Can an indie author really get a quality custom book cover with a book cover contest on 99 Designs? Well, I found out!
Note: I am not affiliated with 99 Designs in any way besides using their service. I just want to share my experience with other writers. See my review below!
-money back guarantee
-multiple designs to choose from
-designers take feedback and make changes accordingly
-you get the copyright to a unique custom cover
-Different price thresholds for every budget (I chose the second-least expensive option, which was $330)
-option to buy other designs for a discounted price
-whole process takes less than a week
-you can poll fans, friends, and family for input
-you have to choose the winner(s) (which means people have to lose)
-by design, some people will do great work but not get paid for it
-the website could be more intuitive
-occasional server outages
I first heard about 99 Designs and the concept of a book cover contest on the Self Publishing Podcast. I’m in the process of getting my weird west serial ready for publication, and cover is one of two things you don’t skimp on (the other is a good proofreader, y’all). At first I was wary about a contest system—would such a thing attract quality graphic artists?
I decided to try 99 Designs for several reasons—the first is that I’ve heard good things about them, both from SPP and elsewhere. The second is that SPP had a special link that gets you an upgrade worth $99. Third, I looked through the sample book covers, and they looked really good, like something you’d see in a book store. Of course, these are certainly the cream of the crop, and probably all created under the most expensive bracket, which is upwards of $700. I wasn’t sure what the quality would be for my measly $330, which brings me to the thing that ultimately made my decision: if you truly don’t get any good designs, then you can request a refund. So there’s no risk.
If you’re interested, the link for the free upgrade is www.99designs.com/spp. Note: I’m not affiliated with SPP or 99 Designs–I just want to pass on a good deal!
How it works
You start by filling out a brief, which includes things like your story’s blurb, genre, your bio and photo, testimonials, and what you’re looking for in a cover. You can even upload images of covers you like, or example pictures of the things you’d like included. Then you post the brief, and designers have three days to create and submit designs (I received my first design in less than twenty-four hours.) You can give feedback on the entries, and they’ll either make the changes or decide it’s not worth their time. The amount of designs depends on several factors. The more money you pay, the easier it is for designers to find the contest. 99 Designs predicted I’d get about 60 designs, but I only got 38. Most of those were variations on the same cover.
After three days, you pick up to six designs for the “final round.” The finalists have four days to make any changes before you award the winner. You even have the option to purchase runners-up at a discount.
I originally planned to commission a cover from a singular artist, but got overwhelmed with all the options and pricing. (For a succinct breakdown of book cover options for indies in their prices, check out this article from Rocking Self Publishing.) 99 Designs was a good compromise—I said what I wanted, and the designers came to me. The first few designs I got weren’t great; some were only a tiny bit better than what I could whip up myself in Gimp. The best designs started coming in after a couple days. Most of the designers were willing to take feedback and make changes.
I chose three designs for the final round (I decided to not choose any that I knew I wouldn’t pick, because I didn’t want the designers to put in work I knew they weren’t going to get paid for). All would have made great covers. Another useful feature is that you can poll friends, fans, and family. This option to get external input was really helpful. My friends and family pointed out things that I hadn’t noticed about each cover, and I ended up choosing a different design than I thought I would have. A poll would also be a great way to get fans involved, if you already have a following.
The ability to communicate with the designers was essential—the designer I originally thought was a shoe-in to win was less responsive than the others, which was a red flag. Since I’m publishing my book as an eight-episode serial, I asked the winner if he would do eight versions where the background was a different color in each, and he agreed—so I have a different cover for each episode. (sort of). See the winning design down below, and check out the other designs that were submitted on the page for my book cover contest.
My cover was designed by Pintado, and you can see the work of runner up Keira Nagali who digitally drew his entry by hand. Click their names to visit their portfolios–and if you work with them, tell them H. Duke sent you!
While my overall 99 Designs experience was positive, improvements could be made. For one, the server kept going down as I was trying to set up my brief, which was a frustrating waste of time. The site layout could also be more intuitive—for example, when you look at a close-up of a design, there’s no back button to take you back to the design page; you have to click into your account, then your contests, THEN the design page.
I also have a moral problem with designers doing good work and then not getting paid for it. I know it’s what they sign up for, but still. I’m also not sure how much of a cut they get of my $330, or if non-winning designers get any payment at all or are just SOL.
Like I said, I’m happy with my 99 Designs book cover contest experience. The designs I got are higher quality than I expected, and I’m sure I would have paid more for similar quality going to a designer directly. I’ve built bridges with a couple graphic artists whom I can contact directly in the future, using 99 Design’s one-on-one option. That’s probably the route I will go with in the future, as artists (whether they’re writers, musicians, or graphic designers) who don’t get paid for quality work makes me feel icky.
Would you do a contest like this for your next book’s cover? Use the comment box to let me know!