I’ve been thinking about book covers recently. A comment at File 770 pointed at this post by Lois McMasters Bujold https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/9080298-cover-reveal-falling-free It features a nicely door minimalist book cover. Geometrical but with subtle hints of things going on (look at the ‘feet’ of the four free-falling figures.)
Now I wanted to show an example of the kind of hyper busy 80s/90s style cover for fantasy that I hated and thought immediately of the Wheel of Time book covers. Here is an example of book four (The Shadow Rising). Big busy illustration, the characters are locked into a particular look (I hope the woman is intended to be shown serving herself something to eat rather then cooking for the guys sitting around drinking). The illustration isn’t evocative of anything other than a period of fantasy history. The shadow is rising so the characters go camping? On top of this the book is covered in self promotional text. New York Times Bestseller appears twice. And despite this clearly being a professional layout of a major series, the name of the series “The Wheel of Time” is in the same reddish colours as the background rocks. Even in a larger version the text saying “The Wheel of Time” is most easily found because some of it overlaps with the yellow of the caravan.
Contrast it with this more modern cover of the same book. This apparently is by artist Sam Weber and was designed for an e-book release.
The art still shows a specific character but it aims to be evocative rather than illustrative. If you know the books then you will recognize the character and the stance (ostensibly relaxed, almost contemptuous but with a fist grasping a weapon ready to stab somebody) reflects the character. The clothes suggest the same period of fantasy history but here it is used to contrast with the more ancient looking weapon. The ravens and mist and gnarled tress suggest mythology. The text has been separated – probably because that works better for a thumbnail image online. The series logo is used and the series name is made clear. Rather than say “part four of…” there is just a simple number 4. A reader of a fantasy series wants to know which book they are getting – it is utilitarian data particularly for an over-long series like this.
This last cover is even simpler. It avoids illustration altogether. Instead it uses the series logo, texture and type. I like it but it suggests a better book than what you will actually get. The covers in the same style for the other books in series simply move these elements around and use color to distinguish one from another. While this particular example is effective, for a long running series inevitably some books get a lackluster combination of colors.
No conclusion here. As with anything graphical it is easy to see when things don’t work and generalizations are either too vague or simply rules that some great cover will break.