Authors! Your Cover Font Is Killing Your Book

But this is the best book cover ever

Think this looks amateur? You’d be right. I did it in Paint, just messing about for a jokey post earlier this year (click pic for link)

Whilst most of us will judge a book by its cover, I very often judge a book cover by its font.

This might sound odd to some people: perhaps it is – you can let me know if that’s the case. But more often than not, it’s the typography on a book’s cover which tells me whether or not I want to read it.

By this I mean, it’s going to be the reason I sometimes think that the cover, and therefore the book, are an amateur – possibly even sloppy – effort.

I know, I know. I can hear you now.


Self-Published Authors: Oh, for the love of Blog. It’s her again.

Tara: Hi guys! Wow, hey yeah OMG, it’s like, so good to see you!

Self-Published Authors: Please shut up. Or rather, tell us why you’re bothering us now. What are you giving out about this time?

Tara: Erm, the fonts used on your book covers, actually.

Self-Published Authors: Figures. What next? Our names?

Tara: Well, no. I can’t do much about them.

Self-Published Authors [to each other]: Never stopped her before.


But bear with me. Have you ever seen a book cover and thought: Right, I bet a besquillion squids that’s self-published…?

Or    It looks like they did the cover themselves. I wonder whether they got it edited? Probably not.

If it were my book, I wouldn’t want anyone to judge from 1 mere glance at the cover whether it was self-published or not. And yet, one of the most common comments I got during the examination of what makes people buy self-published books – and what turns them off buying same – was a “cheap-looking” or ” amateurish” book cover.

For me, the biggest screaming sign of a poor cover, is the font used for the title and the author’s name. All those little decisions made regarding font type; serif or sans serif; size of title versus size of author’s name; colour; contrast to the background – these are what can make a book fall before even entering the final furlong.

I don’t often post content I haven’t made myself, but this infographic caught my eye some time ago and I was rendered gob-dawed by its most awesome and beautiful brilliance. It’s not specifically about book covers, but it’s useful, and everyone who has any hand at all in the design of their own book cover should look at this:

This is by no means comprehensive (take a look at their website for narky comments from other graphic designers who believe it’s flawed in a hundred different ways). But still, there are very simple rules which book cover designers and other graphic designers know backwards. Those of us who aren’t aware of them might not think that they’re important. After all, we writers are creative people. Why can’t we just play around and put out whatever we think looks good? We’re avid readers, surely we know what we like?

I don’t pretend to know the secret to a good cover. And yet, when typography rules are broken, my brain somehow registers immediately that things don’t look right. I am reminded of local poetry anthologies from the 1980s; those annual circulars Great-Aunt McSmarmy sent at Christmas when she was the only person we knew with a word processor; and that book which was published by the school year above me as a project. It looks, quite simply, unfinished. It looks cheap. And this is before you even get to the blurb.

I’m not going to go into arguments here about how much it costs to get a cover designer, let alone an editor. I know it costs money. But you are also asking people to spend their money on your book. And as far as I’m concerned, there is no excuse whatsoever for putting out an unfinished product, in any industry.

Besides, there are very few cases where you’ll get away with cheap packaging and branding. I might not care about the packaging of a plant I buy for the garden, or a cupcake I’ve just sampled. But by Blog, do I care about it on a book!

Authors: do yourselves a favour. If you can’t afford a cover designer and insist on doing it yourself, spend time – hours and hours – looking up an online bookseller. Look at the fonts used on the covers of their top 100 sellers. Look at the fonts you’ve used on your book cover. Look back at the top 100. Look back at your book again.

Now fix it.

  52 comments for “Authors! Your Cover Font Is Killing Your Book

  1. August 14, 2014 at 9:56 am

    Totally agree. Some pretty average book cover fonts out there.


    • August 14, 2014 at 11:51 am

      And some well below average, David. Honestly, with some that I’ve seen, I’d even settle for average.


  2. carolannwrites
    August 14, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Goes running to book to have a look and sees 1000 reasons why maybe it’s just not working… then shakes head and says, no, it’s grand… No, it’s terrible, no, it’s… :O


    • August 14, 2014 at 11:55 am

      Firstly, Carolann – as far as I’m aware, you hired a professional graphic designer with considerable talent. Secondly – from what I can see, even from my unsubstantiated position of Judgementalness, there was nothing even vaguely amateur about your book cover. It is not terrible! It’s a great cover and you should be proud.


