Our 12 Cover Process

Coming up with the perfect cover for a book can be a challenge, so we’ve decided to share the process of one of our covers here with you.

The book in question is the upcoming thriller, 12.

This is a cover I’ve been toying with ideas for about as long as I’ve been writing the book in my head — that would be the mid ’90s.

While I’ve done most of the covers for Collective Inkwell, this is one I didn’t think I could handle, as I’m not nearly talented enough to manipulate as many photos as I’d need to bring the concept together.

So we turned to our friends (and The Self-Publishing Podcast sponsor) 99 Designs and decided to hold a cover contest to find the perfect design.

If you’re not familiar with 99 Designs, here’s how it works.

You come up with a concept and pitch it to your designers. You can include links to other covers that have a style you like, or even upload cover concepts you (or someone else) have created.

We went with the basic $299 package PLUS the Power Pack Upgrade (valued at another $99 but which you’ll get for free if you use the link below).


A Power Pack Upgrade makes your design contest stand out from the crowd. 99designs will bold your listing, highlight it with a prominent background and feature it before regular listings. This on average results in 185% more designs!

Now, here’s how our contest has gone. (We’ll update this post as we go through the process and pick the winner).


This is where you’ll tell the designers what you’re looking for in your book cover design.

Note: we actually did kind of a crap job on this one, in that we didn’t include sample covers we liked, which makes it harder for designers to come up with something for you. So spend a bit more time and find some cover designs you like and copy and paste those links into the brief.

Here’s what we wrote:

Title: 12 (written as the number, not spelled)
Authors: PLATT & WRIGHT (all caps)

This is a suspense crime thriller about a mass shooting which takes place in a diner. This character-driven tale opens up at 6PM just after the shooting happens. The book then rewinds to 6AM and unfolds one hour per chapter told from 12 points of view. The big mysteries are who lives, who dies, and who pulled the trigger? The entire story starts off as separate narratives which eventually coalesce into a tightly wound explosive/tragic ending.

12 examines the last hours of lives, how the choices we make can create waves we cannot foresee, and how sometimes, no matter what we do, fate will have its way with us.

There are a few concepts we’re considering for the cover.


The numbers 12 done in some creative way, perhaps as puzzle pieces, with a couple of pieces missing, maybe some blood splattered on the missing pieces cast aside? Could be black background, white numbers, but we’re open to other colors.


Something to do with time (12 hours) ticking away. BUT NO HOURGLASS! IT should hint at the concepts above (shooting, ticking clock, mystery)


Something in a diner. Could have a ticking clock, bullets, police tape, something which conveys the themes/story above.

Got a better idea? We’re open to anything that looks top-notch and conveys the themes expressed above.

The cover should say classy suspense thriller, and look like a bestselling book. No tacky looking thrown together stock photos. This should look like a top notch, high quality suspense book. No cheesy blood effects or horror type fonts.

This cover should not have illustrations unless they are done to accentuate photos or are photorealistic. While we love illustrated covers for some books, this one should be photo-based.

We’ll need a 6×9 300 dpi (or higher) cover for print (will also need spine and back done, though we can work this from a PSD file)

We also need a 2400×2400 300 dpi version for the audiobook version.

The 12 should be large and easily visible on the cover.

You can play with different effects on the text if you can think of something cool to go with the themes.


Now, the first designs that come in usually aren’t likely to be your best ones. In fact, some of the worst entries came in during the first day — from a few designers who ignored things we said we didn’t want.

Remember how I said I didn’t want cheesy blood splatter or horror-like typeface?




So I was a bit worried, but then some other covers started coming in, covers that we could actually see as the final cover for 12.


During the first round, you’re going to get a lot of submissions. You’ll also get comments from the designers looking for input. Even if they don’t ask for input, you can enter comments on any of the designs, or send them as direct messages to the designer.

During this stage, you can eliminate designs that won’t make the cut. I like to do this as soon as possible, so as not to leave any designers waiting around when they could be competing for other contests. I pretty much know when a cover doesn’t work, and I eliminate it immediately.

But there will be a lot of covers on the fence. They COULD be good, or even great, with a few tweaks.

This is where communication with designers is key.

Need the cover to be a bit darker or lighter? Need a different image? Need the typeface changed? Now’s a good time to make sure the designer can do what needs to be done.

However, as a cartoonist and former freelancer, I like to be courteous to the designer and not run them ragged with a million different requests. These things take time, so I only make requests if I really think this designer will make it to the next round. Because unless the designer wins the contest, they’re essentially working for free.

After a few days, the first round is over, and you’ll need to select the designers you want to bring to the next round.


