Using Freelancer Contests for Your eBook Covers

by | Jun 6, 2014

by Greg Strandberg (@gpstberg)

We are pleased to welcome back Greg Strandberg. Greg’s last guest post here on was 7 Top eBook Blog Tour Sites. It was quite informative and very popular with our readers. Today Greg discusses another way to have ebook covers designed. I think you’ll enjoy reading what he has to say.

I put out a couple books a month and that means I’m always in need of covers. None of my books are very successful, however, so that means I don’t have a lot of money to throw around.

So what do you do when your writing output is high but your income not so much? You find creative and affordable ways of get your eBooks out there, that’s what you do.

And when it comes to eBook covers, many people think you need to spend a lot.

I’ve got news for you – you don’t! I’ve put out eighteen books this year but I haven’t paid $1,800 for eBook covers, not even $900. I haven’t spent $450 either. No, for 18 eBook covers I paid $230.

So how did I do this? Simple – with Freelancer contests.

In case you don’t know, Freelancer is a website based out of Australia that allows employers to post projects that freelancers can work on. They’ve got more than 11 million users and about 6 million projects posted. And that means there are people from all over the world willing to work on your eBook covers for pennies.

Yeah, they work dirt cheap, and we’ll get into this later. For now, let’s discuss how Freelancer contests work, what it takes to get started with one, and how you can start getting great eBook covers at extraordinary prices.

Setting Up a Contest

Setting up a Freelancer contest is pretty simple. You can choose the skills you want, such as Photoshop Design and Illustration. People with those skills can then see your contest and submit entries. (Click images to enlarge.)

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Here’s a contest I recently started for a “Funny Horror Novel” cover. I give a brief description of what I want, the size specifications, and anything else I think might help designers get that idea in my head onto a cover you see on Amazon.

I’ve done a lot of contests like this, so right when I put one up I’ll go back to my previous contests screen, which looks like this:

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I’ll click on each one of those old contests, allowing me to see all the past designers that submitted entries before. Now I want to notify those designers that I have something else they could work on.

Here are two of my old contests, one which I did for myself and another that I did for someone else:



I’ll click on most of those designers, and it’ll bring up their profile page. What I can then do is invite them to my new contest. This is how I regularly get dozens of entries on my contests, and sometimes 100 or more.


Once you get a contest going you can talk to designers and tell them what’s working and what’s not. Then it’s easy for them to change things before you pay them. I find this a lot better than getting a cover from a designer, one you can’t really change once they’re finished.

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Isn’t This Taking Advantage?

Doesn’t just one person get paid? Yep, that’s how it works. You might have dozens of designers working for hours that won’t end up with a penny.

So in that regard perhaps you’re taking advantage of these people. Perhaps you’re even hurting some more experienced designers in more developed countries, cutting them out of a wage let’s say.

Alright, let’s say that. So what? I can’t help it if places like Indonesia, Thailand, India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam are poor and the people can live on $20 there pretty good for a week or longer. When I lived in China many peasants lived on less than $1,000 a year.

If you want to look at it like that then you might actually be helping these workers. I do know I’m helping myself, and that’s what business is often about. I’m getting a good product at a great price, one that allows me to continue my business.

Post Project3x530

Createspace cover contest from existing eBook cover

What’s more, I think it might actually help some people. Maybe there are some good designers out there that are just getting started, or perhaps even lack confidence. Doing a few entries, responding to feedback, and making necessary changes goes a long way in having a successful career in design, or any other creative field. And a winning entry might just propel someone to turn a hobby into a money-making venture, and one day a reliable business.

Of course these are all assumptions, and it’s safe to assume many designers could be held back as well, perhaps always taking jobs for $10 or $20 when they could be getting $100 or $500 or more. It’s hard to say, but like many things in life, if you refuse to engage in a design contest like this, it sure isn’t going to stop others from doing so.

Learning about eBook Cover Design

So besides getting a cover at a great price, is there any other ways a Freelancer contest could benefit you? God yes!

It’s really interesting how much you can learn about cover design when you do enough of these contests. I’ve completed more than twenty contests in the past nine months and I’ve seen more than a thousand covers in that time.

Most of them were variations of the same cover designs, designers copying each other or just making small tweaks here and there. You see what small changes can do, what placing text in a different way can look like, and how fonts can really make a difference. Besides getting good covers at great prices you’re getting a free crash course in eBook cover design. Not a bad deal.

One thing to watch out for is what images are being used. I’ve done many contests where I point out an image or provide one, and things work out great. When I’m not sure what I want and let designers choose, many try to skirt corners by choosing copyrighted images. This is something you’ll have to watch out for, especially if a cover looks just a little too good.

Overall, however, these contests are something for authors to think about, especially those just getting started. You might be a little cash-strapped, and if you’re anything like me, you don’t know much about Photoshop design. Letting someone else take the reins is a good way to learn something, get what you need, and save money in the process.

Greg StrandbergGreg Strandberg is the author of several novels and nonfiction books including his latest horror novella, Florida Sinkholes. He lives in Montana with his wife and young son. To learn more about Greg, visit his website Big Sky Words.

Photo: Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Global logo designs

    I found it really helpful as I’m designing my first book cover. Great resources.

  2. LM

    This is called spec work – and professional level designers can spot it from a mile away. If you’re not willing to pay a professional to do their job properly, you’ll end up with unskilled amateurs working for you. That may explain why the design work for books on this site is pure garbage.

  3. yadavbharath

    I just wanted to thank you for this incredible post. It’s full of SO much good information and resources to find freelance writing work online. I can tell you spent a lot of time on it, so thank you, thank you, thank you!

  4. Cathi

    For the last few weeks I’ve been debating whether or not to post a message on my website saying I cannot “fix” covers designed by other designers. I’ve thought about this in the past, and find I have to revisit the issue. I can’t count the number of times people have contacted me to do everything from simply fix a spine width after the designer has vanished, or had an author ask me to remove a watermark from a proof, and magically increase the resolution.

    I hesitate to put something so negative on my site, but some of these people are downright nasty when you politely refuse. I was going to say caveat emptor, but I think it’s just as much caveat venditor.

    Many of these requests come from people who have used one particular contest site. And I’ve personally tried most of them out there, bidding and going through the process just so I could write about the topic and see if there was potential. I had one design stolen, and one person had me jumping through so many hoops that a simple postcard design ended up earning me about $3 an hour — if the guy had bothered to pay, which he didn’t. The “guarantees” aren’t quite a foolproof as they might lead you to believe, or at least they weren’t back then. This was a few years ago.

    There is also a “blackmail” issue on some of the bidding sites where ratings are everything. A designer bids on one job, and halfway through the work is suddenly expected to do three or four jobs, with the “buyer” threatening to give the designer a bad review, if she fails to comply. A bad review can pretty much end your career on the freelance and bidding sites, unless you’ve got a load of good reviews to offset it. New bidders are very vulnerable.

    I’d also like to add that I find it curious that people can license software and images and fonts that cost me thousands of dollars a year to license for commercial purposes, earning only $2 an hour.

  5. Amy


    You call yourself a designer and you are just helping your other fellow designers in situations unable to find work by encouraging people to hire via contests and third world markets. You are a disgrace to us all. Contests and mass freelance bidding sites severely water down the market price for graphics design and now we can’t eat or support our families. SHAME ON YOU.

