Tuesday, July 31

99Designs.com: How I Solved My Book Cover Dilemma, and How You Can Too

Ryan Casey, What we saw

I'd visited Ryan Casey's blog a few times to read his posts, so when he approached me about doing a guest post I was thrilled!

And curious. "What," I wondered, "would he write about?" I imagine this might be a bit like turning your car over to one's teenager for the first time. You are proud and terrified all at once.

As it turned out I needn't have worried. As with all his other articles I was entertained and informed all at once. One can't ask for better than that.

Ryan: Shall we get the elephant in the room out of the way, then? Okay, here goes: a lot of self-published books look ugly.

Before you sharpen the pitchforks and start declaring me a traitor, bear with me. I too am a self-published author, or at least will be when my debut novel, What We Saw, drops this Autumn. I also believe that we’re in the midst of a revolution, and that there really has never been a better time to be an independent writer.

But, I think we need to start taking responsibility for ourselves. We can begin by setting some basic standards with regards to design.

About that cover…
Didn’t you get the memo? Unfortunately, people do judge books by their cover, it seems. Actually, I say ‘unfortunately’ lightly, because I don’t think it’s such a terrible thing. Having something aesthetically beautiful really adds to that sense of achievement upon novel completion, after all.

So, be honest with yourself. Are you a Photoshop pro? Then give it a spin, and see how it goes. If not, then don’t kid yourself. It’d be much wiser to employ a designer to do the work for you.
‘But designers are so expensive, and don’t necessarily understand my vision. What should I do?’
I’m going to argue for a somewhat unpopular stance in the design community. I held a design contest with 99designs.com to find my winning What We Saw cover.

Have a look at it…

What we saw, Ryan Casey

It’s not bad, is it? It cost me £199. That’s… around $300 dollars; much cheaper than some of the ‘premium’ alternatives.

How it works
I’ll explain how 99design’s unique interface works: you pitch an idea, and write a brief for your project. You pay the money, which acts as a cash prize. Designers from around the world read your brief, and enter a design of their own into a competition. You work with your favourite designers to create something truly eye-catching, and can ask for revisions at any time. Often, they are more than willing to co-operate.

Eventually, you pick your finalists, work closely with them, and choose a winner. You both sign a copyright agreement, and the rights are transferred to you, 100%. The designer receives their cash, and everyone is happy. Oh, and if you don’t like any of the designs, you get a full refund. It’s perfect, right?

The flipside of the argument

Well, apparently not so, for designers anyway. I can see the argument: imagine if someone were to put hours on end into a design, only to find themselves shot down by a harsh 1-star rating, just because it doesn’t quite match your vision.

Also, the winning designer might receive a cash prize, but they lose control of their work as soon as you sign that agreement. That technically means that you can ‘claim’ you designed the piece yourself, if you’re a real ass.

However, the internet is a changing landscape. Sure, some designers will complain, but nobody has to take part in a design contest. If you’re looking to set up your own service, then go ahead. I’m just saying that, as an author, the sheer amount of designs that came my way in a 5 day period was overwhelming to say the least. For an approximate figure: well over one-hundred.

And, now I’ve used it, I don’t think I’ll ever turn back. Holding a design contest taught me that there are hundreds of talented designers out there, but not all of them match my own personal vision. By being able to see a myriad of designs, it enabled me to work out just what my vision was, and actually also helped strengthen my synopsis. Think about it: if your designers keep incorporating something completely off the mark, then aren’t your readers going to get the wrong impression from your blurb too?
I don’t speak for designers, because I don’t pretend to be one; I can’t even draw a four-legged animal. But for authors looking for options, at a competitive rate, a design contest might just be the way to go.

And no, I won’t show you my sheep drawing.

How do you go about creating a good cover for your book? Have you had any good or bad experiences hosting a design contest?

Karen: Thanks Ryan! I'd encourage you all to take a look at Ryan's blog, Ryan Casey Books, and sign up for his free Top Ten Tips For Writing A Mystery Novel.

Ryan Casey is a 20-year old author from England. He is set to launch his debut childhood mystery novel, What We Saw, in Autumn 2012. He offers writing advice, social media guidance, and documents his writing journey over at Ryan Casey Books.

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  1. Thanks a lot for the opportunity, Karen! I really enjoyed writing this post. :)

  2. Thank YOU Ryan! I had no idea places like 99designs.com existed. Good to know.

    Best of luck on your book launch, I love the cover of What We Saw.

  3. Nice cover design-good luck on the book lunch too!

  4. Sorry I don't know who wrote this post, Ryan or Karen. I just stumbled on this page during an internet search. Anyway, I don't want to be a troll or anything, but think about it - if you got 100 design submissions that means that 99 people worked for you for free. And $300 for a book cover, in which you sign away the copyright is peanuts. Would you sign away the copyright for your book for $300? Would you give away your books for free?

    There's a name for the business model that lies at the centre of 99 Designs. It's called a race to the bottom. People who commission work on 99 Designs have no respect for design, and designers who take part in those competitions have no respect for themselves.

  5. Hi Anon, Ryon was a guest poster. I wrote the intro. Everything after "Ryan:" is Ryan's, everything after "Karen:" is mine.

    I disagree with the sentiment in the last line of your comment, but I don't know very much about how designers make money. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  6. I think it is a wonderful way for new, talented designers to get noticed. And a great way for some people, who are creative but have a full-time job, to earn a bit of cash and have a bit of fun on the side. Big designers probably don't participate in 99designs, but there are a lot of people who do, and I don't disrespect them for that at all. They know what they're getting themselves into. They know their chances. It's a challenge for them, and some people are drawn to that. I think it's a wonderful alternative for people on both sides.

    1. Thanks Kim! I agree, and your input is much appreciated. :)

  7. Hi Karen,

    Thanks for your response to my comment. To follow on from what you were saying - designers basically make money the same way everyone else does. You agree a price and what work needs to be done, you possibly get a deposit upfront, you do the work, and once it is complete you get paid in full.

    That's the only viable way of making a living from design. The business model promoted by 99 Designs, involves designers churning out large volumes of work with no guarantee of payment. Even if you do get paid, the rates of pay are extremely low. To design a book cover properly would probably take 3 days or more. On the basis of the figures above, that works out at around $100 a day. I don't know about you, but where I live that's nowhere near enough to pay the bills.

    Of course it's true that designers choose to work for 99 Designs, and no-one is telling me that I have to do the same. However the fact that these sites exist, cause all design work to be devalued, because the general price for design work is undercut. So, even if I choose not to participate in 99 Designs, I am still affected by it.

    Since you are a writer, and I'm sure you value your own work, I ask you as a fellow artist to rethink your support for this terrible business model, that is doing so much damage to the design community.


Because of the number of bots leaving spam I had to prevent anonymous posting. My apologies. I do appreciate each and every comment.