99designs-real-experience-book-cover design

My Experience Working With Book Cover Designers On 99designs

In today’s article we’ll look at 99designs and what you should expect upfront if you want to give this platform a shot to approach Book Cover Design. This was my experience with 99designs and working with professionals to achieve the perfect result to fit the content of my novel.


I took the liberty of taking screenshots of the platform hoping it would help other authors know what’s out there and what 99designs requests from writers looking into Book Cover Design before actually binding yourselves to the platform by getting a profile.


The screenshots I took are of my own profile and I really hope I’m not infringing any law on my quest to simplify things for the upcoming author.


For the ones of you who are new to my blog, I’m Esther, writer, content creator for authors and massive nerd. If you’re interested to know all the tips & tricks surrounding the process From Writing To Publishing Your Novel, you’re only a click away. For writing and marketing tips consider subscribing to my YouTube Channel.


And for those who don’t know what 99designs is, well, it’s a platform which meets supply and demand in terms of graphic design such as authors looking for an affordable cover design for their upcoming novel, or anyone who might need a new logo vs. the heaps of graphic designers offering you countless proposals based on your suggestions.


Bonus point – you’ll receive tons of submissions but you will only choose and pay once, and if no submission satisfies your taste, you don’t have to pay at all.


If like me, you have a limited budget, 99designs is a very reasonable alternative.


I promised myself I’d write a full guide on navigating on 99designs and getting the most out of your experience with all the ups and downs it entails, so here it is!


I’ve also included some of the cover submissions I received from designers so you know what to expect and the guidelines to make sure you get the right message across to the designers.


All in all, my experience was overall great and my novel Lost in Amber finally got a cover I’m proud of.


If you are in the early stages of Book Cover Design research, make sure to read my article on Nailing The Perfect Book Cover Design For Your Novel before getting a profile on 99designs. There’s some homework you have to do before approaching designers if you want to make the most out of your cover.



Newsflash – The Platform Is Quite Intuitive After You Submit Your Credit Card Details



Surviving in the writing industry as an indie author is tough and by now you’re probably well aware the tales of zero investment were just that… tales.


What really sells your book, independently on where you try to publish it, are:



a) The Cover
b) The Blurb



To make readers pay attention as they scroll down on Amazon, your Book Cover is your only business card so you have to make it as attractive as you possibly can.


If you have no Photoshop skills, your options to keep this “on a budget” are limited, and my advice would be to detach yourself from “author you” and let “publisher you” take over and make smart business investments.


Because you want your book to reach its full potential but you don’t want to go bankrupt in the process.



Reasons Why I Chose 99designs



  •  Multiple design offers (if you don’t have a clear picture of how your book cover should look, the designers will offer multiple alternatives)
  • The money-back-guarantee if you don’t like any of the submitted designs
  • Affordable
  • Quick (In only 7 days you will have a winner)
  • I wanted to try the 99designs experience to learn how to work around Book Cover Design



Getting A Profile On 99designs



… if you’ve never navigated on this type of platform is easy. Knowing what’s on the other side beforehand is why we’re here.


TIP: 99designs automatically detects the country you are in, so make sure you’re smarter than I was and you embark on this adventure not while you are in a foreign country because the platform adapts the language and currency to where you are. Language difficulties aside, I managed to switch to English.


TIP: By all means, do not start a project on 99designs if you don’t have time on your hands. From my experience with 99designs, this is perhaps the most valuable advice to take into consideration right after doing your homework on what a book cover in your genre should look like.


Designers only have a few days to impress you, get your feedback and get to work for the best possible result.


For all this to be possible, you need time to look, communicate, work together and improve.





The platform will ask you straight away what you are looking for. I wrote “book cover” and I was offered the possibility to choose a paperback, an ebook cover or both.



TIP: I only requested paperback and had the pleasant surprise to see my designer included both paperback and ebook covers for the same price.



What Does “Start A Contest” Mean?







Well, here’s the part where you submit all the necessary details in order to receive proposals on your Book Cover Design from multiple designers around the world. I chose the basic package which is around $300


TIP: Make sure your designers are fluent in the language you speak. Miscommunication is a recipe for disaster in this field and could be detrimental to the overall experience.


Step by step, you will be asked about all the details regarding your novel:



• Author Name
• Book Title
• Color preferences
• Visual preferences (static or dynamic cover, etc.)
• Blurb
• Age of your readership
• What you’d like to see on front, back and spine of your book
• You’ll be asked to submit cover you like which you aim to be similar to yours
• Style (modern, vintage, horror, etc.)


Working With Designers On 99designs



As I said in my previous article, Nailing Your Book Cover Design, you can’t start this project without actually doing your homework first.


The submissions you’ll receive from designers will be a combination of your blurb, suggestions and submitted cover samples.


