Jilly: Fantasizing About Book Covers

Alexis DoeWould you buy a book (or at least give it a second look) because it has a great cover?

I buy my books based on recommendations and reviews, and in the past I’ve never paid much attention to the packaging, especially as I know that often traditionally published authors don’t have much say over their covers. They’re the publisher’s responsibility, designed by the marketing department to sell as many books as possible, and sometimes they aren’t a perfect reflection of the story inside.

Covers follow trends and often look same-y to me, so as long as the typography and the cover match my expectations of the subgenre, I’ve always felt that was good enough. Historicals will most likely have a swooshing font and maybe some man-chest or a woman’s bare back draped in a colorful, fabulous gown. Suspense will have clean, strong, modern, well-spaced news-type fonts over dark, shadowy action figures or landscapes, perhaps with flames or bullets or a sniper scope or some scary touch. And so on.

I’ve been paying much more attention lately. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading more fantasy, where it seems to be fashionable to use artwork rather than photographs, or perhaps because self-publishing offers an author the possibility to choose a cover that more closely reflects their book even if it doesn’t follow all the ‘selling’ rules, but I’ve seen some lovely ones recently. Images that have made me look up the cover artist and drool over their portfolio.

One of my favorite ten-minute daydreams has been to try to imagine what the cover of my WIP, a romantic fantasy starring a kick-ass six-foot tall shaven-headed young woman called Alexis Doe, would look like in the hands of a talented cover artist.

The image at the top of the page is my favorite placeholder image for Alexis (I have it as my screen-saver so it’s the first thing I see every day when I power up my laptop). It’s not so much the appearance of the model I like, but her expression – Alexis is a determined young woman and it shows in her eyes, mouth and chin.

Here are three book covers I love and find inspiring, with links for each to the cover artist’s website.



Sweep In Peace is the second book in Ilona Andrews’ self-published Innkeeper series. I love the book and the art, by Doris from Disanthus, captures the heroine, Dina, and the feel of the book perfectly. To see more from Disanthus click here, or find images of other characters and some free wallpaper on Ilona Andrews’ Innkeeper site (link here).






Radiance is the first book in Grace Draven’s Wraith Kings series. The book itself is beautiful – well-written, clever, courtly and kind – and the cover perfectly captures the feel of the story and the two main characters, one human and the other not. The art is by Isis Sousa of Helheimen Design (link here).





I haven’t read any of Gini Koch’s Alien series, but I saw the covers in a marketing email from Amazon and was totally wowed by them. Alien Tango, shown here, is book two of the series, which is now up to thirteen books (I think). Viewed side by side the covers look fabulous – here’s a link to Amazon (not because I’m recommending the books but because my laptop thought there might be a problem with Gini Koch’s website). The books are published by sci-fi/fantasy indie DAW, with covers by Daniel Dos Santos (link here).



I’m still writing Alexis, but I’ve decided that imagining her cover art is part of the discovery process. I have no idea what any of these artists would cost. They’re probably way beyond my means but a girl can dream, and – who knows? – maybe I’ll have a lottery win one of these weekends. If I do, this will be my idea of a great shopping spree 😀 .

Do any of the above artists do it for you? Can you see why I think they’d be wonderful for Alexis? If you have any other suggestions I’d love to hear them.

Or if any of your favorite authors in any genre have really great covers, I’d be fascinated to know which ones and what makes them especially good.

Thank you!

9 thoughts on “Jilly: Fantasizing About Book Covers

  1. This week I started working on a collage for the dog book to give me inspiration and help keep me true to my vision. You just made me realize I should be thinking about covers as well as inspiration. (And that I need a title, but that’s a whole separate bit of angst.)

    • I think it all helps to build up a complete mental picture of the story. This one should be a very fun collage and cover, and I bet dogs are a favorite with the marketing experts, too.

  2. I have never bought a book based solely on the cover. However, some covers have gotten me to stop and take a look at the book and read more about it and then buy it. So fulfilled their purpose.

    I love the Alien Tango cover, I would definitely look at that book.

    Angie Foxes Demon Slayer series is one that I picked up and looked at it because of the cover. They never show her (the characters face… But the woman, sword, motorcycle rear end, and happy little Jack Russell terrier. I had to pick it up… The description was something fun like preschool teacher Lizzy, turns 30, instead of going to her birthday party, her estranged biker-witch grandmother locks her in her bathroom, where she is attacked by a deizen of hell, and somehow defeats it because she suddenly gains the family mantel of demon slayer. Now her dog can talk to her and she’s on the run with a gang of geriatric biker-witches while all of hell is after her, and the world is as stake. Worse, she can’t even curse about it, because pre-school teachers don’t have the vocabulary for it!

    I picked it up and loved them all ever since… Not showing the face is kind of cool, then as a reader you always get to have your version of what the character looks like in mind.

    The Craig Jonhson – Longmire covers are a kind of graphic, shillouette, art… It seems a bit simple, but it perfectly conveys the feel of the book and stories, again, without giving in a defined picture of any of the character for you.

    I can’t think of the artist’s name right off, but Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files also have interesting covers – that artist has a gritty style that you see particualrly pop up on certain books- he does sci-fi and action, and urban fantasy covers a lot. It was funny – he never showed Dresden’s face until very recently… He usually had a hat blocking it, which was interesting and seemed to suit, as Dresden always wears a long, leather duster…. But he never wore a hat… Everyone liked it so much, even Jim, that for so many of us, the hat comes with the duster now, whether Jim/Dresden says so or not.

    Even if I like the book/series somthe cover art is not really important – I LOVE good cover art, a way to find interesting artists, and they really can and do add so much awesome to a book.

    • I see what you mean about Angie Fox. The blurb for the first Demon Slayer book is hilarious and the covers seem to match the tone. The series sounds like a lot of fun. Going on my TBR list.

