Well, it didn’t take long to get a submission. Brian Spaeth has gamely submitted his self-published book for a Design Review. I’ve attached his PDF including the front cover and first 58 pages so if you’d like to comment on the design you can download the sample by simply clicking the cover, or by using this link.
In his email, Brian says: “Disclosure: The typo on the cover is intentional. Bonus points if you can figure out what the front cover is of. All graphics and layout were done by me. Thanks – this is a great idea on your part and I look forward to your analysis!”
Well, Brian, you’re right. I can’t figure out what the front cover illustration is. I don’t think that’s necessarily a benefit to the book.
What the cover does right:
- Title is large and easy to read, important for online listings
- Typography is neat and tidy, and obviously done with care
- Use of gradients and strong colors adds a sense of mystery
Covers of books have a lot of work to do, since they are the “face” your book presents to the world. At the same time, they are like a small billboard that has to communicate vital information quickly and economically. What this cover doesn’t get right:
- Although the copyright pages says that this is a work of fiction, the author has called it an “important reading book.” I haven’t run into this wording before, and I bet other book buyers haven’t either
- The illustration, which upon examination looks like a bit of comic book art, is somewhat pixellated and rough. But more to the point, the illustration adds nothing to the communication with the reader. What exactly is the point of a purposefully obscure illustration?
- Whether the typo in the misspelling of Foreword (spelled here “Forward”) is intentional or not, it will look like a mistake—and a bad one—to any browser.
- The title itself is problematic, since it’s pretty unclear what a “prelude” is in this context.
Although Brian worked hard on this cover, I’m afraid it fails at the basic communication it should be doing with prospective readers. Other than “airplane” there’s virtually no information about the book on the cover.
Here is a sample spread from the book.
Book designers try hard to “get out of the way” of the author, but when you are the author AND the designer, it’s twice as hard to get our of your own way.
The big problem with Brian’s interior is the “watermark” he’s placed on every page. The large “PTSA” in ITC Machine, even though it’s screened back. Screens like this will print much darker at the printer, and the interruption to the reading experience is severe.
Here’s what the interior does right:
- Uses a serviceable serif typeface, which helps readability (looks like Palatino)
- Margins are good, type area lays well on the page
- Overall look of the page is airy, inviting reading.
Where the interior falls down:
- Use of the “watermark” is both irritating and distracting to the reader
- Many mechanical problems. For instance, note that some pages are completely missing folios, and en dashes are used instead of em dashes, spaces around dashes should be eliminated
- Bullets in list are “floating” away from content
- Basic layout is more “memo-style” since paragraphs have no indents and extra space is added between them. Books typically have indented paragraphs and no space between paragraphs. This is just what people expect in a book
- Although not strictly necessary in a novel, running heads might have held the pages together better.
I want to thank Brian for providing his book first off the bat. I look forward to your comments, and to seeing more self-published books for review.
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