Font of Wisdom

Let me start by telling you I’m not the person to learn about fonts. I simply am not. I don’t “see” the difference between fonts, or what they resemble at first sight. If I’m very lucky, I will get a “feeling” as in “this feels science fictiony” or perhaps “this feels romantic” or “that’s funny.” BUT… I don’t SEE or remember things the way other people do.

HOWEVER, I can give you rules. I can give you rules till I’m blue in the face.

The first rule of fonts for covers is: Don’t use interior fonts on the outside: that means Times New Roman, or Ariel, or all the other fonts Amazon recommends for the kindle? Don’t use those. Because they look weird since we think of them as interior fonts.

The second rule of fonts for covers is: No Comic Sans unless you’re actually and for real doing a biography of Bugs Bunny or When Bugs Met Daffy or something. The children fonts of Comic Sans, you might still be a little iffy about, but you should absolutely avoid Comic Sans unless you’re writing What’s Up Doc.

The third rule of fonts for covers is: Don’t just grab a font off the net without checking rights. There are free fonts, but make sure you read the EULA because some of these idiots have started putting in “not for ebooks.” So even if it says it’s valid for commercial use, they might have a burr up their… typography.

Yes, fonts are copyrighted. Yes, it is extremely unlikely you’ll get sued, but you might. So, stay on the shady side of the law, okay.

More on this later.

The fourth rule of fonts for covers is: It must be legible.

There are hellofcool fonts out there, particularly for science fiction and fantasy. BUT if you put it on, back up, and have no clue what it even says, take it off and get something less cool.

This particularly applies to Regency Romances and the like, because a too elaborate font is nearly illegible from a distance.

I’ve settled for “vaguely suggestive of the genre” fonts. So, no “southern wedding” font on romances (Look, so far only Jane Austen fanfic, but I’ll let you know) and no old-computer-display green lines font in science fiction. Because I assume most people want to read the title. (I could be wrong.)

The fifth rule of fonts for covers is: don’t stretch them or widen them too much. The font is designed that way for a reason. (Yes, I used to do it. I’ve made every possible mistake in this as well as in writing. TWICE.

So, that’s my wisdom on fonts.

But how do I get fonts, Sarah?

There are several sites where you can search for the font you want like “Science fiction fonts” or “Fantasy fonts” or “Romance fonts.”

Apparently if you want to look trad published, you should keep an eye out on what fonts they’re using these days.

Is there a value to that? I don’t know. It used to be you wanted to look like trad pub. These days you… it doesn’t matter as much.

You might want to do a search for “Cool fonts for 2022” which will tell you (sometimes) what the big guys are using. Usually though that font family will cost you something like $300 and honestly, the trads chase the “trendy” so much that they often end up just changing it at the end of the year.

Unless it’s Baen. Baen uses mostly free fonts, like sensible human beings. But you might have to know someone in the office and bribe with cookies for the font name. (Makes note in calendar.)

However, you can take a screen shot of the font and run it by WhatTheFont or font squirrel or something with it set to find only free fonts, and sometimes you get something that has similar characteristics.

Other than that?

I mostly tend to end up at dafont, where I have my preferences already set.

But there are other free font sites, for instance 1001 free fonts.

There are others, but today my brain is full of cheese, because I just finished a novel at 11:30 last night. However, while doing the search for names, because I didn’t even remember those two, I stumbled on this:

I also fairly regularly get emails from pixelo offering fonts at reasonable prices. And at least one of my friends gets them from another service.

Be aware that even for the fairly “font blind” like me, fonts are a rabbit hole, and if you go down the rabbit hole, it will eat a week or so of your life. I recommend saving it for the idle moments, or Sundays or something.

I actually want to know more about type, partly because I’m fairly “font blind” (Though getting better. I suspect it’s a matter of using it, okay?) but I know that’s an entire four year degree or more. All the same, I am going to see if there are classes I can audit in my local college, particularly because in the “new style” covers coming up, the typography IS the thing.

Okay. Now I write another blog post and go clean the extremely gross (trust me) house. Only thing I must do today other than the blogs is to put the reissue of Darkship Thieves on pre-order.

But I’ll at least start cleaning first. You have no idea how gross this house is. I’ve been head down for two weeks. It’s …. horrendous.

So, I go. Zoom.


40 thoughts on “Font of Wisdom

  1. What “Font” is that list of the alphabet in?

    It took me a while to figure it out.

