The Case for Legible Titles

illegible titlesAs you are aware, the most common issue we see with books during the vetting process is an unclear or confusing book description. The second most common issue: unreadable titles on book covers in thumbnail size.

Who cares? Right? It’s just a tiny book cover. No one expects to read it in that size.

Um, wrong.

Just last week, our Lynne Cantwell wrote about the Marketing Rule of 7 – that it takes at least seven instances of someone seeing your book before they actually purchase it. Well – what if those seven instances are in thumbnail size? Do you think they will remember to purchase a book when they can’t read the title? Moreover, will they even notice it to begin with? Probably not. Don’t waste a chance to get in front of someone and make an impression.

Here at Indies Unlimited, thumbnails are generally 120×177 pixels, which on my laptop ends up being around 1.75 inches high by just under 1.25 wide. There is no specific industry standard for thumbnails, (on WordPress it’s 150×150) and the size varies from site to site. Then, add to it people viewing sites on their tablets and cell phones – and you can end up with some mighty small thumbnails. Can you read your title under those circumstances? You may want to check.

This is one reason I dropped out of a number of author groups on Facebook. People would constantly post “What do you think of my cover?” and I would answer “I can’t read your title in thumbnail size” and they would get all pissy and say “Well I can read it just fine.” Um, okay – you know what it says already. Of course you can read it. The level of frustration was ridiculous, since for some reason I really do care and really do try to help people (which prompted this post about book covers with just a teensy tiny hint of snark).

Seriously, I’m not making any of this up. Thumbnail-size book covers are the size most commonly viewed by shoppers. They go out in subscription-style reading list emails like The Fussy Librarian and Book Gorilla. They go out in “we think you’ll like this,” or as in the image below “Ms. Brooks, you need to go on a frikkin diet. We can see you when you’re on our site, so try these books.”

covers amazon emails

Of course, shopping sites also use thumbnails to cram as many titles as possible onto a page. Amazon jams twenty bestsellers per page, and then, don’t forget the even tinier thumbnails off to the right for the Hot New Releases, etc.:

covers bestsellers

The standard thumbnail on iTunes is a little larger, but still…

covers itunes

And don’t forget Thrifty Thursday and Print Book Paradise here on Indies Unlimited (and our sidebar where you should…oops, I mean can pay to advertise):

covers pbp

Successful indie authors like Hugh Howey and J. A. Konrath have unmistakably legible titles:

Now, to prove the point about illegibility, unfortunately, I can say that most of the indie covers I’ve seen lately fall into this category. But, to avoid even more hate mail, I’m going to go with books from the bestsellers list on Amazon instead. I don’t know these people, and if they want to send me hate mail, I’ll reply with a copy of one of my books. With a note “notice you can read MY title. p.s., will you endorse me?” Because that’s how I roll.

Granted, some of these authors may just assume that their names will sell the books for them, but honestly – I can’t read their names either.

But I paid a designer to make my cover! Surely they know what they’re doing! Well – if you can’t read your title in thumbnail, perhaps they were more concerned with the design or aesthetics, and didn’t consider the potential impact on your livelihood. I notice quite often that authors and/or designers are reluctant to put type over a nice picture. Or, they blend the tone of the font in with the background. It’s as if they don’t want to disrupt or invade that space. How is the picture more important than your title, though? Kick it back to them. Make sure they do right by you, not just the design. Because really, do you want your cover remembered this way: “Besty, you should have seen the book cover I came across today on Amazon. Lovely hues of aqua and soft clouds – a very talented artist, I’m sure.” “Sounds pretty, Mabel. What book was it?” “Oh, you know? I don’t know. I couldn’t really make out the title. But the clouds were very nice!” Wow, that’s a sure sale if I ever heard one – NOT.

In any case, this should put this issue to bed for once and for all. It is obvious that I am correct, and that you should care very much whether your book’s title is legible in thumbnail size. Because I am right, and I am unanimous in that. You’re welcome.

