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The author says:

This is for the first book in my YA urban fantasy series. I’m trying to go for a more urban fantasy/paranormal feel than the current cover. It’s set in the city and follows a teenage girl who has the power to control water and who is being chased by a Demon (she finds out later in the series that she’s an angel). It’s pretty comparable to the Mortal Instruments in tone and content.

Nathan says:

Having read the description, I can therefore make the connection that what I’m seeing around her is water.  However, for people who see the cover before they read the description, 98% of them will wonder if that’s some sort of bio-luminescent ectoplasm… and won’t click through to find out if they’re right.  Confusion does not equal interest.

I think you’re probably heading in the right direction overall, but you’re not there yet.  The model pose isn’t dynamic or active, the water doesn’t looks like water (as mentioned), the title font is a terribly dull Times-New-Roman-esque filler font (there’s only so much that filters and ornamentation can do to make a fundamentally boring font less boring), and the color scheme doesn’t look planned so much as discovered.

If I were hired to make a cover from this concept, I’d use stock photos of actual water that come up from the bottom as if the waves are magnetically attracted to her hands, find a font with just a titch of antique feel for the title (and extend it from side to side), and use the actual Mortal Instruments covers as a model for overlaying a consistent color scheme.

(Apropos of nothing: Chrome’s built-in spellchecker doesn’t know the word “ectoplasm,” but is just fine with “titch.”)

Other comments?


  1. At full-size I could guess it was water, but yeah it looks extremely blue and “thick” and doesn’t wrap around the woman convincingly (there doesn’t seem to be enough room between her arm and body on the left for water to flow through like this).

    The current general layout has too much of a cut and paste feel: the water, the woman, the brick wall and the cityscape all look like they don’t quite belong on the same image. It also kind of distracts the eye how the two water blobs at the top are the same but mirrored. Everything is a bit too symmetrical with straight vertical and horizontal elements, which is not very dynamic.

    The colors are kind of dark and murky overall. The cityscape is very one-tone and I can’t tell if it’s day or night. A night time cityscape can look super cool, with lights coming from the streets below.

    The woman picture is ok, but I would, personally, at least change the background and redo the water.

  2. I didn’t read those shapes as water, either.

    And if the girl is supposed to be manipulating water, it would be nice to have her arms in a more dynamic position. And is the wing effect intentional? If not, than I would suggest downplaying that since I think it may be one of the first impressions it will give.

    The girl’s hair appears to be a featureless black blob dead center in the cover. You might want to add some detail to it or emphasize the contrast in the detail that is already there. You might be able to break up this area, too, by having a tendril of water overlap it.

    The typography is uninspired, but I think you need to fix the art before worrying about that.

    If this is the first volume in a series I would not say that it is “A Snowverse Novel,” since that will be meaningless to any potential reader. You might be better off saying something more like “The First Book in the Snowverse Series.”

    1. My bad regarding my comment about the wings. I’d misread your description.

      Even though wings relate to the character, the water wings still don’t work well: they are too ambiguous.

  3. A small note: you might look into Avatar the Last Airbender (the cartoon, not the movie) or the character Lapis Lazuli on the children’s show Steven Universe. Both have very good looking portrayals of hydro-kinetic abilities in use. They may give good insight into how one makes it look right in illustration.

  4. You’ve clearly done your research and are onto the right tack with this cover design for your genre but you’re currently missing a lot of the points that unify the covers of dark fantasy/YA urban fantasy genre and make them look good.

    My first piece of advice is to let go of the idea of illustrating the water magic at all. A professional digital illustrator would struggle to make that look good. Also something you’ll notice about dark fantasy covers is that the girls on the front don’t tend to be too literally engaging in the action of the plot.

    That’s party pragmatism but also the fact that these covers are meant to be symbolic and emotive. I’d advise find a good stock image of a girl interacting with water like one of these:

    You should be able to find one that communicates the right feeling even if the pose is more symbolic than anything that actually happens in the book. For example, maybe this one is good because the fetal position signifies rebirth:

    Or maybe this one is good because the girl looks mysterious and active:

    At the moment your photo has a few other issues apart from having to have the watery element added: she’s not very dynamically posed, framed or lit.

    Here’s a selection of covers in your genre and you’ll see all the girls are interestingly posed. The designers have chosen images with grace and movement. It’s another reason girls are always wearing froofy frocks in these things: they float and fall interestingly, bringing life to a cover.

    You don’t have that at the moment, your girl is stiff with no feeling or movement coming across.

    Another thing to observe in those covers is palette and contrast. The strongest covers use rick, dark colours and pick out a couple of shades to contrast and complement each other. The Cassandra Clare covers REALLY go for the saturation.

