In my last post, I interviewed Adam Pavese, a graphic designer and marketer, and he laid out the basics for us on what a graphic designer does, how it looks for a writer to work alongside a designer, and why visual representation is so important. If you missed that post, be sure to check it out here, because there are some foundational topics that we’ll be building on in this post.
In Part 2 of my three-part design series, Adam will be giving us the basic how-to’s of designing your own book cover and social media posts. We’re going to look at some visual examples of designs and talk through actual processes you can use in your own work — not just vague, general ideas about design.
the first thing to focus on when starting a design
I always think about the feeling or the “vibe” I want someone to experience when they look at a design of mine. How do I want them to feel when they look at this? Should they feel happy, empowered, courageous, scared, intimidated, etc. The feeling you want to invoke is going to be the driving force for everything else moving forward.
Research the covers of books you like, or search for the popular books in your genre, and study them. Look at the elements used in the design and the colors that were chosen, and pick them apart. Determine how those things make you feel, and how that meshes with the plot of the book.
Color palettes are a set of specific colors that all compliment each other well. Let me stress, COMPLIMENT EACH OTHER WELL. If you just blindly pick a fistful of colors, your final design will end up looking like a piñata and please trust me, no one wants that.
choosing a color palette
Picking your color palette can be a little tricky. This is where you have to take the first step (choosing your vibe) into heavy consideration. Lets say for instance you’re going for a scary/intimidating feeling for your design. If you go with robin’s egg blue, off-white, silver, and taupe, you’re not going to accomplish what you’re trying to do. You’re going to want to compose something with colors that are dark and heavy.
The other thing you’re going to want to be really conscious of, is color consistency. Don’t stray from your palette/vibe when you’re creating marketing material and social media content. You want to start cultivating what’s called “brand recognition.” For example, we’ve worked really hard to create a visual consistency for So Sang The Dawn. We want people to recognize the very distinct shade of blues and whites that we chose, and in turn, have So Sang The Dawn be the first thing that pops into their mind when they see those colors. You can use colors, feelings, and visual cues like that to do subconscious marketing for you.
Here, you can see an example of an Easter/series palette I did for a church I work with.
Here’s a few examples of some of the main types of fonts.
Theres a good rule that I try to stick to when using multiple fonts together and thats “never use more than three fonts together.” Generally you only need to use two, and what you want to do is look for good contrasting fonts. If I use a Serif font, I’ll offset it with a nice clean Sans Serif font. If I use a really clean Sans Serif font, I’ll offset it with a distressed or broken font.
Keep in mind, you don’t always have to use more than one font. You can use different weights of the same font to contrast each other too! (If you want to know which fonts pair well together, do a little research. For instance, if you find a font you really like for your title, Google that font to find out which other fonts are commonly used alongside it in design.)
font placement, font sizes, and font weights
Font placement and font sizes all boil down to visuals. It’s good to keep something called the “rule of thirds” in mind when you’re doing this. Give your text and your design a sense of thought and purpose. Don’t just spray text and graphics all over the place. Plan out where you want stuff, how you want it to look, and which elements you want to catch someone’s eye.
Font sizing plays a big roll in this too. If your font is small and thin, you’ll get a very quiet, whisper style to your design. If your fonts are big and bold, you’ll create a loud, shouting style for your design.
Design elements are things like pictures, fonts, graphics, and really any of the individual pieces that make up your design. You want to make sure that they compliment your color palette and style nicely. You also want to MAKE SURE that they are high resolution. If it looks like it’s going to be pixelated or blurry, don’t use it.
design element rules
High Resolution — Make sure your graphics, jpegs, pngs, svgs, etc. are high resolution. 300 ppi (ppi = Pixels Per Inch) is always a good resolution. It can make your file a lot bigger for uploading, but when it comes to printing, you’ll see that it was worth it!
Rule Of Thirds — The rule of thirds simply states that if you take a canvas and divide it into three equally sized horizontal sections and three equally sized vertical sections, the resulting grid provides a sort of “roadmap” that helps you choose where to place your design elements. Any graphic design software worth its salt can apply a rule of thirds grid to your canvas and crop accordingly, but grids are easy enough to make on your own—you could even draw it directly onto a printed design if you wanted to.
