What NOT To Do (Cover Edition): Font Choice

June 03, 2014

Let me just start off by saying that this has been a fun use of my morning. For the sake of this informative post and eyeballs everywhere, I dismantled one of my newest pre-made covers and made it lousy eight times over!

And when I say lousy, I mean that these covers are lousy in relation to my current skill level—I think I'd deserve to have my hands gnawed by marmots for trying to sell you such an oozing pile of incompetence. That said, we're all at different stages in our cover-designing endeavors, so what I might consider awful could be something you're fiercely proud of—and vice versa. The same goes for our novels, our hobbies, and just about everything else in life; perceptions of their worth tend to be relative. 

But regardless of your current skill level, here are some things that all of us can avoid when selecting, styling, and placing fonts for our covers.

Does the Edwardian Script for the title necessarily look bad? 


Is Edwardian Script—and Scriptina, for that matter—so overdone that a little piece of my soul dies every time I see it slapped on a pre-made romance cover?


I've used Scriptina all of one time, and I did it because I truly believed it fit the aesthetic of the cover art. Front and center of every third cover on Amazon's 'Romance' page is not the time or the place for this font.

And that author name! I can't tell you how many covers I've seen where the title or author's name is inexplicably (and obviously!) stretched well beyond the font's intended height-to-width ratio. If you have to abuse the resize tool to this degree in order to somewhat get the result you want, you're better off using a different font that already possesses those qualities (i.e. tall and bold, wide and skinny, etc). Don't force what isn't there because I can already guarantee you that it will look like crap on a cracker.

You know where I see covers like these the most? On sites like Wattpad and FanFiction.net. These covers typically consist of a picture pulled from Google Images and a narrow, out-of-place handwriting font slapped over it. While I would never advise using images you don't own or have the license to use for anything beyond personal use, I really don't have much of a problem with people using these kinds of fonts for the covers of stories they've published for free online. 

It just doesn't sell books.

It's not compelling, it doesn't build intrigue, and it doesn't look professional.

First of all: DON'T COVER UP THE FOCAL POINT OF YOUR COVER ARTWORK. If you commit such an atrocity, legions of tiny mouse-men with little pointy sticks will commit to shanking your fingers until you move that crap out of the way. 

Also, don't even think about using Lucida Handwriting. Nothing screams self-published quite like Lucida Handwriting (or pretty much any other Microsoft Word-bundled font, for that matter).

The clipart is also unnecessary and should not be the focal point of this cover. Generic accents and dingbats should be used to enhance already kickin' cover art—they're not main attraction material.

Like Scriptina and Lucida Handwriting, Lucida Blackletter is yet another overused and easily recognizable font I'd recommend avoiding.

That aside, the main problem with this particular version of the cover is that the text overwhelms the artwork. There are too many fonts and textures going on (not to mention the stretched author text) as well as a lack of balance between the design elements. While you don't want your text to be too small, your text also shouldn't be unnaturally contorted for the sake of filling empty space.

The title font and execution is boring. The font uses lacks any "X" factor and tells us nothing about the story; if anything, all it does it detract from the artwork. The presentation of the author name's is doubly offensive because

a. it's Scriptina and

b. has large and unnecessary drop shadow/beveling.

I cannot emphasize this enough: use drop shadows and beveling sparingly. I recommend only to use drop shadows for increasing readability if absolutely needed; and even then, use the least amount and at the lowest opacity possible to get the job done. Beveling can add a nice touch to an already polished cover, but it's really hit or miss. (If it helps, I've found that serif fonts look best with modest beveling when the cover art is already relatively simple.)

Here we've got Lucida Blackletter, excessive drop shadow, stretched text, and...why, there's even a white glow around the letters!

Text glow is something I try to avoid. It can look really cool when done well, but it's a fine line to balance. If you're going to use text glow, fight the urge to use it in tandem with drop shadow and beveling. It's overkill.

I can't tell you how many covers I've seen that have the strangest font textures. You don't need your title to resemble a frothing hairy merman in order to grab people's attention—in fact, I'd argue there's more beauty to be found in simplicity. If you must have a texture, don't use any additional drop shadow, beveling, or text glow and be sure to consider whether or not the texture actually adds value to your cover's appearance or if it's just something you thought would look cool in theory.

Similarly, try to limit the number of fonts used on your cover. One or two is ideal; three is acceptable depending on how the fonts interact with the cover artwork and each other. If you haven't designed many covers before, limit yourself to two fonts until you've had enough time to throughly test which combinations do and don't work for you!

Comic Sans and Papyrus are the butt of many designer's jokes. I entreat you: don't go there. They're laughed upon for good reason, and the last thing you want is for people to deride the everlovin' hell out of your work just because you made an unfortunate design faux pas.

Also note that the size and placement of the title is neither eye-catching or in balance with the rest of the cover. While I'm all for simplicity, this isn't right kind of simple.

Simple doesn't mean lazy.

Simple means an uncluttered design that's polished to the point of looking effortless—even though it wasn't.

Before we get to the cover as I originally designed it, I should mention that the cover art is actually a combination of these two stock images:

(If you read my "Making of" posts, you've seen me stress the importance of taking your stock images to the next level. Anyone can license the same stock image you chose for your cover—it's up to you or your designer to make it unique!)

So here's what I consider to be a solid cover. I can't claim that this is the absolute/definitive "right" way to have done this cover because honestly, there is no "right" way. The possibilities are truly endless, and this is just but one interpretation pulled from an infinite, sometimes comic-sans plagued sea of potential.

(BUT BEFORE YOU SCROLL ANY FURTHER: do you hate the color pink? If even the word makes your eye twitch, you might want to click here for an alternate version.)

(This cover is currently available for purchase on kmwritingdesign.com and Etsy.
 If you don't like the colors, don't worry; I can change 'em.  As always, it's first come, first served!)

1. Use fonts with purpose. Look at the covers of books in your genre and take notice of the font's type (serif or sans serif) and function on the cover. Is the title understated? Right up in your face? Is it a solid color? Is it transparent? Is it imposing or is it inviting? Lowercase serif fonts are great for creating a refined, poised look for literary and non-fiction covers, while large uppercase serif fonts draw emphasis to the urgency of action-driven works of fiction.

2. Strike a balance between your text elements and your cover art. Don't place text over the main focal point of your art; conversely, don't make your text too small for fear of covering even the least important of areas.

3. Don't over-design. What I was driving at with this post is to lay off of the drop shadows and bevels and textures—if you're just starting out in cover design, they'll probably do you more harm than good. Do your best to master the basics before introducing those kinds of novelties. You'll be glad you did!

4. Be mindful of color. Choose font colors that are both readable and that reflect the emotional setting of your novel. If you're designing a cover for a gothic novel, chances are that pink and purple aren't representative of the story to come; similarly, a black cover with red and white text is too dark and brooding for an upbeat chick-lit read.

5.  Don't let your personal preferences for colors and fonts dictate your choices. I don't care how much you love orange and the font "Cracked"—use whatever best represents the story tucked between your cover's virtual (or physical) confides. Because after all...

It's not about you.

It's about conveying the contents and core values of your book to potential readers in a single glance.


  1. this is a great article!
    thanks for the specific details.

    1. Thank you so much, Tari—I'm glad to hear you found it useful! :-)


Comments are appreciated! Please include your URL so I can return the favor.