Dundurn Behind The Covers:Creating a Series Look

Dundurn Behind The Covers:Creating a Series Look

Posted on November 24 by Kyle
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At Dundurn we publish many series, mostly in the mystery category (though we have also developed quite a few in other categories, such as the immensely popular Weird Stories Gone Wrong books for kids and the political science series Point of View to name a couple). Mystery is a genre that has great potential for series development, as its devoted readers often expect their favourite characters to return for more sleuthing for years to come. That’s why it is important to create a series look from the outset, preferably one that will apply itself seamlessly to subsequent books, and adapt to changing trends in cover design. 
So, what makes a series look? There are a few key things that pull a series together, and the designer should incorporate at least a couple of them in order to give the series a cohesive appearance.

  1. Trim size: The first important (and non-negotiable) element is the trim size. The books should all have the same dimensions (and even relatively the same length if possible). Mystery books tend to have a smaller trim than standard trade fiction, which gives them a blockier, more compact feel. 
  2. Type treatment: it’s a good idea to create a standard look for the author name and/or the title and try to have that remain consistent for the entire series. This rule can be broken if there is something else that unites the covers, but type is the simplest way to create unity. The best practice is to at least have the author name remain constant, although you can vary the colour to create contrast. It’s also nice if the titles are of similar word count and lengths throughout the series, so that font size doesn’t vary too drastically.  
  3. The background: Will the text be paired with a photograph, an illustration, a composite, or with no image at all? This decision is the one that has the most potential to create frustration down the line. If it’s an illustration, it’s important to establish that there are/or will be illustrations in the same style that work with future books. If it’s a picture of a very specific person or place, will you be able to find pictures that match that one for subsequent books? The biggest challenge occurs when you include a representation of a character on the cover. Will you be able to find similar images of that same person? Thinking of this from the outset will save you a lot of trouble down the line.
    Another aspect of this is the tone and general feel of the covers. You want to keep a consistent feel to the covers; don’t go subdued and creepy for the first and zany and cheerful for the second.
  4. Variety: You want consistency, but you also want to plan for variety, to ensure that you don’t end up with covers that look too similar. Some series can run for many years, and if you have too narrowly constricted the parameters, you might be left with limited options that mean book 2 and book 8 are twins. If possible, plan for a series look that is consistent but adaptable.
  5. Cover Enhancements: If it’s in the budget for the series, consider adding some spot gloss elements or raised lettering to give your books some extra zing. These printer add-ons are pricey but the perceived value can, in the right circumstances, make the investment worthwhile. However, you must commit to this treatment throughout the series for consistency. 

There are a few ideas that can help you create a series look. The important thing is to get creative -- but in a way won’t back you into a corner later.