Mock covers created using ShutterStock images.
Whether designing a book or just the book cover, the choice of font is a very important design element.
- The right font on the book cover helps to attract the specific target audience.
- The wrong font anywhere on the book can be a sales deterrent.
- Overused fonts, like Times New Roman, Arial, Papyrus, Algerian, etc. can make an unfavorable impression with those who recognize them.
Fonts come in many different shapes, from rectangular to curvy. They can be simple or complex. They can be serif or sans serif (the little decorations that you see on the ends of letters). They can be thin or thick, light or bold.
So which font should you use for your book or book cover? That’s the million-dollar question. It’s worth taking time to consider it carefully.
It’s not hard to find a free or low-cost font that allows commercial use. It just takes a little knowing what you’re looking for and investing the time to do a thorough search.
I will begin with a discussion of font use in book design, both inside and on the cover, including font tips.
Then I will focus on genre-specific fonts, including:
- sci-fi fonts
- fantasy fonts
- romance fonts
- horror fonts
- western fonts
- and other fonts
In addition, I will illustrate this with several examples of genre-specific fonts.
Different fonts are used in different parts of the book design:
- The cover font may be different for the title, subtitle, author name, and back cover blurb. The title keywords and the author name should be abundantly clear in the thumbnail. The title may use a fancy font to convey the genre, but not at the cost of inhibiting readability. The other fonts should be simple, so as not to clash or detract from the main font. All the fonts need to go together. Avoid using more than three fonts on the front cover (two may be better, in general).
- The body font used inside a print book needs to be clear and easy on the eyes. Don’t use a fancy font for the body text. It may be worth going with a popular novel font like Garamond or Minion, rather than a genre-specific font, since the main feature of the body font is easy reading.
- Inside the book, you may also have a different font for headings and drop caps, for example. The drop cap is typically fancier, but should fit the genre, yet still needs to be clear. Especially, any drop caps in the Look Inside must be very legible. Focus more on clarity than fanciness for the headings.
- It may be best not to embed a font for the body text of an e-book, as readers are accustomed to having the freedom to choose a font of their liking.
- Study the covers and interiors of top-selling books, including self-published books, in your specific subgenre. This will help give you a feel for how the font style should look on the cover, drop caps, headings, and body text.
- Black fonts on white backgrounds are probably easiest to read (but you have to choose the font color that’s appropriate to the visual element and background). Keywords in the title really need to stand out in the thumbnail. Red text on black often doesn’t come out clear enough (and it’s a common mistake because red, black, and white make for a good three-color rule, just not with red text on a black background).
- Some fonts require kerning. This refers to the space between letters. An extreme example is the Papyrus font, which is not only overused, but very difficult to kern properly. Kerning is most important for your cover fonts and heading fonts. There is an option to kern fonts in PhotoShop or InDesign, for example. Even Microsoft Word has kerning options. Place your cursor between two letters, click on the funny-looking arrow-like icon in the bottom right corner of the Font group on the Home tab, select the Advanced tab, change Spacing to Expanded or Condensed, and play with the point value. Some letter combinations are more extreme than others, such as the WA in WATER.
- Don’t rely on the font selection to convey the genre all on its own. Phrase your title so that the genre is clear from the wording. Then the right font helps to reinforce this signal. (A subtitle can help, when necessary.)
- Take the time to research cover fonts and drop cap fonts that suit your genre. Google things like, “perfect font for a romance novel,” and variations like that. Also, see below for some tips on selecting fonts for a few popular genres. Check the font license to ensure that commercial use is permitted (in some cases, you can purchase a license directly from the font designer or from a website that sells fonts; there are also many fonts that allow free commercial use). You do need good anti-virus software and caution when downloading any fonts.
- Title keywords are even more important for nonfiction books. These need to be large so as to be clear in the thumbnail. Readability is most important.
