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Cover Me, I'm Going In

It’s time to start thinking about what a book cover for Altered Seasons: Monsoonrise should look like. For a different sort of book, this would be a lot easier. There are people who do pre-made covers for crime thrillers, fantasy, science fiction, westerns and romance. If you are a genre author and you see a cover that happens to be a good enough fit for your book, you can buy it. From what I’ve seen of these covers, they are excellent works of art, and I have nothing but praise for the artists who make them. But it does say something about the genres in question that people can do this at all. Cli-fi is a relatively new genre. No one has come to a decision on what the cover of a cli-fi novel is supposed to look like. Authors have come to cli-fi from both literary fiction and science fiction, and this shows in the covers. Some of them are sort of minimalist. These are the covers of The Water Knife and The History of Bees.

Here are three different covers of Flight Behavior.

The covers of The Year of the Flood and American War are a little more dramatic, although in the case of the former that has more to do with the font.

And for contrast, these are the covers of The Burning Years and New York 2140. Note that although one of them was done by an absolute top-of-the-line artist, they both have more of a science-fiction style.

I’m a science fiction writer. I might also be literary, but that decision will probably be reached about fifty years after I’m dead. So for me, the bottom line is that anyone who can do a sci-fi cover can do a cli-fi cover. The next question is what to put on that cover. You might be wondering why this is my job — normally, the cover artist would come up with an idea. Thing is, I want to get this out in time for Christmas shopping, and I want the image in time to be used in pre-release promotion. Having an artist read through a novel more than 140,000 words long and then come up with an inspiration would not speed the process. My first idea was to show Isabel Bradshaw doing a dramatic pose at the Old River Control Structure in Louisiana. There were two problems with this.

The first one is that although the ORCS arguably deserves to be an American icon like Hoover Dam or the Brooklyn Bridge*, it isn’t one. People won’t recognize it. The second problem was that the ORCS, as you can see, is gigantic. In a picture that showed anything but the smallest part of it, Isabel would be a tiny figure. In fact, in doing this cover I found myself faced with the same problem I often faced during the novel — showing events on both the human scale and the epic scale. (And something about the idea of Isabel doing a dramatic pose bothered me. Isabel is not the sort of person who does dramatic poses. She’s the sort of person who rolls up her sleeves and does things while other people are striking dramatic poses and making sure the artist is getting their good angle and the light is hitting them just so.) So one idea I came up with was an evacuation — headlights receding into the distance on both sides of an interstate highway, with a storm on the horizon, as seen in this rough, not-entirely-finished concept art.

Another idea I had was a wall of data and a wall of stormcloud (basically an overcast, stormy sky tipped onto its side) with Isabel in the middle, symbolically standing between order and chaos, as seen in this really rough, half-finished concept art.

Judging by Facebook analytics, the first image was the more popular one, although that might just be because the second one was only half done and depended much more on my own amateurish skills. Also, someone who really is an artist thought Isabel in this picture looked like an actuary, which is not what I was going for at all. Also, I think the band logo on her shirt needs some rethinking. That said, there seems to be general agreement that a human image of some sort would be good, and Isabel is the most photogenic of my major characters. Maybe if I had her doing a (sigh) power pose on one side and the highway/evacuation/storm combo on the other… *If it ever collapsed, the Mississippi would have an entirely new outlet and we'd have to abandon the city of New Orleans and move a big chunk of our petrochemical industry somewhere else.

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