The Best Book Cover Design for $300

It's more true than ever: nothing grabs a reader like a book's cover. No resources should be spared in finding a great one. But what if $300 was all you needed? What if that was enough to bring fantastic designers to compete for your cover?

Well, it is. Here's my inside story.

 They say "99" designs. I got 212. Can't beat that.

They say "99" designs. I got 212. Can't beat that.

It starts with 99designs.com. Through their platform, "you get a design you'll love -- guaranteed." In short, you set up a contest for a certain amount and you pay only if a designer submits an entry you love. Click "see how it works" here for a quick video overview.

Sounds easy, right? It can be, but there's more to it. If you want to attract the best designers with only a baseline $300 project, a few key tricks are needed. By using the steps below, my contest received an amazing 212 entries from 46 designers. Here's what to do:

1. Write a request that makes designers WANT to work with you. When you set up your contest, think of it is a pitch. The many contests on 99designs compete with each other. Make your contest stand out with a tagline that invites creativity and collaboration. Mine began: "ICONIC cover for the YA thriller UNBOUND ... Hunger Games meets Dan Brown's Angels & Demons." I crafted those lines to draw designers with confidence and artistic vision. I believe it worked.  

2. Invite the best designers to your contest. This is CRITICAL. I think it is the most overlooked and important step. First, peruse other contests for designers with skills and a style you like. Go to their profiles and click "invite to contest." Write a short, personal note letting the designer know that you like his or her work and asking for an entry in your contest. If you don't do this, the best designers may fail to notice your contest. It doesn't hurt to ask.  

3. Provide frequent, constructive feedback. As entries start rolling in, rate them promptly and add comments about what you like and don't like. Other designers will check these and modify their approaches to fit your preferences. Also, don't be afraid to eliminate designs that don't fit your project. It's better to focus on the most promising submissions.   

 The poll options from my contest. Which one would you pick?

The poll options from my contest. Which one would you pick?

4. Pick finalists with the most talent. It can be hard to pick just six designers for the final round. I focused on three variables: (a) quality of the entry, (b) effort and responsiveness of the designer, and (c) the designer's track record in prior contests. The first two variables are pretty obvious, but the third is key. The contest becomes guaranteed after you pick finalists, so those designers know they have a greater chance of winning the prize. Give the most talented designers a slight edge, based on prospects of entries to come.  

5. Poll your readers to pick a winner. This step is the most fun. After you pick your finalists, and they fine-tune their entries, you should have at least six strong options. There's no need to agonize alone over the choice. Create a poll with the best options and share it with your friends and readers. The more input you have, the more confident you'll be that you've found your ideal cover. 

So there you have it. Five tricks to success on 99designs.com. For the money, I believe there's no better way to find a cover that grabs a reader. It's worth way more than $300. It's fun. It's competition at work. What are you waiting for? Go get a cover that pops.

Make your covers count -- J.B.