Authors of dark fantasy need a book cover designer that understands the tropes involved and what book cover designs appeal to the readers that are looking for one of the types of dark fantasy stories. I love reading dark fantasy, especially the ones with a little romance in and a powerful female main character with interesting powers. This has quickly become one of my favorites genres to design for, as well.
What emotions are readers going through that lead them to look for a dark fantasy story? What I've seen is that they're looking for something more realistic than your average fantasy story, because they want emotional validation for something they're going through. Books are safe places to experience your worst fears without any actual threat. Facing extraordinary issues, you get to learn about your self and how you would react in vastly different situations that you would probably never come across. Characters that are more like us, instead of ones that have won the genetic and fate lottery, give us a way to see that the solutions to our everyday problems might just be out there.
When it comes to dark fantasy, there are three main types of stories that need to be distinguished between via the cover tropes...
- Books that are largely read by women, which tend to have romance in them.
- Books that are largely read by men, which tend more towards the epic fantasy vibe.
- Books that have outright horror elements in them. These overlap with the sub-genre of Grimdark.
There are also several content tropes that go well with dark fantasy, including shifters, fae, vampires, demons, fallen angels, reapers and urban witches.
When it comes to dark fantasy, women tend to lean towards stories with some romance in it... usually risky romance with dangerous characters, like assassins. The characters tend to be more real and gritty with flaws and real life issues. The romance side of things shows that despite the senseless, depressing world the characters inhabit, hope and good can't entirely be stamped out. All this needs to be seen in the cover. The characters often look sexy but equally fierce and capable of fighting. For instance, you might see the character in a silk dress carrying a sword or dagger, looking at the viewer like they're next on the hit list.
When it comes to dark fantasy, men seem to lean towards the epic fantasy vibe of it. Instead of traditional epic fantasy where the idealized, prophesied hero will always win against evil, the dark fantasy equivalent gives the reader that suspense element because you never know who will triumph in the end. The characters tend to be more real and gritty with flaws. This shows up in the covers. They often have sweeping vistas like epic fantasy, however the characters look darker and rougher and the cover has some kind of movement in it.
Covers for this type of dark fantasy need to show that horror element. If your story has grimdark or horror within in, you need to make potential readers aware of this. Those that enjoy that type of story will then be attracted to the cover and more likely to buy your book. Those that don't like that type of story, on the other hand, will then avoid it, cutting out bad reviews from readers that were upset by the violence.