This one is difficult, because you have to convey three things: alternate time line, where it deviated from ours, and what in general the reader can expect from the book. You know: funny, serious or adventure.
The easiest ones are the ones that are sf or Fantasy and obviously so. For instance, my dragon-shifter-red-baron will eventually when finished and ready to go have a dragon with the paint to match Richthofen’s plane, flying over the trenches. Title and subtitle will help, and I’ll come up with something.
Alternate history that is “just” alternate history is more difficult, and you sometimes have to “represent things that aren’t in the book to represent something that is in the book.”What do I mean by that? Well, I recently had to put a spaceship and a moon on a cover for a client so that it signaled “science fiction.” The urban scene is in the book, but the rest is an addition (though if I remember correctly it has space travel.)
A good example of that is this cover of an anthology I am in:
Our readers, who are not in the least literal minded started protesting the battle was unequal etc. Which is fine. The battle never appears in the book. Instead, what appears is disruptions to history that turn naval battles on their heads. The only defect the cover has is that it MIGHT signal time travel. But that’s a minor thing, since people who read time travel also read alternate history. And the picture above signals “history” and gets you to read the description. Further, it signals “Naval military history” which it is.
To make it better, it is an attractive and eye-catching cover.
Then, of course, like anyone thinking “Alternate history” you think “Harry Turtledove” (Well, I do. At one time I wanted to BE Harry Turtledove (okay, in all but sex, etc. I mean as far as writing. Maybe I should go back to my roots.))
This is the cover I think of when I think alternate history, partly because if you know even a little (a very little in my case) about guns, it signals beautifully. And partly because if I were doing something like indie, it would be trivially easy to do.
This one could be an image that belongs to any WWI novel, and only the words on the page clue you in:
Well, that and knowing Sterling’s work, of course.
I have, btw, recently done this cover for Nitay, who is a friend, but also the first client for my business (Covers Girl. The website will be up after Liberty con. I just haven’t been home long enough to devote a weekend to setting it up.)
In this novel someone kills Hitler, and history diverges. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to convey in a cover, at first sight. I mean, if Hitler had been stabbed that would be doable, but blown up… well.
So, I tried to convey confusion and that the Nazis still go on.
(And yes, except for details which had to put in by hand, it is rendered.)
Some things I found while looking at the covers for this subgenre, that explain partly why I’ve not done in so long even thought I love it: It’s impossible to find AS a subgenre. Which is annoying because it exists in the Amazon categories. For that matter, I think I know why science fiction has taken a hit. If you search by genre, it doesn’t list all the sub-categories, only bestsellers and big names. Maybe I need to do more mystery…
Anyway, next week I’ll come up with two or three divergence points that aren’t necessarily easy to cover, and we’ll talk. If you want to suggest some go for it.