Case Study 81

Title: Saving Her Reputation

Author: Annie Boone

Designer: Vero Martinez

Genre: Romance

Graphics: This book is one in a series of at least ten that appear under the rubric of “A Kansas Mail Order Bride Story.” The covers are nearly identical in color palette, background scenery, and tone.

The only substantial change from one book to the next is the image of the young woman, yet even then there is commonality: a pensive look, a face in three-quarters profile, and make-up that would not have been seen on the nineteenth-century Kansas prairie.

The details of the background can be made out if one looks closely. There is enough to suggest a placid rural setting but not so much as to take attention away from the woman. The eye goes to the exquisite portraiture which itself has muted tones, though, on most of these covers, there is a dash of color—in this case, purple in the flowers in her hair, the same purple used for the title.

It is difficult to find much to fault on this cover or its companions. If anything, I would say that the heads of the women are too close to the top of the cover. The space above them should be half again as tall, for two reasons: the present spacing makes them looked cramped, and it makes the series tagline look cramped.

On some of the other books in the series, the women’s heads are so close to the top that the tagline is placed over their hair, quite unnecessarily.

Typography: Just as the illustrations are near clones from one book to the next, so the layout of the text is replicated.

At the bottom is the author name in a clear, legible font that is appropriate for the era. The letters are widely kerned—a common practice with author names, no matter what the genre—and the wide kerning helps distinguish the author name from the title. If the two were close to one another, with similar characters spacing, the eye might run the text of the title into the author name. That could happen despite an ornamental spacer, such as used here.

The series tagline is, appropriately, in the same font as the author name. Like it, it is in all caps. The letters are not as widely kerned, but one pair, the K-A, needs adjustment; the letters nearly touch.

On this cover the tagline and author name are in a brown tone. On some of the other covers they are in black. The black stands out more, but it also competes with the purple that is used throughout the series for the books’ titles. I think the brown works best.

The title is in a consistent font throughout the series, and it always is in purple, a color that stands out well against the tan backgrounds. The title words are set in two or three sizes—on this cover, three. Why is “her” so small, and why is it in italics?

Italics imply emphasis, so are we to understand that the protagonist is saving her own reputation in contradistinction to saving someone else’s? Likely not. I suspect the designer used italics just to make the word look “fancy,” but there hardly is a need for that.

And what about the small size? Like the italics, it draws undue emphasis to the least important word in the title. This miniaturization is used on other books in the series. On one cover, the article “a” is made so small that you’re likely to miss it entirely when first reading the title. It doesn’t help that the “a” is attached to the ornament, thus making it even harder to find. At least that problem isn’t on this cover, but the way “her” has been modified, in two ways, seems pointless.

Each cover includes the same large swirl between the title and author name. The ornament isn’t needed to separate the two textual elements. If the ornament weren’t there, no one would confuse the two: they are widely spaced, in different fonts, and in different colors.

The ornament is used to give the cover a further “feminine” sense. It does that, but maybe it overdoes it. The swirl is so large that it almost is intrusive. It draws too much attention to itself. A more modest swirl would have worked better.

Overall: My criticisms are few and minor because there isn’t much not to like about this cover. The design works for the individual book and for the series. Once a reader has seen any one of the books, she instantly will recognize others that belong to the series.

Case Study 61

Title: The Stationmaster’s Cottage

Author: Phillipa Nefri Clark

Designer: Steam Power Studios

Genre: Romance

Graphics: It is not often one comes across a book cover that actually looks three-dimensional. Oh, there are plenty of fantasy or thriller covers that have three-dimensional aspects, but this cover has the three-dimensionality of a photograph. That’s a rare thing.

The image lies in three layers too. The furthest back appears to be a table or a something that looks more rocky than wooden. The middle layer is the parchment, rolled at the top and bottom and burned on the edges. The parchment’s shadow suggests that it floats an inch off the surface.

Then there are the modern additions: photograph, key, rings, ribbon. The ribbon ties the rings together and itself is sandwiched between the photo and the key. Somehow, it is implied, these things are connected with one another. The building in the photo must be the cottage in the title. The key? It doesn’t look like a house key, so it might belong to another building—perhaps the station itself.