    Oh, I won’t use that “Font” on the cover or in the book. 😉

    1. Worse – unless it’s an incomplete list, it has no ‘W’ and no ‘Z’. Whether it has a ‘D’ or not is debatable – the letter in that position looks more like an ‘O’.

      1. It looks like it is based on the Gaelic-Latin used by the “Columban” or Irish monasteries in the 500s-800s. That period was fascinating because of all the different scripts used in documents prior to Carolingian minuscule becoming the “default” for European church manuscripts.

        1. That would explain the missing “W” as some older alphabets used the “V” where we’d use the “W”.

          On the other hand, I think the “K” was missing after the “H I J” letters.

          1. Interestingly, if this was a Gaelic-Latin alphabet, then it might have used “C” where we’d use “K”.

            That might explain the missing “K”.

    2. Well, you could.

      It would have to be the sort of book where “looks like an illuminated manuscript” is a genre-flag. And even there you might have to use it for the initial cap with black letter for the rest. The rest of the cover should be mostly vellum-looking, with perhaps a few “illuminated” supporting elements.

      In fine, to use that font, it has to BE the art. I have seen some effective covers done this way.

      I’ve done a couple of illuminated manuscript covers (see “Dragon Slayer”) but I used black letter for the whole thing, actually.

      1. English and European history books (monographs and biographies) use things like this font a lot. I don’t see it in many books for US markets.

  2. One of the most important things I’ve slowly learned about how to keep a house in order – don’t get stuck trying to pick what is most important. Just start with something. Starting with something small is good – a single drawer in the kitchen or bathroom. A bathroom is another good place to start.
    And, if you can, get some decent bins to contain stuff. I am in the process of replacing a ton of shoeboxes, fabric bins of all sizes and sorts and baskets with uniform clear plastic bins. I have only gotten rid of a little bit of clutter, but my closet looks better and I can bleeping well find stuff.
    On fonts. Comic sans is a device of the devil. Also dopey semi-medieval, semi-future fonts.

  3. I’d add two more rules:

    1. Pick a color that stands out against the cover art, and/or add a thin outline (stroke) around each character to separate it from the background. In Photoshop, this is hidden under “Blending Options” on the text layer.

    2. Make the key text readable at thumbnail size; the home page on a Kindle just shows the cover image. (and for more fun, they cover parts of the image to indicate if they’ve been downloaded or read)


    1. Oh, yes – and/or a narrow outline around the letters, and a faint haze around the titles – that helps the titles pop against the art. I have done some rather nice simple covers for clients using MS Publisher. Which for me is relatively user-friendly, and capable of some very nice effects.

    2. VERY MUCH THIS. And I would make the “stroke” a mandatory thing, a contrasting color to the font. White for dark colors and black for light colors. Your color choice can stand out against 95% of the cover, but that 5% might change the letter that you have into one you did not intend.

    3. Sometimes the stoke makes the whole thing look amateurish.

      White space is better if feasible. I have lopped out many elements of art to increase white space. Or shrunk the image so I could increase the grassy lawn or blue sky.

      Another technique is to lighten, or darken, the whole thing to make the title contrast more.

  4. The terms-of-art are “text font” and “display font”. And if you have a particularly distinctive font, it can be effective to use it both on the cover and for chapter headings, making it part of your branding. (The Scholastic printing of the Harry Potter books, the version most familiar to American readers, uses this to great effect with Marcus Burlile’s “Able” font, for example.)

    But even if you’re going for a “plain text” look on your covers (on my bookshelves, Robert Parker and J.R.R. Tolkien books do this), you should use what’s called a “display weight” of the font. It’s usually a lighter-weight (i.e., the opposite of bold) variant of a text font, with features like stroke contrast and serifs tweaked to look better at large sizes. And even so, default to using a display weight of a different font family than your interior text.

  5. These are all good.

    Add Papyrus to the list of do not use fonts.

    Keep an eye on your spacing, both between letters and between lines, especially when ascenders/descenders are involved.

    1. Papyrus is a lovely font that has what I call a “null value.” In other words, it has been used in so many places, in so many contexts, that you can’t tell what it’s supposed to signify. A craft wine? A craft candle? An amateur cover designer? Nobody knows.

      1. Unless.

        You can also get away with Times New Roman if the title is integrated into the art and it looks like a newspaper, etc.

        Titles that are not actually part of the art don’t get this exemption.

