Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My last word on covers...until the next time

I’ve had several people write me to ask questions about book covers based on what I’ve written here and on the blog (mysterymavencdn.blogspot.com/) where I was interviewed last week. I’d like to sort out some of those for you all.

One thing that came up several times was my tip for looking at a colour cover in black and white (or more correctly “grayscale”). The reason for doing this is that you can readily identify design problems about the cover when the colour information has been removed.

First, to remove colour, you can do one of two things. If you have a photo manipulating program, all you do is convert the cover image into grayscale. If you’re on a Mac, you can use the editing function in iPhoto and just reduce the “saturation” of your photo to 0. I’m sure there are similar programs that come with Windows computers. This isn’t the place to talk about all the details of how to do this stuff. Most programs have good directions or you can just look up on the Internet how to do this. The final thing is to just print out your cover on a B&W printer.

Now, take a look at your grayscale cover. Does all the type stand out and is it easily readable? If it isn’t, the colour values are too close. This will show up immediately when a colour cover is changed to grayscale. By colour value I am referring to the lightness or darkness of a colour and the colours surrounding it. For instance, if the colour value of red type is close to the colour value of the brown background it's printed on, the red type will “disappear” and be very tough to read. That’s not a good thing if we’re talking about the title of your book, is it? I’ll be the first to say that a relatively competent designer won’t make this mistake, but it does happen. (I've done it a few times!) You can spot this potentially disastrous problem by doing the simple grayscale test. Colour value problems will leap out at you.

If you want to read up more on colour value and better understand colour spaces on various platforms, I can suggest reading this article: usask.ca/education/coursework/skaalid/theory/cgdt/color.htm.

Another question I got was that the cover looked great when it was sent over from the publisher as a JPEG or TIFF, but when the author finally got the finished book in their hands, the cover was much darker and harder to read. There are a few reasons that this has happened.

The first thing to understand is that computer monitors are transmissive light sources. You’re looking at something that is lit from behind. It will always appear brighter. Also, unless you’re a designer, your monitor has probably never been calibrated, so it won’t show things colours really accurately or at the correct brightness.

Second, printed matter is reflective. The ink is put onto paper, and when you look at it, the light has gone through the ink, hit the paper and is bounced back through the ink again to your eyes. It will always look darker than seeing the image on a computer monitor. The whiteness of the paper used in printing will have an effect. Also the finish on the paper, the overall quality of the paper and how heavily the press put the ink on the paper, all of these will affect how you perceive the colour and brightness.

Confused yet? More information than you ever thought you’d need? Well, if you want to be able to evaluate your cover’s design, you need to know a bit about how printing and design works. What can you do about problems? Tell your contact at the publisher. Speak to the designer, if possible. Sometimes a junior designer has been put on your job, and while they may have some terrific design ideas, they may not know enough about printing. That’s something that can be woefully lacking in some graphic design programs at colleges, even good ones. After time passes, we designers learn from our mistakes and get a feel for how that terrific design on our computer monitor will look when the ink hits the paper. The information outlined above will help you understand the process.

Or should. I hope what I’ve written here does. Keep those questions coming. I’m happy to answer them on here or on a private email.

To the Type M family and our readers, I’d like to wish you all a terrific holiday season and the very best in 2012!

PS I’ve included the cover to my forthcoming novel with Dundurn Press as an illustration of one that does everything right. It’s a terrific design in every way, and I think it really sells the “sizzle” of the story. And no, this is one cover I didn’t design – but I couldn’t be happier with it. I wish I could tell you the designer’s name, but alas I don’t remember it at the moment.


Melodie Campbell said...

Your best column yet, Rick! Exactly the test I did as a marketing director. And that cover is perfect from a sweet spot point of view, too. (Now I wonder if you will get questions about that? grin)

Rick Blechta said...

Thanks, Mel. I try and sometimes I succeed. The sweet spot. Ah yes...

Rick Blechta said...

I got in touch with my editor. That fine cover for The Fallen One was designed by Jesse Hooper. Thanks, Jesse! You done good.

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