Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Trying to make a book stand out

Vicki here. I missed my regular day of Monday so thought I’d slip something in today. I've put up a couple of pictures showing the view from my desk at my new house in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

I enjoyed learning a bit about the business of book covers from Rick. It’s quite a challenge trying to make one book stand out in a virtual sea of titles. Next time you’re in a big box book store, just stand at the entrance for a moment and have a look at what’s in front of you. Pretty humbling, if you’re an author.

I was sitting in my living room the other night, looking happily around admiring my new home, when I glanced at my bookshelf. And one spine absolutely leapt out at me. It was Above Suspicion by Lynda La Plante (of Prime Suspect fame). Her name was in a tall, thin font, coloured bright gold on a solid black background. All the other books on the shelf sort of blended together, but Lynda La Plante stood out as if there was a spotlight on it. I started studying the spines of the books, wondering what works and what doesn’t. On most of them the titles and the authors’ names are unreadable from a couple of feet away. The worst are books with dark backgrounds where the font is a shade lighter than the background. It might be readable if you’re holding the book in your hands, but not from a distance. I could recognize the name Ian Rankin on the spine of Exit Music; it was a thick font in pure white on a dark blue background, but I wondered if I could read the name because I know what it says – the letters were so thick they touched each other.
What is all this observation worth? Probably nothing. Few of us have any input into our cover designs, much less the content of the spines. But it is another thing to consider if you do have any control.

I did up a couple of suggestions for the cover of my new book with Rendevous Crime, Gold Digger. Fortuitously, I suggested a gold font, just to tie into the name of the book. They may not use it, but I tried.


Donis Casey said...

I ALWAYS notice the blood spot on the spine of a Poisoned Pen Book, and will pick the book up whether I've heard of it or not. Vicki, I liked the cover of "In the Shadow of the Glacier."

Vicki Delany said...

You're right, the blood spot is a nice identifier.

Rick Blechta said...

Unfortunately, this week I was away in Eastern Ontario and nowhere near anyplace I could upload my blog entry, which is a continuation of my most recent entry. I heartily apologize.

Vicki, you're absolutely correct, even the spine is critical in making a book stand out, and oddly, it's almost a throwaway in most designs. The standard deal is to use the same fonts as on the cover for both the title and author and be done with it. As you pointed out in the Rankin case, it can be a disaster. Super heavy fonts with close kerning (the distance between letters) need lots of space around them to be readable.

In my most recent novel, A Case of You (available at all discerning booksellers -- even online ones), I did use the same fonts as the cover, but I tweaked them to suit the cramped space of the spine. I also added a tiny vignette of the cover photo. You won't see it from far away as anything but a box, but from closer (say browsing shelves of books in a store), it may beckon someone to pull the book just so they can see what the heck it is. Then the rest of the cover design and copy can go to work.

As for using colours for title or author (or both) that have a similar colour value to the background, that's just amateur hour stuff -- and something that a lot of book cover designers are guilty of. Hmmm... Maybe it's because they have an amateur's skill level.

(Oh my God, did he actually say that?)