Someone posted two pictures of two versions of the Plume trade paperback edition of The Dark Tower Book III: The Waste Lands on a Facebook group for fans of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series.

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Same book, same publisher (Plume), same "first printing" date (January 1992), same artwork inside, same everything - except that the artwork on the front and back is switched. On one copy, Phil Heffernan's illustration of a train is on the front and Don Brautigam's ilustration of a rose is on the back. On the other copy, the rose is on the front and the train is on the back. My copy has the train on the front.

King's website shows the rose-on-the-front version

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Has this difference in the cover art on the Plume trade paperback edition of The Waste Lands ever been explained? Why are there two versions of the cover?

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    My personal guess is marketing, because one may sell better for certain demographics, since people do judge books by their cover. I'd be interested in knowing the real reason, though. – user31178 Mar 3 '16 at 2:27
  • Or maybe marketing couldn't decide between the two so they made a run of both. It's Steven King so it's not like it won't sell either way. – Joe L. Mar 3 '16 at 4:14
  • A misprint, perhaps? – SQB Mar 4 '16 at 8:58
  • @SQB - It seems like there are plenty of each version - I don't know if it is 50/50, but it is clear that neither version is an oddity. – Wad Cheber Mar 5 '16 at 0:40
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    I can't find a source for it, @WadCheber, but I know why. When a big author writes a new book, they make large displays in the bookstore (I'm sure you've seen them). By designing a wrap around cover with art that can be used on either the front or the back, the publisher only has to commission one piece of art, but they can give visual variation to the display. This was a fairly common practice during the '90s to early '00. – Bobby Newmark Mar 5 '16 at 5:11

The only specific reference I can find to the two distinct covers for the same Plume first printing of The Waste Lands is in this book listing by Locus Magazine:

The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands (Penguin/Plume 0-452-26740-4, Jan ’92 [Nov ’91], $15.00, 422pp, tp, cover by Don Brautigam & Phil Heffernan) [Roland (Gunslinger)] Reprint (Donald M. Grant 1991) dark fantasy novel, third book in the Dark Tower series, with full-color illustrations by Ned Dameron. There are two different versions of this edition, one with a cover by Brautigam, the other with a cover by Heffernan. Other than the cover illustration, the two are identical.

It doesn't give an explanation, but does seem to confirm that it is not simply a misprint. Further evidence for it not being a misprint is that the artists are listed correctly on the back cover of each version: Brautigam is listed as the front cover artist on the rose-cover edition and as the back cover artist on the train-cover edition.

We should also note that it is not unusual for King novels to have dual covers for the same edition and printing. For example:

Insomnia: Published in 1994 by Viking. Trim size is 6.25 x 9.5 x 2.1". Dust jacket price is $27.95 and code on dust jacket is "1094". The book is quarter bound in light gray cloth with gray boards. Paste-downs and front and rear end papers in gray. "First published in 1994 by Viking Penguin" and the code "1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2" on copyright page. Two simultaneous dust jacket states with red and white reversed were issued. Both have same value.


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While King hasn't explained the dual covers for Insomnia either, there is an interesting passage in that novel:

It was as if his eyelids had turned to glass. The only difference was that all the usual colors had reversed themselves, creating a world that looked like the negative of a color photograph.

One can speculate that the dual covers find their meaning in this passage.

So, while I cannot find a direct explanation for the dual covers for The Waste Land, it seems to be something that King has employed more than once for his novels (and it may reflect some specific idea within The Waste Lands).

  • Very cool. +1 and many thanks, my friend. – Wad Cheber Mar 13 '16 at 3:49
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    @WadCheber : My pleasure, as always --- it's always fun to work on your questions. :-) – Praxis Mar 13 '16 at 3:51

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