So last week we talked about book cover rules, and I briefly touched on fonts, among other things. I didn’t want to dive into any of the rules, since that post could easily have become a book (a short book, but still) and that’s not the point. Today, I’m going to dig into fonts, at least enough to get the interested started. A good font choice can make a book cover sing to the potential reader like a siren to the sailors. A bad font can repulse them like the sleaze in front of a dive bar. Since we want to seduce the reader and that process begins from their first glimpse of a book, we want to put some time and energy into selecting the right elements for the cover.
I’m going to use dafont.com as a teaching tool for this post, since I find it a handy spot for finding fonts that suit my designs. However, there are other places to find fonts – if you have a favorite, feel free to leave it in the comments! First things first: can you use that font? I’m not talking about it being the right font for your book, that meshes with the art and signals the genre to the reader. I’m talking about intellectual property and licenses. In the comments last week Amanda brought up the risk of using a font without a commercial or public domain license – you could get sued. You, the author, since most people aren’t going to try and go after a book designer (and some authors don’t acknowledge who did their covers, because they are afraid their cover artists will get poached. No, that’s not a joke, but I digress). Besides that, the ethical and moral thing to do is always the right thing. And I shouldn’t have to put them in that order, but I do. So you have choices. Find a font that is free for commercial use, in public domain, or buy a license for commercial use. Check the wording of any licenses carefully – some have a limit on how many times you can use them, and I don’t know about you, but when it comes to an ebook, I’m not sure how many copies are going to sell. Could it go over a 10,000 piece limit? Certainly. The other thing to look for, as we were warned in the comments the other day, is more esoteric wording like ‘cannot be used for ‘hate speech” which is really difficult to define, and good luck proving that one in court, but you don’t want the time and bother of dealing with it to begin with. Avoid that one like the plague, and any others designed by that person, too.
If you are using Dafont, they have a handy feature, as you can see above, where you can filter your search to only come up with the licenses you want. That way you aren’t looking at fonts you can’t use. I normally start out with the first two buttons there: public domain and free. If I can’t find something useful, I’ll move on to donation or shareware, but with those you get into some oddly worded licenses, so I don’t like to spend the time reading through tons of them. YMMV. I also do like to throw a little money at artists whose work I use, which you can do with a donate button on Dafont.
Now that we are sure we can legally and morally use a font, let’s move on to other selection criteria.
Font and design could easily consume a lifetime of study. Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration, but not much. I’m going to do something I rarely do, and direct you to Wikipedia if you’re interested in the origin, history, and details of fonts. Or suggest that a book might be in order. Thinking with Type is three dollars for the ebook, very reasonable for a textbook. However, I know most of you are just trying to create a decent book cover, not delve into the esoterica of design, no matter how delightful a rabbithole it is.
You want to keep a few things in mind, then, as you select a font. You want to look at style, weight, and kerning right off the bat. Weight refers to the line width in general – think bold, or chunky, for heavier weights. A book cover font should usually be a heavy weight font. If you look at the bottom exemplar above (which I would not recommend on legibility alone) you’ll see that it’s a lightweight font and will be harder to read at thumbnail. Keep the thumbnail requirement in the forefront of your mind, especially if you are working, as I am, on a large monitor!
Style is the big one. Dafont helpfully has categories that include Sci-fi, comic, Western, fantasy, and so on. However, I’ve discovered that a font from one category there can be used effectively elsewhere. So take a look, more closely, at the covers of the best sellers in your sub genre and pay attention to the fonts there. This will help guide your choices to cue readers that your book is, say, a romantic comedy rather than a hard-boiled thriller.
Kerning is how the letters line up horizontally. If they do not match up properly, you can wind up with some interesting and unfortunate effects. For examples and probably a giggle, check out the subreddit devoted to bad kerning. With the oddball fonts we like to use on covers, this can be a concern. Always have a look at your words before you release – and preferably, have a friend or two look at them as well.
And that’s the thing I’ll leave you with today: have someone else look at your work before you call it finished. Don’t tell them anything about what you’re trying to do, just show it to them and ask them, ‘what does this make you think of?’ then step back and really listen to what they are telling you.
So this is just a quick couple of examples I threw together for you guys to pick apart in the comments. I didn’t want to use real covers!
(Header image is “Puzzlebox” by Cedar Sanderson)