For the past seven days, I’ve been trying out 99Designs to obtain my book cover for The Royal Gift. My experience was both positive and negative. The good thing – I have a book cover, and it’s perfectly legal to use! The downside? There are some idiots trying to make a fast buck…
99Designs essentially allows you to get multiple designers involved in a competition to make your book design (or something else – they offer a lot of services). The longest amount of time you can get is seven days, though you can ask for more. In the first four days, any designer can upload entries, but I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
I first heard about 99Designs whilst listening to the SelfPublishingPodcast.com, a great and amusing podcast for writers I happily recommend to others. I decided it was worth trying it out – I had already contacted several artists, but didn’t like the process for a book cover. As no stranger to hiring artists (I have done so a few times previously for Sizael artwork, including the Rajvarian Outpost explosion as seen on Drae Writes and previously sizaelrpg.com), I knew that it wasn’t always a positive experience. For a book cover, I was likely to head into the artist direction, over the stock image manipulators. I was also under the impression that the designs by those I approached were ok, but my youngest sister took one look and said no. With my youngest sister being my biggest fan, I realised it was best to listen to her, especially as she is considered a young adult… So off I went to 99Designs 🙂
First, I had to write a brief of what sort of thing I wanted after picking my package. That in itself was difficult. I didn’t want to write anything too complicated, so my writer self was wrinkling my nose a tad at the content. It seemed to do the job though – I gave three possible design ideas, gave descriptions of Raneth, Aldora and the Dagger of Protection and gave the designers wiggle room. In less than a day, I had entries. Some were impressive straight off the bat, others not so much. There was one designer who kept submitting designs that looked incredibly outdated and didn’t suit the audience (think 80’s pulp fiction, but a scruffy style). At every stage, I could eliminate designers or individual designs, so that was nice and I quickly started to use it.
Then I wanted to invite others, as I wasn’t quite seeing any entries I was falling in love with. 99Designs allows you to invite designers and browse through them, so I invited a few different designers who had some wonderful book designs in their portfolios on the site. At least two of them began to submit designs and the difference between their designs and the others were startling.
Then I started to ask others for their opinions on which they liked best, working with each designer to provide feedback and suggestions for improvement. With the use of the poll system, it became apparent that my initial favourite wasn’t everyone else’s favourite. I kept a close eye on the running of the poll, and with thirteen people having entered it and another two people having told me verbally which they preferred, it became clear to me which ones were out of the running.
Over the weekend, somebody started to upload design after design containing copyrighted material – being a gamer, I soon recognised Altair from Assassin’s Creed in one, a promo art piece from the Dragon Age franchise, and even a favourite in my Deviantart folder by an artist who had made the artwork for somebody else’s book cover. Despite trying to explain why their entries were illegal and why I kept reporting them, they kept trying. 99Designs was very quick to eliminate the designs, and later on I believe they banned the designer after my third report. They came back with a second account (writing roleplaying game founders get pretty good at spotting such behaviour), so I eliminated them as a designer and reported them again. After that, I moved the contest into the finalists stage a few hours earlier, so I wouldn’t have to deal with this individual any more.
Having read that, some might be wondering how to determine if somebody is using artwork or stock images illegally. 99Designs is very clear on the requirement that designers link to all stock images or art they use, from their source of origin. Somewhere on that linked to site/location, there should be permissions. Many of the designers were using Deviantart stock imagery. The one I chose in the end required an additional payment by me to the creator of the stock image that was manipulated (the Dagger of Protection’s hilt), but I wanted to make sure everything was legal and above board, so I was happy to do so. As long as you’re thorough and the designers have supplied you with those links, you should be ok. Just make sure you can find those permissions – if they link you just to the image, be wary.
In the finalist stage, you get the last three days to work with your favourite designers to improve upon their artwork further. Whilst I was doing this, I was finding out additional requirements (such as Kobo’s want for the book covers to be jpeg or png, and suitable for 600px x 800px screens). At each stage of requirements I managed to get from the distributors I intend to use (such as Kobo and Createspace), I shared the information. 99Designs initially allows you to ask for a PDF of the design, but the designers I have been working with seemed eager to suit all needs.
Today was the last day, and it gave me fourteen days from today to pick the winning entry which would be used for The Royal Gift. I decided to use the one on the TCK Series page and above. It was everyone’s favourite and my second favourite. I was tempted to award it to two designers (which you can do), but I opted not to. This design suited the young adult market a little more, whereas the other one was what I would consider a more adult version. The other designer was fantastic though – I’ll be getting them to work on the Sizael Serial covers for me if they’re interested.
Right now I’m waiting for the legal side of things to be finished and the files to be made accessible for me, but that’s the last bit. As for would I recommend 99Designs? Definitely! Other than the guy who clearly didn’t understand copyright issues, it was great fun (although a little draining too – for best results you have to check in often). It also (for those of us on tighter budgets) proved slightly cheaper than any quotes I obtained from artists beforehand.