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.

23 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.

      Like

  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. der Nicht Kluge Hans

      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

  4. fake name

    I’m the author of one of the bestselling books you are mocking. Thought I’d let you in on a secret, because there’s something crucial you’re not getting: all of these covers are on-target for their genres. They tell the audience that they have found exactly the sort of books they want – and for each of these defined sub-genres, there is a hungry audience.
    That is, after all, why these are bestselling books.
    You may scoff, you may mock, but there’s an art to these covers. The authors know what they’re doing. Every one of them.
    You might find that if you started to think in terms of known audiences and what they’re hungry for, your own books (assuming that are indeed Xavier Lastra) might not be languishing at around two million or so in the Amazon store….

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    1. Thanks for that “secret”, I would never have guessed it myself. I have so much to learn from you guys!

      Of course I know they are aware of what they are doing. Do you think I thought they arrived at these results thorugh trial & error? That all those shirtless guys are a random pattern? It’s that I know they are doing it on purpose the whole point of this post, you illiterate fool!

      And yes, I will scoff and I will mock because I can and I enjoy it, no matter your butthurt. I only mention two books by name (well, and Chuck Tingle but I doubt that’s you, he seems like an OK guy and I doubt he’d be offended by this post) so you are either the Monster Girl Island guy or the one behind the Gargoyle Lover or whatever it was called. If it’s the former, you are lucky because that was actually one of the more OK covers; in fact, I was actually making fun of the blurb and that hilarious comment. If it’s the other one, lmaoing at your “there’s an art to these covers.”

      In any event, you are still gay for being an alleged bestselling author who has to go anonymous to defend his widely successful masterpiece from a random nobody. So I win again.

      Like

    2. Here’s another secret: vulgar book cover images that are created solely to sell products by appealing to the most ignoble human characteristics and shallow human desires degrades culture, and everyone suffers for it by living in a society more and more dominated not by the true beauty of art that can move, inspire, and touch the soul, but by the inundation of cultural trash.

      Like

    3. To say your suggested formula for “success” is an oversimplification would be an incredible understatement. There’s far far more required to succeed on Amazon with books (including a fair amount of money invested that many people can’t afford, exacting ongoing marketing work, timing, favorable algorithms, and luck. Nicolas Erik is a great source for someone who wants to learn about book marketing on Amazon). Anyone who truly knows what’s going on with Amazon marketing should avoid such misleading statements, and should definitely not be blaming someone for their book not being a best seller just because they don’t have the right targeted cover (Xavier’s cover is at least a high quality illustration and appropriate for the genre. No doubt he could have done better with a depiction of the main character without a shirt, holding a whip, with a half naked woman reaching around him from behind. I credit him with too much integrity and respect for his readers to do so). Your statement is misleading, unkind, and cynical. And it’s the typical propaganda used by the few people who are winning in this unjust system we have to make anyone who doesn’t fabulously succeed financially (which is the vast majority of people) feel inferior and as if they and not the system of financial inequity are solely to blame. In this money “game,” most of the greatest artists and writers are considered losers.

      What really matters in the end is if one is truly creating honestly from the soul with the greatest integrity and skill, and contributing to inspiration, meaning, and hope in the human experience. If one is not doing that, all the money in the bank will not bring peace of mind, and all the best sellers in the world will be nothing but meaningless noise. And lastly, if one’s goal is to make money, there are certainly many other easier ways to do so than sell books on Amazon. I wish all of the people who have money as their primary goal would find one of those other ways and leave the field of art and literature so that the true practitioners would not have to try and fight their way through all the money and marketing-backed noise being pumped out by such cynical trash merchants.

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  5. Here’s another secret: vulgar book cover images that are created solely to sell products by appealing to the most ignoble human characteristics and shallow human desires degrades culture, and everyone suffers for it by living in a society more and more dominated not by the true beauty of art that can move, inspire, and touch the soul, but by the inundation of cultural trash.

    Like

  6. Good luck with that

    You’re really not getting it. If you put your insults and arrogance aside for a moment, you might understand that I was giving you what you need to succeed in this game.
    Maybe one day you’ll understand. Until then, good luck with your condescension. I hope it’s worth more to you than money in the bank.

    Like

    1. I get what you are *trying* to say and the fact that you believe it, that’s why I don’t take you seriously. But no, it’s not what is needed to succeed in this… “game”, as you call literature. That’s not how the world works—and I don’t want to play that “game” either. That’s what you should have asked me before trying to teach me your winning secrets.

      I’m not being condescending, just dismissive, or outright cruel; you are the Denning-Krunning condescending one who really believes I’ve never thought about these things before. Don’t try to weasel out of your “I’m a bestsellers author, let me tell you a secret (lol)” comment now pretending you only wanted to help.

      You just got offended because you are thinskinned, that’s it. I made fun of those covers because they are silly and everybody knows that. That’s why people don’t go around showing their Romance Novels in public. That’s why their writers don’t use their real names.

      That’s all there is. It doesn’t matter whether I have books on Amazon or not (and, by the way, if you look my Butcher’s of Greystone, you’ll realize I chose the cover carefully to reflect the genre, Gothic Horror, so I really don’t know what are you trying to “teach” me here) If I had no books on Amazon, what would have been your comment? The covers are still stupid no matter who notices the pattern, whether me, or a food blogger, and if you really are one of the authors, why do you care? Just take the insult like a grown man and move one; after all, you are making a lot of money, you can afford not to care. I thought you guys had enough self-awareness to realize the silliness of your own work and that you would be “in” the joke. Apparently not, and you really think you are making Art here. Disappointing.

      You are making easy money off a short fad, be grateful while it lasts.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s gracious of you. It’s good to be open to ideas and advice. But I agree completely that this cheap, tawdry, short term game has nothing to do with art or literature, is not worth winning, and in the end, makes everyone in our culture a loser.

        Like

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