6 Tips for Self-Published Book Covers Using 99designs

I love 99designs. The reach is incredible, and you can literally tap into a world of different artistic styles. I’ve used it for my first two books, The Second Tree and Eden’s Revelation, and I plan on using it again and again for future books that I self-publish on CreateSpace.

What is 99designs? It’s a crowd sourcing resource for book covers, logo design, business cards and other branding and advertising media. Basically you post what you need (in a design brief) and the amount you’re willing to pay for it (this can be anywhere from $300 – $1,200 for book covers). Then artists from around the world submit concepts for you to review. You short-list the ones you like, work with each artist a bit until you’ve honed in on the one concept/artist you want, and then you award the work to them. You then collaborate with them on the final piece until it is complete. If you aren’t satisfied with the work you don’t have to accept it and you aren’t out the award money, although this rarely happens.

I’ve used 99designs for two book covers and a business logo, and I can’t recommend them enough – they’re great. But there are a few things that are not immediately obvious when it comes to book covers.

Here are my top 6 tips for using 99designs for book covers:

  1. Invest Time in your Design Brief: Be clear and detailed with your design brief, but flexible enough to allow for artistic freedom. If you have images that are similar to your vision of the cover, upload them to the brief. Describe in detail what the critical elements are for the cover and any essential images. If you are working with a series, it is always nice to brand the series with a logo, like I did with the sword in a circle of flame for The Order Series. If you don’t have any clue what you want and you want to be surprised, you can take that approach as well. But you’ll still need to describe in detail the story elements that you feel are critical to represent on the cover.
  2. Review Work and Invite Artists: The higher the award, the more designers you’ll attract. I’ve found that the number of artists that actually submit concepts seems to be slightly less than what 99designs estimates, especially if you don’t work at attracting designers. But you can double or triple what they indicate by inviting artists to bid. Make sure you review work from designers that create book covers (you can review their work and profile right on the site), then send personal messages to the ones you like inviting them to your contest. I personalize each invite, mentioning a piece of work they did that I particularly liked or something they completed that contained elements similar to what I wanted. You limit out after a while on how many artists you can invite per day. Make sure you do limit out – you want as many artists as possible submitting concepts. I found an amazing artist from Italy, Giovanni Auriemma, who ultimately created the covers for The Order Series after I short-listed five artists. They were all great, but he really stood out and I love his artwork and expression.
  3. Work with your Shortlisted Group: You’ll quickly hone in on a few artists you like. Once you do, you’ll shortlist them and close any further submittals. At that point, work with each of the short-listed artists – don’t just judge them based on the last submittal they made. You’ll find out which artists you can work with best, which translate your input well into design changes and which consistently migrate toward your goals. Don’t ask for unreasonable amounts of work, though – only one person will win the job. You don’t want to be shortlisting an artist and then asking them to overhaul their design concept. Only select the ones you honestly feel have promise. Maybe up to four or five for a book cover.
  4. Launch a Poll: 99designs allows for polls – you can enlist your friends in voting on the different book covers from the short-listed artists. This not only helps break creative roadblocks where you find yourself “too close” to the work to be objective, but it’s also a great way to engage readers and get them excited about the forthcoming book. That way they’ve been included in the creative process and feel invested emotionally in the project!
  5. Agree on Finish Work Up-Front: Before you award the final work, make sure you ask the designer if they’ll agree to any minor finishing edits after the award has been made. Oftentimes you’ll find you need to change a word or social media reference on the cover before launch, or you might even need to add some small thing. But don’t abuse this – they’ve agreed to complete the work on hand, not a slew of changes you make after the work is done.
  6. Allow for time, but be Efficient: It takes time to create a finished cover – allow for several weeks. I always start my cover before I begin final formatting, and sometimes I start as edits are being wrapped up. One piece of information you need to complete the book cover is the final spine width, which is dependent on the number of pages. You won’t know the final page count until the editing and formatting is complete, but you can work on the book cover in parallel with the formatting as long as you follow tip #5 above. Complete the cover, award the payment (as long as they agree to make post-award changes) then determine the spine width. The change for the artist is very minor, and it saves you weeks of time.

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