In terms of symbolism and place, this cover excels. The keys make it clear it’s a romance. The old-timey look to the parchment, key, and cottage suggest that, even if the action takes place chiefly in the present, an earlier era is part of the story. The graphics alone make this a book that even a non-reader of romance novels likely would open.

Typography: The cover has only two textual elements, the title and the author name. The first thing that might pop into a viewer’s mind is that the title couldn’t have been set in a standard font. Given its flowing swirls, it had to be hand drawn—or was it? Look at the letters carefully. Each E is exactly the same. Likewise each T, O, and A. Real handwriting can’t produce such uniformity.

However the title was made, one has to say it looks almost perfect—not quite, but almost. The grand swirl at the top crosses the final S in “Stationmaster’s,” somewhat obscuring that letter. Despite that, the word is legible. The whole title is legible, even at thumbnail size.

The same can’t be said of the author name. Parts of several letters are hidden behind the photo and ribbon, for no obvious purpose.

The ribbon ought to have been moved up and to the right a smidgen to give air to the A and the K, and the photo should have been rotated slightly to reveal the L and I. When the image is at full size, all those letters are clear, but when it’s at a small size they aren’t.

Overall: This is close to being an errorless cover.

If the rings weren’t present, the genre wouldn’t be clear, and a tagline would have been necessary. I suppose someone might wish for a more explicit indication of the genre, but I wouldn’t call the cover’s subtle way to be a problem.

Really, the only weakness—and it is a small one—is the obscuring of a few letters.

Case Study 33

Title: The Abominable Mr. Darcy

Author: J. Dawn King

Designer: JD Smith Design

Genre: Romance

Graphics: The Mr. Darcy who is abominable is, of course, the character from Pride and Prejudice. As in the original, here he is the love interest of Elizabeth Bennet. She is joined by others from the 1813 novel. This book takes Janes Austen’s characters in its own directions.

Thus this book is a period-piece romance (and fan fiction). How to convey that graphically? What better than a partial image of Mr. Darcy? That’s what we have: just enough of his clothing to suggest the period and his relative wealth, though some might say that they have seen footmen as well attired.

However that may be, this cover’s image works, though it isn’t clear what the jumble behind Mr. Darcy’s shoulder might be. To me the jumble looks like boulders. To someone else it may look like ruins of a fine house or church. I think I would have preferred a distant aspect of a building, the further to suggest the era, but that’s a quibble.

Typography: The author has written nine novels based on the Pride and Prejudice characters. Four of them include “Mr. Darcy” in the title, so they seem to be variants on a theme. All of them have as their largest text the name of the author, not the title of the book. This is contrary to the usual convention for books, but it’s common for series, particularly when the author is well known.

So far as I can gather from the rankings at Amazon, the author isn’t widely known to the general public, but she may be well known to a niche. That may be why her designer chose to highlight her name rather than the titles of the several books. Another reason may be that romance novels don’t tend toward novelty, especially those in a series. They often are close variants on one another, and readers buy them not so much for deep and well-delineated plot lines but for leisure reading.

To these readers the important thing is to get that next book by a favorite author, the story itself being of secondary concern. We see this with Stephen King and John Grisham, for example. The most prominent text on their covers always is their names. Titles take second place. Fans of King or Grisham buy their books regardless of storyline. So it is with some romance writers.

We find the title, The Abominable Mr. Darcy, in small letters at the bottom of the cover—small but legible enough since the thin white letters are laid atop solid black. The author name is in a light blue that would be too faint if the name were in letters as small as the title, but the name is so large that nearly any color would stand out sufficiently.

The only other text on the cover is the series tagline, “A Pride and Prejudice Variation.” On each book in the series this text is placed at the top between two thin rules. On this cover the tagline is legible and obscures nothing. On some of the others it doesn’t stand out well against a busy or light background, or it obscures a character’s face.

Overall: Romance is one of those genres that has distinct sub-genres, one being Regency romance, which is what this book and the others in the series fall into. The partial image of the man immediately suggests such a time frame, and a reader’s guess as to the era is reinforced by the tagline.

Anyone familiar with Pride and Prejudice will see elements of the cover come together immediately. A stranger to Jane Austen might be unsure of this book’s genre, but little matter: someone unfamiliar with Austen wouldn’t be attracted to this book regardless.