Case Study 99

Title: Orange Berets

Author: James “Doc” Crabtree

Designer: Heidi Crabtree

Genre: Memoir

Graphics: This is an account of an Army major’s time spent with the peace-keeping force assigned to the Sinai. The personnel wear orange berets to mark them out as members of a multinational force.

The photo presumably is of the author, although the opening pages of the book don’t specify that. Immediately you know that the photo has something to do with the military (the man clearly isn’t a civilian) and that the locale must be where camels are found, and that suggests the Arabian peninsula.

So far so good. The photo has narrowed the genres and geography. It’s focused on the camel’s snout, which, unfortunately, extends beyond the photo’s top. The man is not in focus and thus becomes a secondary figure.

In a photo editing program this otherwise black-and-white image was given two bits of color, the beret and a shoulder patch. Making the beret orange makes sense, but why is the patch also orange? Given the book’s title, it would have been better to restrict the added color to the beret.

The larger problem with the cover photo is that is isn’t larger. The photo takes up less than half the cover. If it had been taken in portrait format, there presumably were parts that were snipped out, particularly below what we see here but perhaps also above. The ideal would have been for the photo to occupy all or nearly all of the cover acreage.

If its proportions wouldn’t quite fit, or if it had inappropriate or irrelevant elements that couldn’t be omitted or obscured through photo editing, then it would have been fine to have it occupy all but the bottom-most area of the cover. That area would be where certain textual items could be placed.

Even if the photo couldn’t be expanded beyond what we see here, in terms of what it showed, it could be expanded to fill the awkward blocks above it and to its left. The top block actually detracts from the photo, since its coloration overpowers the orange of the beret.

Below the subtitle is a smaller image. Even when that image is expanded to its largest size at Amazon, it isn’t clear what is being shown, other than that it is a flag. Is it the flag of the multinational force? Even if so, how does it coordinate with the title and the larger image, and what does it add to the cover, other than occupying what otherwise might have been blank space?

Lastly, the background, that large swath of orange. This seems to be an example of a designer getting carried away with making connections. If “orange” is in the title, why not make the cover mainly orange? The chief response is that the orange of the background overpowers the orange of the beret. Had the background been nearly any other color, the hint of orange in the photo would have caught the viewer’s attention, but now the color of the beret looks like an afterthought.

Typography: The title font is unobjectionable. It’s read easily, and it has a little more character than would a font such as Helvetica. It is the other font, the one used for the subtitle and author name, that needs attention. It’s a typewriter font. Was the designer wanting to suggest that the memoir includes accounts of clerical work in the Sinai? It’s hard to say.

One thing that can be said is that the typewriter font looks weak against the title font. Perhaps that mostly is a consequence of size. If the subtitle and author name were enlarged, they might not seem so overshadowed by the title. If the image of the flag were removed, there would be plenty of room for the subtitle to be set in three lines, even if the main photo were enlarged enough to get rid of the orange areas on the left and top.

The subtitle then could be in much larger letters arranged this way: “Adventures/ and Misadventures/ in the Sinai”. Notice that I change the ampersand to “and”; that reads more easily when more than just two words are used.

Is it necessary to mention the author’s nickname? Could it be brought up in the early pages of the text instead? If the nickname were omitted from the cover, the author name could be made larger than the subtitle yet smaller than the title. If the nickname has to be preserved, still the author name could be enlarged, but not nearly so much. It might go up by about a quarter, there being insufficient space for it to expand much horizontally.

Overall: This cover is unmistakably an amateur production. It’s mainly little things that are off kilter: the unneeded orange areas at the side and top, the camel’s nose being snipped off, the author name not being centered, and particularly a second image that serves no clear purpose. It would not take much to make this a presentable, even if still not a good, cover.

Case Study 96

Title: Bound to Love

Author: Skye Blaine

Designer: Berkana Publications

Genre: Memoir

Graphics: This book tells a forty-year-old story of a young woman whose only child was born with serious health problems and the troubles they both had as he fought to live and grew to adulthood.

The cover photo is of the author’s son as a young child—a perfectly appropriate picture for this sort of memoir. Clearly this photo wasn’t taken in a studio. It’s cropped from a larger photo, and it’s slightly out of focus. No harm in that. Authenticity makes allowances.

I presume there was more to the photo above the boy’s head. It’s too bad that portion wasn’t retained, because it would provide a place for the title and genre tagline. Those now appear in a box, part of which flows down the left side.

It would have been better for the photo to occupy the whole of the cover. It’s easy enough to imagine how the image could be enlarged to take over the vertical strip of red. Cropping it differently could have taken care of that plus the large red area at the top.

At the lower left is a medallion issued by a group called IndieBRAG. You pay a fee, submit your book, and, if your book is reasonably well written, you end up with a medallion for the cover. (The author has a second book that has the same medallion.)

Such medallions aren’t true literary awards, and most book buyers are savvy enough to know that. Besides, which reader, looking for a new purchase, ever has heard of the issuing group? Probably not a single one.

Medallions such as this one accomplish little in terms of sales, but they do accomplish something else: they detract from the integrity of the covers they appear on. They don’t mesh with any of the artwork or text, and they appear to be slapped-on stickers.

It’s best to omit all such things, unless the award isn’t pay-for-hire and is nationally known, such as the Caldecott Medal or the Pulitzer Prize. Anything else looks like puffery.

Typography: A single font is used throughout. As a rule, it’s good to use two or, rarely, three fonts, each signaling a different purpose. This font is serviceable but doesn’t have much character.

Given that this book is written by the boy’s mother, it would be appropriate for the font to be of the sort that might appeal to women—perhaps something that has initial letters that sport flourishes.

The tagline should be, like the author name, in a different font, particularly if the new font used for the title includes such things as flourishes on some of the letters. If the title font has strong serifs, the tagline could get by with a font with mild serifs or without any serifs. The tagline should be set in all caps, while the author name could be either in all caps (but larger than the tagline) or in upper- and lowercase.

If the medallion is removed, the author name can be placed where it ought to be: in the center. It should be larger than the present author name, and the new font should have sufficiently thick strokes that the letters will stand out well against the red of the boy’s jacket. White would be the preferred color, both for the author name and the tagline.

The title ought to have a distinctive color, perhaps matching the yellowish bead near the boy’s chin. That color likely would stand out well against whatever the original photo showed above his head.

If that area was cropped out because it seemed too busy to lay text over, well, there are ways around that. An experienced designer can blur whatever might appear behind the text, though that may not be necessary for the title, if its letters are sufficiently large and thick. As for the tagline, it would be legitimate to place it beneath the title in a banner, one not dissimilar from the color of the background on which it is overlaid.

Overall: Family memoirs often have a paucity of visual materials to draw from. Fortunately, the author had a long-ago photo that serves the cover well. The problems don’t relate to the photo so much as to its placement and to the uninspired textual treatment.

Case Study 93

Title: Little Cabin on the Trail

Author: Denise Mahr Voccola

Designer: Denise Mahr Voccola

Genre: Memoir

Graphics: This book is about the value of family story-telling—that is, passing along accounts of the little things that happen within a family. Does the cover suggest such a theme? It’s hard to say. From looking at the first pages of the book, it isn’t clear how a cabin fits in. Perhaps it was where the author’s family often gathered and where they learned and told family stories.

The illustration itself is fine, though it’s a pity it takes up so little of the cover, being circumscribed by a circlet of branches and leaves.

It would have been better if the illustration were squared and enlarged, making it the full width of the cover. As it stands, some things in the illustration are difficult to make out, such as the bicycle and whatever is in the bicycle’s front basket. (Flowers? I can’t tell even when the cover is enlarged.)

The circlet is a nice, homey touch, but it draws too much attention to itself, and it forces the illustration to be constricted because the circlet needs to be kept away from the edges of the cover—which, come to think of it, are hard to locate, since the background is white and there is no border. At the sales page at Amazon a thin border and a drop shadow have been supplied automatically; the cover should have had at least a hairline border added to it before it was uploaded.

Back to the implications of the title, which seems to echo the title of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s best-known work, Little House on the Prairie. The illustration reinforces the idea that the centerpiece of the book is the cabin itself. There isn’t anything from which a viewer can infer story-telling. Thus the graphics miss the mark.

Typography: The font used for the title and author name suits the locale. The font’s rustic style suggests that this will be a homey read. It’s hard to tell from this borderless image, but the title is too close to the top of the cover. The two lines of the title are too close together: the C of the first line nearly hits the second T of the second line.

I don’t know whether this font has alternative characters. If so, it would have been good to use a smaller C in the author’s surname. The two large C’s draw too much attention to themselves, but that’s a quibble. One might counter by saying the double-C’s add character to the cover.

The subtitle and tagline are in a quite different—and quite difficult to read—font. Cursive fonts usually are difficult to read, especially when used for more than one or two words. What may look fine at full-monitor size often becomes a head-scratcher at thumbnail size.

In the subtitle, the conjunction “and” is set above an ornament. The two are impossible to make out at small sizes. Even when the cover is enlarged the word and ornament look odd—and inappropriate. Why are they there? They do nothing to enhance legibility. Maybe the designer thought they looked pretty. If so, this is an example of cuteness undercutting utility.

The tagline above the author name begins, oddly, with a tilde. Again, why?

The tagline is set slightly larger than the subtitle. Usually a subtitle is larger than a tagline, or the two are set at the same point size.

The subtitle could be enlarged to match the tagline’s size if its wording were modified slightly. I would omit the second use of “are” (and the ornament) so the subtitle would read: “where memories are made and stories told”. That would free up the equivalent of about five characters, allowing the text to grow—and to be brought in a little from the sides, since it’s a little wide.

Overall: This cover likely will appeal to a certain audience, just given its down-home-ness, but the poor legibility of some of the text and the hard-to-make-out illustration will cause other potential readers to look elsewhere.

It’s not possible, when designing a cover, to be as Pauline as one might wish, to be “all things to all men,” yet that aim ought to be a guiding principle during design, at least if one’s goal is to have a wide readership.

Case Study 92

Title: Access Denied

Author: David E. Gates

Designer: David E. Gates

Genre: Memoir

Graphics: The story concerns child custody. Is that suggested by the cover? Well, there is an adult hand, and cleverly arranged in it is a child’s hand. The two hands are reaching for one another, though it seems to me that the adult thumb is on the wrong side.

However that may be, there is an indication of an adult and a child, but would one infer from that a memoir regarding child custody? Not likely.

What’s that in the background? At thumbnail size it’s impossible to tell. At full size at Amazon, the background is revealed to be an apparently random sequence of four capitalized letters, A, C, G, and T. Their significance isn’t clear. Maybe the background is intended to evoke a computer program or printout. After all, “Access denied!” is a phrase one might see when inputting the wrong password. I take it that the title refers to not having access to one’s child.

The hundreds of letters in the background don’t tell us what the genre is or anything about the storyline. If a buyer has to guess at what a book is about, he’s unlikely to investigate further. Why should he, when so many other covers are vying for his attention?

Typography: Only two typographic elements appear on the cover, the title and the author name. The first is legible enough, despite the cluttered background. The second is illegible unless the cover is enlarged. The same font is used for both elements, as all caps for the title and as upper- and lowercase for the author name.

