The three or four types of indie fantasy covers

Looking at the Amazon best sellers is always a good way to waste spend the time, and it proves that thing about everything having to change for everything to stay the same. If you blink even for a moment, books, authors, or even entire new genres that once seemed ready to become the new hot thing are suddenly gone, yet, at the same time, the new thing looks surprisingly similar to what they replaced.

You would be hard-pressed to find a more strightforward example of creative unoriginality and lack of imagination than today’s book covers, although the same could be said concerning their titles and perhaps even their themes and style of writing. But covers are easier to analyze—and funnier.

Before you start wailing at me and claiming that I’m making these things up, no, these covers are real; these are (as of today) the Kindle Top100 in the Fantasy genre (Science Fiction are somewhat better.) It’s not a parody. This is real. This is what Fantasy means according to Amazon.

With some variations, there are fundamentally three or four types of covers that seem to dominate the market. They are mostly (but not exclusively) indie books. There are subspecies and also remnants of older styles (like the once-ubiquitous Man-looking-mysteriously-over-the-shoulder,) but I think these are the most important ones right now. Also, keep in mind that these are rarely distinct examples, and they tend to overlap and combine.

1.The chromatic overload with fire/mist/magic filter.

Whether in isolation or with a (usually a young woman) person involved, the cover is saturated with wispy tendrils of color, magical mist, tongues of fire, ashes, sparks, or some equally lazy graphics effect or filter. If these covers were actual sources of light, their bloom could give you epileptic attacks; and if they were Instagram people, even the girls there would tell them to cut it down with the filters.

Subspecies include:

A. the ground or the air around the character is on fire. Or perhaps just the cover itself, trying to commit ritual suicide. A widespread technique once, both in books but also movie/videogame trailers, was to make spark/embers from an unseen fire below the bottom of the cover fly up in front of the protagonist/title. It’s still quite common:

Bonus: Notice the patter in the TyPoGRaPHY. Articles, prepositions, and conjunctions are all in a smaller size. And ‘Rising,’ there are two ‘Rise of the X’ in this sample. That means that, scientifically, the ideal name for a novel in this subgenre would be: REBORN: The RISE of the FIRE: BOOK XVIII in the CHRONICLES of the BLOODBORN: RESURGENCE: (a reverse supernatural romance)

Subspecies B: Young woman with fire/magic coming from her hands or posing before a splotch/source of magical light.

There’s no way this is not some convoluted CIA psy-ops or an experiment in AI-generated art.

If the previous subspecies specialized in red colors, this one is focused on aquamarine-indigo combinations. There’s probably some half-arsed color-combination theory behind this atrocious lack of creativity and personality, but I can’t be bothered to check it out.

Men can also do the same, of course, although these are not (currently) bestsellers; they may have been once, I don’t know (I hope not.)

Somehow, these manage to be even more effeminate than the covers with women in dresses studying at the academy for witches. Maybe it’s like male stripping, which is gay no matter the sex of the audience.

Subspecies C: I don’t know, just throw buckets of paint and see what happens.

Notice, though, the look-behind-and-over-the-right-shoulder pose

2.The Lazy Minimalist.

For when you are tired and don’t care anymore, but you still feel the need to put some sort of image on the cover. Mostly employed by traditional publishers who don’t remember how to make good art, but are too proud to lower themselves to the level of indie insanity.

Lord of the Rings? There’s mountains in there, right? Just put some mountains and let’s call it a day.

There’s a lot of birds in there for some reason. And a red bird being defragmented on the cover of a book called RISING! That is so early-2010s. Get with the times, grandma!

3. Shirtless Bodybuilders. Yes, just that—a lot of shirtless men.

Did you know there’s something called “Paranormal Angel Romance”? Now you know!

So, if your thing is gargoyle erotica, you can read Chosen by a beast. However, the popular thing right now seems to be Aliens & Shifters Romance (the latter is women banging werewolves and werethings for the ignorant and illiterate among you.)

