in.

    • Yes, I agree that tie-in covers often end up quite anachronistic when it comes right down to it–great point! It’s really frustrating when a cover is utterly incongruous with the actual story. GoT isn’t bad in that sense, honestly, which I’m grateful for–I just hate the HBO banners on the covers =

  6. The ONLY tie-in cover I don’t hate is this one:

    But for the most part, I avoid adaptations because they make me stabbity.

    • That is gorgeous! I probably wouldn’t even have known the difference because I had no idea for the longest time that The Princess Bride was a book. Is the movie a pretty true adaptation?

      • It’s definitely one of the most faithful I’ve seen. The things they left out, they left out for a reason, and the minor things that were changed didn’t really impact the story all that much.

        I feel like they perfectly complement each other, which is unusual for film adaptations.

  7. The only time I will buy movie tie-in covers is when it’s at a used bookstore and the book is under a dollar. Then, well…beggars can’t be choosers. :) But if it’s a brand new book I am definitely going to get one of the original covers, even if it’s on Kindle and I won’t see it most of the time anyway. :3 It’s kind of sad that most of us hate those covers and they just keep selling them anyway…

    • There must be some benefit otherwise they would stop…right?? But I feel you on the beggars can’t be choosers thing. If they were cheap at a used bookstore I’d go for it (if I had to). And I have to admit that I did end up buying the others because my husband wanted hard copies to go to army training with =

  8. I’m pretty much seconding what everyone else has already said. Re: The Hunger Games, though, I don’t know if I’d say they were originally written with the purpose of being made into movies. I personally thought they worked just fine on their own, though I am pleased with how well the movies have translated the story so far — especially Catching Fire. I mean, sure, some stories might read in a cinematic way — the pacing, the level of description, etc — but I don’t consider that a failing as long as those elements are effective in telling the story.

    And movies themselves don’t all follow the same rules (well, at least outside of Hollywood); I think both media are wide open to experimentation.

    • I mean, I don’t think that The Hunger Games trilogy was necessarily written with the express purpose of making them into movies, but it certainly read like one in my opinion. That’s not to say it didn’t work, because it basically did, but I walked away from it feeling like I had read a lot of action and not a lot of…substance. But then, I’m a big fan of exposition and backstory and introspection, and I realize not everyone is like that.

      • That’s true, re: all the action, and sometimes I do like a more introspective story. I would’ve liked to know more about what happened to the rest of the world outside of Panem, for instance — did any other countries try to stop the (formerly known as) U.S. from doing the Hunger Games? Like, what happened to the UN? I guess we’re just supposed to assume that Panem somehow completely isolated itself from the rest of the world, and/or the rest of the world had its own huge problems to deal with for those 75 years…

        • Yeah, exactly. I would have loved some more background on that. A rich backstory is really what makes a book for me, a lot of the time — one of the reasons that IT by Stephen King is one of my favorites is because he intersperses the narrative with journal entries about the history of the town, and it’s fascinating to read. I know not every book can withstand an extra 300 pages of backstory and not every book can be 1,000+ pages…but I definitely wish that more were :)

  9. For my two fandoms, I collect every bit of series tie-in I can lay my hands on. Except for the actual novels with tie-in covers. My experience is that not only do they look cheap, they ARE cheap, the binding rarely lasting beyond three or four readings. I like to cozy appeal of the classic covers as well as their durability.

    I do have some tie-in covers because I am late to the game a lot of times and don’t discover something wonderful until after the masses have found it first. But I don’t love them. I consider them reader copies, not items to be collected.

  10. There are few things about buying books that I find more disappointing than going to the store to pick up a book.. and finding ONLY a movie-poster cover. It’s like the music they play when you lose on The Price is Right, only in the form of a feeling that I get in my whole body.

  11. Here is one I do like: http://ia.media-imdb.com/images/M/MV5BMzY1MTIyNDg4MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODQ4MTEzMw@@._V1_SX214_AL_.jpg My senior lit class in high school had to read this over the summer before school started, and we talked about the covers once class started, actually. It’s a little weird that the actors’ names are on the cover, but the art is awesome, I think. Also, we took a field trip to see the movie together (unfortunately not during school hours, haha), and the teacher dressed up as a character. It was awesome. Without most of us having the cover art, we probably would not have had so many conversations about the movie that was coming out as we were studying the book together, and I wouldn’t be able to picture that teacher dressed up as a male politician from the ’30s. I also really like my mass market paperbacks of Game of Thrones, except that the Game of Thrones banner across the top always makes me think the series is actually called Game of Thrones instead of A Song of Ice and Fire.

    I do *not* like covers that show actors’ faces clearly, though. I think it’s more about the (lack of) artistry of it, though, and not particularly because it makes reference to the movie/show. In a way, I’m grateful that I’ve been introduced to some great books that entered my radar because they were made into movies. Oh! I also don’t like shiny book covers, and it seems that a lot of movie tie-in covers are shiny.

    Also, it is weird seeing you write about your “husband.”

      • The link isn’t working for me :(

        The whole lack of artistry thing is sort of what gets to me, too. It’s like, “Oh, we have some leftover stills from making the posters? Let’s use them for the book covers!” No separate imagination seems to go into the creation of the tie-in covers. And I don’t really like shiny books either, now that you mention it! I don’t think I would have ever come up with that on my own but now that you say that I’m remembering all those times I wondered how exactly I ended up with a smudgy, fingerprinty book. SHINY COVERS, THAT’S HOW.

        And uh, yeah, it still feels weird to say “husband” but it’s even weirder to hear myself referred to as his wife!

    • Ah, also meant to ask how you feel about the Oprah’s Book Club stickers, particularly the ones that are printed right onto the cover.