Each letter has a drop shadow. On most covers drop shadows either accomplish nothing or improve the readability of the text. Here they are counter-productive. They make the words harder to read. That’s because the drop shadows, which appear to be in gray, merge with the small background letters, which also are in gray. The resultant effect is haziness around the words.

The designer should have made alterations to the title and author name. The latter should be far larger. There would be room if the hands were rotated clockwise about thirty degrees, so the adult’s index finger would point toward the lower part of the left border and his forearm would extend not through the top border but through the upper part of the right border. This rotation would allow the title to be enlarged also. It ought to be half again as large, while the author name ought to be at least twice as large.

Once sizing is fixed, coloration needs to be fixed—and in the process the drop shadows should be removed. As for colors, the author name would work well in black, and perhaps red might work for the title since red commonly is used for warning signs, which is what “Access Denied” brings to mind.

For any of the text to be easily readable, the background (assuming the letters are kept) should be lightened by at least one-third, perhaps by half. Of course, it would be better to eliminate those hundreds of letters. Doing so would leave a simple cover, but the graphic of the hands may be enough to carry it—so long as there is an addition.

The addition would be a tagline indicating what the book is about. As it stands now, the cover doesn’t convey its genre or its storyline, the background being busy but obscure and the hands being subject to various interpretations. There needs to be a more blatant explanation of what the reader will find inside.

Overall: Author-designed covers usually fail to do what covers should do. This is a good example. The designer knows what the book is about and has used symbolism (the hands and the stream of letters) that, in his mind, explains sufficiently what the book is.

Except that the symbolism doesn’t do that for people unacquainted with the book. To them the cover lacks clarity, so they are likely to pass it by and look for something else to read.

Case Study 91

Title: I Remember the Time . . .

Author: Kim Hemphill

Designer: Cathi Stevenson

Genre: Memoir

Graphics: The author (a male, not a female: don’t be misled by the name) tells how he was run over by a train when he was three and how his disfigurement resulted in his living in an abusive home, suffering taunts throughout his school years, becoming homeless as a teenager, and falling into substance abuse—and how he overcame all of that.

The cover photo was taken by the designer not, apparently, at the site of the accident but at a more visually attractive site. Wise decision. A cover needs to attract prospective buyers. It needs enough verisimilitude to be faithful to the story, but it mostly needs to catch the eye.

This photo does that well. It’s a well-formed image, with the camera set low, for two reasons. First, the camera angle makes the rails seem to converge in the exact center of the cover. The track disappears into trees. One almost gets a sense of motion. Second, the low angle allows the child’s shoe to be well positioned.

I presume this wasn’t the author’s actual shoe but one mocked up for the purpose: it seems to have not just a thick line of dirt across the top but also a splotch of blood (perhaps ketchup). The shoe catches one’s attention, at least when the cover is viewed at a larger size. At thumbnail size, not so much, and that’s too bad. It’s a nice touch. It lends drama to the scene, which otherwise would be pretty but not dramatic.

Another thing to note is that the designer took the photo at sunset, thus resulting in ruddy clouds. That gives the photo three blocks of subdued color: red at the top, green in the middle, gray toward the bottom. That said, the cover looks dark overall. It should have been adjusted to lighter tones in an editing program. Still, it’s a fine image.

Typography: The typography isn’t as successful as the graphics. All of the text is off-white, but it should be bright white, given how dark the photo is. Even the larger letters don’t pop enough.

Imagine that the title were mentioned within a paragraph. If the title came at the end of a sentence, how many periods would you expect to follow it? (Correct answer: four.) If it came in the middle of a sentence and it was necessary to omit a few words immediately following it—that is, to have an elision represented by an ellipsis—how many periods would follow it? This time, six: three as part of the title and three as the ellipsis. That would make for awkward reading. And if the title came at the end of a question, how would it look to have a question mark follow three periods? It wouldn’t look very good.

I mention this because it’s almost always a bad idea to include punctuation in a book’s title. All kinds of confusions can arise. Imagine a book called How Are You? If you wanted to ask someone what he thought of the book, you’d have to write, “How did you like How Are You??” if you want to preserve the title. If you drop one of the question marks, a reader would think the title was simply How Are You.

In the present case, I would eliminate the ellipsis at the end of the title. It doesn’t add much to the sense; it may not add anything to the sense, depending on the reader. It will add to the confusion.

The author name should be a little larger, if this font is retained. (It’s used for everything but the blurb at the top.) The font’s thin lines tend to disappear against busy parts of the background. Other than that, the author name is fine.

Not so with the long tagline. Its major problem is legibility. It needs to be in a sans serif font that has thicker strokes than the present font. A condensed version would be preferable, so the text can be boosted a few points without having the lines come too close to the cover’s edges.

The first line ends with the indefinite article. It shouldn’t. “A” should begin the second line. “Bullying” should be brought up to the third line, to keep the thought unit together (“abuse and bullying”). “Happiness” needs to be followed by a comma, else the phrase “happiness and love” can be read as an appositive for (that is, a restating of) the word “success.”

This leaves the promotional blurb at the top. It’s the smallest text, and it suffers the most from being the wrong color: it doesn’t stand out well at all against the reddish sky.

The blurb should be in the same sans serif font as the subtitle, and it needs to be larger. I would put the first sentence on a line by itself. The other sentence I would divide this way: “A riveting read that will make you appreciate/ all that you have.”

The person quoted is identified as an “ARC reader”—that is, an “advance reader copy reader.” An ARC is a copy sent to select readers before publication, in hopes that they will supply useful promotional blurbs.

This blurb is nearly ideal, but the reader need not be identified as an ARC reader. Most buyers won’t know what that means. The designation makes her comment no more valuable that it would be if her name stood by itself.

Overall: As it stands, this is a good cover. Its legibility problems could be overcome in part simply by making all the text bright white. That would earn it a solid B. Making the other changes would bring it a much-deserved A.

