Sometimes what makes the difference between an average cover and a good cover is the most subtle of effects. A good drop shadow is one of them. See the drop shadow in the header of this post? Okay, maybe it’s a little difficult to see.
That’s the whole point.
But to make it easier, let’s look at this same line of text on the same background (I changed the color to be fun) without a drop shadow. A bit more difficult to read? Flatter looking? Yep. Especially for the tails of this super ornate typeface, it renders it very hard indeed.
Now let’s look at what I see fairly commonly on amateur-designed book covers; the drop shadow taken to infinity and beyond:
This may happen when the author/client says, “but I can’t really see the text! Make it stand out more!” and you use a drop shadow instead of a stroke. Honestly, it’s just ugly. Cludgy and thick.
Here’s another common mistake; putting a drop shadow on dark text. It generally doesn’t work unless it’s super, super soft and subtle. Not that this particular typeface is easy to read either way on the background, but for demonstration purposes you can see it’s far clearer without the drop shadow than with it.
As a general rule, you want all of your effects to be subtle. If the effect leaps out at you, that’s not subtle. If your text is not standing out enough for you on the background, consider changing the background or placement of the type on the background, changing the color of text or the typeface, adding a transparent box behind the text to help it stand out, etc.
Also remember to keep your lighting specific to the background. In this case, the light seemed to be coming from above and to the right, so I adjusted my shadow accordingly. I often don’t use a black shadow, instead, I sample a color from just behind the text then make the shadow a darker version of that color. It helps it blend without being harsh.
For this particular example, I used a new typeface I found called Mutlu Ornamental. I’m rather dangerously attracted to it; I love its sweeping grace and it could be amazing on a Romance cover but a typeface to treat with respect and watch carefully; it could easily get unreadable. Oh, and did you notice the other subtle effect I added to all but the last two examples? Sometimes a 1 pixel stroke of a color just slightly darker color (a light gold in this case) can really help a typeface come out from the background.