Hi, you! It’s Blogger Bits day today, the most anticipated and innovative blogging idea according to a very scientifically reliable source, aka me.
Today’s bookish topic is something I’m very passionate about. So, drum rolls…
BOOK COVERS (right, I wrote it in the title, so no surprise. Pretend to be surprised, humor me).
At first I thought of doing a post about my personal preferences, my favorite color schemes, fonts or cover models (of course. Can’t forget the abs), but then I thought of doing something a bit different.
Since I design book covers as a hobby and side business, I often find myself analyzing other designers’ works and, in a nutshell, what works in the industry.
In my opinion book covers have two main goals:
- Catching the readers’ eye and holding their attention
- Representing the book and especially the genre
The cover needs to give you info about the content. If you’re writing a sweet romance and you put a half-naked woman in the throes of ecstasy, you will not only have deceived your readers (who will expect the nookie at some point), but also confused them. Of course, it doesn’t mean the author isn’t allowed to surprise their readers, but matching the package to the content sure helps the reader know what to expect.
That being said, I am going to do a little bit of do’s and don’ts in the designing world.
Disclaimer: THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS. I mean, think of Kristen Ashley’s covers! What I’ll be discussing here is what happens to appear on the majority of best-selling books in the Contemporary Romance genre. And what doesn’t.
Second disclaimer: I’ll just be pointing out really commonplace and already well-known facts. So don’t expect secret tips or anything. It’s a mere analysis.
I took all the covers from Amazon’s bestsellers list so some of them will have the KU bar on top. Sorry about that.
Let’s start with… real drum roll here…
- Drop the Serif! If you’re looking for an all cap title, then there’s no room for Serifs. Straight lines, clear edges, popping colors.
2. Mix up handwritten fonts with all caps. Especially if the title isn’t composed only of two or three words, it helps spice it up and highlight certain strategic words. Let’s take “The Knocked Up Plan” as an example (see below). The more “specific” word (or rather, construction) in the title is not certainly the article, or even ‘Plan’. ‘Knocked Up’ tells you what you really need to know about the book: it is about pregnancy. The plan part adds something to the main message: the pregnancy is going to be programmed. Still, what you focus on is the colored, bold, capitalized part.
3. Also, use different colors for different fonts. These three covers are very monochromatic, so the title can easily pop up and also needs to be the eye-catching factor.
- If you don’t like all caps, then another huge trend is simple handwritten fonts. Also, the more it looks like someone actually took a pen and wrote it, with all the smudges and imperfections of the case, the better. Some examples are: Lemon Tuesday, Honey Script, Beacon, Selima etc. If in the past decades, tidy, italics fonts were all the rage, now we want the flawed, wonky, more realistic (handwriting-wise) ones.
Another trend is using very specific key words that instantly identify the trope of the book. I’m talking about “Alpha” “Neighbor” “Cop” “Best Friend” “Enemy” “Room Mate” “Breeding”. You all know what I’m talking about. I shouldn’t even be saying this, but tropes factor a lot in choosing what to read next. Knowing a certain trope is present in a book already tells you there are going to be some stereotyped situations and dynamics, which are what we expect to find and the reason we love that trope so much.
What not to do, which is something I struggle with every day, is embossing the words. There’s a tool on Photoshop that allows you to make the words look like they’re 3D, but it’s not trending and sometimes even adding a shadow is overkill. So keep it simple and 2D. Also, yay to slight patterns but no simple gradients. No.
- Again, Sans Serif is the most common choice. I’m not gonna post examples, just scroll up and you’ll notice it. It goes without saying that the font used for the author name should be consistent throughout all their works. It’s their brand. See?
- Don’t be afraid to space the letters. Of course, it depends on the length of the name, but it can help make the name stand out more, stretching it without stretching the font itself, which is a cardinal sin in designing.
- About the colors, stick with black or white depending on the background. Very few authors dare choose different hues, probably because they’d be less visible.
- Dun dun dun duuuun. The ABS dilemma. I’ve read somewhere (can’t remember where unfortunately) that like 60% or even more of romance covers feature a man often shirtless. A lot less have a couple or a woman on the front (of course, since math is not an opinion). The thing is, lots or readers are complaining about the abs galore, while others are completely fine with it. There’s not a rule about it. Lots of Amazon bestsellers sport a six pack. What is sure is that it makes the cover just one of many. Abs are abs, right? In that case, the only thing able to make it stand out is the talent of the designer and a clever choice of title and colors. On the other hand, abs DO sell, so if you’re a debut author and want to make sure at least someone will be drawn to your book, then abs will do the trick.
My advice for authors is to try to understand whether or not an ab cover matches the content. If the book is about a ripped navy or a MMA fighter, then I can see how the abs would fit. But don’t shove a six pack in my face when the hero is an hacker who runs as a hobby. Likewise, don’t choose a smoking hot vixen of a bombshell if the heroine is a nerdy, clumsy bookworm. It’s just not cool.
TAGLINES and AWARDS
1. Not fresh news by any means. Taglines definitely help giving the reader some more intel about what they’re gonna find inside and can hook the reader’s curiosity, but usually they’re so tiny you can’t even read them, am I right? About the awards… I don’t even notice them and talking to some friends I’ve gathered similar responses. Of course, if I were an author and had become an NYT best seller or whatever, I wanted to let everyone know about it. My advice is: don’t make it the focus of your cover because that’s usually not what readers are interested in. Besides, if you’re famous, your name will do all the work.
1. Black is the new black. When in doubt, a blackish, dark background is the way to go. Plus, it goes perfectly with a mouthwatering set of abs, but if anyone asks I didn’t tell you that. White backgrounds work better for sweet romances and rom coms than for contemporary ones with a heavy heaping of hotness. They go hand in hand with tortured heroes, MC, mafia, fighter hero, even football romances, and overall steamy books. Let’s not forget that most web pages have white backgrounds and white covers tend to blend and not stand out (hence why amazon advises creating a little frame for white covers so that you’ll be able to see where it starts and ends).
- Bright and pastel colors for the title. Look at the three covers above here. Bright pastel, bright red and another pastel. Don’t know why is that, I just know that I love them!
Titles are usually sans serif if capitalized, or handwritten, and often mixed up. Same with the colors, that are usually pastels or very bright.
The author name is sans serif and bold too, but the lines are usually lighter than than the all cap titles. Also, it can be spaces out with extra spaces between the letter and it should be consistent in style but don’t go too crazy with the colors and keep it visible, but simple.
The abs dilemma is still open, but in general make sure it fits the story before slapping a slab of meat on the front of your cover.
Taglines may be useful but are rarely read, and awards are always almost ignored.
As for the background, choose it accordingly to your genre and to the atmosphere of the story, but keep in mind that white-ish covers stand out less on the internet because of the already white background of most retailers.
I’m sure there are many other things I could say, especially if we were to dig in a single subgenre, but these are the main things I noticed while analyzing and designing.
Personally, I prefer covers that truly represent the book, its atmosphere. I love to see details on the cover and then find them in the book too the way it was for The Hot Shot by Callihan, with Finn’s tattoo. Also, I love very the artistic ones in which you can see the talent of the designer behind the cover. Plus, after a conversation I had a while ago with Corina and author Rebecca Prescott, I realized that hiding the face of a male model from the cover may help the reader visualize their own hero, without being conditioned by the model, like it happened to me, for example, with Finishline by Cambria Hebert. I had envisioned a completely different face for Hopper.
What do you think? Did I get it right? Wrong? Agree? Disagree? Do you like the current trends?