Case Study 83

Title: Tea and Madness

Author: C. Streetlights

Designer: Laura Hidalgo

Genre: Memoir

Graphics: The description at Amazon says this short book is a “memoir written in prose and poetry” that recounts the author’s multiple travails, including depression and the loss of a baby.

The indistinct image (the indistinctness seems appropriate here) shows a woman—presumably the author—with teapot in hand, walking away from a jumble of cups and saucers lying in the grass. The disarray of the tea set and the multiplicity of cups suggests a lack of self-composure or aimlessness.

You don’t normally see tea sets outdoors. You expect to find them arranged on rectangular kitchen tables or small round tables at restaurants or coffee shops. There’s something jarring about seeing such accoutrements abandoned outdoors. It looks as if the woman has had her fill and, perhaps in dejection, is walking away, not bothering to clean up after herself.

Or is she going off to find more hot water? It’s hard to say. Either way, the impression is one of unease, and that fits the “madness” part of the title well.

The only graphical element other than the photograph is a silhouette of a teapot. It is used as the container for the genre tagline, which tells us that this is “a memoir.”

Typography: That tagline is helpful—we might have little idea what the book is about otherwise—but the words are too small to be seen at thumbnail size. They should have been set in a condensed font and in two lines, with “a” centered over “memoir.” That would have allowed the letters to be taller and therefore more legible.

The title seems to have been composed in two fonts, one for “Tea and” and the other for “madness.” The fonts are similar, but close inspection shows that letters common to both parts are drawn differently. Look, for example, at the A and E.

The conjunction “and” is orange, while the other words are in white tinged with yellow. This gives “and” undue emphasis, which is doubly unfortunate in that the ascender of the D in “madness” is used to connect to the teapot, with the uppermost part of the ascender being orange tea coming out of the teapot. The orange in “and” detracts from the orange in the ascender.

Another problem is that the large swirl coming off the T in “Tea” comes too close to the cover’s edges, at both the left and right. The title thus looks cramped. This problem can be solved by reducing the size of the title. There is plenty of leeway for that, since the title is so large.

Lastly, “and” seems oddly placed. I would have put it below “Tea” and to the left of the teapot. There is room for it, though it might need to be slightly smaller. If repositioned, “and” would tend to draw the other two words together. As it is now, the title looks bifurcated, almost as if there were two titles.

The author name has several problems.

Its thin font is hard to read against the cups and saucers. Even a thicker font would have trouble being read unless it were lowered so that only grass appeared behind it, but that would require that the entire background image be raised, to show more grass at the bottom.

The color that works for the title doesn’t work for the author name because its letters are too small. White should be used instead. And the author name needs to be brought in from the left and right edges. Most of that could be accomplished by reducing the large space between the author’s initial and her surname and by shifting the period that follows the initial closer to the C.

Overall: This cover’s greatest strength is its photo. Its weakest is the sizing and coloration of its text. Fortunately, the textual problems can be remedied easily.

It is particularly important to make clearer the book’s genre. Thus “a memoir” needs to be more prominent. If adjusting the text, as suggested above, doesn’t do the trick, it may be necessary to enlarge the teapot silhouette.

Case Study 76

Title: The Plug Up

Author: Kevin Tait

Designer: Kevin Tait

Genre: Memoir

Graphics: The sole graphical element is a photograph of a cloudy sky. The image chiefly is in shades of gray, but there is a bluish cast toward the bottom, where the image ends at a white bar, beneath which is a black bar.

Cloud images are a dime a dozen. This one hardly rises that high. It has no character—and no color, aside from the added tint below. It is one step removed from a flat, gray background, and a flat, gray background probably would have been better. The clouds in this photo neither inspire nor intrigue.

The irruption of blue in the lower third of the cover seems gratuitous, and the white and black bars serve no obvious purpose. As poor as this image of clouds may be, it should have been granted the courtesy of extending all the way down, and the bars should have been eliminated.

Typography: The text consists of three almost illegible elements: title, subtitle, and author name.

The title is tucked into a fold in the clouds, as if the designer felt he had to put it there, thus limiting the size of the letters. The font mimics handwriting, but nothing the cover otherwise reveals why that is preferable to a regular font. In any case, the title is far too small. It should be about four times the size—and certainly in a different, tighter font and still more certainly in a color other than green.

The green text of the subtitle almost is legible when the cover is viewed at a small size, bur green is still the wrong color. The subtitle has multiple faults, aside from its color. Let’s start with punctuation.

A title or subtitle should not have terminal punctuation: no period, as here. There is a floating comma, unmoored to any word and in the wrong place anyway. No comma is needed in this sentence, the two prepositional phrases being tied by the conjunction “and.” The third punctuational error is a missing hyphen; one is needed between “self” and “transformation.”

There are problems with the layout of the text and with word choice.

The poorly chosen word in the first one, “A.” Instead of “A story of a spiritual thinker,” the line should read “The story of a spiritual thinker.” The definite article implies that the author is telling his entire story, while the indefinite article implies that he is telling one of several stories.

The text could be in three lines, but the words should break differently: “The story of a spiritual thinker/ and a quest/ for self-transformation.”

The preposition “for” shouldn’t be separated from the rest of the prepositional phrase, if possible, so “for” and “self-transformation” should appear on the same line.

Similarly, the first line includes a prepositional phrase: “of a spiritual thinker.” When combined with “The story,” that makes for a long line, but that’s not necessarily bad. The very short line that follows, “and a quest,” draws attention to itself from its very shortness. Of all the words in the subtitle, only “quest” gives a sense of change or motion, so it’s good to give it emphasis.

The author name is invisible at thumbnail size. Like the title, it ought to be much larger, though not as large as the revised title. Like the rest of the text, its green color is exquisitely wrong.

