Friday, September 13, 2013

The Right Font for Your eBook Cover: A Case Study

I've had some compliments on my book jackets and other design items and I'm always reluctant to mention to folks who like them that I have done every one of them myself. I have been a graphic designer, editor and writer for about ten years and the design part of a book launch is one of the really fun parts.

Don't get me wrong; it's also agonizing, excruciating and detailed work. I have been known to go through over seventy versions of a cover before settling on the one that goes out on launch day. I've even been known to redo covers after launch. Hey, I'm incredibly particular.

Scarlett Rugers is extremely adept at creating eye-catching, beautifully rendered covers. I don't hesitate to recommend her work when peers inevitably ask me to do covers for them. Let's be real: I barely have time to sneeze, let alone write, design, market, AND help out other's design their book jackets.

But that's what Scarlett is for. And trust me, she's good. I don't recommend folks I don't believe in. Recently, I asked Scarlett if she'd like to guest post for me. What follows is her incredibly thoughtful look at fonts on covers. After you read this over and get a feel for it, head over to Scarlett's website for another instalment of design talk.

How to choose the right font for your eBook cover: 

A Case Study: Part 1

There are many authors who decide to delve into the DIY Universe of book covers, to save money or even just to flex their artistic skill. What I see is that they get the image right but when it comes to choice of fonts for their eBook there’s major fail. Typography (i.e.:application of type) is a very important skill when it comes to design and needs time and energy, just like anything else, to develop. 
Here are a few quick pointers which can help you decide on the right font face for most basic designs across the board. Each cover should be treated differently but if you’re not sure where to start here are a couple of recommendations.
When picking your font faces the first thing you need to do is assess your competition. Head on over to Goodreads and look up on ‘listopia’ all the other covers in your genre. Pinterest is also another good website which you can use to insert a category and go  ‘window shopping’. 
Ask yourself these questions:
  1. What type of font face am I seeing most often in my genre? 
  1. Is there a combination of typefaces happening? Is more than one typeface being used on a cover?
  2. Where is the text being placed, and is there special treatment required such as drop shadows/gradients/adjustments?
  3. MOST IMPORTANT: What type of font faces do I really want to use because I think they look cool? And now, out of these font faces, are any of them actually applicable  to this book cover? (Remember, just because you think a font face looks great on one cover doesn’t mean it’s going to work on yours). 

Case Study: Ceaseless by R. A. Owen

Genre: Y/A Paranormal/Female readers/ 13-24
Story: A young girl struggles to find happiness when, at the age of 10, she stops aging. She is treated as a scientific experiment and is forced, over the generations, to watch her friends and family pass away. She’s forced to face torturous and painful experiences while the doctors and military work on her. Unable to mentally deal with the confinements and constant torture she retreats inside, seeking an answer from within, only to find herself spending more and more time in this empty, silent space. 
We’ve chosen an image from Shutterstock that works beautifully on its own and doesn’t need any extra tampering:

A book cover like this can often come to me with type applied like this:

Version 1

This type came about in an effort to combine the idea of ‘YA for females’ and ‘paranormal’. Let’s run through the design step by step:
  1. The lack of colour used in the title along with a heavy drop shadow makes the text hard to read at both large and thumbnail formats.
  2. Although the use of a script is a good idea, this particular script gives off the wrong vibes. It says historical, it says girlish, it says romantic. 
  3. By using the same typeface for the title and the name means the title has to compete for attention and the decorative effect of it is lost. When we want maple syrup on our pancakes we don’t want maple-syrup-pancakes, we want just a dabble so that it has a delicious effect instead of being overpowering. 
  4. The typeface used for the byline When we forget who we are… conflicts with the title treatment because that says strongly sci-fi/paranormal. 
  5. The colour of the title and name has been drawn directly from the image. This is never a bad thing, but the hues are wrong. They’re a little bit dead and flat.

Version 2 

  1. Right now the book cover is trying to target ‘men who like paranormal-military stories (i.e.: the Stencil font face)’ and ‘young women who like paranormal-coming-of-age stories (i.e.: the cover image)’.
Your book should not be targeting everyone. If you’re trying to target all readers from all ages and backgrounds this is a big mistake. Targeting is important, and will boost your sales when done right. Our demographic are young female readers, so the stencil is completely over the top. 
  1. Again the same use of font face for the title and the name and the byline means we are completely overwhelmed by the style, and essentially renders using that specific typeface useless. In using this type face we would want to give the ‘military’ feel, but by using it over and over again instead of it being military it ends up being only military. We know the story isn’t about that because of the image used, but when there’s no balance in the type treatment the reader ends up not knowing what the reason for using it was.
  2. They’ve drawn the cover directly from the red ribbon in her hair. This is a great place to start but I’m not sure it’s quite the right read. It’s a bit pastel and lacks punch. Just as the typeface, the colour has been way overused which dilutes the effect. 
  3. Because the background is pale against the colour, drop shadows are unnecessary. 

Now that we’ve analysed why these particular covers don’t work, onto Part 2 to find out how they can work… 

Scarlett Rugers is a professional book cover designer, from Melbourne Australia. She's worked with both self-published authors and traditional publishing houses, dedicating her time to make authors feel like best sellers. 
Her goal is to help change the stigma of self-publishing and show it's a professional field of high quality. She does this by designing beautiful book covers and working together with authors to produce the best book they can, and to encourage development of their skills in writing and publishing. 
She has also been writing since 1998, and has published the non-fiction book of 1001 First Lines, and Oscar & Josephine, a fictional novella. You can find her here:


  1. Good advice, however, it's not specific to ebooks, but applies generally to all book covers. The quickest telltale sign that warns me away from unprofessionally published books is the cover design, more specifically, the application of type.

    With my own background in graphic design, and as an editor at Publish magazine specializing in typography, I am more sensitive than most to these issues. Yet typography (as well as color and other design elements) has a subtle, subliminal effect on potential readers that even they are often unaware of.

    The one caveat I would add to Scarlett's advice here, is that the size of the type is a critical consideration when considering how the thumbnail will appear online. Even in her final rendering of the case study, the tagline is so tiny as to be difficult to read in the image displayed in the article. If it's essential it should be enlarged; if not, it should be removed in the thumbnail version, in my opinion. It's fine to have two versions of a book cover: one for print and a simplified one for thumbnail viewing (maintaining the same basic elements for easy recognition).

    1. You're right, Marty. Of course the advice is good for print books as well. It's good for cover design for every medium, really. You could apply it to album covers for your fave musical artists too. I can't speak for Scarlett, but I imagine the blog post title was intended to strike while the iron's hot as it were. eBooks are a big deal at the moment and many indie authors still do eBooks only, and traipse little into the land of print books. I got a lot of visits to this post and wonder if framing it as an eBook post helped with that.

      I'm curious about your comments regarding the tagline being small to read on thumbnails. I've yet to encounter an online retailer that allows a different thumbnail image than the full-sized book jacket -- for eBooks and print books alike. Most often, the retailers use software to generate a thumbnail from the full-size cover and are rarely different from one another.

      Have you worked with a seller that offers this service?

  2. Hi A great article. Thanks. Olga

  3. Nice article, Which you have shared here about the graphics designing. These graphics designs are very beautiful and I liked all of these. Thanks for sharing this article here. Vfx Designer Course Thrissur


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