Don’t worry! I won’t be shirtless on my book cover

 In Ned's Column

Ned's romance novel cover We’ve all heard the adage about not judging a book by it’s cover. And while that’s a terrific sentiment when it comes to people, let’s be honest in admitting the cover of a book is the first thing we judge. There’s a reason the heroine on a romance novel looks like a hair products model and not someone from an anti-drug campaign. Taking it a step further, from a woman’s perspective, would you want to thumb through the latest issue of Playgirl if Pee Wee Herman was on the cover?

OK, fine. Two of you would. Obviously, choosing a book is the least of your problems.

However, after conducting a random poll of 10 women in our office, they unanimously agreed, given a choice, they would rather see me than Pee Wee Herman — which doesn’t really say as much about my masculinity as it does about our need for better vision coverage. Regardless, I will claim that as a victory.

Getting back to book covers… I will be on one this October. I’d like to tell you it’s because Harlequin was looking for the next Fabio, “but without all the rugged good looks and muscles that distract from a book’s title. If less is more, Ned Hickson gives us more than we imagined possible.”

That’s what I’d like to tell you. But the fact is it’s MY book and, because it’s humorous, the publisher felt my face would be the perfect selling point. For obvious reasons, I was concerned that my anti-Fabio-ness would indeed prove so compelling that no one would notice the title. Or the book, for that matter. Kind of like those commercials during the Super Bowl that are so HILARIOUS no one remembers what was being advertised.

“I saw a book with this guy on the cover. MAN did he look funny!”
“That sounds great! What was the book?”

Because of this, I think we can all agree deciding on a book cover design is one of the most crucial decisions you’ll make as an author, right along with your book’s title, what photo to use for the author bio, and whether to wear socks with your Penny Loafers during book readings. (For the record, as an Oregonian, I wear hiking boots 90 percent of the time. The rest of the time I am sleeping. However, I keep my hiking boots next to the bed just in case I sleepwalk.) Obviously, the objective of any book cover is to catch the eye and distinguish itself from the hundreds of titles on the same shelf or eBook scroll bar. In the end, it really comes down to two main decisions:

What fonts?
What kind of graphic or image?

While there are literally a bazillion different kids of fonts out there (seriously, I counted them), they boil down to six main categories: Old Style (traditional serif fonts such as Goudy, Baskerville and Palatino), Modern (Bold, eye-catching with extreme transitions between thick and thin, such as Braggadocio and Engravers MT), Slab Serif (which only sounds like something a medical examiner would use, but are actually fonts with heavy thickness all around, such as Cooper Black, Latin and Rockwell), Sand Serif (which has no thick-thin variations and is easier to read from a distance, like Helvetica, Impact and Charcoal), Script (all of which have a handwritten quality, such as with Chancery, Brush Script and Lucida), and lastly Decorative (which are fonts so stylized they look more like illustrations, like Zapfino, Desdemona and Herculanum).

The basic rules with fonts are 1) never use more than one font from the same category, and 2) always use two different fonts on your cover. This will ensure clear distinction between the title (and subhead, which is a current trend) and the author’s name or tag line. Using three different font styles begins to look confusing. Especially when translated into Chinese; particularly if you don’t read Chinese.

Choose fonts that capture the feel of your book but that also compliment each other by distinguishing themselves from each other. In short, when picking font styles, you’re looking for the Kim Kardashian and Kanye West of the font world.

Next comes deciding between an illustration or photo image for your book cover. Again, it really depends on the feel or “mood” you are trying to evoke. Romance covers tend to look dreamy with handwritten-type fonts from the Script and Old Style families. Images are generally graphic illustrations that leave something to the imagination of the reader. Young adult designs are edgier, with stark color contrasts and crisp font styles from the Decorative or Modern families. The main focus of YA covers leans toward a strong female image. This is opposed to Romance covers, which almost always feature a muscular, shirtless male looking as though he just found a woman while making the bed.

In my case, I have decided against going shirtless on the cover. Nor will I be holding a woman wrapped in any kind of lacy robe or bed sheet. Given that the title is Humor at the Speed of Life, we’ve decided to go with a photo, taken at a local speedway, where I will be poised to race a pair of dragsters with my mini van. Probably while pushing it. That pretty much sums up the top speed of my life. The photo will be black and white, with the title and byline in color.

Will this be eye-catching enough? Will it stand out from the other books out there? I can’t say for sure.

But maybe I can get Fabio to help push-start my van?

Next week: More tools for thought… or food for your toolbox… or something.

Ned Hickson
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