Do you have a favorite typeface?An elegant cursive script or edgy grunge face? Perhaps it’s a hipster fusion or a neo-goth Gothic. Or maybe it’s nothing more than a simple sans or timeless serif. As with any other art form, everyone’s entitled to their own personal taste. Whatever turns you on, it’s probably because at some point it just grabbed your attention.
So, when it’s time to design your book cover, you naturally reach for this attention-getting typeface, right?
Wrong. You’re not Picasso. (Well, maybe you are, but Picasso had a thing for weird faces and wasn’t trying to sell novels.) You want to wow your audience with the content of your book, not what it’s wearing. There’s a difference between selling graphic arts and literary arts, and the two techniques often compete with one another.
When your message is more important than your style, there’s one rule to remember: the perfect typeface for the job is one that goes entirely unnoticed.
Imagine you just designed the world’s coolest new typeface. You wouldn’t unveil it spelling out some abhorrent racist message, would you? The beauty of the letterforms would be completely eclipsed by the content. Likewise, if you want your words to be read, you don’t want the audience lost in the parabolic curves and jaunty angles of the letters that make up the message.
When it comes to selling books—because, face it, readers do judge a book by its cover—there are three primary typeface treatments, used separately or combined, that have proven most effective in capturing eyeballs without detracting from the words they form.
- Sans-serif typeface
- Large letter-size
Check out most of the trade paperbacks on the rack next time you’re in the grocery store or mega-mart. You’ll find that most of them use one, two , or all three of these techniques.
And, yes, you’ll find quite a few that don’t, by bestselling authors, even. Yeah, well that’s because they’re bestselling authors! They can get away with breaking the rules because readers are already seeking out their names. They don’t have to put on airs (as you and I do) to convince a reader that they should be taken seriously.
Just as color hues and shades have a subliminal effect on potential buyers, so too do the typefaces in which book covers are set. There are no hard and fast definitions of their meanings, but here are a few clues to what type styles convey to an audience:
- Cursive: romance, antiquity, femininity, frailty
- Block type: power, danger, masculinity, strength
- Serif: academia, authority, conformity, formality
- Sans-Serif: urgency, entertainment, leisure, informality
In the next installment, we’ll take a look at these type styles in a little more detail and discuss the difference between “display type” and “body type” (and, no, I don’t mean endomorphic or ectomorphic.) In the meantime, take a look at the book covers of some mainstream print books and see what trends you can pick out.