Design Competition: Want to Design My Next Cover?


If there is one thing I’ve learned from this blog, it’s that the readers here — that’s you — have some stellar ideas and skills.

For the next book, tentatively titled “Becoming Superhuman”, I would therefore love to invite any designers out there to throw their hat in the ring for the cover design, especially talented beginners who might not otherwise have a chance to work on a project with international reach.

This is a 7-day competition, and the clock is already ticking…

The last book is now in 35 languages, and I’m hoping the next book will be much bigger. I’ll be firing all cylinders and then some.

So here’s the deal: I’m not a corporate type, but I have to play nice with my publisher. Sooooo… I’m forbidden from making any big promises, and I need to make a few things clear. So here goes:

1. I will offer $250 to four of my favorite designs, but this doesn’t mean any of them will end up being the cover. There is a good chance all of them will be vetoed completely, so the $250 is offered as a good faith gesture. Obviously, if we do use your cover, you will get cover credit, fame and glory, and there is the possibility of a follow-on agreement.

2. If we borrow elements or concepts from your cover but don’t use the whole thing, I will make sure you are recognized and thanked, whether in some form of partial/conceptual credit or in the acknowledgments.

3. That said, the publisher’s in-house design team, a few freelancers, and I have been working on tons, and I mean tons, of different cover options. This means that there is a distinct chance we might have tried concepts you might try. Please don’t assume we stole it if things look similar. It’s not in my best interest to screw anybody, and it’d be idiotic to do it so publicly. That’s not how I roll.

4. By submitting your design mock-ups and cover ideas, you are agreeing to the following terms and conditions. Please read them here. It basically says that once you submit anything for evaluation purposes, you can’t sue me or my publisher. Unfortunately, in a world where people sue McDonald’s for pouring hot coffee on their own genitals, this lawyering is necessary to prevent any misunderstandings.

The Upshot

Best case scenario, you get $250, your cover on a huge international bestseller (awesome for a major portfolio jump), full cover credit, and all the perks that come with massive recognition.

Worst case scenario, you give it a shot, have something new for your portfolio, but don’t get recognition or money.

For those interested in submitting and giving this a shot, here you go! Just follow this link to 99Designs for all the juicy details…

Good luck!

For those who think I’m a jerk for offering the above, please feel free to protest by not submitting. Feel free to call me names, too. I find “sweetcakes” particularly offensive. Just ask yourself this first: would you submit a design if it would take you a few hours and it might be featured on a Times Square billboard with full credit, even if for no pay? If not, I’d consider you unique. If yes, then recognize there are benefits to certain projects besides the compensation. Not that this cover is comparable to Times Square, but for a designer looking to break into a new and lucrative niche (book covers), or an experienced designer who can kick out a good design quickly, it might well be worthwhile to give it a shot. Realize also that there is a good shot we’ll end up using an inhouse cover, so the $250 is intended as a good faith gesture.

For a thoughtful critique of this post, I suggest the following article, which is the best written I’ve seen: Is Tim Ferriss Acting Like an Asshole?


Afterword – To the commenters who insist I’m exploiting the entire design community, I’d like to point out that, if you don’t participate by submitting, it is impossible for me to exploit you.

To those who suggest I write a book for free and then open it to the world, I’d like to quote blog reader Benedict, who commented below:

There’s something the naysayers all seem to have overlooked: Tim primary occupation is writing a first-class blog, an activity that earns his an annual salary of $0. (Income derived from the resulting kudos is something he has to work extra for.)

There are at least a dozen books worth of content on this blog, all of which I wrote for free. No even on spec — for free. My further thoughts on good and evil uses of spec use are below in my comments, which are highlighted in green. Here is my first comment:

I know there is a strong resistance in some designer communities against spec work, which is exactly what this is. I make no efforts to claim otherwise.

Here is where spec goes wrong: the prospective steals designs and, after someone has put their talent to work, offers nothing in return.

For the client who can offer value and not screw the designers they end up using, there is nothing wrong with spec work. If you’re in an advertising agency and want to get a high-profile client, what do you do? You offer spec designs and concepts to compete against other agencies bidding on the same project. Spec arrangements aren’t inherently evil at all, but the losses can be huge as a freelancer if you get screwed. Screwing people, including designers, is just fucked. No two ways around it.

But, can spec work be extremely valuable to someone who is looking for a high-visibility gig? Is it worth the risk that they might not win the bid/competition? For some, absolutely. For others who have a waiting list of clients and get paid in advance for work, perhaps not. It’s dependent on the individual, but spec has it’s place.

Related Posts:

Think this post is controversial? Not compared to How to Tim Ferriss Your Love Life

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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214 Replies to “Design Competition: Want to Design My Next Cover?”

  1. First, love the idea of a book cover contest and I can’t wait to see the submissions.

    Next, if you search for ‘McFacts about the McDonalds Coffee Lawsuit’ on Google, the first result will have some interesting information about that infamous case.

    Looking forward to the next book!


    1. Hi Aaron,

      Thanks for the comment. I know there is a strong resistance in some designer communities against spec work, which is exactly what this is. I make no efforts to claim otherwise.

      Here is where spec goes wrong: the prospective steals designs and, after someone has put their talent to work, offers nothing in return.

      For the client who can offer value and not screw the designers they end up using, there is nothing wrong with spec work. If you’re in an advertising agency and want to get a high-profile client, what do you do? You offer spec designs and concepts to compete against other agencies bidding on the same project. Spec arrangements aren’t inherently evil at all, but the losses can be huge as a freelancer if you get screwed. Screwing people, including designers, is just fucked. No two ways around it.

