It’s been a while since I talked specifically about this topic, but it came up in private channels, and I’ve been talking with friend and fellow author Peter Grant about it, rather a lot. You see, Peter is gearing up to release a new book, he’s gotten full rights back to the rest of that series, and it’s time to recover those books. I’m completely on board with this – not only did he not have full creative control over those covers, the time comes when you want to upgrade your covers. This is industry standard. Covers change. Styles change. What looked fine five years ago is no longer sending the right signals.
In the course of chatting with him about what would work best on a cover, what he wanted, and what my designer’s eye saw in the trends, I had another conversation. In that one, the art was fine. The font and layout… were not yet on point.
That crystallized a feeling that has been slowly growing. Art is absolutely necessary for a cover. However, the font and layout of author and title are, nine times out of ten, how I can spot a professional versus an amateur cover in a field of thumbnails on Amazon. Note I did not say traditional versus Indie there. I’ve seen some stinkers coming out of trad houses on covers where they wanted to slap a cheap cover and put it out. And I am increasingly seeing Indies or small publishers being very savvy with cover art and design.
You see, at thumbnail the art is far less relevant than the overall design of the book. In fact, overly complicated art can ruin an ebook cover. It might look fine at trade paperback size, but thumbnail is where most readers will first encounter it. The days of browsing bookshelves are long past… and even there, it was the spine most readers saw first.
So! Fonts are important. How do you choose a font?
First things first: go look at your specific subgenre on Amazon. Look at covers of books you like. Make notes about what you like, what you don’t, and start to keep track of what’s bestselling in that genre.
I’ve pulled up Space Marine because Peter’s first Laredo series book, War to the Knife, fits into this category per Amazon rankings. You’ll see the top 8 selling books in this category in my screenshot. Leaving aside the ‘box set’ which is it’s own thing, I find it funny I personally know most of those authors… and cheered by that. Indies on the rise! I’m seeing a trend here away from the big author name, which is interesting, but all of these have very detailed art, which sometimes is hard to make out at thumbnail. The Martelle books in the lower corner have great vivid titles that pop out at you. He has a fantastic cover designer, by the way, well worth looking up all his covers to study that.
And then there are the not-so-good. For these, I stayed in the same category, flipped over to the ‘free’ books, and scrolled down until I found a cluster I could screenshot.
Two of these have wildly unsuitable fonts. Two (not the same pair) don’t signal science fiction in the slightest. None of them are easily readable at thumbnail. Mind you – none are abysmally awful, either, but I didn’t have time to dredge deeply enough to find exemplars of those.
So! Having looked at these covers, I’m realizing that Peter’s cover is going to work, but not so much for the Space Marine sub genre as it will be a more general Space Opera cover. Which is fine – that’s what he wanted.
Just the fonts and layout.
As for fonts? I’ve started using Creative Fabrica, which has great sales, as I prefer to have the licensing for a font. I’m still using a lot of the freebies I got from DaFont, but I’ve also got some donationware from there, so I feel better about paying creators. Licensing protects me and my author clients, paying folks for their work lets me sleep easier. Win win. I started out with no money to speak of, and if that where you are, there’s no shame in the freebies. Eventually with persistence you’ll be at the point to pay for it, too!
Right now for art I’m using mostly Dreamstime and DepositPhotos. I’m avoiding Pixabay or Pexels – free art tends to get used. A lot. And many of the rendered spaceships are being used over and over, so I see them on many covers. I’m seriously debating how much time I can spare to start making my own renders. Sigh… time.
In the interests of not making this post incredibly long, I’ll break it into parts, and come back next week with the nitty-gritty of laying out font on art, and how to make it thumbnail-friendly while still giving it dimension rather than a flat affect.
After that, I’ll get into covering a whole series with a complementary look, and how to plan for that even if you haven’t written the whole thing yet.
In the meantime, feel free to drop a link of what cover work you’re doing in the comments for critique and insights.