Rule Of Odds — The rule of odds states that images are more visually appealing when there is an odd number of subjects. You can apply this to your design elements as well. If you’re going to add flowers, don’t use two, use one, three, or five.
Symmetrical Design – When you’re designing symmetrically, try to think “If I folded this design in half perfectly, would it be the exact same on both sides”? This is the counter rule to the Rule Of Thirds — as in, you should never apply the Rule of Thirds and the Symmetrical Style to the same design.
the don’ts of design elements
Don’t…ever use Papyrus or Comic Sans. We’re all mature adults and we’re better than this.
Don’t…over design. Adding way too many elements and fonts and colors to your design can make it look extremely muddy and cluttered. A lot of the time, less is more.
Don’t…get too many options on your design. A lot of times, we finish a design and and our first instinct is to run to the masses and get every opinion we can get and then go apply those suggested changes. This isn’t a healthy route to go. As much as you want to appeal to your client (or readers and customers, in your case) your design needs to be an extension of YOU. You need to be able to boldly stand behind your visuals with confidence.
The way I handle this is I have a group of about four people that I’ll show my conceptual work to. These people have my permission to completely rip it apart or praise the ever living heck out of it. I trust these people and their opinions but they all know, in the end, I have the final say. They don’t get offended if I don’t take their advice.
NOTE: Make sure the people you choose actually know what they’re talking about. Find some artists, designers, photographers, etc. and make them your go-to people. Just remember, your mom will always love anything you make yourself. Even if it’s a hot mess.
Don’t…be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Sometimes you just hit a wall and that’s TOTALLY OKAY!
Don’t…close your mind to options. I would highly recommend having a professional designer do your artwork for you, but I know money can play a big role in the decision to do it yourself. There are a lot of designers that would be happy to cut a deal with you or possibly do it for free so they can get a book cover in their portfolio. You’ll never know unless you ask and the worst they can say is no!
NOTE: If you get the opportunity to work with a designer, don’t overtax or micromanage them to death with a million changes. Cast a clear vision of what you want from the beginning and let them do what they do best from there.
Don’t…be afraid. It’s sometimes embarrassing to put all the work into designing a book cover knowing it might not look like you paid $25k for it but thats ok! Stand behind your design with confidence! It might not be all that and a bag of chips but it’s a visual extension of all the passion and hard work that went into telling your story, and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
Adam’s given us some fantastic tips to design in this blog post, and I hope it’s helped change the way you look at visual design. One last thing I want to mention very shortly is book titles. Your designer isn’t responsible for helping you to choose a title, but it’s part of your book cover design, and part of the visual hook.
Choose a strong title, something that really conveys a sense of intrigue. You want your title — and your book cover design as a whole — to be something that when someone walks down an aisle of books or is scrolling through Kindle, they stop and look again at your cover because the design and the title intrigued them enough that they want to pick up the book or click on it to read the back cover.
Personally, my favorite kinds of titles are the ones that are slightly obscure and vague, like The Fault In Our Stars. That’s a title that would draw me in immediately because it’s vague enough to not give away what the plot is about, but intriguing enough that I want to know more.
If you want to achieve that feeling in your readers, choose a title based on a line or a phrase or a concept from your book. For example, I named my book So Sang The Dawn, pulled directly out of a verse that’s quoted in the book. If I had instead chosen to go the normal route, and named it something to do with the overarching plot as a whole, I would have titled it something like Finding Dawn, or Light From Darkness. Both are still cool titles, but not nearly as intriguing in my opinion.
Whatever your book and whatever your design, make sure to put as much effort and research into it as you do into your writing. Your book will really stand out in their mind if you have a striking cover worth remembering!
Check back next week for the final post in the series, where Adam will go through some very hands-on and applicable methods of how to market your book and keep yourself in front of people’s faces without being gimmicky or overbearing. Don’t miss it!