Elizabeth Gilbert, best-selling author of Eat Pray Love, is taking to Facebook to let readers choose the cover of her upcoming novel, due out from Viking on October 1. Oh, modern life! It is full of high-tech, new-fangled twists and turns, even in old-world paper-and-ink book publishing!
We recently saw another version of this, when the title of Dan Brown's new novel (Inferno) was revealed to fans in an elaborate scheme involving hashtags, Twitter, Facebook, and the Today show. In the case of Gilbert's new book, "an epic novel of love, ambition, and 19th century botanical exploration," it's a little more simple, and at the same time, a bit more pragmatically interactive. Viking has offered up three possible covers (as shown above), and is sharing them on the author's Facebook page, where readers can vote for their favorite design.
On her Facebook page, Gilbert explains, "My brave American publisher (Viking) and I are about to attempt something that, to the best of my knowledge, has never before been done in the publishing world. We are asking you, the readers, through a Facebook app, to make the final decision about which one of these three options should be the final cover for the American publication of The Signature of All Things. We are turning to you for this decision because, frankly, we were unable to agree amongst ourselves. (Anyone who has ever worked in publishing knows what I’m talking about here: Disputes over book covers can get REALLY INTENSE.) I got so tired of debating over 'what the reader wants' that I decided instead to just try asking you guys directly."
Not terribly surprisingly, readers have opinions! A few of them:
Viking Assistant Publicity Director Lindsay Prevette told me that Gilbert didn't use social media until this past September. Now she's on Facebook and Twitter, and "to her surprise, she loved them both. This connectivity with her fans has meant so much to Gilbert that, when trying to decide which cover she liked best, it seemed only natural to let her fans make this decision."
In a way, most book covers are crowd-sourced in the first place, in that it's not just one person (and certainly not just the author) getting to decide what that design will be. Many, many people weigh in in hopes of determining the best image for the book. In this case, there will be a few more people than usual, though—and perhaps this will translate to sales. Certainly, it's a new kind of publicity effort, and gets people feeling invested at this early stage before the book has even been released. Prevette says, "To my knowledge, Gilbert is one of the first authors to hand such an enormous decision over to her fans. Social media has become an integral part of any book launch—from author Twitter chats to Google hangouts to Facebook giveaways—but engaging fans in cover selection, a part of the business that has remained largely behind-the-scenes, will be surprising and exciting to many."
Voting runs from Thursday 8 a.m. ET until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, with the winner to be announced Monday at 5 p.m. For no reason at all (some sort of Sound of Music association, maybe?), I like the one on the right.
UPDATE: The cover has been chosen, in a landslide vote. The winner is the cream-colored one which, as it happens, was Gilbert's pick, too. She told USA Today, "Not in a million years did I think they would go for it, the quietest one.... "I got what I wanted. (The voters) got what they wanted. Let there be peace on earth."