Author Topic: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)  (Read 6017 times)  

Offline Hugh Howey

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Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« on: June 29, 2015, 05:39:54 AM »
I blogged today about how cover art needs to be iconic in the "icon" sense, and you can really see that on KBoards, where we see each other's works in our signatures, about the same size customers see the works on Amazon. I'm not great at creating cover art, but I can spot what I think is wrong with a lot of cover art and what could be improved. If there's one theme I've noticed, it's that we put too much emphasis on the art and not enough on the typography.

A few examples of great, bold typography that minimizes the art, all from today's bestsellers:



Sure, there's a background image, but it isn't even important what it is. Gives a feeling of water. That's it.



A book. Blood splatter. What's important? The author's name. Same is true of you, even if your last name isn't King.



This is my favorite kind of cover, when the font becomes the artwork. This is a lot harder to do than it looks. But you can do a lot of this by rasterizing the type and treating each character as a separate element. Apply brush strokes to the type. Give it some texture, rather than just doing the standard drop shadow.


I'd like to go to my genre and compare the difference between minimizing the typography and celebrating it. I'm choosing from the very top sellers, so there's no making fun of these covers. These authors are absolutely killing it. The books are very highly rated for the most important part (what's inside the cover), but I think there's room to improve some of these covers to sell even more copies.

Here's what I think a lot of indies do wrong: They push the title up out of the way so you can see the art they spent hours and hours working on (or hiring out). The typography is an afterthought, when I think the opposite should be the case. I think the cover art should be minimized and hours and hours should be spent on the type:



Compare that to WARSHIP, by Joshua Dalzelle:



Yes, the art image is of higher quality on WARSHIP, but it's the difference in the title that jumps out at me. And this isn't to say Mason is doing anything objectively wrong, only that a different stress on typography might create a much stronger cover without a lot more time investment.

Here's another ebook that has done very well, and nothing wrong with the art and cover really, but notice how the title and author are shoved out of the way for the glory of the image. And again compare to WARSHIP above.





Now for something very different: Cover art without any typography at all. For this, you need to go to the Amazon product page to see what I'm talking about:




This is taking a different approach altogether, which is to realize that the metadata for our works is right there on the product page, so it doesn't need to be on the cover at all. For this work, the cover art is by Hugo Award winning artist Galen Dara. I decided to let the work speak for itself. The cover art, really, is the entire product page, which has all sorts of information right there for the customer. Great typography is the best solution, but no typography at all is better than bad typography.

Of course, to get away with this, I had to print the work through Lightning Source, as it violates CreateSpace's design rules (the title has to be on the cover).

Another recent experiment was THE BOX:



Again, you have to see the product page to get what I was going for here, but the idea was to use the background of the Amazon product page to hide the edge of the cover art, so the cover could appear to be square, like the box in the story. And once again, I left off my name, since it'll be on the product page, and because Amazon will handle the search algorithms so that anyone looking for my stories will find the work without needing to see the name on the spine, in a bookstore, as we are used to.


So what can we do to make our cover art more professional? Start thinking of your book covers as ICONS. Little clickable rectangles. You could do nothing more than have a background with a few different slashes of color or bold shapes, with the type large and dominating everything else. Or if you want to use a photograph, fade it to oblivion and let the title and your name cover most of it. Or you could use a title band, as I did on this work of non-fiction, and throw a couple images above and below:

The most important thing, in my opinion, is to treat the words like works of art. Don't slap them down with a text box and leave them be. Break the words up into individual letters and place them one at a time. Don't be afraid to skew them, or have them offset from a common base, or make them bolder and blocker than the default type. Readers are scanning lists of books and looking at the titles and who wrote them, much more than they are looking at the art that adorns them. And that's a good thing, because many fonts are free. We can actually make our works look better while spending less money.

Then again, maybe it's a bad idea to listen to the guy who came up with this cover:



Yeah...




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« Last Edit: June 29, 2015, 11:11:05 AM by Ann in Arlington »
 
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Offline LizB

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #1 on: June 29, 2015, 05:44:58 AM »
That is awesome advice! Thank you. Do you think this varies across genres?
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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #2 on: June 29, 2015, 05:49:49 AM »
I really enjoy typography-based covers, but have always thought they don't work as well for Indies. Or at least for those who don't have a name that sells books yet.

However, I agree that typography in general gets neglected and have been trying to up my game there because good images are always available. Tying it all in with good typography (particularly as branding) is much more difficult to do than find a good cover image.

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Offline C. Rysalis

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #3 on: June 29, 2015, 05:50:21 AM »
Hey! I love the Wool cover!  :D

Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Very inspiring.

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Offline Charmaine

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #4 on: June 29, 2015, 06:05:03 AM »
Hugh this is some excellent advice!
As an illustrator, I agree with everything you've said here.
I, too, love when I see a good typography based cover, but I know how deceptively simple they appear... ;)

Offline Hugh Howey

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #5 on: June 29, 2015, 06:11:19 AM »
That is awesome advice! Thank you. Do you think this varies across genres?