If the cloudy background were retained (and continued to the bottom edge), the author name could be put in white letters at the bottom, where the background is darkest, the title could be moved up about a fourth of the way toward to top, and the subtitle could begin at the cover’s midpoint. Like the author name, the subtitle should be in white, while the title could be in a bright color, such as yellow or gold.

Overall: The proposed changes would succeed only in making a bad cover a little less bad. The cover needs a thorough remake. As it stands, it sends a message. The message is that the author-designer should seek the services of a professional. That he let a cover such as this be published is confirmation of that.

Case Study 68

Title: Letters from a Young Poet

Author: Michael Molyneux

Designer: Shanti arts Design

Genre: Travel, memoir

Graphics: I mistook this book’s genre immediately—and twice. At first I presumed this to be a book of poems, given its graphical style. (More on that below.) Then I realized that the title promises letters rather than poems, so I thought it was about a young man’s struggles to become a successful poet: a poetic coming-of-age story.

It is neither of these. It consists of more than seventy short recountings of things and people the author experienced as he traveled solo through Latin America. I never would have gathered that, had I not looked at the first few pages of text.

The indistinct painting shows a doorway into a garden. On the wall is a guitar, on the walls some paintings, and at the sides two chairs. The style is Impressionistic, and that’s not conducive to clarity at small sizes. At thumbnail size, most elements of the painting are indecipherable. The chairs and guitar can be made out but not much more.

The scene does have a Latin American look to it, so in that degree it’s appropriate for a travel memoir that takes place far south of the border, but the scene doesn’t necessarily suggest travel in and through Latin America. It doesn’t suggest interacting with people met on the journey—something, from the table of contents, that seems to be a big part of the retelling.

I mentioned that I at first thought this to be a book of poetry. That’s because many such books—not just those produced by indie authors but also those produced by smaller traditional publishers—are laid out as this one is: a boxed, artsy image, chosen seemingly because it’s pretty, not because it relates to any particular poem, with the box taking up less than half the real estate of the cover, the remainder being the title and author name in a nondescript font, with everything on a background of a single, solid color.

Perhaps people and firms that produce poetry books have tended to use a common template. If so, they would do well to discard it. Other genres have template-like covers. Many science fiction books or police procedurals look like close cousins of one another, but those templates at least speak to the respective genres. The imagined poetry template doesn’t.

The artwork seems like an afterthought, something to take up space so the cover isn’t reduced to two lines of type, as this cover would be if the image were deleted.

As I say, that’s for poetry books, but this isn’t a poetry book. It just looks like one. I suspect others who have come across the kind of poetry books I have seen will have the same reaction. They will think they will find poetry and so either will pass up the book (because they aren’t looking for poetry) or will purchase it and become disappointed (because they are looking for poetry).

Typography: It’s hard to say what should be done about the uninspiring font used for the title and author name. As a start, there should be two fonts, a serif font for the title and a sans serif for the author name. The latter should be in all caps, not upper and lower caps, as the title presently is.

The title should be in a font with some hint of movement or even place, and it should be set in upper- and lowercase letters. The book is about traveling in Latin America, so a font with a few flourishes might be appropriate for the title, which could use a little verve.

The author name is too small, and the title is far too small. If the image is kept boxed, it could be raised to provide space at the bottom (but not too near the bottom!) for the author name. The author name and box should be centered, there being no particular reason to have them off to the right.

Moving the author name would leave room at the top for the title, which should be centered in two lines: “Letters from/ a Young Poet”. The font should be about twice the present height.

These adjustments would help, but the predominant element of the cover would remain what it is: not the text and not even the image but the mass of color in the background. The way around this is to get rid of the background by making the image extend over the whole of the cover. If that were done, the text would have to be arranged other than as proposed above.

In that revision, I would place the title in two lines at the bottom, across the flagstones, and would put it in a thick-lined font and in black. The author name I would put atop the lintel at the top. It also would be in black.

Overall: I mention alternate reworkings of the cover because I see no completely satisfactory solution, at least so long as the image is retained. It doesn’t work in its present small size, and it will remain with deficiencies even if made full size.

Having the image take up the whole of the cover may be the better way to go; at least it gets rid of the overpowering dark-red background, and it also might prevent people from jumping to the wrong conclusions that I jumped to.

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.

Case Study 53

Title: Book of Failures

Author: Amy Binegar-Kimmes-Lyle

Designer: Andrea Ferenchik

Genre: Memoir

Graphics: The cover features a photo of the author. We know that because her name appears in small white letters on the base of the red chair. And that’s it, image-wise. There is no background image and no background texture. That poses a problem.

The white background makes the image float when viewed at thumbnail size. The cover appears to have no borders. Some such covers, when viewed at their sales pages at Amazon, have thin rules or drop shadows around them, but this cover doesn’t. It just floats.

This is a widely seen problem, and I don’t understand why designers don’t compensate for it. You’d think they’d look at how their covers look at Amazon and other sales venues, but perhaps they don’t bother.

This book is characterized as “a funny memoir,” so it’s appropriate that the author looks, if not pensive, maybe puzzled. She’s eyeing something off to her left. Her lips are pursed slightly, but that’s noticeable only when the cover is enlarged. It might have been good if she had exaggerated the pursing, to make it more obvious.

If there is anything bothersome about the image it’s that her feet have been cut off. That wouldn’t have happened if the image had been reduced slightly. As it is, the feet leave the impression that the cover was designed with insufficient care.

Typography: The title is curved, perhaps to follow the lines of the chair, but the curves don’t match. Better to leave the text straight.

The title font is cartoonish. That may be appropriate given this memoir’s emphasis on humor, but the font doesn’t make for legibility. I wouldn’t recommend Comic Sans here (or anywhere else, for that matter), but there are many lighthearted yet legible cartoonish fonts to choose from.

