UPDATE: Just this week, I noticed that Fiverr made some brilliant additions to their service:
1) For cover design, Fiverr has introduced an incredibly easy system that allows you to mark the image itself and leave a comment on exactly the place that needs correction. This is unbelievably helpful, especially when using a seller whose native language is different than yours. I absolutely LOVE this addition.
2) Upon completing the gig, Fiverr now requires you to leave a rating for Fiverr's eyes only that the seller will never see. There are also optional comment boxes enabling you to explain what you liked or didn't like about dealing with the seller. This relieves some of the pressure on buyers that this posts addresses below.
Note: I'm only discussing Fiverr because I've never tried Upwork or Elance, etc.
When I first started using Fiverr, I felt like I was walking through a minefield.
But now, I’m a Fiverr addict. It has a gig for my every desire and I can't stop using it.
So far, I’ve used Fiverr for:
While there are some real gems on Fiverr, it has a learning curve like anything else.
The first lesson is the easiest and that’s the Fiverr lingo:
So let’s look at some Fiverr truths....
Nothing Actually Costs $5
Fiverr adds processing fees and VAT, so the lowest price is actually $5.85. Or $6.77, depending.
I even got the price $7.02 after processing and VAT.
I think the added fees depend where you and the seller are in the world.
If you are taking a gig that runs up to, say, $150, you can end up paying an extra, say, $40 in fees and taxes alone, pricing your gig closer to $200 than the advertised $150.
This is not the seller’s fault, nor is there anything the seller can do about it.
Furthermore, to get something decent, you usually need to pay more. Many gigs give you the barest minimum for $5. For example, a good ebook cover by an experienced and highly rated seller often costs at least $10. Many cost $20-$35. And even then, you can still end up with a formulaic book cover featuring the photo of your choice inserted into the template’s designated space. Now, this can still work if the seller uses a template that looks great both as a thumbnail and enlarged. However, a new seller desperate to for gigs and 5-star reviews might create a great cover for you for only $5. It depends.
More on getting the most out of Fiverr cover designers below….
You Get What You Pay For—Kind Of
I loved a $10 cover one seller designed for me. Yes, I needed to contribute a lot of input to get it like that, but he did a great job. However, my friend uses the same designer and orders his juiciest package (which includes interior book design) at a whopping $135.
And her books come out great--very professional and attractive.
This is how a free market works. Yes, he does a nice job at $10 (and throws in a 3-D cover to boot). But his $135 gigs are superb.
You Must Become Your Own Expert—Gulp!
Because the sellers are working for a much lower salary than their non-Fiverr colleagues, they can’t spend a lot of time and thought on your gig—unless you are willing to pay them for it.
This means that you need to have some idea of what you’re doing first.
And this is probably one of the most challenging and frustrating aspects of self-publishing.
For example, I ordered one seller's $45 package-gig, which included an ebook cover and a paperback cover. Let’s say $15 for the ebook cover and $30 for the paperback? Or $20 and $25? (BTW, this was a top seller and the examples of the seller’s previous work were most impressive.) In return, I got the seller’s standard cover with my photo inserted. On the back of the print cover, it featured just the text I sent and nothing more. I noticed something missing, but it took some research to figure out that it needed a teaser or headline. Why couldn't I figure it out right away? Because I’m not a cover designer.
Also, did you know that the cover you see on the screen is a lot lighter than your print cover will end up being? I didn’t. So with another seller, I kept telling him to darken the background image so the text would be readable and he never warned me. And guess what? When I received the actual paperback book, the back cover image was nearly black.
And good luck trying to find out online what typeface and font size your back cover should be. I tried and found nothing.
(If you know, feel free to add your information in the comments.)
Anyway, this means that you must research covers in your genre so that you can tell the Fiverr seller exactly what you need. Dave Chesson of Kindlepreneur suggests that you find a cover that you like and send it to your Fiverr designer as an example. You can even send a few to combine different elements, such as the title typeface of one and the layout of another. Go to online bestseller lists in your genre and see what they have.
Your other option is to pay the designer a lot more to include professional consultation. So even if you end up paying $80 for an ebook & paperback cover, that is still significantly cheaper than a standard designer’s price.
One thing I learned from examining different book covers is that many cover designers are not so amazing with title design.
(Note: Book covers are pushing the envelope more than ever, even in categories that never called for risque covers. The Book Designer is an amazing resource, but I offer this disclaimer out of respect for individual standards, which vary from person to person. Needless to say, this disclaimer applies to any site featuring cover art.)
Anyway, you can see some amazing cover art that features weakly designed or poorly placed titles and author names. This makes sense because cover design is one kind of art and title design is a whole different kind of art. Again, this is something you’ll need to learn yourself or find a Fiverr designer who excels at both.
