Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
August 8, 2022

Book Cover 101: Fantastic Fantasy and Scintillating Sci Fi

by Melinda VanLone

This is part three of my four-part series focusing on current book cover trends for 2022.  Here are the other two, in case you missed them.

Sci Fi and Fantasy often get lumped together in bookstores because they both deal with the fantastical. That said, there are vast differences between the two genres when it comes to covers and the stories within, and even more difference when you dig into the subgenres like New Adult or High Fantasy.

The subtle nuances between sub-genres is a topic for a whole other blog post so we’ll set that to the side for the moment because there’s something far more interesting going on right now.

Old Sci Fi Covers

Back in the “old” days Science Fiction covers used hand-drawn artwork, or simple typography to get across alien landscapes. Fantasy, particularly Epic Fantasy, often did the same thing, but there was an air of magic, rather than an alien world or space.

These covers have changed a lot over the years of course as technology emerged. Now when you see a cover that looks like Asimov’s you know you’re dealing with a retro story. Digitally generated art has infiltrated Sci Fi and Fantasy even faster than other genres, which makes sense. After all, how else can you get robots, aliens, strange new worlds, and new civilizations onto your cover? If they don’t exist in real life it’s very hard to photograph them, and hiring an artist to draw them gets pricey, fast.

New Sci Fi Covers

Take a look at these current covers. Notice the trend toward rich, deep colors. Artistic flourishes on text. A hint of the unusual in either the human (alien) or the landscape. All of the artwork is brighter, darker, more bold, and more vibrant than any other genre.

Digital artists are so good it’s very hard to tell the difference between something generated entirely in Photoshop and true photography. It’s been that way for quite some time now. The lack of good stock photography that incorporates diverse models is simply not as big of a deal for this genre, because they are often creating their model in the software.

The problem for most publishers/authors is that learning how to do that takes a lot of time, knowledge, and skill. Frankly, writers should be writing, not trying to learn a whole other skill set.

But there’s something happening now that I think will change the book cover landscape in a radical way, particularly for Sci Fi and Fantasy.

AI (artificial intelligence) generated art.

There are several companies racing to the finish line with some truly groundbreaking software that will take words you feed them and turn them into art.  The potential is huge. It will make the creation of fantastical art a lot more accessible to those who might not have artistic or technical skills, which in turn will cause another trend shift in book covers as the impossible become possible.

Some Examples

Here’s a piece of art that I generated over at Dream. (https://app.wombo.art)

It already looks pretty cool, and it serves as a great jumping off point for a book cover like this:

I generated that background in about fifteen minutes at the Dream website. This isn’t perfect by any means, and the background is fairly low-res if you’re trying to create a print cover, but I’m sure in the fullness of time we’ll be able to purchase the hi-resolution version of our creations. For now it’s still in beta testing, and there are several other companies in beta as well. In other words, they aren’t done yet.

I could have done this all by hand with Photoshop, but it would have taken hours. Days, maybe. The better I got at feeding the right words to the AI, the more the art improved.

Final Thoughts

Authors in particular might have the advantage here, since we already know how to choose words to create a mental picture, right? One thing is for sure…the artwork generated via AI will be completely unique. Every rendering, even with the same keywords, is different. That’s a pretty cool thing in the land of limited stock photography options.

It makes sense that the speculative genres would use artwork generated by something that’s truly out of this world first. After that, who knows? There’s a lot of potential here, and the software is just getting started. I can’t wait to see if AI-generated art infiltrates and influences the future’s book cover trends.

What do you think? Would you use AI-generated art for your covers? Did you like the modern sci fi covers better or the classics? Let's talk about it down in the comments!

Note: Next time, we’ll dive into Women's Fiction and literary covers. Until then, thanks for reading!­­­

* * * * * *

About Melinda

Melinda VanLone is a coffee addict, a cat lover, and avid writer of stories about rascally heroes and sassy heroines who live happily ever after in spite of themselves. She shares her house with her fur babies and the love of her life, Mr. Melinda, who spends most of his time at home huddled under blankets because the thermostat remains under her iron control. 

When she's not playing with her imaginary friends you can find her designing covers that sell, taking brisk walks around the neighborhood and failing to resist the pistachio muffins at the nearest local coffee shop. Head on over to melindavan.com to check out her latest writerly doings, or hop over to bookcovercorner.com to peak at her cover designs.

All photo credits - Melinda VanLone

14 comments on “Book Cover 101: Fantastic Fantasy and Scintillating Sci Fi”

  1. This is an amazing development. I've read and enjoyed all of your posts on cover design and trends. I did have one question. It relates to mystery-thriller in particular, but perhaps other genres. How much should we adjust our cover design as an Indie author versus those big-name authors who have a traditional publishing house behind their book promo/sales? In other words, a trend to making the title and author name the primary focus in mystery/thriller and less on the background might work for James Patterson but not little ole me. Could you comment on this across genres?

    1. The joy…and sometimes curse…of being Indie is having the ability to change something when it’s not working. I’d say if your book is selling, then don’t worry about trends at all. But if it’s not, or if it was but now isn’t, or if you are getting bad reviews because readers got the wrong expectation, then changing the cover might be a good move.

  2. This is really exciting! I've just gone with symbols or something simplistic because finding a stock model of say -- a historically accurate female warrior model who isn't wearing a chainmaille bikini or isn't a Viking just doesn't exist. So frustrating.

    1. That really is frustrating! That’s definitely a genre where digital art shines, but finding someone talented in character creation can be a challenge for sure. Not to mention pricey. A symbol instead is a good alternative I think.

  3. Thanks for doing a deep dive into SF/F! Your cover is amazing. I haven't played with Dream yet, but I've just invested in a paid plan at Midjourney. I'm able to create stunning art with it. (Spoiler - I created the cover of my next WITS post with it.) AI art is amazing! Giving that to artists and then letting them play and expand on it - powerful. The future is fascinating.

    1. I haven’t been able to get into Midjourney yet but I can’t wait to give it a try! I’ve seen some fantastic things created with it. Can’t wait to see what you came up with!

  4. I am gobsmacked! That beautiful cover in minutes! Thanks for this informative post. I'm awaiting the cover for my upcoming fantasy romance release of The Witch Whisperer from The Wild Rose Press artist. I can only hope for such brilliance.

  5. I am stupid excited about this development! I love the idea of being able to be original on a budget, I write women's fiction with romance elements. Sister stories that are set in unusual places. With the difficulty of stock photo variety and diversity, I'd love it if I could generate covers built around a story element.

    I'm really really looking forward to your next post so I can find out if using a tool like this is possible with my genre.

  6. Hi Melinda,
    I appreciate the Sci-fi cover info! I recently got a new cover for my YA sci-fi and your insights are appreciated on evaluating these.
    Thanks for writing for WITS. The cover visuals are so fun to compare.

  7. Great article. Thank you for sharing.
    I am a complete puritan when it comes to art normally, because as well as writing, painting is my passion. But AI generated art has blown me away. The site I use is new, but right up there with the best. If you are interested, here's the link:
    Happy creating!

Subscribe to WITS

Recent Posts





Copyright © 2024 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved