Whether you’re self-publishing or working with a publisher, creating an effective book cover is extremely important. I’ve worked with publishers on hundreds of covers, and now I have the experience of working with designers on the cover of my own first e-book. From my perspective, the single most important thing to understand about book covers is:
Getting a powerful, appealing, and appropriate cover design is vital, and it’s more difficult than you might think.
Why is it so hard? First, it’s so subjective. One person’s great design is another’s “fail.” Second, it’s more than just creating an image you like—you should take into account the psychology behind what makes a cover appealing to the intended audience. Third, you (the author) may have been living with a particular image in your mind for months or years, but your publisher may disagree and/or your designer may be unable to capture it. Fourth, the book cover can be a highly emotional element of the publishing process, and it’s supremely disappointing if you don’t love the finished product.
You’re going to deal with this whether you’re working with the publisher’s designer, or you’ve hired a designer on your own. The harrowing cover-design process is all-too-common. And my latest experience with my own self-pub book only reinforced this.
Authors frequently ask me where they can find a good designer for their self-pub books. I’d been hearing of 99 Designs for the last few years, and didn’t want to keep recommending them until I’d tried them myself. So I signed up to see if I could improve upon the original cover of my e-book, How Do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing.
How it works:
With 99 Designs you pay a flat fee ranging from about $300 to $1200. Numerous designers submit designs, and you go through a process of feedback and eliminations until you (theoretically) end up with the design you want.
My original cover is here to the right, and the final winning design from 99 Designs is above. Here’s my experience and what I learned:
→ I opted for the least expensive package, which costs $299 and predicts you’ll receive 30 designs.
→ Thirty designs sounds like a lot and seems like it should be plenty from which to find a good one. Reality check: it’s not. A majority of the designs submitted weren’t even close to being right.
→ 99 Designs offers a money-back guarantee, so that if the process doesn’t yield a design you can use, you can get a refund. However, one way you can get more designs submitted is to turn down the possibility of a refund and guarantee you’ll pick a winner. Since this means a designer will definitely win and get paid, more designers will submit, and work hard to adjust their designs according to your specifications so they can win the contest. I chose this option and it definitely seemed to increase the action on my page.
→ A 99 Designs contest runs seven days, and it’s crucial for you to set aside ample time during that week to devote to the contest. If you want to end up with a design you love, you’ll need to interact constantly with the designers who are submitting.
→ When you set up your contest, it’s important to give the designers detailed instructions, making your requirements as clear as possible. Explain what your book is about, and the tone you want to convey with the cover. What is the feeling you want to evoke? Do you have specific images in mind? Mention anything you wish to avoid.
→ Once you begin receiving designs, take the time to give detailed feedback to each designer. This can vastly improve your chances of getting a final product you like.
→ Once you have several designs you like, 99 Designs makes it easy for you to run a poll among your Facebook or Twitter friends, or on your blog. Your friends can vote on the ones they like, and leave feedback on each design. This can be confusing (as people’s opinions can be so varied) yet also illuminating and helpful.
→ 99 Designs also makes it possible for you to work one-on-one with individual designers. If you run a contest and find a designer you like, then in the future you can choose to work specifically with that person. Or, you can browse the work of the designers on the site and choose to work with one designer without ever having run a contest.
By the time my contest was over, I’d received 104 entries, but I honestly couldn’t say I loved any of them. I may not have given enough instructions and feedback, and I probably didn’t explain my book well enough, so I take responsibility for it. I have seen some terrific book covers come from 99 Designs, especially for fiction.
I’d definitely use 99 Designs again, following my own advice (above) to increase my odds of success. And I definitely recommend the service to authors and others looking for any kind of design.
Anything to add from your own experience with 99 Designs or hiring a freelance designer? Any comments or questions about this process?