You've all seen crappy covers that look like they were slapped together in Microsoft Paint. Cheap graphics, boring design, and cheesy fonts. You're doing yourself no favors if you skimp on cover design. But what if you can't afford a professional designer? Well, that's still no excuse for doing a crummy job.
There are three elements to a good cover: the concept design, the graphics, and the font. Leaving aside concept and art today, let's talk about fonts for a moment. The first mistake DIYers make is not doing research. When you set out to design your cover, get yourself to Amazon and starting searching for books. Look for books in your genre, look for books by your favorite authors. What do their covers look like? What strikes your fancy, what turns you off?
One of the most important things for ebook covers is finding a font that is easily readable in a small view. Then you need a font that expresses your story/genre/theme. Your cozy mystery is not going to require the same type of font that your splatterpunk horror novel will. Then you need to find a font that fits in with your design and art. You want a thematically pleasing cover that expresses what your book is like and tells the reader what to expect.
After doing some research, you should have some ideas of the look of the font you want for your book. It's probably not going to be font you've already got installed. Trust me, the common fonts on your computer are not necessarily optimal for typesetting and design. So how DO you find a font?
Say you came across a book on Amazon with a great font, how do you identify it? Unless you're a physic font reader or a typesetting savant, you'll have to do some sleuthing. One great way is using the WhatTheFont tool. You just upload the image and it will tell you what font you're looking at. This sometimes takes some jiggering, but once you're got a clear image that contains the font you want, this will identify it for you.
Now, of course, you've got to find that font in True Type to download to your computer. There are lots of sites for fonts. You can go to a graphics site like Veer and search for fonts. These tend to be a little pricey. You can go to a free font site like dafont.com and start searching. Looking for a free font to match the font you've chosen can take a little time. Sometimes you'll be helped out by a description that contains the words "similar to" and references a font you're looking for. Look around, experiment. Download a number of fonts and plug them into your design and see if it gives you the look you're going for. Make sure you decrease your design image to thumbnail size. What looks great big may be just a blob small.
What I Did
When I was looking to design the covers for the mystery series, I had to think about what I wanted to present to my desired audience. When a reader looks at my book, what associations do I want them to make? I decided to go with what's called the "big book look." This consists of a bold background image over which can be placed the title and the author's name in big, bold letters. I chose this because I was targeting readers that might pick up books by Kathy Reichs or Tess Gerritsen or Patricia Cornwell. I have a backup plan that goes a different direction, because while I think the mystery series will appeal to the readers of those books, it will also appeal to readers of cozier, funnier books. Those covers would be more brightly colored, with a font that's friendlier and not so bold. The great thing is, if I want to switch covers next week, I can. (That's, as Stephen King would say, another story for another time.)
Going back to the present covers, I looked on Amazon for covers of mystery series by women authors featuring women protagonists that I read regularly. I looked at covers until I found a font that I loved and that fit the picture in my mind's eye. I copied the cover, went to WhatTheFont and found out the font name and then did a search for fonts until I found some "similar to" fonts that were free for commercial use. I downloaded several and plugged them into the design until I got what I was look for. Then, using Adobe Photoshop, I adjusted the font size, beveled it slightly, gave it some depth with shading and it was good to go. This was all done with no special knowledge, just a decent design program and the will to experiment.
(Oh, and about those other covers? I've gotten feedback from some readers -- and looked at the "also bought" suggestions from Amazon -- and realize that the series might better be represented by cozier covers. So I'm going to do an experiment and design a new set of covers and see what happens. This is a definite plus for indie publishing: the ability to hone the presentation of your work. Updates coming.)
Link of the Day
Mentioned on The Book Designer Blog is a fantastic site for fonts that I was heretofore unaware of. Font Squirrel is a great site with tons of swell free commercial use fonts. I collect fonts like some people collect stamps or coins or hideous ceramic figurines, so it's like being a kid in a candy store. Check it out!