Author: K.S. Brooks

K.S. Brooks is an award-winning novelist, photographer, and photo-journalist, author of over 30 titles, and executive director and administrator of Indies Unlimited. Brooks is currently a photo-journalist and chief copy editor for two NE Washington newspapers.  She teaches self-publishing and writing topics for the Community Colleges of Spokane, and served on the Indie Author Day advisory board. For more about K.S. Brooks, visit her website and her Amazon author page.

27 thoughts on “The Case for Legible Titles”

  1. Thank you so much for your accurate help. Proving your point even more, when you look at the side-bar above only a few can be read, and they paid to advertise.I know my next book will have an easy to read cover.

  2. You nailed it K.S.! I have paid for professional covers on my titles twice over–sometimes three covers trying to get it right. Some cover designers don’t listen. I have even paid for covers I just could not use. That doesn’t mean I get it right, but by golly! the viewer can read the title and author name. As for hate mail. I get my share. But hye. I got some that skin stuff that makes my hide thick as an alligator. Pffft.

  3. Excellent post! And just in time; I’ve realized that the title I had for my latest is too long a word, i.e. it’ll have to be a small font to all fit on one line. So I’m back to the drawing board. Good reminder!

  4. Of primary importance, really. Design for thumbnail size, then work back to your paperback cover. If you want to get cute, do it on the paperback AFTER the ebook cover is on amazon, so when you link, people will see the ebook cover.
    It’s not just a matter of size matters… use bold, sturdy fonts. You can google around and get lists of good cover fonts, and they are a stocky breed. If you had to choose between readers being able to see your title and see your lovely artwork, which way would you go? Unless you’re selling erotica, the answer there is obvious…and sets priorities.

  5. I worried about this with my most recent book, but the thumbnail came out fine.
    The one word titles don’t do much for me, but I will have to rethink that with the next book.
    Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Lois. But I’m with Lin, it’s not just about the size of the font, it’s also about the clarity. I could never manage a one-word title. Just not going to happen. 🙂

  6. I have to admit, I used to be one of those who wondered if it was really that important for the thumbnail to be legible. I’ve since reformed, but I think there are a lot still out there who don’t realize exactly HOW important it is (and I’ll share and tweet it so they can all see). 🙂 Great post.

    1. Thanks, Melinda. It really was a source of aggravation for me when I’d tell people their covers were illegible and they’d get all huffy. But in the end, they’re the ones who lose out. I hope they will figure it out – and thanks for sharing!

  7. Good points, K.S. It’s not only the size of the title but the font itself. I have seen some covers where the font is more than big enough to read – if you could only figure out what the letters were. Fancy fonts have their place, no doubt, but if it looks like a foreign language, it had better go.

  8. I know whereof you speak, Kat. I had a really cool font picked out for the cover of Seized — something called Points West. It screamed “urban West” to me — perfect for an urban fantasy set in Colorado, right? So I mocked up the cover and sent it around to a couple of friends who know way more about graphics than I do, and one of them said, “You can’t read the title in thumbnail size.” She was right, too, darn it….

    1. Hi Elisabeth, thanks for commenting. BTW, your book is used as an example in the “Thrifty Thursday/Print Book Paradise” section – and it looks very readable!

  9. It’s interesting that Twelve Years a Slave, one of the simplest covers shown above, stands out on its own.

    Viewing cover thumbnails in a Windows folder helps. If your cover is legible in Large Icons mode, it will likely work well online.

    Thanks for the valuable info, Kat.

  10. Reader here, not an author. For us readers, the title needs to give a small clue to the genre or content. For us readers, it doesn’t matter whether the title is one word or ten. What does it tell me about the book? And the design matters big time, too. Each genre has its conventions. You wouldn’t use what I call a cutesy design for a thriller, etc. But YA GOTTA BE ABLE TO READ THE TITLE! People are impulse purchasers, hence all that crap on checkout counters. Same for books. A great cover and one that you can read the title will grab you.

    Excellent post.

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