Which FONT Should You Use for Your BOOK? #pubtips

Images from ShutterStock

Mock covers created using ShutterStock images.

FONT SELECTION

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.

CONTENTS

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.

BOOK 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.

FONT TIPS

  • 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.”

FONT MISTAKES

  • 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.)

Font Sci Fi Space AgeThe Space Marine font below is bolder and easier to read, though not quite as suggestive.

Font Sci Fi Space Marine

The following Orbitron font has sci-fi character, and is still fairly easy to make out.

Font Sci Fi Orbitron

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.

Font Sci Fi Mashine

FANTASY FONTS

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):

Font Fantasy Auriol

The Endor font shown below has some extreme touches. It’s more readable with some words than with others, so use it wisely.

Font Fantasy Endor

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.

Font Fantasy Merienda

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.

Font Fantasy Becker

ROMANCE FONTS

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).

Font Romance Lust Script

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).

Font Romance Lust and Script

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.

Font Romance Pollen

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.

Font Romance ShutterStock

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).

Font Romance ShutterStock 2

WESTERN FONTS

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.

Font Western Rosewood

So does this Smokum font.

Font Western Smokum

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).

HORROR FONTS

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.

Font Horror Misproject

Here is one more example of a horror font. This is American Shopworn.

Font Horror HWT American

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.

BODY TEXT

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.

Font General Garamond

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.


Font General Minion

Georgia is a bolder font than Garamond, but is sometimes confused with Times New Roman.

OTHER GENRES

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).

Chris McMullen

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

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
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Cover Fonts

Bloody

Plasma Drip font from Font Squirrel at http://www.fontsquirrel.com

The right font is an important ingredient for successful cover design. It can also be one of the more challenging elements to perfect.

What to look for

  • The cover text should fit the genre or subject matter.
  • It should look like the font belongs on the cover.
  • The font should inspire interest in the book.
  • It shouldn’t be a distraction.
  • The text should be easy to read. Any uncommon words should be immediately clear.
  • Key words should stand out in the thumbnail.
  • Pixelation, stray marks, blurriness, and other issues will detract from the cover.
  • Too many different fonts on the cover is a problem. Two different fonts must work well together.

Examples

We’ll look at a movie and t.v. show. Although these aren’t books, the font is equally important—more so, if you count the money invested.

Check out the font for Disney’s Frozen: movies.disney.com/frozen. It fits the content perfectly.

Another example is Nick’s The Haunted Hathaways: www.nick.com/shows/haunted-hathaways.

Getting it right

The font and cover as a whole must look right to your eye. Well, not your eye. What really matters is your specific target audience.

That’s why feedback is so important. Some people have a good eye for font style. If you can get their opinions, that will help. You can also solicit feedback from your target audience, helping you build a little buzz while also perfecting your cover.

Finding the font

You need to go on the Great Font Scavenger Hunt. But it’s worth it.

If you’re using the font on your book cover, you’ll need a font that permits commercial use. There are many fonts online that allow free commercial use, along with many more with reasonable prices. For example, check out Font Squirrel. Google free fonts to find a host of other sites. You can also find many font collections for sale.

Read the license agreement carefully to learn whether or not commercial use is permitted. While some free fonts allow commercial use, beware that some paid fonts don’t. Check the license to be sure.

Note that paid font collections often exaggerate the total number of fonts. If the same font comes in normal, bold, italics, condensed, and expanded, for example, that single font might count as 9 different fonts (since condensed bold italic is different from condensed bold, for example).

Another issue is browsing through the fonts and testing it out with your specific text. A paid collection might come with a booklet that shows just the first 7 letters of thousands of fonts, which really makes it challenging to find the right one. An advantage of browsing online is that you often see larger fonts, spaced out better, and you can search and filter to better find what you’re looking for.

Once you have the fonts of interest installed on your computer, you can open up Microsoft Word, type the text, highlight the text, then scroll through the various fonts to see how it looks using the up/down arrows on the keyboard. This is pretty convenient. (If the font window blocks the text, you can move the text over by changing its alignment to right, for example.)

Don’t ignore it

If you did a survey among avid readers who know nothing about cover design, they might tell you that font style isn’t important to them. But that’s only because they don’t realize it.

Online, before you see the book’s product page, you see the thumbnail for the cover. Usually, the thumbnail is on a page with a dozen or more other covers. Very often, a shopper is scrolling through several pages of thumbnails to find a book. In a bookstore, you see the spines of hundreds of books.

The cover that best attracts the target audience gets the most attention. The font style does have a significant impact on cover appeal, even if we don’t realize it.

A successful cover signifies the genre and attracts the specific target audience in three seconds. The right font helps to pull this off.

Cover Design

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles, including cover design, by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

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Which Fonts Can You Use?

Font Pic

When you purchase a new computer and install Microsoft Word, most (if not all) of the preinstalled fonts may be used to publish a book in print. This extends to many symbols and icons that you can find in preinstalled fonts such as Webdings and Wingdings.

You don’t have to guess, though. There is a simple way to tell.

If you download free fonts or even purchase fonts, you may or may not be able to use them for commercial purposes (e.g. publishing a book).

Two issues include:

  • Can the font be embedded in a PDF file? You need to be able to embed the font in the PDF in order for the printer (e.g. CreateSpace) to be able to print the font.
  • Does the license agreement permit commercial use?

Let’s first address whether or not the font can be embedded in a PDF.