Communicating with your designer is key to making the best cover! Be direct, be respectful, and your designer will do their best to please you.

It’s easy to see a bad cover and think WHAT THE HELL WAS THIS DESIGNER THINKING?

But sometimes a good designer can present a bad cover, especially if they’re unclear on what you’re looking for.

We got this cover (which I think is one of the worst submissions we got).


But then, after talking with the designer, and saying what I didn’t like about that design (being respectful, of course), the designer came back with a strong contender.


I’d still tweak the author typeface, and maybe the title typeface, but it’s a great looking cover from someone I might have ignored based on their first entry.


This is where you want to get more specific and really nail down the design.

Again, I try not to run the designers ragged with too many requests. Here, I just want to make sure they’re close to what we need.

We had one artist who had a pretty cool idea that I liked, but I wanted to make a few changes.

Here’s the first.


It was close, but I wanted to make it a bit messier.

I really like the splash effect on this book cover, so I sent it to the designer and asked if we could do something similar with the 12, where the scene is shown in the splash.


So, the designer came back with this.



One of the cool things about 99 Designs is that you can invite past designers you worked with to submit to your current contest.

One of my favorite 99 Designs covers so far is our Dark Crossings Collection Cover.

Dark Crossings Collection

So I invited that designer to submit for 12.

Here’s his first entry.


I loved it immediately.

However, I felt like the 12 might have been too dark.

So I asked if the designer could tweak it a bit and add some red behind it.

He came back with the revision. (I think this might be a bit too bright and will ask him to tone it down a bit if he wins the contest.)


The designer then came back with another revision, which is another contender.



You can use a poll at any point in your contest to help you determine which cover you should choose.

Polls are a great way to both find out what your readers prefer, and to build awareness for your book!

Plus, many of your most devoted readers like to be part of the process, to have some input in such an important decision. So this gets them involved in a cool way.

We typically like to wait until the second round of the contest to run a poll. Sometimes we’ll run a couple of polls during this round, especially if the voting is close on two covers, or variants of one cover.

You can see our poll, and vote on it, here.



We’ll update this part of the post when we choose our winner in a few days. Check back then.

Got any questions or comments about the process, leave them below.

And remember, if you’re going to do your own cover design, use our link to get the $99 Power Pack Upgrade!



About Sean Platt

Sean Platt is an author entrepreneur, founder of Sterling & Stone, and co-founder of the Collective Inkwell and Realm & Sands imprints. Follow him on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook.


  1. Michelle Mulford says:

    I voted! I got sick of typing on my phone and didn’t review every entry, just the ones I thought worked. So I will register my vote against the #1 choice here. I hate it – it looks like a spy novel involving the zodiac. I know the designer will tweak it, but I can’t get behind the concept at all.

    Thanks for linking the contest here; I didn’t know it was running. Probably got way too opinionated, but I love covers.

  2. Thanks for writing this post, it’s very interesting. I’m thinking of having a new cover for one of my books and then using professional designers going forward. One question I have is, how do you ensure the spine width is correct for books produced in Createspace? You don’t know the precise spine width until you upload your interior files to Createspace, but you probably want to get the cover design underway before then. Also, for the Kindle version (or other ebook versions) do you just ask the designer to do a “front” version only and do you keep it the same dimensions as the paperback? Finally, does 99designs charge extra for doing a square audio version as well, or is that all part of the package? Sorry, lots of questions I know! Thanks for your help.

    • David Wright says:

      For the print version, you will need to figure out what your print book is going to run first. That means formatting your print book for publication and then going to CreateSpace’s template builder (search CreateSpace cover template) and choose the correct things on the dropdowns and insert your page numbers. Then CreateSpace will output a PDF which you can hand to the designer and ask for your book cover to be done to those specs. As for costs, I’m not sure if we’ll be charged for the square cover or not. I am able to take from the 6×9 print cover and make something from that, if necessary, so I’m not too worried there. Different designers may charge, may not charge, depending on how much extra work is involved.

      As for the front version, the designer will likely send me both a print and front version. Again, if they only want to send me the print version, I can use Photoshop and get what I need from that. But I believe I will get all three from the contest.

  3. Really cool to see this process! I’m going to try 99 out myself for my first book.
    Good selection there, I’d say the most visually arresting and plain awesome looking is the bloodsplattered tiled floor/wall with the black 12 in the middle. Possibly a bit dark looking, and it’s clear it’s not going to win, but that is the most unique and memorable cover by far for me.

  4. I liked the 1st version of the scene splattered in the 12 better. More subtle, although maybe it won’t standout in thumbnail as well.

  5. This article has made my mind up re: a cover for my first book, and I’ve just set up my first 99 Designs competition. Excited!

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