    If you cannot afford a real designer, do use a contest. Find a student. Find someone entry-level, and PAY THEM A FAIR PRICE. At LEAST $15 / hour depending on where they live.

  6. Fatima

    Seriously? I’m a freelancer from one of those third world countries and get over your first world privilege, just because some people are poor enough to work for peanuts doesn’t mean they deserve to work for peanuts. Did you even know most of these contest sites take off as much as 40% “commission” from that $20 you so “generously” toss to the winner? As Hedonist mentioned above…a person who can design a decent book cover isn’t a starving peasant who knocks out graphic designs as hobby after a hard day’s work at the rice paddy (also, the 21st century’s calling–it’s leaner, meaner, a couple of billion people hungrier, and there are things called tractors) and contrary to Jeff Bach’s “entirely possible” speculation, most Western-educated young men don’t spend their time sitting in front of a laptop on a dirt floor, sending off website designs for $2 an hour.

  7. Lucie Le Blanc

    Joel. I am scandalized and so very disappointed that you would publish such an article. And more, that you agree that this is an ethical way to hire artists. I always thought this site was the go-to resource for the best information about publishing. With just this one article, I’m now doubting everything I took for serious advice.

    Have you even looked at what this “author” produces? Have you read anything he wrote in his numerous books? Please enlighten yourself. And coincidence of coincidences, one of his covers was featured on yesterday. So he’s not just abusing artists, he has no idea what a good book cover should look like.

    I wish you’d made your research before allowing such an article to be published on a site usually so serious about quality. I can’t tell you just how disappointed I am. I’m speechless.

    • Joel Friedlander


      Sorry for your disappointment. I could cover my eyes and ears, but there would still be thousands of authors using these services. There are authors quite happy with their $35 covers (a strategy pushed for years by Mark Coker, by the way) and others paying $3,500 for a cover, equally happy.

      My job is to help authors, no matter what path they choose to produce their books. If you really think one guest post invalidates the years of work and 1,200+ articles I’ve published here, well that’s your call. Good luck.

      • Adrijus

        Joel, you’re a designer, you can filter the content way better than authors when it comes to design. There is even bigger problem then cover design prices. It’s that authors can’t judge the technical designs and see why one cover is better than other and why designer’s skillset is better than other’s. This is why authors giving authors advice on design is terrible. Just as designers can’t tell writers how to write and can’t really judge technical writing skills, so can’t authors judge designer’s technical abilities.

        • Joel Friedlander

          Adrijus, that’s one of the main reasons I started the ebook cover design awards, to try to educate authors on what works on covers and what doesn’t. But the fact remains that few authors have the skills needed to buy design, so education seems the best thing I can do for authors in that regard.

          • Adrijus

            Well, this article wasn’t supposed to make it to live version in that case. YOUR article would have been way more valuable than someone who can’t judge design. I may not like the contests but if all the designers who participate in them where great and all authors knew how to judge it, then I’d be fine with it. For now, it’s just a way for bad designers to compete with good designers and drive down prices.

      • Karl

        You didn’t really think through the implications of what you’re saying there, Joel. Is it “your job” to help authors if “the path they choose to produce their books” includes robbing banks or kidnapping babies? Of course not. Personally, I don’t know enough about this contest strategy to decide if it’s immoral or not. But you’re saying that you’re completely exempt from using mor to decide which articles you publish, and I don’t think you really believe that.

        • Karl

          Oops; “using mor” should be “using morality”

        • Joel Friedlander

          No, Karl, I said exactly what I intended to say. If I have to start prefacing every comment with “Of course, don’t rob, pillage, or kill anyone to get the money to ____” I’m afraid we’re already lost.

          • Karl

            You’re missing (or at least not addressing) the point I tried to make. I could rephrase my point, but I imagine you’re losing interest in this comment thread by now. If that’s not the case, I respectfully suggest you reread my comment, and try again to see what I was actually saying.

      • Lucie Le Blanc


        all I’m saying is that I really thought you were inviting serious people to guest-post here. I really thought you did your research before allowing them to show here. One mistake was all it took to raise doubt.

        I know you think that nothing forces me to stay here or that you don’t expect people to always agree with you. This post and your comments to defend it just show you in a light that nobody expected. Allow us to be shocked for a bit.

        • Joel Friedlander

          Lucie, please see the many comments I’ve made on this post, they pretty much explain my point of view. And do follow the links I posted, they are quite enlightening. I am an author advocate, and also a designer who has run a design business for many years. Many designers starting out have talent at design but are hopeless at business, and that’s likely a big reason they participate in contests like these. It’s their choice, but if they never develop any ability at being in business, they will not be designers (in any professional sense) for very long.

    • JJ Bach

      Scroll up aways and read the quotes Ernie Z found and used in his reply.

      High brow designers need to get over themselves and put on their grown up undies.

      To paraphrase John Wayne (I forget which role) “…It’s a tough world. It’s tougher if you continue insisting that things are not changing…”

      Go read Ernie Z.’s quotes one more time. They are awesome.

      • Adrijus

        So if Amazon decides to price all ebooks for only 99 cents and justify it by saying it’s fair price because it’s not print therefore it’s cheap, will you apply the same mindset for authors? Will you say ‘tough luck’?
        Will you put your grown up undies?

        So same principle is here too. No need to pay $2000 per cover for self-publishing authors. But expecting dirty cheap covers is insane. Sweet spot seems to be $250-500 and there many designers who are world class and will do you a great cover for that price. But not for $50 bucks..

        • Deirdre Saoirse Moen

          In fairness, though, $250-500 is way way way too much to spend for a cover for some shorter pieces. Typically those go for 99 cents, so the royalty from Amazon’s only 35 cents.

          You’d have to sell 714 copies just to pay for the cover, and I suspect a lot of shorter works never sell that much. (Mine haven’t, for sure.)

          Now, if it’s a $2.99 book with a 70% royalty, then you only need to sell 120 copies to pay for the cover, which is a far easier prospect.

          • Adrijus

            I would agree that short stories are harder. BUT it depends on how much author sells. 714 is not too little but ebooks these days stay on the shelf forever so it increases the chance for breaking even.

            Anyway, premades are a great option for short stories and I do usually recommend to not go for custom design unless there is already a name built to have sales.

          • Deirdre Saoirse Moen

            It all depends. For me, I calculate based on an 18-month return on investment.

            You can never know how much a first book (and I’m counting short stories as books here) will sell, but you can make an educated guess based on how much your last book sold. Or, perhaps a better metric, how much all your books sold after your last release (as people do tend to pick up back titles, too).

            I recently overheard a font designer talking about font sales, but the rule is pretty true for book sales too: about half the first year’s sales will occur in the first three months. Second year’s sales drop to 40%, and third to 30%, with a slow taper after that.

            So let’s say your own sales pattern mirrors that. Essentially, at the three month mark? Multiply that by 2.4, and that’s what you can guesstimate you’ll have at the 18-month mark.

            Now, not all that can go for cover design. Obviously. I don’t know what cover designers at the top end make, but I’m pretty certain it’s less than the author takes as an advance for that book.

            Let’s say you’ve got a standard 100,000 word book, you pay common industry rates for editing ($1000 is sort of average, but goes up from there), and you figure you’ll sell 1000 copies in that 18 months, mostly through Amazon.

            After the editing costs, that’s $1793 for all other expenses, including book cover, promotion, etc. Oh, yeah, and the author’s gotta eat, too.