Another choice of font should have been made—and another choice of color. I would have put the title in the same red as the chair, leaving all the rest of the text black.

In everyday life the author seems to go by “Amy Lyle,” the name that appears on the chair, but the book partly is about her two marriages, so her name is given as “Amy Binegar-Kimmes-Lyle,” a mouthful that includes her maiden name. Unfortunately, the hyphenated name is so long that it’s difficult to give it the prominence it should have. (Adding “The” before it doesn’t help.)

The author’s name thus appears two ways, short and long, with the long way used for a reason a reader won’t “get” until the book is read. It would have been better simply to use “Amy Lyle” at the top, in larger letters, and to omit her name from the chair, where the name could be mistaken for a manufacturer’s logo.

The subtitle is “A Funny Memoir of Missteps, Inadequacies, and Faux Pas.” That clearly explains what the book is, but the subtitle is crammed into a small space and itself becomes too small. It would be better to put it, in two lines, at the bottom of the cover (after the author’s feet have been salvaged, of course) in considerably larger type.

Overall: The image is simple but has strength to it. Aside from the problem with the cut-off feet, it has no real fault. The same can’t be said for the typography. All the text needs adjustment.

It would not take much work to earn this cover a higher grade. As it stands, I would give it no more than a C.

Case Study 52

Title: Tilting

Author: Nicole Harkin

Designer: Nada Visual

Genre: Memoir

Graphics: This is the author’s account of her family, particularly problems involving her father. Although the credits page doesn’t say so, I presume the cover photo shows members of her family and was taken several decades ago. The photo has been put through a filter, the figures, deck, and fencing now appearing indistinct. The central third of the image is lightened, or is it that the outer two thirds are darkened?

Either way, it isn’t easy to make out details. Perhaps this is deliberate, there being nothing of note to note. Family photos often are that way. Perhaps this scene is mentioned somewhere in the book and is considered by the author to be a “significant moment.” If so, it holds no meaning for the reader who hasn’t yet read the book.

The cover looks artsy, but does the image tell us anything about what’s inside? If the words “A Memoir” were omitted, would a reader realize this book’s genre? I wouldn’t. I’d guess it to be a novel. The artsy-ness suggests that to me, since the image reminds me of images that appear on novels published by traditional publishing houses.

The most prominent thing on the cover isn’t the photo and isn’t the text. It’s the seal of approval, which reads: “The Wishing Shelf Book Awards 2017 Gold Winner.” Unfamiliar with that award, I looked it up.

It was set up in 2014 by a British fellow who didn’t care for the way other book awards operated. It’s one of those ubiquitous awards where author submit their books, pay a fee, and receive in return—if chosen as winners—a handsome certificate and the inclusion of their names on a list that no one other than applicants is likely to see.

In other words, this is no Newberry Award or Booker Mann Prize. If a book received an internationally-known award, it would make sense to feature notice of that on the book’s cover, but what does a seal from the Wishing Shelf Book Awards tell us? Very little, really, and that has to be weighed against the seal’s intrusion onto the cover’s artwork.

Here the intrusion is notable. The seal is the most eye-catching part of the cover, but I can’t imagine any prospective buyer saying, “I’ve got to get this book—it won the Wishing Shelf Book Award!” The marketing value of the seal will be low, but its interference with the moody cover will be great.

It would have been better to put the seal on the back cover of the paperback edition and to make mention of the award somewhere in the opening pages of the book.

Typography: The text is minimalistic, both in quantity and style. There are but five words, one for the title, two for the author name, and two for the tagline. The fonts are spare, one for the title and another for the other words. Fonts with prominent serifs would be inappropriate here. These fonts work well with the horizontal lines of the image, particularly the fencing.

It’s proper that the title word, “Tilting,” tilts. I wonder whether making it tilt the other, “wrong” direction might have been good, suggesting thereby that something was amiss. After all, the memoir is about a family in which, apparently, much was amiss. You might say that’s inconsequential.

What’s not inconsequential is that the title doesn’t stand out well. Its letters could be kerned more tightly and enlarged. Like the photo, they appear screened. It would be good to see how they would look if they were at full strength, thus becoming the only part of the cover (other than the seal of approval) that pops.

The author name is far too small, and the series designator (“A Memoir”) is smaller still. Each is kerned widely—but not equally. They should be the same size in height and in spacing, and they certainly should be taller, to make them decipherable at thumbnail size.

Overall: This cover deserves a high score for its artistic feel but a low score for its marketing effectiveness. It’s a pretty cover, but it’s also pretty hard to make out parts of it, and that seal grates.

Case Study 49

Title: From Ocean to Ocean

Author: Jerome J. Murif

Designer: Sylvain Eliade

Genre: Travel, memoir

Graphics: In 1897 Jerome J. Murif bicycled across Australia, from south to north, from Adelaide to Port Darwin, in 74 days, without sponsorship or support and without benefit of paved roads or even many dirt roads. This is his account of his trip. It’s just, therefore, that the cover include a photo of him and his bicycle.

Inasmuch as Murif disappeared from history the year after his ride, it’s not surprising that there must be few photos of him. He was a loner who wanted to do something big, did it, and then was forgotten. Fortunately the editor, who also is the cover designer, found a photo that, nearly a century-and-a-quarter later, catches the eye because to us it seems a period piece. Murif stands stiffly by his steed, looking not at the camera but seemingly into the distance. His bicycle, a little surprisingly, looks like many hardtails we see today.

Murif’s right arm is cut off by the left edge of the cover, and the bicycle’s front tire nearly touches the right edge. Perhaps the designer was trying to make the image as tall as possible and so sacrificed airiness, but the photo gives the impression of having been carelessly cropped. Had the photo been reduced slightly, with the complete arm visible and the tire further from the edge, that impression would have been obviated.

