German Cover Design – Interview with a Designer
I recently listened to a podcast which talked about the importance of considering cultural differences in book cover design for translated versions of a book and whether it might be necessary to get a new cover for a different market. Since I don’t know a lot about design, I decided to look for a professional German cover designer to ask some questions. Casandra Krammer is an author and cover designer with awesome designs which you can find here.
Hi Casandra, thanks so much for agreeing to answer my questions! Let me begin by asking you how and when you got started designing book covers?
Hey, thank you for having me. In 2008 I got my first Photoshop version and I was so fascinated by the things I could do with it that I started right off by making wallpapers and so called signatures for my favorite forums (I was a huge fan of the band Tokio Hotel so I loved to make some cute manips – recently I found my old hard drive and had a good laugh flipping through my old designs). Back then I was also part of a book community called Bookrix. This company is now one of the leading service provider for self-publishing eBooks in Germany. At that time I was writing my first novel and in 2010 I uploaded it to Bookrix for free. The authors kind of liked my self-made cover and asked me if I could help them out. One year later a publisher called Saphir im Stahl asked me, if I could make them an illustrated cover, so I did. I need to be honest, I am not that good at illustrating as I am at designing stuff with photoshop ;-)
At that time Kindle Direct Publishing was becoming a thing and more and more authors wanted to publish their books by themselves. Getting a good cover from a professional freelancer was very expensive so I offered my designs for a lower price. In 2013 I became a professional freelancer myself while making my Abitur (High School diploma). Until this day I have never visited an art school or anything like that, but one day I would like to study graphic design to improve my skills. At this time I have made more than 200 book covers for over 80 Self-Publishers and approximately 10 publishers including Carlsen, one of the biggest publishers in Germany.
Your covers look very professional and you seem to be doing a variety of genres. Which are your favorite genres to design and why?
I love to challenge myself so my favorite genre is fantasy, there is where the magic happens and I can go all crazy with ideas. But I also like to design thrillers and contemporary novels.
Are there any “rules” to book cover design that would apply to all books – something that every book cover should have in order to fulfill its purpose, that is, to sell the book?
There are rules but I think they do apply to all graphic design works. For example you need to make the title big enough so one can read it. This last “rule” has become more important in the last couple of years because of online shops where books are being displayed in a very tiny format. Of course the cover has to make it clear to the readers what the book is about – or should at least arouse interest (sometimes confusion is a good way to catch attention ;-) but only if it is made in a clever way). You should always know the rules before you try to break them. When new cover-designers ask me for advice I tend to say that they should only use up to three different fonts because newbies tend to go crazy using them. I think typography in general is a huge topic that needs to be treated carefully. The human brain loves pretty things, so the goal is to fulfill that expectation (I know that sounds kind of obvious but sometimes I see very ugly bookcovers and when I ask the designer If they think the cover is pretty or appealing to the viewer they don’t even know and say that the author wanted a sword, for example, without asking themselves if this image would sell the book – and no, I am not going around asking random designers why their stuff is ugly ;-)).
In a nutshell if you want rules to make a book cover you only have to apply the basic rules for graphic design and try to catch the message of the book and sell it. There are plenty of books about design rules out there and if someone is new they should give them a try before going crazy designing stuff for real clients.
Can or Should German book covers contain a teaser (a single sentence or phrase that hints at what the book is about) or a review or an endorsement like “Bestselling Author”? Do major German publishers use it?
I think I have never seen a German book with a teaser or a review printed on the front, if publishers decide to put something like that on the book, they will do it on the back. The same goes for the “Bestselling Author” kind of thing. Some German books will have a removable sticker on them saying “Spiegel Bestseller” (Spiegel Bestseller is like the New York Times Bestseller). I think Germans are very “clean” when it comes to the front. Only the title, the author’s name and sometimes the genre (e.g. “Thriller” or “Roman” which means Novel). I have also seen books from the US where you can find something like “Book one of the XY-Series” but I have never seen something like this in Germany, they will only put the Name of the series on the front and that’s it. But I must confess that I have broken that “rule” and there are one or two covers of a book-series where I have copied the American style ;-)
If you were to compare a book that has been published in several countries, do you notice any differences in the cover design principles? Or is it just the “taste” of the publisher?
I think when it comes to covers it is just taste and some cultural differences. Each publisher or designer will define by themselves what they think is important to display on the cover. A lot of covers (even from big publishers) are made by freelancers and they all have their own way. Of course there are trends like the woman in a beautiful dress for a romantic fantasy novel. Sometimes I feel like I can recognize the publisher just by looking at the cover because they have this little something.
The only relevant difference I have noticed is that German publishers always put their logo on the cover. Something I have never seen on an US-book.
I know at least one author who changed her book cover for the translated version of her thriller because a “woman with a gun” would not sell as well with a German audience. In your opinion, is it necessary for authors to get a new cover for the German version of their book, and how could they find out if their existing cover isn’t well suited for the German market?
This is the cultural differences that I mentioned before. Indeed, fire weapons aren’t that popular in Germany. I think the whole American action book covers with tough guys or woman with weapons don’t sell that well in Germany because we aren’t that passionate about action heroes hoisting the American flag and military stuff – of course there are some exceptions like Tom Clancy which is very well known here in Germany.
I personally don’t think that it is necessary to get a new cover for the German version but it has some benefits to it. For example, if a book doesn’t sell well the publishers often change the cover and do a new book campaign. This has the effect that the readers will buy this apparently “new” book and it will definitely attract some new customers. If you are an English-writing author, it might benefit you to use a new cover because the people will assume that there is something new to purchase. Also readers get very excited about covers and love to compare them. In a nutshell if you want to get the perfect book cover I would recommend you to take a closer look at German book market and maybe do some research in the genre you are writing for. If you are going to let a designer do your German book cover you should hire a German designer that knows how the market works. Almost all designer I know do speak English fluently and are always looking forward to expand their market to foreign countries.
Thanks again, Casandra!
An additional note on print book covers:
A blog reader (Frank Dietz) kindly pointed out to me that the title on the spine of print books is arranged differently on German and American book covers. On American (and/or English?) books you read the letters from top to bottom, so you have to tilt your head slightly to the right, for German books is the other way around – you read from bottom to top. An interesting detail that I’ve never noticed even though I have my book shelf full of both types of books. So thanks, Frank!