            Let’s say of that the author gets half, cover designer a quarter, and a quarter’s used for other expenses.

            That’s $448 max for the cover, and under $1000 for the author.

            Oh, and most ebooks sell fewer than 200 copies.

            Tough way to make a living. (For both author and designer.)

            Now, obviously, at the top end, the formulas change considerably, but then you’ve got much fancier covers with custom fonts or hand-drawn elements in lieu of fonts. One that struck me recently was Vampires in the Lemon Grove which appears to actually be pencil:

   (I prefer the cover with the bat, though that didn’t make it onto the final cover, sadly.)


      • Lucie Le Blanc

        I’m not a designer, much less a high-brow designer. And yes, it’s a tough world, so why make it even tougher? Would you work hours for nothing?

        • JJ Bach

          LLB no one is forcing you to participate in a contest. If you do not like it, obviously you are free to get out and prospect and sell and derive your own clients, that are willing to pay your rate.

          Free markets are built to allow for someone who thinks they have a better mousetrap to be able to build that mousetrap and get it out on the market. It may be disruptive, but artificially maintaining the health of the prior manufacturer of mousetraps is not a requirement of a free market system. If the established builder does not like the new mousetrap, they find a new market or develop a new product or somehow adjust their system. Maybe they just learn how to compete.

          It seems to me that the web has made one big flat global market especially for services that are intangible like art production. We all need to adjust to accommodate the new normal.

    • Deirdre Saoirse Moen

      One of the perils of being self-published is that the author may have no taste, and no one to mitigate that. This doesn’t change because they are/aren’t using freelancer contests.

      • Adrijus

        Yup, that’s the main problem. Designer’s can’t judge writing skills of a writer, writers can’t judge designs technical level/skills.

      • Adrijus

        Very interesting stat about books sales. I wouldn’t argue against it too much but I do think if one book takes off old ones will get renewed attention etc. And even tho book might sell not enough copies to break even first, there will be a good percentage of readers who will become repeat buyers of author’s books.

        Still, I do agree, custom covers aren’t perfect for short stories, and premade covers are a better option there. Or cheap designers (anything less than $200 per Custom design). Looks like $250-500 range is for mid-list authors probably.

  8. Hedonist

    When I read this article (OK, I admit, I may have skimmed it before clicking through to take a look at some of the contest examples), I was left wondering how you’d get a good cover for $10. I am still wondering.
    And I thought I was being touchy when I read the remark about some dude in India, Vietnam or wherever being able to survive on $20 a week.
    And then I read the comments from others who clearly got a lot more riled up than I did. But as someone who has lived in India a whopping 7 years ago, I can tell you there’s a big difference between the sort of person who knows what they’re doing in Photoshop, and someone who is living off $20 a week. If you live in a slum (and I don’t mean “oh man my landlord is such a slumlord, he wouldn’t even fix the boiler on time when it would act up, and the stove is really old and crappy looking, although it does still work”, I mean an actual slum where there is no plumbing and you have to do your business out by the railway tracks), yeah, you might get by on that kind of money. If you’ve studied design and expect to live in a place with running water and electricity, that figure goes up drastically. If you’re hiring a book cover designer, you’re not hiring that guy sitting on the dirty floor in his hut made out of corrugated plastic, you’re hiring a middle class person whose parents paid thousands of dollars (What? in a third world country it costs that much to study? Yes, it does) to put them through college with the expectation that he/she makes something of themselves. Your example falls flat on its face when you mention in the very next breath that peasants (classy, that word) in China live off $1000 a year. How many of them can design book covers or even have internet to log onto those fancy contests?

    As an author I like to have cheap options because money doesn’t grow on trees for me either. I appreciate someone outlining a way that covers can be got for cheap, and I also agree that nobody is putting a gun to the designer’s heads.

    Indeed like many other commenters, it’s the tone I object to. And since I know for a fact that no one with the kind of skills and infrastructure (electricity, computer, photoshop, basic knowledge of copyright and what images one can use without getting sued) can live off $20 a week, I also know exactly how much time and effort is going to be put into these contest entries.

    I wish you luck.

  9. Adrijus

    @Deirdre I do agree with he fact that it’s hard to judge designers. I wasn’t speaking about just picking one designer, but about designs themselves. Authors are at disadvantage when judging design in general. At least judging designer can be helped by testimonials, his blog etc.

    And again, we designers could do a better job explaining this I think. I’ll be blogging about it I think in future.

    Also, authors have to be careful taking advice about design from other authors. Sometimes it’s blind leading the blind…. I’ve seen blog posts where authors judge who are top 10 designers etc.. well, sorry but they shouldn’t be. They aren’t qualified for that mostly. This blog can, even tho it’s subjective, at least owner has ton of experience in design. Designers can’t go judging writing as well as writers can because we don’t write and don’t know enough intricacies etc to be good judges. Just because we know how to write sentences doesn’t make us writers.

    So even with good intentions, things like that can hurt.

    • Greg Strandberg

      Sorry you didn’t make the list. Might want to SEO your site more so you’re easier to find. A blog could help with that.

      • Adrijus

        Blog has little to do when judging design quality and skill. It’s good and helpful but if you judge designers by their SEO, maybe that’s a problem with the list of Top Designers.. I’m glad I find clients without a blog.

        Anyway, there is a lot of stuff to blog about looks like it, so I might write some controversial posts.

    • Deirdre Saoirse Moen

      Oh, true, most of us writers know nothing about design. Or marketing in general, which a book cover is a part of.

      I’ve actually seriously considered writing a book about public speaking for writers because of the cringeworthy approaches I’ve seen (and heard about).

      Actual first contact email I’ve received from an author wanting to speak at an event: “I have not received an assignment yet for [misspelled convention name].”

      Wrapping back around to the subject, it’s hard to explain to a writer that a cover is a visual metaphor that builds the reader’s expectations. They don’t always get visual metaphor.

      In other news, I’ve been playing the following game when looking at bestseller lists in iTunes: traditionally (including small press) or indie published?

      I can easily identify most of the indie books at the top of the bestseller list just based on cover. Rarely, I miscategorize trad books.

      Some of the indie books do have pretty impressively professional covers, though.

      • Adrijus

        OH yeah, Indies are getting better and better covers, absolutely. There very good designers at price range of $300-$500 that deliver designs at the level of Trad. Pub. There is plenty of choice to pick by style too. It’s good that you see the differences, designers certainly do too and sometimes we go cringing. But what can you do, sometimes DIY covers is the only option at the start.

        Posts like these make me think of either blogging or writing a book about the design judging etc that could help writers get better at judging things. Doesn’t matter who they hire it would be a useful book. Maybe I should.

  10. Jeff Bach

    Cool article. Fertile ground. For my .02 I would like to introduce the notion of commodity vs. specialty. Also the web has made the world flat, meaning that anyone living anywhere can now gain access to just about anything, providing of course that they have internet access. Along with the “world’s oldest profession”, writing and drawing are perhaps the world’s oldest commodities. Just about anyone can write and draw. If a person can scrape together enough $$ to get a computer and then buy (or steal) software (i.e. Photoshop), just about anyone can do anything and sell the result online. I think in a nutshell that is what these contests offer.