      But, can spec work be extremely valuable to someone who is looking for a high-visibility gig? Is it worth the risk that they might not win the bid/competition? For some, absolutely. For others who have a waiting list of clients and get paid in advance for work, perhaps not. It’s dependent on the individual, but spec has it’s place.

      Hope that helps!


  2. I’m excited for this-will definitely put in some time for a shot at the cover.

    It was great when Guy Kawasaki did it for “Art of the Start” too. He put all the runner-ups on the inside of the jacket-something you might give a thought to?

  3. Who needs to go out and search for qualified cover designers when you can just ask your own community. However, the problem with this is that you can’t be sure that the work is original…. Is there any process for this?

    With that said, doing this is much easier than actually getting a thousand dollar designeer to do it.

  4. I have a feeling there’s going to be some brilliant designs submitted, and I doubt anything I could create would match the inhouse design team, but I think I’ll still give this a go.

  5. Awesome, will have a design turned in, What the heck… You only live once and sounds like fun ; )

    Pura Vida


  6. I like this idea…I’m sure your going to have 1000s of people submit their work…including me.

    Being in web design has given me the opportunity to get creative; from time to time :-). I’ll see what kind of mock-up I can get you.

  7. I think the cover should be two photos of Christian Bale. The first from The Machinist, and the 2nd from Batman Begins.

    Geek to freak baby!!!

  8. Glad we could help out Tim and am sure there will be no shortage of awesome concepts.

    We’ll all be waiting in eager anticipation for the release date!



  9. So glad to see a great author embracing crowd-sourcing to engage their fans in helping creating something cool and let them be a part of the process; you are way ahead of the curve Tim. If you ever decide to have your fans create anything else in the future, we would love to help.

  10. Dear Sweetcakes (someone had to do it…),

    Great idea and opportunity. And, while I’m not artistically inclined, I’ll be sure to pass it to many of my friends who are!

    Can’t wait to see what the new book holds in store…

  11. great idea. i am far from being a designer but i would love to offer myself as a cover model if you descide to do a cover with a person performing something “superhuman” as i take personal pride in being able to do very chalenging feats while looking good doing it 🙂 if you are interested send an e-mail and we’ll talk. if not i would suggest you use pictures of yourself. you’ve done some pretty awesoem things from what i’ve seen. or you can take one fo those cirque de ole guys! they can do soem pretty awesome stuff.

  12. Yeah, sorry but you’re being really uncool Tim. That’s OK, though, if you would please publish your entire book here and let us all read it first and then decide if we’d like to pay for it 😉

  13. I think the “becoming superhuman” title will only be justified if you go beyond diet and exercise, to talk about herbal enhancements. Having flexibility in choosing your body type, while impressive, doesn’t strike me as overwhelmingly superhuman. Increasing your intelligence, personality and energy levels effortlessly past the competition does. If that’s what you’re delivering, then don’t nerf the hook!

    Not that I doubt. Just sayin.

  14. Are you are aware of the controversy around the issue of crowdsourcing and spec work? I would think you would be, which makes me wonder if you are trying some kind of PR stunt… Regardless, I’ll probably submit an entry. 😉

  15. Oh my goodness this is so exciting! I don’t know if I’ll come up with a great design or not, but I am excited to see the entries, and especially to get the book. How should we submit our entries?And can we send in more than one?

  16. If I was a designer, I would go for the throat on this one.

    I can’t wait for this book. When do we get more info on it?

  17. @Mike, having your audience join in on a contest is completely honest and should not be frowned upon. You could find an article supporting anything, this is completely cool…. You should join in ; )

    How do you think Threadless got started? Same thing!

    Have a blast,

    Jose Castro-Frenzel

  18. Even though I can’t design it is still very exciting to hear more things about the book Tim…looking forward to it.


    I think it produces a win-win should your work be the best. Especially if you are new and looking for exposure.

    When an entrepreneur starts a new company are they guaranteed a million dollars whether it is a fail or success? not likely…but rather they have to work for free until they make it a success.

  19. about crowd-sourcing … ummmm… this is a COMPLETE OPPORTUNITY…if you don’t see it, you’re staring at your feet and not the path of opportunity ahead of you. with Tim’s popularity and best seller status in several categories…. yeahhh… what kind of credibility and attention do you think one gets if they’re selected? This isn’t some narrow niche contest. You’d be printed in 35+ languages and popularity from the stuff Tim puts out.

    get your head out of the sand and look ahead of you…. this ain’t your typical opportunity in some small, unnoticed community…

  20. Great, spec work at its finest. $250? Are you kidding us? You’re screwing over even amateurs with this.

  21. Tim: Two things. First, your blog is the only blog I read (which says a lot). . . and when I’m too under the influence to actually read your blog, I watch your videos. Kudos to your great personality.

    Second, you are the man at outsourcing. You’ve elevated to a new level: Why hire an Indian or make a job posting on when you can have people do it for free?! (It’s nice of you to offer the money, by the way). When I had my book cover designed, it cost tons of hours of research and well over $1,000.

    P.S. I recently bought your History channel video “Trial by Fire” . . . I hope they accept the show.

  22. Oh, right, it’s not spec work it’s crowd-sourcing.

    It’s not a job it’s a competition.

    $250 flat fee, mmm…

    Are you taking a flat fee from your publisher, regardless of number of copies sold?

    I love that you pre-empt the backlash in your post, because you knew before you made this request that it was a dick move.

    I wonder how many of the professionally designed covers in that little mosaic were designed on a promise of maybe winning $250 & getting “international recognition”.

    I’ve got a design idea for you – your head up your butt.

  23. I am really looking forward to the book.

    I have some ideas for the cover but unfortunately am not artistically inclined.