      • Those are annoying too, particularly because of the “lowest common denominator” thing (on the other hand, it’s unlikely I’d read anything from Oprah’s Book Club anyway, so I’d be less inclined to care) but less so because it’s not completely changing the book to make it into an advertisement for something else (i.e. a movie or TV show).

        • I actually rather like the taste of whoever picked Oprah’s books. Some favorites: A Lesson Before Dying (Earnest J. Gaines); Cry, the Beloved Country (Alan Paton); Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides); Night (Elie Wiesel). I just feel silly with the sticker, like I want to tell anyone who notices, “Hey! I didn’t pick this book because of Oprah.” Also, while I was just looking up the whole list, I came across this lovely nugget from Oprah herself that made me spit up a little in my mouth:

          “I love this book! I had heard about this book for years and then my dear friend Julia Roberts did an interview in O, The Oprah Magazine and she listed this as one of her favorite books of all times. The book I love so much—recommended to me by Julia—is The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. It’s a great, great read and not hard at all.” — Oprah

          • I do actually want to read Middlesex–I just finished The Marriage Plot about a month or so ago and really liked it. I’ll have to take a look at that list. But I would feel the same way about wanting to tell people I didn’t decide to read it just because of the Oprah sticker, blegh.

            Oh and yeah that quote is awful!

      • I hate the Oprah stickers printed onto the covers. Once in a while there is one of those books that sounds interesting to me, and I kind of feel dirty with that sticker there. I guess I could wrap the book in a paper bag cover and write “Porn” on it or something.

  12. I don’t care. For me, it’s don’t judge a book by it’s cover. But I kind of like what’s been said about the tie-in covers dating the book. For me, it makes me think of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It’s my favorite book, but I think the Hitchcock adaptation is only so so. Even so, I would *love* a movie tie in edition of that book. I think that would be pretty awesome.

    • Honestly, more power to you if it doesn’t bug you! My life would be a great deal easier if was less picky about these things :) I loved Rebecca too, but I don’t think I even knew it was a movie. Is it worth it to see or should I skip it?

      • If you’re a Hitchcock fan, I’d recommend it, but otherwise, I’d say skip. It won best picture. But I think since so much of the tension in that book took place in Mrs. de Winter’s head, it just didn’t make such a great movie. I’d really want the book referencing the Hitchcock film not because I liked the movie but because it would date the book to the 1940s and because the movie is a classic, I guess. Like with the Princess Bride cover sj mentioned. It’s a (modern) classic, so the book is dated to the film, which I think makes for neat memorabilia.

        I’ve been thinking more about this, and I think the primary reason why movie tie in editions don’t bug me is because they tend to be cheaper, and I’m cheap.

        • Yeah, that’s what gets me about a lot of movie adaptations–so often so much of what’s happening is in the protagonist’s head (not that it’s imaginary, just introspective) that it never translates to film very well, I don’t think.

          Okay, I can see your reasoning about wanting a tie-in cover for that movie in particular. Makes sense. And would probably not be as ridiculous of a marketing ploy as some tie-in covers are these days. I usually don’t find tie-ins to be any cheaper than regular novels, but maybe I’m looking in the wrong places? If anything I’ve seen them get more expensive because they’ve added a glossy cover or something. (This is in bookstores, not necessarily on, say, amazon or something.)

  13. I don’t think I ever *noticed* it bothering me until recently when I put a copy of “I, Robot” on hold at the library. Upon picking it up, I noticed it was a movie tie-in cover. Now, I’ve seen the movie, and I know darn well it has very little to do with the original collection of stories (other than the title and the concept of robots), so that just pissed me off for some reason. And the whole time I was reading the book, I just wanted to smack Will Smith’s face off of it. I suppose if you’re maintaining some faithfulness to the original material, then I’m not as bothered (although I love my original ASOIAF book covers that don’t have the HBO banner on them, I feel a little hipster-ish for that feeling). Overall, though, I’d much rather NOT have a movie/TV tie-in cover.

    • I read A Walk to Remember long after I had seen the movie. The book had a tie-in cover, but I seem to remember the book being pretty different from the movie, actually. I was pretty young at the time so I didn’t really think of it, but I’m guessing the reason I picked up the book in the first place was because I didn’t realize the movie was based on a book and I saw Many Moore on the cover. *shrug* I can’t wait to buy a nice, non-tie-in-cover boxed set of ASOIAF.

  14. I’ve been fascinated with the book-movie tie-in thing for a while now. Books as a medium have many strengths, while films have a few of their own. Visual and auditory cues and symbols can reach us in a way that words describing the same thing cannot. Still, as you mentioned, reading allows you to form a genuine relationship with the characters in the books because you are actually able to get into the characters’ heads and relate to them. I’ve written about it on here before, but I generally try to treat movies and books as separate experiences, and even when I think I know how the story will go, I am always surprised when I watch or read the same story again. As for the covers, I’m kinda indifferent to them. As long as the words behind them are the same, I’m not so attached to books as material possessions as I am to them being a way to get an awesome story into my noggin.

    • As long as the words behind them are the same, I’m not so attached to books as material possessions as I am to them being a way to get an awesome story into my noggin.

      I so want to agree with you, and to an extent, I do. I ended up buying the cheapest versions of ASOIAF I could find so my husband could take them to Army training in San Antonio, despite the fact that they were tie-in covers. But I also enjoy books as art, and I like to have a well-organized and uniform bookshelf. Once a nice boxed set of ASOIAF comes out I’ll definitely be purchasing those and selling or donating the copies I already have, because I want my copies to be uniform. I know the stories are the same, and that’s why, in the end, I decided to suck it up and buy the tie-in versions.

      It’s always been really hard for me to separate books and the movies based on them, so now I just tend to avoid movie adaptations of books. I’m really impressed with people who can separate them; I’m just not one of those people, unfortunately.

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