Cover Design

Last week I watched an SCBWI summer conference session on cover design. I heard what she said and I could even see most of it, but I’m a hands-on learner. So I decided to play around and create a cover for one of my works-in-progress, a picture book about a prickly pear and the family who shares space with it.

Please keep in mind that I know none of these are good to go. This is just me dabbling.

For attempt #1 I went with a photo for simple ease. I didn’t want a really formal font because this is picture book.

But I have to be really honest with you. This doesn’t look like a cover for a picture book. It wouldn’t even work for a nonfiction picture book. This makes me think poetry or maybe memoir.

So then I decided that I need to find something that isn’t a photo. I like the idea of focusing on the cactus but I think coming in this close won’t quite work. I want to include the human element as well since this is about the interaction between a family and a cactus.

So here’s attempt #2.

Hmm. Aside from the grey background around the two graphics (which I am not going to bother dealing with), this one has a few problems. I don’t remember the exact term the designer used but it looked like it was assembled from photos or stickers. How is that? Because you can box the toy car and the text separate from the cactus. I think I like the other font better but that is just personal preference. Text on a slant is supposed to look more vibrant and mobile. I’m not sure that’s something I need to play with for this. Cactus don’t tend to jump around a lot, not even prickly pear. And I just realized that I forgot my name. Ooops!

Yeah, I don’t like the slanted text. Is it just me or does it look like it slipped or wouldn’t fit if it was straight. Let me shift that. But I do like the new position for the toy car.

This is definitely the one that I like best. Do I love it? No. But I’ve got a much better feel now for what works and what doesn’t.

I’ll definitely be attending more illustrator’s sessions in the future.


Three Reasons I’m Glad Not to Have to Pick My Cover Art

More often than not, writers do not have to pick their own cover art if they traditionally publish.  Some people may not be comfortable with this but I don’t mind.  Why?  Let me tell you.

  1. The Cover Has to Make an Accurate First Impression. The first thing that most people notice about your book is the cover.  And the thing is that many people do judge a book by its cover.   You want to make an accurate first impression.
  2. There are Other People Who Know How to Do This.  I’ve watched how-to videos and various talks on cover design.  They talk about selecting the right image (person, place or object), the right colors and the right font.  They talk about guiding the would-be buyers eye to open the cover and experience the book.  When they say it, I can see what they mean but can I do it?
  3. I am Not One of These People.  At least at this point in my life, I am not one of these people.  When I try to lay out something like a cover or a graphic of some kind, I can tell whether or not it works.  Sometimes all seems well.  Then someone comes along and explains why it doesn’t work.  And then there are those times where I know it isn’t working.  Let me illustrate this.

Back when Duchess Harris and I were working on Hidden Human Computers she had picked out a photo for us to use on the cover.  It was a photo of her grandmother, one of the computers, walking down the street.  She was dressed, as my grandmother would have said, to the nines.   It was a gorgeous photo.

Then the book designer showed us the photo they had chosen.  You can see it on the cover above.  The photo they chose shows one of the women at work.  Since this is a book about them at work as computers, it makes a lot of sense to choose a photo like that.  As soon as I saw it, I knew what it was a better choice.

Do I loathe not getting to choose the photos used in my book covers?  Oh, no.  I’m just glad someone knows enough to do it and do it well!



Researching Publishers

Don't go with the publisher who takes a cookie cutter approach to cover design.
Don’t go with the publisher who takes a cookie cutter approach to cover design.

Last week I saw a market report on a new-to-me publisher.  The genres that they described are those I love but I didn’t know a single thing about this publisher.  Honestly, I wasn’t even sure if they were a children’s publisher.  I Googled their name and took some time poking around their site and I’m glad I did.  This is publisher is now on my “no thanks” list.

It wasn’t their submissions policies.  That all looked legit and fairly typical.  Face it, there’s a pretty wide range of submission policies out there from a synopsis and three chapters to full manuscripts.  Nothing in what they asked for set off any alarm bells, so I clicked on the catalogue.

Their catalogue was arranged with 3 or 4 books per row.  I glanced at the titles on the first row.  Nothing made a huge impression good or bad so I scrolled down.  One of the covers looked familiar.  Too familiar.  I scrolled back up the page.  Book #1, Row #1 had a cover created from a very recognizable stock photo.  Book #3, Row #2 had a cover created from the same photo.


They had used the exact same photo for the cover.  Scrolling through the catalogue, I found 14 books with the same cover.  Sure, the title and author’s name varied but it was the exact same photo.  Not cropped differently.  No colors altered.  Just slapped down on the page.

When I see a publisher that puts this little effort into their books, I run in the other direction.  I may not be a book designer but even I know that this is a bad, bad sign.

Before you submit to a specific publisher, take a good hard look at their web site.  Do their covers appeal to you?  Try to get ahold of several books.  Do you like the overall book design?  Book design is a huge part of the package so you shouldn’t go with a publisher whose book design appalls you whether it took them 5 minutes or 5 days.  Do your research.  Please.


Choosing Fonts

Font ChoiceA friend of mine is looking into self-publishing his novel so I’ve been thinking a lot about book design and font.  How do you choose the right font for your cover?

Sometimes the choice is obvious.  One glance at Charlemagne STD and I can picture it carved into the marble of a roman monument.  If I had set a story in Ancient, or even historic Egypt, I would use Papyrus.  And Blackadder ITC?  A pirate story.  What else?

At other times, no single choice sticks out as obvious.  If I was designing the cover for a romance novel, my first thought would probably be script.  That general notion is find, but which script would you choose?  Freestyle Script would clearly only work with a contemporary story.  If I set a story in the court of Napolean, would I have to use French Script MS or would Edwardian Script ITC, which I find more attractive be acceptable?

For a horror story, I would consider Chiller, but by choices for a science fiction manuscript are less clear.  Would Agency FB or Century Gothic work?

There is so much to consider when choosing a font.  Some are simply to clever to be easily readable.  Others are readable but just not right for a particular topic.

Right now, I’m writing a contemporary fantasy.  Bradley Hand ITC might work because his mother’s journals play a big part in resolving the story problem.  But my main character is a boy and the book has strong boy appeal.  A light script?  I don’t think that would be right.  But what would I chose?  I’m much better at knowing what doesn’t work than what would.

What font would you pick out for the cover on your current WIP?


Edwardian Script ITC

sf fonts

Evolution of a Cover Design

Those of you who attended the Missouri SCBWI Confluence Conference this fall got to hear Greg Ferguson of Egmont speak about, among other things, the evolution of the cover design for Bree Despain’s The Dark Divine. Since then, I’ve been curious about cover design in general, wondering how things change behind the scenes.

Check out this 2 minute Youtube video on the cover for Gail Carriger’s Blameless. They already had the general look since this is book three in a series, but it was interesting to see what they tinkered with and how they “aged” the photo.