I wasn’t too impressed with the cover for Words of Radiance, the second volume in Brandon Sanderson’s mega-series, The Stormlight Archive. Despite being a big Michael Whelan fan, the cover felt phoned in, like it had gone through the ringer with the most vanilla focus groups ever.
I was doubly disappointed when the book released with a gorgeous painting from Whelan featuring Shallan, who features most prominently in the novel. Even the usually hyper-masculine /r/fantasy sub-reddit agreed. Why wasn’t that the cover? Sanderson answered that question today on Reddit’s /r/fantasy sub-forum: it wasn’t created until the cover was finished.
“Michael Whelan, the artist, is one of the few in the business who likes to read every book he does a cover for, if possible,” Sanderson explained. “In this case, he had to start working on the illustration before the book was actually done. So I sent him a description of the ending sequence, and he started sketching out the scene that eventually became the cover.”
However, Whelan wasn’t done with the book. “A few months after he’d finished the cover, however, he called Tor and said he wanted to do a different illustration, and would they like to have it for an end page?” Sanderson revealed. “He painted the Shallan piece because he too felt that there should be some nod to the fact that this was her book.”
[Whelan] has no problem choosing female figures to be the center of covers he does.
Many people, myself included, assumed that the choice to featured Kaladin on the cover of a novel that Sanderson himself described as “Shallan’s novel,” came down to marketing forces determining that a tough-looking male character would sell more copies of an epic fantasy than a woman holding a book.
“If you look back through his years of illustration, you’ll see he has no problem choosing female figures to be the center of covers he does,” Sanderson pointed out about Whelan’s long and stories gallery of work. “Indeed, though he works with the art director to narrow down to the right concept, we generally just let him paint whatever he wishes for a book.”
Sanderson’s a big fan of the painting, and has the print hanging in his home, but explained to Reddit users why Whelan’s composition was not ideal for a cover. “[The painting] presents a problem in that it is landscape, when book covers generally need to portrait with a large chunk of open space at the top for title lettering. There are work arounds, but this doesn’t exactly fit cover shapes, and Michael painted it to be an end page–which is where we put it.”