Is it “alternate history” or “alternative history”?

The Portal is about to go live on Amazon.  Today I got my first look at the final draft of the cover.  My publisher apparently wasn’t fond of my tag line, because they came up with this:

The Portal


OK, first of all, do you like the cover?  But second, should it be alternate or alternative?  I am worried that the cold-eyed editors where I work will cut me dead in the hallways and the lunch line when they find out I have written an “alternate history novel.”  I don’t know if I could stand this.

Ignoring the persnickety purists for a moment, if you look at Amazon’s book categories, they use Alternative History.  But if you search for “alternative history” on Amazon, their search engine asks if you really mean “alternate history.”  Wikipedia’s entry for “Alternative History” redirects you to the entry for “Alternate History.”  On the other hand, Google Ngram Viewer gives “alternative history” a clear lead (both terms entered the language around 1970). On yet another hand, a Google search gives a slight lead to “alternate history.”

On a book cover, the fewer letters the better, I suppose; “alternative” sounds and looks a bit fussy.  So I think I’m OK with this.  But I’m worried about those editors.

13 thoughts on “Is it “alternate history” or “alternative history”?

  1. If your book suffers at all because of this slight deviation from a more professional tag line, I suggest you write a novel similar to it, and give it the tag line, “A fuckin’ way better type of history mother f**kers.”


  2. “Alternate History” is the phrase in common parlance in SF publishing, so I think your publisher was right on that score. Though whether you should be okay with them making the change without your permission is another matter. I kinda wish they hadn’t insisted on adding “The” to the title. I liked “Portal.” But who knows what works? Publishers don’t, except in hindsight. Ditto, authors. Who does that leave?


  3. Pingback: An alternative cover | richard bowker

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