The author says:
The book is science fiction/fantasy. The head is a dragon, the gold dragon, with tendrils of hair. I considered darkening the two men into black silhouettes. What feel do you get from the two men? I don’t want people to shy away from the book because they think it’s an erotica. Also, please keep in mind that I can easily go darker but not lighter in making corrections.
Okay. This is gonna sound like a whole heaping pile of cruelty, but please understand that everyone here wants your book to get the best support it can from its cover. We speak of book cover design, because the word “design” explicitly denotes a goal or purpose, which in this case is to attract the attention of the readers who would enjoy the book. Anything which accomplishes that goal is a good cover design; anything which detracts or distracts from accomplishing that goal is bad cover design, no matter the intent, the artistic technique, or the resonance which images on the cover have to the story.
Take a look at your cover at thumbnail size, which is the size at which most potential readers will encounter it. Most of it is gray; there are no strong contrasts, nor any color except in the border, where it doesn’t call attention to anything important, or in the type, which at that size is an undifferentiated blur. Not that every word of the title needs to be legible at thumbnail size, but the type should be distinct enough that the reader can at least grasp the character of the font.
Although, in this case, the font is a poor choice. The two brush scripts used here clash with each other, and neither evokes the majesty one should feel when dragons, unicorns, etc. are involved. The subtitle font, especially, has a very casual feel to it — definitely not what you’re trying to convey. And the gradients, rather than make the type more dynamic, instead simply makes it harder to read.
The font chosen for the byline has a different problem: The more unusual the author’s name, the more readable the type needs to be. (Trust me. My name is “Nathan Shumate.” I’ve learned.) Because of the uniformity of ALL CAPS, and the lack of a period after “R,” your name comes across as NINARSCHLUNTZ.
And now the artwork. Man, you’re going to think I’m the biggest butthole on the planet for this but: It’s not of professional quality. It just isn’t. Look at a professionally produced fantasy book, even one with a black-and-white illustration, and look at the difference. Aside from line quality and technique, there are huge layout problems. There doesn’t seem to be a focus; a bunch of random objects and people are assembled with no indication of how they relate to each other. The dragon’s head is central, but as a mass of gray it competes with the bright gradients in the title, and the overlapping heads from the bottom rob it of the visual weight it would hold if it were isolated toward the center. The heads at the bottom, meanwhile, are shifted over toward the right of the space, but not enough so that it seems like a deliberate design choice.
(By the way, to answer your concern — which I think is the least of your concerns here — if you want to show two men facing each other without it seeming like gay erotica, make sure that a) they are standing directly opposite each other in a confrontational position, not half-turned like the figure on the left is, and b) their eyes are on the level with each other. That posture conveys nothing but aggression. See the posters for Stallone’s movie Demolition Man to see how this works.)
And finally, a word about your subtitle: “The Screams of Decompose” doesn’t make sense in English. Maybe in your story, you establish that “decompose” is a noun in your fantasy world, but the first impression it gives to potential readers is of misused English — and seeing misused English on the cover is never a draw.
So. Now that you think I’m the most heinous person that a mother ever shat out upon the world, what advice can I give you? What “salvage” is there?
1) Decide FIRST what you want your cover to look like at thumbnail size. What colors? How much contrast? How much real estate will the type take up, and how will it be distinct from the other elements?
2) Pick a SINGLE image element to dominate the cover. I’m not saying that the cover can only contain one image (although that’s certainly an option), but only one can dominate. The men facing each other? (That’s a single element.) The dragon? Whatever it is, sketch out your cover to put that element front and center. Anything that distracts the viewer from realizing that the central element is the most important needs to fade into the background, or disappear entirely.
3) Redo the art. Yes, I know, I’m sorry, but you need to. Right now it’s detrimental rather than beneficial to your book. Remember that: The cover exists to serve the book, not for its own sake. If it isn’t helping the book, it needs to go. (I say this as someone who has slaved long and hard over a design that I finally finished and then, the next morning, realized I had to jettison because it didn’t do what it needed to. It sucks, but it happens.)
I will note that fantasy novels are, by my unscientific estimation, the genre in which you would most expect to see fully realized custom cover art — which means that fantasy readers are most used to seeing fully realized cover art instead of stock images, clever type, etc. But on the other hand, a professional looking cover which was nothing but readable type readable both in terms of what the text says and what the specific font conveys) over an evocative texture does more for the book’s appeal than far more ambitious cover artwork which falls visibly short of its ambitions.
All right, Big Bad Nathan has said his piece. Anyone else have something to add?