The photo takes up something less than half the cover and is cut off diagonally. Above it is a line drawing, not a direct taking from the photo (the rider’s hand is positioned differently, for example) but clearly a representation of a similar scene. The drawing occupies space but otherwise adds little; it might have been better had it been a depiction of Murif riding. The main problem is that the drawing draws the eye away from the photo and away from the text.

The original photo must have been in black and white, given the era, but on the cover it and everything else is in sepia tones. This gives an old-timey feel but also makes for a bland cover. It might have been interesting to try a few color highlights on the bicycle, thereby drawing additional attention to it, or perhaps it would have been enough to add color to some of the text.

I am unable to discern what the opening in the wall, above the bicycle, might be. I would have airbrushed it out. The hole does nothing but distract. At thumbnail size it looks like a rectangular splotch, and at the cover’s maximum size online it still is a puzzle. Perhaps the text explains what it is, but a viewer shouldn’t have to read a book to understand elements of the cover.

Typography: Everything on the cover is pushed to the left: the rider, the title, the subtitle, and author name. The only exception is the date of original publication, which ought not to be on the cover at all. The text should be centered, to contrast with the leftward emphasis of the photo.

At least the title should be in a color aside from its present brown. Deep red would do. The title is in a font that suggests handwriting, and that’s fine, but the subtitle is in italics, which is not fine. It should be in roman, and it could stand shortening.

Australia is known to be a continent, so there is little purpose in labeling it as such, and the opening words of the subtitle, “An account of,” are unnecessary. The subtitle could be reduced to this: “The First Ride Across Australia, from Adelaide to Port Darwin.”

Although the wordcount would be reduced this way, the text size should be increased; there will be room for that, even if the subtitle is refashioned into two lines rather than three.

Notice my addition of a comma. With the comma, the subtitle implies that this was the first ride across any part of Australia and that it happened to be from Adelaide to Port Darwin. Without the comma, the subtitle implies that this was the first ride from Adelaide to Port Darwin but that there may have been earlier rides across Australia between two other cities.

In the title, the preposition “To” should be changed to lowercase. Small words, such as prepositions and articles, should be lowercased unless they begin a title or sentence.

The author name is far too small. One almost has to hunt for it. It should be in all caps (not large and small caps), enlarged to at least twice its present height. It might look good if the letters were widely kerned, a common attribute given to author names. As mentioned above, the publication date, 1897, should be deleted.

Overall: This cover’s biggest problem is the gratuitous line drawing in the background. It provides no information not already provided by the photo of the bicycle, and it obscures the text.

The text itself needs reworking; it needs concision. This is as true for the cover of a book as for its interior text. An author always should be asking himself whether something can be stricken out. Usually, less is more.

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.

Case Study 38

Title: Cruising the Mediterranean

Authors: Al & Sunny Lockwood

Designer: Wallman Design

Genre: Travel, memoir

Graphics: In the opening pages one of the co-authors notes her fascination with Venice, which becomes the focus of a journey she and her husband make. It is fitting, then, that the cover features Venice. The silhouette of the city’s skyline is not architecturally accurate, but it’s enough, when coupled with the water, to suggest La Serenissima.

If this view of Venice is understood to be from the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, there is a mild falsification: gondolas restrict themselves to the narrow canals of Venice; they don’t venture into the open water as do the vaporettos. But little matter. The prospective reader gets the message.

The only colors on this cover are shades of blue, black, and white. The skyline is in a blue so dark that it almost is black. The gondola and gondolier are in solid black. It would have been good to have a more marked contrast. When graphic elements are so close in color the variance may be taken as an oversight by the designer.

I would have made the skyline lighter and its reflection lighter still (and somewhat rippled), and I would have added hints of other colors, such as a few spots of yellow to imply illuminated windows in several of the buildings.

The tagline—it isn’t phrased as a subtitle—is in a light blue area near the bottom of the cover. There seems no good reason to segregate this area, other than to provide a light background for the text. It would have been better to extend the water.

The author names are in a dark-blue band at the bottom. As with the area immediately above it, the band serves no purpose except to provide a background, in this case dark, for the text. The cover would look more uniform is this band also were removed and replaced with an extension of the water.

Typography: The title itself is slightly misleading, since four of the eighteen chapters (not counting those about trip preparation) are concerned with touring Amsterdam, which, of course, is not in the Mediterranean. Had I been asked about titling, I might have suggested the simpler Cruising or Cruising North and South—something like that.

As far as the title’s text goes, the serif font is a little hard to read when viewed at thumbnail size, and the words stretch too far across the cover. I would place the title in three lines and change the font to one that subtly suggests motion (as in cruising). There is so much water in the lower part of the cover that the skyline can be lowered considerably, giving plenty of space for much-larger title words.

I would skip all caps and gone with upper- and lowercase, to give more legibility and variety to the two long words, and I would use a color other than white for the title—perhaps the same yellow as used in the windows.

At the bottom, as a contrast, I would place the author names in all caps (small caps, really) and perhaps kern them widely, to give that text airiness. I would put the names in bright white.

What to do about the long tagline?

It reads like a sales blurb (“this travel memoir takes readers on the trip of a lifetime”), so I would relegate it to the back cover of the paperback version and maybe to the interior of the ebook version, or I might leave it out of the ebook version entirely and use it just for the book description at Amazon.

In place of the long tagline it might be sufficient to highlight, in a teasing fashion, the locales, thus having something like this: “Amsterdam—Venice—Athens—Santorini—Ephesus—Istanbul.” Letting buyers know where the authors traveled is enough for the cover.