Keep in mind that that’s what ‘Romance’ means in modern marketing. I have seen some people posting an image about the most popular genres on Amazon, gloating that ‘Romance’ is the champion, way more than whatever crap tradpub publishes, but that above is what ‘Romance’ actually means. It’s not precisely the Song of Roland or 19th century romance novels, but more like something just slightly less silly —and I bet that with a lower level of self-awareness—than Chuck Tingle’s nightmarish erotica.

There’s also the equivalent for men, although it’s not called Romance but Harem, I believe. Or perhaps the covers are just tit-bait and inside it’s just page after page of Lorem Ipsum or the greatest works of 18th-century German Idealism. I’d have to read the books to be sure, but I won’t. But, in any event, the most distinctive trait is that with male fantasies the artists don’t dare to use real models, so they just draw them as comic-book or anime characters. I’m sure there’s some sociological insight to bring away from this, but I’m too lazy to develop it (but probably just some version of “2D waifus > 3D succubus always”)

Technically, as of today, only the first two are in the bestsellers list, but the rest are still quite popular and I remember having seen some of these authors in the bestseller list months ago.

Also, I feel like I have to copypaste the blurb from the first book, Monster Girl Island:

The beautiful monster girls of the Archipelagos were in need.
They needed a man to help build their homes.
They needed a man to teach them to survive.
They needed a man to defend them from the evil slaver-pirates.
And most of all, they needed a man to impregnate them and rebuild their population.

Fortunately for them, a man named Ben came from our world to give them everything they needed.

Space Pilot 3000 – Futurama

Don’t think this is just common degenerancy; it also teaches family values:

So there you go, this is the current state of bestselling Fantasy: reprints of Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings, and Gay Erotica—sometimes with men, sometimes with women, sometimes with ripped gargoyles, but always somewhat gay.

And if you are wondering what’s the current state of bestseller’s covers in general, not just fantasy, there seem to be two main artistic trends:

1. Boring, nondescript background image with an aura of artsiness and GIANT letters for a tittle:

And…

2. Yeah, it’s just shirtless (or soon-to-be) men again.

14 thoughts on “The three or four types of indie fantasy covers

  1. Both depressing and hilarious. Thanks for taking the time to write this. I’m sharing this on Facebook in the dim hope that people will awaken just a bit and stop hastening the end of our civilization by supporting these…products.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing it!

      I don’t know if it will delay civilizational collapse, but with some luck it will make some prospective writer reconsider his choices in art. That’s got to be worth something.

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  2. BTW, the one obvious element you don’t mention is money (and fame). All of the people rushing out these bad to mediocre books are doing so according to a marketing formula that is proven to work if your goal is only to have some visibility and sales success on Amazon. People are obsessed with making money and being a “bestselling author.” As for the big publishers, it’s the same. I am sure there are still people working there who know very well the difference between bad porn art and good literary art. But they are doing everything mostly in-house to save money and creating covers to appeal to the widest audience (which always means lowest common denominator when it comes to our society) and what sold the most “last time” in order to sell the most books. A culture based on money as the most important factor will turn everything into commerce and destroy the soul of Arts and Literature, as well as Science and Religion and just about everything else.

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    1. Given the non-visual nature of literature, cover art makes sense to me when the book includes semi-frequent or more illustrations (as with Brett Helquist’s in A Series of Unfortunate Events). But Robert Zoltan correctly notes that the goal is to sell product, not to create good art.

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      1. I may have noted that, but for God’s sake, I certainly wasn’t defending it or approving of it!! 😀
        I certainly think one can have a great cover and sell books too. The problem arises when people put money before the integrity of art (both creators and sellers). Then art and culture degrade and all that is being sold and experienced is crap. What is the point of that? The Fine Arts help us to find meaning in life and make life worth living. Despite what people think, money can’t do that. This is why art must be shielded as much as possible (again, by both creators while creating and art sellers while selling) from strictly commercial concerns.

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  3. Pingback: Judging Books By Their Covers – Carlos Carrasco

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