With the explosion of creativity that is the indie publishing revolution, you may have noticed the array of book covers that use similar stock photos in their designs.
Some authors these days have private photo shoots to ensure their cover images are unique, but what about if you have a smaller budget, or you want something uniquely special in terms of an illustration?
This type of approach can also work for art that relates to your book, e.g. world building and maps, or artwork for marketing purposes
Using 99 Designs to get a custom illustration
I already have a book cover designer in the wonderful Derek Murphy from Creativindie, so I decided to get an image done for my next book, Gates of Hell. I’m just heading towards the end of the first draft and the book features a hunt for the Key to the Gates of Hell. It should be out before Christmas if you’re interested!
My original brief: Create a key to the Gates of Hell. Let your creative darkness loose!
I wanted to be quite open with the brief, as at that point I hadn’t decided what the key would look like. Here’s what I wrote:
I want an illustration of a key to the Gates of Hell – with the aim that the image is used on the book cover of the book, titled “Gates of Hell,” and also in promotional material.
And also that I can use the illustration to get a pattern made to actually 3D print the key.
I have visions of screaming open mouths and mis-shapen deformities and demons and oozing blackness – but basically, I want a creative image that is still recognizably a key and I want you to use any images that conjure up hell. I am using a group called the Misshapen in the book, so that word may also help. The book is a thriller with a supernatural edge, so dark/scary is good – edge of horror is fine. I don’t mind black & white or color.
Changing my mind based on the designs
As the designs started to come in, I realized that I was confusing the issue by saying I wanted to turn the image into a 3D printed design as well as a book cover. The two are quite different, and the book cover was always the most important thing, so I narrowed down the requirements as the competition progressed. I also created a Gates of Hell pinboard on Pinterest for the book to give another flavor to the design.
I had 125 entries from 48 designers in the end, ranging from some really amazing elaborate designs to some striking images.
You get to rate the images as they come in, and that helps the designers consider another iteration. You can also engage in private or public conversations which helps everyone move closer to the desired result.
With 99 Designs, you only pay if you are happy with the design, so there is no risk. Of course, guaranteeing the payment may make the competition more attractive
You can also do Polls by selecting the images and then enabling a shareable link for email and social media so people can vote on the designs. I sent the link out to my J.F.Penn fiction newsletter subscribers, as well as sharing on social media and had several hundred votes on the final Poll.
The Key to the Gates of Hell
And here’s the final design, which I love!
It looks like a real key but also captures the desperation of a soul in Hell (in my mind at least) and it came out top of the final poll as well.
Next, I need to finish the book and we’ll work on the full cover design. Since it will be ARKANE Book 6, there are elements of the cover that are fixed. This illustration will just add another dimension, and in fact, provided a story twist that I’m currently writing!
It was an added bonus to have other creative minds that jump-started my own thoughts as I wrote! I just LOVE collaboration with other artists – it’s so rewarding.
I asked the fantastic designer of the winning illustration, Danniel Soares, a couple of questions:
How did you come up with the design based on the (very loose) brief?
I particularly like this sort of brief, giving enough direction ideas, while not being strictly defined. The downside is that you’ll probably need to narrow down on one or two ideas relatively fast, in this contest scheme, so you can present something that already have a reasonably good rendering. Other important consideration is the time it will take to develop it.
Unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to do a 3D sculpture in the foreseeable time (I’m not really “fluent” with the 3D software I have, and I’m not sure my current hardware would be powerful enough for this sort of thing as the 3D mesh grows in complexity), even though this consideration also had some influence on that particular idea, which is relatively simpler, while still at least just as good. The other idea, actually came first, and morphed more or less gradually into the final one.
What are your tips for authors who want to get designs for their books?
An important thing to have in mind before anything are the different sub-domains of graphic artists. In an ideal world people wouldn’t take jobs they don’t really feel ready to do, but that can happen, and the final product will probably suffer as a result.
The main distinctions among professionals who would do the final work are perhaps “illustrator” and “designer” (who will often have their sub-specialties, based on genre, technique, and intended use). The latter deals more with the overall layout and structure of the whole, while the former is more concerned with “isolated” details, even though it’s helpful to have a notion of the planned design, to make it match appropriately — but perhaps some designers would prefer to have the illustrations roughs to see how to layout things around it! The specialty of one will tend to be the weakness of the other, even though there will be some people who do both equally well.
The best way to proceed then is to take some time to look through several artists’ portfolios, trying to find a few who work in styles that match the book.
Maybe while still writing the book, perhaps it could turn out to be a form of inspiration. And make some inquiries along the way, or at some allotted time.
Established professionals, whether they’re solo, a team, or subcontractors of an agency, will likely have a well defined process, describing their obligations and conditions in a more or less standardized contract. With people who are just starting out things can be probably be somewhat more complicated and insecure, due to inexperience, and a natural lack of expertise in the business and administrative side. But that probably can be dealt with some precautions from the author, like coming up with a reasonable contract beforehand, to be filled in eventually. That’s definitely somewhat more complicated, but may worth the extra work.
Services like 99designs can be seen as an intermediate way, since they’re literally being the intermediaries between the artists and the client, offering some aspects of “insurance”, even though I’m not totally sure about the details. I hope it didn’t sound too much like some sort of infomercial, because I’m not being paid to make this sort of advertisement. But even with this sort of backing it’s perhaps interesting to study how to do a briefing that is specific enough and clear in scope, in order to avoid misunderstandings and frustrations from both sides.
What else can you use 99 Designs for?
- Book cover design and custom artwork and illustrations
- Logos and business cards
- Web page and mobile apps as well as banner ads
- T-shirts (I am seriously considering this at some point!)
You can get a PowerPack upgrade if you use my sponsorship link: 99Designs.com/joanna which will supercharge your contest by highlighting your listing, bolding its font, and bumping it to the top of the page. Basically, you can get more entries from better designers.
I found the whole process pretty addictive and since I love collaboration, it’s definitely on my list to do again.
OK, I’d love to know what you think of 99 Designs, or if you have used custom designs/illustrations from other designers.Please leave a comment below and join the conversation.