    I was wondering if you will be talking about HGH in your book and the use of anabolic supplements?

  24. Great idea! This seems like an incredibly challenging book to design a cover for, because how can you make it appealing to not only fitness nuts, but average Joes who may have never bought a fitness book in their life? How do you convey the potential for a fast and extreme body transformation using the info in your book, without seeming too good to be true and being a turn-off to the more skeptically-minded folks? Good thing you seem to have many smart and creative people who read your blog 🙂

  25. I’m on this – I think designers are missing the point that this is a competition, and not a job assignment that might not be paid. Excellent decision, Tim, it brings in your readership and is great marketing.

    Expect a design soon!


  26. I just submitted a very rough entry. I think pooling the resources of the interested public is the best way to go. So long as credit is given, and I have no doubt it will be.

    The book’s opposition are going to love that its initials are BS, though. 🙂

    I can’t wait to get my copy.

  27. “Spec arrangements aren’t inherently evil at all, but the losses can be huge as a freelancer if you get screwed. Screwing people, including designers, is just fucked. No two ways around it.”

    My reply: Spec arrangements where participants are not paid for their participation IS an evil way of exploiting all those participants that will not win. And by rewarding the winners 250 dollars you even exploit the best of your crowd. You run a multi million dollar operation and offer a ridiculous USD 250 reward. It’s nothing less than shameful and I don’t understand how you can put your name on this. You come out as a total cheapskate that takes no pride in selecting the best possible packaging for your product.

    At least the winner’s reward(s) should be fair compared to the editor’s future revenues. Why not offer the winner a royalty per sold book? That would show your generosity and sense of fair business.

    It’s surprising that you don’t seem to be willing to spend money on your two most important visual assets of your contact with your public – your online presence (your website looks super cheap to say the least) and your book cover. Recommended reading:

    1. Hi Hansson,

      Thanks for the comment. I appreciate the candor.

      Just a few things:

      1) There is a decent chance that none of the finalists’ covers will make it to the final cover. The $250 per finalist is a good faith gesture. If it makes it on the cover, and the book hits bestseller lists, and the designer is not already rolling in clients, is it worth it for them? Setting aside that I will probably pay them more in that case, it’s absolutely worth it. One big hit is all you need to be set in some industries.

      2) No book cover designers are given royalties. That’s just not how the business works. There is the publisher (bulk of profit), there is the author (4-15% royalties), there is inhouse staff (salaried), and there are various work-for-hire contractors who handle certain areas of expertise (per-hour or per-project compensation). When not give my publicist a % of all my sales? Because the market dictates that it isn’t necessary.

      I don’t expect you to dislike this any less, but the above points are, I think, worth considering.

      All the best,


  28. some people miss the point..

    imagine a talented but unrecognised graphic design student – or not even that – ASPIRING graphic design student.. they try it out – they succeed – suddenly they have prospects and choice – especially if they aren’t from a conventional university/geographical area. This is much more of an opportunity for them than for the working freelancer.

  29. Just browsing the comments, it appears there are some really passionate opinions against this idea. I don’t see Tim asking anybody to work for free, but if money is the only capital you work for, then I guess I can see where some feel like this is shady. If you’re a designer without any need to elevate your status in the design community, then this project is not for you. But I see an opportunity here, for an undiscovered designer with amazing talent to catapult their career to rock star status.

    And here is the best part, if you’re design gets ripped off by Tim, start a blog – http://www.igotSCRWEDby//////.com (didn’t want to insert his name because of pesky search engines) to vent your frustration. The way I see it, Tim took a HUGE risk with this project, because there is significant probability of a designer claiming to be ripped off – even when they weren’t. I wouldn’t have done it, but then again, I’m not Tim.

    Thanks for trying to pull your community up with you Tim.

  30. This is just like pornography – if you’re against it, don’t consume it. If you’re into it, there are plenty of providers to give you what you want. Either way, we all have the right to take part or not but we cannot impose our beliefs on others. If you are OK with what TF is offering up you should go for it and good luck to you. If you feel somehow degraded by this “crowdsourcing”, guess what your choice is?

    Fact of the matter is that Tim Ferris has masterfully created his ideal lifestyle and gets paid for it – genius. If I figured out how to get thousands of great ideas from willing submitters while sitting on a plane on my way to try yak herding in the Himalayas in the days before the publishing of my next book – I’d be pretty proud of myself.

    To stand on the shoulders of giant, you first need to find a giant willing to let you do so.

  31. Tim, while it’s true that book cover designers aren’t paid a “royalty,” people who create artwork for book covers do license the art to the publisher based on print run, region, language, etc. So the artists get paid again if the book goes into a second or third printing, or if the same artwork is used for a foreign edition, etc. So it’s not a left-field comment. Count me in the “no spec” choir.

    1. Hi David,

      Fair enough. The truth is that Random House would probably want to have a separate agreement with any designer whose design, if in full, ended up being used as the cover. That said, since I’m doing this independently, I don’t want to speak on their behalf. This ham-strung position — granted, self-inflicted — limits what I can promise in terms of outcomes.

      Point well taken, though.


  32. The most annoying part of this offer is the comments labeling it as evil. Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Lucifer…EVIL. Tim Ferris, blogger, entrepreneur, author, guy making an offer…not EVIL.

