Cover Inspiration: Fantasy

This week’s Cover Inspiration post concerns fantasy and YA fantasy book covers (mostly YA, because honestly their covers are FIRE right now). Now, each comment pertaining to a cover is merely my perspective about what makes it a strong design. You’ll probably notice a non-genre specific trend as I post these Cover Inspirations (*cough* illustrations *cough*).

When I started my research for the fantasy cover inspiration, I was honestly struck by the magnitude of poorly designed or lazily designed covers (not just in indie books but in the Big 5 publishing world). I say that as a professional in the design industry. It isn’t that a lot of them are bad… they just feel lazy. Like, “This is a fantasy book, so let’s stick a dragon head on the cover.”

There are two main factors for why I choose to read a book: Word of mouth and the cover design. If the cover catches my attention, then I’ll pick the book up and check out the synopsis. A good fantasy cover has to stand out in a sea of color, pretty girls with their butts to the “camera”, and dragon heads.

Below are 10 covers in both fantasy and YA fantasy that I think are striking examples of a cover that checks the following for me:

  • Non-standard or new trend
  • Colors that pop
  • Use of metaphors/symbolism
  • An oldie-but-a-goodie done right.

These are roughly in alphabetical order, not by how successful I think they are.

1. Beware the Night by Jessika Fleck

I love the use of color. The design is both complex, as there are a lot of elements, and yet simple in the fact that my eye is not overwhelmed by those elements. The mirror effect is intriguing and it invites me in. I want to check out the blurb to see what the heck might be going on. Are these the same person? Are they friends? Are they enemies? Let’s find out.

2. Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James

I’ll admit, there is a LOT going on in this cover and it is a bit overwhelming. But, the use of typography is really interesting to me. The title is captivating, and the illustrated warring leopard and wolf (and a snake?) in the background is just enough WTF to make me check out what the hell this book is about.

3. The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

This cover is… It is probably one of my favorites. The use of negative space. The knock outs. The silhouettes. The color. I think the only thing I dislike about this is the greenish/yellow trim on the sides. I would have liked the blue to carry off in the bleed. I also question the stylization of the word “The”. It seems out of place (only held thematically by the strange symbol in the middle of the “C” in Mercies.) On a whole though, this cover BEGS me to pick up the book (or click the link)–and boy do I listen.

4. The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad

This cover is breathtaking. There is a heavy trend for novels to put the main characters on the front. I can understand why. The story is about them. There are instances where it doesn’t work (see the Clone Covers at the bottom of this post), but here it WORKS. The use of contrasting and complimentary colors in the woman’s clothing and the blue flame are pleasant. The composition is interesting. The figure isn’t dead center (someone paid attention to the Golden Ratio). I’m drawn in by the bright, vividness of it all. The font makes me focus more on the words. It is jagged and clustered together and something not easily read at a sudden glance.

5. The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young

Sometimes, when fantasy covers have a female protagonist on them–with their back facing the “camera”–there is a focus to highlight the rear end. The Butt Pose is famous with book covers and movie posters alike. This is a refreshing take on the heroine facing away from the viewer. The focus isn’t on her looks. It’s on the power in her arms and the weapon she carries. The use of typography is nice, overlaid on the image in a way that mimics her stance. Tall and strong.

6. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

There is a lot going on in this cover, but it’s not nearly as overwhelming as the Black Leopard Red Wolf cover. The use of the hourglass symbol helps carry our eye in a loop. We get to take in the elements individually and as a whole. A castle and a city. A dagger and comb. A birdcage and spilled coffee. What does it mean? I’ve got to find out.

7. The Iron Citadel by Mitch Reinhardt

Again, I like the use of silhouettes in this cover. The simplicity of it is refreshing. We have two central elements–the characters and the castle. The use of color, this cool blue and teal, is appealing. There’s a misty, magical feel about it. The bright light shining behind the castle draws my eye to the center of the book and then down to the title and finally the characters.

8. The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

I love the simple illustrative take on this cover. There is also a strange, technical feel, like an infographic. I’ve read the book, so I know that the technical aspect doesn’t really fit with the theme of the story. Still, the unique contrast of the victorian dress and parasol with the crisp, technological lines is strange and interesting. It made me pick up the book and read it, so the cover did it’s job.

9. The Phantom Forest by Liz Kerin

I love the use of negative space and color in this cover. The white and the red/coral pop against the dense black. I love the shape of the tree transitioning into a figure at the roots, the symbolism peaks my interest and makes me want to know more. What does it mean? Is the tree alive? The font is also intriguing. This is a billed as a YA Fantasy novel, but the font leans horror to me–along with the ghostly root-figure. As I’ve read this book, I already know the symbolism of the tree, but I encourage you to pick it up and find out for yourself!

10. The Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

I like the central figure–I’m a sucker for simplistic cover designs that entice but don’t try to tell the whole story. The use of red and green against the black and white (mostly white) background draws the viewers eye. The predominant white background is a bold and important choice. A lot of fantasy covers are jam-packed with colors and darker shades. When you look at them in a row, say the aisle of a bookstore, they all start to blur together. But white pops out amidst the rest. I like the swords, standing like grave markers dotting the surrounding area. Also, that billowing cloak is pretty cool. Is he magical or is there just a really nice breeze?

Sooo… That’s it. Sort of…

I hope you enjoyed the curated covers and my personal preference commentary. I hope that maybe it offered some inspiration to you too, if you are on a cover journey of your own. If you are an author, I encourage you to reach out to a professional for your cover. If you are on a budget, it is easy to find a design student looking to beef up their portfolio. A strong cover can go a long way to helping with the promotion and sale of your book.

Also, if you are on the cover journey, please do research on covers in your genre. Gather a list of your favorites to show your designer or to pull inspiration from if you choose to design your own. But, mostly it is a good idea to see what is out there right now and how you can stand out from the crowd. Otherwise, you end up with this trend that I’m noticing and highlighting below.

Cover Clones. These are covers that are basically the same style, same layout, same use of colors. If I didn’t know that each one of these books were written by a different person, I would assume that they were all in the same series. The varying font choices do help separate them from the same series–but still they feel essentially like clones of the other. These are just a few I came across while doing my research for this post:

I have questions…

My main question, though, is whether or not these were all done by the same cover artist? If so… are purple and blue the only colors they like to use? Are those colors, like, their design calling card? If so… why are authors okay with having covers that are near copies of each other? Are these authors really okay with blending into a sea of similar styles?

If these are different artists… are they copying each other. Is this a new trend to mark a novel as Urban Fantasy? (Kudos to that one designer who broke from the purple/blue mold and went red/orange.) Somebody drop me a comment and let me know what’s going on with this. Because… there are tons of them (that may be because each one of these has a series with covers to match)–just a sea of magic glowy purple and blue.

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