I think the style varies, but the concepts all apply. You have great cover art, but the first title is hard to read. I'd take those same images and really blow up the text. Or do a Bella Andre title wrapper (a rectangle of color) and fill that with the title and your name.
 
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Offline Jena H

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #6 on: June 29, 2015, 06:17:00 AM »
I think Jill is right about "big names" being better able to get away with large-font, typography-based covers.  Also, not sure Pirate Hunters is a good example, as it appears to be a non-fiction book, which I think have slightly different 'rules' (so to speak).

(Lastly, I don't think showing another person's book as an example of "what not to do" is a great idea.   ::) )
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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #7 on: June 29, 2015, 06:21:55 AM »
This definitely is food for thought and changes my perspectives on cover design.

Since I do my own, I need to really think about how to maximize my typography now.
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Offline B.A. Spangler

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #8 on: June 29, 2015, 06:22:54 AM »
Love the experiments - watched your video on flipbooks and emphasizing art.

Good suggestions on typography. Just had a similar conversation with a few indies on importance of typography. Out of that came the suggestion to study the covers in the target genre and use similar typography, completing the overall fit of your cover in that market. For example, if you're writing a romance then your cover's typography should not deviate from those in the top 100 of Romance.

Again, love the flipbooks idea for shorts.
Adding the link for those who haven't seen it: http://www.hughhowey.com/flipbook-unboxing
« Last Edit: June 29, 2015, 06:24:48 AM by B.A. Spangler »

Offline Mark Dawson

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #9 on: June 29, 2015, 06:25:32 AM »
Great post, Hugh.

My designer, Stuart Bache, has held senior posts in the UK trad pub industry. He's forgotten more about covers than I have ever learned.

He's started producing a weekly vlog on what works and what doesn't, and its a worth a watch. He's very, very good:

https://www.youtube.com/c/BooksCovered

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #10 on: June 29, 2015, 06:29:20 AM »
I love typography and you know you're studying it too much when you see movie trailers at the the theater and admire the typography--and try to guess which one it is-- in the titles as much as the actual trailer.  :D

I have thought about re-doing the typography in my covers but have hesitated because they're doing decently right now and I hate to make any changes. Of course, maybe a change will improve things.

My biggest question mark right now is my latest book, Shoot. I have big, bold typography, but not sure the rest of it is working. :/


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Offline blerg et al.

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #11 on: June 29, 2015, 06:43:09 AM »
I like what you're trying with the art-only listing. The scifi genre has a history of showcasing great art. It's really a special privilege we have and I like it when authors do it justice. Though something felt...off about the product page. What about using the back cover to showcase the image that was used to create the front cover? Bonus, you don't run into conflicts with the metadata that way.

I'm still too timid to put my name big and bold, front and center. I feel like the typography on my scifi title could be bumped up a little, and brightened without hiding the cover art.
« Last Edit: June 29, 2015, 06:47:08 AM by dustinmporta »

Offline Hugh Howey

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #12 on: June 29, 2015, 06:51:05 AM »
I like what you're trying with the art-only listing. The scifi genre has a history of showcasing great art. It's really a special privilege we have and I like it when authors do it justice. Though something felt...off about the product page. What about using the back cover to showcase the image that was used to create the front cover? Bonus, you don't run into conflicts with the metadata that way.

I'm still too timid to put my name big and bold, front and center. I feel like the typography on my scifi title could be bumped up a little, and brightened without hiding the cover art.

I would go big and bold with the typography on both covers in your signature. I can't read either one. That's the size we should be judging our covers by, not in the image-editing software, blown up to the size of our monitors.
 
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Offline Sonya Bateman

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #13 on: June 29, 2015, 06:51:24 AM »
Ah, what a timely topic. I'm conceptualizing a new thriller cover now, and I think a focus on great typography is gonna be the way to go. It'll be the first in a series too, so hopefully I can work out some brandable typography. :D Thanks for the references!
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Offline D. Zollicoffer

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #14 on: June 29, 2015, 06:58:35 AM »
Great blog, Hugh! It's something that I've noticed before. I've always been a fan on titles being big and bold. But yeah, that first Wool cover, yikes! :D

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #15 on: June 29, 2015, 07:49:40 AM »
Great topic, Hugh. Thanks for getting it going and showing examples of what you mean.

The typical "critique my cover" topic here on Kboards is usually met with criticisms of the typography. It seems that few of us indies can DIY right. Suggestions are often vague, though, and don't help us find a better font. For example someone might say, "you need a more retro font," or something like that. Or they'll say, "that font doesn't say YA or SF to me." When we ask for specific font suggestions, things get quiet.

I would like to see a chart of title and author fonts identified with font names--we can find them with google, often free--and separated according to the genres with which each font works well.

I'd like to see examples of published books with bad font choices according to the experts.

