Guest Article: Book Cover in a Week, Guaranteed

After hearing about Kelly A. Harmon’s experience with 99Designs, we asked her to tell how the process worked for her book. Here’s her article on the website that lets publishers and independent authors put out bids for a cover design via a “contest” structure.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]Where can you go to get dozens–or hundreds–of artists competing for the opportunity to design your book cover? 99Designs. Using 99Designs is safe and guaranteed, and you can have your design in about a week.

I highly recommend it. I interacted with many fantastic artists when I held a design contest for my latest novel. And while I could only pick one to illustrate this work, there are several others I feel I could call upon later to make covers for other books I’m writing. Those introductions are priceless.

The process is simple, you choose from a tiered structure how much money you’re willing to pay for a book cover. Then, you complete a “design brief” which gives the artists some idea of what you’re looking for. You start with a description, but can add links to covers your like or even upload a sketch.

Then, the fun begins: you wait for artists to create your vision, and post them to your design contest web page.
You log in to view the entries, and then you rate them based on your vision of the cover design. Here you have the opportunity to rate the artwork from one to five, leave a written comment, toss a design out of the contest immediately, or choose the winner.

This stage is important, and the feedback you leave is crucial. Don’t just eliminate without a comment. Explain what about the image doesn’t work for you. (And don’t say things like, “This is terrible!” Remember, tastes vary. Instead try a comment like, “Your cover is terrific, but it’s not what I’m looking for. I want a realistic cover rather than a manga style.”)

During my design contest, I eliminated quite a few entries up front. The designs were beautiful, but they didn’t match my vision. In some cases, I just didn’t like the artist’s style. In one instance, the cover art was entirely a woman’s face. It was beautifully done, just not what I wanted.

Once you leave feedback for an artist, he or she will update the cover based on your comments–or drop out. You may find that one cover grabs you right from the beginning. Use your comments to request the artist change little details: the lighting, add a necklace to the woman on the cover, change the color of someone’s clothes, etc.

After three days of back and forth, you must choose finalists. I don’t recommend more than three. Designs will flood in at a rapid pace and you’ll need to take time to rate and comment. This is a really exciting time. You’ll have a pretty good approximation of what your final cover will look like. Do the small tweaking now.

When you’re satisfied, declare a winner. I recommend writing a note on the page to thank all the artists who contributed.

But what if you don’t like any of the designs? I was worried about this, too. Since you’re running the contest, you can decide to run it guaranteed or not guaranteed. If you run it guaranteed, you are promising to choose a finalist and accept the artwork. Or, you can choose to run an unguaranteed contest, and walk away from it at the end if you don’t like any of the art–at no cost to you.

I recommend guaranteeing from the very beginning. You will attract artists who would not otherwise join the contest. I waited two days to guarantee because I didn’t like many of the designs offered and got very few entries. I was really worried. Then, one brave, and extremely talented artist, stepped forward with an awesome design. I guaranteed the project then, and within hours I had over fifty designs to choose from.

In the end, I looked at nearly a hundred different designs. It was exhausting to keep up with, but it was only a week.

Once the artist delivers the files in the format you want them in, you notify 99Designs and the artist is paid. Whew! You have a cover.

And 99Designs is so much more than book covers. Do you need a web site? A Logo? They even do T-Shirt designs.

Will I use the service again? Absolutely.

Kelly A. Harmon switched from newspaper reporting to writing fiction, which she says is much more exciting but lacks the convenience of doorstep delivery, especially on rainy days. You can find her latest projects at

3 thoughts on “Guest Article: Book Cover in a Week, Guaranteed

  1. A. R. Hill says:

    Hi Kelly,

    Great article! Your cover turned out so well. After your experience with these guys, I’m considering going to them myself for my next book, and a possible redo of the first book’s cover.

    A. R.

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