Case Study 60

Title: What Happened to Me

Author: Richard White

Designer: Richard White

Genre: Memoir

Graphics: This is the author’s account of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. The book is so short—just 29 pages—that many would consider it a long pamphlet, but even pamphlets deserve good covers.

The black-and-white image doesn’t seem to be of the author. His author page at Amazon shows a middle-aged man, but the fellow on the cover is notably younger. Maybe it’s an old photograph of the author, but I suspect it’s a piece of stock photography.

Whatever its provenance, the image is effective, particularly the eyes, which are looking worriedly to one side. You almost can hear the man rephrasing the title as a question: “What is happening to me?”

There are two incongruous elements to the cover design.

The first is the in-your-face award seal. It’s grand for a book to receive an award, but these seals always seem to interfere with covers’ graphics. That certainly is the case here, with the seal, which has a bit of color and shine, being superimposed on a matte image. If the seal is to be used at all, it should be relegated to the back cover.

But honestly, I wouldn’t use this seal at all. It says “ Bestselling Author,” but that really doesn’t mean much.

All it means is that a book reached the No. 1 spot in one of the hundreds of minute subcategories at Amazon, and it usually means nothing more than that the book held that spot for a few days or even just a few hours. Every day, hundreds of books become fresh (and short-lived) “bestsellers” at Amazon.

Maybe this book became No. 1 briefly in the “Anxiety & Phobias” category, where it presently has its highest rank, but that’s a fourth-level category, meaning their are hundreds of categories at higher levels.

The other incongruity is the pastel banner at the bottom. Nowhere else does that light color appear. It falsely draws attention to itself. If anything good can be said about it, it’s that at least it isn’t a bright color, which would be immeasurably worse.

Typography: Let’s go from top to bottom.

The puffery tagline (“International Best Selling Author”) either needs a hyphen (“Best-Selling”) or it needs the words joined (“Bestselling”). What it needs more than either is size. It’s too small.

The letters seem widely kerned. They should be returned to standard kerning, and, if there is one, should be put in a condensed version of the font. Even just closer kerning would allow these words to be boosted in size: there is room for them to go left and right.

Next comes the author name, which looks small in proportion to the title. It ought to be set larger—ideally large enough to stretch as widely as the line above it, and it should be set in bold. It still would be less prominent than the title, but the discrepancy no longer would be a problem.

Then the title itself. The font has a slightly distressed look, which seems appropriate when the theme is PTSD, but its distress doesn’t seem quite enough. I would select a more irregularly-drawn font, or I would go the other direction and select one without any hint of distress. The current font falls in between and so seems slightly off.

The first word of the title, “What,” is smaller and more widely kerned, for no evident reason. If it isn’t the most important word in the title, it’s at least the second most important word and should be given equal status with the others.

Then comes the genre tagline, “A Story of Defeating PTSD.” The words clearly inform the viewer what kind of book this is. Without the tagline, someone might presume the book to be a thriller or mystery.

But what about that pastel background? It should be replaced either with the lower part of the photo or, if that part is unavailable or inappropriate as a backdrop, with solid black that transitions, on the left, into the man’s chin and beard.

That done, the tagline’s text should be reversed out into white (the same tone as the author name), and the italics should be removed. They serve no purpose.

Overall: The photo is arresting and rightly is presented in black and white. There are problems with sizing of the textual elements, but those problems can be resolved in minutes by the designer. This cover is only a short way from being an excellent cover for a book—or even a pamphlet.