Book Trends in Fantasy Fiction – Cover Design

It isn’t hard to notice many books published around the same time have similar covers, a clever publishing technique to help readers make connections between similar books and to make it easier to persuade said readers to empty their wallets and fill their bookshelves. As a lover of Fantasy, YA and Science Fiction books, I search for similar covers when contemplating purchasing books similar to ones I’ve enjoyed. These book covers may have similar colors, objects, characters, and fonts as if the same designer is just making her rounds in the publishing world. Also, many books have a different cover for the Kindle version that more closely matches other book covers than their print counterparts do.

Take these two books for example:


Nothing different about these at first glance, right? Not only do they have similar red backgrounds but both have a woman dressed in black on the left side of the cover. Did Riverbend Press, the publisher of Kim Richardson’s Steel Maiden (August 2015), copy Adrian Dadich, the designer of Sarah J. Maas’s Court of Thorns and Roses, which was published in May 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens? Or is it just a trend to publish darkly clad female protagonists on a red cover? Interestingly, both books have similar plots – magic, a dark evil trying to take over the land, and a love triangle between the main character, a man she hates and a man she loves. You know, the typical plot we all cling to on our best reading nook.


Perhaps you may not notice these similarities, but I can recall a presentation given last year by graduating students of Simmons College who, for their final project, researched trends in the book covers of YA literature. I hadn’t pondered it much until I saw quite a few YA fantasy books cycling through the library recently, each featuring a bottle on the cover, a few featuring a woman, who I presumed would be a main character in the story, trapped inside.


Some of these, such as Apothecary by Maile Meloy, are bottles that resemble potion vials. Wizards and witches are pretty popular, especially in the wizarding world of Harry Potter. When I pointed this bottle trend out to the Young Adult Librarian, “Pinterest” was her response. Bottles seem to have become more popular in jewelry as well, especially the classic Alice in Wonderland “Drink Me” vial which, to be fair, came way before these modern fantasy stories. Some, like Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, are more along the lines of the ship-in-a-bottle art.


Other fantasy books take a slightly different style, displaying other glass objects on the cover, especially the bell jar similar to the one in Beauty and the Beast. What with the new movie starring Emma Watson, as well as all the fairy tale rewrites and movies coming out lately, I’m not surprised publishing companies would want to make potential book purchasers connect their books to a well-known story. An hourglass or globe has been featured as well.


Glass bottles aren’t the only main feature of fantasy covers, despite their popularity. Many books display a sword or dagger, demonstrating old-fashioned action between the pages. It looks like green is a good color to go with these:


Sometimes the sword or dagger will be wielded by a strong female character. I’m seeing a lot of blues and reds n these covers:


It isn’t always a dagger or sword, either. These female characters (and they aren’t always human, as you can see on the cover of Elfhunter) also come bearing bows and arrows, demonstrating a healthy relationship with Nature, emphasized by the fact that many of the designs have a green background:


Gems, amulets, or medallions as the center of importance are also commonly used images.


Or a symbol, often fire. Look at how similar Hunger Games and Divergent are. The fire symbol screams dystopian novel.


To be told not to judge a book cover is to be told a lie. They are carefully designed to portray a significant part of the book, whether it’s the character, the setting, or an object that is vital to the plot of the story. So much is said about the books you see together on the book racks of bookstores and libraries, and these places tend to put like books together to bring attention to other books the customers might like.

Have you noticed many of your favorite books have similar covers? Are you drawn to specific colors or features? Tell us in the comments below!

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