I’ve always loved beautiful book covers. I enjoy adding them to Pinterest boards and putting them in prominent places on my shelf. A great cover can help convince me to buy a book, and I’ll pay more to get an edition with a cover I prefer. However, a year or so ago I wrote a post highlighting some typical features of fantasy book covers, and since then I’ve paid even closer attention to the content and style of them. I’ve noticed there are certain features I have a distinct preference for – ones that catch my eye and make me want to reach out and grab the books they adorn. So I thought it might be fun to list some not-so-secret ways a book cover can enchant me:
1. Glowing Magic or Fire
There’s nothing quite like glowy magic or curls of flame to draw me to a book. It doesn’t matter if the magic is sparkly like stars or glowing like fire or wispy like smoke, I’m a fan. I’m not entirely sure if it’s because these bright features promise magic within the pages of the book, or simply because I love the look of it, but it will catch my eye like almost nothing else.
I don’t mean actual physical texture (though I do love books with nice texture and raised print), but the visual illusion of texture that jumps out at you – that makes you feel like you’re looking at aged rough parchment, or melting ice, or paint-soaked paper, or rusting metal, or drops of water. These books just make me want to reach out and touch them (I particularly love the Our Lady of the Ice cover below).
3. Patterns & Patterned Borders
I’m a sucker for a good pattern – maybe I’m easily hypnotised by lines and curls and shapes, but I get great satisfaction from looking at anything with an elegant or intriguing pattern, especially if it is a vine or plant. I love vines on real buildings too, and stitched patterns in fabric, so I suppose this might be an extension of that.
Again, I’m not entirely sure why, but shapes are more powerful to me on a book cover than detailed photographs or drawings. I’m more likely to appreciate a character or animal on a book cover if they are shown largely in silhouette, or if the emphasis is on their shape rather than their detailed features. Silhouettes within silhouettes are pretty cool too – they give images a kind of cut-out look that adds extra dimension and texture (and as I already mentioned, I love texture!).
5. Rich Contrasting Colours
I tend to be drawn to covers that have rich, contrasting colours in them, especially darker-toned or black ones. I’m more likely to ignore covers that have a greyish pallet, use pastel colours, or just have a very same-same colour pallet with little contrast. That’s why I sometimes overlook fantasy covers even if they have beautiful drawings on them, simply because they are too grey or don’t have that hook of a dazzling colour.
Of course, there are plenty of other typical features, styles or tropes I enjoy seeing on fantasy book covers when they are done well, for example:
- Cityscapes (particularly with old buildings)
- Stars or starry skies
- Trees or vines
- Paint splatter
- Bright drops of ‘blood’
- Bows and arrows
- Voluminous period dresses
All of that said, I have favourite covers that don’t use any of the features above, and I often appreciate a cover that surprises me or does something entirely different with its design – I just notice that many of the ones I love use the above “ingredients”.
These are just my personal preferences, so I’ll throw the question out there – what are your favourite book cover features? Is there anything you particularly like seeing on a fantasy book, or any other book for that matter? Let me know in the comments!