Fonts for Formatting: Covers

A series looking at the use of fonts in manuscripts by publisher Connor Sansby of Whisky & Beards. This essay deals with covers.

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Pulling off an effective cover can be a laborious task, and there are designers who focus specifically on creating the best possible covers, putting years of artistic talent into their work. Having a rough idea of how to use fonts won’t turn you into a killer designer overnight but for the authors with no budget to employ a designer, it can be a helpful starting place.

Firstly, go simple. There are dozens of elaborate designs that you might think scream “arty book title” but take a quick look at the cover of your favourite author. Many of them will use elegant, effective typography to create something iconic.

Something like Times New Roman, Arial or Baskerville will look infinitely better than something overly frilly or unpolished. Designers are good at their job because they understand discipline and the rules of design.

The fonts you consider “classic” have stood the test of time, in some cases hundreds of years, whereas the elaborate fonts typically are single purpose or shortcuts for a designer. Ian McEwan’s Solar is an excellent example of a simple cover creating a powerful image. Remember, you are a writer, not a designer. Stick to basic rules such as contrasting colour, instead of trying to reinvent the rule.

Consider your genre. A romance novel might do well with elaborate handwriting-styled scripts but that would be entirely inappropriate for a sci-fi story. There are many basic fonts that will work for every genre but you may wish to use a more decorative font for a particular highlight. If you want to use one decorative font, try putting the rest of the text in an even simpler font to make full use of the contrast.

Limit yourself to two fonts. Pair them well, look for similarities between letters in fonts; circular Gs rather than oval shapes. Don’t use fonts that are too similar such as Arial and Calibri though because this looks more like an accident than a design choice. Pairing Calibri with Arial Narrow might make a distinctive look however.

Never stretch your font out. This will make it look disproportioned and possibly pixelated. If your font doesn’t fit, reconsider its placing or chose a different font. Don’t become so bound to a font that you will sacrifice the quality of your cover.

Don’t try using more fonts than the cover needs. Again, simplicity is the rule. Playing with font sizing can lead to better results than alternate fonts.

Use something between 10-14 for the blurb, quotes, reviews, endorsements and any other fluff text you may want to use. 18-36 for the subtitle, your name and the minor words in the title such as “the” “and” and “of”. Unless you’re notably famous, in which case you can hire a designer, your name isn’t all that important. Likewise, you shouldn’t hide your name. 48-72 for the main title. This should be the main focus of a cover and thus should be the biggest piece of text. Your book will often be seen as a thumbnail online, so a large title will encourage readers to check you out.

Be realistic with what you can achieve. Cover design doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be a great way to break up blocks of writing and it can inspire choices in your book. Self-designing doesn’t mean you have to settle with mediocre cover art, it just means treating what is available to you with respect.

Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.

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