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5 Tips for Better Book Cover Typography

Contributed by Reedsy.

A book’s cover is a key marketing tool, reflecting the contents of the book. As you might guess, the typeface of your book title and other cover text (the style and appearance on the page) are just as important.

First impressions count. Even if you’re not likely to pay a lot of attention to fonts on book covers, they make the difference between a book that will be picked up and a book that looks unprofessional, cheap, or simply misleading.

This post will dive into this crucial component of a book cover. Read on to find out how to handle book cover typography — and how to make yours stand out and sell your book.

1. Match the genre

All things considered, you want the appearance of your text to convey the message you are trying to get across. Whether that’s signaling that the book is a romance, a thriller, or an informative non-fiction book, the typography is going to be a crucial element of tying it all together.

For example, for Tara Westover’s non-fiction memoir Educated, a simple serif font is used for the title, and the subtitle (‘a memoir’) and author name are sans-serif (have noembellishments at the end of letters). Many say that serif fonts look more ‘trustworthy,’ and feel modern. This is because they are simple and matter-of-fact: all moods that a non-fiction book will want to elicit.

Readers of certain genres will, consciously or unconsciously, be expecting certain things from your book cover. Fantasy book covers are often home to sweeping calligraphy-style fonts, for example. Ilana C. Myer’s Fire Dance does this subtly — the embellishments on the ‘R’ and ‘N’ signal the genre, but it is still reasonably simple and easy to read.

2. No Papyrus, no Comic Sans

A general rule of thumb: don’t use a font that comes pre-installed on MS Word. Typefaces like Comic Sans and Papyrus are instantly recognizable and will make the cover look ‘handmade.’

If there’s one that’s very close to what you’re looking for, you can build up and edit fonts with programs like InDesign to alter spacings and the length of existing letterings, or even just remove the very edge of letters.

You can find ideas and free fonts to use on sites like myfont.com and dafont.com. There are also plenty of other websites to search for where you will be able to access a variety of fonts without plagiarising (and also without spending dozens of dollars).

Free Webinar: What Every Author Should Know About Book Cover Design

3. Less is more

An effective approach can be to make typography the focus of your cover, or the only visual element. Playing with minimalism, space, and letter spacing is often an interesting way to make the absence of image or text just as effective as filling the cover. Dolly Alderton’s cover design is literally just the title, but it playfully hints at the narrative voice you’ll find within.

Particularly, conjunctions like ‘and,’ ‘the,’ or, ‘of the,’ can interact inventively with your background image or illustration, like in this novel by Tsh Oxenreider. The ‘less important’ words are made significantly smaller, which foregrounds the confusing pairing of ‘home’ and ‘world’ — central to the book’s idea of finding a home and belonging while travelling all over the globe.

Remember that you don’t have to use the same font for everything. However, don’t use more than, say, two or three, depending on if you have a subtitle, or reviews, etc — it will look messy and confusing.

And if you think you might have a potential series on your hands, aim for a simpler design. They are more transferable, and easier to be manipulated further down the line.

Having said all that, your title does need to be big! There are debates as to whether it should be legible in thumbnail form, but it certainly needs to be the focus of the cover.

 

4. Words are pictures, too

When your creativity is completely set free, your typography may end up looking like an image in and of itself.

Thinking of your imagery and typography as overlapping working parts can give you space for visual puns (like the small bombs on Karan Mahajan’s cover), hint at the characters or plot of the book, or even just allow you to exercise some creative license.

If your lettering is large and simple, it also adds character and room for some fun ideas. David Nicholls’ Us, similar to the design of some of his earlier novels, plays with this idea by having figures hang from and walk along the lettering of the title itself.

5. Consider the visual hierarchy

An awareness of the visual hierarchy of your text will make your book cover look professional and easy to navigate. Readers will assume what is important by the weight and size of the lettering, and you can direct their gazes accordingly.

The title, the author name, and (if applicable) your subtitle should be easily identifiable. Lisa Manterfield’s book cover strikes a balance between title and author name. It also follows the golden rule: if in doubt, keep it simple.

Natural contrast (light text on a dark background, for example) is a seamless way to highlight and make clear the information that you want your reader to receive.

What you’re seeking is balance: a delicate chemistry between image, text, and other information. Simply put, if your image is super busy, keep the type simple. But if you’ve got a large chunk of text that needs to go on the front cover, keep the imagery pared back.

The crux of typography on book covers is the potential to maximize the impact of your book title, and your book cover as a whole. When done well, it is an effective tool to utilize in order to give your book the best chance on the shelves, and hopefully you now have the tools to do just that.


This content was contributed by Reedsy and includes one or more affiliate links for their products and/or services. Writer’s Digest participates in various affiliate marketing programs, which means we may get paid commissions on editorially chosen products and services purchased through our links to retailer and partner sites.


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Writing Exercise: Judge a Book By its Cover

Everyone knows the old adage that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. However, imagining what a book might be about based on what you see on the cover can be a useful writing exercise.

This is the idea behind the recurring segment on Late Night with Seth Meyers, called “Fred Judges a Book by its Cover.” In this segment, Meyers begins by saying that Armisen is very busy and does not have any time to read, not even one minute. However, Armisen claims to have the ability to know the entire plot of a book simply by looking at the image on the front cover.

To test his ability, Meyers will show Armisen the cover of a newly released book for him to look at and guess how the story goes. Of course, Armisen’s fake plots are always far-fetched, make little sense and have zero resemblance to what the book is actually about. But that’s not to say that hilarity and creativity do not ensue.

Why not try Armisen’s activity to stimulate your own creativity? Many book jackets have beautiful designs, but are vague enough that the story you invent won’t be a rip-off of the book it actually represents. To avoid being too influenced by the real plot of a book, try this activity using the covers of books that you have not read or with books written by authors you are unfamiliar with. Do not read the plot summary on the back cover until you have written your own story.

Take it to the Next Level 

Try this exercise for an entire series of books. Find a series you haven’t read (and know nothing about) in your local bookstore. Think of a plot inspired by each book cover. In the true spirit of a book series, each of the stories you create must build upon the story you thought of for the previous book in the series.


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