    If you don’t like the offer… “please feel free to protest by not submitting”

  33. hi i am one of those 54 year old dinos who is computer and tech iliterate.

    i have managed investments and studied the pschology of what makes markets move..i dont buy and hold and run profits and cut losses.

    i know my stuff but would like to outsource the huge amount of research papers i get througth and the articles i write.

    i would like to out source my technical analysis sifting process.

    i have seriously outperformed the msci index ,i am a regular speaker on bloomberg and cnbc but not so hot at running companies especially leveraging my abilites by getting more assets under mgt…can anyone help point me in the right direction to sort my life….love the was as if thats what my life had been waiting for

  34. [Quote T.F.]No book cover designers are given royalties. That’s just not how the business works. (…) Because the market dictates that it isn’t necessary.

    [Comment] I know it’s like that. But great minds invent, they don’t follow conventions. You could personally have guaranteed your designer that royalty in addition to his one-time payment. $250×4 just isn’t coherent for a guy who’s known for being generous about non-profits and on the cutting edge of investing in startups.

    Striving for excellence – which is what I gather you do when you put all this effort into finding the perfect title/the bestselling cover – means surrounding yourself with excellent people, having the highest expectations, and rewarding other people’s excellence generously. 250 bucks and 200 billion printed copies doesn’t pay any bills. Nobody knows who designed your first book cover. Exposure is a bonus, not the paycheck itself. Show us the money instead.

  35. Geez, never heard of slogan contests? “Tell us why you love Ovaltine in 30 words or less”

    Continuing the progression of outsourcing and alternative development of projects.

    I am not a designer but I understand that professional designers do not appreciate this process. Professional jingle writers probably didn’t submit a slogan to Ovaltine. And when they wrote their jingle they paid a professional to write it.

    And as an amateur, I was excited to submit one of the first 20 submissions. To all the “professionals” – please do not submit, I need the money.




    Because they’ve discovered that their skills are not as unique or valuable as they thought they were. Sorry, I’m not trying to be rude but it’s true.

    Just like engineers who are struggling because there are an order of magnitude more engineers being trained in India and China who will work for much less money. Even if the work is of lesser quality, the lower cost often makes it worthwhile to outsource. (I don’t want to start a conversation about the merits of engineering outsourcing, I’m just using it as an example).

    The expected value of submitting a design is low but it has enormous upside variance. If you’re starting out and looking for a break – this is it. This opportunity gives the stereotypical “struggling artist” a chance for a big break. The fact that people are willing to enter these competitions suggests that they have considered the fact that they aren’t going to be paid and submitted anyway.

    It’s no surprise that established designers are against spec work – they don’t want the competition from the crowd of amateur designers. They’re behaving more like microsoft and standard oil than they probably even realize.

  37. If spec work is bad, then spec work is no less bad for designers who choose not to participate. This is a variation of The Prisoner’s Dilemma. If none of you and your fellow designers participate, you get the best overall result — actual contract work for work needed. If only one of you participates, he gets a local reward (chance at $250), everyone else is worse (the continuation of spec work). If everyone participates, it’s worse for everyone (lower chances of $250, continuation of spec work).

  38. Hi Everyone,

    There’s something the naysayers all seem to have overlooked: Tim primary occupation is writing a first-class blog, an activity that earns his an annual salary of $0. (Income derived from the resulting kudos is something he has to work extra for.)

    If you think people shouldn’t work for free, then I suggest you stop reading his articles and benefiting from his advice.

    For everyone else – myself included – keep on subscribing!

    Oh, and Tim, my offer of free piano lessons still stands :-). I’m not saying this because I want publicity but because I think your feedback on my teaching techniques would be very useful.



    1. Thanks for pointing this out, Benedict!

      To repeat what you said:

      Hi Everyone,

      “There’s something the naysayers all seem to have overlooked: Tim primary occupation is writing a first-class blog, an activity that earns his an annual salary of $0. (Income derived from the resulting kudos is something he has to work extra for.)

      If you think people shouldn’t work for free, then I suggest you stop reading his articles and benefiting from his advice.

      For everyone else – myself included – keep on subscribing!

      Oh, and Tim, my offer of free piano lessons still stands :-). I’m not saying this because I want publicity but because I think your feedback on my teaching techniques would be very useful.



  39. I’m surprised no one has addressed on important issue yet: Quality.

    Tim’s going to get a lot of average designs from a bunch of amateur designers. Maybe 5 or 6 will be above average, but I highly doubt anything exceptional will come out of this. However, there’s not much difference between average and exceptional to the untrained eye. Sometimes average design is all you need. And if you want average, spec is okay in my mind.

    The point is, if you’re good at something, never do it for free. Simple.

  40. Great idea Tim. I don’t know how other design fields work, but in architecture a considerable portion of jobs is won through ‘spec’ under the guise of ‘architectural competitions’. Many a practice spends considerable resource to conceptualise and work up a design for these competitions and the winner is paid an honourariam amount to cover costs which can be considered pocket change to the companies hosting them.

    If architecture, a well respected design field, wins a considerable amount of work (which can actually make a practice) through ‘spec’ work (under another name), then I don’t see how designers in other fields can rankle at this proposition. Business is business and competition in theory should produce better results?

    – Jay

    (A freshly graduated architecture student who can only get jobs through spec work for the moment…)

  41. Haha. Thanks for making me laugh.

    I don’t even touch a pencil for 250$.

    Here is my design for you, just copy & paste:


    by Tim Ferriss


  42. I don’t know about the cover art, but the title should be…

    “The 3-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich”

    This new and improved DEAL system is guaranteed to reduce your 4HWW by 25%.

  43. Thanks for provoking such entertaining comments. I’m having fun reading the responses and I’ll have tons of fun entering the contest.

  44. These posts crack me up. If you guys hate Tim so much, why do you read his blog? Great stuff Tim, I love reading about your adventures and I’ve learned a ton from your book. I’m just trying to find ways to apply it in my life and find my own flugelbinder! Keep up the great work.



