The best way to make a living as an indie fiction author is to write in a series. This means that as an indie book cover designer, I’ve thought a lot about series branding. Series branding is such a powerful way to communicate with your reader. Not only does the branding contain everything you should think about for a single book cover, but it also helps tie the series together. When your reader is finished the first book, and loves it, you want to make it really easy for them to find more of what they love.
Rather than coming up with a really great cover for the first book in a series and then trying to make the others match, it’s better to think about the whole series from the beginning. This will keep you from feeling too boxed in when you get a couple books down the road and still have to stick with your original branding. Here’s some things to think about when you’re planning the look of a series.
Hopefully all the books in the series will have the same tone. This is always more important to convey than specific details about the story. Remember, your cover isn’t there to make your readers happy, it’s to attract potential readers. Potential readers don’t care if the main character wore a pink dress or a blue one, they care if it’s the kind of story they enjoy. So when you are thinking about the branding get a feel for what the common threads in the whole series will be, and what the vibe all the books will have.
With Valerie Comer’s Farm Fresh Romance series I wanted to convey that the books are a lighter romance (but not silly) and that the stories have an outdoorsy, casual feel.
I’ve said it before, typography will make or break your cover. It’s what sets the pros apart from the amateurs, so take some time to think about it. This is more than just picking a font or two and reusing them (although, you should start there). Think about the treatment and placement of the type and how it interacts with the photo or artwork on the cover. Try to keep all those elements as consistent as you can across the series.
Susan May Warren’s Christensen Family series has really bold typography that ties all the covers together really well at a glance.
Keeping the look of the covers consistent with similar art or photography is really important. If you have a headshot of a girl on one cover, then a full body photo of a couple with a lovely background on another, then a shot of a wedding bouquet on the third, the reader will not clue in that it’s a series.
If you are using a an illustrator, this is a bit easier because they will stick to one style for the series, but you still want to think about having a similar layout and number of characters on each cover.
For Valerie Comer’s Riverbend series I am using graphics and typhography to tie them together, but the focus is on the photos of couples holding hands. Each cover is different and conveys the season the story is set in, but the photos are still visually similar.
But Not Too Similar
I think a lot of designers and authors have clued in that branding is important, but they take it too far. I know that I said the vibe is more important than the details, but your cover should reflect the individual stories enough that the reader can tell them apart. When you have a new book come out, you want your fans to be excited, not wonder if they’ve read it already.
I’m not saying this as a designer, I’m saying this as a reader. I see this a lot in a series where the designer will use stock photos taken of the same model from the same photoshoot and use them in the same way. Um, yes that studly cowboy is looking left on one cover and right on the other, but which one was it that I read?
I had this problem with Kelley Armstrong’s Darkness Rising series. Did I read the one with the pointy dangly earrings or the one with the sparkley ones? For the record, I really enjoyed these books, but I almost missed it when the third one came out because I was sure that I had seen it already.
Think about your branding and come up with a plan before you start the first cover. This will help you set a good tone and choose a style of typography that will work for all the titles. Choose images that are similar, but not too similar. Think of it like picking accessories, you want your outfit to look pulled together, but you don’t actually want your shoes and your handbag to be the same colour (um, sorry if that is news to you).
I’ll leave you with one more series that I think did a great job with the branding (and was also a very fun read). My first impression of Gail Carriger’s Finishing School covers was that they were YA steampunk, and not too serious. The typography is strong (and the titles match which is a big help). While the photos are all of the same girl, she’s wearing a different outfit in each one and has a different pose (and weapon). The background colours also help to distinguish them, and having the book’s number on the cover doesn’t hurt (I know why publishers don’t always choose to make the book number obvious, but as a reader, I find it really helpful).
What do you look for in a series’ branding?