Pay close attention to details from the very beginning, the more specific you are, the easier it becomes for the designer to profile your book cover.


For my Paranormal Romance, Lost in Amber, I didn’t have a clear idea from the very beginning, so I just provided the following details:



• The cover should present some elements of space (galaxy, nebula, star clusters, maybe planets, etc.)
• It shouldn’t be too dark
• It should have shades of blue, but I am open to suggestions
• I want my main characters on the cover
• The characters should correspond to their description in the book (age, physical appearance, etc.)
• OR the characters could just be outlined
• I suggested to add the symbol of Gamma Ray and/or a planet


It was my first time working with a graphic designer on a book cover so what I thought to mean great detail, was in fact really vague. I started getting submissions that were completely different from the picture in my head.


Given the fact that on 99designs you have designers of all levels, I have discovered that only a mid-level designer can produce a decent result for the cover I had in mind (you can see the level of each designer applying). Top designers apply mostly for premium packages, worth more than twice my budget and most designers who have applied to my project were beginners.


Believe it or not, if you’re not an expert it’s going to be trial and error but you’ll learn so much that you’re actually going to have some key aspects figured out by the end of it.


My experience with 99designs was an incredible learning curve and I now understand how to communicate and get my message across, how to articulate my ideas and get on the same page with a graphic designer. I now feel fully prepared to tackle multiple design projects and that’s invaluable.






These were some of the body outline submissions. Hard to believe but these not the worst submissions I have received.
As soon as I saw the result, I knew I had to discard:



• Body outline submissions
• The symbols I had suggested (they looked really tacky and this goes to show what happens when you don’t have a panoramic vision)



The more submissions you see, the more you profile your style, so don’t panic if the first options you receive are very far from the professional look you were going for.






I knew right then and there that a black outline of the couple was out of the question. It was my own fault, because I had told designers I was open to suggestions. It became clear that these options were not revealing the story as much as I had hoped nor gave any insight on how my characters felt about each other.


If you’ll have characters on your cover, try to visualize the poses. You know your story, you know what fits. Do you want them facing each other? Outlined? Hugging? Jumping for joy?





This series is getting closer to the desired result, but:


• In Lost in Amber, my main characters are discovering they are falling for each other. This sudden attraction goes against their senses and logic, making this a somewhat shocking experience for both of them. Like not really knowing how to handle what’s happening to them and that is what I wanted to depict on the cover. A very romantic scene indicates confidence in the relationship itself and with my novel, it wasn’t the case.



• Characters involved in a very intense kissing scene (for example) on the cover automatically target a reader going exclusively for the hot romance factor and expecting it to be prevalent in your novel. Creating false expectations through a cover may lead to an avalanche of bad reviews. Why would you have a semi naked hot dude passionately kissing someone if the content of the novel doesn’t match?


In other words, I took my new found truth and messaged the designers. At this point I had noticed that many of them did not pay attention to the physical description of my characters: Zoey (24, curly ginger hair and green eyes) and Jasper (blonde, medium length hair).


I also didn’t like the chosen models, so I went to Shutterstock.com looking for my perfect characters to be able to offer designers model suggestions and acceptable poses.


TIP: It would be advisable to do this research prior to your contact with designers, just to save yourself the trouble of having to explain over and over again why the characters they have chosen are so far-looking from the ones in your novel.


Unfortunately, this proved to be a stressful time, because the designers were getting farther and farther from what I had in mind and I struggled saying “no” so many times and turning down so many projects.






Now that we established to stay away from an excessively romantic scene, most of the designers went a bit too far. My new characters either were not making any eye contact, or their expressions were too rigid, not really allowing the possible reader to feel the romantic potential between them.


All but one designer, who managed to win my heart with his design. Find out the winner here.


I found this particular design captivating, the characters were true to the story and overall amazingly depicted. I felt tension, romance and the cover stayed true to topic.




99designs Was A Fast Paced Learning Experience In Communicating With Book Cover Designers



Here’s what it taught me:



• The more details you bring to the table, the more chances you have at getting an accurate book cover design
• Not doing your homework prior to starting a contest is detrimental to the process
• Designers like clear indications so don’t be afraid to reject a project, start over and communicate
• Mid-level designers are much better at this game (that doesn’t mean a beginner won’t sweep you off your feet)


It’s been an exhausting ride and I’d like to wish you all smooth sailing on this platform!

Here’s where you can click to get a profile on 99designs and as always, thank you for reading me.


Are you in the Writing Industry?

Shoot me an email, I’d love to interview you!



And check out Lost in Amber: An Out Of This World Paranormal Romance if enjoy girl power, adventure & a toe-curling love story.



She just wanted to mope over her breakup but the universe had other plans for Zoey Mills. 


Read the full blurb here.