    In my opinion, it is entirely possible to see some western educated young man (most of the time) literally sitting in a dirt floor hut in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, etc. (maybe even the Ukraine or Croatia) in front of their laptop using Photoshop. Thanks to our efforts here in the first world, that young person sitting there in that third world setting could quite reasonably access the internet.

    Of course there is wild variation here, but the concept is that anyone anywhere can now do almost anything when it comes to writing or drawing, IF they have the laptop, the software and a means to charge a battery. This is, generally speaking, a good thing. People are lifting themselves up and providing support for themselves and their families. Again with a wide range of possibilities.

    But now we here in the first world have some conflict. We want the three or four hundred dollar one-off project that a book cover offers. But with our now flat world enabling global access, our $US300 project can now be done for the equivalent in rupees or yuan, or pesos or whatever. Bad for us, good for the winning party wherever they are. Maybe even good for the indie author on a budget.

    I think this should be framed at least in part in terms of global competitiveness. With cheap rates elsewhere for labor, in many cases the first world is simply not competitive. That’s pretty much a fact we can all agree on I hope. Outsourcing has been doing this all over the place in the first world for the past ~twenty years now.

    How do you fight it? By finding the next SPECIALTY. Something that cannot be done remotely. Something that has not yet been automated into a specialty. Something that requires a local relationship and maybe some sales skills. Also, I’ve found that the smaller the business the more leeway there tends to be in terms of who the business will accept as a vendor. Big companies expect big vendors, which generally rules out one person businesses. Conversely,a one person business most often has no problem working with other one person businesses which makes for WAY more leeway in all matters of business.

    If you want to stay in graphic design, imo you better hustle a bit more and find a niche that is hard to break up into components and ship pieces overseas. The designer better figure out how to be a better prospector and seller.

    wagon makers – model T; railroad – trucks; corner grocery – supermarket; network TV – cable TV; traditional pub – indie pub; family farms – corporate farms; Disruption of the old by something newer has long been with us and shows no signs of going away.

    imo, right or wrong if it can be automated (part of the definition for commodity) and shipped overseas it’s going to happen, UNTIL the cost differential between here and anywhere else has roughly evened out.

    Finally, re: legal cover images AND as another example of disruption, go have a look at LEGAL (as far as I can ascertain) photos, almost all of which are ~five dollars. This is another Aussie site and may be in the same family as the one that GS uses for his contests. It is curated and seems to hold contributors to a reasonable legal threshold even for westerners. I wonder what Getty and Shutterstock have to say about that?

  11. Jess.

    The concept of altruism or decent wages is not a “relative emotional value.”

    I was disappointed that this article was on The Book Designer, as I’ve been a follower of this blog for some time. Most of the time, the articles are helpful and written in a genuinely positive tone.

    In the context of this post, it is true that it is up to the designers that they can take it or leave it when it comes to these contests.

    What I thoroughly disliked is that the writer seems to have a certain amount of tunnel vision.

    “And that means there are people from all over the world willing to work on your eBook covers for pennies. . .Yeah, they work dirt cheap, and we’ll get into this later.”

    Undercutting does not help anybody. Self-publishing is an industry that doesn’t include just writers. It includes designers, marketers, and many more roles, some of which an author can take on individually, some of which they have to outsource.

    To encourage “the cheapest price” is to undervalue the product. In terms of leaving a legacy, cheapness isn’t necessarily the best factor when it comes to making some kind of contribution to society, and being respected and remembered for it. I get that this probably isn’t part of the writer’s business model.

  12. Al Sabado

    It’s my first time reading here. Interesting website! I was ‘googling’ unfamiliar publishing terms for a course homework and voila came across The Book Designer I find really helpful—thank you, Joel!

    And Greg—I’m pleased to read your post here too! I’d see your bids at Freelancer whenever I’d also place my bids on a few projects.

    Now I speak from the viewpoint of an individual freelancer coming from a third world country, which a former ambassadress once described as the scuba-diving capital of the world. (Woohoo! Hopefully that doesn’t turn out to be the world’s ‘flooding capital’!)

    I understand the aspect of “disrespect” that others have earlier pointed out here. But you see, a professional service provider with solid grounding and experience should neither be moved nor offended by web posts such as this, when the author has written a piece in an unusual candor. No, I’m not saying the “So what” element in the text is standard in creative writing and journalism. But I can see, that’s Greg’s writing style—unlikely but efficient in drawing readership.

    As freelancers from third world countries aiming to provide world-class services (thanks also to those who’ve treated us generously and kindly), we have a choice to accept a low pay project. We also have a choice to price our work using world-class industry rates (just as overseas clients have a choice to accept or reject them). Besides, we too pay taxes and similar fees when retraining or collaborating within an international setting. We just keep our rates reasonable and negotiable.

    So, to feel offended or disrespected is also a matter of personal choice and viewpoint—oftentimes. Because a service provider from any part of the globe can politely turn down a project or work he deems unprofitable. In the same way, every professional service provider can find profit out of the work he gladly accomplishes—regardless of the cost.

  13. Ernie Zelinski

    Greg, thanks for the interesting article. This is not something that I would do to get my covers designed but it has nothing to do with my thinking that I have higher morals than you do (like some people do).

    Insofar as the comments about the morality of your using contests for book cover designs, this quotation by someone a little more famous and a lot more wisdom than me applies:

    “A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true.”
    — Socrates

    Fact is, several of the commentors here are playing the victim game.

    Here is one of my favorite quotations regarding the degree of your prosperity that you will attain in your life:

    “The amount of money you make will always be in direct proportion
    to the demand for what you do, your ability to do it, and the difficulty
    of replacing you.”
    — Earl Nightingale

    In short, whether you are a cover designer, editor, agent, or self-publisher, reasons only make you sound reasonable. They have nothing to do with manifesting prosperity and freedom in your life.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 200,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

  14. Bridget Whelan

    I don’t see there is anything inherently wrong with contests – especially if the winning fee is known in advance and entrants are aware that they will be competing against a large field of fellow designers, However, I get worried when organizers justify it by saying that everyone gets screwed.
    I was also worried by the opening paragraphs when Greg tells us he is a prolific writer but “none of my books are very successful”.
    If your novels are compelling Greg, if you have learned how to become the best writer you can be, maybe you should publish three times a year and use the rest of the time to promote more effectively. Reach out to the readers who would enjoy your books once they heard about them.
    If you still feel you have a lot to learn and your sales reflect your inexperience then don’t continue to plough the same furrow, repeating old mistakes, enroll on challenging courses and develop your writing skills. Just because you can self-publish doesn’t mean that you should self-publish.
    To be honest, I don’t understand the need to produce so many not-very-successful books unless you’re following a business model where the quality of the product is so-so and you’re unwilling to invest (in yourself) to make it any better. Numerous industries work on that basis but there aren’t so many in the creative field because money is only one of the rewards an artist or a writer receives, the creative activity is a major motivating factor.
    I may be wrong but I can’t help wondering Greg if you feel about your readers in much the same way as you feel about the designers, they can take it or leave it and if they choose to take it, well, that’s their problem. No one forced them to buy.

    • Greg Strandberg

      Well, Bridget, I’ve spent a couple hundred on a cover, didn’t help sales. I’ve spent $50 on a cover and the book was really successful. Sometimes I wonder if the cover is really the most important thing.

      We often call eBook marketing a three-legged stool, and a cover is just one leg. In regard to what’s inside the book, I typically let readers judge that for themselves.

