Case Study 32

Title: The Blood of Princes

Author: Derek Birks

Designer: Katie Birks

Genre: Historical novel

Graphics: This story centers around the disappearance of Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York. In 1483, at the death of their father, Edward IV, the boys were lodged in London Tower and disappeared from history. Their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, became king. It commonly is assumed that Richard had the boys, ages 12 and 9, murdered. This justifies the bloody crown on this book’s cover, though one might argue that two crowns should be depicted.

The crown isn’t the only thing bloodied here. Below the crown is a large splotch of blood, and several letters of the title drip with blood. The last word of the title, Princes, is the same color as the blood, but it’s not clear whether this implies that each letter of that word has been dipped in blood or simply that the letters were colored red from the start, even though the other words of the title are black.

If the graphic has a problem, it’s that the blood, which seems to be flowing at least over the letters, is rust colored rather than blood red. The crown looks rusted rather than bloodied. However that may be, there is so much blood that it seems to be overkill (no pun intended). I think the effect would have been more striking had there been less and redder blood, confined to the crown and a few drops falling off it.

At the margins of the cover are metallic-looking vines. It’s not clear what their purpose is. The cover would lose nothing by losing them.

Typography: The chief words of the cover, Blood and Princes, are partly obscured by copious blood. I would have reduced or eliminated blood on the letters. At least I would have kept all four words of the title black. With Princes in dark red, the word competes with the crown for attention. The auxiliary words, The and of, are a little small. Each should be centered over the other words. Having The off-centered serves no obvious purpose.

As with the title, I would have kept the author name in black. As it stands, it’s kerned too widely. The paperback version risks having the author name too near the edges, if the trimming is too generous.

This is the second volume in a series. Why no mention of that? Instead of the big splotch of blood at the bottom, a tagline could have been added: “Book 2 of the Craft of Kings Series.”

Even if all these changes were made, the cover still would look a little bland. Perhaps the title needs to be in royal gold rather than black. That would make the title stand out more, and it would add a dash of color that would contrast nicely with the somber tone of the rest of the cover (even if the blood were recolored to look more like blood than rust).

Overall: The basic elements are appropriate for the story. They just need to be tweaked. To attract those who are attracted to historical novels, perhaps the designer could add, just beneath the title, a phrase such as “A Historical Novel.” That would help readers understand the precise genre. Even without that addition, the cover works, but it could work more effectively with a few changes.

Case Study 16

Title: Forest Child

Author: Heather Day Gilbert

Designer: Seedlings Design Studio

Genre: Historical Fiction

Graphics: This is the second book in a series built around Viking explorations. The protagonist, Freydis, is the illegitimate daughter (“forest child”) of Erik the Red and half-sister to Leif Erikson—all three actual historical figures. In a legendary account Freydis is pictured as braver than many of the men she explored with, and the book is written on that premise.

In the cover image we see Freydis depicted as a young woman, her face showing quiet determination. Her hair, appropriately, is red (her father got his moniker from the color of his hair and beard). We see arrows poking out from a quiver, thus a hunting or military connection, and in the background, partly obscured in mist, are trees—an implication of “forest child.”

The image thus presents several elements of the historical character and the fictional character, something not commonly done well on book covers. As in most such covers, the protagonist looks twenty-first century (Vikings didn’t sport sculpted eyebrows, and is that a hint of lip gloss one sees?), but that concession to commercialism doesn’t detract from the overall effect.

Typography: Two fonts are used, one for the title and author name, the other for the tagline. The author name is set in a bar at the bottom of the cover. Often such bars conflict with the associated image, but here, because of the multiple horizontal lines and the gray and brown colors, the bar seems to work. The kerning doesn’t quite work. Notice that the T and H in “Heather” are touching.

The font used for the title and author name has an embossed, three-dimensional look. That’s not necessarily bad, but it isn’t necessary, given the effective three-dimensionality of the image. Such fonts aren’t uniform in coloration; slight alterations in tone are needed to suggest the third dimension. That sometimes is problematic, since a secondary tone might be lost in the background, thus making the font look slightly broken. I would have used a simpler, flat font here.

The bigger problem is with the tagline. It is illegible at thumbnail size and almost illegible even at Amazon’s sale page for the book. I’d have reworded the tagline slightly: “Vikings of the New World Saga Book 2″—which actually is how it is at Amazon. That would have saved nine characters and spaces, allowing the font size to be boosted by a couple of points.

As it is, the tagline is too close to the protagonist’s head. Since a larger font would make the tagline closer still, I’d add more free space above her head, making that area about twice as tall as it now is. This could be done by shrinking her image slightly and by moving it a bit lower.

Overall: This cover has to be rated a success, despite minor flaws with the typography. Even at thumbnail size it says “professional,” which is precisely what any author should want.

Case Study 11

Title: A Sidekick’s Tale

Author: Elisabeth Grace Foley

Designer: Seedlings Design Studio

Genre: Historical fiction

Graphics: In Death Valley, at the intersection of two far-from-civilization dirt roads, is Teakettle Junction. The wooden directional sign there is adorned with dozens of battered teakettles placed by passersby. The teakettles and the sign give the site a Wild West flair. Similarly with this book’s cover.

Here the sign has four direction arrows. Instead of naming destinations they give the title and author. Hung on the sign are three items symbolic of the story’s era and plot: a rifle, a cowboy hat, and a wedding ring. The latter is a bit hard to make out, even though its size is grossly exaggerated. Th silver and white of the ring are too similar to the pale blue of the sky and the white of the clouds.

In the background are galloping horses pulling a wagon, a windmill, barbed-wire fencing, and five inappropriate birds. I call the birds inappropriate not because they’re there but because they seem to be seagulls, not the hawks or vultures one would expect to find in an end-of-the-nineteenth-century story set on the plains.

But that’s a minor point. All in all, the illustration is clever and conveys what it needs to convey. Aside from changing the birds, I would have saturated the colors more—particularly the sky—and would have made the rifle larger, to match the hat in relative size. (The ring would have to remain large; if it were reduced to its true size, relative to the hat and rifle, it would be invisible.)

Typography: There is but one font, used for both the title and the author name. It works well and suggests the locale and era. Many fonts that try to do the same overdo themselves. They end up looking like caricatures rather than authentic representations of a certain time and place. Not so with this font.

The author name is long. That could make placement difficult, but here there is no problem. Her name is legible (and it even sounds like a name from the era in which the story takes place).

The only thing missing, in terms of words, is a tagline. One easily could be placed at the top, if the sign were lowered slightly and if the two birds at the top were removed. The book description at Amazon says A Sidekick’s Tale is “a hilarious tangle involving an emerald ring, a fearsome aunt, a scheming suitor, and a team of runaway mules.” A compressed version of that would work well as a tagline, and it would confirm that this Wild West story is humorous and fun.

Overall: This is an effective cover. I read the first few pages of the book to see whether the cover gives a true sense of the story, and it does. Many covers fail that simple test, leaving some buyers regretful. They think We’re Having Grandma for Dinner is about happy multigenerational relationships only to discover it’s a culinary horror story. No danger of that with A Sidekick’s Tale.