Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What is the deal with CAPITAL letters on so many book covers these days?

by Rick Blechta

I know I’m going to step on some toes with this (even with some of the crew here at Type M), but dang it, I’m getting a bit tired of seeing entire book covers with nothing but capital letters for their front cover copy. (I’m also getting tired of seeing the slab-type fonts that are being used more and more these days, but that’s another beef for another post.)

Having designed many book covers myself, I know why this is happening. If you’re a big-time author, your books have been done this way for years. In that case, it's to alert everyone within 100 feet in a bookstore that JOE BLOW’S latest book is out. I get that. Add this to the fact that publishers like having an author's books display a certain “family look” — presumably so readers can identify them more quickly — and I personally feel as if I’m being shouted at when I walk into a book store. If your store has a James Patterson section (and many do these days), go there and you’ll instantly see what I mean.

Caps are a bit of a slam dunk design-wise. They'’e less problematic to set. They certainly attract notice more quickly, especially if they're in a neon colour, are embossed, or one of the metallic colours is used. They scream a practically audible “LOOK AT ME!” when executed that way.

When a publisher also makes the author's name bigger than the title of the book, you know the author is considered a Big Deal. I actually once overheard a bookstore browser say to his wife while holding up one of these books, “Honey, do you know this author? She must be important.” (Honest!) After the man walked away with the book in his mitt, I noticed two things about the book’s cover: it was rather thick (a good 2") and the author’s name took up more than half of the real estate. I mean it was H-U-G-E. And that’s sort of what got me thinking about this trend.

Now I’m on record here as saying that a book’s cover should also act as a poster for the book. From that viewpoint, it makes sense to use caps, especially when you consider that many people only look at book covers online where the images are pretty darned small. Caps definitely do help get the critical things across.

However, with some thought and a good dash of design knowledge and experience, a very successful cover can be worked out that has some design flair and gets the promotional job done — and doesn’t use caps.

Maybe the problem is publishers being more interested in keeping costs down. Lots of covers now use stock photos as a matter of course because commissioned photography and (especially) illustrations are a lot more expensive. If the design department has a few slab fonts (or “heavy” cuts of other serif or sans serif fonts) that do the job for them, why not just throw these on, squeeze a small moody or otherwise appropriate stock photo in at the bottom, and you've got another cover done with time to do two more before you knock off for lunch.

Problem is, the book will eventually wind up faced on a bookshelf with any number of other titles that have similar covers (like in the JUST OUT section). Trouble is you’ve completely shot your bolt and there’s no way to amp up anything that would distinguish your cover from any of the others following this design trend.

Like most authors, I’ve spent countless hours in bookstores. In watching shoppers interact with books, I would still put money down on a book with a really interesting, well-designed cover, coupled with an intriguing title and some solid back cover or inside flap copy. Browsers consistently pick up these kinds of books. They don’t shout; they just catch your eye with something that piques your interest.

Maybe it’s time that less should become the new more.

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