  3. August 14, 2014 at 10:29 am

    A helpful post for any indies not versed in the art of typography Tara. There are indeed some absolute shockers out there!


    • August 14, 2014 at 11:56 am

      It’s a sticky subject, because by the time you get to see a book cover, it’s just too late for the author to do anything about it, and if it were me, I’d be devastated to publish and THEN find out that nobody liked my cover and it was probably ruining my sales. My hope is that authors who haven’t got to that stage yet will think twice about just putting out any old thing.


  4. August 14, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Several that I have seen have a complete disconnect between the font and the cover image that it is on, which is what really screams amateur to me.


    • August 14, 2014 at 1:48 pm

      That is a very important point – oodles of thanks, Fionna. It’s not only about fonts which don’t go together, it’s about how smoothly the font and image and colour and placement blend together. One way or another, readers just know when it’s gone wrong.


  5. August 14, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    ‘Expert’ here! :-p

    My dear departed dad was an old-fashioned sign-writer and I’m supposedly a trained graphic designer. However – when it comes to typography there’s a lot of ‘rules’ and no-nos, but probably all of those are meant to be bent or even broken occasionally in the name of aesthetics. Sometimes breaking the rules is a good thing but there is always one cardinal rule that you need to remember – DON’T clutter!!!!!

    With the possible exception of Comic Sans (commandment 10) you can get away with using all of those fonts, especially the cyrillic one if you’re using that language group, provided you’re using a proper typographer’s application like InDesign or Quark Xpress and can put on lot’s of small but vital overrides on to space the lettering correctly or aesthetically – using Word’s font collection (or even Photoshop despite being made by Adobe, the designers fave software) just won’t cut it, no matter how good you are, because it’s not geared to adjust professionally.

    Comic Sans does what it says on the tin – it’s for comics. Never. Ever. Use it on your book cover (unless it’s about comics…) because it just screams ‘Hey I’ve got lots of fonts I could have used and this is one I hit on ‘cos it’s tongue in cheek’. In typography there is no humour only ‘fit for purpose’ and nothing screams amateur like the bleedin’ obvious… 😉


    • August 14, 2014 at 1:54 pm

      Yes, the clutter is a dead giveaway! And although I agree that some rules can always be broken, it only works when the whole thing comes seamlessly together, regardless, which very often in the covers I’ve seen, it doesn’t. In the covers I’ve seen, when the typography “rules” are broken (I’m not just talking about the ones in the infographic; I’m talking about all the other stuff which graphic designers know, but people like me don’t know), everything else seems to be broken too, regarding images, placement, colour, clutter – the works.

      My pet hate is the regular Word handwriting fonts. They just don’t work for me, ever. Not even in the old 1960s romance paperbacks. I just hate the half-italic half-brush script half-everythingness about them. To me, they’re just half-assed.


      • August 14, 2014 at 3:53 pm

        I seem to doing a lot of KISS-ing of late (Keep It Simple Stupid for FLA phobics… 😉 ) It’s a mantra that all writers and illustrators need to take to heart anyway, but for marketing design it’s kind of a Holy Grail thing – it’s a must have that’s so hard to nail down.

        Totally agree about the cursive fonts – it’s going to look too styled using proprietary typefaces because handwriting isn’t that perfect. This means that your homegrown sample at the top of the page is arguably a good solution since it’s properly hand written so the repeated characters (P & S) look different and properly ‘distressed’ in a graffiti way. In fact you’ve had a good go at doing the semiotics there with the art puppet as the main feature so if you were trying for deliberately dreadful to illustrate the amateur night factor you’ve totally shot yourself in the foot dahlink! 😉


        • August 14, 2014 at 5:05 pm

          That’s a back-handed compliment about my joke cover, Jan, I think you should withdraw it immediately. I might take it as a positive. But no, I did it for another post way back in January, when I was predicting my own future for 2014. Pop Messiah was supposed to come out in May (which it didn’t, mainly because I never wrote a book about a Bieber-esque Christ figure who founded his own religion and established a commune of millions in the desert)

          Liked by 1 person

          • August 14, 2014 at 6:08 pm

            Yet another book you’re gonna HAVE to write eventually then Ms Sparling – if only as a salutory pastiche for all those Beliebers when they finally come of age and to their senses 😛

            Seriously – that cover does work really well although I’d be tempted to ‘Babylon’-ise the graffiti greatly 😉


            • August 14, 2014 at 11:15 pm

              Now you have me dying to know what “Babylonise” means. I was more concerned at the time about my amateur attempts to blur the edges of the text box for my name, which kind of went totally and completely all wrong!