    P.S. I’d love to see some more posts on entrepreneurship and creating web properties. It seems like you have access to a lot of smart people and and additional info you have on hooking up with good programmers to start my own web company is much appreciated.

  45. Designers, as a bunch, are uber sensitive and self-conscious, there’s no doubt. Afterall, I am one. But Tim, you’ve reduced the design of your covers to ‘here’s the title, make something pretty’. This contest rots because it glazes over the most basic tenet of the creative process—research. At the very least, anyone designing the book should be given the opportunity to read the book, to pull relevant concepts or quotables or whatever to come up with a real, strategic solution. I mean, how many Million Dollar Man-esque solutions have already been submitted? You wouldn’t write a book without some level of research would you?

    1. Hi John,

      Thanks for the comment, and I agree that research is key. Unfortunately, I can’t really offer more besides the post on the new book, which I linked to. This was meant as something fun for me and the community, but I’m also on deadline, so I needed to keep it light. I’m sure there will be surprisingly good designs despite this, but only time will tell 🙂

      All the best,


  46. I can understand why some designers don’t like this but it seems like it’s pretty easy to deal with. If you think it’s unfair and not worth your time, don’t participate. I used a similar method 3 years ago to design one of my company logo’s and got great results. On top of that the designer uses my logo in their portfolio and I have gone back to him again for other resources.

    Tim will pretty much do the same thing when his book publishes. Meaning that most of you that make the argument that he should publish the whole book for free and then you will decide if you’ll buy it will actually pick up his book and thumb through it in the book store prior to purchasing it. You’ll get a feel for what the book offers before you invest your hard earned money in making a copy your own.

    I appreciate that Tim has been transparent and upfront on the issue. Good luck to everybody that makes a wise personal choice to participate!

  47. Hey Tim,

    I’ve got a good idea for your cover but am not artistically inclined. Is it possible to simply tell you the idea? I need no reward if you end up using it.

    Thanks and good luck!

  48. Go Tim.

    I’m surprised by the negative reactions. There’s nothing new about competitions for artistic endeavors. If would be one thing is you approached a specific designer, a known professional, and asked them to do work on spec. But in the case, the competition is open to everyone. What a great way for someone to get noticed, or possibly just take on an engaging challenge?

    I think it’s fair for a professional to say, “I don’t work on spec.” But I think it’s ridiculous for a professional to say, “And no else should, either.” I totally agree with Jay on this one.

  49. Tim et al,

    I’m not a designer nor will I be submitting anything, I’m just a fan of 4HWW and this blog and have been following this thread.

    I can see why some people (mainly pro designers) are upset, calling it spec work/crowd sourcing for very little reward even if theirs is the cover chosen. I’m a professional musician and might feel the same way if it was a “write the Official Tim Ferriss Jingle to be played around the world and win $250” contest. Wait, I got a Masters degree for my skill to be reduced to this?


    I also find it a little ironic that all the whiners and cryers probably call themselves ENTREPRENEURS, which, by my definition, are obsessed with opportunity and have the vision and creativity to see AROUND the problem to the long-term value. The complainers are so focused on looking at the problem that they don’t see the upside.

    On another note, I will buy the book when it’s available because I’m very into health and fitness and body-hacking as well, and have a blog post about a workout I created based around Pareto’s ideas I learned from 4HWW. Good stuff!



  50. “Here is where spec goes wrong: the prospective steals designs and, after someone has put their talent to work, offers nothing in return.

    For the client who can offer value and not screw the designers they end up using, there is nothing wrong with spec work.”

    A $250 prize for a project like this is not offering value. $250 is insultingly low. Offering “recognition” isn’t adequate, even and especially for designers that are just starting out. We do this for a living and we need to be paid fairly for the work we provide. The issue isn’t just the competition, it’s the incredibly low reward you’re offering. Things like this devalue our industry and make it more and more difficult for both beginners and seasoned professionals to make a living – and I’m not talking about lavish lifestyles here, I’m talking about paying the bills and feeding our families. I gurantee there are hundreds of would-be design clients out there that will read about your contest and say to themselves, “Well, Tim Ferris held a design contest for just $250 – I can too.” This isn’t helping anyone garner more clients. Instead, it is leeching the true value, skill and craft out of design and only helping to make it more acceptable to ask a designer for wold-class work while only paying pennies for it.

    I like you Tim, but you’ve made a very bad decision here. At the very least offer a (substantially) larger reward for your selections.

    Please, please read what No!Spec has to say about Design Contests ( ) and the Ten Reasons article ( ).

  51. Wow. My undergrad degree was in Art/Graphic Design, I didn’t know about this “No Spec” controversy. Well said, Jay:

    “Business is business and competition in theory should produce better results”

    I always like to say, if you don’t like what you are hearing, change the channel!

    Thanks so much for the opportunity, Tim, I am looking forward to doing some brainstorming and giving it my best shot.

    ~???~ ? p e a c e ~???~

  52. Jay – agreed, and it is not just recent grads that submit very elaborate architectural design that are very well developed to competitions, very high profile firms do it as well. The firms that could get plenty of work from name alone.

    Even the small firm (20 people) I work at in Colorado, that is very well know for doing educational buildings, we still participate in competitions for educational work and we are very proud of the competitions that we win.

    But to each his own – if the graphic design community doesn’t feel the need for this type of competition, so be it.

    Tim – way to make use of your community and getting us more involved.

