Writing on the outside: Maximising the function of cover text
While the author is best placed to write the cover content, it’s the designer’s job to maximise its effect. This collaboration works better when the author sees things from a design and marketing perspective.
As a cover designer, I understand that what I’m creating isn’t necessarily a piece of art in itself but more an advert for someone else’s art, in this case – a book. And in any effective advert, a key part of that message lies not only in the actual words but how those words are presented. So what kinds of text can we find on book covers and how can it be used to maximise a book’s marketability?
Personally, I’d prefer using a clean Sans or Serif font. Thematic fonts can be effective but they MUST be legible and not outstay their welcome through overuse. There are some fonts that need to be wiped from existence entirely. On more than one occasion I found myself on politely explaining to an author why Papyrus or Comic Sans isn’t going to help their book sales!
Lazy and thoughtless title design stands out because it doesn’t stand out. It should be the centre piece of the cover and compliment the imagery in terms of style and tone. More often than not, the cover image will reflect the name of the book and this helps to reinforce the title or theme.
While Stephen King and Hillary Mantel can sell a book with their name alone, an indie author won’t. With that in mind then, why waste valuable cover space with JOE BLOGGS’ name taking up a quarter of the page? Personally, I tend to favour a small author name and I’m still amazed at how a little extra tracking (spacing) between the letters can really set it off.
In some ways the tagline, if used, can be more important than the title because it tells people why the book is worth reading in one sharp sentence. Taglines are best kept under 10 words and not ‘mumbled’.
Most of us like to read a few reviews before purchasing something new and there’s a term for it, it’s called ‘social proof’. It’s highly effective in marketing so if you’re lucky enough to have had your book reviewed before release then be sure to get it on the front of the cover. Use no more than a small sentence at most, for example – “Accomplished, atmospheric and thoughtful”. Review quotes will always make a book shine brighter.
I never judge my clients book blurb content unless it doesn’t fit, meaning either the font size has to be reduced to its smallest limits or there’s no room for any other text on the back. As a guide, blurbs should be no more than approximately 175 words maximum for a standard 8” x 5” book.
Less is more – don’t chew your readers’ ear off! I usually position my authors’ Bio’s at the bottom near the barcode and there’s nothing worse than making it look shoe-horned due to overcrowding.
A final note
Of course I’m only scratching the surface on each of these points but I’m interested to know what others think, particularly from different areas of book publishing. Feel free to comment.
Ryan is a graphic designer from South Wales, UK, and owner of Old Bridge Design Solutions. He has specialised in book cover design since 2011 when he set up Love Your Covers, a cover design service for self-publishing authors.