      I love the nugget about Dresden’s hat – something that so perfectly captures the spirit of the story and character that it works even though it’s not actually in the book. The internet says the artist for the Dresden Files is Christian McGrath. There are some gorgeous, dark, moody images on his website (http://christianmcgrath.com). I also read that Lee MacLeod does some illustrations for Jim Butcher’s books and his covers are pretty fabulous too, check out the gallery at http://www.leemacleod.com/book_covers/index.html .

    • I’ve always liked the idea of not showing the face, and doing that repeatedly in the Jim Butcher series—and to a lesser extent, the Angie Fox series—becomes kind of an insider joke. There’s on old TV show, Home Improvement, where the next-door neighbor character’s face is never shown. He’s always looking over the fence, which comes up to his eyes. I think it does help readers put their own vision on who that character is, as you say. However, Jilly, all these covers are outstanding.

  3. Hi! I don’t pick a book solely for the cover art, but it definitely plays into my decision to pick up a book or not, for better or worse. Good cover art catches my eye and makes me take a second look at a story. All the examples above definitely make me curious about the story behind them & I’ll plop them on my TBR list.

    I’m going to throw into the mix that I LOVE any cover art done by Michael Whelan. I always feel as if you get a sense from his work of who the characters are and that there’s something interesting going on there I want to know about He’s done a tone of covers, but I first saw his art on the front of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragons of Perns series [back in the 80’s & 90’s & not the new covers by someone else] and Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series. Most recently I noticed he did the cover of the last book in the Wheel of Time series. You can check him out here http://www.michaelwhelan.com/gallery/illustration/fantasy/

    Conversely, a really bad or poorly executed cover will push me away from a book. I’ve seen some online publishers with poorly executed cover art with characters that are wooden looking, & creepy digital renditions. I call it the creepy doll effect. It basically gives me metaphorical hives & makes me want to run in the opposite direction.

    Then somewhere in the middle, sometimes a cheesy cover mixed with an intriguing title will catch my eye & make me take a second look; makes we wonder if the story is the kind of quirkiness that I like. This happened to me with Molly Harper’s “The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires” http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSgJRwANs2SqqzO0j8rlcD-hgrQ4uvnja3YHRUjwj5GgTd3QfTX
    This cover looks corny to me, but I liked the title, so I skimmed the book and found a really funny/snarky book that I loved.

    So I’m a little rambling here, but those are my thoughts on covers on a Sunday morning before I’ve finished my first cup of tea. LOL

    • Hi and good morning, Eliza! I love the Michael Whelan gallery – those would definitely make me want to find out more. Lucky authors, to have him for a cover artist.

      Like you, I like the title of the Molly Harper book but honestly, I’m not sure what I’d have thought about the cover if I’d seen it on a book blog or marketing email. I’m all up for a quirky vampire story (it’s ages since I read the series, but I really liked Erin McCarthy’s Vegas Vampires), so now you’ve said the book is funny and snarky, I’m going to have to check it out 😉 . Thank you!

  4. I’ve never bought a book because it has a nice cover, although an incredible, show-stopping cover will make me pick it up and read the back cover copy and the first page. But a truly lousy cover—with bad typography and overly simple, out-of-focus photography, or artwork that doesn’t seem to match the story that well—that kind of cover makes me run away. Total amateurishness on the outside can only mean total amateurishness on the inside, I think. Otherwise, for the vast middle ground—if I don’t have reviews or recommendations to go on, my interest in the back cover and first page usually determine my purchase.

  5. I can remember a lot of books where the covers turned me off, but I don’t remember ever seeing a fantastic cover and not getting the book. I’d like to think that I judge my books by things other than their covers, but maybe I’m shallow (-:. Or maybe good books get better covers . . . . (Although, I’ve seen good books with real stinkers for covers.)

    I think in science fiction and fantasy in general, covers are considered art in their own right. The World Con always has a guest of honor who writes, and one who is an artist, IIRC. And the fan-based awards (the Hugos) also have several categories for art, I think. Fan art as well as cover art. When the artist/writer partnership is working well, sometimes the cover art provides extra insight into the fiction — things that words simply can’t describe. Pictures can also help prevent infodump in the fantasy/sf field. Maps are also a thing in fantasy. I can’t remember reading a straight historical and seeing a map in the front of the book — although sometimes, it would be Quite Helpful to know where is where! (And the distances between!)

    As a kid, I learned how to read the code for “zany fantasy”, which I loved. I can’t remember what the specifics were, but usually someone was goofing up, and others had “hilarious” over-reactions to the problem. I think Robert Aspirin’s 70s covers were exactly what I was looking for.

    What’s really interesting is to see how covers change from country to country. For example, the Peter Grant (Rivers of London) series had great covers in the UK — a kind of map that I adored especially after reading the books. But the American covers were dire . . . dark, gloomy, police procedurals. Yeah, they are police procedurals. But the books deal with more transcendant themes. (They changed the names in America, too, at least at first. I’m really happy I could buy the UK versions from Amazon.)

    SFF in Korea and Japan tends to get more of an anime sort of treatment, which is kind of nice. I’m not sure how I’m going to go with my covers. If I self-publish, then I need to get on the ball. I’m thinking about asking my daughter to do something for me. It’d give her good experience, and I would have some influence with the art directions (-:.

    I wonder if art schools would be willing to help beginning writers get some really great art?

    Lois McMaster Bujold recently partnered with Ron Miller, an old art friend (who is quite big in the SFF cover field) https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/9197988-cover-reveal-komarr. There are several posts on her blog about this time about the new cover art and how it came about — well worth a look. (Wow. I still think 2015 is “recent”. Oh boy.)

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