      The fact that not many do doesn’t make me some anomaly of the universe, just a typical self-published author, in my opinion.

      • Jesse Bunn

        I keep losing more and more respect. And I keep getting more and more reason to think that this guy is a hack.

        I’m not a mathematician, but assuming “A couple of hundred” is actually $200….

        $200 + $50 = $250

        now, let’s go back to the original post.

        “I haven’t paid $1,800 for eBook covers, not even $900. I haven’t spent $450 either. No, for 18 eBook covers I paid $230.”

        But I think he just said he spent $250 on 2 of the 18 books he supposedly “covered.” I guess the other 16 cost -$20?

        • Greg Strandberg

          I can understand that a lot of people would like to take a look at me, find faults, lay blame and generally do everything but look at the implications of what something like this article means: something for authors to think about and something for designers to think about.

          Authors can think of new ways to get what they need, and the costs involved in that.

          Designers can think of the myriad ways they can be undercut and taken advantage in the world, and do something about it.

          I think the choice is quite simple, really – designers can partake in contests like this or they can’t.

          Like the article says, it’s quite doubtful these contests will go away either way. I’d like to add that the anxiety and fear designers have about someone else doing what they value and prize at a different price, a different level of quality, and from a different location are all valid. They should think long and hard on them, and what they plan to do about it.

          I’ve always had the philosophy that you have no one to blame but yourself, and I think others should follow that as well. The fact that many don’t isn’t my problem, and if someone can do a better job than you and for a better price, well I’m sorry, but where I come from we call that business.

  15. Trishia Jacobs

    Tim Ferris, the famous “4-hour work week” guy wrote about using those freelance sites and his attitude [this is the business model of the future; deal with it] forever changed my impression of him.

    There are some of us I suppose who are simply too altruistic. It’s about valuing and respecting others as much as we do ourselves.

    There are cutthroat business models and there are ethical business models. One business model is age old, what much of this country’s wealth was built upon. It’s the model people like the Rockefellers and the Waltons used: do whatever it takes to drive your competitor out of business. If he won’t let you buy him out, then sell your own product below cost for a time period so you will bankrupt your competitor.
    I couldn’t live with that business model myself.

    Another business model involves using slave labor to make a profit. I think the freelancer sites are in that category. No, no one is holding a gun to their head to participate but they are for the most part, desperate people.

    When the bottom line is money and solely money — that is a shallow bottom line.

    I think you really lost me at the farmer’s market vs the grocery store. Shopping at the farmer’s markets supports your neighbor and your community. But it’s so much more that trickles up and out, from our own health to our environment all from buying locally. Shopping at the farmer’s market is about approaching life with a big picture view that includes more than just myself.

    For more than a decade I have been trying to make a living off of an obsession/love/passion that I have for France and old stuff. I buy, sell and collect antique French postcards, which are copyright free. I digitally restore them and turn them into original collage designs for greeting cards or resell the digital restored version for other artists to use. Where I sell on Etsy is a highly competitive, flooded market mostly filled with woman who are notorious for always underselling themselves. I have struggled for 10+ years to be competitive, yet NOT undervalue myself AND to be ethical. I have had fellow “artists” steal my designs or not comply with my terms of use and I’ve heard sad stories of “my husband is sick and I’m trying to feed my family.” Some folks think the end justifies the means. That’s where our paths part.

    A few months back I learned of a service an Aussie offers to cutout the background from images for $1 per image. I’ve worked in Photoshop for years but I’m self taught and don’t have a steady hand. I’ve literally spent 5-6 hours cutting out a single image from an ugly postcard background. When I heard of this service for ONE BUCK per image, I was beside myself. I still have issues feeling somewhat guilty for using it!:) How does she do it? She recently made a trip to the US to network and promote her business AND she’s gone up to $3 per image, but lucky me, I get to keep the original charter rate. I have even offered for her to charge me more. See, folks like me and many of the commenters here just operate ethically from a different benchmark…. On one level I still feel I’m taking advantage of her, but the truth is: it’s her business, she came to me with this offer and this price. She is the service PROVIDER.

    On the freelancers contest site, the author is the TAKER and asking for something way below any reasonable fee and he knows it. The freelancers/contest model calls on many to give a lot and the only one real winner: the author.
    Imagine if ALL businesses requiring labor and talent were set up this way. 100 people show up, they all do the work but only one gets paid. It’s an unethical model!
    It’s one thing to screw someone and try to justify it so you can sleep at night. It’s another to say: “You know what, I can’t afford the full graphic artist rate. But I’ll find a newbie and let’s have a win/win situation. I’ll offer, say, $100 for a cover, which is a bargain price for me and a decent wage for the newbie.” You put out the word. Ask for artists to submit a portfolio/resume. You make the choice to hire one person to do the job. Too old school? Maybe, it’s a helluva lot more ethical.

  16. Anne R. Allen

    I’ve written tons of stories and essays for contests that didn’t win. I’ve also prepared dozens of audition pieces for parts I didn’t get. I guess you could say I wasted lots of creative time for no reward. But I certainly didn’t feel disrespected. So I’m not sure all the outrage is justified.

    Usually a piece that lost a contest can be repurposed with a few tweaks. And every audition helps an actor gain confidence. Can’t a cover design often be repurposed for another title? Most designers have a portfolio of pre-made covers. So the work time wouldn’t be entirely lost.

    I think Greg’s idea is intriguing. I can see how this might work for cash-strapped authors and beginning designers.

  17. Christopher Geoffrey McPherson

    Here’s a third option if you don’t have a lot of money: find a newish graphic designer who doesn’t have a lot of items for his/her portfolio. Offer to work with him/her to design covers for you for a small financial return. In exchange, s/he will gain experience and published covers for his/her portfolio. Then, when this designer gets going and can get other clients, you move on to another newish designer willing to work for less money for the experience and exposure. Sure, it might be a little more work for you (more than casting a wide net and hoping to land a fish who knows how to design covers) but you’re getting what you want while helping a fellow human being. Karma is good all around.

    • Greg Strandberg

      Good idea. This is also an option people could do with proofreading and editing.

      What I like about contests, however, is that you can get so many entries from so many different people that you’re surpassing what any one imagination could be capable of.

      • Steven Scotten

        That is actually one of the inherent problems with contests, although some of the contest sites have safeguards against it. When you get a number of drafts, you can take ideas from each, and give instructions to just one. It’s not a matter of “picking the best entry” but a matter of having a whole creative team, several of which put creative input in to the project, and paying only one.

        Though I don’t like spec design, there is a difference between “paying only for the one you like” when you don’t get the benefit of the other entries and paying only one of the designers when you get the creative input from several.

        But hey, if you find people who want to be abused, there’s nothing wrong with dishing out the abuse right? (Sorry if you don’t like the tone I’m taking; I’m just speaking directly. Some people don’t like that.)

