What Makes a Great Book Cover in a Foreign Market?

The Spy’s Son will be published in a dozen nations, a gratifying turn for a new author and a testament to the hard work of my splendid literary agent, Tamar Rydzinski, and her co-agents around the world.

While I’m aware you really can’t judge a book by its cover (public law by virtue of adage), I do find myself wondering what image that foreign publishing houses will put on the cover of my book and what bearing those covers have on readers willing to shell out money to buy the thing.

For example, the first two foreign pressings of The Spy’s Son came out with moody black-and-white themed covers – starkly different from the arresting red cover with gold foil lettering used in the original hardback sold in North America. Grove Atlantic had at one point considered an identical cover, but in black.

Scribe Publishing, which circulated the book in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, chose a theme that melded the faces of the father-son spy duo into one image. Czarna Owca, which published the book in Poland as Syn Szpiega, chose to depict a spy, briefcase in hand, hiking toward the Kremlin. Readers loved both covers.

The book soon will be translated into Russian, Estonian, and Dutch. Karakter publishing, in The Netherlands, bought rights to the book this week.  

“The Spy’s Son is one of those rare books that manages to surpass expectations – even if these were pretty high to begin with – and we’re proud to publish it in The Netherlands,” wrote Elco Lenstra at Karakter. Lenstra noted that readers might at first sympathize with the book's villain, but that ends as the story exposes the harm he caused his country and kin. “Combine that with the fascinating world of espionage and tradecraft and you’ve got a book that will keep you reading for hours on end.

But here's my question: With all those themes stampeding through the story -- spies, stolen secrets, betrayals -- how does a publisher come up with an artful cover that draws readers in enough to buy the damn book?

I’ve never gotten an answer that satisfied me. I think that's because readers might be intrigued by a cover, enough to read the book-jacket copy and a few blurbs from other authors, but the rest is up to fate. You gotta be in the mood, in other words.

I'd like to open a conversation about this.  What do you think would be the best cover-art design for new foreign editions The Spy’s Son? And would intrigue you to pick it up in a bookstore in Moscow, Amsterdam, or Tallinn?