  53. Tim, Tim, Tim. Sometimes you really make me laugh. For all this time I’ve been reading your book and blog, I’ve seen you step out there and “step in it” several times, getting yourself embroiled in a little controversy without meaning to and watching your fans and non-fans get riled up over something probably meant either in fun or in earnest. Sometimes I wonder if you suddenly get someone slapping you back for an idea and think, “Oh, crap! How did this happen?!” You must not have a VA polling the public to see how well-liked your ideas will be in order to avoid any potential controversy. I’d be disappointed if you did.

    But regardless, I really admire you because you actually DO something. You’re not sitting around, just playing it safe with your bold ideas but you’re putting them out there for people to use (or abuse or feel abused by, since this is their issue and not yours). You’re having fun and inviting people to play if they choose.

    Oh yeah, and as an author under a pseudonym for a major publisher, I wrote several books on spec to get my foot in the door but when I sold the first, it did well and paid the bills. It was exasperating to work for free, but it was what I had to do to prove myself to editors. I’ve since repackaged my old spec projects into a steady income stream rather than moaning about lost work or lost opportunities.

  54. What the hell is wrong with some of you people? I wish more authors, businesses, bands etc. would involve their fans in product/design creation. Perhaps if you own a design firm and were hoping to get some business this might piss you off, but deal with it and find a way to include everyone in the process. One of my favorite bands Iglu and Hartley has a t-shirt contest in which their fans get to create their apparel and purchase all designs submitted. What a great way to give your fans a voice.

  55. Good grief. I’m a songwriter, and I would never feel exploited if a competition like this popped up for “Four Hour Blog Theme Music”. In fact, Sweetcakes, if you offer a competition in MY niche of audio/video (that is, if you don’t get Douglas Price to do it…), I’ll submit. Even for $250.

    I’m a pro, and would gladly use my mad skills and equipment to make a quick buck AND increase my exposure.

    I seem to recall another popular blogger doing the same thing for his book, except he didn’t pay anyone as far as I remember:

    Some people love to do what they do–and often do it for art before money. Incidentally, the music that I enjoy making is the music that makes me the least money.

    If graphics were my bag, I would have entered by now instead of writing this.


  56. I think this is crowdsourcing at its finest. I don’t understand people’s resistance to breaking down industry barriers and going about business in a fresh, creative manner. Tim, I think this is a smart and an acceptable approach to creating content. This gives your community an outlet and the fact is that no one would have the opportunity to design anything or get recognition if it wasn’t for the following you’ve created.

  57. For all you no-spec design nazi’s, feel free to not participate. This competition is obviously not for you.

  58. As a design professional, I look at it this way: Am I going to spend countless hours working on a project I’ll probably get no reward or compensation for? No. And $250 is an awfully low number, Tim! But is it worth spending a few hours putting something together and sending it in, if I’m not swamped? Sure. It’s a matter of risk/reward. The potential reward in terms of exposure is huge. The chances of that reward, slim. So adjust your “risk” (the time you put in) accordingly.

    1. Hi Rob,

      The next book, the expanded and updated 4-Hour Workweek (about 100 pages of new content) will be out in mid December. Should be fun 🙂



  59. wow tim, really dissapointed that you would stoop so low as to crowsdsourcing.

    echoing an earlier comment:

    Tim, would you write a book for me? For free?

    If I like it, I’ll throw you a few bucks. If I don’t end up using it, you got a lot of great experience to use for the next time. Right?

    You’re ok with working for free, right? Sounds completely legit right?

    and tim, your follow up comment of “if your at an advertising agency, and you want new business, what do you do…. (your assumption of pitch work)”, is not completely true. There is a strong contingment of creatives who don’t pitch, and waste our energy and time.

    check out this site and manifesto:

    also, as others have mentioned above, ultimately the quality of your design will suffer, and thus the presentation of your work. if this is worth being a cheapskate to you, then go ahead. But it will be your loss.

    Other wise, be a professional, and hire a professional to do the work.

  60. It looks like you’re accomplishing more with this contest than just generating some cool book covers, You’re also weeding out annoying readers 🙂

    Long live captialism.



  61. It sounds like a BIG win win situation. Yeah there is a chance your design won’t make it as the final cover piece but who cares … it just might! With that said, what the heck – I may even get designing one myself.

  62. As a Designer… I kind of like spec work. Our concepts are usually a ways away from standard. And, I’m only interested in taking on clients who are paying me to be as creative as I desire. So, our work isn’t for everyone. And spec work lets people see what they are getting. Because, in my experience, your first job for a client is usually not your last. And, once your in the door you are done with spec work.

    I think many of us have gotten clients by doing unsolicited spec work… at least when we were first getting started.

    But, I have a different question for Tim from a designers perspective. When I work with a client to brand a product, which a book cover is, the best solutions come out when I am extremely familiar with the work. So, Tim, I was wondering if you could follow up with some more info – maybe a large set of visuals you associate with what you have written – just don’t want to spend time flailing around in never ever land.

  63. I’ve used design agency’s, one-off contractors from elance and recently spec work / crowding-sourcing with 99designs. I think there’s a role for each type of engagement. I wouldn’t use 99designs for a national branding / ad campaign – but at the same time its not worth the big agency fees to just pull together a logo for a new start-up.

    I get why some designers would be pissed about the move towards spec work – just like I get why some developers would be pissed about $4h programmers in India. In the end though, the clients will drive the process and if crowd sourcing produces quality work (which IMO it does if managed well) then its not going anywhere.


  64. I’m a veterinarian, and a neophyte in such areas, but I have a question. If this contest/spec work is wrong, what should Tim do?

    Should he hire a designer and pay him/her even if he doesn’t like the designs?

    Not trying to be an ass, just wondering because I’ve considered such options to help me design a logo for my practice.

    As for the person who asked Tim if he would write a book for free.

