Case Study 24

Title: Movement

Author: Matthew S. Miller

Designer: Matthew S. Miller

Genre: Religion

Graphics: When I first saw this cover, I knew at once what the book was: an account of a long-distance hike during which the author “discovered himself.” But I was wrong. The text seems to have nothing to do with hiking. It’s a devotional book, designed to “equip you to rediscover discipleship as you find your own personal revolution.”

Why did I make this mistake in genre? Because the cover led me astray. Even the subtitle—A 40 Day Spiritual Journey—wasn’t enough to make me think this was a book about religion because many “self-discovery” hiking books use similar language.

In short, this cover failed to explain (at least to me) what the book’s genre is. This is a fundamental mistake. It is one thing for a cover not to make clear what a book’s genre is. It’s a bigger problem for it to imply an entirely incorrect genre.

There is another problem: the image contradicts the title. The title is Movement, which suggests action, but the image shows a hiker who is stationary. It would have been better to select an image that showed a hiker taking large strides along a trail.

Typography: The author name and title are in a serif font, while the subtitle seems to be in two sans serif fonts. At the least, the subtitle should be in just one font.

Let’s start with the title. Its font, with long serifs, has a chiseled look that might be appropriate on the pediment of an ancient Roman building. The font suggests a static condition, which is contrary to a sense of movement. It would be better to select a sans serif font that, through fluidity of lines, gives a sense of action rather than repose.

Another problem: the title’s letter spacing is too wide, bringing the word too close to the edges of the book. Similarly, the author name is set too close to the top edge, and it is far too small. It might be an interesting effect to enlarge the author name to the point where its length matches that of the adjusted title, though it should be in whatever font is used for the subtitle, leaving the title to have its own font.

As for the subtitle, here it is encased in a box that adds nothing—in fact, the box detracts since it draws the eye unnecessarily. It would have been better to make the two lines of the subtitle the same height and to boost the font several points above the current size of the second line. As it is, the first line of the subtitle is easy to miss.

The letter spacing of the second line of the subtitle seems to have been tightened, for no clear reason. Even with the box there is plenty of room for normal letter spacing.

Overall: This is a good example of how a cover can throw prospective readers off. If only half of them made the mistake I did, thinking this was a book about hiking, that could mean a substantial reduction in sales.

How many fewer copies of Charlotte’s Web might have been sold if that children’s book’s cover had featured scary-looking spider webs á la an Indiana Jones adventure or, worse, spider webs as seen on horror-story covers?