Case Study 41

Title: How I Became My Father . . . a Drunk

Author: William G. Borchert

Designer: Indie Designz

Genre: Memoir

Graphics: The author wrote the screenplay for the television movie My Name Is Bill W, a story about the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Here he writes about his father’s alcoholism and his own. It’s appropriate, then, that the cover should feature shot glasses.

They are the second-most prominent element on the cover, after the words A Drunk. Showing two shot glasses is better than showing one, since this suggests a progression of drinks rather than a single drink after which the drinker stops. A more telling image might have been of an empty bottle lying on its side—or perhaps two empty bottles.

The cover is framed by a thin rule, for no obvious reason. In the bottom corners are similarly-colored leaves, representing—what? To me they look like wheat, which doesn’t have much to do with drinking. Drawings of hops might have been more appropriate, but more appropriate still would be leaving off these images entirely, since they add nothing to the cover’s message. Similarly, I’d leave off the bounding rule.

I have the impression that these elements were added because the designer felt the cover otherwise was “empty.” If so, that intuition should have been a clue to alter the imagery, such as switching out the shot glasses for empty bottles or a photo of a down-on-his-luck man slouching on the sidewalk against the wall of a building.

Typography: The title stands out well. White almost always is a good choice when lettering has a solid, dark background, and the red-orange for the chief words of the title plays off well against the yellow-orange of the drinks. This is a title that will be legible when the paperback is seen across a room.

The author name ought to be larger and wider, its width matching that of the title, and the letters should be set in bold. These changes are needed because the text is in a subdued hue.

What about the tagline above the author name, “An Inspirational True Story by”? At least the “by” should be omitted, since it’s clear that “William G. Borchert” is the author. I would move the tagline to the top, replacing the long and entirely unreadable quotation. I understand why the quotation is there: it’s by the well-known actor James Woods.

Such a long blurb should be relegated to the back cover, where it could be set in larger type, and perhaps to a few pages of blurbs at the beginning of the ebook version. Here it is ineffective because no one can read it. And not just here. At the Amazon sales page for the book the quotation is too small even for those with excellent vision, and thus nothing is gained by using Woods’ name.

Instead of the tagline going at the top, the final few words of Woods’ encomium could be put there: “Bravo, my friend.—James Woods, Actor.” In that case, I would shift the title upward and place the tagline immediately under the title and above the image of the shot glasses (or empty bottles). That would give good balance to the page.

Overall: Despite a few problems, this cover catches the eye because of the bold title. A well-done title can compensate for much, but this cover easily enough could have been stronger. Its weakest points are the two areas of hard-to-read text. The next weakest are the rule and leaves, which seem to be little more than visual filler.

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