I admit that I dislike busy ‘movie poster’ book covers. One can see that by looking at my own books — all are my own design work, although I did borrow images for some of them. Big, easily read titles! Strong contrasts, broad areas of color. This is what I prefer.
They are relatively abstract, for the most part. Many use a silhouette approach, black on a simple background. That is enough to make an impact — more of an impact, I think, than another generic girl or fighting man. Line up a bunch of typical covers and mine will stand out. This is not to claim that they are good covers (though I don’t think they are bad...most of them anyway). Just better covers.
Even if they are only mediocre, even if they are rather subdued. The idea is to get someone to read what is between those covers, not to dazzle with the art on the outside of my books. Ideally, they should be a bit mysterious. There is no need to actually portray what might happen inside.
And a cover should be somewhat attractive. Lurid and ugly may catch ones eye, but does one want to live with it? I would take the Art Nouveau abstractions Margaret Armstrong created a century or so ago over most of the bad art on today’s covers. An example:
Do buyers expect those covers, the sort that have become so common? That might vary some from genre to genre. ‘Literary’ fiction is generally going to be more subdued, more ‘serious.’ Interestingly, mysteries also tend toward simpler, more abstract covers, traditionally. Maybe they want to keep the contents of the novels a mystery! On the other hand, romances have long gone with lurid pictures on the front. Many covers I see these days look too much like those romances to me. I’m enough of a snob to be repelled by them.
I make no claim of being a particularly good designer, even if I do my own work. Yes, I did study art some in college, peripheral to my major in Art History, and, yes, I have been a more-or-less professional artist since. This does not mean I have any skill in design or illustration; indeed, I know just enough to recognize my deficiencies in these areas. That is another reason I attempt to keep things simple.
Incidentally, here is a mock-up of the cover for the next novel (probably), WAVES. Back to writing it now!