- Emphasize the right words. Essential keywords should be larger (or at least no smaller) than unimportant words like “to,” “the,” “and.”
- Don’t use a cover font that signifies the wrong genre. That makes it difficult for your book cover to attract people who may actually be interested in your book.
- Avoid overused fonts like Times New Roman, Arial, Papyrus, Algerian, etc. Though the much bigger mistake is an inappropriate font or using a font that’s too extreme, fancy, or unreadable.
- Make sure that your fonts are clear and readable. The body text font should be very clear and easy on the eyes.
- Keep fanciness to a minimum. Readability is more important. If a font is too fancy, you might use it just for one keyword, or one letter (but the corresponding fonts better be a great match).
- Avoid arranging text vertically, diagonally, and in ways that impair easy reading.
SCIENCE FICTION FONTS
Sci-fi fonts need to look futuristic in some way. A common way is for the letters to be made up of mostly straight lines, i.e. no curves (or only subtle curves).
Think like a rocket. The sides of a rocket are straight, like most of the letters of sci-fi fonts. If there are curves, they need to feel spacey, perhaps like the smooth arch of the rocket’s apex. A metallic feel for the color may help (but not necessarily).
You wouldn’t want to use a sci-fi font for an entire novel (unless it’s subtle enough that it’s very clear and readable), but a good sci-fi font can help the cover send a harmonious signal.
The following Space Age font illustrates the spirit, though note that not all of the letters are clear. Avoid this font for non-obvious words, or when many of the letters of a word happen to be hard to read. (This particular font doesn’t allow free commercial use, though the cost may be affordable. You can find out here: mickeyavenue.com/fonts/spaceage/license.php. I have no connections with the font licenser; I simply found this font during my research. Personal use is free, however.)
The Space Marine font below is bolder and easier to read, though not quite as suggestive.
The following Orbitron font has sci-fi character, and is still fairly easy to make out.
My last example of a sci-fi font is Mashine, but don’t simply pick one of the few examples I used. There are dozens of others to choose from.
Unlike sci-fi, fantasy fonts tend to be curvier, but not as much as romance fonts. This gets a bit more complicated with paranormal romance, for example. Remember that the color scheme can help a little with the differentiation (red, for example, is common in romance, though it may be the image that’s red, not the font).
A fantasy font may have a magical or other-worldly feel to it.
You have to be careful with the most extreme fantasy fonts, which can be harder to read.
There are different kinds of fantasy books, so the specific font you choose needs not just to be a good fit for fantasy, but for your specific content.
My first example of a fantasy font is Auriol (which is not free, by the way, but I purchased a commercial license for $30):
The Endor font shown below has some extreme touches. It’s more readable with some words than with others, so use it wisely.
This Merienda font illustrates how the shape of the font can look more like fantasy than like romance. The strokes themselves are indicative of some romance fonts, but the shape makes it fantasy instead.
My last example of a fantasy font has some straight edges typical of sci-fi, yet the shapes of the letters look more ancient than futuristic, which makes it fantasy. Remember, there are many other kinds of fantasy fonts than just the brief sample shown here.
Romance fonts tend to be curvy, sometimes in a script, but not always. Beware that the script fonts are often harder to read and aren’t always available with a bold stroke.
Another consideration is that teen romance, paranormal romance, contemporary romance, historical romance, etc. are different subgenres, which may require different title fonts on their covers. It’s worth researching the top-selling books, especially those that are self-published, in your specific subgenre.
The Lust Script font below illustrates some of the curviness of romance fonts, along with some of the touches that you often see on capital letters and the ends of some letters like r’s and v’s. This font won’t come out well in all caps, by the way (though there is a non-script variation).
Here, I used the same Lust Script font for the first letters and combined it with Lust (the non-script companion) at a reduced size. The result serves as a good reminder that you need to manually kern the title fonts (compare the large gap between the NA of Naughty and the RO of Romance).
