What’s lead me to these points? My own experience. I’ve broken every one of these rules in my path to being the Graphic Designer I am. It’s like picking up something you’ve written five years ago – have you ever done that? If you haven’t, do it. I promise you you’ll find a few rules broken in the early years. Everyone has to go through them to be great. No matter what career, what passion you have in order to be the best you sometimes have to do your worst!
Why shouldn’t these things be on a book cover? They can reduce the look of quality of the book, and professionalism. These are elements that have been used and abused over time and says to your reader before they even pick the book up ‘made by an amateur‘.
So for a self-publisher unsure what shouldn’t be on a book cover:
1. Comic Sans
Comics Sans came about because a Microsoft Designer decided children needed a new font face. It was shipped with Microsoft Office 95 and everyone wanted it. It was THE FONT.
Everyone wanted it and everyone used it. Posters, brochures, websites, business cards, logos and TV ads. It is fun and childish and a bit humorous. It’s also poorly designed and was never intended for mass use. If you don’t know it yet there is a very negative opinion of Comic Sans in the design community. Designers hate it. Hate it with a ferocious passion.
So if you’re looking for a font face that says ‘fun’, ‘quirky’, and ‘young adult/child’ turn to other fonts for header and title use like:
And use clean, classic fonts for your main bulk of text, for example:
Or stick with good, reliable Helvetica.
2. Low Resolution/Pixelated images.
What’s a pixelated/low res image? You can read up on this more at: ‘image size resolution and what images to put on your book cover‘. But to answer it super quickly it’s this example:
Imagine you’re browsing a website about cats, because cats pretty much own the internet, and you click on a cat picture:
This is what the picture looks like when it’s loading. It’s a bit distorted and has jagged edges. But a low res/pixelated image won’t get beyond this point. This is how it stays.
3. Rainbow/multi-coloured gradients
So you want to add a filter to your photo or your text to make it pop. Filters can make photos look nice and colourful, right? You can even make it look like a sunset light! Or beach light! Wrong. Wrong, so wrong. The only way you can make a rainbow gradient work is by not having one. Here, have some examples:
1. Do not use gradients to attract a reader.
2. Do not use gradients to make font pop out.
3. Use gradients with reluctance and awareness of its purpose.
I love gradients. I love their potential and how they can alter the atmosphere of a book cover.
I hate rainbow gradients. They remind me of a 1995 geocities website with a dizzying number of dancing baby gifs. If you know a little of design then I trust you can apply gradients with skill and tact. But I’m talking basics here, and the basics that I’ve seen consistently abused.
4. Drop shadow for text
A lot of self-published writers who design their own book covers find a great photo, overlay some text and are satisfied with the result. Until they get the feedback that their text is unreadable because it disappears in to the image. This could be because the image and text are the same colour or- as I experience quite often- the image I’m working with has so much going on that it’s hard to find the text on top of it.
The answer on a lot of book covers? Drop shadow. This occurs even when the text is on a solid colour background. And depending on what program you use sometimes you have access to adjusting the strength or opacity.
Drop shadow is a lot like gradient in that it can be used tactfully and with skill. But the drop shadow I’m talking about is a hard edged, obvious drop shadow which ends up working against the design of the cover. I recommend working with the colour of your font, and then trying alternate font faces, before using a drop shadow to make it readable. If your font is on a flat colour and has no conflicting image behind it then don’t use a shadow.
5. Illegible/distorted type:
If you can’t read your title and name change the font face and/or colour. Don’t stretch it, make it taller, make it shorter or wider. You can see what I mean by stretching it to make it taller in the book cover above. If you want it wider find a font face that is already designed wide, if you want it taller then find a font face that is designed tall.
Especially for scripted fonts there’s a fine line you gotta balance on between completely unreadable and somewhat readable. Some scripted fonts are beautiful but you can’t read them because there’s flourishes stretching out left and right and cutting through other letters. Other scripted fonts are cleaner and easier to read but can also look boring and flat.
There are exceptions to every rule, and a number of examples that prove me wrong. I’m aware of this and as in each example if you have the patience to learn design and can apply each element skilfully then I support you 100%. But this is just a guide to help break the cliché of amateur design. If you want a guide to find out what should go on your cover check out some of my other articles or get out there and research. Study other book covers you love and understand how type was used.
Do you have book design no-nos? What are some design elements that turn you off a book cover?