Book covers: Are turned heads the new black?

Updated! See below ...

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Little Brown

Last fall one of the more striking book jackets to appear on store shelves was that of Stacy Schiff's biography "Cleopatra: A Life," published by Little Brown.

It may seem counterintuitive for a book about a woman who was reputedly the most beautiful in the world to feature on its cover (left) a portrait in which her features are not seen, but instead shows the queen of Egypt with her head turned away.

That tantalizing pose only underscored how little we may know about the real Cleopatra, heightening the mystery and drawing us in.

Book jacket design is not a casual affair. Publishers spend small fortunes to come up with designs that will attract eyeballs from booksellers and book buyers, and make their product stand out from the flood of other books introduced at trade shows and in print ads. Book jackets are sometimes tested at industry shows or in meetings with book buyers from chains and leading independent stores and in catalogs prepared months before publication. A poor reception will send a publicity department back to the drawing board.

So it is striking that now - several months after "Cleopatra" hit store shelves (and, more importantly, The New York Times bestseller list) - that its jacket design should appear to be replicated in many other new fiction titles, including:

"The Peach Keeper" by Sarah Addison Allen (Bantam, March); "Maine" by J. Courtney Sullivan (Knopf, June); and "From Barcelona with Love" by Elizabeth Adler (St. Martin's, June).  

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CBS News

Also: "Break the Skin" by Lee Martin (Crown, June); "A Young Wife" by Pam Lewis (Simon & Schuster, June); and "The Soldier's Wife" by Margaret Leroy (June).  

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CBS News

Plus: "Escape" by Barbara Delinsky (July); a slight variation - head turned away in a full body shot - on the cover of "The American Heiress" by Daisy Goodwin (June); and the head-turn hasn't escaped non-fiction tiles either, as in "Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie - A Tale of Love and Fallout" By Lauren Redniss (HarperCollins, December).  

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CBS News

Whether it is imitation being the sincerest form of flattery (and in this case "Cleopatra: A Life" should feel extremely flattered) or whether it is the zeitgeist (the subjects of books don't want readers to know what they look like), this latest trend in book jacket design turns a hypnotizing old saw on its end in order to capture our attention: DON'T look into my eyes ...

UPDATED: September 29, 2011:

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Putnam

It was not a glitch - it really is the zeitgeist. Two more novels have since turned up with the same cover style:

"Reign of Madness" by Lynn Cullen (Putnam, August); and "Untold Story" by Monica Ali (Scribner, September) tells a fictionalized account of the life of Princess Diana - had she not died in a Paris tunnel when she was 37 years old.

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Scribner

More, no doubt, to come ...  

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.