  18. Linda Bonney Olin

    Joel, once again you’ve provided an informative blog post with fairly entertaining comments. Greg rightly points out the pitfalls of copyright, and bargain designs might not be top of the line, but we all shop according to our budgets. As a small scale designer as well as a writer, I certainly agree that good work should command big bucks; but we all spend and receive according to the marketplace.
    The burst of recrimination from persons who claim the moral, philosophical, artistic, and whatever-else high ground is no surprise. What does surprise me is the notion that writers do not spend many hours producing work with zero guarantee that one word will ever see print or that one dollar will be earned.
    Eh?? Writers in every genre constantly compete with one another in hopes of being the one whose work is chosen by contests, agents, potential publishers, etc. The also-rans receive no compensation; in fact, in the case of writing contests, they’re often out of pocket for an entry fee.
    High-grounders can turn up their noses at the writers, as well as designers, who supposedly demean themselves and their Art by participating in such opportunities. But it’s a valid choice for creatives who want to build up their credits and skills, no matter where they happen to live.
    Portraying authors who do contests as predators and the designers who participate as hapless third-world victims is unjustified and pretty insulting, on both counts. My opinion.

  19. Karen

    Positively creepy. Totally disrespectful.

  20. Trisha

    I’m a designer and a writer.

    I want to make one point very clear.

    Don’t hire others on terms you wouldn’t agree to be hired on yourself.

    If you wouldn’t enter a writing contest where you have to do hundreds of dollars worth of work, along with dozens if not hundreds of other writers, and only one writer will get paid… then DON’T do exactly the same thing to designers (regardless of where in the world they live).

    I personally outsource some tasks in my business to a brilliant illustrator and a hardworking virtual assistant – and both of them live in India. I have a great relationship with them, I treat them with the utmost respect, and I am happy to pay higher than what a lot of Indian-based workers charge (which, due to currency exchange rates and the cost of living is less than what my fellow Aussies would charge).

    • Deirdre Saoirse Moen

      I think there’s a real cultural difference here between the world that most (especially fiction) writers live in and the world that many graphic designers and artists live in.

      Many writers are used to operating on spec.

      Most graphic designers aren’t. And, as my friend Steven Scotten says, he learned in design school to never operate on spec.

      So when a fiction writer approaches their graphic design needs with an on spec approach, there’s bound to be a culture clash about it.

      I’ve worked both on spec and on contract as a writer; most of my earnings are contracted writing, but that was the far less soul-fulfilling kind of work, too. As an editor, I’ve rejected pieces that were written on spec and others that were written the same way.

      So from a fiction writer/editor perspective, it just doesn’t seem weird. Or abusive. We live under different kinds of constraints.

      All self-publishing is inherently on spec.

      Just a thought.

      • Steven Scotten

        Is it really a cultural difference? Lets say I have an invention, and I need someone to write the manual for it. That manual ought to have detailed descriptions of the means and modes of operation of the invention, as well as maintenance procedures. It will have to be about seventy-five pages of detailed explanation.

        Naturally, the right way to do this is to have a few dozen people write first drafts, and then pick the one I like best, right? I’m guessing that’s not a cultural difference, and that asking for that would be considered abusive while anyone that decided to take on that project on spec would be considered a chump.

        But maybe it is a cultural thing. Maybe people write software manuals and corporate press releases on spec all the time. I don’t know.

        • Deirdre Saoirse Moen

          Believe it or not, that actually happens (with the multiple first drafts). Also, speaking as an editor, I do read people’s believed final drafts they submit on spec every year.

          Also, most of my non-fiction work was not on spec, and I did specifically mention that it was bigger in fiction. Generally non-fiction books are sold on a combination of platform, proposal, and writing sample.

  21. Philippe Roy

    Just one point. Speculative work in design is not a threat. I work as a graphic designer every single day of my life since (and even before) I got my degree. Contest is nothing new. Just the old scam to catch the amateur designer, the student or the third world worker. I have always seen clients willing to go for cheap. Not good for them : cheap does not work so well.

    When I do a book cover as an independant writer, I put myself a budget of 50$ for stock. For some that’s much, for others that’s expensive. Let’s say the average book will not earn me that much in a year. I search the web to be sure there is not a single book with the same stock anywhere, and I work on it anyway. My work cost me nothing, but the stock cost me 50$ (mainly because I want to use it for print if I have to). I would be an Indian or a Chinese, the cost would have be the same. So, if I read that a cover cost is 20$, 30$ or 50$, I just have to imagine where the designer cut the cost. My bet is that he used some generic stock and put some font on it. The example above are just that: any free stock with any generic font.

    This is not a threat. If my boss wath that kind of crap, he cans outsource me tomorowm and I will work in a bether place, that’s all.

    The thing I didn’t like about this article is the idea that you can be taht capitalist shark you dream to be by screwing a poor designer. Wake up pall. You screw nobody: you screw yourself.

    I can do my own book cover. After 15 years in the trade, that’s the least. But I cannot traslate my books in english (you probably know why by now).

    Will I pay the heavy price of a true professionnal? Or outsource this in India?

    Let say I want to be that powerfull white male for a time, playing Sharks of Wallstreet in my kitchen. I know that I will never get a true artistic translation from some carless busy worker of India. I want to see my translator, to talk with her, to explain and to learn (the real learning, not the «wow! Trajan work best than Times New Roman kind).

    Message to the translators of Montreal: India is not a treat.

    • Trisha

      Exactly right.

  22. Deirdre Saoirse Moen

    I’m a writer who has, in the past, done graphic design for a living—everything from layout to burning plates and occasionally minding the paper folder. Catch is, that was the 80s, and it’s a huge technology shift that I haven’t kept current on. In the 80s, I joined a consultancy that had a mix of software engineering and graphic design clients, though we also did some music-related stuff for a gaming company.

    At one point, my partner and I decided that we were too unfocused and we should concentrate on one thing, so however we earned the most money in the next six months would narrow our focus. We made more money in software engineering, thus gave up the design part of our business. In retrospect, I think that was a mistake.

    In between software gigs, I did still work in graphic design on occasion, though not through the partnership. After the company folded, I went back to graphic design for several months before heading off to Ireland. I was burned out and fried, and working on setting travel agency ad copy and laying out restaurant menus was far less stressful. I was the first to use the new typeface Lithos for Mexican restaurant menu design (for El Torito), and every time I see another Mexican restaurant using the face, I smile. It may be a super-small trend I set, but it was a move away from more stereotypical ethnic typefaces.

    I’ve done cover designs on 99designs. Never won a gig, but I’ve been in the final round several times (mostly for hidden contests). I get asked to submit designs every now and again.

    There are good and bad things about it, so I’m going to be frank with what I feel works and doesn’t work about 99 designs—and why I bother to do it at all.

    First, I’m not an illustrator in any sense of the word. I’d love to have that skill, but not so much that I take the thousands of hours it’d need to really develop it. I’m really, truly at the “daisies like a six-year-old draws” stage of illustration skill. After I get my current book done, it’s actually part of my commitment to myself that I’m going to learn how to draw better as well as finally learn Illustrator.

    I view the contests as “Photoshop homework where I have a risk of making some money.” That’s it. I’m looking for a challenge as an artist: what do I feel I have to say about this topic? And what can I challenge myself to learn? Also, do I have a photo that I think works for this?

    Especially where there are photo-based covers, sometimes 99designs can feel like a race to find the killer stock art. For Tim Rymel’s forthcoming book GOING GAY (, when I saw the artist submit the winning cover, I inwardly folded. What I’d found was nowhere near as good. Tim obviously agreed, as he ended the contest early. Could he have gotten a better cover? Possibly. But I think it does an awesome job. In that contest, only a handful of designs were submitted.

    The other extreme I’ve seen is where the client just keeps chewing up designer time. This contest had a mind-boggling 1265 entries: But, because they were paying $450 (rather than the more typical $200 or $290), people kept on submitting. I don’t want $450 that badly; I’m so glad I was eliminated early. I’m guessing the winning designer probably earned around $2 an hour.