              Liked by 1 person

  6. August 14, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    A very good point. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but everyone does, so you might as well take the time and effort to make it good! 🙂


    • August 14, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      Time, effort…. and money, Mishka! I don’t think most people can get away without engaging a cover designer (unless they’re graphic designers themselves, and even then they can be too close to their book to get it right). When you think of the effort, time, thought, frustration and heart an author puts in to writing a book, it seems so wasteful to put a shoddy cover on it afterwards. I reckon it has to result in lost sales, so it’s a false economy in any case.


    • August 14, 2014 at 8:41 pm

      Often, the cover is the ONLY thing by which a book is judged; if the cover doesn’t work, the book won’t even be picked up for a cursory scan.


      • August 14, 2014 at 11:12 pm

        + 29,999. We’re a visual lot: we have to please the eyes.


  7. August 14, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Tara, having cut my chops in the days of marker pens and Haberules (if you don’t know what that is… well, I am an ancient designer from the pre-computer era), I just want to thank you for bringing attention to typography, especially display type. It used to be considered an art in itself and great designers knew how to finesse every font for the best impact, legibility and targeted us, but those skills are being lost, for the most part. Your post will help educate exactly where Indies need to do some more learning!


    • August 14, 2014 at 1:58 pm

      No problem at all, Richard, although I think I’m probably shouting into the void. I’m just waiting to see if I get any of those “How DARE you say that my cover isn’t superb….!!” comments from authors, then I’ll come back and ask you for a professionally designed hug 😉


  8. BRMaycock
    August 14, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Sorry Tara, can’t seem to get into the typography links?Is it my lunatic laptop?


    • August 14, 2014 at 5:00 pm

      Goshdarnit. I’m afraid I don’t know – but I haven’t heard from anyone else, and the link works for me on 2 different devices. Perhaps if you took your laptop out of its padded cell…? 😉


      • BRMaycock
        August 14, 2014 at 5:15 pm

        went for my amazingly tech-savvy method of closing up and opening again;)Now time to look at my cover again…shudder…Can I ask your opinion on the sizing of an author’s name in correlation to the title font?At this stage I have looked up so many covers my eyes are starting to bleed and the only conclusion I can come to is the bigger name in industry increase their font size accordingly?Initially I was being a little idiotic and only looking up the famous writers and assuming the author’s name was always bigger than the title but Good Lord, some of teh author’s names are barely visible!!!!My genre is rom com(chick lit, though I know that term offends some;))


        • August 14, 2014 at 5:21 pm

          Perhaps there are a few people who could comment on this?

          My feeling is that it’s true that the more popular the author, the bigger the font used for an author’s name. However, it’s how the whole thing blends together that counts most. Your font size might well depend far more heavily on all your other ingredients (colour, background image, book genre). Really, the best way is to see if you can get some sort of focus group to look at a mock-up and give you feedback.


          • BRMaycock
            August 14, 2014 at 5:53 pm

            Thanks for that, your prompt replies are always beyond appreciated!I have been throwing my group a few options and initially their feedback was all in the line of “Why is your name so big?” and of course I confidently told them “Ah but that’s how it’s done…see Sophie Kinsella, Marian Keyes, Jill Mansell, Jo Jo Moyes etc etc…”;)My eyes have been opened on so many different issues over the past year and a half…

            Liked by 1 person

            • August 14, 2014 at 6:18 pm

              Really good blog site for getting info on all aspects of book design (and writing too) is this one – run by graphic and web design guru and lecturer Dave Bricker who’s self-published several books now, including The 1 Hour Guide to Self-Publishing (available on Amazon and worth every penny).
              He’s also just released a new application for eBooks – PubML™ which may be the next big thing for digital books. Very savvy chap who knows what he’s preaching about.

              And yeah – you only have your name bigger than the title when you don’t need to sell any ‘cos people will buy it because it’s you anyway… 😉

              Liked by 2 people

  9. August 14, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    After a few disastrous self-made covers, I didn’t even bother trying to learn myself: just went straight for a pro. She’s an indie author who’s been in the top 100 for fiction on Amazon so I just leave the genius designs to her. Never paid much attention to fonts, though: it’s templates that stand out to me and occasionally scream SELF-PUBLISHED in the worst way.


