Crowd-Sourcing A Book Cover

Guest post by Sharon Donahue

A book’s cover says it all in literally milliseconds, so it must be treated with the utmost care.  The cover has to cause an immediate reaction within a potential reader. A great book cover grabs people’s attention. Many, many people weigh in on the selection in hopes of determining the best image for a book. But with art and design, the responses can be emotional. That’s why I love researching book covers, there isn’t any one right answer. It’s the most creative type of work I do and often ends up being the most exciting part of my portfolio.

Cover selection has largely remained behind-the-scenes in the world of paper and ink publishing, but social media is quickly changing this part of the business as well.

In March of this year fans of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love were given the chance to vote for the jacket cover for her newest novel, The Signature of All Things. Gilbert and her publisher battled for two months over the cover design. Calling a cease-fire, Gilbert decided to hold a contest. 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 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.”

“The contest was born out of a crisis,” says Gilbert. “We brought it to the fans as an emergency measure.” More than 8,500 people voted. The result was a landslide for Gilbert’s favorite. This author says she would be happy to run contests for future covers, if necessary. “I got what I wanted. [The voters] got what they wanted. Let there be peace on earth.”

Lest you think this is only happening with works of fiction, let me tell you my most recent experience. More than a year ago I researched photographs for possible use on the front cover of a college textbook. A committee of editorial and marketing people narrowed it down to three choices. However, production on the book was delayed and since I never heard from the publisher, I assumed the cover was on hold as well. Last week I was informed they “had a winner” and could I please secure permissions for the chosen image. It turns out the author decided to put the three choice up for a vote on her Facebook page asking potential users to decide which best illustrated the concept and style of this first edition of her book.

Seeking advice on self-publishing?  Here is some online advice for new authors: Create a dedicated Facebook page separate from your personal page. Engage your audience with interactive activities, such as launching a contest to design your book cover.

Polls can be posted on Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler or Google. One blog site includes an advertisement which reads, “Help Choose the Cover of My Next Book, and You Could Win a $100 Gift Card.”

Certainly this is a new kind of publicity effort and it gets people feeling invested at this early stage before the book has even been released.

From a photo editor’s point of view I encourage anyone thinking about crowd-sourcing a book cover, which includes a photograph from a commercial source like Getty or Corbis, to clear permissions first. Traditionally publishers are given limited noncommercial use or sample use, including comps and layouts to distribute inside the company or to transmit electronically for clients to review. However, Getty’s License Agreements also state that the Licensee may not reproduce their photographs on a file-sharing or social networking website such as YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, etc. Perhaps that’s why publishers are encouraging the use of more microstock or public domain images for book covers since broader distribution rights are granted.

The idea of crowd sourcing book covers is new and exciting … it may even translate into increased book sales. As long as the author/publisher still respects the image owners’ rights, it’s a certainly a technique worth trying. So lets try a contest of our own.

Below are three photographs researched for use on the front cover of a college astronomy textbook. Only one of these three photographs made it to publication. Vote for your favorite by adding a comment on my blog. We will post the results on my blog at http://photoeditor61.wordpress.com and here. Let’s see how many readers select the “winning cover photo”. A randomly chosen winner will receive an Amazon Gift Card!

Photo A – Artist's concept of a gas giant planet orbiting a red dwarf K star  Credit:  NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STSci)
Photo A – Artist’s concept of a gas giant planet orbiting a red dwarf K star Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STSci)
Photo B – Ultra violet photo of a M3.2 solar flare captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory              Credit: AFP PHOTO / NASA/SDO
Photo B – Ultra violet photo of a M3.2 solar flare captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory Credit: AFP PHOTO / NASA/SDO
Photo C – Simulation of a black hole flare Credit: Image: NASA, S. Gezari (The Johns Hopkins University), and J. Guillochon (University of California, Santa Cruz)
Photo C – Simulation of a black hole flare
Credit: Image: NASA, S. Gezari (The Johns Hopkins University), and J. Guillochon (University of California, Santa Cruz)

Sharon Donahue
Photo Editor

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