    Another problem is the person who’s self-published a book with an awful cover, then comes back to get a better one when their book isn’t selling. Catch is, if their taste was that appalling to begin with, it isn’t much (or any) better now. They’ve only decided it’s worth spending (more) money for. For you great designers out there, these people were likely never your customers. They’ll often reject good design. The beauty of 99designs for these kinds of situations is that you can look elsewhere for how you make your money. There are plenty of people willing to be awful for the client.

    Look, I get that those of you who are real designers for your day job feel that these contests are a threat. And those of us who design a cover every now and again when we have the time aren’t really in your business at all. I’m far more interested in the one-off client where there’s no future implied obligation because I’m a writer first and designer second. You generally would prefer to have repeat business or at least referral business.

    For those of us who find this kind of thing a bizarre form of entertainment, one of the reasons I do it is to hone my sense of design. To play with my font library. To try to figure out how someone else did something and have a go at it myself (not to knock off the design, but just to learn). To see what I like (and don’t like) about other people’s entries, and try to articulate why it does or doesn’t work for me. For me, that’s what the real benefit is: not the money, but the education.

    One of the things I’ve had to spend a lot of time on is documenting the rights I have. Do I have rights to use this in a commercial project?

    Speaking of fonts, I’ve learned how much of a font freak I really am. When some unexpected money came my way, I decided to go to TypeCon ( in July. Their program and workshops sound fabulous. So that’s a direct result of 99designs contests.

    Almost every penny I’ve earned this year is as a designer. (I’ll have books out later this year, and I expect that, at year’s end, design will only be a minor part of my income. One hopes.) Did I design my own covers? Yes I did. Ultimately, that’s why I’m doing this: so I can do a better job for myself. Even if I get to where I think hiring someone else is a better choice, I will be better working with a designer because of my experience.

    Until then, I’ll just write every day, publish books when they’re ready, and sell a bunch of t-shirts and the occasional clock or shower curtain.

    • Greg Strandberg

      Thanks for your insight, Deirdre!

  23. Cara Weston

    Whoa. I’m interested to see how comments go on this article.

    At least the tone of the 99designs article wasn’t so flippantly disrespectful toward artists and designers. This has a “they don’t respect themselves enough to stay out of this situation, so it’s their fault I’m taking advantage of them” sort of attitude, which is great if you’re Ayn Rand, or a john looking for a hooker, I guess.

    I know there will always be designers willing to participate in these contests, and there will always be people who take advantage of them without shame. It doesn’t make it immune to moral criticism.

    This situation isn’t morally neutral. You can make the argument that designers might get started in the business by working on these contests for a while, sure, but then you’ve already conceded that there’s a human moral element that needs to be considered. This guy, however, doesn’t even bother, besides using that argument to frame himself as a benevolent White Savior to the poor brown people in other countries. He’s gleeful in his disregard. “Perhaps you’re taking advantage. So what? I can’t help if if places… are poor.” Gross. Just gross.

    • Dorothy

      I have to agree–it’s the tone more than the practice that makes this column seem inappropriate, at least for this blog which normally is so respectful of creative people.

      One argument that makes no sense to me is “But I don’t have enough money to do it properly.” Well, then, save up. That’s what businesspeople do. In every business. Find the cheapest solution that is still effective. The author hasn’t convinced me that his method achieves this. Or perhaps I was just so turned off by the tone that I couldn’t take his content in.

      • Greg Strandberg

        Yep, a lot of people have mentioned they don’t like my tone.

        I started using this tone awhile ago when I decided to stop wasting time and start talking to people directly.

        I don’t mince words and I don’t suffer fools gladly. Lots of people don’t like that, and you’ll find that the majority of sites out there cater to you.

  24. Shelley Sturgeon

    It seems to me that no one is holding a gun to the heads of the cover designers working for Freelancer and participating in their contests or did I miss that part in the article?

    If they’re willing to participate in the contests and make little or no money, then so be it. It’s their choice and while some of us might wonder why or how they do it, it’s not our decision.

    If this affordable opportunity is available to self-published authors to get covers for their books, why not use it?

  25. Jesse Bunn

    I’m offended too. But then again, you knew that would happen on a blog where a hard working designers are a large part of the following because that’s part of the community that Joel has built here. So, congratulations on winning that part.

    What I DON’T get is how one artist can feel that this ok to do to another. What if this were about writing? I’d be willing to bet that if I presented a contest where I provided the plot and storyline to a novel I wanted written, put a price tag on it, and asked a bunch of authors to write it so I could then read them all and pick only one of them to pay, that you would NOT be chomping at the bit to provide the skills and talent you’ve built up over the (many?) years you’ve been writing on the off chance that you might be the one to get picked. Of course you wouldn’t. The time it takes to craft that novel and the time you’ve spent honing that craft is worth WAY more than that.

    Plus, I don’t know where you’re getting $500 for a custom designed cover. Just look at Joel’s ebook awards. There are MANY of the designers he praises there who charge half, or even less than half of that. And you’d be supporting people who have honed their craft in with the same respect you want from people who read your book.

    I’m honestly more disappointed in Joel for letting this BE on his site than I am in you because I’ve always viewed him as someone who supports the art of indie publishing and all of the artists and services that go into it. You, I really don’t care about. You’ve only given me a sadness for artists who can’t give the same respect that they hope to GET… and that attitude could potentially explain, “None of my books are very successful.”

    • Greg Strandberg

      Jesse, the simple answer is I’d never enter a writing contest like that. Designers have the same option.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Jesse, thanks for weighing in here, I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

      In today’s world there are thousands of authors like Greg (well, not exactly like Greg of course) who are producing their own books and don’t have a lot of money to spend.

      Much as I would like to imagine a world where all authors have the utmost respect for the process of bookmaking, experience has shown me that’s not the case in reality.

      I don’t aim to lift up one group of authors or vendors over another. What I’m trying to do is help all authors create better and more marketable books.

      These days that includes using sites like these that employ contests to select the best work. And, as I said in the earlier article about, I consider the efforts of the designers who don’t get chosen as sales calls. This type of speculative proposal goes on all the time in advertising and other fields, without anyone being downtrodden by the process.

      I don’t think you’ll find anyone who’s a more forceful proponent of indie publishing and indie authors, but we all have to adjust to the times, and simply pretending these sites don’t exist or that they can’t result in quite good design work when the process works well just seems naive and unrealistic to me.

  26. Meg

    I really disagree with this post and feel offended by it – which is a first, as your posts usually inspire me without fail! I’m angered by what comes across as promoting a devaluing attitude towards art as “the cheaper the better.”

    As a member of DeviantART for 10 years this year, I’ve experienced first hand and from the sidelines the damaging effect of such a poor view of the worth of art – which undervalues the art, skills, time and effort artists put into their work, meaning inexperienced artists are forced to undercut themselves and everyone else to get on the ladder, and of course this affects those above too.

    Isn’t paying a lower price like saying that that time, effort, money, equipment and training (etc) is worth less than it should be? It feels like cheating, like devaluing other creatives – bad karma as someone else has put it. I’d never engage in something like this – my conscience wouldn’t allow it. It doesn’t seem ethically or morally right to promote the cheapening of art and exploitation of others in less developed economies.

