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Picking the Right Fonts for Your Book Cover

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Created on: Jun 15, 2011 4:01 PM by CreateSpaceResources - Last Modified:  Jun 16, 2011 9:39 AM by CreateSpaceResources

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The following article was written exclusively for CreateSpace by Joel Friedlander. Joel is the proprietor of Marin Bookworks in San Rafael, California, a publishing services company where he's helped launch many self-published authors. He blogs about book design, writing and self-publishing at www.TheBookDesigner.com. Joel is also the author of the newly-published A Self-Publisher's Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish.

 

The cover of your book is designed to position the book in the marketplace while also enticing readers into sampling it and, ultimately, buying it. It's pretty easy to tell a professional cover from one put together by a novice, and the first giveaway is usually the fonts.

 

Some fonts simply don't work on book covers, and it's usually for one of these reasons:

 

1. They're not legible. The audience can't read them.

2. The font was never meant for display use.

3. A font may be inappropriate for the book's genre or subject.

 

Good fonts to use on your book cover are highly legible, meant for this type of display use, and appropriate for the type of book you are publishing.

 

Legibility at Small Sizes

 

You can easily check the legibility of your type by reducing the cover to a small size. If you check the size of cover thumbnail images that appear online, you'll see the covers are about 115 pixels tall.

 

At that size, see if you can still read the title. How about the subtitle? Author's name? Does the main graphic element still "read"? Can you tell what it is and why it's there?

 

This is the most important test for covers of books that are going to be sold primarily online.

 

Picking Fonts for Your Cover

 

Why do some fonts work for covers when others look out of place? It's the difference between text fonts and display fonts.

 

  • Text fonts are designed to set large amounts of text, like the pages in your book. They need to hold up at the small sizes used for text, and to hang together as words so the meaning of the piece will be clear to the reader.

  • Display faces, on the other hand, are designed to be seen in larger sizes. The proportions of the letters and the way they fit together are very different from text faces.

One example of these differences is the spacing around letters that's built into text fonts. This makes the small letters easier to read because they don't blend together even when they are 9-point type.

 

But if you enlarge text type to the size you would want on your cover, it looks completely wrong. The letters look blocky and inelegant, and elements in the type seem to float apart.

 

A good way to study the differences between display type and text type is to pay attention to the printed and online ads we see every day. These are almost all produced by advertising agencies where advertising typographers and art directors pay a lot of attention to type. What you'll notice is that almost every ad has a headline, or display typeface, and quite a different typeface for the text of the ad.

 

The same is true for book covers. Look at the covers of books from major publishers, where a lot of time and money is spent developing exactly the right look for important books. The titles of the books are in some ways very similar to the headlines in the advertisements. They are all set in display faces and help to create the basic look of the book, its branding as a consumer product, and its packaging all rolled into one.

 

Some Examples

 

Take a look at this book title, set in a Times New Roman, a typeface originally designed to be used at quite small sizes in the narrow columns of newspapers. Below it is the same title set in a display font called ChunkFive:

 

https://createspacecommunity.s3.amazonaws.com/images/Fonts-1.png

 

I think you can see clearly here that the Times New Roman is being used for something it was not intended for.

 

Here's another example using sans serif typefaces. The first one is set in Arial, the second in a display face called League Gothic:

 

https://createspacecommunity.s3.amazonaws.com/images/Fonts-2.png

 

I picked Times New Roman and Arial because they come with almost every new computer, and they are the fonts I see on book covers most often that lead to a lack of style, emphasis and impact.

 

Conventions and Genres

 

One of the jobs your cover has to do is properly position your book in the market. Readers have expectations about what books within different genres will look like, and as a publisher it's your job to know those preferences and expectations within your genre.

 

Each display typeface you consider for your book cover will communicate something different. When you survey other books that are successfully selling in the genre you want to publish in, take a look at their covers. What do the fonts used have in common?

 

Techno and political thrillers, for example, almost all use very bold, condensed sans serif display fonts. They are usually set very tightly together and at very large sizes. If the author is more famous than the book, it will be the author's name that gets the largest treatment.

 

If you write thrillers, you want surfers to identify your book as a thriller at first glance. That's part of how you attract thriller readers in the first place. The same principle applies to other book genres.

 

Font Sources

 

Buying fonts can get very expensive very quickly. Luckily, there's a great way to experiment with fonts: free font sites.

 

There are thousands of free fonts on the internet. A word of caution, however: some of the fonts you'll find are very low quality and you should skip them. The font service I like best for free fonts, and where the fonts are checked for quality, is Fontsquirrel.com.

 

Using the category filters on Fontsquirrel.com (or another free font site), check out their "Display" selections. Download a few that interest you and play around with them.

 

Actually putting fonts to use on your book cover with your own title and subtitle are the only way to see how they will look and the feeling you'll convey.

 

To get a quick look, you can use the "Test Drive" tool which allows you to put your own text into a field to see how a selected font will look.

 

Both League Gothic and Chunk Five are available free from Fontsquirrel. Here are a few more to try:

 

Birra

Coda

Matchbook

 

I hope you'll take the time to investigate display typefaces when you're ready to create your book cover. Getting the right font and making it look right is one of the most crucial steps you can take to create a really effective book cover.

 

You may also be interested in...

 

Understanding Book Elements: Fonts-Part 2

Self-Published Authors: Don't Fall Into These Cover Design Traps!

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