A book series is more than one book tied together by a common theme and author. If fictional, the series may continue a story with some of the same characters. Alternatively, the books may be tied together by a location or a genre. Or, the only thing the books have in common might be the author. Planning a series of books includes planning the design of your covers.
Book covers for a series are unified by graphic style and elements. For example, among other series, best-selling author Elin Hilderbrand writes family-focused romance novels based on Nantucket. While I cannot lay claim to having designed her books, I think they are an excellent example of how book covers can unify a series. Take a look; can you pick out the common elements?
What’s interesting is that her books span many years and yet always look fresh. The books in the above image were published between 2009 and 2016, and the design of her new books remains almost unchanged to this day. Her covers reinforce the notion that the design of the first book in a series takes a lot of thought. Not only are you designing for today, but for the next year and perhaps even the next decade.
We’ll take a look at some of the unifying elements of cover design for a book series and how they can be incorporated into a timeless design. Just a note: the rest of the covers shown in this article are the work 1106 Design!
Keep it simple. Like clothing, fonts go in and out of style; for a while, everyone was using a font called Papyrus. Papyrus is a great example of a font that had its day and is no longer popular. If used on a book cover now, it screams “self-published” and not “best seller.”
Instead, use a font that is fairly plain, not stylized: timeless. Think Chanel or Ralph Lauren rather than the latest fashion trends. Helvetica never goes out of style. I’m not recommending Helvetica necessarily, but a good, clean sans serif font is ageless. Ditto for serif fonts. You’ll notice the font used for Elin Hilderbrand’s name. Boring? Perhaps. Clean, elegant, professional and friendly? Absolutely! These are characteristics that never become dated.
In the book covers for The Angus Series by Gary L. Stuart, we used a lovely sans serif font for the title. We went out on a limb with Gary’s name by using a stylized font. However, it’s a font that fits with Westerns and with the timeframe in which The Angus Series takes place. The style of font associated with the old, American West is not likely to change, making it a natural choice for these books.
You probably noticed the unifying themes in the photos used for Elin Hilderbrand’s books. While not all of her books feature beach, water and sky, they are included in the majority of her covers. Each cover includes one or two people——no faces!—shown relaxing in a Nantucket locale, engaging in typical Nantucket activities.
The images we used for Glyn Haynie’s series of memoirs have the Vietnam War in common. The personal nature of the photos makes them a natural for Glyn’s memoirs.
Author Sharry Williamson worked closely with her illustrator, Jay Johnson, to create illustrations that naturally unify her Woodland Elves series of books. Sharry was diligent in finding an illustrator that she could work with, not only on her first book but for ALL her books. Can you imagine switching illustrators in the middle of a series?
Color features in all of the series I’ve shown so far; what have you noticed?
While each cover, even within a series, might use different colors, notice that they are all in the same color family. Even when one of Elin Hilderbrand’s books does not feature a beach theme, the photos draw upon the same color family as her other books in her Nantucket series.
Penny Goetjen’s books below clearly show colors that are from the same color family. The words “Murder” on both covers are printed in the same blue, while “Precipice” is either green or purple with the same level of intensity. If you can imagine the second book using black or red for “Precipice,” you would recognize the importance of drawing upon the same color family across all covers. In addition, the background photos of the books below (and also for Glyn Haynie’s books) have a color tone added to turn color photos that might not match well, to begin with, into photos with a common theme.
Considerations When Planning a Book Series
If you’re planning on a book series, I recommend working with a book designer. Why? Because you don’t want to build a series using an unprofessional looking cover as the foundation. You need a cover that you can live with for years into the future, and you don’t want to have to shift gears after the first or second book and lose the continuity.
When you work with the book designer, make sure to ask for cover concepts rather than cover variations. A variation takes one design and then tweaks it, while cover concepts are standalone designs. You’ll want as many options as you can get! Take your time choosing the cover concept you wish to proceed with. Compare the cover concepts with the covers of best sellers. Get input from your friends and family, asking them the question, “Which book would you buy?”
When reviewing the cover concepts, ask yourself:
- Is this a look I can live with for years?
- Is this a look that will remain fresh over time?
- What unifying elements can be carried over from the first book to the second and beyond?
By putting some thought into your book covers when planning a series of books, you’ll have a cohesive set of covers well into the future.
If you’re planning a series of books and want to discuss cover design, contact us! With years of cover design experience, hundreds of books designed, and a lot of happy authors, we can help you publish the book of your dreams.