You Need To Be Your Own Policeman
Some Fiverr cover designers use images without permission AND without notifying you that they've done so. Personally, all the Fiverr cover designers I’ve used either ask me to provide the images or they direct me how to legally obtain images, either for free or for pay.
But please be aware that you must stay on top of this.
Some companies and individuals are hawkish about this and will sue you (or at least demand you pay for the photo) if they discover their image used without permission in or on your book.
Eibhlin Morey MacIntosh discusses her experience in her post What Cover Designers Do…and Don’t Do. Here is an excerpt:
Before I discovered vikncharlie, another Fiverr cover designer created a cover for me. It looked great. Then, after a month of selling the book at Amazon, I learned that she’d used a Getty image without permission, and it’d cost me over $250 to purchase the rights to use it.
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, He Loves Me….
Some Fiverr buyers complain that even when they find someone good, that person is not consistently good.
Of course, inconsistent quality doesn’t have to happen, but be prepared that it might, forcing you to intervene and possibly find yourself back at Square 1 when you didn’t expect it.
You Don’t Get ALL Your Money Back
You don’t get the tax or fees back. This can be inconsequential or major. ("Major" means the $50 in processing fees and VAT for 35-gig project you ordered.) You also can’t use your refund until you order a gig that is the same amount as the refund or less. So if your account accumulates $11.53 in refunds and you order a $20 gig, that $11.53 stays right where it is. Ultimately, you end up with an amount that you can’t do anything with, like 22 cents. When we're talking cents, it’s obviously not a big deal, it just doesn’t feel right. But that’s okay.
As you hunt for an honest and qualified seller (and they DO exist), you need to know how to weed out the ones who aren’t what they seem.
Forewarned is forearmed!
Games Sellers Play
Switcheroo—So, you’ve accepted the seller’s work and now the Fiverr process automatically takes you to giving a review.
However, you notice that the gig you’re leaving a review for is NOT the same gig you ordered.
I felt trapped the first time this happened.
You can actually skip the review because you already accepted and paid for the order, but I didn’t know that.
So I left a very specific review saying, “I love how the seller transformed my ebook cover into a wonderful paperback cover!” when the gig attached to the review was for creating an ebook cover from scratch. Why did he do that? Because this cover transformer now wanted to strike out on his own as a cover designer, but didn’t have reviews yet. So if you see reviews that don’t match the gig description, that’s probably why.
She’s Not What She Seems....—Does your young blonde seller from Canada make odd mistakes in English unrelated to American/Canadian differences? Does she always respond when it’s night time in Winnipeg? Did you need to correct the spelling on your book cover three times already? Does she not always understand what you’re saying no matter how clear and concise you are? Then maybe “she” is actually a “he” (or still a “she”) from the Asian continent. Or wherever.
Now, location isn’t such a big deal. Many non-native English-speakers achieve full English fluency. Like I said before, my book title creator is a native Serbian and creating book titles is a very language-specific task. Yet she did a great job.
Personally, I don’t care where the person is from or what their mother tongue is as long as they do the job right.
One of my favorite sellers is South American and I sometimes feel that I need to repeat myself or ask for a revision simply because something in the language wasn't clear. Yet his skill, talent, and personality make his gigs very worth it anyway.
But if you feel more comfortable with an English-specific task performed by a Canadian (or some other native English-speaker), then that is your right.
A 5-Star Review—Or Your Money Back!—Some sellers openly request that you either give a 5-star review or take a refund. If you’ve wondered how a seller managed 327 positive reviews without even one negative review, that could be the reason—although not necessarily. Some ask for feedback before you leave a review and if they see you’re not happy, they automatically refund your money—whether you wanted them to or not.
This can get really extreme as you’ll see in the following story:
I sent a proofreader a document, in which the proofreader found 2 typos. I later discovered there were 3 typos. The seller apologized profusely and got back to me to assure me that the document was reviewed again thoroughly, promising that this time, there were absolutely no other typos.
Because I tend to rate “up” on Fiverr (because destroying other people’s livelihoods is against my religion), I left her a 4.5 star review with a nice comment. But the seller was disappointed, saying, “I’d hoped for 5 stars from you” and asked me to go back and correct the review.
Now, this was not a 500-word document. It was much longer. If I send a proofreader a document with 3 typos and I get it back with 2 typos corrected, is that a good proofreading job? (Maybe I should get a percentage for finding the final typo....)
Anyway, that’s a 30% fail rate on what’s apparently a very clean document. Furthermore, authors NEED the first 2000-8000 words of their manuscript to be especially error-free because those are the words that appear in the online samples people peruse before deciding to buy your book.
