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6th Annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off: Cover Contest

Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off #6

Cover Competition!


Robin Hobb’s new US covers (complete contrast to UK)

Wow, it seems that we’ve done a lot of posts on Robin Hobb’s cover art lately! That said, I’m not complaining… a big problem that the publishing industry has is that they tend to concentrate too much on the new up and coming titles whilst forgetting the ones that – we think – are still great examples of modern fantasy literature that should be being read by today’s readers (sadly, this seems especially true with women writers). Cover redesigns are a very good sign though. They show that the publisher is taking a novel/series and looking to market them to a modern audience. When this happens (a cover redesign occurs), I like to play a game called ‘trace the cover’ where I try and work out what books the cover is being based on and try to guess what kind of market / audience the publisher is trying to reach.

I should now say that I LOVE Robin Hobb’s original covers. I think they are beautiful, but there is no denying that they scream out ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘Wheel of Time’, which as described in a recent article are books that do feel slightly dated when you read them today (without knowledge and appreciation of their importance to the genre). Here are Hobb’s previous few covers for those who need reminding:


Today’s cover trends tend to be different than what you see above, the top three especially (which are examples of that long-gone epic scene of fantastical-ness in a strange world). Today’s covers tend to be some kind of symbol/weapon/object (A Song of Ice & Fire, The Dagger and Coins, The Faithful and the Fallen, The Dark Legacy of Shannara, The First Law, etc). Often this ‘thing’ is dark – examples from above include a dragon’s skull, a bloodied axe or regal looking such as the signals on the A Song of Ice & Fire books. The bottom three are early examples of this ‘symbol’ type cover that didn’t quite hit their mark (having been printed in about 2007). The other cover that we now see in abundance is one that focuses on the main character(s) (The Demon Cycle, The Black Magician, The Defenders of Shannara, A Throne of Glass, Night Angel, etc). It is likely no coincidence that these covers come at a time fantasy books of today are more character orientated than quest orientated either.

Anyway, back to Robin Hobb’s cover redesign… we’ve already shown you the UK covers, but if you missed them:

Assassin's Apprentice (cover)Royal Assassin (cover)Assassin's Quest (cover)

9780399165368_large_Wars_of_the_Roses_Stormbird_265_394Returning to our ‘trace the cover’ game, you can see which trend Harper Voyager UK have gone for, right? They kind of hint towards the ‘epic’ fantasy fans who are looking for a Game of Thrones type read and yet suggest that the contents aren’t going to be quite as dark. They also look very similiar to the covers of the very popular historical novelist Conn Iggulden (such as the one to the right). And, if you consider the Fool’s Assassin cover below, VERY, VERY similar. This is important because it suggests Voyage trying to position the books as having a strong historical vibe / low fantasy setting. Now, the USA have gone for something very different to the UK. They’ve gone with a cover that seems to suggest a read similar to that of say The Demon Cycle, The Broken Emprie or one of David Gemmell’s books maybe, here there are:


It is pretty cool to see and personally I think they both look great. Interestingly, a similar contrast in styles was used with Joe Abercrombie’s books when we compare the UK and US versions (UK first, US second, below):

BSC-Herabercrombie-duo (Medium)

Cool, right? My guess in that the US believe character based covers work better with their epic fantasy markets and the UK believe that more symbol-based covers work well with their markets. I guess though it may just be the designers having different interpretations of the book (it is certainly a book that contrasts emotions and adventure very well).

One final observation, you can’t see it, but the quote on the UK version of The Heroes reads: ‘Joe Abercrombie is probably the brightest star among the generation of British fantasy writers’ and is provided by The Times. Notice that the quotes chosen for Hobb’s UK books are also by newspapers, except the one from Martin, which reads very different to the one he has provided Abercrombie on the US version of his book. Also notice that the US quote by Martin is nowhere near as focused on the writing and the beauty of Hobb’s work (much like the cover).

Well, anyway, as most of you will know Robin Hobb’s latest, Fool’s Assassin, comes out soon and will continue the story of one of fantasy’s best characters, FitzChivalry Farseer. Early reviews of the new book have been amazing. Here – as promised – are the covers for it, UK first and US second:


See what I mean about Stormbird now?