    • August 14, 2014 at 11:10 pm

      It’s that kind of testimony which would hopefully sway other authors… you’d swear I was a cover designer myself, with some sort of stake in it, but really, I just can’t look at any more awful homemade covers.


      • August 14, 2014 at 11:17 pm

        When I look at those I just think to myself, “You’ll learn. It may take a while, but trust me, you’ll learn…”

        Liked by 1 person

    • August 15, 2014 at 3:32 am

      Hi Beth,
      I’m looking for cover designers at the moment, any chance you could name-drop your artist so I can check out her work?


  10. August 14, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    Tara, I liked your subconscious pun> ‘let me know if that’s the case’

    I too am a pre-computer graphic designer. Caps vs lower case vs contrast and size are vital, regardless of font. Thanks for this post.


    • August 14, 2014 at 11:11 pm

      Whaddya mean, subconscious? That was TOTALLY intentional.

      Except for the fact that it wasn’t. I wish I owned my own jokes.


  11. August 15, 2014 at 2:40 am

    Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.


  12. August 15, 2014 at 3:03 am

    Loved your post, Tara. Hopefully the humorous introduction will encourage authors to read on. Typography IS everything on a book cover. If a book is meant only for friends and family, it doesn’t matter, but if authors intend to compete with bestsellers on Amazon, then the typography had better be top-drawer. Just as authors are trained to write, book cover designers are trained to adjust seemingly meaningless typographic details to achieve the perfect look. Please, authors, don’t design your own cover!


    • August 15, 2014 at 10:37 am

      Echoed x 1000… Get your cover professionally designed, and be guaranteed that people will go one step further and look beyond it. Thank you for your kind words too!


  13. August 15, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Size of font and paper quality are an issue for reading pleasure too – for the actual reading of the book I mean, not necessarily just the front cover but I suspect that’s another post 😉
    I hate reading on flimsy paper or on paper that is too white or reading font that is too large and too widely spaced – makes me think that they are just filling space, didn’t have enough words or think I’m dim or blind!


    • August 15, 2014 at 9:11 pm

      Yep, that’s all in the overall blend of design and form and practicality, isn’t it?

      You made me think about my Kindle there, regarding internal fonts. I just got a Paperwhite and I can’t say I like any of the fonts they provide. Maybe I just have to get used to it, but I’m finding it very hard to settle down. I feel very old and silly, but I never read on a Kindle without missing paper, and the texture of the front cover.


  14. August 15, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    Do you think the same applies to non-fiction? Or mainly fiction?


    • August 15, 2014 at 9:19 pm

      Funnily enough, I don’t make the same sort of judgement on non-fiction, perhaps because it’s approached more academically, or maybe it’s me who approaches it more academically. I would usually buy non-fiction based solely on either the subject matter or the author so the font on the cover wouldn’t matter much to me in that case. Also, if it looked a bit amateurish, I’d be a lot less bothered about it. The overall cover itself is still important, however – it needs to catch a reader’s eye no matter what.


  15. August 19, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    I saw your blog someone shared on Facebook and hunted up your blog, which I really like. I am now following you and looking forward to your next one. I’m glad to have found you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 22, 2014 at 12:18 am

      Thank you, Loulou! I appreciate the kind words… apologies for replying so late but I’m on the move, and trying to run things from my phone is proving about as much fun as colonic irrigation. If mildly less uncomfortable 😉


      • August 22, 2014 at 7:49 am

        Just got through doing that myself. I couldn’t get it to work at all.


  16. August 21, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    Dunnit. How many times can you vote for the same person?


    • August 21, 2014 at 7:58 pm

      Wish it were 1,000 x Elaine! Once a week only. I tried to pay some Oompa Loompas but they revolted 🙂


  17. Lydia
    June 27, 2018 at 4:29 pm

    Girl, I’m laughing because one of my revised covers really did look like the example you’ve given. It had the same paint brush, lavender font, even the subject matter was close!

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 27, 2018 at 9:16 pm

      Well, now, this can only mean one of two things, Lydia: either I stole your book cover, or I’ve hotwired your brain and have been psychologically stalking you for years. Pick whichever one freaks you out the most, and I’ll settle for that 😉


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: