How Our Covers Look In Stores

This post is pretty visual, because I think we as indie publishers need to understand what our books look like on various shelves. Here are some snaps I’ve taken over the last year, taken from: Endgame in Oakland, CA; Games of Berkeley in Berkeley, CA; and The Source Comics and Games near Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN.

What I’ve learned from all this:

  • Retailers use whatever shelving they have, not what we might consider ideal for our books. Before you get indignant about it, consider that replacing shelving is not cheap. You’d have to sell a lot of our tribe’s books before that new shelf pays for itself.
  • Titles at the top. Don’t Rest Your Head is a good example of a great cover whose title you can’t see when stacked behind another book.
  • Speaking of titles, have a clearly visible title that your audience can read. I’m looking at Mist-Robed Gate here (which only those well acquainted with the book can pick out up there.)[1]
  • If you’re planning for your cover art to wow people, prepare to be disappointed when it’s sitting behind a comic stand’s particle board front.
  • Landspace books are neat. but often they’ll be stored sideways, which doesn’t really help you or the would-be buyer when the book is weirdly bent from that. I’ve seen quite a few Agon books suffer this fate, which saddens me because I love the form factor so much. So, so much.
  • Contrast in your title is a good thing. Especially on your spine.
  • Have a spine.[2] I constantly forgot that I own the $20 Blood & Bronze set, because there’s no spine or box. Same with all my staple- & spiral-bound games. (I suppose it can’t be avoided, though, for some super-small games like Gun Thief, which are styled like a single-issue comic.)
  • Weird sizes will be put wherever there’s room — on the retail shelf, on the customer’s shelf.

And finally, something I learned from analyzing the covers of best-selling novels: having a quote or line above the title is a good thing. Right now, I’m planning on going with something like:

Mythender Title Mockup

(Yes, with a different font.)

– Ryan

[1] Though, I also hear the cover’s being redesigned, and that excites me because the game’s really interesting.

[2] While I mean “your book should have a spine,” I suppose this applies to you as a creative person as well.


15 Responses to How Our Covers Look In Stores

  1. Lukas says:

    The Dreaming in Seattle is set up fairly similarly to Endgame, from what I can see in your pictures. It has a new releases shelf that includes both “indie” and “trad” games in the same space, and then has older stock of indie titles on their own shelf. Maybe I’ll snap some photos when I’m in there next.

  2. Fred Hicks says:

    Yeah, DRYH’s cover was done at a very early point in me doing cover designs. Still, I like how the face jumps out a bit even when you can’t see the title.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Sure, it’s a beautiful cover. And that’s why I wanted Finis’ cover like what we did.

      And it’s a sign of a time: you weren’t expecting DRYH to break out as it has, to be in as many retail stores or to keep selling. Maybe hoping, but not expecting, I’mma guess.

      That said, at the IPR booth this year at Dreamation & GenCon, we had to figure out where to put those books, and we had to choose between the middle where the title would be covered up or the bottom where it would be missed by eyes. And swore a few times when we were dealing with the number of games that are shelf-unfriendly. :) I think that causing your retail & convention allies frustration — not you specific, but the general “you” — is unwise.

      – Ryan

  3. Mike Olson says:

    Interesting. This makes me want to take and post pictures of the shelves at my FLGS and FLCS.

  4. Good points to remember on design and presentation of the book as a physical object. Also, (Yay!) really cool to see my art on the Little Fears cover reads pretty well from a distance.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      And a beautiful cover it is! It’s another cover that I feel is so evocative, and yet from the retail perspective problematic. I say that as someone who *loves* title-on-bottom design.

      – Ryan

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Come to think of it, I probably love title-on-bottom design because I love movie posters. But that’s a totally different marketing scheme.

      – Ryan

  5. Michael Parker says:

    Being on the retailer side of the counter, I couldn’t agree more. Nothing saddens me more than when an awesome digest book comes out and it has to hide behind our top-billing books. Sad and lonely that book will sit there until I physically point it out to a customer.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      I had some snaps I thought of Black Diamond, but I couldn’t find them on my phone.

      To actually address your comment though: I hear you.

      – Ryan

  6. Charlotte James says:

    When I managed a game store it broke my heart so many times that I would have to put books away that I know would never sell just because of how they looked. The spine part is very true, and for my own bookselves as well. I “loose” so many …books because I can’t see them because they have no spine and it worked in retail as well.

    Also, another thing to note, is that if your front is very pretty and set up perfect and a costumer finally picks it up, if the inside is crap they will put it back down. D20 Deadlands was a PERFECT example of that. The front cover is inciting enough, the spine is clear to read and eye catching colors, but when you open it up the editing is HORRIBLE, the images are 50/50 (some are so under contrasted and over detailed you can barely make them out), yeah it is just not pretty. And this is from a major distributor. I watched people pick it up, say “OH, I love Deadlands! Now it is the D20 system, sweet”, open it, and put it back down…

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Oh, yeah. But that gets into a whole other conversation about overall product design. :) Great points! Thank you for copying that from my Facebook page. :D

      – Ryan

  7. Paul Czege says:

    Hey Ryan,

    When did you take those photos at Endgame? I’m not seeing Adventure Burner, Apocalypse World, or Kagematsu. (And I know Danielle shipped them a bunch of Kagematsus a few months ago. If they’re sold-out, she needs to email them about a re-order :)


    • Ryan Macklin says:


      That was a few months ago, maybe before GenCon? I’ve been sitting on some of these photos for a bit.

      I don’t know about the state of Kagematsu at Endgame, but I’ll leave Danielle & Chris to talk there. :)

      – Ryan