    Actually, that is what most authors do. They write a book, with no guarantee of payment (or even of getting it published), then try to find someone to buy it, and most of them fail, repeatedly.

  65. @ those whose opinion I value and disagree with:

    I can recall my university offering internships. You know…where you work your butt off for no money, and if kill yourself enouph…you get a 24k per year entry level job when you graduate that comes with a cubicle and a hammer to bang your head with repeatedly. Then again, if you wanted to work for a particular company or develop a track record to do bigger things…You went for it like the last piece of cake at the family picnic. (Or you were TF and said “F this!” and followed other passions)

    So…If you’re Hugh MacLeod…this won’t be your thing.

    If you’re the artist/designer looking for some way…any way to break out…This is the opportunity of a lifetime, and it won’t take you’re entire summer to get it done.

    Talented people are a dime a dozen…People that can execute their dreams and plans…are rare, and well f’ing special, imho. The world will allow your heart to bleed dry while raging against the machine. There is always someone who can do it “better”, “cheaper”, and “more efficiently”…Noone can do you, so figure out wtf “you” wants and do that. If “you” resonates with others, they’ll probably pay alot of money for what “you” have to offer because its so scarce and/or special.

    Do it or don’t. If it works for “you”, it has immense value! Either way, you should probably stop trying to piss on the tidal wave to slow it down and start learning to swim before you (and “your” dreams) get swept away.


    PS. I meant it when I said value and respect…If this sounds shitty in any way its because my head is swimming after being up on rescues all damned night…

  66. Hi Tim,

    I think the way you drive this “contest” (I see this more like a party than a contest) is fair, clean and respect the designer’s community.

    Spec work is the norm in advertising business but what you’re asking here has nothing to do with that.

    In my own perspective, this is a fun activity you are sharing with your readers and I’m gonna give it a try. Of course, I’m busy so I’m not gonna pass tons of time on it. Priority to something that pay my bills, but I will place this project in my agenda and replace 1-2 hours of “Reading 4-hour workweek” by 1-2 hours of “designing next Tim Ferriss’ book”.

    This is not “spec work”, I think it’s an opportunity to create something. How a designer can see this as disrespectful? (not sure about this sentence… I’m practicing my english here, lol).

    Well, when you’re not happy with what you see look somewhere else and shut the f… “funny mouth” up! 😛

    In other words: ” Money’s great but fun’s better. If you don’t have the time, stop spending it to criticise and organise your schedule.” 😉

    See ya, Tim.


    1. Thanks Jordan and the designers who do see some value in this.

      Thanks also to the critics who keep me thinking.

      All the best,


  67. I’m amazed with how much controversy this topic has.

    I checked out No Spec ( and it seems their argument has to do with not developing a business relationship with your client. … Okay … What if all you need is a design and not to have to hire a graphic designer?

    I really don’t understand the argument anyone holds against these contests. The designers are well aware that their work may not be compensated; they chose to enter anyway for the potential award and a portfolio addition. Why speak on their behalf? They are cool with it. If you are against it, don’t participate. It really is that simple.

    That aside, what will this book include besides weight loss and strength training?

  68. I’m a professional designer, and I think these competitions are great if you’ve got time to do them.

    This isn’t some kind of scheme to screw the designers, it’s simply an opportunity take it or leave it.

    Spec work comes down to this – Do you have the time and resources to spend on this work without any compensation? If yes then do it. If no, then don’t.

    The responsibility is on the designer’s side to make prudent business decisions for themselves. Sadly, many artists and designers are not prudent business people. C’est la vie 🙂

    That said, I’m looking forward to reading the book!

    – Tom

  69. Tim, is there any certain type of design that is being considered as far as being abstract? or is this completely just put it out there and see what sticks?



  70. It’s funny how different this would be if it were a writing competition. Imagine a magazine that does the same thing for article space. Top 4 entries get a cash prize while the grand prize winner gets their article published.

    I’m struggling to see the difference, but I’m sure all the “designers” out there will set me straight.

    Maybe Tim should have said that this “competition” was only targeted towards amateur photoshop/design gurur’s. The kind that just enjoy the work and many times could produce equal or better results. Design Professionals need not apply.


    1. Hi John,

      You’re right. If this were a writing competition — same rules, same everything — we wouldn’t have the fuss. I’m not sure why the design-specific sensitivity.



  71. Tell you what, Tim: I have a cover design for a book that needs to be written. Why don’t you join my contest to write the content to go with the cover?

    Ridiculous, right? Not more ridiculous than these kinds of crowd-sourced design projects, however.

    The least you could do is offer the designer of the cover that gets used an amount of money that reflects its real value to your project. $250 and “exposure” is BS.

  72. Atleast your upfront about it. Fair play to you. Reminds me of Guy Kawasaki’s approach to twitter followers – unfollow me if you don’t like what I’m posting.

  73. Tim,

    Obviously your going to use this blog to serve your agenda. But usually when you’ve done this in the past, you managed to make it a win-win situation for everyone involved.

    However, out of your thousands of readers, this post only applies to a few of us.

    1. Hi Jason,

      I totally understand this, but I have to also keep the blog fun and exciting for me. Every once in a blue moon, that just means the random post out of left field. I hope you understand.

      All the best,


  74. Tim,

    I appreciate your mature answer to Aaron’s comment. That was definitely a man’s answer; it would have been easy to just trounce him for using life’s lowest level of knowledge – assumption.


  75. I submitted my design, low on artistic quality and high on concept! People need to relax and have fun with a competition.

