On a random Tuesday in July, I started a contest on 99designs by Vista to create a cover for She Taught Me Everything.
99designs matches designers from around the world with work. They have excellent reviews and an easy-to-use website.
On the website, I filled in details of what should appear on the front, back, and spine of the book, and then gave my direction:
A beautiful cover for a literary novel about sisters.
I picked a palette (pumpkin, teal, and black––the colors in various intensities from pale to vivid) and attempted to hone in a style: minimal, clean, modern, etc. using the built-in slider-scales for each quality.
I noted that it would be both e-book and paperback cover, and that it should remain distinctive even when shrunk to thumbnail size. I included half a dozen images of book covers I liked.
Finally, I listed things I did NOT want. For instance, no covers that use stock photos literally. Please no white backgrounds (it fades into online listings). Also, none of that "faces merging" trope that's been popular of the past couple of years.
I think I had no more than clicked over to Facebook and removed a few spammy posts from the Flying Scot page (what is UP with that crap?!) before returning to 99designs. And there were 3 entries!
Next morning, 23.
By end of day, 51.
At the end of the four-day-long contest 120+ images for my perusal and selection! From perhaps 55 different designers.
In the same way that I have remind myself that the point of clothes shopping is NOT to identify the most hideous outfit*, I tried to breeze past the images that were frankly unsuitable: the straight-from-Canva ones, the really amateur ones, the merging-faces covers, the ones where a menacing hooded figure peers out from under serial-killer red letters. Gah. That comprised maybe 70 entries.
Because I've lived with a lot of mysterious rejection in my working life, I made a point of responding to each entry, offering at least a general––and I hope kindly––reason why. There's a nifty messenger system built into the 99designs site.
Of the remaining 50 entries, some were immediate stand-outs, and others were potentially good. I fired off messages to these folks too, expressing my enthusiasm and, again, offering my opinion.
Things started to get more interesting: having worked on book covers at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, I know there's going to be a bit of back-and-forthing. I deselected several designers based on their reaction to my note.
The one who spent several paragraphs telling me my opinion was wrong (I found his design "delightfully retro") sorry! We can agree to disagree no farther, sirrah.
One classy all-type cover had potential, and I asked if the designer might consider changing up the colors so that it was not on a white background. Instead, she sent me an all-red cover that she was certain captured the essence of the book. It did not. But thank you!
I don't doubt for a minute that I'll be seeing several of the covers IRL. There were images that would be excellently suited to young-adult fantasy novels, suspense novels, stories about middle-grade children on a walk in the woods.
After narrowing the list, I enlisted help from a few design- and book-minded friends. I treasure their help and salute Ned Johnston for winning the internet with a pithy comment about a beautiful but underwater cover, "She Taught Me Everything...about scuba diving without a tank."
I spent a chunk of time researching the potential finalists' background and winnowing out those who did not have previous experience with book covers. It's enough to feel my own way along this rocky trail by braille.
Achieving a new plateau of agita to pick finalists. (Did you know, as I do now after looking up its spelling, that "agita" means both anxiety and indigestion? How wonderful is that?)
If I were able to go back in time and offer advice, I'd say, "Yo, pick finalists on a Monday, not a Friday!" and "Include a safe pick that's maybe not wonderful, but that would be good enough." I did neither of those things, and the weekend felt remarkably high-stakes-y.
I made my decision after following Daddo's advice to ask myself before sleep and made the hard call––I mean message–– the next day.
So was I then ready to announce the winner? Nope.
There's a period of time for the files to be finalized (yipes! is that the right ISBN number?!) and sized to fit the applications, contracts signed, before that final handover.
So now can I? Nope
I did a test run with the files to be sure to get what I needed: art for the an ebook cover (essentially a front cover) and the print cover (that single piece of heavyweight paper that wraps from back to front) on the paperback.
Do I need to send this off to the printer in New Jersey? No, I simply upload files to Amazon and check out their "previewer." Oh brave new world.
But you do have to figure out a variety of other marketing things: categories and key words, for instance. And you do have to enter whatever remaining personal data that Amazon doesn't already know.
Now can I reveal the cover? Nope.
Because the preview ended up looking like this.
And while I can make the inside pages of the novel are look pretty nifty, I am not especially equipped to resize graphic files. I mean, I could try importing the image into Word and resizing it that way, but surely that's a crime against art.
So, this story goes on continuing.
*These fashion photos came from an ill-fated browse of a high-end department store last December. These are supposed to be festive holiday outfits. I can't even. Has the industry forgotten how to be cheerful?