Critique Corner – Historical Fiction

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I’ve recently teamed up with a fellow designer, and good friend, Cathy Helms, of Avalon Graphics to bring my favourite feature “Critique Corner” to the Discovering Diamonds Historical Fiction Review site. Where, once a month, we volunteer kind, expert, and constructive critiques to help our readers make the most of their cover designs.

Since Discovering Diamonds began in 2017, myself and Cathy Helms of  have been co-judging the monthly cover design competition for the site. We decided we would like to share some pearls of wisdom from our combined 40 years in the cover design business.

Initially, we thought to make this a conversation between the two of us about the covers that were submitted for critique. But after independently critiquing the first cover, we had to laugh at how closely our comments matched, (Without peeking! We swear!) So, we decided, you the reader, would better benefit by knowing all that each of us picked up on (And what we BOTH noticed)

So, without further ado:

Tamian: – Ok Cathy, let’s get this party started! Our first submission is from James Glover, author of The Picolata Road. Thanks for volunteering, James!

Tamian: – My initial thought is that this is a striking image with a warm colour story, and very readable fonts with great contrast, and it is clean and uncluttered. Being a Floridian, the silhouette of [what I think is] the battlement of the Castillo de San Marcos fort in St Augustine, I get what this shape is. However, I’m not sure it would communicate anything to non-Floridians. It’s possible the shape could be mistaken for… some kind of astronomical observatory(?)

But my biggest issue is, this cover doesn’t say “Historical Fiction.” The fonts are very modern, and I don’t really understand the reason behind using a different serif font for the final word. It feels a little unnecessary. Typically using a different font is relegated to the smaller linking words like “The”, “And” “of” “of the” and so on. Also, the white line above the author name, to me, is unnecessary. Your author name could be a good bit larger too. Like I always say, don’t be shy!  

I might have chosen a serif font that looked older, maybe dented/grunged up a bit, like Dominican with a texture applied or a gradient. Something to give it interest. Like this:

Cathy, what are your thoughts?

Cathy: – Thanks Tamian! And thank you to James for submitting your cover design. Without peeking at your review, Tamian, here’s my take on the mechanics of the design: 

The image has some nice, rich colors in it and I am glad to see some of that bold burnt orange color used for part of the title. As a former Floridian (from the age of 6 until my late 30’s), I immediately thought of the old Spanish Fort at St. Augustine when I looked at a larger version of this cover, I see the palm trees down the right side of the tower as well. However, I also spot a power pole to the right of those palms which should have been edited out – those did not exist in the time of this novel. Just a little detail to watch when designing for period novels – every element within the cover layout needs to be period appropriate.

While the use of the photo of the fortress at St. Augustine helps to place the novel geographically – most potential readers are likely not familiar with it. However, since Florida has so few vintage structures dating back to and before the time of the American Civil War, it works well enough to help represent a place for this novel. To better help with representing the geography, I would suggest the addition of a vintage map of the top half of Florida blended/ghosted over that beautiful sky.

The title fonts are clean and work well enough. However, the font used for ‘The Picolata’ are modern and typically seen on crime/mystery novel covers. The font used for ‘Road’ is better suited for historical fiction. I would like to see a Civil War Era or Restoration Era font style used for the title here to better support the historical aspect of this novel. That is also true of the solid, plain break line used between the title and the author’s name. It is unnecessary, a distraction, and if a break is to be used, it should be a decorative vintage break (again genre/period appropriate).

The sub-title or strap line at the top is difficult to read – I’d suggest a couple of points larger in size and a bold version of that font.

An additional thought – Texas Rangers were quite well known in the Old West – perhaps add a metal star somewhere – work the element into the title to give the overall design an extra level of depth.

Overall, not a bad design – it is missing the overall feel of a historical novel and could use a bit more depth – so again, I would suggest going beyond simply placing type over a photo. Enhance the sun – add more beams of light streaming out from behind the stone tower for example.

Tamian: – Great Idea Cathy! I love the idea of the map superimposed over the sky. That would bring some real texture and interest and history to this cover. 

Cathy: – And it is almost spooky how close our comments about the overall design are for this cover! I also like the alternate font choice you gave the author, Tamian. Much more appropriate for this title.

We do hope that our readers might pick up on a few tidbits of good design points while reading our commentary. And again, we thank our volunteer authors for willingly submitting their book covers for a free and no-strings-attached constructive critique of their designs. 

Until next time, be safe and be well!

Anyone wishing to submit their cover for our two graphic designers to critique, please contact either designer directly:
Tamian at
Cathy at

Copyright Disclaimer
The Fair Use Doctrine of copyright law states that there is no copyright violation when a necessary portion of a work is presented as part of commentary or criticism of that work.  Copyright restrictions on a book cover are further weakened by the fact that a cover is meant for exposure and advertising; while this is a critique article, the book covers and authors are still receiving exposure for potential new readers. The bottom line is that we, the designers offering free design critiques, are not liable for how any of the suggestions discussed in this blog may be used, interpreted or incorporated in published works. We have offered our help with no strings attached – use any of our suggestions at your own risk.

We will always supply a direct link to Amazon whom the authors/publishers have authorized to promote and sell the books we display on this blog. It is ultimately our goal to help authors better present and market their books – our area of expertise being design and marketing. However, we offer our professional input solely for the betterment of the authors who have willingly submitted their published book covers for our review. We do not accept any monetary compensation for the review.

Views Disclaimer
The opinions expressed in this blog entry are not necessarily held by Discovering Diamonds or any of its affiliated members. The opinions expressed in Critique Corner, while given by both formally educated and experienced graphic designers, are still open to interpretation by the best of those in the publishing business.