Cover Design 101- Cover Analysis

  As promised, this week I’m going to go through the research process I outlined for you. If you haven’t yet read my post on cover design research, go here to check it out first.

A Detailed Analysis of Three Different Book Covers
(Photo by Edar from Pixabay)

 

As promised, this week I’m going to go through the research process I outlined for you. If you haven’t yet read my post on cover design research, go here to check it out first. But rather than note specific genre patterns as I advised you to do, I’ve chosen several books from different genres so I can point out different things. Because of that, I will also be going through the books one by one, instead of looking at the same aspect on all of them before moving on, which is what I recommended for your research.

 

Analysis of Three Book Covers

 

Book #1- Vicious, by V.E. Schwab

Back cover blurb: Victor and Eli started out as college roommates- brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Genre details: dark, comic-book style fantasy, contemporary setting

 

Image

Type: clip art on a flat background

Subject: a man standing atop a pile of human bones, in a pyramid

Size: The man himself takes up a tiny percentage of the cover. Including the pile of bones, though, maybe 30-40%

Alignment: centered

Focal Point: the man (horizontally- centered, vertically- 1/3 down from top)

Other Notes:

  • the bones at the bottom run off the edge
  • The images are completely separate, never touching
  • The bones and skulls are larger at the bottom and smaller at the top, suggesting perspective. Based on that, it might not be a pile at all, but a trail or shadow leading to the man. This is further supported by the fact that the lines form a very exact triangle, rather than a more natural pile shape
  • The man is the only image not entirely in black- he has white hair

Text

Title:

  • Font: a serif font
    • the serif on certain letters, like “E” and “S” are very long and sharp, almost dagger-like, which seems appropriate
    • the cross line in “H” and “A” angle down and back up, creating an arrow or blade shape
  • Size: ≈5/16 inch tall
  • Alignment: centered
  • Location: 1/3 down from top
  • Notes:
    • the man is directly behind the central “I” of the title, and though it is capitalized, his white hair appears to act as the dot on the “i”
    • Entirely capitalized

Author’s Name:

  • Font: same as title
  • Size: ≈1/2 an inch tall (almost twice the size of the title)
    • takes two lines- usually seen with popular authors whose names draw people more than the title (think: James Patterson, Stephen King, etc), but it also fits within the triangle of bones this way, so it’s hard to say which one is the reason behind this choice
  • Alignment: centered
  • Location: bottom (just over 1/2 inch margin)
  • Notes:
    • the dots in the author name are black to blend in with the bones
    • Entirely capitalized

Other Text: NYT Bestselling Author + review

  • Font: basic serif font
  • Size: ≈1/8 an inch tall
  • Alignment: centered
  • Location: top, with 1/4 inch margin
  • Notes:
    • NYT- all capitalized
    • review- standard capitalization

Colors

  • The palette is bold and primary, entirely black, red, and white
  • The red of the cover is the most dominant, conveying the tone of the book. The man and bones are in black, which shows up well against the red, but makes the cover even darker
  • The text stands out in bright white against the dark cover

 

Book #2- The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, by Kelli Estes

Back cover blurb: The smallest items can hold centuries of secrets… Inara Erickson is exploring her deceased aunt’s island estate when she finds an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in the house. As she peels back layer upon layer of the secrets it holds, Inara’s life becomes interwoven with that of Mei Lien, a young Chinese girl mysteriously driven from her home a century before. Through the stories Mei Lien tells in silk, Inara uncovers a tragic truth that will shake her family to its core- and force her to make an impossible choice.

Genre details: Historical fiction, alternating with a contemporary timeline

 

Image

Type: photo (or realistic painting)

Subject:

  1. A woman’s back (ambiguous ethnicity and time period)
  2. Chinese embroidery featuring plants and birds
  3. A woman’s back (Chinese, holding an umbrella)

Layout: Stripes, alternating between photos and solid colors

Size: Each stripe is ≈ 1/7 of the cover (the photos are slightly larger than the color stripes)

Location: photos take up the 1st, 3rd, and 5th stripes out of 7

Alignment: The photos extend the width of the cover, but the focus of each is offset to one side or the other

Focal Point: each woman in her respective photo (the white woman 2/3 from the left side, the Chinese woman 1/3 from the left). Overall, probably the embroidery as the central picture. It is located 1/3 down from the top

Other Notes:

  • The placement of the embroidery between the two photos of the women matches the story well, as it is the embroidered cloth that connects the two very different women in the book
  • The first two images are light in color, while the third (the Chinese woman) is dark

Text

Title:

  • Font: a casual script
  • Size:≈1/2 inch tall
    • Key words (the second word in each line) are slightly larger
  • Location: two words over each color stripe, spacing it out over 70% of the cover
  • Alignment: centered
  • Notes:
    • The first letter of each key word is embellished, and the embellishment crosses over to cover part of one of the images
    • Standard capitalization
    • The white of the title font stands out from the colors beneath them so as to be legible, but not from the cover as a whole

Author’s Name:

  • Font: simple serif, slightly fancier than basic
  • Size: ≈1/4 inch tall (half the size of the title)
  • Location: bottom (3/8 inch margin)
  • Alignment: centered
  • Notes:
    • Entirely capitalized

