What I learned about 99 designs


Using 99designs has been an interesting experience and I think I’ll use them again. I loved the way it worked, and there are some fabulous artists on there. There are also some that aren’t as great, but that’s okay, they are still learning.

I was told some people had issues with copyright, but I found that if you did your due diligence that wasn’t an issue. The two covers I chose had all their textures and photos linked back to the original, and I could easily see what the copyright requirements were. Some asked for credit, which is easy to add in the copyright area, and I’m happy to give. Most were copyright free textures.

The toughest issue I had, personally, was dealing with the artists of the designs I rejected. They would ask why I rejected them, what they did wrong, how they could improve. In many cases the answer was “you can’t” either because the art wasn’t professional enough, or the right tone for the subject matter, or just because someone else was far better than they were. I didn’t want to say that. So I tried pointing out a couple things I didn’t like, and said I’ve already made my choice, I’m just waiting for time to run out.

I think I could have declared a winner earlier, but I’m glad I didn’t. Not only did the original artist I loved come up with an even better cover, but I had another artist show up that had an awesome cover too, and with a little tweaking it made a fantastic cover for the second book.

So, a couple tips to make your experience better.
1. Click on the art piece, don’t just go off the main page. This is where you will find notes from the artist, and copyright info.
2. Don’t accept art that doesn’t reference the original materiel. You need to know the terms of copyright. If they don’t add it ask them for it.
3. Even if you aren’t sure about a specific design ask for minor changes. Sometimes a rough or okay piece will become a diamond.
4. Wait. Don’t choose something too early, you might miss a fantastic opportunity.
5. Give your title something unique. My title was “Lovecraftian high fantasy” and a lot of artist were fascinated by that. Who doesn’t want to do a Lovecraft art piece?
6. Keep in contact with the artist. You may find you want to hire them later.
7. If you see a second piece that would work for another project don’t be shy about asking to buy that directly from the artist. 99designs had a 1-on-1 project section that allows you to buy specific pieces from a specific artist, or commission new ones.
8. Ask about using the art in promo material. Both my artists are fine with it, and the art references they used are okay for it. Others may not be. Ask!
9. Ask about adjustments after the fact. I don’t know how big my book is going to be yet because I haven’t gotten the page count nailed down, but my artist offered to adjust the spine for me, free of charge, if I ever need it.
10. Make sure you get the PSD file and/or a high quality picture without a blurb on it. You are probably going to want to adjust the blurb some day.
11. Ask for a cover for the print book that can be cut down to ebook size later. Maybe you don’t want a print book yet, but some day you might and your going to want a good one, not just a plain cover tacked onto the ebook cover.
12. Triple check¬†everything, then have someone else check it too. I miss spelled “Witch’s” as “Witches” when I first asked him to change the title. I asked him to change it and he added the apostrophe but didn’t take out the “e”. For some reason my eye just went right over that “e” without seeing it, several times. Thankfully others caught it before it was too late.

I asked my artists if I could put their website in my credits as well. They deserve a little publicity. The first artist didn’t even have a website. He’s never asked people to attribute him before. But I’m going to, because it just seems like the right thing to do. I hope if you use 99designs you’ll do the same.

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13 thoughts on “What I learned about 99 designs

  1. I actually would give solid constructive advice. I don’t think the artists so much want you to reconsider, but to learn for the next contest just like we ask of our beta readers. Things like, my choice is made but here are elements you may want to consider in the future: the typography wasn’t clean, balanced or professional or… It looks like a YA cover because of the model choice, poses ect… Could be a huge help to a newer artist.

    • Some of them, yes. Others didn’t understand that their cover could be rated high but still get eliminate and are upset about it. We get authors like that to.

      I tried giving good pointers, telling them specific things like the font they choose was not great, and things like that. But there is only so much you can do.

  2. I’m guessing you’ve already dealt with it, but just in case: you know the cover has a typo, right? It should be “Witch’s Sacrifice”, not “Witche’s Sacrifice”.

    Thanks for the tips.

  3. Funny timing Crissy. I created a Pinterest board today on inspiring cover designs and looked everywhere for the artists. Not on the books, the publisher’s sites, author sites, nowhere. I was beginning to think it was a no-no to list the designers when I saw this. You are a woman after my own heart. Love the Witch covers and great info on this post.

    • It is listed in a lot of trade books, but I think indie authors forget how important it is. They are indie to, so I want to advertise them as well. I hope they add my covers to their portfolio. Good advertising for both of us.

  4. Just wanted to say thanks for this post, Crissy. I’m running a contest at the moment and I had this post bookmarked to check. It’s a very useful list.

  5. I’m running my first 99Designs contest and am a bit overwhelmed by the number so far (20 in 12 hours).

    Would you suggest eliminating along the way and give feedback to ALL of them?

    My first simple rule is that if I could do better myself, it goes. I’m not bad on photoshop but I’m some way off professional, hence why I’m using 99Designs. Obviously I don’t want to be quite that blunt, but I can keep it constructive.

    My second criteria is how good it will look as a small rectangle on Amazon and Apple, etc. I’ve had a couple of really stunning works of art, with would look great in a bookshop, but when I scale it down to the Amazon cover size the art is lost.

    • My rule was also “if I can do better myself then it’s out”. I eliminated them along the way and only gave feed back on the ones that asked me why I didn’t choose then.

      And yes, always ALWAYS take into consideration what the thumbnail will look like. You can have them assist the text and stuff, but if that image doesn’t pop when is a thumbnail then why bother with it?

  6. This was tougher than I expected. Even though I went with the cheapest option I still ended up with 80 designs. I was worried at first that some were coming in really terrible, but some of those designers are in my final 10. Choosing 6 is going to be tough.

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