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header image - Pearseus: Rise of the Prince | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books
Case in point: “Rise of the Prince” has now been renamed “Tyranny”

I must have gone through a dozen iterations of my Pearseus covers through the years, which is hardly surprising: we fantasy fans expect familiar book cover design elements when searching out our next read. We’re a picky, dedicated, and loyal lot, so I didn’t want to risk lost sales and future readers over a poorly designed cover!

In 2018, Forbes reported that science fiction and fantasy genre books, both print and digital, had doubled sales in the previous eight years coinciding with exploding self-publishing growth on Amazon and other publishing platforms. By cutting out middlemen (traditional publishers), says Forbes, independent SF and fantasy writers scored more profits than their traditionally published peers.

According to Self-Publishing School, fantasy tops the Amazon genre list. Fantasy can further be broken down into subgenres including the following:

  • Science fantasy combines science fiction and fantasy elements to create a heady mix. This is the subgenre I chose when writing Pearseus.
  • High or epic fantasy creates a unique world with its own rules and expectations. Anything goes, from talking dragons to magical wizards. Titles include A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1), by George R.R. Martin and The Princess Bride, by William Goldman.
  • Low fantasy envisions a world similar to our own, but with elements of magical occurrences. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is considered low fantasy.    
  • Magical realism presents literary fiction presenting magical aspects as ordinary, everyday occurrences. Popular titles include Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel, and Beloved, by Toni Morrison.
  • Other fantasy subgenres include sword and sorcery, fairy tales, dark fantasy, and fables.  

Genre fans are particular and demand respect for the genre and the traditions. All aspects of your work reflect your genre choices: your story, your title and subtitle, and your artwork, particularly the cover.     

Standing out from the crowd

Your cover is your book’s main marketing tool. Consumers scroll fast on book-selling sites, so your cover must grab their attention and their clicks. Readers purchase by genre! Your book cover design must reflect its genre, or you’ll lose sales and readers.

Fantasy book cover design combines art and science: Creating an original and forceful fantasy book cover “takes time, skill, and attention to detail.” The designer must employ and harmonize “imagery, colors, and typography,” conveying the theme, tone, and genre while enticing potential readers to want more.

Fantasy covers quickly resonate by employing familiar elements without appearing generic or derivative. “Essentially, there are two ways to design a book cover – depiction of a character and setting or symbolic design.” Most fantasy covers utilize depiction, but a seasoned designer creates original book covers utilizing symbolic imagery to communicate genre, indicate narrative, and reflect personality. Book covers span a long time-tested tradition employing certain design elements, particularly typography, imagery, and color palette.     

Elements of fantasy fiction book covers

Typography

Serif fonts evoke fantasy, while stylizing text with visual effects such as drop shadows, textures and gradients add punch. When choosing a fantasy design font consider typefaces such as:

  • Cinzel Decorative, a classic fantasy font that easily conveys genre,
  • Yana, a calligraphic face for fantasy subgenres like paranormal, dark, or urban fantasy,
  • Vectis, a historical and display serif font offering a classic Roman look, one of “formal dignity,” or
  • Artisan, when “you need to make the title big and expressive,” while still imparting genre.  

Imagery

Specific graphical elements common to fantasy book covers include:

  • Medieval towns, villages, and cities.
  • Castles, towers, and fortifications.
  • Mountains, rivers, rolling fields with peasants
  • Old growth forests and woods, dark brooding trees, sometimes dead and gnarled. 
  • Crashing waves, wooden ships, billowing sails.  

Consider additional fantasy elements such as caped and hooded figures, medieval weapons, charms and talismans, and glossy black birds. Fantasy covers often employ decorative borders, depending on the subgenre, sometimes echoing a Celtic vibe.

Color palette

Fantasy genre covers normally utilize rich dark blue, green, red, black, gold, and silver tones evoking classic fantasy themes of royalty, mystery, witchcraft, magic, and adventure.    

Fantasy book cover case study

Iban Journey | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

Cover Kitchen designed this colorful artwork for a fantasy work based on the “rainforest folklore and animist superstitions of the Iban people of Borneo.” An Iban herself, Golda Mowe insisted the cover respect her customs with no depictions of animal gods on the book’s cover, “complying with Iban customary law.”

The cover designers utilized “the traditional wood carvings and intricate motif paintings of the Dayak ethnic group of Borneo,” creating computer graphics to “reproduce the tribal art as a stylized depiction of the luxuriant foliage characteristic of the rainforest.” For a finishing touch, the hand-drawn typeface perfectly complements the graphic design elements. 

Choose wisely

Writing a great fantasy novel is an incredible challenge: don’t hurt your chances with the wrong cover choices. Always team up with professional designers, experienced in creating unique and effective cover art,  greatly increasing your book’s marketability. Your cover should grab readers by conveying genre, narrative, and the author’s brand, earning a click and a sale and a satisfied reader!