    I am positive that you didn’t seek to make that impression – that’s just how it’s come across to me. I wonder how you did mean for this to come across as a win-win situation for everyone? How is cheap cover art a win for all artists?

    • Greg Strandberg

      Well, Meg, I’m sorry you feel that way.

      Spending hundreds of dollars on an eBook cover is great, if you’re putting out one book every few months. What if you’re putting out a book a month, or several short novellas a month, then what?

      I don’t know many people that can toss around $500 on a cover when it comes to that kind of writing output, and that’s my target audience, writers who are struggling and trying to balance a day job while turning their hobby into a career. That’s who this article is supposed to benefit and that’s who I write for on my site.

      Overall, however, I’m not worried about this article because I know contests like this allow the cream of the crop to rise to the top and if you’re good enough and smart enough you’ll find a way to leverage an entry in a contest like this into a respected and money-making business.

      If you can’t do that I’m not sure blaming designers halfway across the world or struggling authors for trying to find ways to grow their business while cutting costs is the best route.

      It all comes down to putting out a product in my opinion, and you need a cover to do that. Whether that cover is good or not is up to interpretation, in more ways than one.

      • Meg

        I can totally sympathise with a lack of budget – I’m publishing my first novel on a shoestring and really wouldn’t know where to get that kind of money from … especially for several books a month (lottery win, leprechaun or dragon are the only ways I can think of right now…). Luckily I’ve drawn for long enough to be confident in my abilities to produce an illustrated cover myself worth using ( here it is… feel free to agree, disagree or laugh at that – I don’t mind!)

        From an author’s perspective, this idea/post does seem great (apart from the potential copyright issues other commenters have highlighted, which seems an inherent risk) – the idea of a cheap cover complements the cash strapped writer. Fair enough.

        It’s from the artists point of view that I struggle to empathise. It just doesn’t feel right to take advantage of those who will work for cheaper (though yes I can again see where you’re coming from re: they make a decent wage, you get off cheaply), because it feels like, assuming a good cover design is involved, that the art’s being devalued.

        I find it interesting that you make the point of leverage – perhaps this is a good way for artists entering the market to find work, build portfolios, careers etc. We all must start at the bottom afterall…

        I worry about the way it works though, with many people being required to work for many combined hours, for zero return when their work isn’t chosen. Do you think that’s fair? (It exists & it’s not going to change, I acknowledge that! Just wondering on your personal opinion on that and, if you don’t think it’s fair, how you justify using that system to yourself?)

        [By the way, I really hope you don’t think I’m having a go at you personally – everyone is entitled to their opinion and way of working, after all, even if we all don’t agree!]

        • Greg Strandberg

          How do I justify using that system? Probably the same way I justify buying vegetables at a supermarket and not at the farmer’s market.

          Sure, I do both, but we know that capitalism isn’t fair and that’s why certain goods produced by certain individuals are worth more than others.

          We also know that there are many tricky things and loopholes that allow people to take advantage of others for their own gain. I saw this the worst when I lived in ‘communist’ China for 5 years. Nothing is more important than making a profit there, and perhaps that’s where some of my thinking comes from.

          I tried taking that issue up with voters here in Missoula, Montana, but only 9% of the people agreed with me on Tuesday.

        • Danielle

          Meg, That’s a stunning cover!

        • Joel Friedlander

          Meg, just wanted to say that your cover for The Tainted Crown is gorgeous. Good luck with the book.

  27. Philippe Roy

    Yeah! Let’s do a creative work while pissing on other creative workers!

    I will tell you to words: contests sucks. You will never get a decent cover this way, because
    1. You have no real contact with your cover.
    2. Your graphic designer would be a fool to invest anything in a job that don’t pay him, so he will put some image with some text, and that’s about it.
    3. Real designers don’t do contests. Never, ever.

    And it’s bad Karma. You believe in art or you don’t. If you don’t, I don’t want to read you books.

    That’s the word of a real graphic designer, doing this for a living since 2000, everyday of my life.

    • Greg Strandberg

      Yep, designers around the world get screwed each day. I’m a writer and I get screwed – there are always people willing to write cheaper than I will.

      Supply and demand, what can you do? Complaining is one option.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Philippe, hundreds of designers use these contests, which have become quite popular on a number of sites. And I don’t think those designers would necessarily support your argument. You might want to have a look at an earlier post here on this subject: Looking for the Perfect Book Cover Design? The Crowd at Has You Covered and particularly at some of the comments, including this one from top cover designer (and a very creative guy) Damonza who used one of these sites to get his own business going.

      • Philippe Roy

        I’m not sure it is so bad for designer, actually. I think it is a bad advice to give to authors.

        The race for the bottom is common ground. We all know it’s not moral, but the world is made that way.

        But for the price range given upper, you will get some free (or stolen) stock photo with a generic font (Trajan if you are lucky). My mother could do it. That’s the way you get a dozen books with simlar covers (I’m sure you have seen a lot of these). The way to get a nice lawyer letter from Getty Image, also.

        • Greg Strandberg

          You make a good point about copyright, Philippe, and I tried to address this a bit in the article.

          I’ve run into these problems a few times. Once was when I was trying to get some new covers for my fantasy novel trilogy.

          It’s almost impossible to get custom artwork done on a small budget. I talked to lots of designers on Deviant Art, but it seems I’d be spending around $500 at the least. I just couldn’t afford that.

          The problem on Freelancer was that a lot of designers were pulling art off random sites and submitting it on covers. This was a contest that quickly went south and I ended up settling on something safe but not really want I wanted. What I wanted just wasn’t within my price range.

          So people need to be careful. When I get to a few finalists I always ask for the links to the images they used so I can make sure they’re alright.

          Sending messages to individual designers asking about this and offering bonuses for paid art sites is another way to cull the better entrants from those just putting up boilerplate.

          • Adrijus

            Do you really think world-class designers with great covers and client roster already will waste their time competing on such contests? You will probably find some good designers just starting their careers and willing to go dead cheap. But if you want best, you wont find them in contests.

            Also, a danger here is how authors judge design in general. It’s not author’s fault but they might misjudge it and pick the wrong cover. Again, not the author’s fault, they didn’t have enough time spent training in design and can’t judge the quality. We designers can do better job helping out authors on this and I think I’ll be posting something about this myself.

          • Deirdre Saoirse Moen

            Adrijus, I wanted to say I like your site, and love your work.

            However, there’s no guarantee that even a talented designer is the right fit for a given book or writer. As an example, I write humorous contemporary romance, which isn’t your thing. That doesn’t make me any less of a writer or you any less of a designer. We’re just not the best fit.

            Everything you say about judging whether or not a contest cover is the “right” one? Also applies to picking a designer if one’s not going through a contest.

            One of the things a publisher does is step back from the author’s design biases and story biases and try to design to the market that will buy the book. It’s really really hard to do that as an indie, even if you’re paying someone else (on spec or not).


  1. Indie Authors: High Quality Book Covers - […] See also The Book Designer’s “Using Freelancer Contests for Your eBook Covers.” […]
  2. Using Freelancer Contests for Your eBook Covers by Greg ... - IBook Store - […] View post: Using Freelancer Contests for Your eBook Covers by Greg … […]
  3. Using Contests for E-Book Covers - […] Below is a comment I submitted to this post on Joel Friedlander’s blog, The Book Designer. […]

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