By Linda Donaldson
Five seconds! That’s how long a buyer spends evaluating your book’s cover, so your choice of images and text are critical. Here are ways to win that brief encounter.
Too much text and competing images can deter the reader. Even crowding covers with two separate images can be confusing.
Online covers are shown in thumbnail size, so pare back the elements you include, and consider what your design’s title and author name look like when greatly reduced.
Print books can enjoy extra “sales” space on their back covers – where readers spend about an extra 15 seconds. Ebooks only display front covers.
Fiction covers should be character-neutral. If you do include an image of a person, don’t choose a very specific face. Ethnicity, race or age may limit readership and reduce the market. By contrast, silhouetted or shadowed portraits leave identifiable traits to your readers’ imaginations, allowing them to identify as the protagonist.
When arranging text and images, leave space around the type. When text overprints a picture, the point size should be large or bold and in a contrasting color.
Warm brown and green backgrounds convey a positive vibe. Reds and yellows suggest action or adventure, while dark blues, purples and black are more ominous. The Young Adult market favors peach, lavender, lime, flamingo, or other upbeat shades.
Examine other covers in your genre – romance, sci-fi, thriller, mystery, historical fiction or non-fiction – and note the background colors. Familiarize yourself with font designs in serif* or sans-serif,** italic, regular or bold, and various point sizes. Note those used for title, subtitle and author’s name.
For instance, thrillers tend to have big, tall titles using sans-serif typefaces. Though title and author are usually paramount, some non-fiction or historical fiction may need subtitles or series numbers.
To fit longer titles or subtitles, try condensed typefaces, multiple lines or caps and lower case instead of all caps. In text however, large blocks of all caps should be avoided. Don’t use very small italics or stylized fonts, because sans-serif fonts would be easier to read.
Designers advise no more than two font families for a book cover. Some info-rich titles and subtitles on non-fiction books may be exceptions, still no more than three fonts are recommended. Font families include regular, bold and italic styles.
The latest trend in adult or YA books is omitting the word “by” before the author’s name. Be sure that the placement, size and style of type you use for the name contrast with the title to avoid confusion.
Using “by” doesn’t apply to picture books. When the author and illustrator are different, “written by” is for the author and “illustrated by” for the artist. If author does both, use “written and illustrated by.”
Rank all potential cover elements – image, title, subtitle, tag line, and author’s name – by importance. Assign a font size, font weight (regular, italic or bold), and color based on rank.
Black is the most dominant color for text. Red is next, and alternatives are dark shades of brown, blue and green. Next are light colors on dark backgrounds: orange, yellow, pale brown, green and blue.
Some fiction books use a tag line with a “hook” to pique a reader’s curiosity without revealing too much of the plot. If your character’s profession, setting or other element would attract certain readers, then consider adding a brief tag line. For instance, there are cozy mysteries that include cooking, bookshop, antiques or bed & breakfast themes.
Remember – the more eyes, the better! Judging a book by its cover is very subjective, so seek input from as many others as you can. Don’t stay wed to your first draft, and listen to feedback. Other opinions may be just the input you need to steer your book onto the best-seller list!
*Serif – a slight projection finishing off a stroke of a letter in certain typefaces. Some of the most commonly used serif fonts include Times New Roman, Garamond, Baskerville, Georgia and Courier New.
**Sans-serif – typefaces without serifs. Some of the most commonly used sans-serif fonts include: Arial, Helvetica, Proxima Nova, Futura and Calibri.