The following Pollen font is more subtle. You may not want to use an extreme romance font for the title, subtitle, and author name. You need to do some research to find combinations that work well together.
There are many, many romance fonts to choose from, and some fonts work better in some romance subgenres than others. It’s worth doing some research to see what your options are. Script is not uncommon, but place emphasis on readability and ensuring that all your cover fonts work well together.
I made the following fancier option using pictures from ShutterStock (artist Augusto Cabral). You wouldn’t want to make much text fancy like this, but one short keyword that is easy to read might work.
Of course, you could do the same in other genres, too. But you really have to be careful not to go overboard. Using images or very fancy fonts can be hard to read, and they can detract from the main visual element of the cover. Keeping the cover fonts simple, but relevant, is a good philosophy.
But let me illustrate one more example of using imagery within the font itself. The following image is also from ShutterStock (artist Mr. High Sky).
Western fonts should look like something you’d see in a wanted poster or in a western movie, for example.
They should have a more rugged feel. The color scheme might look more like a desert or the sun (red, orange, yellow), though that doesn’t mean to make the font one of these colors. Search for some authentic western posters, books, movies, etc. to see what is common.
The following Rosewood font has some familiar western character.
So does this Smokum font.
There are a variety of other kinds of fonts that clearly have a western style. Do some research to find the best one for your needs. But beware of a few that go overboard (like being entirely made out of rope).
One way to illustrate horror is a small degree of fading. Too much fading renders the font unreadable.
Another way is to add dripping blood, but it’s not easy for that blood to look right.
Fortunately, there are many bloody, faded, and other chilling fonts to choose from, so you can find the font that fits your book perfectly with a little research. Filter out the ones that are overdone or which don’t quite pull the effect off correctly.
This Misproject font illustrates a small amount of fading away. It’s still readable.
Here is one more example of a horror font. This is American Shopworn.
While the Chiller font installed on your computer might seem convenient, it may be worth taking time to find something more appropriate. Again, don’t just limit yourself to one of the two examples that I provided to help illustrate the horror genre: Explore your options thoroughly, and also browse top sellers in your subgenre.
The body text needs to be very clear and easy to read.
Times New Roman may be overused.
Garamond, shown below, is a popular alternative.
There are other good fonts for body text, like Minion, which follows. Look at the ‘a’ and the ‘e’ to see the difference. Both of these are serif fonts, which have little marks at some letter ends to help aid in the reading.
Georgia is a bolder font than Garamond, but is sometimes confused with Times New Roman.
Another consideration, besides the genre, is the book’s era and setting. For historical fiction, it may help to signify the period more than the subgenre. For example, you might find a good font to represent the Victorian era for a Victorian novel.
The distinction between mystery, thriller, and suspense can get a little tricky. For mystery, you may be able to find a few icons to help serve as a guide, especially if your novel is similar. For example, check out the fonts used in the Murder She Wrote t.v. series or Agatha Christie’s mysteries. Whatever your genre is, you want to browse the covers of top sellers to get a feel for what the font is trying to convey and how they pull it off. Use my examples as a guide to get you thinking (e.g. sci-fi is futuristic, western is rugged, fantasy is magical or other-worldly).
For nonfiction, a very clear light serif or sans serif font is common on the cover. Clearly conveying the keywords in the thumbnail can be a valuable marketing tool for many nonfiction books.
There are many places to browse for fonts, but it may be best to start with a variety of genre-specific inquiries with Google, and remember to browse the covers of top sellers in your subgenre. Be careful where you download material from the internet. There are many sites, like Font Squirrel, Da Fonts, and fonts.com, offering free or low-cost fonts for commercial use, or you can buy font collections. Even Adobe offers a selection of fonts through TypeKit (Creative Cloud users can use TypeKit for free).
Note that I made up the names of the sample titles used to illustrate fonts. Any resemblance to any covers of books that actually use these titles or similar ones is purely coincidental.
Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers
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