Other Text: USA Today Bestseller + review + a novel

  • Font: serif
    • USA Today- same as author name
    • review & a novel- very basic serif
  • Notes:
    • USA today- entirely capitalized
    • review- standard capitalization
    • a novel- entirely lower case

Colors

  • While there are bright colors in the images, they are set against muted and neutral tones. If not for the bright stripes of color, the cover would be very muted. The stripes, however, are bright and contrasting colors, both warm and cool
  • The text color is very basic white or black, based on the color of the background

 

Book #3- The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman

Back cover blurb: The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They are all- or mostly all- excited to meet her! She will have to… Speak. To. Strangers. And as if all that was not enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Does he not realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options: 1) Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair) 2) Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee) 3) Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it)

It is time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she is not convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It is going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.

Genre details: Humor, romance, contemporary setting

 

Image

Type: cartoonish image

Subject: a woman wearing glasses and reading a book

Size: 75-80% of the cover

Alignment: centered

Focal Point: her eyes (about 1/3 of the way down from the top)

Text

Title:

  • Font: a script font
  • Size: just over 1 inch (“the” and “of” are smaller, at 1/2 inch)
  • Location: the center of the cover (based on the center of each line of text)
  • Alignment: centered
  • Notes:
    • spread out over three lines
    • follows a curve
    • there is a very small margin between the title and the sides of the cover
    • Her glasses are used in place of the “oo” in “Bookish,” which is not only clever, but it allows the text to frame her face instead of going over and blocking it
    • The text of the title has a very faint drop-shadow, while the other text doesn’t
    • Standard capitalization

Author’s Name:

  • Font: a script font, but with more of a handwritten feel than the title
  • Size: 1/2 inch (half the size of the title)
  • Location: the space created by the curve of the title
  • Alignment: centered
  • Notes:
    • Standard capitalization

Other Text: Author of… + a review + a novel

  • Font: same as author’s name
  • Size: 3/16 inch
  • Standard capitalization (except “a novel,” which is entirely lower case

Color

  • A bright, fun color palette, contrasting warm tones with cool ones
  • Most of the image is in shades of yellow/orange, making the bright blue of her shirt and glasses pop
  • All the details in the individual parts are shades of the same color- her lipstick matches her hair, rather than being a brighter red or softer pink. The stripes on her shirt are a slightly different shade of blue. Her fingernails are French tip to blend in, rather than being painted a color. The only exception to this are her eyes. They could have been done in a similar shade to her nose, but as the focal point of the image, making them black ensures they pop
  • The text is mostly white and black, which both show up well, except for “a novel” which is the same color as her hair, making it blend in almost to the point of disappearing
  • The author name would have shown up well in white, but they chose to make it black in contrast to the title. I think this was probably because it is so close to the title, and there’s another line of text below it. It would have seemed cluttered if they were all in the same color

 

Conclusions

This may have seemed overwhelming to you, or about right, or you may have noticed a lot more than I described. It depends on your experience and how naturally observant you are. My own notes were a bit more detailed and chaotic before I pared them down and cleaned them up for this post. Wherever you are on the spectrum, it’s fine. Just start where you are and go from there. But I will say, the more details you notice, the more options and information you have when it comes time to design your own cover. So try to train yourself to pay more attention to the details and see what you can glean from them. It will pay dividends in the long run.

You might have also noticed that I made deductions about why they made certain choices. This is a good habit to get into as well. Even if I’m wrong about their reasons, it’s helpful to clarify the effect those choices have on the end product, and what they communicated to me, as a reader.

Now, on to my conclusions.

With three such different books, in completely different genres, you wouldn’t think there would be many patterns to find, but I did find a few. These aren’t universal rules, but I found them to be true in most of the books on my bookshelf.

Capitalization

If the font is a script, or there is a significant amount of text, they use standard capitalization. If it’s a basic font, they capitalize every letter. Also, I noted that when “a novel” is used, it’s either entirely capitalized or entirely lower case (it is also very small and intended to blend in).

Centering

Almost all the text and graphic elements were centered, but the photos weren’t. The only exceptions to this were if the text would interfere with a photo, as the review would have in The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, or if “a novel” was used. It just went wherever it fit with the image and would be unobtrusive.

I described many elements as centered, but that’s not entirely accurate. There was a slight bias to the right (the unbound side) in all of them. It was small enough that at a glance you don’t notice it, but they all had it.

The Two-Thirds Rule

I’ll talk more about this in a future post, but in all of these covers, the main focal point fell about 1/3 down from the top of the cover. This is something photographers and artists use all the time, to make sure their images look balanced and appealing. In Vicious both the title and the image of the man were located there. In The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, it was the center of the three images, which makes sense of the asymmetrical layout of the stripes (two solid colors at the bottom, but none at the top). In The Bookish Life of Nina Hill it was her eyes/glasses.

 


 

I hope this was helpful. Now you can go off confidently to do your own research and meet me back here in a few weeks for the next step in the process. Let me know if there are any particular questions you have so I can make sure to cover them.

 

 

 

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