About typography for book cover design.
Book cover design and great typography need to take center stage with self-publishers. All too often self-publishers don’t appreciate the job of a a graphic artist, let alone a book designer. You can sell more books with a professional cover that is your invitation to to book buyers and readers.
Good typography is not limited to flowing the text from page to page.
The pitfalls of DYI typography and book cover design.
I’ve seen a lot of ugly book cover design over the decades that I’ve been in this business. Huge red flags are if the author thinks that they can get their hands on Adobe InDesign or Adobe Photoshop and knock out the book cover by themselves. Yes, that why I spent so many years learning graphic design – let’s just ‘wing it’ – typography, layout, design, the structure of a cover, or the book interior for that matter. How hard could it be, right?
After seeing the final results, that is usually the time when the author wants us to ‘tweak’ it a bit. We also re-design books. I fix cheap book design. Hiring inexperience or a graphic design with no knowledge of typography for book design is a bad idea, no matter how much money you think you will save.
Contrary to the old saying, books are judged by their covers!
The author is always right … or not!
“I know what I like” or “I can do better” … Well, then do it! Often the author thinks that they just have to get their design idea into InDesign, and they end up introducing elements that are just plain wrong.
Unless I am working with a professional artist, I will tell the author “no” and explain why something won’t work. I’m not overriding their wishes, I am simply corralling them into a better design. They usually realize the new design is better. I have no ego in the matter. What the client wants, the client gets.
I’ve also learned that even when I present a cover to a client, stating that this in an unrefined idea, some authors have no qualms about taking my design to another designer friend and having them refine it.
This has happened more than once!
This happened, and the final cover was much like what I was planning. But, I was waiting for the author to provide a new photo that she was taking for the cover. From then on, all my speculative designs are watermarked or I don’t present the book cover design until I am done.
I was especially irritated as that was an award-winning book, but I could never really claim the cover as my own. But, the interior was all my design based on a reasonable author wish list and my own artistry.
What a well-designed book cover design looks like.
Use established typefaces from established or historic type foundries.
A book designer needs to be well-versed on the subject of typography. Recently, we had an author who submitted a cover and book to be printed at our parent company, Star Print Brokers. The entire book used a font format which was designed for the iPhone.
A designer can correct a mistake like that, but a good typographer is going to check every line of type throughout the entire book. They will look for widows and orphans, re-adjust line length if necessary. They should check for any wonky type glyphs that may have been introduced with the wrong type format.
Too many fonts or not the right fonts.
A good book designer knows how to pair typeface families, but also knows how to correctly use fonts within typeface families. It is easier to design a cookbook with a typeface that already has fractions. Cheap or free fonts usually don’t!
An example of a typeface family would be Helvetica. The fonts within that family may be Helvetica Regular, Helvetica Italic, Helvetica Bold, and Helvetica Bold Italic. Using too many typeface families or too many fonts is simply unprofessional. I never use more than three typeface families.
Typography as a balancing act.
While so many books center all type on the cover, it can be very boring as well as having a classic look. There is nothing wrong with balancing type on a grid system. Grids are not only useful, but there are tons of interesting books on the subject. The basis is Swiss design. Sigh … just love it!
I use grids often in book design. When do you use an em dash in typography, or an en dash, or even a just a hyphen? Are there two spaces between sentences as we learn in typing classes, or is there just one space? Should captions on the back cover be the same size as text? Where does the ISBN barcode go? Can you reduce it? If so, by how much?
Color and contrast.
Does the color of the title stand out from the background, or does it blend in to make it hard to read? Do you know how to choose color, and the to choose the right shades? Is the book title and author large enough to be read when the cover image is scaled down to a thumbnail on Amazon?
Kerning and Leading.
Kerning is the space between letters. Leading or line spacing is the space between lines of type. How much space is enough? How much space is too much? Do you know the difference between metric and optical, and when to use each?
There are so many little adjustments that I make for book cover design as well as overall typography. Decades of experience does not allow me to list everything. If I wrote a book abut it, I couldn’t fit it all into one volume. Here is an example … When I have small type on a cover – as compared to the larger title – I will add a little bit of space between letters.
What about white space?
White space scares most amateurs as they feel compelled to fill up every little nook and cranny on the page or the book cover design. Great designers design. They don’t fill up the page. A simple title, sub-title, and author’s name on a cover, with a dash of color, sometimes makes more impact than an intricate design. Contrary to the old saying, books are judged by their covers!
Are there Exceptions?
Years ago when I was in advertising, we had a box to check on the design request form for ‘schlock’. We could have indelicately called the style ‘crap’ too. Although we love the look of an elegantly designed advertisement, there is a time and a place for a cluttered, ugly look. Why? Because potential buyers, or readers in the case of books, equate the schlock style to ‘cheap’. They are looking for a bargain.
What do you want to convey to your potential book buyers? I would still advise any author or publisher to have a well-designed cover no matter what. But, if you are advertising the book at a fire sale, then yes, let the ad be ‘schlock’, not the cover itself. Let it scream bargain basement ‘Sale’!
Don’t use every pattern, drop shadow, sheen, or embellishment.
If there is one thing that I am guilty of, it is over designing. I’ve learned long ago that when I think I am done, to go back and take everything out that is not absolutely necessary for the book cover design.