    I breezed through 4HWW accidentally on vacation and can not wait for the this book. Anyone that connected with the themes of Tim’s philosophy should a) be excited to see a more granular view of the application

    I am trying out his weight-loss and muscle building diet w/ 1-hour of gym time for 28 days thing right now: 1/2 way through and its working out for both of us.

    Here’s my blog on the experience if you’re interested:

  76. I’m a designer from 99designs. I work only webpage design so Tim if you need a website… And I’m sure many designers like me would love to (re)design your website for free!

    A question for you all: have you ever done spec work to know that is bad?

    Yes, it’s not 100% SAFE. Live your life without taking risks if you can, and tell me what you win.

    Crowd-sourcing made me a better designer. Competition has this effect… And I’ve got some money too. Sometimes it’s hard to find work. If you are more lucky, are you sure that’s because you’re better at what you do? I woke up one day without a job, without my paycheck for the last months, without any chance to find a decent job. How needs a web developer when everything is going down? No one in my city. So I gave it a try, as scary as it might seemed at that time (2 months ago). If you have the time and need the money and you don’t do it, it’s because you’re afraid you’re not good at this (so do it anyway to improve your skills) and/or you’re afraid to loose (and that’s lame).

    So I dare you all great designer that are so above us, “the crowd”. Come give us a lesson. If you’re so better than us you will win for sure.. 🙂 And we will enjoy the competition.

    Tim, I think your idea to outsource the book cover is great. Can’t wait to read the new book. It’s for girls too, right? 🙂

    1. Hi AD,

      Thank you for chiming in with your experience. Yes, yes, yes — the next book will be for girls, too. For sure.

      All the best,


  77. I’m going to hold a book-writing contest. I’ll select four of the entries I like the most and I’ll give $250 to each of those four.

    Best case scenario, you get $250, your book on my shelf (awesome for a major portfolio bump since all of my clients and employees will see your book there in my bookcase) and all the perks the come with that recognition (like people seeing your book sitting on my shelf next to last month’s issue of HOW and sandwiched between a few Sandman and Hellboy comics).

    Worst case scenario, you spend hours upon hours bringing your skill and craft to bear on a book I don’t care for, but hey you’ll have it to put in your portfolio next to work that you were paid for.

    Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Wait, what? A book you would write would be worth more than $250 and a byline? Hmm. Well just don’t enter the contest then. Plenty of other people will. If they’re OK with me taking advantage of them, it’s not really taking advantage at all and therefore I am absolved of any moral conundrum.

  78. It’s clear. It’ simple. And it is, as ever, well laid out.

    Yes some fair opinions over spec work(although some quite stunted), web presence etc etc… but its irrelevant.

    We’re all probably grown up enough, experienced enough, or ugly enough to make our own decisions. Tim laid it out. answered the questions. Why harp on?? I for one probably won’t be submitting anything even though I think it would be a fun little project… I have too many other thing to do this week.

    Either way neigh-sayers. PIPE DOWN. I could go on… but it’s boring me as much as the whining is.

    TF. Loving the idea, and a lot respect for doing something off your own back. Lets hope you get some good replies and the publishers on board.

  79. All this talking of the negative aspects of crowdsouring has me thinking. I think the issue is one of the actual amount specified as an honourariam for time spent on designing the book cover. Had Tim pitched it as a call for ideas without any monetary compensation, there would still be loads of entries regardless. The monetary amount as I see it is the extra incentive for people within and outside the design community to participate.

    I feel the naysayers on the issue of crowdsourcing are missing a fundamental issue here: that of potential. There is an element of reciprocal altrurism inherent in Tim’s offer: effectively produce something pro-bono will lead to prestige and monetary compensation through reputation.

    Tim’s intention’s are as I see it quite clear: here is a guy who regularly engages with a fantastic community who wants their input even more. Did Charles Leadbeater dish out $250 bonuses everytime someone made comments to his first draft of WE-THINK? Of course not. However the book was made better through effectively establishing a transparent public feedback system and yes, as the author he probably makes good money from royalties. Do the anonymous contributors complain? Of course not. They are just happy to see their comments were considered.

    Will Tim be happy when his readership actively contribute to something he has worked very hard on? Probably, otherwise this post would have never happened in the first place.

    Democratising the design of the cover *is* a win win situation: It opens up the barriers to people who aren’t designers (as several posters have pointed out) without feeling that they are imposing on someone elses territory AND whatever the monetary compensation, the potential prestige generated by the winning design should be compensation enough anyway.

    If you have bills to pay, I suggest you don’t enter this competition. If you are entering because like me you have derived many hours of pleasure from Tim (yes that sounded so wrong), why not?

  80. Spec-haters seem to share a single perspective that guides the idea of spec-hating – that the client and the talent are in a partnership. THIS IS NOT THE CASE. The designer works for a fee, the client offers projects. If the specs behind those two needs synch up, that’s great. If not, the market system doesn’t force them to synch up, it allows them to go their separate ways. Tim is making an offer, and offer that would not exist at all if he didn’t make it. Even if he offered $1, it’s better than no offer existing at all.

    I think this speaks to the beauty of choice and markets. Nobody is forcing designers to take part in this. If you don’t like the arrangement, don’t take part. The resistance to Tim’s offer seems more socialistic, that Tim should be forced to abide by an unspoken standard that puts the designer on a pedestal. I’d take choice and voluntaryism over force any day of the week.

  81. I have to wonder what kind of backlash this same concept would have received if Tim was not already successful? Would it provoke the same indignation if Tim didn’t have the means to compensate further than offered? Not looking for an answer; just an observation.

    Regardless, as Tim has pointed out, there are other means of compensation and avenues of growth than financial compensation. If Tim guaranteed $10k to the winner but no formal recognition otherwise, I’d consider that a less attractive proposal.