by CATHI STEVENSON
BOOK REVIEWERS notice it. Bookstore owners notice it. Distributors pick right up on it. Online bookstores avoid it. Customers shun it and don’t even know why. What is it? Bad book cover design. Nothing says “amateur” faster and more effectively than a poorly designed book cover.
Even well-chosen fonts and high quality images can’t guarantee a good cover and that’s because there are dozens of little details no one outside the industry is likely to share with you. Well, today I spill the beans, or at least a bowl full.
First of all, I’m going to tell you not to believe me. Don’t. Why should you? (Well, okay, I have been doing this for decades, but still…). What you should do is track down the websites of the major players in publishing: RandomHouse.com and SimonSays.com are two most people are familiar with and confirm what I’m telling you by studying the covers on those sites.
More than 90 per cent of the books produced by the traditional houses will follow the guidelines I’m about to share. Why not the other 10 percent, you ask? Well, even a traditional house will have bad designs from time to time and even the most fundamental rule of design can be broken successfully by the right designer. There will always be exceptions. Unfortunately, most self-publishers don’t have the time or the budget to gamble, so it’s much safer to create an eye-catching, wow-factor cover that obeys the rules.
1. Kern your title. Kerning is the spacing between the letters. Fonts don’t always produce even spacing right out of the starting gate, so it’s necessary to get in between the letters and tighten them up. The spaces should be even. The letter “y” is probably the most common culprit of being spaced too far from adjoining letters.
For an example of what I mean, click here.
2. Choose colors carefully. Red doesn’t print well on most shades of blue or black or purple. And some color combinations create “visual vibration” making it impossible for a reader to stare at the image for more than a few seconds.
3. Avoid using more than two fonts on a project. The best combination is a serif typeface (the fonts with little “feet” on the letters, like Times and Garamond) and a sans-serif (fonts that are straight up and down like Arial, Impact and Helvetica) or a script in place of one of them.
4. Never use all uppercase letters with a script or italic-styled font. It’s impossible to make out what the word is.
5. Avoid using images that illustrate a word in the title, especially if it has nothing to do with the content of the book. For example, if your book is titled A Blueprint For Happiness, do not put an image of house blueprints on the book. You’re not selling house blueprints.
6. If your book is non-fiction, particularly self-help, make sure you illustrate the solution (what you’re selling), not the problem. If your book is called How To Be Happy At Work, then don’t put an image of a stressed-out person on the cover. When is the last time you’ve seen a diet book with an obese person on the cover?
7. Don’t get so desperate for an image that you use bad clip-art or outdated elements. Today’s writers use computers, so a picture of a manual typewriter is probably not a good choice for a book being marketed to freelance writers; Likewise, rotary telephones and people wearing hairstyles and clothing from the ’80s, (unless of course, those retro elements have a purpose that pertains to the story). If you can’t find an image, go with a text-only design. Plenty of best sellers boast text-only covers.
8. Avoid clichés. No more puzzle pieces, chess games or handshaking on covers. It’s all been done.
9. Avoid overused fonts. You won’t find Helvetica, Arial, Times or Comic Sans on books produced by professional publishers. There are hundreds of thousands of fonts out there, choose another one.
10. Don’t use your title to frame a boring background image. We’ve all seen them — a cover that is nothing but a sky with a few clouds or a stucco wall, with the title crammed at the top and author name crammed at the bottom. That’s valuable title real estate you’ll be sacrificing for an image that no one is interested in.