Obviously, you need a PDF converter that can embed fonts in the PDF file when the Word document is converted to PDF. That’s a separate issue, and there are many free PDF converters available, such as DoPDF. Note that it’s better to print to PDF than to use the Save As option in Word if you have images (otherwise, the resolution may be diminished).

Even if you have a PDF converter with the option to embed fonts, you still might not be able to embed the font in the file.

How can you tell?

Find the font file. In Windows, most of the fonts are by default stored in a Fonts folder in the Control Panel. Click the start button, then Control Panel, then search for the Fonts folder. Open this folder. If the font file isn’t there (it may have been placed somewhere else when it was installed), if you know the name of the font, try searching for it on your computer.

Once you find the font file, right-click the font file. Then click Properties and Details. See what it says under Embeddability:

  • Editable. This allows the font to be embedded in such a way that the user can edit the content afterward.
  • Installable. This allows the font to be embedded in such a way that the user can permanently install the fonts.
  • Print and preview. This allows the font to be embedded, but only if the user is not permitted to edit the content.
  • No embedding permissions. This prevents the font from being embedded. These are personal use fonts that will function on your computer, but not when the file is converted to PDF.

The main point here is this:

The fonts can be embedded in the PDF and the printer (e.g. CreateSpace) will be able to print the PDF unless the Embeddability is set to “No embedding permissions.”

Note that Word can embed TrueType fonts (.ttf), but not OpenType fonts (.otf). You can view .otf fonts in Word, but not embed them by clicking Save As. You need to use a non-Word PDF converter in order to embed .otf fonts. Adobe fonts are .otf. (If you want to get technical, you can subdivide OpenType fonts into various types and complicate matters.) You can check the font extension by right-clicking on the font file.

When fonts are not properly embedded, a program may attempt to substitute another font with similar typeface. If this is successful, this may cause just a minor change in appearance in the final result. However, if the substitution is poor or unsuccessful, it can result in major problems.

Checking the Embeddability option only tells you from a practical perspective whether or not the font can be embedded.

You must still check on the licensing.

  • If the font is only licensed for personal use, you’re not permitted to use it to publish a book that will be for sale.
  • If the font permits commercial use, you may use it to publish a book. However, you must read the license agreement carefully, as it may have restrictions.
  • Some fonts require payment or a donation in order to use them for commercial purposes.
  • Some paid fonts do not permit commercial use. Paying money for the font does not guarantee that it can be used commercially.
  • Sometimes, you must contact the font owner, make a formal request to use the font, answer questions about your intended use, and also pay a fee in order to use the font for commercial purposes.
  • Some fonts simply do not permit commercial use at all.

Note that I’m not an attorney. I’m not providing legal advice. If you would like legal advice, you should consult an attorney. You should also read your license agreements carefully.

When commercial use is permitted, the font license will make this clear. This statement is often easy to find when commercial use is permitted, as it’s a nice selling feature. When commercial use is prohibited, sometimes such notice is not easy to find.

If the Embeddability option is set to “No embedding permissions,” the font designer is preventing you from using the font commercially.

However, if Embeddability is allowed by the file, the commercial use of the font may still be prohibited by the font license. Just checking Embeddability doesn’t guarantee that commercial use is allowed.

As stated in the beginning, when you purchase a new computer and install Microsoft Word, most (if not all) of the preinstalled fonts may be used to publish a book in print. You can read more about Microsoft typography here:

https://www.microsoft.com/typography/RedistributionFAQ.mspx

Some icons and symbols that appear in symbolic fonts or extended symbols (i.e. you find them by clicking Insert > Symbol) are in the public domain. Research a specific symbol to learn whether or not it is in the public domain.

Note that if you’re using a font to create a logo, there may be additional restrictions (e.g. you may not be allowed to sell the logo using the fonts). Also, some fonts may restrict you from altering them.

At CreateSpace, you can always make a test file in Word. It can be your actual book, or if you haven’t started yet, type some text with fonts (you will need to reach 24 pages and satisfy the minimum publishing criteria to do this test). Convert the Word document to PDF. Upload the file (you can also make a free test book and delete it from your dashboard later, without ever approving the book). If the fonts aren’t embedded and you need to embed them, CreateSpace will let you know this during file review. (It could be the problem is that you didn’t select the option to embed the font when you printed the Word file to PDF, so you also have to understand your PDF converter.)

Fortunately, there are very, very many free fonts out there that allow for commercial use where the fonts will embed without problem. If you look for “commercial use allowed” before downloading fonts, that should help minimize possible problems. (Unfortunately, there is also an occasional commercial use font where the font doesn’t embed, even though the terms of use said that commercial use was okay.)

https://www.fontsquirrel.com/

Fonts are important. Most importantly, the font should be a good fit for the content, be easy to read, and not seem boring.

Fonts are also important for cover design. Here, the font should create interest, fit the content, and still be easy to read.

When designing a cover, it’s possible to draw shapes to make letters (you can make your own custom cover font this way). You need to have some artistic skills and a good idea of font use in cover design to pull this off. Probably, you would only do this for a couple of key words in the title in very large letters.

One potential problem is the temptation to use a really cool-looking font that’s not easy to read, doesn’t fit the content, or doesn’t match the color scheme of the cover. It’s easy to go overboard.

However, if you want to design your own font to use in the interior of the book so that when you type the letter, that image comes up, that’s much more involved.

https://www.wikihow.com/Create-a-Font

Note that publishing an e-book is different. In this case, it is generally desirable to use a default font like Times New Roman and allow the user the option to select the font on the e-reader.

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing