Guest Post: Writing a Good Cover - Part 2

7:00 PM

I promised I’d be back, and here I am. In the first part of this I went through the creative process behind creating a book cover. The steps and thought processes involved in what makes a good cover. It’s a good starting point for how to conceive the outside for your hard labor.

If you missed the first instillation of this series, you can check it out here.

Now, let’s get technical.

When you write, it’s not all creative. There are just as many technical aspects behind what you write as what you think. On a smaller scale you have sentence structure, punctuation, and pretty much every aspect of grammar. Then, on the larger scale, there is character development, tone, and all the other elements of storytelling. If you know how to put all that together, then you have the means to create a novel.

And you also have the means to create the actual book. Unlike the first part of this series, which put everything on a mental level, this one involves other tools. For a professional designer, those tools likely come from Adobe, but you don’t have to have a subscription to Creative Cloud to produce a book. Most word processors have options to output a press-ready file to varying degrees. Do a little research on the what and how of what you own. Learn those tools. I’m not able to tell you how they work. I’m just going to give you pointers on what to do with them.

Let’s work from the inside out.

The interior of the book is the actual structure of the novel. Like sentence structure, you have to build it in a logical manner that is clear and easy to understand. It might look intimidating, but you need to break it down to its most simple form: a page. Don’t think of it as building a whole book. You are putting together a page. Just like you take one sentence and add those together to create your novel, taking the pages one at a time add up to a whole book. Like a sentence, a page has structure. The subject of the page is called the live area or body. It’s the heart of the layout and where you put all of your novel’s text.

From a sentence structure perspective, the area around that is the predicate. It’s what creates the action by focusing the eye on the subject. Designers call the part towards the spine the gutter, and the part on the outside, top, and bottom is the margin. You need to keep enough margin so that the body of your book is clear of the edge. Your word processing program likely has pre-set margins for a page. These are generally meant for printing out on a 8.5” x 11” piece of paper. You will need to adjust them for the printing press so that the on odd numbered pages, there is a larger margin on the left-hand side of the page, and on even numbers, you move that to the right. There is probably a setting for this in your program. Look for a tutorial on that specific program and put it to use. Note: if you are laying out for an ebook, this isn’t as important. Margins for an ebook are the same on all four sides of the page.

The last part you need to worry about for the internal layout of your book is punctuation. For layout, this is going to be your font choice and paragraph formatting. While you can probably name a half-dozen fonts already, there are only two types of fonts you need to concern yourself with: serif and sans-serif. Those fonts that have a little “tail” on the letters are called serif fonts. Which makes the ones without those “tails” to be the sans-serif ones. The rule here is pretty simple. If you are doing the book for print, use a serif font. Research shows that reading serif fonts on paper is easier. For an ebook, it’s the opposite. Use a sans-serif font, for the exact same reason—research says it’s easier to read.

Paragraph formatting is a little trickier. You’ve likely seen the line-spacing option on your word processing program. Generally that’s listed as single, double, etc. In a design sense that is called leading (pronounced led-ing, by the way). I’m going to go back to story structure to describe this one. You can’t have a book where the only thing that happens is a fight scene. Three hundred pages of fight scene will appeal to no one. Even if that is the core of the story, you have to give the fight scene some room to breathe. Do the same with your paragraphs. Let them breathe. And not just the lines of the paragraph itself, but allow for a little extra space between the paragraphs. The one other thing I want to touch on for the paragraphs is the alignment. For print, you will want to use left-aligned text. That’s the text that looks like it has a jagged edge on the right-hand side, but everything is straight on the left. For ebooks, use justified text. That’s where the text lines up not only on the left, but also on the right.

Now, I’m going to go outside and touch on the cover for just a moment. There are three parts to the cover of a book: the front cover, the back cover, and the spine. The two biggest things that you need to keep in mind from a technical point of view correlate to character development and tone. The character development of your cover is, once again, the font. This is what will give a tone to your book just by reading the title. A font that drips blood screams horror. A font that looks like it is made of metal makes you think it’s science-fiction. Hand script fonts are romance. Choose a font that tells people what they need to know before they open the book. This, however, isn’t the important part. When you build a character, you want people to understand the character—even if they are supposed to understand that the character is impossible to understand. Which, in a design sense, means, above everything else, make the font readable. It doesn’t matter how cool you think the font looks, if it isn’t instantly recognizable it fails. People don’t linger. They move quickly. You have two seconds to get them. Use it wisely.

Now, to that end, the tone of your book is color theory. How you set up the cover and move it along is the tone, and nothing does that more than color. Colors are associated with emotion. Blue is calm. Red is anger. Purple is mysterious. Yellow is happy. Use these colors to set up the initial impression of the book, but also the underlying tone. Color theory is the way that colors interact with each other. So use those colors in the right combinations. Complementary colors stand out from each other, and will create a more shocking effect. These are the colors that are opposite each other on a color wheel. Analogous colors are ones that are next to each other on the color wheels and they create a more subtle feel. Let those colors set the tone of your whole book.

There’s a lot more to it, but hopefully just looking at the pages in a new way will help. I will say again, you can do this yourself. If it gets overwhelming, however, get help. There are plenty of people who will give you free advice and help. And if that doesn’t prove to be enough, hire someone. At the very least you should be able to give those designers a little direction.

Author Bio:

Brett Brooks most recent novel is The Devil Was Green, the second novel in the Pussy Katnip pulp-noir adventure series. In all, Brett has published five novels. He has also published work with Dark Horse Comics, White Wolf Publishing, and many others.

If you want to follow up with the author or purchase a copy of his books, please follow these links: 

Find inspiration in Brett Brook's guest post? Tell us about it in the comments below!

* This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I'll receive some type of commission. For more information, you can read our full disclosure here. *

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