How to Choose Powerful Fonts and Titles for Your Book Cover
When most writers hear “your cover sells your book,” they think of the front cover image, but that is only one piece of a cover. Readers wandering through a bookstore are equally if not more likely to see the spine of your book before the front, so your title and font need to convince them to pick up your book and look at both covers.
Spines Are All About Emotion
When a reader sees your book cover spine and other fonts, they should feel something, just like when they see your front cover graphics. They should feel inspired, thrilled, hopeful, or worried. Most importantly, they should feel curious. Curiosity is what makes a reader pull a book off the shelf (whether virtual or physical) and examine it further.
There are three parts to a book spine: title, author name, and publisher emblem. I am going to focus on the title and fonts of your whole cover. Those will have the greatest emotional impact on your readers.
Find a Title That Makes Readers Curious
Titles Build Interest
Whether on your spine or your cover, the first line of writing a reader sees is your title. You want to come up with a title that conveys your story, emotion, and genre. A romance reader isn’t going to pick up a book titled Death by Dumpling, and a mystery reader isn’t looking for something called The Laird Takes a Bride.
Every genre has certain buzz words their readers are conditioned to recognize. As a fantasy reader, I perk up at when a title contains “Dragon.” Thriller readers respond to “Murder” and “Killer.” Nonfiction readers notice “Memoir” and “A True Story.” If one of your genre’s buzz words fits your story, consider taking advantage of it.
Titles Are Communication
Two important aspects of your title are readability and memorability. If you use a made-up word from your world or a complicated name in your title, you might be shooting yourself in the foot. How are readers going to spread the word about your amazing story if they can’t pronounce your title? How are they going to search for it if they can’t spell it? The opposite of this is a boring, short, easily forgettable title. You need your readers to remember what your book is called, so they can recommend it to their friends and families.
I’m going to be honest; I am not good at titles. I recognize great ones and understand how to create them, but they aren’t my forte. Instead of giving mediocre exercises, I’m going to recommend you take a look at 4 Steps to Choosing Your Title and How to Pick a Title for Your Book. Their advice has made naming my fairy tale collection easier.
Titles are essential to getting readers’ attention. From those few words, readers decide whether or not your book is worth investigating, so don’t settle with your title. Push to find something you love and believe will appeal to your readers.
Font Styles Matter
Hints of Genre in Font
When deciding on your fonts, focus on readability and genre. Yes, you want a font that you like and fits your story, but your font isn’t for you. It’s for your reader.
Fonts are a subtle but powerful way to communicate the genre and tone of your story. If you’re writing a serious nonfiction book, you don’t want to choose an informal, hand-written style that a middle schooler might like. If you’re writing a light-hearted, coming of age story, you don’t want a serious, blocky font. Look at the fonts below. Can you tell where their books would be shelved?
The first font is from a romance novel. The long, flowing script is elegant and reminiscent of calligraphy-style love letters. The second font is from a middle grade novel. Its uneven block letters are messy, clear, and similar to the way a middle schooler might write, making the text relatable to the target audience. The third text is from a nonfiction spiritual/self-help book, and with thin, easy to read letters, the font conveys the clear, uplifting tone of the book. The fourth and last cover has a dripping, stylized font quintessential of horror books. This font conjures images of messages penned in blood.
Think of your title font as a part of your cover image. It should provide the same information about your genre and the emotion of your story. On the spine, your title and font serve as a message in the form of both text and image.
Complimentary Font Choices
Your title isn’t your only font. You also have a font for your back cover copy, author name, and interior. Usually those three are the same or very similar. Most graphic designers recommend 2-3 fonts for the entire book. Although bolder or fancier, your title font should mesh with your author name, interior, and back cover fonts. When lined up, they should look like they belong in the same book.
All of your fonts should also be easy to read. Don’t make your reader work to decipher your text, or they will move on to something else. If you overuse a bunch of text effects, you lose clarity and look like an amateur. The arrangement of font on a book is one of the fastest ways to spot a DIY cover. The spacing between letters and words, size, and effects might be just a little off, but a reader will notice. Humans are very visual creatures, and consciously or not, they will judge your book on the cover/spine font.
The cover designers I know tell their authors over and over again not to use trendy fonts because in five years, your book will look old. An alternative might be having a font created or tweaked for your book, or using color and placement to get the feeling of the trendy font you like without giving in to a fad.
An Editor’s Recommendations for Fonts and Spine Cover Design
Before you start solidifying your book cover concept, take a field trip to your local bookstore. Wander through the shelves and pay attention to the books you want to pick up and investigate further. What draws you to them? The title? The image? The colors? The font? Spend a good amount of time in your genre’s shelves and note the themes you find in the fonts, titles, and other cover aspects. You want your cover to fit on those shelves, yet stand out as the best.
Try not to overthink your fonts or title. I find the opinions of a few trusted friends/fellow writers to be invaluable in making these decisions. Consider asking people you trust to help you decide on a font or title or run a contest. If you have a social media following (and you should) pole them or offer a free copy of your book to the person who titles it for you. Use your fonts and titles to inspire readers to pick up your book and Ignite Your Cover.
What are your favorite book cover titles and fonts? Share them in the comments below. For a timeline showing when cover design should happen in the publishing process, subscribe to Ignite Your Ink below.
Ignite Your Ink is written by editor and author Caitlin Berve. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics, actively participates in multiple writers’ organizations, and is dedicated to helping writers produce content that leaves an impression on readers.