When I go to do a cover, the biggest time suck will inevitably be one thing.
The title font.
Occassionally, I know kind of what I’m looking for. Like the cover for “Welcome to Paradox“. I needed writing that looked like blood or red paint spread on the wall. A lot of times, however, it’s not that easy.
Finding the right font is like deciding what the book’s handwriting will look like. Handwriting analysis experts purport to give psychological insight about the person doing the writing. When you’re choosing what the title of your book should look like, the biggest thing to think about is “how does my story feel?”. Give your story a psychological profile.
Is it primitive? Is it high-tech? Is it a cold, distant account of one man’s killing spree? Is it a whimsical fantasy? These are big questions. Title fonts are visual representations of a story’s personality. If someone were to give YOU a cover, how would you feel if your name was written with little hearts over the i’s and j’s? Are you more of a stenciled look?
When talking about typography, there is a whole vocabulary to learn. Here’s a few basics:
Serif: the edges and corners are accented in some way. Think of Times New Roman. The ends of the letters have fancy extensions. That’s a serif.
Sans Serif: The big example here is Helvetica. Sans serif fonts have abrupt ends. “Sans” means “without” in French, FYI.
Kerning: Oh kerning, the silent killer. It is invisible when done correctly, glaring when it’s not. Kerning is the space between individual characters. Generally, kerning isn’t an issue for standard fonts, but when you go to buy fonts or download free ones, watch out for this! Most imaging programs will allow you to edit kerning in type, but having to do it manually is a pain. Now that you know what kerning is, go check out this XKCD comic for a laugh.
Line Spacing: Pretty self-explanatory. It’s the vertical space between two lines of text.
Point: Not something you do with your finger. This is a unit of measurement for type. One point is roughly equal to 0.013837 inch. Most regular text varies from 10-14 points, depending on the font used.
PostScript, TrueType, OpenType, et al: These are all types of font files. Today, this isn’t too much of a big deal. It used to be that certain printers would only recognize certain font files, so if your chosen font wasn’t, say, PostScript, you’d have to rasterize (more on that in a second) the type to get it to print correctly. Not really the case anymore.
Path: Fonts are basically filled in paths. These are invisible lines that define the shapes of the letters. These lines contain points that can be moved around to modify the structure.
Rasterize: When you do this to type, essentially you’re turning the letters into a simple picture, as opposed to the complex path structure. The letters are now only editable by pixel, just like a photograph would be.
There are lots and lots of other terms, but those are the basic ones you need to know regarding cover design. If you want more in-depth knowledge about typography, I recommend spending some time with Typography Deconstructed.
Readability is the second most important thing to think about when you’re looking at your title font. I talked about this some in my post on scaling images, but it bears repeating. Look at the cover when it’s tiny. Can you still read the title? If not, you need to rethink the font or the color. Thick, bold letters will almost always translate well to a thumbnail. Scripted, handwriting fonts are hit or miss, depending on how busy your graphics are as well as the contrast between the image and the type. One font does not fit all!
Another tip: after you’ve found that perfect title font, simple is always best for the author name. If your title is a plain style, it may be okay to use same one for the author’s name. But definitely, if your title font is fancy, bold, or highly stylized, go with a minimal font. San serif fonts are a good contrast, but if the one you like happens to have serifs, don’t sweat it too much. So long as it’s about a third or less of the size of your title, you’ll be fine.
Speaking of, unless you already have a famous name, don’t make the author the most prominent element of the design. Putting your name in lights works for some people, but for most of us, it just makes us look self-important and egotistical. I’m not telling anyone to hide the author’s name, but seriously. If it’s too big, not only does the writer look haughty, but it screws up the design. Let your writing speak for you. If a reader loved your book, they will remember you. They don’t need your name screaming at them from the cover.
And just because I see it so often, PLEASE stop using Papyrus and Comic Sans. Seriously. They make my eyes bleed.
Any other questions? Post them in the comments below!
Nobilis Reed says
Alessia Brio suggested Winob to me as a “signature font” — that is, a font that my name always gets on things like book covers. I think it works, and I have adopted it, especially for my less sciency stories.
I especially like how the “R” comes out in “Reed”
Starla Huchton says
Good point! Definitely something to think about. I know all of John Mierau’s covers that I’ve done have had the same author font. It’s a branding thing. It’s something for writers to think about, but I don’t think it’s a deal killer. It’s good to have that one element linking all your work, but for authors in multiple genres it might not be something they want. Also, first time authors probably aren’t worried about this either. Unless you’re working on a series (in which case the covers should probably all have the same look), a standalone title won’t need this.