The Magic of Fantasy Book Covers

August 17, 2011 in Best Of, Blogging, Fantasy, Misc, On Writing by pacejmiller

By Alan Rabinowitz

8 Seconds

I recently read an article which said that the average person spends 8 seconds looking at the front cover of a book and 15 seconds on the back.  If the book doesn’t grab their attention then they move on to the next book.

For me, 8 seconds is a long time.  When I browse a book store I literally just glance across the shelves to see if anything grabs my eye.  And to be honest, not a whole lot of books grab me enough for me to pick it up and read the back, and even fewer make me open up the book to read a few pages.  There are just too many to look at, and let’s face it, the majority are either too similar or generic.

These days, I tend to go on personal recommendations, best-seller charts and online reviews more than anything else, but occasionally there are books that I’ve never heard of before that have covers that jump out at me.  Occasionally it may be because of the book title or the author’s name, but sometimes it’s because of the uniqueness of the design art.

Fantasy Book Covers

The genre with book covers that interest me the most is fantasy (and sci-fi to a lesser extent).  To me, fantasy covers are the most fascinating because they have the potential to be the best — and the worst.

(to read on, click on ‘more…’)

The last time I browsed the fantasy section of a book store I noticed that there were a few overarching conventions for book covers.

The name George RR Martin sells itself

The famous authors — the JRR Tolkiens, the George RR Martins and the Robert Jordans — tend to have the simplest covers with the author’s name in font equal to and sometimes larger than the actual title of the book.  Occasionally there might be a picture or a symbol, but hardly anything else.  Not surprising, considering the biggest selling point of the book is the author’s name.

The old school fantasy cover

Other covers, the more old school ones, usually have some fancy artwork of a particular scene, setting or character(s) from the book.  Most are horrible and resemble those old hand-drawn movie posters, which cheapen the book and make them look generic.

The newer batch of covers continue to use the same concept, but the overall design and artwork have definitely improved to make the covers more epic and less tacky.

Fantasy Covers That Have Caught My Attention

A number of fantasy covers have caught my attention over the years, but the last fantasy book I actually bought because of the cover was the urban fantasy Armageddon’s Children by Terry Brooks, author of the Shannara series.

This was a few years ago and I was captivated because:

  • according to the cover, Brooks was supposedly the ‘Master of Modern Fantasy’;
  • the book was the first of a new series;
  • the book was relatively thin for a fantasy novel; and
  • the design art looked pretty epic.

I love this cover

More recently, the most captivating fantasy book cover I’ve come across is from The Passage by Justin Cronin.  Part of the reason is because you can’t tell what kind of book it is just by looking at the cover, and yet there’s something oddly unsettling and haunting about it.  Even the back cover doesn’t say a whole lot except raise more questions.

Before that, I must admit, I found the Twilight cover to be quite interesting too, certainly attention-grabbing and unique.  This was before I and everyone else got saturated in the series, of course.  An apple in a hand — simple, elegant, and makes you wonder what it’s all about.

Tim Steeley is one heck of an illustrator

In terms of high or epic fantasy, my favourite covers come from RA Salvatore’s Drizzt series, which usually feature Drizzt in action against a mighty foe.  However, it’s the awesome cover illustration by Tim Steeley that make them stand out for me.

The cover for Erikson's Reaper's Gale

Compare that to the Game of Thrones poster

Two other epic fantasy covers spring to mind.  One is Reaper’s Gale by Stephen Erikson (which may or may not have inspired the posters for the TV series Game of Thrones), and the other is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

Your Fantasy Cover

Recently I’ve been wondering what kind of cover I would want if I ever finish that fantasy novel of mine.  Do I go the traditional route and get an illustrator to draw an epic scene or battle from the book, or do I try and intrigue with something more unique?  Argh, maybe I should just try and finish the darn thing first.

If you too are writing a fantasy novel, what would your ideal cover be like?

PS: During my research I found some interesting and amusing websites on fantasy book covers.  A few of these covers are hilarious.

I've always thought of something like this cover for my own book