Assuredly, one cannot judge a book by its cover, but Rachel Renée Russell recently asked her readers to pass judgment on two cover design options for the 15th book in her bestselling Dork Diaries series, Tales from a Not-So-Posh Paris Adventure. The decision at hand: should the background pattern of the book’s cover be “Pretty Polka Dots” or “Chic Checks”? When the author put this question to a vote across her social media platforms, she received a resounding response from fans of the series. Checks won by a landslide, clinching 64% of the 71,213 votes cast during the last week in March, with polka dots coming in at a distant 36%.

In the new Dork Diaries caper, due from Simon & Schuster’s Aladdin imprint on October 13 with a first printing of two million copies, Nikki faces a new quandary: will she finally visit Paris, or will she and her band of friends instead plan a Paris-themed fundraiser to help her crush Brandon raise money for the local animal shelter? With more than 55 million copies of Dork Diaries books in print worldwide, there are myriad fans waiting eagerly to learn the answer.

Though this is the first time that readers have been able to weigh in on a Dork Diaries cover choice, Russell explained that designing Dork Diaries book covers has involved a highly collaborative process throughout the series’ decade-plus history. She and her daughter, Nikki Russell, illustrator of the series, brainstorm cover ideas and create drafts of several options, which they then share with the author’s literary agent, Daniel Lazar, and the S&S editorial and design teams. “After we get feedback,” the author said, “Nikki and I create a mock-up of the cover design, which is forwarded to our publisher to magically transform into a spectacular final cover for the book.”

Democracy in Play

Polling fans to choose the new installment’s cover design was the brainchild of Russell, who has added games, quizzes, and voting opportunities to the Dork Diaries website during the past year. “With each addition, readers kept begging for more,” she said. “So, when it was time to design a cover for Book 15, it dawned on me that readers would be thrilled to help select it, and I had the tools already in place to put that question to a vote. This naturally gives readers a vested interest in and a personal connection to the book, and also lets them know how much I value their opinion. It was exciting to watch the votes change in real time hour by hour, and it was very insightful to read 1,600 fan comments explaining his or her selection and why checks or polka dots should win.”

Liesa Abrams, v-p and editorial director of Simon Pulse and editor of Dork Diaries, was all in favor of the cover design poll (“Talk about a true focus group!”) and was “very pleased but not surprised” at the number of votes cast. “Something that fans of this series talk about often is how reading the books becomes a community experience and they feel like the characters in the books are their friends,” she added. “Rachel sets this tone for fans both in the books themselves, and in all of her interactions with them both online and in person. So, it’s a natural extension that they would be excited to be welcomed into another part of the process of the creation of the next book.”

And, had editor and author been in the virtual voting booth, which lever would they have pulled? “Honestly, I loved both covers!” said Abrams, admitting that she initially leaned toward the polka dots and then switched her allegiance to the checks, “which is all the more reason that having kids give us their gut feelings was helpful to steer us the right way.”

A bit more decisive from the start, Russell replied that, though she liked the polka dots, “I preferred the checks cover design and thought that the majority of my fans would like it, too. I’m delighted with the overwhelming response to the poll and look forward to engaging our fans again. Maybe next time they can help select a new character or decide on a fun plot to add to the book!”

Dork Diaries 15: Tales from a Not-So-Posh Paris Adventure by Rachel Renée Russell. Aladdin, $14.99 Oct. ISBN 978-1-5344-8048-3