Case Study 73

Title: Storm Coming

Author: Jack W. Lewis

Designer: Jack W. Lewis

Genre: Historical fiction

Graphics: The story takes place during the Civil War in the part of Virginia that would become the new state of West Virginia. Is it clear, at first glance, that this is a Civil War book? Not really.

The illustration is indistinct. Its provenance isn’t given in the credits. It appears to be a watercolor and may look fine when seen full size, but at cover size (even a large cover size) its lines are blurry and its colors are muddy. The lack of distinction is enough that this could be a Union soldier, or he could be a soldier in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. It’s hard to tell.

The rider and horse are at rest. There is no motion in the image and nothing to suggest it is wartime. The same posture of rider and mount could be from a time of peace. Nothing in the background suggests battle either, but then the background is so blurred that it really suggests nothing much at all.

One might expect that the image would relate to the book’s title, Storm Coming, but, if anything, the sky appears calm. There are no roiling clouds or anything else to give a sense of impending troubles.

All in all, it’s a pretty image, but it’s not a successful image for this cover—or perhaps for any cover, given how difficult it is to make out details of the picture.

Typography: However ineffective the imagery, the typography is more so.

The title and author name are set in blue boxes, top and bottom. The top box is solid, the bottom box partly transparent. Such boxes, whether solid or not, almost invariably are signs of an amateur production. It takes considerable skill for a designer to use text boxes and get away with it. On this cover the boxes don’t work well.

The boxes pick up a light blue color that appears in the image, but they take up so much real estate that the light blue becomes the predominant color of the whole cover and draws too much attention to itself. If the boxes were to be retained, it would be better to select a dark color from the image; that would have the effect of making the sky pop better. Better yet would be not to have the boxes at all.

That the boxes were felt necessary is a sign that there is something wrong with the image. For fiction, normally the image should occupy the whole of the cover, and the image should be so made that it easily accommodates text. This image isn’t conducive to text: thus the unfortunate boxes.

The title font is weak: thin strokes and italics. For a book about war, the title needs to be strong, even masculine. This font seems feminine. It just isn’t appropriate.

The font used for the author name would have been better for the title. If that switch were made, the author name should be set in small caps, possibly in the same font (if it includes a small caps version), otherwise in a sans serif font. Assuming the bottom box is omitted, probably a sans serif font would be preferred, since serifs could be lost against a busy background.

As for color, and assuming both boxes are dropped, black would suffice for the title and maybe for the author name. The former would be set against the white and gold background, so it would be readable easily, while the latter would be against a darker, busier part of the image.

Would black work there? It’s hard to tell, since the blue box now obscures that part of the image. It might be necessary to lighten that portion if black text is used, or it might make sense to darken it and set the author name in white.

The subtitle is set in a reddish band that lies across the lower part of the image. The band is translucent, so the image partly shows through. The subtitle reads “A Novel of the Civil War in western Virginia.” It is in white italics (why italics?) and can be read only with difficulty. It sits atop an important part of the image, the horse’s legs, and ought to be either lower or higher. It probably would look best immediately under the title.

Like the title, it should be changed from white to black, and it certainly should not be in italics. I would put the subtitle in the same sans serif font as the author name and in all caps, thus allowing only the title to be in a serif font and in upper- and lowercase.

Overall: This cover unmistakably is home grown. No doubt the author-designer was happy with how it turned out. It seemed good enough to him, but most self-published authors are not good judges of cover treatments. Their artistic standards often don’t keep pace with their literary standards.

They may realize, while writing their text, that they need the services of professional editors (most writers do), but they fail to realize that their covers also need professional attention. A do-it-yourself cover may save money or even time, but almost always it will lose customers.

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