Wednesday, June 24, 2009

For Artists: A Brief Look at Title Fonts

Let’s talk covers and fonts. One of the most important parts of your cover is your font choice. I’m a bit of a fontaholic so this part is rather fun for me. You are going to want to choose a font that conveys the mood and general theme of your cover. There are plenty of good theme fonts out there, Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy. The one thing you need to keep in mind is readability. Having a cool font is great but it won’t do you any good if the person who picks up the book can’t tell the difference between a “d”, a “p”, and an “r”.

I now apologize in advance to the PaintShop Pro users out there. Photoshop is the industry standard and my program of choice and, while I know the same types of options described below exist in PSP, I don’t know enough about the program to tell you how to use them.

Aside from readability, there are no hard and fast rules for font choices. You can combine a number of different styles with very good results. There are a lot of great free font sites out there but the best I’ve found so far is com.

The font choices you make for your title will convey the entire mood and theme of the book at a glance so it's important to choose wisely. Font can make the difference between telling potential readers whether the book is a horror,

or a romance,

or science fiction.

Remember, the cover is the first thing people see and they really do judge a book by it's cover. It’s the artist’s job to sell the book at a glance and a well chosen font or combination of fonts goes a long way towards doing that.

Now you have your font choice made and you add in your title. Uh oh. The artwork is full of contrast and there are spots where the font just doesn’t show up. Something you have to remember is that you are creating text over a surface where the hue, tone and lightness shift and change. This means that what is quite readable at the beginning of your word might not be at the end.

OK, perhaps the above image is a little extreme. However, the perfect font won't do you any good if no one can read it. So how do we fix it? There's a lot of simple ways to fix readability. Photoshop has a number of layer styles available that will usually do the trick quite nicely. (Just double click your text layer in the layers pallet to get the dialog in the next screenshot.)

For the above image a simple outer glow layer style will work well. To make light text readable on light backgrounds, choose a dark color for your outer glow and set the blend mode to multiply.

To make dark text readable on dark backgrounds, choose a light color for your outer glow and set the blend mode to screen.

Play with all the layer styles, see what they do, see what different combinations do. Play with the different settings within layer styles to see the different effects you can achieve. Layer styles are easy to get rid of if you don't like them (Right click the layer and select clear layer style). I'll show you some of the different styles and style combinations I use on covers to make titles more readable.

Inner glow works much the same way as outer glow except the glow comes from inside the text instead of from around it. Inner glow works best on thick, blocky ragged fonts.

Drop shadow will also allow your text to stand out from the background. This one works especially well if the main colors of your cover or font are rather neutral and there is no good contrasting color.

I've found that combinations of layer styles can be used to good effect as well. In this next one I've duplicated the font layer and applied an outer glow to the bottom layer and drop shadow to the top one.

And the last example is Stroke which tends to work well if you want your font to be the same color (or close to it) as your background. As you can see from the small sample on Stroke, sometimes the width of the stroke will need to be wider for smaller text.

Remember to keep your font choices readable but make them fun and interesting while conveying the mood and theme of the cover. Practice makes perfect!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Authors, How To Get The Most From Your Cover Artist

It’s no big secret that as an author for a small press publisher, you get far more leeway regarding what goes on your cover that you would at a giant publishing house. That said however….

A good cover artist likes to tell stories. We tell them visually, with images. A good cover tells a story at a glance. Or enough of one to make a reader pick up a book and ask, “What’s going on here?” and then care enough to buy the book and find out. A good cover is compelling, dynamic, poignant, heart wrenching. It’s what separates your book from the thousands of other books next to it on the shelves. Let’s face it; unless you are Stephen King or Mary Higgins Clark, your cover is what will sell your book so it better be a good one.

So how do you, the author, help to make sure your cover is the best it could possibly be? Well let’s go over some basics.

Wiggle room
Give the artist breathing room; don’t be too set on your vision. If your guidelines and descriptions are too strict you’re going to squash their creative drive and you might just lose out on a truly great cover you never even thought of. The creative process works best when there’s a good 50/50 split between author and artist. It’s always a bad idea to create your own cover to “give them inspiration”. You’re the author, your words should be their inspiration.