I'd also like to see a chart of font examples slanted, put in perspective, textured, beveled, and other modifications along with the font names and parameters for the modifications. I know, looking at amazon listings can provide such examples, but we might not know how it was done and don't have the advantage of the trained, experienced eye. We might chose a font that wouldn't pass muster here.

An old adage in graphic art says, "if it looks right, it's right." I, for one, can't always tell what looks right.

Offline Sonya Bateman

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #16 on: June 29, 2015, 07:57:26 AM »
Great topic, Hugh. Thanks for getting it going and showing examples of what you mean.

The typical "critique my cover" topic here on Kboards is usually met with criticisms of the typography. It seems that few of us indies can DIY right. Suggestions are often vague, though, and don't help us find a better font. For example someone might say, "you need a more retro font," or something like that. Or they'll say, "that font doesn't say YA or SF to me." When we ask for specific font suggestions, things get quiet.

I would like to see a chart of title and author fonts identified with font names--we can find them with google, often free--and separated according to the genres with which each font works well.

I'd like to see examples of published books with bad font choices according to the experts.

I'd also like to see a chart of font examples slanted, put in perspective, textured, beveled, and other modifications along with the font names and parameters for the modifications. I know, looking at amazon listings can provide such examples, but we might not know how it was done and don't have the advantage of the trained, experienced eye. We might chose a font that wouldn't pass muster here.

An old adage in graphic art says, "if it looks right, it's right." I, for one, can't always tell what looks right.


Here's a list of good fonts by genre. :D

http://www.creativindie.com/300-fool-proof-fonts-to-use-for-your-book-cover-design-an-epic-list-of-best-fonts-per-genre/
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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #17 on: June 29, 2015, 08:01:57 AM »
I would like to see a chart of title and author fonts identified with font names--we can find them with google, often free--and separated according to the genres with which each font works well.

Something like this?

http://diybookcovers.com/BestFontsByGenre.pdf

Offline blerg et al.

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #18 on: June 29, 2015, 08:08:48 AM »
When we ask for specific font suggestions, things get quiet.
I suspect that most publishers hire designers who make their own fonts or modify existing fonts to suit the cover they are trying to create.

I know this is a tv show and not a book but just look at the kerning here. If this is stock, it has been modified.


Like good stock photos, good font might come at a premium.(Though I suspect I'd be rolling in good fonts if I owned a mac)

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #19 on: June 29, 2015, 08:13:53 AM »
Of the books in my signature, one was designed by me using the KDP design-a-cover gadget. Three were designed by a top professional (who also happens to be my sister-in-law) and one was... I really couldn't say. But it was arrived at somehow.

I suspect you can all probably tell which are which.


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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #20 on: June 29, 2015, 09:22:17 AM »
I have nothing worthwhile to say, I just want to know if that's really a model of the Enterprise on the left side of Fatal Boarding.

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #21 on: June 29, 2015, 09:29:36 AM »
I love typography and you know you're studying it too much when you see movie trailers at the the theater and admire the typography--

Ditto.  That's one of the things I've always said makes all the difference when it comes to cover design and designers.  Some people truly can turn typography into works of art.


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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #22 on: June 29, 2015, 09:34:42 AM »
Hey Hugh,
I remember when your book first came out.   With that cover, you sure upset some knitters.    I was on a yarn forum back then.   Several people just looked at the cover and grabbed your book thinking it was about Wool.    They actually started a thread about you.   
So you did something right.   
http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,216185.msg3013849.html#new

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #23 on: June 29, 2015, 09:38:49 AM »
Thanks for continuing to pay it forward, Hugh. I'm indebted to your InDesign tutorial for how I use it to do the typography on my covers, but I could do with being bigger and bolder, esp as I have the advantage of six and seven letter names.


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Offline R. M. Webb

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Re: Thoughts on Cover Art (Ways Indies Can Improve Their Game)
« Reply #24 on: June 29, 2015, 10:06:40 AM »
It's funny, sometimes I think there's this great big "artist idea box" that we all plug into. When I was still doing choreography, I can't tell you how often I'd come up with a concept only for the big names on TV to use a nearly identical concept - oftentimes to the same piece of obscure music I was so excited to use!

In this instance, it's funny to find this thread because I've been studying covers like crazy as I learn how to do my own. I've noticed that indie covers are very image heavy and trad pubbed covers tend towards typography. I've been struggling; as an amateur designer, it's easy to find a photo of a person, cut her out and mess around with effects until TADA! Cover's done!

On Til Death, I was able to play around until the photo of the girl almost looked drawn and that satisfied me enough to use it. I've been playing with my next set of covers and keep finding myself dissatisfied. Turns out I really, really, really, just want an awesome typography based cover ... maybe some really cool design behind the words, not a literal interpretation of what this series is about, but something more visceral ... another version of show don't tell ...

I guess it's time to learn another set of skills. Woo! (Do I have time for this? I don't think I have time for all this. Where am I going to find the time to do all these things I want to do?)


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