Friday, October 10, 2008

Urban Fantasy & Paranormal Book Cover Video

I have noticed around the fantasy and paranormal blogosphere lots of discussion about the similarity of many of the book covers and a heavy penchant for the use of half-clad women with tattoos. So I quickly scoured through my collection in search of the truth.

Indeed there is a uncommonly frequent use of women in left, right, front and back poses in disturbingly similar styles among a diversity of authors. Almost as if there was a branding guideline for the genre (or the art directors are all related).

In any case I put together a little video showcasing the paranormal/urban fantasy covers from the last couple of years and grouped them together for everyone’s amusement.

I hazarded a guess that the initial style was emulating or paying tribute to the covers from the Kushiel fantasy books [first seen in 2002] by Jacqueline Carey, but as I am not familiar with enough genres and book art it may have originated anywhere. If anyone has any ideas as to a more likely source please leave a comment. Also feel free to let me know about your favourite covers I may have missed in case I ever update the video (or do a sequel).

So enough chit chat. On with the movie…


  1. You're right. They all do look very similar.

    Pick 2 or more to include on your book's cover.

    Looking Over One Shoulder

  2. Brilliant!

    Bet that took a lot of work.

  3. Kelley Armstrong and Rachel Caine have butt shots as well.

  4. Good video but you could improve it by spelling tattoo correctly.

  5. Kylee maybe authors are given a checklist by their publisher...

    Thanks Princess Allie I will check those out and add for the future.

    Arkiern thank you. So much for spell checkers. Can't let that stand.

  6. Lol. Tattoos sell well. Great vid! I have a few of those lol.

  7. Ladytink_534. It was fun to make. Glad you liked it. Now if I only had an idea for my next project...

  8. Great job on your video, and very true that a large majority have adopted popular poses/looks for their covers. :)

  9. Great job! I can't imagine how much time that took. Now someone needs to write a computer program using Kylee's variables and some stock photography.

    We could make a fortune selling book covers!

  10. OK Tia you have me curious now. What are Kylee's variables and how would we make book covers?

    Ladytink I was just rereading your comment and realized when you say, "I have a few of those" - were you referring to having some of the books or some of the tattoos :)

  11. Lol. I only have one tattoo that I did myself in high school. I meant the books :o)

  12. LOL

    Okay, I'll own up:

    I got a bruise instead of tattoo. Muhahahahaha! Seriously, I love the bruise.

    Most authors don't have control over covers. A lot of times you're not even asked. My publisher asks me but it goes somewhat like this:

    Editor: What do you want on the cover?

    Me: Blah-blah-blah monster, spit, blood, blah-blah-blah

    Editor: We talked with marketing and art department and you're getting a girl with a sword and a lion

    (covers can be viewed here

    Book 2

    Editor: What do you want on the cover?

    me: Blah-blah-blah demonic mermaid by the window blah-blah-blah

    Editor: We spoke to art department and marketing and you're getting a girl and a lion. But it will be pink!

    Me: O_o

    Book 3

    Editor: Guess what you're getting on the cover?

    Me: A girl and a lion?

    Editor: Yes! But there is arena and it will have shiny foil!

    Publishers do like to brand things.

  13. Much fun, thanks!

  14. Hi Ilona thanks for stopping by. And hey the bruise may be the start of a new trend. Loved your comment about Book 3 ;). Your covers actually are great even if you didn't get your say. I look forward to Magic Strikes - loved the first two books.

    Ciar thanks!

  15. The trend is definitely there, but I'll mention that it's actually true to the story in the case of the Eileen Wilks cover. In that story, the heroine is covered head-to-toe with magical tattoos. :)

  16. I wonder how much the trend is influenced by women-centered fantasy television/movies as well: Buffy & Dark Angel come to mind immediately.

  17. YES! I've been saying for some time now that lower back tattoos, leather, and weapons are the holy trinity of cover art, but I was just kidding... now, seeing the proof of it, all in one place, Holy God.

  18. Nonny you are quite right. Another case in point is Marjorie Lui's Iron Hunt. Her tattoos peel off at night and become demons.

    Spinsterwitch I have no doubt the visual media has had a big impact on cover choices especially Buffy.

    Hey Jennifer, thanks for visiting. 'Holy Trinity' LOL I like that. Of course the cover of yours I used was a 'bit' different.

  19. Too funny! Heh, the Mercy Thompson covers drive me crazy because the book is VERY specific about her single discrete (not on her back) tattoo.

    Add to your list - Demon Moon by Meljean Brook, which has a moon, a corset bra thingie, a lower back tattoo, a very short skirt, thigh-high stockings, and a dagger in a thigh sheath. Plus scantily clad guy nuzzling her neck. :)

    It's blurred - did you cover the Kim Harrison books? They have a whole lotta back going on. And the original Working for the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow has a rare shoulder back shot, with sword and face tattoo.

