Fantasy Cover Art: Is it Changing?

Over on one of the forums I’m on, a few of us were discussing (at my instigation) whether or not fantasy/sci-fi cover art is changing.

Here’s one of the things that makes this seem the case for me:  these are the covers of the books for Kirkus Reviews’ “Best Bets for Fascinating Fantasy SciFi Horror reads in July.” 

No space ship, no alien, no elves or swords, no men in hoods or glowy sparkles. These are alternate history, future dystopia, superpowers…and yet nothing about these covers says that. These covers look pretty…well, mainstream. Literary.

What was more interesting? These are the covers from the same list that Kirkus DIDN’T SHOW.

Tentacles? Alien life forms? Fantasy worlds? Space city?

Why were these the covers left out?

Frankly, I don’t know the answer, but I thought it was a very interesting thing to have a page recommending genre fiction…with covers that did not really look like ‘genre fiction.’

(Now, for full disclosure, I should say that a) there is one more novel cover (at the top), but it also doesn’t look ‘genre’. b) there is a horror short story collection at the bottom, which DOES look like a horror cover. and c) Sand has more than one cover, and the other one I’ve seen looks slightly less genre, but still fairly dystopia.)

The whole reason that I’m discussing this at all because I’m considering what I want for my next three book covers, and I want to go to my artist with some firm ideas.  These books will be sequels to Dreaming Death, and maybe instead of a clearly ‘fantasy’ cover:

Maybe I should go with something more mainstream:

I’m not really serious with these…I just threw them together using Canva templates…but is there something here?

I can put in some glowy magic (like the first), but I have to admit, I actually like the clean ‘literary’ covers a bit better. They’re not as fussy. They’re simple.

The question then becomes, how do readers find them? How would using covers like this affect my ‘brand’?  Will they know it’s a fantasy-ish novel?

In fact, how does that work for the five authors at the top? Can one look at the cover of the new Carrie Vaughn novel and know that it’s a dystopian mystery?

I suspect I’ll be rattling on about this for  a while, a debate that I’m having mainly with myself.  But I have some theories:

Possible influences for this:

  1. Indie books (and thus their covers) are becoming more prevalent.*
  2. Customers are relying more on category and ‘also boughts’ to tell them what to look at. (Not the same as browsing at a book store.)
  3. Publishers are trying to reach out to non-fantasy readers by having more ‘mainstream’ covers.

So over the next few Wednesdays, I’ll be looking at the trends of cover art in F&SF. If you know of a pertinent (RECENT) article, I’d love it if you would leave me a link. I’m curious to see what people are saying out there.

 

*I’ll talk about why that matters at all, later.