Reposted from Fresh Fiction

The cover of my new novel Terms of Use looks nothing like I had envisioned – and, boy, am I glad.

I remember the very first time I stopped to consider the cover. My publisher Thomas & Mercer had sent a questionnaire in which I was asked, among other things, to describe my ideal cover and the mood I wished it to convey. They also asked me to submit images or other art to guide the cover designer.

Terms of Use is a thriller about the dark side of social media, so I knew immediately the cover should feel foreboding. And my story revolves around a hero who goes on the run to save himself and, it turns out, pretty much everyone else. So I thought my cover should feature a man looking over his shoulder as he escapes a group of people linked together in a network of spokes and nodes. As a second option, I suggested a collage of a face of a woman, suggestive of the socialbots in my story.

Many weeks passed as I lost myself in copy editing and proofreading my story. Then one day I received an email with two cover concepts in an attachment. I fumbled with my mouse as excitement got the better of me. I clicked on the attachment and the covers popped onto my screen... Ugh!

The first cover was an assault on the senses, starting with the x-rayed images of people superimposed on a network of colorful nodes and connecting lines that gave way to a big black hole in the center of the frame. The title and my name were laid out within this circle. I hated it. The second concept featured a collection of pixelated faces, washed in a blue-green tint that felt cold and distant. A total turn off.

The strange thing was that even though I viscerally disliked the images, I could totally understand how the designer came up with those covers. They certainly fit with the vague notions and art samples I’d submitted on the questionnaire.

I was worried. As a new author, I didn’t know how much I could or should push back. Making matters worse, my agent really liked the first concept. In the end I decided to speak up. We could do better, I said, and to T&M’s credit they quickly agreed to go back to the drawing board.

A second round of covers, concepts three through five, arrived several weeks later. These were better but equally unsatisfying. Concept three featured a man running through a tunnel but the image simply didn’t resonate with me. Number four took a minimalist approach; nothing more than big block letters superimposed over a metallic blue background. The third one came completely out of left field. It featured a tangle of bright green lines wrapped around the title. The lines, I was told, were supposed to represent computer cables. But to me, they looked more like strands of algae, and it didn’t help that the background was also deep green. I couldn’t help but think I was staring at the cover of some bio-thriller, or perhaps a horror story about the swamp monster.

I hopped on the phone with the T&M team a short while later and tried to diplomatically share my thoughts. At one point, however, the phrase “swamp monster” slipped from my lips and I quickly tried to soften my criticism by adding: “It might work… if the lines and background weren’t all green.”

I didn’t know it at the time, but that throwaway line sealed the deal. A day later, on a second call, the T&M team declared that it was time to come together behind a concept and move forward. Their clear favorite was the “swamp monster” – with a new color scheme. And since I’d suggested it, I couldn’t really back away from the idea.

I endured a very uneasy week, worried I’d be saddled with a cover I didn’t like. But when it arrived, I found myself staring at an image that was at once very similar and yet completely transformed. The cables were now various shades of green, yellow and blue and the once green background was predominantly charcoal black. It looked darn good. In fact, the more I looked at it the better I liked it. I couldn’t have asked for more.


Authorscott allan morrison