Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the wildly popular bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, circumvented her publisher’s wishes and successfully crowdsourced her book cover for her upcoming novel, The Signature of All Things, a tale of international travel, romance, and botany spanning the 18th and 19th centuries. Out of a choice of three book covers, Gilbert wanted the one with the muted beige and tangle of plants bordering the bottom. Her publisher, Viking, wanted something more “razzle-dazzle.”
Unable to come to an agreement, Gilbert decided to let the readers choose which book cover they preferred. After all, it is they who are going to be looking at the book on the shelf (or staring at it on their e-reader). From March 21 through 25, readers could vote for their cover of choice (out of three) through a Facebook app. This was a largely experimental endeavor, as Gilbert confesses on her Facebook fan page “to the best of my knowledge, has never been done in the publishing world.” She adds parenthetically, “Disputes over book covers can get REALLY INTENSE.”
In the age of the internet, where you can share videos of cats and have a political debate in the same place, crowdsourcing might seem like a more viable option for unknown artists who are trying to reach a broader audience, not as a way for an established author and her publisher to resolve a dispute. I never thought Facebook would be the means by which a conflict could be resolved peacefully and quickly (as any millennial will quickly attest that an argument on Facebook can start quicker than starting a fire with gasoline and a match). But perhaps this is precisely what Facebook could be good for: a portal that connects an author her readers, and allowing them to share a moment of the publishing process together, aside from the impersonal interaction of buying it in a store or downloading it.
Happily, Gilbert’s readers proved to have similar taste, and 8,500 readers voted in favor of Gilbert’s choice, according to a post on her Facebook fan page dated March 25. I have to admit, it’s the most subtly expressive and tasteful of the three covers. The cream color is rich and subdued, and the plants on the bottom take up just enough room without cluttering the cover. The purple cover looks too much like your grandmother’s cookbook, and the cover with the woman is potentially distracting, the yawning countryside before her vaguely reminiscent of Gilbert’s previously documented global wanderings.
This is a case where Gilbert’s readers were in harmony with her wishes, but what if a lesser-known artist is not so lucky and the voters choose heinous cover art?
Let’s just hope if art gets crowdsourced again, no one will pick a video of a kitten playing with yarn.