Chances are if the publisher wants your input you will be given some form of questionnaire to fill out to provide information. Take your time. This is going to be your primary communication with your cover artist. If you rush, leave things out or don’t put the necessary effort into it it will most likely result in miscommunication and you will be unhappy with your cover. We aren’t mind readers. If you don’t mention the length or color of your heroine’s hair do not be surprised if the hair we choose doesn’t match your vision.

This goes along with number two. When we ask you for your character’s characteristics we want physical attributes. Her hair, her eyes, the type of clothing she wears, height, weight. Her mental state, moral standards and psychological state, unless they have some bearing on her outward appearance, don’t really help us much.

Please feel free to be as detailed as you’d like, however, kindly remember that these are books, not Italian wall frescoes. Sure it’d be great if you could fit the entire civil war battle scene of Gone With the Wind on your cover…but do you really want to? The smaller you get the less detail will be seen so it’s best to decide what the important elements of your cover are before asking us to depict your heroine in the middle of Times Square at rush hour on a Friday afternoon, and oh by the way her blue eyes are VERY important. Rule of thumb would be that three people is the upward limit of what can sensibly fit on a cover.
Take a look around at other books as well. There are a lot of beautiful covers coming out today that don’t depict people on them at all. The Twilight series, for example, has covers are very striking and memorable and quite simple. It’s not always necessary to recreate entire scenes for your cover.

Lack of focus
It’s ok to be vague. Give your artist several pieces of imagery you’d like to see on the cover and we can work with that. Don’t give us an idea and then when you see it decide you’d like something different. None of us are in this to get rich but we do have to keep our work versus time cost effective. Redoing your cover four times because you keep changing your mind is NOT cost effective and it will not endear you to us.

Trust your cover artist
Or at the very least your Art Director. We are the experts. If we come back and tell you that an idea won’t work for a cover, has no hook, isn’t dynamic enough, it’s not because we want to run roughshod over your vision. It’s because your cover won’t work. If you persist in clinging stubbornly to your vision even after you’ve been told repeatedly that it won’t help sell your book, don’t be surprised when the Art Director tells you that she has the final say and runs roughshod over your vision anyway and the cover artist refuses to work with you again. It’s really much easier to be open to ideas and work WITH your artist than it is to force them into something they are unhappy with.

Remember, we want the books with our covers to sell just as much as you do.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

How NOT to impress me (or most other Art Directors)....

Cross posted from my Facebook account and has also been picked up by Jon Schindehette, the Sr Art Director for Dungeons & Dragons / Wizards of the Coast.
If you're going to send me your portfolio in the hopes of getting a job as cover artist DO NOT:

1. Rewrite your entire resume into 18 glowing paragraphs of your entire artistic history beginning with the first box of crayons you ate at the age of 3.

2. Misspell the name of the company you are applying to all four times you use it in your query letter. Do some research.

3. Tell me about your previous job as the receptionist at the dentists office and that you are currently employed as a clerk in the shipping department of your local grocery store. Does this somehow relate to your artistic talent? Unless you covered the wall of your office in a precise recreation of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel then I don't care and you are wasting my time.

6. Tell me you are an author who designs book covers. With all due respect to the wonderful authors scattered throughout my listing of friends, most authors, while they know what they want never really understand what a cover needs to be in order to sell the book AND be visually appealing. (I said "most" there are always exceptions to the rule!)

7. Send me a query letter translated from your native language to English by Babelfish.

8. Send me a one line query letter consisting of nothing but your name and a link to your portfolio. Even if your portfolio is the most visually stunning thing I've seen since the movie Hero you will wind up in my trash because you will come across as cocky and difficult to work with.

9. Attach all 91 of your last commission pieces as a zip file to your email. I won't ever get around to opening it.

10. Send your query letter and portfolio to every available email address listed on the contact form of the publisher's website. Most of these people have nothing to do with the art department.

Here's a couple "do"s

1. Do send me a link to an online portfolio. They make my life much simpler and are easier to show the other people who need to see it as well.

2. Do take the time to write a well thought out query letter giving me, in brief, your artistic background and experience as relates to the job you are inquiring about.

3. Do research the company you are inquiring about to see if the styles they use and the books they sell are a good match to your own style.

4. Do check for specific contact information for the Art Director or the Art Department. If there is none listed send your query to the submissions email or the Sr Editor's email adding a polite request to please forward it on to the appropriate person if need be.

5. Do have either an online PDF or electronic copy of your resume available upon request.

It's really not that hard folks...really it's not.