22 Feb 2012
As I mentioned in my first post on the subject, you can do a lot with nothing but text on your covers. There are four things (in my opinion) to think about when dealing with text: font, size, placement, and effects. I will go through each of them in turn below. Keep in mind that these are all guidelines, and that once you know what you are doing, you can break them.
Pick a font that fits your story. Do not go for an embellished, script-style font when writing science fiction. Similarly, don’t use an angular, modern font when writing fantasy or historical fiction. When in doubt, choose a plain font over a stylized one. And you should probably stay away from Comic Sans (unless you are writing a story called “I Hate Comic Sans”).
Once you pick your font, stick with it for the entire cover. Consistency is often shorthand for “professional looking”.
Since you are working on a cover for an e-book, there is something you need to remember about your text. It has to look good and be legible when shrunk down to the size of a postage stamp, because that is how people will see it when they are browsing through Amazon or Smashwords or wherever. What that means is that your title should be in as big of a font as possible (short of running into the edges).
After that, remember that people will automatically assign importance to the words based on their size. Which means that your name should be in a smaller font than the title. You will notice that the more popular an author, the larger their name is on the cover. That is because they are a brand, and readers are more interested in finding books by them than with what the actual title is. If you fall into this category, you don’t need this guide, just ask your graphic artist to make the book look good.
What this means is that once you figure out how big to make your title, drop the font size down a notch for your name and stuff like “a short story” or “a novel”. If you have blurbs from people, those should be smaller still.
Fortunately, if you got the size right, you can place things just about anywhere, people will pick up on it (which is how a tag cloud works, when you think about it). In general, people (who speak English at least, other languages have different conventions) will read from left to right and top to bottom, which means that its hard to go wrong with having the title up top (but centering it works well, too).
The more important part is having sufficient whitespace (or blank space for those of you not using a white background) around your text. If you don’t, things will run together and be difficult to read (impossible to read at postage-stamp size). Furthermore, whitespace around your words will make them stand out, so giving them a bit of a buffer will make them seem larger and more important. As a general rule, the importance of something on a page is inversely proportional to the amount of whitespace surrounding it.
Plain text may seem boring, but there are all sorts of things you can do with it. You can play with the colors (think of the Google logo), the alignment, the orientation, all sorts of things. I’m not going to talk about this much, as once you start paying attention to covers, you start noticing ones that use nothing but text and look amazing (the cover image above is a good example). So experiment and see what you can come up with.
Next time I’ll start to talk about images. If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments.