We already wrote about how important is to get your book cover right: first impressions count, as you might not get a second chance. In case you missed it, you can read it here. There is a tiny detail that many people overlook when designing their book cover (or when deciding whether to accept a proposed design): the typeface.
Don’t look puzzled: just because you are likely not to pay any specific attention to them, fonts still do matter. Have you ever felt when looking at a piece of advertisement that there is something wrong with it, but you cannot tell what? The font needs to match your genre and your style. It is easy to get wrong but can be a great tool emphasizing your message. You can hire the best photographer or artist to create your cover picture if you don’t get your typography right, your book is still going to look cheap or ugly.
When getting a book on the market, you want people to think that you put a lot of effort into publishing it. If it looks cheap, they will think you don’t care enough.
In the following, we are going to guide you through the process of choosing the best font for your cover. Starting with general rules, we are going to analyze the trends in the most popular genres to give you the best advice possible. If you think we missed something, or have some nice covers to show off, please do not hesitate to leave a comment.
General rules for book cover fonts
How to get fonts and what (not) to do with them
We thought it is best to get the nasty part out of the way: make sure your font is free to use. You definitely wouldn’t want somebody just to use your book however they want it – neither want typographers. So make sure you read the small print and check if the font is free to use for commercial purposes. Most typefaces come with a built-in theft check: you can use them on your computer, but cannot embed them into a pdf (and without that your cover won’t look the same on every computer). If you are not sure, you can easily find out who owns the font (it can be the designer or a company) and ask them. If you purchase a font, it makes you stand out of the crowd of people who go for the free ones. You can find a list of free to use font collections at the end of this article.
There are two different categories of typefaces: text or display. Some fonts are designed for several blocks of written text, and they must be both aesthetic and legible, without being noticed. They work best between 6pt and 14pt (points). And some fonts are designed to be shown off: display a message, create a certain feeling or impression. They want to draw attention. They work well when used in large size. Many of the fonts available have both text and display variants: they look the same at first, but the important difference lies in small details. The fonts.com website brings a perfect example of a font which has a text, a display and a banner variation. The display version is much lighter.
Therefore, choose a display font, as you are aiming for a large font size. Did we say large? Yes, when it comes to titles, size matters. You want your title to be legible even as a thumbnail. Don’t be afraid that it covers your carefully chosen cover image (but you can play around that with a smart layout, see the next chapter).
Once you are confident that it looks good, stand up from the computer, take a couple of steps back and check it from a distance. It gives you a perspective of how your potential readers are likely to see it. (Or just zoom out of it to make it thumbnail size: around 100px.)
(Source of the picture)
Treat your typeface with care
There is a last core rule: do not play with the typefaces. Do not stretch them or try to change them in any other way. These fonts are carefully designed to look perfect (as a text or as a block), so if you disorientate them, the results are likely to look bad. (Little tricks are allowed, though, especially if your primary language of publication is not English: we all know of missing ő-s and ű-s, or other tricky letters which can be easily created with InDesign – I’ll share the trick another time.) Most fonts come with different weights, more than just a simple bold or italic; if your font can’t do what you want from it, use a different one.
There is an area, though, where you are likely to have to manipulate your font: the kerning. The spacing between the letters is not only important for aesthetical reasons but because poor kerning can cause letters or even words grow together in a way it wasn’t intended.
And now the fun part. As it is with everything in the book industry, no hard rules are defining your cover layout. We can give you one advice though: sometimes less is more.
Try playing around with different versions of the same font for author and title: bold for the title and roman for the author (roman is the proper term for a non-bold, non-italic typeface). On The Light Between Oceans, the same font is used for the author’s name as for the title. Small, weightless words, like “the” could be well played with, as you see it being cursive and differently cased. They also played with colors: the title is yellow as light. The Kawasaki cover is also simple: one typeface, two main colors, some italic.
Note that the designer here plays with space: the emptiness creates the illusion of lightness for the origami butterfly. The added review pieces could also bring extra attention if you keep them subtle enough. Us and Look Who’s Back are perfect examples of how a well-placed title can be the fundamental element of a cover.
Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different alignments. As you already see from the examples above, no strict rules are defining the placement of author and title. The author’s name can be at the top or the bottom, the title can be at the top, center or bottom.
Don’t forget: the most important is to get it in line with your cover image, your genre, and your style. For inspiration, check your favorite books, go to a bookstore or just search “beautiful covers” (as you most certainly already did). The best advice we can give you on this topic is the following: use the main tropes of your genre to guide your readers and help them discover you. Based on the cover, they have to be able to guess what to expect when opening your book. And then hook them up with something that is special and makes you stand out from the thousands of other books on your submarket.
Book title font generator
Book title font generators could be an easy and great way to try out many different fonts and settings without actually having to download and install the fonts on your computer. (Which can be a bit of a pain if we are talking about hundreds of fonts you might want to try.) The only bad thing is that we didn’t come across one we would be happy to use. Most of them bring out my childhood memories of WordArt: if you are too young to remember, the built-in Word function enabled people to quickly turn their text into fancy, colourful, 3D logos. Do not use them. Do not use any effect either. If you want your title to be written in style of Stranger Things, there are websites to do the trick, but it is inelegant and likely to be illegal. So far, the only website we think worth mentioning is the 1001 fonts: this is not a generator per se, but it lets you use your own text when previewing the fonts, which is rather useful.
Book cover fonts by genre
The hard job of selecting and compiling hundreds of fonts into genre themed pictures has been beautifully done by Derek Murphy and is perfect as it is. He doesn’t say anything about his selection criteria, however, which is pretty significant if you set out to find your own cover font. We do. (Please bear in mind that we mostly monitor the English and US market. The trends can be different in other countries.)
Non-fiction book cover fonts
At least here we can give a simple rule: use sans-serif. Most non-fiction authors do. Sans-serif fonts suggest modernity, honesty (well, at least for me they do, but there must be a reason why they are so popular). They look straightforward and professional – and this is exactly how you would like to look like when publishing a non-fiction. Cookbooks, self-help books and academic anthologies all work well with sans-serif. A handwritten title looks very well on biographies, if balanced out with a sans-serif author’s name and if the title is still legible. (If you can’t read the title of the Lauren Graham biography, you are not alone. I keep reading “as I ow”, which doesn’t mean anything. Here is where good kerning comes into picture.)
The current tendency is to use bright colours and a light background. All of the above examples have a balanced, symmetrical layout (I really like the diagonal cut of the Graham book), with center-aligned titles. All titles are capitalized entirely. The designer of the Stalin book chose a “communist looking” font to emphasize the theme and sets the function words (“and the”) a couple of points smaller.
The first font we tried out is Route 159, which is free for commercial use. The package contains a light, regular, bold, heavy and italic version and a combination of these; we used heavy. A font like this works very well even if used as inverse, putting a pattern behind them on a blank cover.
Widolte light is not free, you can only see the demo version. We used this simple type to show a bad example of placement: if your title resembles a humming top, change something.
Horror book cover fonts
Look away now, if horror is not your genre because the following images might be disturbing. Blood, ghosts, bones, and Victorian dolls: all well-used elements of the horror book market. When it comes to typefaces, a bit of fading, some blood drops or fangs can add some spookiness to your cover. Don’t overdo it, though: if the font has some letters with additional drawing, it only looks good if the letter doesn’t repeat within the title (for this, see examples below). Depending on which age your horror is set in, goth fonts can work very well; or the simplest sans-serif for a modern setting.
I used the font called Cocaine Sans for this text: it is a great font, free to use, but notice how silly the two T-s look next to each other. A font like this only works if your title is made up of all different letters. On this note, I definitely would not pay $60 for a cover like the Hellhole below, straight from The Book Cover Designer website. They don’t specify the font, but it would work much better if only one of the L-s would be fancy.
Nightmare 5 is such a great font that we were happy to use it for spelling out our biggest nightmare. It is faded and has a damaged quality, but is still easy to read, and has a bit of Scooby-Doo-y playfulness. It is free for private use, but not for commercial.
The Kevin Brockmeier book is an excellent example of the typeface being unnoticeable. The placement draws your attention to the middle of the picture, so at first, you might not even notice what is so spooky about this cover. The title is all capitals (it is allowed for horrors, but not for every genre) and sans-serif, combined with a serif author’s name.
The amazing covers of the Vintage series are well known for everyone. When reprinting a classic, it is extremely common to use a serif font. Since the author is world famous, they can afford to “hide” him in the corner, with his first name left out. The font used is subtle, it could come preinstalled on anyone’s computer. (But it doesn’t.)
Horror covers usually use dark backgrounds and “spiky” looking, tall fonts, just like on the cover of the Palahniuk book. This cover is a fantastic example of how a good font supports the cover picture. You might have to hire a professional for a cover like that unless you have a very talented friend whom you can bribe with chocolate.
Comic book cover fonts
The rules are much less specific when it comes to comic books, as it is more of a medium than a genre: there are horror comic books, romantic comic books, non-fiction comic books, classic superhero comics, manga and so many more. The designer has to place the book not only within the medium, but also the different subgenre; not to forget the difficult choice regarding the fonts (a different one for main text, one for non-human sounds, several for signage) within the book. What we said about style, is even more relevant for comics.
Pick the craziest fonts for the cover, bright colors, usually all caps, title almost exclusively on the top or in the upper middle part (so it is easy to flip through them in a comic book store). For this, we can’t recommend a font, but provide a selection of our favorite comic book covers.
Yes, we know that these covers go against everything we stated so far. Neil Gaiman’s name is written vertically, which would be a big NO! for most genres. On the next cover, at least two different types are used, and both serif. This violates the first rule of typography: do not use two conflicting fonts. On a comic book, it works. Persepolis is a great example of how the simplest font can show off on the cover if it matches the image in style. The title of the Atwood comic has a yellow shadow to make it pop out of the picture; while it would not work for most genres and is widely resented, it is not the same for comic books.
Romance book cover fonts
Let’s change the pattern and start with some terrible examples. We need to warn you: these are all real books available on Amazon that came out recently.
The first book is an excellent example of an ugly cover made by a traditional publishing house and having appeared in print. The author’s name is almost unreadable because of the small spacing – it would have worked better in a smaller size but with decently spaced letters. A bulletproof solution would have been to use the author’s initials: Jacqueline H. Butler, J. H. Butler, J. Harmon Butler all fit nicely on the cover with a more rounded type. (We don’t dare to assume that they pushed the font together, so it fits.) The red used for the name is a surprising choice since it stands out of the image’s main color scheme; unless there are vampires in the story (which we doubt). The way they broke the title is non-aesthetic, the function word “to” sits oddly in front of “Paris.”
We now have to repeat the obvious: make your title BIG. Even on the real sized cover, we can hardly read the title and author of the second book. Please drop Comic Sans and don’t use black on a dark background. Same goes for the third book: drop Comic Sans. It is silly to use a font hated by enough people for the BBC to write about it to sell a product.
The fourth book might be appealing to the German audience, but the use of four different fonts is distracting. There is also too much information on the cover: five lines, all different colors, and different effect.
This out of the way, let’s talk about tendencies. Warm colors, ornamental, serif fonts are a must. Handwritten, calligraphic fonts could also work, if you make sure that it is still readable.
The most perplexing font we came across is the Calissa Words (free for personal use) which gives you a set of words with ligatures, but no letters. You get the words assigned to the letters of the keyboard. It is odd, but the type is indeed beautiful. This is what I get when I type my name (6 letters) in:
I like Lavenda (free for private use) for no apparent reason. It is a simple, lovely and easy to read handwritten font.
For a younger audience, teen romance, LT Chickenhawk is a perfect choice. The genre also calls for no capitalization.
It is best if we just stop here for a second. The WOW! (Women on Writing) has published a compelling article about how covers are the main tool in dividing the market into women’s fiction (“serious literature”) and chick lit (“easy read”).
(Source of the picture)
You can use this opposition for your own advantage by designing your cover bearing in mind what you want people to think of it and where on the market would you like to be positioned.
Sci-fi book cover fonts
Okay, this is an easy one again: there are tons of futuristic, light, sans-serif fonts on the market. Sci-fi books usually come with a dark cover and light title, using pastel colors. If you want to see some horrible ones, there is a whole website dedicated to them (also includes fantasy books, but usually showing vintage editions), but we are only going to show nice ones.
The rounded, thick sans-serif fonts and all capitals for both the author’s name and the title make these covers similar. The layout of the cover is not strictly set.
The last of these covers is strikingly different: it would very well fit among the above-mentioned “Women Fiction.”
It is purposefully deceptive; makes you expect something from the 1800s: a serif font, traditional author – title placement, ornamental pattern under the title. The readers it aims to reach are not the “traditional” sci-fi audience, but whoever would take the Memoirs of a Geisha off the shelves.
Cerena is an excellent sci-fi font, free for private use, but we wouldn’t choose it without knowing how to use InDesign. Can you see the gap between the A and T in the first picture? It is a straight cut line between the two letters. This bad kerning didn’t happen because the designers didn’t know what they were doing, but because MsWord is a text editor, not a publishing tool. Just use the font in InDesign, and the gap is gone, without us having to change anything. (The font comes with capitals only.)
Not Just Groovy (free for personal use) is my favorite of all fonts listed in this article, and I can’t think of a book on which it wouldn’t look good. The use of all lowercase is also common for sci-fi.
List of fonts
If you are still with us, you deserve that we share the list of free or easy to buy font collections we came across. Thanks for reading and please use the comments section to share everything we don’t know about. Happy publishing!
MyFonts – A collection of the best-known typefaces globally. The fonts are free to try but come with a charge if you want to use them.
Behance Free Fonts – Amazing fonts shared by the design giant Adobe
1001 Fonts and Dafont – Huge collections of fonts with straightforward signage of licensing and direct link to the designers. Bonus points for the Donate! button.
Font Squirrel – A beautiful selection of free-for-commercial-use fonts. Motto: who has time to pick from thousands?
CreativeBloq – With descriptions as specified as “high-contrast serif display fonts,” this website has something for everyone.