Writing is a form of art, but many of us writers bemoan our “artistic” skills. We paint pictures with words, not brushes!
Fortunately, when book-cover-design-time rolls around, there are many online platforms to connect writers with visual artists.
99Designs is one of the most popular platforms. It works like this:
Writers create a “brief” describing their book and their vision for the cover. Then, writers launch a design contest. Designers submit mock-up book covers, and at the end of the contest (4-12 days), writers can either choose a winning design (for a cash award of $300-$999) or end the contest without choosing a winner (free).
Recently, I ran a 99Designs contest to choose a cover for my novel, Eleanor and the Impossible. After 4 nerve-wracking days, I had received 61 designs (15 of which I considered professional quality and 4 of which I could envision as my cover).
I couldn’t be more pleased with the results I got from 99Designs, but there were some bumps along the way!
I thought I would share these 9 lessons from my experience with 99Designs. Use them, and your contest will run a little more smoothly than mine! = )
1) Study existing book covers.
First thing’s first: you need to figure out what you like and what your target audience likes. What colors will you use? What kind of font? Are you going for photorealism or cartoons? What are the dimensions of your book?
Use existing books to guide your choices. Make sure that you are taking into consideration books that have a similar style to your book.
You can find these books by:
- ransacking your bookshelves
- wandering around a bookstore
- scrolling through “bookstagrams”
2) Explore all options before turning to 99Designs.
Pressing 99Design’s “launch contest” button is like merging onto the interstate. Once your contest is launched, you have to move fast, and you have few opportunities to turn back.
Before you launch your contest, you might want to spend a bit of time exploring side avenues. Do you have an amazing artist friend? Are you itching to try your own hand at cover design? Is the perfect image for your book already available on Clipart?
Exploring these options will:
- save you money (if you find that you can make your own cover)
- avoid wasting the designers’ time (if you run a contest, only to cancel it when you find an outside artist)
- give you peace of mind and allow you to focus on your contest (since you won’t be distracted by possibilities outside of 99Designs)
3) Craft your brief to attract the best designers.
There are thousands of designers on 99Designs. Some of them are highly experienced and incredibly talented. Some of them are…not.
Of course, you want only the best for your brainchild. Try to attract superior designers by:
- completing all the fields in your brief
- coming up with a fun byline (not just “Design my children’s book cover!” but “Unleash your inner child while designing my book cover!”)
- searching for designers with attractive profiles and inviting them to work on your project
- guaranteeing your contest
4) Don’t stifle your designers.
You’ve spent weeks studying book covers, and you’re bursting with ideas. Maybe you’ve even done some preliminary sketches of your cover. Your mental image is so clear, there’s no way you’ll fail to get the exact book cover you want. Right?
The truth is that your mental image might not be as great as you think it is. And if you overwhelm designers with your own vision, you might end up missing out on their (often superior) visions.
It’s important to let designers know what mood you’re going for. And it’s okay to give them a few details that you would like to have incorporated into the cover. Just make sure you let the designers know that you welcome their visions too.
You might be surprised by the designs that you fall in love with.
5) Watch out for plagiarism.
The internet is rife with beautiful artwork, and for less scrupulous designers, that artwork is easy picking.
When you see a design you love, take a screenshot and run a reverse google image search (by dragging and dropping the image into the google search bar) of that image. If results come up that credit the image to another artist, beware!
6) Look for designers who “want to read your book.”
For some designers, your brief will be just another run-of-the-mill. Others will be captivated by your story and may even speak the magic words, “I would love to read your book!”
Designers who are engaged by your ideas on this level are great because:
- They represent your target audience (people who are attracted to your story) and thus may come up with an image that will excite other members of your target audience.
- They will put a little extra imagination and love into your cover.
7) Take advantage of the “poll” feature.
Ultimately, the purpose of a book cover is to appeal to the masses. If you want to find out how effective a book cover is, you have to go to the masses.
99Designs provides a “poll” feature that allows you to share designs with your friends on social media. Your friends can vote on their favorite design and give feedback to tell you what they like/dislike about the design.
But don’t just rely on your friends! Online writers’ forums are a great place to run polls too.
8) Prepare to feel like a jerk.
You’re probably not used to having 30+ professionals clamoring to please you. And if you’re like me, a person who is shy of making requests and expressing opinions, you’re likely to experience some anxiety/guilt during your contest.
Guilt can arise from:
- feeling like you are being too demanding when you request alterations to a design
- disliking a design when the designer has clearly put in lots of thought and effort
- encountering (or imagining) a designer with a sad story (“I really need this win to pay my puppy’s medical bills…”)
- knowing that only one designer will be paid in the end
A bit of guilt is probably unavoidable. You can minimize it by providing prompt, courteous, and honest feedback to your designers and by keeping in mind that they knew the parameters of the contest before they chose to enter.
Still, if you can’t stomach a bit of guilt, then 99Designs might not be for you.
9) Give something back.
If the thought of dozens of designers going unpaid for their work is keeping you up at night, consider one of these ways that you can acknowledge their work:
- distribute free ebooks to all the designers who didn’t win your contest
- advertise for impressive designers by sharing their work on your social media (ask permission first!)
- consider hiring a few designers to do promotional swag for your book
- write a sincere, appreciative note to each designer
Would you consider using 99Designs to craft your book cover? Do you know of any similar (or better) platforms? And, most importantly, do you have an all-time favorite book cover? I’m all ears!