This is Part 2 in the How to Design a Book Cover series.
Some of the most important considerations in designing a book cover will be the colors, the fonts (or text) and photos (or images, sketches, etc.) Designers are often very selective when it comes to these elements and how they’ll be used. They may even create a specific color palette or list of fonts they won’t stray from in their design.
You don’t have to be an expert in design to understand the basics about color. Every color has meaning. Sometimes we consciously recognize their meanings, sometimes subconsciously. But the color you choose for your book will impact what the cover says about the story, whether for good or bad.
There are some guides to the meanings of color that give you a good general concept of those meanings. But as with anything, these are not hard and fast rules, especially if you know what you’re doing. It begins with your story. What do you want readers to first feel about your story when they see your cover? Happy? Sad? Amused? Creeped out?
What is the story about? Is it dark and moody? Light and happy? Make a list of words that define your story, find a color wheel on the internet and see which colors make you feel the same way those words do.
Within colors there are a few other levels. Do you want your colors bright and saturated? More dull and muted? Do you want cool colors or warm colors? Pastel or dark?
If this is already too much information for you, no problem, you can still communicate these things to a designer without knowing all the terms. Go to your story and find the words that describe it. What industries are they like? Is ice cream a symbol in your story? You could say, maybe colors like you would find in an ice cream parlor. Or is it about a military-style world? Military-style colors then. Does it take place in the woods? Woodsy, earthen colors.
Trust me, the more descriptions like these you can give your designer, the more you’ll spark the creative centers of their brains. (Just don’t go all auteuer on them. We’ll discuss what that means later).
Summing up on color, be sure to identify:
- What emotions do I want to convey at first glance about my story?
- What kind of story is it? (Happy, pensive, moody, dark, comedic, etc.)
- Are there any thematic pieces or locations, etc. in my story I could use to describe the colors I want?
Fonts are the style of text you can use in design. There’s a whole slew of cool fonts out there, but when selecting the one you want, make sure you glance at the copyrights usage. Even if it says “free” it may not actually be free.
You can also just stick to the font package that came with the Adobe Suite or those that come standard with most computers. When it comes to fonts the same thing applies. Use a font that has something to do with your story. Let it convey the emotion you want.
When it comes to your title, another possibility is to have your designer or an illustrator draw or create something original. They can also just modify standard fonts to reflect your story.
Remember, your book cover is a complete package. You may have the right colors, but if you use the wrong font you can immediately lose any professionalism you might have had on your cover. This is why it’s better to hire a designer, even if it’s a kid making their way through school. Offer to edit their papers for them or do some kind of exchange if you lack the money.
But if you still insist on doing it yourself (again unless you’re a graphic designer by trade I am strongly advising you against this), I’ll give you a few basic tips when choosing a font.
- Go back to your story. Does the font you’ve chosen reflect the mood you want to express about your story?
- Compare fonts. Try out the cover with different fonts, print out each version and compare them. Have friends give feedback on which they liked best and why.
- Look at a printed off copy of your cover from different distances. Pretend you’re a potential buyer walking by a table or looking at the shelf in the distance. Can you read the font you’ve chosen from a few paces away? Does the font convey the mood you want from those different distances?
This category includes any kind of graphic you want to stick on the front, be it a sketch, illustration, photo—any kind of image.
Images are another big piece of the book cover puzzle. If you choose unwisely, even if you have the right font and colors you can still collapse any sort of professionalism. Examine the covers of the books that are like yours. What sort of images did they choose? Why do you think they chose those images and can they tell you anything about what image you should choose?
Consider what standards your genre may have established as well. Romance novels are more likely to have a good-looking couple on the front, but you likely wouldn’t see that for a historical fiction World War 2 novel.
People tend to get complex with design, but you can always go simple and still look professional. Maybe your novel is about high school, so your cover image is the front of a locker. Or more specifically, the basketball team during high school, so you use an image of the hoop or the basketball. Or perhaps your protagonist is troubled, so you have an image of his crumpled basketball jersey on the gym floor. I hope you’re beginning to see where I’m going with this.
You may be tempted to take this picture yourself, and as always, I’ll advise you to let a professional do it for you. Most of us in our repertoire of friends has someone who’s really good at taking photos. Have them do it, and give them creds in your book (it’s always nice to say on the resume: my work has been featured as the cover this novel, etc.) Bake them cookies if you need to sweeten the deal.
This is why networking tends to come in handy. If you’re not to book cover designing stage yet, don’t hesitate to reach out to your group of friends and figure out who has what skill. An engaging photo can take care of a lot of design effort all by itself.
So, when choosing an image for your cover:
- Consider what it is telling a potential reader about your book. Is it sending them the message you want? Does it match the genre? Is it engaging from a few paces away? Across the room?
- Use professional images. Have a friend take one, or use one of the stock image services online. Shutterstock, for example, will let you purchase one of their images for $19. You can use this image up to 250,000 times with a standard license (which means you can have 250,000 copies of your book out there). Over 250,000 gets pricier, but if you’re making it into the 200,000 range, simply buy an extended license with all the money you’ve made from selling so many books. 😉 There are lots of different companies out there that sell royalty-free images. Be sure to read their licenses so you know what you’re getting when you buy. Download the largest size they offer.
- Whatever image you use, make sure it’s an extremely high resolution. Standard web images are not typically the right resolution for printing. If you are only ever planning to do an ebook, if there’s even the smallest possibility of hard copies, stick with a higher resolution. You don’t want your cover to look fuzzy. And the rule of thumb in images is you can always make it smaller, but you can’t typically go from small to large without losing quality.
You won’t learn everything you need to know from a few blog posts on cover design, but hopefully you understand the amount of thought that needs to go into designing that cover.
If you are working with a designer, you now have a basic idea of what runs through their head when they design. Putting some thought into color, fonts, and photos will give you better words to use when telling them what kind of cover you want. Instead of saying, “Make it cool,” you can use words like: “It’s kind of a dark, moody story, so maybe colors that are more subdued and dark.” or “It’s a story about young woman who battles cancer with her positive attitude, so something that’s not too happy but hints of better things to come. Nothing dark, maybe just muted or pastel colors—something that says feminine.” etc. etc. etc.
Adjectives are helpful too: courageous, optimistic, hopeful. Or for the darker story: Broody, mysterious, sinister, etc.
Now about this auteur stuff. Remember one thing: trust in those with whom you’re collaborating. What do I mean? I mean if you like enough what the graphic designer did to hire them, trust that they’re good at what they do. Make it a collaborative effort. Your designer may have ideas you never would have thought of that will make you a fabulous cover—if you let them. So give them an idea of what you’re looking for and let them have at it. Don’t be a control freak over every little detail–that’s what I mean about not being an auteur.
Tomorrow the basic Do’s and Don’ts of book cover design. Since I know some of you are going to attempt all of this on your own anyway, there are a few basic things you should understand before you do attempt it. See you then!
One more thing. If you have book covers you like that you feel utilize these principles well, feel free to link to them in the comments below. And if you have any further questions on book cover design, include those as well.