Do Judge a Book by its Cover Pt 2: Typography
Printed books are back in favour and publishers and critics are in agreement – the key to hooking readers is in producing stunning books. This matters more than it has for quite some time because of the level of competition from other formats. The aesthetic qualities of a printed book will probably be the deciding factor as to whether or not you make a sale.
Following on from her article about cover design, we caught up with Matador’s Chelsea Taylor and spoke to her about the specifics of the design process – from typography, to layout, to jacket embellishments. Rachel then worked with her to write an article, which is an amalgamation of our top tips for designing a quality cover.
This is the word used to describe the way that the text appears on the cover. It encompasses the font that you choose, plus any effects that you add to the lettering to create the over all design. It is as crucial to the design as the imagery, if not more so. Be creative with it; words don’t always have to be laid out as you would expect them to be, ie. in a straight line. Integrate the text and the images. Don’t be tempted to design a fancy picture and then rush the text. The cover must be designed with the two elements – the picture and the typography – in mind, so that they work well together. The worst examples of cover design often fail due to a lack of cohesion between the typography and the rest of the design.
Most of the time, fonts that you have on your computer will be sufficient but if you decide you would like something different, there are plenty of font websites where you can download fonts for free. One of those is Font Squirrel. While it is not the most comprehensive site, it is clear on the important things like permissions (by hovering over a font you can see whether or not you can use it on a publication). There is also a handy search bar where you can browse fonts by style, which can be really useful when you are in need of extra inspiration.
Long words can be tricky. How about splitting one word across a few lines? One of my favourite examples of this is The Executioner’s Tale, a Matador title. It can save the need to produce much imagery for some genres where text-based covers are favoured, but can work just as well for fiction books too…. provided it is done skillfully. In terms of how bold and chunky the text should be, aim to fit the available space. Partially, this will be based on your own gauge of what looks right, but often the space that you have will dictate exact the font that you can use, once you have narrowed it down by genre. Familiarise yourself with books in general. Go on a tour of your local bookshops. Rapidly, you will start to see that each genre has common aspects that distinguish it at a glance.
Spine and Back Cover Design
I cannot stress how important it is that the spine works as part of the design and as a well-designed section of the cover in its own right. It is the first thing that most readers will see in a bookshop; as such, it should work just as hard as the front and back covers. Make it interesting.
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Similarly, your back cover is the home of your blurb. As such, it’s going to get noticed before the book has been purchased. Try to make it a continuation of your front cover and spine, so that if you were to lay the book flat, cover up, the imagery would flow from one edge of the book to the other. Typography can be useful with this. While often, it won’t be practical to use the title font for the whole blurb (it may be less legible when viewed smaller and bunched together), consider using it to highlight key words in the blurb or pick out the tagline. Then, use a more readable font to write the bulk of the blurb (perhaps even the font that you have used inside the body of the book).
If you are producing a print run and fancy embellishing your design with things like gold foil, shiny lettering (embossing), decompressed areas of a text or image (debossing), and much more besides, get in touch with your printers to see how much these extra embellishments cost. You will also want to consider finishes on covers, eg. would you like it matt, supermatt (really, really matt) or glossy? As with most decisions, this will depend on genre largely, as well as personal preference. Matt tends to be most common for fiction books at the moment but there are still some titles sold in gloss, such as some children’s books. Again, be mindful of trends – booksellers will be more likely to stock your work if your books are what their customers are looking for.
Really, the key takeaways from this should be that you need a striking, high quality design that works for the format. And as always, if in doubt, ask the experts – they will have experience of doing this and can use their designers’ eye to work out how everything could fit together.