What about a book that’s written in America being sold in other English-speaking countries? Does anything change then? Surely not! Those other English-speaking folks don’t need any alterations, do they?
The fact is, there are alterations. I’m sure you’ve seen examples of different covers of books for different English-speaking countries. Publishers can have houses in different countries and the right to publish and distribute a book might even be sold to another publisher overseas. What one publisher thinks is perfect for an American audience, may not fly the same way with the Brits. It’s a two-way street...or more if you factor in other countries.
'Unearthly' by Cynthia Hand is an example of a book with different covers for American, English and Australian distribution. They are all very different and I’m sure that some covers will appeal more to some people than others.
I haven’t read the book, so I found the Australian cover the most striking, although perhaps one is more accurate to the plot I also noticed that while the American and Australian editions are both published by HarperCollins, the UK edition is published by Egmont.
Then there is the title-switch. Titles change when it comes to translations of books into other languages but they can change for other English-speaking countries too.
The title for the first book in the Harry Potter series was changed to ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ for American readers. I assume this is because "sorcerer" sounds more magical than "philosopher" and would let readers know that this was a book involving magic.
Of course, this also means that the contents of the book are altered, since they refer to "the Sorcerer’s Stone," even though there is no such thing.
I checked a section of the first book, with the help of my friend, Emma, who has the American editions of the Harry Potter series, for another alteration.
There is a line in the UK edition that reads: 'It's the girls' toilets!' Harry gasped.
In the American editions it reads: 'It's the girls' bathroom!' Harry gasped.
Last time I checked, Americans know what a toilet is, even if my mum explained to me that they have an aversion to using the term. I understand if Americans prefer the term "bathroom" but Harry Potter is British. He doesn't gasp over "bathrooms."
People in different countries – or even different regions of the same country – will always have different terms, synonyms and slang for the same things. I don't think that the contents of books need to be changed so that people feel like they're reading a story set in their own backyard, when they have the opportunity to read about different and exciting places and learn about other nationalities and their dialect.
'Angel' by L.A. Weatherly is also an instance where the title is different in the UK and America. The book was released in the UK first and then in the US. I actually thought that the American title, 'Angel Burn,' was the sequel to the first book, until the author told me that the sequel was coming out later in the year.
I took 'Angel Burn' home to compare the book’s blurb with 'Angel' which I already had. Emma read the blurb of one and I chimed in with the other.' They were identical. I didn’t pick 'Angel' up in the UK, so I must have bought it while I was in New Zealand. My copy of 'Angel' is paperback, even though it was released before 'Angel Burn' which is in hardback.
While America seems to be – from what I can tell – the land that embraces hardback books, paperback reigns supreme in England and Australia.
For a book to make it to shelves as soon as it is released, it needs to have a distributor in that country…or close by. For instance, a lot of the books that I got in New Zealand were published in Australia. If there isn't a publisher in your country, you might have to wait a while or buy the book from online retails. I’m still in awe of the amount of books I find in America that I would never have seen at my local bookstores back in NZ.
Books that are released Down Under that come from American authors will often be sold straight-to-paperback. I see books here in the US that are still only sold in hardback, that I have had a paperback copy of for months.
This also means that if the overseas publisher (say, in Australia) prints a paperback book under the same cover-art or similar to the American hardback, the American paperback might have a completely different design.
The UK paperback version for 'Nightshade' by Andrea Cremer is similar to the hardback, only a darkper purple with a different title font. The US paperback is an entirely new design, which went on to spark the designs for the rest of the series.
I'm partial to paperbacks and hardbacks at different stages and I'm always done in by a cover that takes my fancy.
What are your thoughts on alterations to books when sold in different English-speaking regions?
Covers are always going to change and I can understand the delight an author might have if they had several editions of their book, all striking in their own way, sitting on their shelf.
Is the change in a title necessary? With so many readers now able to buy books online in whichever edition they choose, is there the risk of confusion and double-purchasing?
What about changing the contents of books? The UK edition of 'Lament' by Maggie Stiefvater edited out her use of the f-word. When I first heard about this, I was confused because I couldn't remember an abundance of f-bombs. It was used maybe twice and I had to go back and check. If the swearing was so scant, I doubt the author put it in unnecessarily.
If a book is written in English, I like to think that – not being English, American or Australian – I can handle the original text. I don't want to miss out on the author's true words. Do you?