      2. Courier is a useful composition font (most of my drafts are in some variant of Shunn Format), but stupid-looking in design. I’ve got one called “Carpal Tunnel” that I made from scanned keystrokes of an aging Remington typewriter: it’s mostly legible, so if I need to do scruffy “typewriter” text, that’s what I’d use in most cases.

  6. Fonts are apparently a much bigger thing than we may realize. In the k-drama “Start Up” one of the 1st possible use-cases mentioned for an AI was to develop new fonts to either make available for purchase/licensing, or to be sure that a company had a non-copyrighted one to use in their marketing materials. That kinda blew my mind that it was such a thing that a fictional tv show would bring it up as being a selling point for an AI.

  7. I will also mention here that you should look at kerning, i.e. the way that the letters fit together. I’ve run into several fonts where the individual letters look cool, but there are certain pairs of letters that they designers just couldn’t make fit together. I fell in love with one of those before I typed in my penname and realized that I had suddenly become Z. M. R enick.

    1. Those fonts may still be usable IF you know how to adjust individual kerning values, or are willing to do multiple layers to get the effect you want. But that’s getting into the weeds, and if you’re a beginner, best pick something else.

  8. There is Creative Fabrica which has some free fonts, and a monthly subscription that has not only fonts but vector images, graphics, and so on. Their licenses are easy to find, and most are commercial, so you only need to check the fine-fine print.

    BookBrush has a free tier, but the best things is they have a cool section called “font pairing” which can give you quick ideas on sets of fonts to use with which genre which are “up to date”. Apparently Google has a free font set, but I don’t know much about it.

  9. I have had that font for decades: after math homework I will look it up for y’all.

    And before anyone asks, ALL “Redruth’s Basement” fonts (on, ) are encouraged for use in ebooks.

  10. Your font and your art should also play nicely together. It’s hard to get them to signal the same genre when they look too different. Also, it looks amateurish.

    I hit this problem with Winter’s Curse until I realized that I could flip the art around, so that the wand and the font slanted in the same direction. . .

  11. (Insert disclaimer about not being particularly knowledgeable about fonts, I just know what I like when I see it.)

    My favorite fonts, mostly available on dafont:

    GoodTimes: This is the vaguely Star Trek:TNG font that I used for the book title on Shadow Captain, first space opera. (series title and author name are in Yu Gothic Semibold UI)

    Cinzel Decorative Bold: sole cover font for current Jaiya metaseries covers. Good all-purpose fantasy font, maybe a little too epic and macho for the Jaiya books, which are tightly focused “adventures of a man and a woman who happen to fall in love along the way.” But it went well with the artwork and the metallic sheen effect, and the Devanagari-influenced English fonts I ran across were either pay-for, or hard to read so…*shrug*.

    Milonga: title and series font for the previous set of Jaiya Series homebrews. (Might have used one of the Steelfish fonts for the author name, not sure.) Milonga is considered a good, middle-of-the-road font for paranormal romance plus the less “epic” forms of medieval fantasy, plus possibly gaslamp fantasy. I feel like it reads maybe too Medieval Spain or “Arabesque” to be as versatile as all that, but that flamboyance made it somewhat workable with the Indian-influenced setting of the Jaiya books without the problems of the Devanagari-influenced fonts mentioned above. It didn’t work well with the metallic sheen effect mentioned above, so not used on the most recent Jaiya covers.

    Foglihten family: a charming set of vaguely Art Nouveau/Deco fonts that would probably work for a gaslamp fantasy, or a Golden Age Mystery. Some of them use the uppercase slots for ornamental flourishes, and the lowercase slots for what we would think of as uppercase.

    Conthrax Sb and Space Marine: popular scifi fonts that kind of split the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek.

    Regensburg: a sort of cousin to the Trek:TOS font, but less legible. Fun to play with, use with caution in a practical context.

    1. Yes. indeed – serif fonts for print, sans-serif OK for web-viewing. Times New Roman is … icky, because it’s the standard for professional stuff, apparently.
      For myself, for print, I like Georgia, and Old Bookman.
      One of my repeat clients liked Old Bookman for his own publications, because as he said, he was an Old Bookman.
      A dear gentleman, and and old friend of my original publishing partner. John Igo, who had a local library named after him. It was apparently his home away from home. His estate is apparently sunk deep in conflict between his remaining kin, which is a pity when it comes to the rights to his literary legacy. I would like to have done a collected volume of his poetry, memoirs and plays. Some of them were purely amazing.

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