I’ve picked a selection of Virago fiction off my bookshelves…
1980’s saw the Virago Modern Classics series with a very strong uniform dark green style, the apple logo, and a named illustration on the front cover. They were designed to be instantly recognisable on the shelf, hence the solid green colour, in contrast to most paperback fiction at the time. Cover illustrations were taken from selected artworks. They were also produced in quantity, so long rows of green spines interspersed with face-out display of interesting colourful illustrations, meant they had impact in the bookshops. Size was important – used for quality books at the time, bigger than mass-market, and they had shiny covers. This was more than just marketing, it was about redressing a balance. Note the appearance of the barcode on the back.
1990’s Virago fiction still have the solid green spines, though the apple logo has changed. Front covers are now designed to illustrate the content, the only uniformity being the ‘virago’ name printed vertically down the right hand side. A couple of nice evocative covers using collage style and typography, and a less-beautiful film tie-in, probably constrained by marketing requirements. Back covers have become functional with centred text.
Noughties Virago fiction has merged into the mainstream. The full cover is now designed as illustration of the book, the publisher is only evident through the (red) apple logo on the base of the spine. The cover is printed on thicker and less shiny paper. Where the author is known and will sell the book, the author’s name is larger than the title text. Lots of named quotes and prizes added in to validate the books. Text and paragraph styling is more elaborate. Back cover text is now styled into the design, paragraphs occasionally branch out from standard centred to other styles, and on ‘Red Dust’ there is even an attempt to design in the barcode box.