I’m sorry, you’re just not my typeface

I’m sorry, you’re just not my typeface

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

Words are great. I love words. I have all the best words…

Sometimes, though, it is not the words themselves that convey the message but the way in which they are presented. Today we’re not talking tweets (presidential or otherwise) but typefaces. In particular, how a careful use of type can enhance a design. Just as a careless one can destroy it.

You mean fonts, right?

In fact, I don’t. Typeface and font mean different things.

A typeface is “a set of one or more fonts each composed of glyphs that share common design features” (Wikipedia). A typeface is something like Times New Roman.

A font is a particular instance of that typeface, with a specific weight, style, italicisation etc. To continue our example, 12pt Bold Times New Roman is a font, and 8pt Bold Italic Times New Roman is a different font.

Think of a typeface as a family. Each member of the family has the same family name, but each individual family member is a little larger or smaller or leans slightly to the side. Think of your own family: who is bold or italicised in that picture?

So why does every computer program call it a font?

I’ve no idea. Sorry.

In reality, it doesn’t matter. We all use the words typeface and font interchangeably and we all know what we mean when we say them. No one is going to pull you up for calling Times New Roman a font. (Or if they do, they’re incredibly pedantic and you should change the subject to literally anything else. Actually, literally would be a good subject to pick – it will keep them going for hours.)

Typefaces and design

I am not a typographer. That is a highly-skilled artform in its own right. But I do engage with typefaces through my illustration work, particularly when designing book covers, and it is important that I have an understanding of the effect different typefaces have on a design. Let’s look at a few examples.

examples of different fonts when discussing typography

That’s hello in five different fonts (yes, fonts, because each is a specific instance of the typeface and… oh, it really isn’t important). I’m sure you agree that each one conveys a different mood, or suggests different things to you.

For example, which of those is most likely to appear on a historical pirate adventure novel? I would suggest this one…examples of different fonts when discussing typography

And on a thriller?

examples of different fonts when discussing typography

There is just something about the design of that typeface that says “pirates” or “thriller”. After all, this doesn’t look quite right, does it?

examples of different fonts when discussing typography


examples of different fonts when discussing typography

That’s much better.

The thing to remember from all this is that there are lots of options when it comes to the font you use in a design. Some will suit the design and some will just make it look odd. Depending on what you’re aiming for, choose the one that suits your purpose the best.

Book cover design

When it comes to indie authors – those publishing their books independently of a traditional publishing house – there are some key things to bear in mind about your book cover.

For a start, your text has to be legible. You will want your name and the title of the book on the front cover. Most of the time, that’s it. If you’re also adding a subtitle, or a sentence about the subject matter, (a) make sure you don’t go overboard with the number of fonts you use (less is definitely more) and, (b) make sure your potential readers can actually read the writing. Think about how large it appears when viewed at thumbnail size (the size it is most likely to be viewed at on Amazon). Will a potential reader be able to make out the text?

Choose a typeface that suits your genre and don’t be scared of following the herd. Individuality is important (you want people to know that it’s your book they are looking at) but you also need to convey a lot to a potential reader through your cover. I have heard it said that a browsing shopper will spend just 2 seconds* looking at your cover before moving on, so it needs to communicate clearly what your book is about. The typeface you have chosen will help with this communication.

(*I’ve not been able to verify this, but it seems plausible.)

Using a suitable font is a shorthand that lets your browsing buyer know what they should expect from your book. If a browser wants a thriller, you better make sure you have a “thriller” font on your cover, otherwise the vast majority of thriller readers will just slide right by.

Get a font that’s designed for the job. By which I mean, don’t just take your regular all-purpose typeface and blow it up to gigantic proportions. That’s not what it was designed to do. Instead, you will need a display font.

Display fonts

A display font is different to a text font. From fonts.com:

The best text typefaces are easy to read in long blocks of copy. They do not call much attention to themselves and have been designed to perform best between 6-point and 14-point. Conversely, display typefaces are used to entice a reader into text copy, to create a mood or feeling, or to announce important information.

The font inside your book should be subtle, easy-to-read, but not overpowering the words you have spent so long writing.

The font on the cover of your book, on the other hand, should be screaming look at me, look at me, pick me up and read my carefully constructed blurb. So when it comes to choosing your font, pick one that is genre-appropriate and one that has been designed to look good at larger sizes.

Kerning and leading

Another tell-tale sign that an indie book has had its cover put together without complete attention to detail, is when it comes to kerning and leading (pronounce it “ledding” and you’ll amaze all your typographer friends).

Remember, I am not a trained typographer so I don’t want to get into a lengthy explanation about these things (for I will only get things wrong). But a basic understanding of these two principles will undoubtedly help when finessing your cover design. So what are they?

Both terms relate to the amount of space between things. Kerning is the amount of space between letters, and leading is the amount of space between lines of text.

Which of these looks more appealing to you?

kerning example

Hopefully you said the one on the right. Why? It’s because the gaps between the letters have been adjusted so that there is a regular amount of white space between the letters (notice how the a tucks in under the upright of the W a lot more in the right-hand example).

Leading plays a similar role when it comes to the gaps between lines of text. If your title tips over into two (or more) lines, then you will want to pay close attention to how much space there is between those lines, compared with the amount of space between the words on each line. There should be a nice balance between all of those elements.

Licence to chill

A quick note about licences. Read them. When you choose a typeface, make sure you have the correct permissions to use it.

Type designers will have spent a long time developing each typeface and they deserve to have their products used in the way in which they specify. Each typeface will have a licence and that licence will tell you what you are allowed to do with that typeface. Make sure you have one that allows you to create a commercial design (after all, you will be selling those books) and stick to the terms that are specified.

With that in place, you can relax. You know, chill.

Want more?

For more information and top tips about crafting a great cover, please check out this page.

What have we learned?

That you can have a great title, but if you don’t display it in the correct way then you are potentially sabotaging your book cover.

The wrong typeface, the wrong size, not using a display font, not addressing the spacing between letters and lines. All of these things can have a negative effect on a design, but they are easily fixed. Just spend some time researching your market and what they expect, and take the time to finesse your text. A better design is sure to follow.

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