While the author is best placed to write the cover content, it’s the designer’s job to maximise its effect. This collaboration works better when the author sees things from a design and marketing perspective.
As a cover designer, I understand that what I’m creating isn’t necessarily a piece of art in itself but more an advert for someone else’s art, in this case – a book. And in any effective advert, a key part of that message lies not only in the actual words but how those words are presented. So what kinds of text can we find on book covers and how can it be used to maximise a book’s marketability?
Personally, I’d prefer using a clean Sans or Serif font. Thematic fonts can be effective but they MUST be legible and not outstay their welcome through overuse. There are some fonts that need to be wiped from existence entirely. On more than one occasion I found myself on politely explaining to an author why Papyrus or Comic Sans isn’t going to help their book sales!
Lazy and thoughtless title design stands out because it doesn’t stand out. It should be the center piece of the cover and compliment the imagery in terms of style and tone. More often than not, the cover image will reflect the name of the book and this helps to reinforce the title or theme.
While Stephen King and Hillary Mantel can sell a book with their name alone, an indie author won’t. With that in mind then, why waste valuable cover space with JOE BLOGGS’ name taking up a quarter of the page? Personally, I tend to favour a small author name and I’m still amazed at how a little extra tracking (spacing) between the letters can really set it off.
In some ways the tagline, if used, can be more important than the title because it tells people why the book is worth reading in one sharp sentence. Taglines are best kept under 10 words and not ‘mumbled’.
Most of us like to read a few reviews before purchasing something new and there’s a term for it, it’s called ‘social proof’. It’s highly effective in marketing so if you’re lucky enough to have had your book reviewed before release then be sure to get it on the front of the cover. Use no more than a small sentence at most, for example - “Accomplished, atmospheric and thoughtful”. Review quotes will always make a book shine brighter.
I never judge my clients book blurb content unless it doesn’t fit, meaning either the font size has to be reduced to its smallest limits or there’s no room for any other text on the back. As a guide, blurbs should be no more than approximately 175 words maximum for a standard 8” x 5” book.
Less is more - don’t chew your readers’ ear off! I usually position my authors’ Bio’s at the bottom near the barcode and there’s nothing worse than making it look shoe-horned due to overcrowding.
Writing is one of the few hobbies that cost virtually nothing to enjoy. These days, you can even self publish without having to fork out for bulk order of your own book thanks to indie-friendly, print-on-demand services. So why then should you have to put your hand in your pocket when it comes to the cover? Here's some common arguments that could hold you back.
"I wrote the book so I should design the cover too!"
I get it - you've just written a 120,000 word book on the economic history of Nepal. Surely there's nothing you can't do!
Just because you've decided to go down the self-publishing route, doesn't mean that you automatically qualify to design a cover the same way that sewing random pieces of fabric together wouldn't qualify me as a tailor. Cover design should be outsourced the same way professional editing is or formatting usually is. You obviously care immensely for your book, so give it the best cover it can get!
"It's a waste of money!"
You'd be forgiven for asking yourself "How many books will I need to sell to cover my design costs?" but actually that's a negative way to think. Remember that professional cover design is an investment because of the enormous value it'll add to your book for many years. Not only will an eye catching cover help your sales but it'll be something you can be proud to show off.
"I can do it much quicker than a designer!"
If it takes a designer with years of experience, a full range of skills and industry standard tools days or weeks to create a great looking cover, how long do you think it would it take a non-designer to create a cover to the same standard? If you can design it quicker than a designer to the same standard or higher then either you are in the wrong job or your designer is!
"I've got image editing software for FREE!"
So you've got a copy of Gimp or even Photoshop? Well I've got a nice set of shiny Snap-On spanners but that doesn't mean I'm going to try and repair the gearbox of my car. Just because you have the tools, doesn't mean they'll do the all the work for you. Knowing how to write text on images does not maketh a professional cover.
The most common misconception about graphic design is that it's easy and most of the work is done by computers after a few button clicks. Graphic design is only easy to graphic designers i.e. people who understand the principles of art & design, have extensive software knowledge and years of experience. Even with all that, designing a cover is still a sizable challenge to get right. And believe me, you'll want to get it right!
As an added bonus, don't forget that your cover will feature on the designers website indefinitely or their social media channel and could potentially be seen by thousands of other writers or publishers.
Perhaps one of the worst sayings ever thought up is "Don't judge a book by it's cover!". Ok, I understand the real point of the saying but the literal sense no longer applies in the same way it did when book covers were nothing more than picture less hardbacks with an embossed title. These days it's hard to overstate how important a book cover is and how a badly designed one will put off readers like nothing else!
7. Not optimised for print
There are some important differences between eBook covers and print covers and understanding those differences is vital to producing a high quality print cover. The conversion from eBook to Print is not a simple case of dropping the eBook cover onto print template and scaling it up. A professional print cover needs to have higher resolution images that won't become blocky (blurry) when printed. Other potholes include titles and text too close to the edges and poor use of colour.
6. Wrong Aspect Ratio
Fiction books are not square so why should your cover be? Even if your novel is only available on Kindle, it should still have a similar aspect ratio to that of a print book. If your potential readers see a square cover on Amazon, they may think it’s a music CD or and Audio book.
5. Too many fonts
I usually use 1 or 2 fonts, certainly no more than 3! If you use a different font for your title, tagline, author name, series strapline and cover quote it becomes messy and unfocused. The more font types you use, the more the more jarring it becomes to read and also the more contradictory the tone becomes.
4. Too many elements
Just because your story includes a flying motorbike, a drunken Elvis impersonator, a snowboarding monkey and an over-sized portrait of Barbara Streisand, doesn’t mean they all belong on the cover! The more elements you include, the more they will compete with each other and the cover loses its focus. Effective cover design conveys a message by focusing on a single concept.
3. Cheap Tricks
The first one that comes to mind is the 'negative' effect that inverses black and white. Others include 'art' effects like 'coloured pencil' or 'edge trace'. All cheap filters scream "amatuer - avoid".
2. Poor image quality
Both in terms of the standard of the original photograph/illustration and also the condition of the image. I spend a lot of time searching for the highest quality images and edit them in a non-destructive way. That means I don't stretch them out of proportion or anything that will harm the image integrity.
1. Illegible Typeface
It's tempting for authors to want to use a typeface that matches the theme of their book and while some thematic fonts are fine, many are so elaborate that they become difficult or even impossible to read. I've seen cover fonts so bad, I literally could not read the title or subtitle. And the ultimate crime of all is thinking it's a great idea to then use the same typeface for the whole book!
In summary, it doesn't take a designer to spot a bad cover but it does take a designer to create a good one! The standard of your cover is consciously or subconsciously telling someone how much you care about your book, it's that important.