Well, thanks for playing along with me, but before you go: What do you guys think of the cover contrast? Which would you be most likely to pick up and why?



  1. Avatar Lucy Hounsom says:

    The US covers are just cheesier…Sorry! UK for me. 😉 Excellent article, Marc. Covers are so important in this hyper visual world we live in and it’s fascinating to see how both artists and marketers respond to the differing tastes of an international community.

    • Avatar Overlord says:

      It is funny because I always think: ‘man, our UK covers are so much better’ and then I remember that I am British and, therefore, the UK marketing people are doing something right – creating covers that appeal to me. I always wonder if Americans look at the American covers and think ‘man, the US covers are so much better than the UK covers’ haha.

      That said, I know the general consensus is that the Scott Lynch covers are much better in this country and based on the Twitter comments we had on Patrick Rothfuss’s new novella the UK art department are got the points for that one too 🙂

      • Avatar Ellimist says:

        I’m from the US, and I think the US publishers royally messed up with the US Elderlings covers. I really love the “symbol-type” covers (the ones with the stag for Assassin’s Apprentice), and apart from the Rain Wilds Chronicles, all of them are out of print.

        So I’d have to be satisfied with the ASOIF type covers.

  2. Avatar Elizabeth says:

    I’m a huge fan of this series, and extremely excited for Fool’s Assassin (although, to my mind, it’s the Fool who’s the best ever character). As a UK reader, I have to say that, to a British mind, US covers tend to look cheesy and, dare I say, like self-published books? Although I did love those intricate John Howe (was it??) covers for the Farseer Trilogy. Where are they? Would love to know how UK covers appear to US readers. Also, Australian covers are often different again. Interesting…

  3. Avatar Laurie says:

    I prefer the UK covers, hand’s down. The US covers look washed out and bland to me. as an FYI Abercrombie’s US release of the first First Law book had a cover similar to the UK covers above.

  4. Avatar Bea says:

    UK covers for me too, 100%.
    I don’t like people in covers, either photos or drawings.

    I don’t mind the previous UK ones, though, with the animals.

    By the way, am I the only one who doesn’t like to see quotes on covers? I was never influenced by a quote, and if anything, they almost put me off…

  5. Avatar Meghan says:

    I actually bought all the UK covers when they came out and wish I had waited because I like the US ones a little better, although both sets are gorgeous in their own way.

  6. Avatar Christy says:

    I’m from th US and I have to say I tend to like the UK version better. I don’t want to see people on the cover that much. With that being said I do like the US cover of The Heros, but only because they didn’t show a face. I don’t want to see someone else’s vision of a character, that’s what my imagination is for.

  7. Avatar Lee says:

    UK covers without any hesitation

  8. Avatar Erica says:

    I’m from the US, and I’d pick up any book that had Robin Hobbs’s name on it at this point. But if the books were by a completely unknown author, I tend to notice ones that have characters on them first. I think it’s because there are small details of dress and armor there that tell me what to expect in terms of setting and tone. An elf lets me know it’s one kind of fantasy, while a battle-scarred warrior tells me it’s another. And a woman with body parts uncovered that would get her killed in battle, or a woman crouching submissively at the feet of a male warrior? I know I’m not the target audience at all.

    I suspect there are visual cues in the more symbolic covers that do the same thing for readers who are used to that approach, but I have more trouble interpreting them. I think I passed over Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself the first time I ran across it on Amzon (the Pyr version with the fairly plain, tan cover), because it just didn’t give me the information I was subconsciously looking for as to what kind of story and setting it might be. But when someone whose taste I trust recommended it, of course, that trumped cover design.

    So my thought is that we tend to get conditioned by the dominant styles of covers in our preferred genres, and these norms shift with time and place. Back in the 90s, the US covers in Hobbs’s books made me pick them up without a thought, because the kinds of fantasy books I preferred back then tended to have such covers. Now I’d think it looked too busy and cartoonish, like a Baen cover (and while I do love some Baen authors, like Bujold, for the most part they don’t publish my favorite types of authors–no aspirations on them, just my own preferences).

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