Potential readers who catch typos can bypass buying the book in the assumption that if the writer couldn’t get the first 10% error-free, then the rest of the book must also be sloppy. Right?
Anyway, as shown above, the seller apologized profusely, claiming that such a thing had never happened before. Fine, we all have bad days. No one’s perfect.
But on the other hand, how can I know that it never happened before? Not only is the seller a total stranger, the only reason the missed typo got caught was because I caught it—perhaps because I have some background in proofreading. Maybe it happened lots of times, but the seller's buyers just never noticed? How can the seller really know?
Anyway, the seller argued that “I already told you that it was just an oversight and has never ever happened to me before.”
Okay, but the unique thing about proofreading as a profession is that its entire purpose is to catch oversights. (Having said that, proofreaders can never be perfect and even among the best publishing companies, an 80,000-word book can still have 2 or 3 typos.)
Then the seller explained that 4.5 stars lowers the overall rating much more than people think. Okay, I didn’t realize that. Good to know. But because I ultimately refused to give 5-stars for a non-5-star job, the proofreader insisted on refunding my money. For some reason, I felt bad, as if I’d been in the wrong, and accepted the refund at her request. At the same time, I felt I was being eloquently bullied into giving a 5-star review.
Ooh, I hate situations that bring up these kinds of conflicting emotions.
What's your take on it?
Anyway, it’s up to you to decide whether you accept a refund or leave a review.
Duplicate Reviews—When I first started out on Fiverr, I’d see 124 reviews, but half of them seemed to be duplicates. Maybe this was a bug from Fiverr’s end, maybe the same buyer took the seller 5 times within the same month or week and left the exact same review each time. (For example, I’ve taken a seller 3 times within 10 days, but I left a different review each time.) Sure, it could happen that someone needs several gigs done one after the other and they just leave “Outstanding Experience!” in their review each time. For example, a college student writing a bunch of different papers during crunch time could use the same proofreader several times within a short period of time. Anyway, I’m not sure what’s behind this. But I’m seeing this far less now, so I guess Fiverr is ironing it out. I think you'll see it more with the older sellers.
Partnering Up—Some Fiverr sellers leave positive reviews for each other. Now, this could be totally legit. It’s well-known that proofreaders should not proofread their own work, so it makes sense for them to get a fellow Fiverr proofreader to do it. And I have a friend who is both a buyer and a legit seller on Fiverr. But I caught a Fiverr proofreader doing this for a Fiverr proofreader who’d done a bizarre and terrible job on my manuscript.
(By bizarre and terrible, I mean that she inserted bizarre mistakes where there were none and did not correct even one typo.)
Finding Your Dream Seller
This is difficult, depending on your own level of skill within the task you need accomplished.
For example, how you can you know if a proofreader is any good?
As a former small-time proofreader myself, I wondered how could any of those 5-star reviewers possibly know if their proofreader really did the job? What if your eyes just don't catch the mistakes?
Also, a great many people lack decent grammar and spelling skills nowadays. (It's not their fault. Some people have learning disabilities and, in general, American education has plummeted.)
So if you can’t proofread yourself, how can you catch your proofreader’s oversights?
It could be they missed a ton of errors and you'll never know.
Through trial-and-error, I ended up with several sellers who proofread the first words of my manuscript, which I needed polished for the Amazon "Look Inside!" sample. And if they did a decent job (even if they didn’t catch everything), I didn't ask for a refund. With one, I didn’t leave a review at all, but let her keep the money because she was new and I suspected that rather than being unskilled or dishonest, she simply hadn’t figured out how to use her system effectively within the Fiverr time frame. I don't think it's fair for someone to do the work and then penalize them for being a beginner or for not being perfect.
Now, it’s obvious to me that many (if not most) Fiverr proofreaders use a proofreading program. That doesn’t bother me as long as they know how to use it. A good program can improve accuracy. To get the best job done, you need to use both the program AND your own eyes. I found out by mistake that these programs don’t pick up a period missing at the end of the last sentence before a chapter break.
So any proofreader relying solely on a program will miss it, too.
Here are some more tips for finding the best match:
Some people skip all the detective work and just use the top-rated seller with the most ratings. That can work out great, but sometimes they don’t give you what you need and they aren’t bothered by the handful of negative reviews lost in the shadow of their 2k+ positive reviews. (Like my experience with a top-rated cover designer above.)
Let them know your needs in advance.
For more great advice on dealing with Fiverr, please check out the following:
Dave Chesson on How to Use Fiverr to Make Amazing Ebook Covers
Eibhlin Morey MacIntosh on What Cover Designers Do and Don’t Do