  20. Speaking as someone who does a fair bit of design work for authors (not their publishers) in the paranormal romance field, the authors rarely if ever have any control over the cover art. That's purely a marketing decision, and marketing is all about seeing what sells, and cloning it in the hopes of getting the same sellthrough rate. Since _Twilight_ we're seeing a massive glut flower/blood/black background covers as well. But to be fair, most of the covers have the models faces obscured so the readers can still picture the characters as they like. A woman's silhouette is still sexy and moves units off shelves, without giving the character a specific face (or needing to have the same model for every cover).

  21. Hey Chris thanks for the additional suggestions. I do have one Harrison cover in there but missed some of the others. I think because they were on my reading list prior to 2006. Will definitely be adding them if I do a cover sequel. I've already noticed a bunch more titles coming out in the next few months that fit the profile.

    Very true Tara. Successful marketing is all about getting your brand recognized and in all fairness the urban fantasy and paranormal publishers have been doing that very well.

  22. Your post was pretty much right on, but in the case of the Karen Chance books, the tattoo plays a big part in the trilogy (more coming out later).

    As does the tattoo(s) in Marjorie M. Liu's The Iron Hunt.

    But, yes, the similarities are a bit overwhelming.

    And a suggestion for your next project? Trying to find historical romance covers where the couple is NOT half-naked, making out, and/or in strange contortions that most "normal" people would never find themselves in. If you take up that challenge...I wish you luck. :D

  23. Thanks for including WICKED GAME! When I saw the tattoo, I didn't even bother pointing out to my publisher that Ciara has a low pain threshold and a fear of commitment, both of which make tattoos highly unlikely. I knew that without the tats, people might not figure out at a glance that it was an urban fantasy. And it's all about that glance and the genre shorthand tipoffs. No complaints here, just amusement.

  24. Bridget thanks for the challenge suggestion but you are right it would take more then luck as the closest I have gotten to historical romance is reading Gabaldon.

    Jeri my pleasure. It was a hoot doing and the response has been wonderful. BTW Looking forward to your next book in your series.

  25. Very enlightening post and I learned a lot from everyone's comments.

  26. Paula Guran (editor at Juno books) had some posts about covers a while back:

    Magic Hand Covers:

    The Pose

    Why They Do Not Use “Real Men” on Romance Book Covers

    Why They Don’t Use Real Woman on Romance Covers

    Butt Covers

    Cover Topic IV(e): How to Make a Woman Happy: Give Her a Ray-Gun

    Cover Topic IV(a): Is That Your Weapon or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

  27. Historical novel cover artists are also fond of the woman-from-the-back thing, presumably because for that genre you can just draw an accurate outfit and it's visual shorthand for the historical period in which the story is set, encouraging people who like stuff set in that period to pick it up.

  28. Heather glad you enjoyed it.

    Ita thanks for the great links.

    Angeline you are dead on. Creating a visual branding regardless of the genre is all about getting the books into the right buyers hands.

  29. Snort!

    I'd been calling them torso covers, because God forbid the characters should have a face.

    I note that Charlaine Harris's urban fantasy books totally break this mold. I think that's a good thing.

  30. Hi Toni, I think the consensus is that at least it is effective and recognizable branding which helps put the books in consumers hands. The covers for your anthologies and the Sookie stories are very distinctive, but then again I am a fan of illustrated cover designs.

  31. Adding to the discussion...

  32. Ha! That was a lot of fun, Doug. You should do one on that one male cover model that is on EVERY book (though not as many urban fantasies, I'll admit - mostly romances.) I'm sure you know the guy though . . . he's on the cover of Kresley Cole's ... mm... 5th book I think. Annoys the heck out of me to see his face everywhere.


  33. That was a fantastic video. It must have taken you a long time to put that together. I've also noticed that the back tattoo has become a staple of a lot of paranormal books.

  34. Great video. Gee, one of my characters gets a tat in Dark Lady's Chosen, and there's a three-quarters view of a woman in leather looking over her shoulder on the cover. Maybe my stuff is actually medieval urban fantasy? Oh, and don't forget Sherrilyn Kenyon with bare-chested guys with tats, some of which peel off to become demons.

    Gail Z Martin
    Chronicles of the Necromancer
    Dark Lady's Chosen, coming 12/29/09

  35. Gail the peeling demon thing seems to be happening more and more in UF. I like the idea of medieval urban fantasy. LOL.

  36. Great job! I happened to do a search on UF and this one came up. Excellent cover art and I can't even begin to think hour many hours you must have spent on that!

    The real funny part is when I had a fan cover art contest for my UF book I specifically said I didn't want to have people on the cover. And they did some awesome ones!

    But I'm sure that will go right out the window when a publisher decides.

  37. CJ that is what I hear too. Authors seem to need to reach mega-status before they have any say over their artwork other than mild suggestions.

  38. CJ that is what I hear too. Authors seem to need to reach mega-status before they have any say over their artwork other than mild suggestions.

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