In an emerging genre with almost limitless potential for jaw-droppingly creative and singularly unique storylines – essentially an amalgam of elements from fantasy, romance, mystery, horror, etc. – it continues to amaze me that as a whole, paranormal fantasy has some of the most formulaic and conventional book cover art in all of genre fiction.

The following description perfectly describes a sadly large percentage of recent paranormal fantasy book covers: a scantily clad female protagonist (almost always wearing black leather and frequently tattooed), wielding some kind of weapon (sword, dagger, pistol, etc.), posed seductively in front of a full moon and/or urban nightscape.


Off the top of my head, here’s a list of a few recent and upcoming releases that fit this description perfectly: Jeaniene Frost’s stellar debut Halfway to the Grave (Night Huntress Series #1); Adrian Phoenix’s A Rush of Wings  and In the Blood; Karen Chance’s Midnight's Daughter; Kim Harrison’s White Witch, Black Curse; and the upcoming Huntress and Must Love Hellhounds anthologies, to name just a few. There are literally dozens if not hundreds more examples...

In a recent interview with Adrian Phoenix, she stated that the scantily clad, gun wielding female on the cover of both of her Maker’s Song novels, A Rush of Wings and In the Blood, wasn’t even the saga’s protagonist, FBI special agent Heather Wallace! “I don't think they were intended to [be],” she said, and added that the marketing department at Pocket Books “studied the covers of other paranormal fantasy/urban fantasy books that were selling well and had the cover art designed to draw the eye and the hand.”


I have a big problem with this kind of marketing philosophy, although I completely understand the rationale behind it. I grew up in the era of albums – do you remember when music was released on big vinyl LP records? As a kid, the thing that I absolutely loved about buying a new album – say Neil Young’s Decade, Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones, or Roxy Music’s first album – was experiencing the album cover: immersing myself in the artwork, the design, the liner notes….

Successful cover art – like Led Zep’s Houses of the Holy, for example – not only accentuated the music but gave it a kind of artistic dimensionality as well. And, in my mind, that’s what good book covers should ideally do...

It’s sad to think that in a genre with so many pioneering authors and groundbreaking storylines, the cover art that accompanies these stellar paranormal fantasy novels is so hackneyed and clichéd… Not that I have anything against scantily clad heroines packing heat and wearing black leather mini skirts and thigh high boots, but c’mon already! Like the albums from the ‘70s that I mentioned earlier, innovative works of art – be it psychedelic rock or paranormal fantasy – deserves equally innovative packaging…




Message Edited by paulgoatallen on 06-10-2009 09:37 AM
by on ‎06-10-2009 11:24 AM



I totally agree with you on the cover artwork and wish that they would make it more representative of the story line but I guess it is asking too much for the artist to read the book or listen to the author.  I don't think that the authors get much say in the cover design procedure.  Another great article.



by Jon_B on ‎06-10-2009 11:44 AM

Whats really sad is that in the latter two covers, the girls' face isn't even the picture, its cut off below the nose, which kind of drives the point home that from the perspective of whatever marketing team is behind this, they still see women as just a body to use to sell something.



by carmen22 on ‎06-10-2009 11:52 AM

Well said, Paul. I agree. We could use a little more variety in Paranormal/Urban Fantasy maybe that's one reason why I pull more towards fantasy ( the one's I've read of late have had diversity).  I know it's bad to say that I judge a book by it's cover, but when I'm walking in the bookstore and browsing around the first thing I see is the cover, of course. If I see something Unique it has a much better chance that I'm going to pick it up, eh? 



by carmen22 on ‎06-10-2009 12:11 PM

I just wanted to name a few good Fantasy covers: Lamentation (Psalms of Isaak Series #1)  and Canticle   by Ken Scholes,  Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson - I Love these Covers! They're absolutey wonderful. I would pick these up in a heartbeat, no contest,  even if I didn't know how Awesome they're going to be  :smileywink:!



by Jon_B ‎06-10-2009 12:16 PM - edited ‎06-10-2009 12:16 PM

Hi carmen22 - if you like the cover for Warbreaker, go to this Friday Five post and watch the third video dow, its a special video with the artist all about the creation of that particular cover and you get to see it in various stages of completion.





Message Edited by Jon_B on 06-10-2009 09:16 AM
by Zack_Kullis on ‎06-12-2009 03:38 PM

I think the stereotypical cover art that we are talking about here represents a shameful misunderstanding that marketing departments have for this genre of book, and consequently for the consumer of this genre.


I am a voracious reader, and the paranormal fantasy flavor of book is one of my favorites.  But, I will not buy a book that has what looks like a half naked, aggressive, psychopathic, narcissistic hooker dangling herself on the cover.  Especially when there is no such character or scene anywhere within the book (which seems to happen more often than not).  If the book looks like I picked it up at a porn shop, I don't want my kids to see it, I don't want the people on the train to see it, and I don't want to see it either.  But I think the problem at the core here is the misunderstanding I mentioned earlier.


Too many people can't seem to get beyond the word fantasy and automatically assume it is about sexual fantasy, or some strange world were S&M hooks up with D&D.  There are amazing authors that write for this genre that have fantastic literary skills, but many of their book covers are slapped with what a very uninformed and ignorant marketing department believes will attract readership. 


There is a huge untapped readership for this kind of book, and much of the fault sits with marketing departments that have not done a market analysis or consumer research.



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