    Your current font won’t do at all. You need a curly, slightly gothic font in this genre. Find one on somewhere like, but remember to make sure it’s free for commercial use. As you’ll be using a spindly font, be certain that the title sits over a part of the background without any detail or high contrast in it, and make it contrast in colour and lightness (as you’ll see from the linked examples, most books in this genre have white writing sitting over their dark backgrounds).

  5. Everyone else has already stated what needs doing, so I’ll try not to repeat it.

    I wanted to say that I don’t love that dress on the girl. She’s supposed to (later) find out that she’s an angel, but that dress is exceedingly pedestrian. It’s sort of Walmart, with the ties in the back–the kind of thing you see on 14y.o.s, when Mum dresses them, or younger girls for Church on Sunday. I’d avoid using that. As Kata so rightly observed, heroines in this genre are either foofy and floaty, or kick-ass heroine. There’s no in-between, not successfully. (Cassandra Clare’s Lady Midnight, Dark Artifices’ girl on the cover is what you need; floaty girl, floaty dress.)

    You might also consider using a branding like Clare did, using just mystical-looking objects, alone, on the cover–sort of Games-of-Throne-ish, with the single graphic element. That works, too.

    Now, about fonts: Because you mentioned that she’s Angelic, I was reminded of a font I scored, a while back, called “Ivory,” from, from the (I forget now) foundry. It’s simply lovely. I don’t know if it can work, on a cover–it’s very light. But if it does…well, I always think of it as our “angelic” font. You might try that.

    Another that might work is one of the Wellingboroughs, either the Smallcaps or the Flourish. It’s different, (particularly the Flourish) you don’t see it very often, and it would fit in this genre.

    Most people don’t have the capability to make free fonts look like Commercial fonts. Most freebies don’t have ligatures, good kerning pairs, etc. and so you end up with crappy letter pairing. If you can, I recommend trying to find a good commercial font. With the advent of a bajillion freebie fonts, many are now affordable. The two I’ve recommended are not free, but are affordable. Wellingborough Flourish, for example, is $13.50. Practically free. 🙂

    Best of luck. I think you might do quite well without the heroine if that’s a stumbling block, but as Kata pointed out, with only a small bit of research, there are some stunning images of gorgeous women in various poses that would do the trick.

    Good luck. BTW: yes, I realized that the water sorta looking like wings was deliberate–but remember: your cover’s job is not to tell the story! The cover’s job is CLICKBAIT. That’s it. Once someone clicks through to your sales page, your cover has done its job. It almost doesn’t matter if your cover is of Two Goats, doing something Goaty, if people click through. Although, yes, it does matter that it conveys the genre, accurately, so that you don’t disappoint folks. Besides, don’t you want the reader to come to her Angelic blood, in the story? Don’t you want that to be a surprise? Why give it away, on the cover? Never, never give away important plot points or crucial character development, or cliffhangers, on the cover.

    Good luck–love to see the reworked one!

  6. As ever, covers from the books from the series that “inspires” you are the best model on which to base your own book’s cover. I did think, from viewing your cover in thumbnail, that this was likely to be something in a slightly noirish paranormal genre; which was mostly correct. From the plasma-like “wings” and wrappings, however, I was thinking this was going to be a story about fairies: not the Victorian portrayal of cute diminutive humanoids with wings, mind, but the slightly mysterious and menacing creatures from less family friendly tales who’d either shower you with acclaim and treasure for doing them a favor or place some terrible curse on you for being inhospitable or narcissistic or having some other despicable character trait. So basically: right genre, wrong sub-genre.

    As you can see from the linked cover, your feminine lead needs to be in a more dynamic position like the gal on that one. Also, as others have already mentioned, that “water” doesn’t really look much like water, but more like some kind of plasma or energy cloud. For best results, I’d recommend having this water-shaping wingless angel of yours be twirling while whipping some more watery-looking water up into some kind of spiral shape: anything involving spinning tends to look dynamic, and having her at the center will establish that she’s doing it and this is her power.

    As for her being an angel… well, again, what most people have in mind when you mention “angels” these days is the theme-park version lifted mainly from Renaissance painters showing happy and well-fed blond curly-haired Italians with wings on their backs. Angels as portrayed in the Bible (and other ancient works; the ancient Hebrews had their own fantastic epic in the style of Homer and Hesiod in their Book of Enoch) were indicated to be a good deal more powerful and awe-inspiring and frightening to behold. The gal on your cover ought to be likewise awe-inspiring and look a bit dangerous to approach even without any wings or obvious signs that she’s specifically an angel.

  7. the first thing I thought about the “water” I thought that it was some sort telekinetic slime, gelatin, or jelly. If the main character is supposed to find out in the sequel books or to be reveled at the end, may advice is to just nix the wings all together. I would just save that for the sequel books.

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