Fantasy and science fiction (but, more severely, fantasy itself) have long been plagued by a rather vicious problem: unoriginality. While common to all forms of fiction, it is the realm of the imaginary that takes it in the nads, so to speak; since the only references to be found on the fantastic are old books of folklore, occasional seafood-influenced dreams, and the works of other people, it is hardly a surprise that the less daring writers in this field prefer to cannibalize other works.
J.R.R. Tolkien is probably the most picked-over carcass in the pit of fantasy literature, though sadly few fail to realize that his hobbits, elves, and dragons work well in his books because the books themselves are well-written. Unfortunately the popularity of the world of Middle-Earth (and, more recently, the movies based upon these books) yielded more crap fantasy writers than actual decent writing. Sturgeon's Law is merciless, especially when perky faeries with names consisting mostly of the letter Y are involved.
There are many ways to combat Bad Fantasy, but those that do not involve the mass murder of quiet youths with long hair and a word processor with a prismatic Triple Goddess sticker on it are, unfortunately, difficult to bring about. The easiest way, and probably the most cosmetically pleasing, is to clean up the first thing the book-buying (or reader-discovering) audience sees: the cover.
The cover of a book, obviously, involves two main parts (technically three, but we will get to that in a minute): the title of the book, and whatever painting the editor decided to commission for the cover. While it has been long established that judging books on covers is a rather foolish thing to do, the fact still remains that a winged woman in her panties brandishing something pointy will upset your aunt much more than the same winged woman, in the background, halfway behind a tree. While the latter may still be in nothing but her underoos, the fact that her assets are (is?) partially covered tends to bring peer approval. At least from aunts.
The easiest way to improve upon the sin of Cheesy Fantasy Covers is to set a few ground rules with the aforementioned editor. Perhaps a "no animate objects" clause would work, though if the novel itself (or, if worse comes to worst, the condensed trilogy) is about a MacGuffin the aforementioned T&A-starved artist will paint said trinket instead. If the cover is ever collected in an art book, it's guaranteed that the sketch for the finished piece will be reflecting a winged woman in her underpants. Probably with pointed ears.
Avoid having imposing demons, majestic dragons, or the Incredible City That Isn't Supposed To Be Around Anymore painted on the cover. You're ruining the surprise.
Do note that unless physics are different in said book, and are detailed at length in the text (a sure way to bore readers to death, but that's beside the point), Newton's Laws still affect fantasy artwork. Weapons need either a cutting edge, a piercing tip, or a bashing surface to work well; the female breast is neither perfectly spherical nor a missile nosecone, and those above a certain proportion cause back problems; armor that covers more than the privates and nipples works better than a chain-mesh swimsuit; warriors in the middle of a heroic battle rarely have perfect hair and makeup; and, finally, if a dragon MUST be on the cover, at least have the manners to give it sufficient flight muscles.
If the artist refuses to cooperate, opt for a solid-color cover. The fact that the cover is NOT crawling with elves, vampires, and slightly green-tinted Arnold Schwarzenegger clones will make it pop out at the buyer; also, it attracts the market of those who are in the mood for a fantasy novel but would rather not deal with yet another sword-toting fashion model. With wings. In her underwear.
On titling the book, try for something nice and descriptive, yet not a variation on a Criminally Overused Term. The COTs of fantasy literature include the following, and most variations upon them:
Many fantasy novels could swap titles with a Danielle Steele book and nobody would be the wiser. This is not a good thing. If the book is about a group of three brave young men who travel into the desert and fight a two-headed lion for a diamond containing the soul of a princess, do NOT name it "Moon of the Desert". That brings to mind fewer exciting swashbuckling adventures and more stilted love scenes between mildly boring women and swarthy pirates named Julio.
Try to avoid making the author's name larger than the title of the book itself, unless you WANT to further the idea that your readers trot down to McBookstore to pick up McBook. Hint: this isn't a very good idea to further. If you want people to remember your name, try writing decent fiction as opposed to paying for hooking up an electric motor in the lights around the cover.
Of course, this article probably won't change anything. Crap, as they say, is forever. However, at least those few blossoming fantasy writers who have sat through this whole thing--and haven't decided to flame it to death--can take these points to mind; even if the contents remain the same old same old, at least the genre section of the bookstore will look a little more respectable.