Overall: This cover needs fixes, but they are easy to implement. The mistakes are ones common to indie books, and by correcting them this book can appear to be more than an indie project.

Case Study 36

Title: Camouflaged Sisters

Author: Lila Holley

Designer: Purposely Created Publishing

Genre: Memoir

Graphics: This book consists of short memoirs by fourteen black women who served in the United States military. Unsurprisingly, given the book’s theme, the cover features the face of a female soldier. She seems to be wearing orange-colored camouflage, but that actually is a portion of an overlaid image of a military vehicle. Her helmet can be made out—or at least inferred—at thumbnail size, but that’s about all that can be made out, other than her face.

If this cover had no text, it might be hard to guess what the other elements of the image were. At arm’s length, they seem a mish-mash of somber colors, with a few points of brightness. Only when the cover is enlarged can one make out the military vehicle and what appears to be a mountain ridge on the right and smoke at the bottom. Despite these flaws, the cover has an attraction, perhaps because the woman’s eyes are the clearest and most contrasting element.

Typography: Let’s start at the bottom. The author is one of the contributors to this book, and she wanted to give the other contributors acknowledgment not just in the introductory pages but on the cover itself—thus the line beneath her name: “& 13 Courageous Sisters in Arms.” The problem is that those extra words are difficult to read, being so small. Even the author name, in thin letters set against a variously-shaded background, is hard to read.

The author name should be kept in the same font and even at the same size but should be in bold and in a brighter white. Then the letters should be kerned widely, to stretch the author name most of the way across the cover, so that it fills about two-thirds of the open space on either side of the present arrangement.

That would allow the next line to be set in a larger point size, one large enough to stretch the words exactly as widely as the author name. That would boost the height of the letters by nearly half, making them more legible. (In the process the preposition “In” should be lowercased, following the convention that prepositions and other “small” words aren’t capitalized unless they begin a sentence, headline, or title.)

Now to the title. It looks fine as it is. The color tone is just about right: slightly subdued, to go along with the tone of the illustration. The text is large enough to read at all sizes, and the stylized S gives the curve-less words a little distinctiveness and perhaps a feminine touch.

The weakest text treatment is found in the subtitle, which, like the credit to the other contributors, is set in too small a font. As positioned here, there isn’t much leeway for increasing the font size. Too much increase and the second line of the subtitle will butt into the right margin. It’s almost there as it is.

What I would do is reconfigure the subtitle into three lines: “Revealing Struggles/of the Black Woman’s/Military Experience.” Then I would increase the size of the text until the rightmost letter of the longest line was flush with the right edge of the final letter of the title. This would make the subtitle larger than the line under the author name. There should be no interfering with the image, since there is plenty of room atop the helmet for the rearranged text.

Overall: One imagines the process of cover design, with the designer sitting before a large monitor, carefully adjusting his creation until every small element meets his satisfaction.

The large monitor allows him to position images and text with precision, but it also might lull him into not taking into account that buyers’ first views of the cover will be not full-screen on a large monitor but at thumbnail size, perhaps even on a screen as small as a phone’s.

The chief problem with this cover is the legibility of the text other than the title. Fortunately, there are relatively simple fixes—or, at least, relatively simple lessons to learn for the designer (for when he works on a similar project) and, perhaps more importantly, for an author who is thinking about what sort of cover an upcoming book should have.

Case Study 26

Title: Wind in the Fire

Author: Bobbi Gibb

Designer: Y42K Publishing Services

Genre: Sports, Memoir

Graphics: This story is about the author’s training to run the Boston Marathon. She was the first woman to complete the race, in 1966. You might expect a contemporary photo of her, taken during the months of preparation or during the race itself. She would have been in her early twenties then, but the photo shows a woman of retirement age. This means there is a disconnect between the woman of the story and the woman of the cover.

There is another kind of disconnect. Her image clearly has been pasted onto a beach scene. She floats above the sand—so far above that she leaves no footprints. Even the background image may be untrustworthy: can we be sure those pillars in the background are real, or has the surf been superimposed on them?

However that may be, this graphic presentation doesn’t deserve even a gentleman’s D. The author used a small help-you-publish company that promises full-service publication for just $275, plus another $100 for cover design. As far as the cover goes, the author got less than she paid for. It would have been better just to have her floating image or, better yet, an easily-obtained aerial shot of the Boston Marathon in its early years.

Typography: It seems that a single font was used for the title, author name, and tagline. The title and author name are in all caps, and they ought not to be, at least not with this font. In this version it isn’t meant to be used as all caps.

The proof is in the capital R, which has a long, serifed leg. The leg forces the following E either to be kerned too close, so that it almost touches the R, or, if properly separated from the leg, to be kerned too widely, putting too much space between the upper parts of the R and E.

Given the busy background, a thicker, sans serif font would have worked better for the title, which is in the wrong color: white. There isn’t enough contrast between the title and the light image behind it. The designer could have used black, taken from the runner’s leggings, or a dark shade taken from her sweater.

The author name is in a color similar to those found in the sweater—but not similar enough. The runner’s sweater has hints of green, while the author name has a gray tint. So close yet so far, and that just doesn’t work. I would have placed the author name in black in one line at the top.

The tagline is illegible at thumbnail size. The sand is sufficiently uniform to serve as the background to text, but this font is drawn too thinly to stand out at such small sizes. Besides, it would have been better in black.

In summary, I would have used black for the tagline and author name, moving the latter to the top, and a dark shade drawn from the runner’s sweater for the title, provided the title were in a thicker, sans serif font. Or, for the title, I might have chosen a color not otherwise in the image, such as gold.

Overall: This cover fails in almost every respect: the pasted-on image of the runner, the ludicrous absence of footprints, the irrelevant background when an image of a race could have been used, the inappropriate font, and the weak colors for the text.