99 Designs for Book Covers

What is it?

Need a book cover? None of the pre-made covers you’ve scrolled through are fitting the vision for your story? Don’t want to break the bank commissioning an illustrator?

99 Designs is a great alternative. And I wanted to try it for myself.

First off, what is it? 99 Designs is a website where you can go to run a contest for a project, where designers submit their work to you and you get to choose the winner. It’s not just for book covers, but people can go there for any kind of graphic design work (i.e. logos, website, t-shirt design, etc.). You put up prize money, and then whomever you choose to be the winner- gets it. Though you also have the option of walking away at the end, not choosing a winner, and getting a refund of your money.

How does it work?

Basically, you choose a package (price point). I went ahead with the cheapest option, the Bronze package ($299, which seems like a lot but any author knows that is a bargain when it comes to a custom designed, quality cover). You can also choose from: Silver ($499), Gold ($799), and Platinum ($1299). You can visit their website to see the perks of the different packages.

I also went ahead and used THIS LINK, which got me a free “Power Play” package. This is basically an upgrade that makes your contest bolded and easier for designers to see (that way you get more designers interested in your contest).

The Brief

After you choose a package, you want to set up a brief of your project. The more detailed you are, the better your results. Here’s what I included in my brief for my novel cover:

-The text I wanted on the cover: Title, Name, Tagline

-The genre and category my book will be listed on Amazon

-The mood

-A general synopsis

-The fact that I was looking for a conceptual/metaphorical design, not necessarily the obvious

-That I wanted to work with someone that was willing to tweak and provide editable files at the end

**I didn’t do this, but you could also include photos of inspiration or examples, a link to an inspiration Pinterest board, or anything that will give the designers an idea of exactly what you are looking for.

The Contest Begins!

After your brief is complete, all you have to do is sit back and watch the designs start to flow in (or constantly refresh the page over and over again while hyperventilating from excitement).

Here is an article that explains how many days each round of your contest lasts:


During the qualifying round, you want to rate (on a 5-star scale) and leave feedback for each designer, so they know if they are on the right track or they need to modify. You can leave a comment on the design for all to see, or you can send a private message. I didn’t realize this until my contest was almost finished- but I actually ONLY sent private messages. I probably would have done this differently if I realized. However, I pretty much messaged each designer individually- unless the design was REALLY off.

Make sure to archive designs that you would never choose, to keep your picks organized.

Be prepared for negative messages from designers as well. After I archived designs, I would get messages like, “Why did you hate my design?”. I would just politely respond, “Thank you for your design, it just wasn’t right for this particular project”.

Finalist Round

After the qualifying round time runs up, you must choose 6 finalist designers to work with.

At any time during the qualifying round or the finalist round, you can run a poll for your friends and family to vote and help you decide (through social media, or a link to hand out in email).


  1. Hold out on giving 4 and 5 star ratings early on. New designers will see this and feel like you’ve already chosen, or that the competition on your contest is too tight/tough for them to want to join.
  2. Make sure you specify you want no repeat designs. What will start to happen, is that other designers will see what you are rating highly and some will try to mimic those designs. One way you can avoid this is if you run a CLOSED contest. This is where only you can see all the designs. 99 designs will not let you have a closed contest if it’s your first time. However, I have heard that if you email support, they may do it for you.
  3. I didn’t do this and wish I did: Search the “Discover” section of the website for designers that you like. You can private message them and ask them to submit to your contest. You may get more quality designs this way.
  4. Guarantee your contest. If you guarantee that you aren’t going to walk away- that you will indeed choose a winner and give away the prize money you put up- more designers will enter your contest, and more quality designs will as well. This proved correct during my run.
  5. Let your contest run out its time. Don’t end it early. I ended up knowing which design I wanted about a day and a half before my contest was over. I was so excited to just get started working with the designer I wanted to choose as the winner. I also wanted to end it early to try and perhaps save time of those who would submit more designs, when I was already set on a winner. However, this pissed off some of the designers. One designer private messaged me that they had been working all day on a final design for me, but because I ended the contest early they couldn’t submit it and felt like they wasted time they could have spent on someone else’s contest. The exact thing happened, that I was trying to avoid!
  6. Make sure when you are zeroing in on designs that you love, to click on the design to see if they are custom, or have used stock images. Stock images aren’t bad, but you don’t want to spend $300+ on a stock image that somebody slapped text onto- even if it’s a kickass stock image. Because you could do that yourself. Make sure the designer put effort into actually creating something unique for you. Also, if stock images are used, make sure you can acquire the rights to them (and are hopefully free- some are not).
  7. Tweak the design as much as you want with your designer! A majority of the reason I chose my designer was because he was so easy to work with, and was a great communicator.
  8. Make sure you get editable .psd files. That way you can tweak typography or the back blurb later.

My Stats

I ended up getting a total of 141 designs. And I am IN LOVE with my final product for my upcoming novel, “The Altruism Effect”. I wish I could share it now, but I am scheduling a public cover release date closer to the launch. If you’d like to be the first to see it- join my mailing list HERE.

❤ Kristin Helling & The Wordwraiths

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