At the start of the new year, I made my resolution:

I’ll set out to write a book on marketing. (I’m saying you need to just say A BOOK because, whoa, uh oh, THEN it turned into two books!).  What do I know about writing books? Not much (and never let anyone tell you writing a book is a breeze, even if you consider yourself a fairly creative person). But I do know a lot about marketing, which is why now that the content of the book is finished, I’m especially giddy: I’ve been spending hours deciding on the perfect book cover.

Every author understands—whether self-publishing or going the traditional route—the weight a book cover carries in giving potential readers a first impression. I need a design that will position me right and help me sell more books. I need a cover that will invite or intrigue readers to start in on the first page.

Where does one start envisioning a book cover design? I went first to some of my favorite covers and asked myself why they struck me.

This is one of my favorite all-time book covers:

clockwork_orange_book_cover-02

Designer: David Pelham

 

So why is this cover so strong?

Because it’s got all the right stuff we marketers know will grab attention:

  1. Red and yellow (both are disruptive colors in the marketing world) make a killer combination. They scream caution and stop (and are ugly together, unless you’re McDonald’s).
  2. The image is clean, providing only minimal detail.
  3. A human face always attracts our gaze.
  4. There is an unusual element to the human face—it seems to be looking placidly toward us, but that bizarre mechanical singular eye takes your breath away for a second.

This Clockwork Orange cover catches your eye and doesn’t let go.

Ok, so a cover with a starkly non-human human works for a satirical dystopian novel, but it’s not exactly the best fit for a best-seller on marketing. I also don’t have an art patron’s budget—so once I have a few ideas for the cover in mind, where do I go? What do I need to consider?

There are many considerations and constraints to producing a book: page length, print costs, matching kindle to print versions, best size (pocket to coffee table), and so on. A quick query with a couple design firms was enough to confirm for me that to have my book packaged up and done right would cost me over $5000.

Ah, wrong track!

I’d just spent three-quarters of the year dedicating most of my spare time to writing though, so I wasn’t going to call it quits at the final hurdle. I called a couple of my best-selling marketing author friends, and they recommended I try 99designs.com. Seven days and $300 later, I had twenty-four options to choose from. I knew what I was paying for, but now I had to work on my “Yay” or “Nay” piles. I am sharing some of the covers that made the final cut here.

These covers all met the minimum criteria the design contest set:

  • Maintain a brand along a series of books.
  • Have a strong and unique presence.
  • Reflect the book’s themes.

Most importantly, since I’m self-publishing, I need to double-check that the cover looks just as “spendy” and serious as what you’d find on a heavy-hitting publishing house’s book.

Here’s a sampler of what designers sent me for Disrupt That, my first book, coming out later this month:

The rocket ship cover:

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I’m a space ship and rocket ship fanatic, and while being disruptive certainly entails thinking that “the sky is the limit,” I don’t equate disruption with blasting off. This is a great design: It’s different, fun and promising. The problem is, it somehow strikes me as a book for startups or small businesses and that’s not how I would like my audience to think about my content.

The airplane cover

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Given the routine hell and general discomfort airlines put travelers through, the last think I want on my book cover is an airplane flying in the wrong direction. Next.

 

The graph analysis cover

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The idea of putting a chart on the cover is quite smart and really captures the theme of the book: Disruption is a technique that generates small wins that lead to a higher profit margin, which allows you to scale and beat the competition. But there is something about those snaky lines that feels a bit goofy, Don’t you think?.

 

The white and red cover

 

We’re almost there. At first glance, this looked like a great option: one would notice this striking red and white book from across a large room. But my book is for marketing managers, and we all know that red is a disruptive color. In fact, a quick Google image search led me to half a dozen books on disruption with red on the cover. Doing what everyone else does is not a disruptive—or original—approach to doing anything, let alone designing a book cover! While this is a great design concept I want to disrupt the disruption. How about that mind bender!

 

The cover I chose

designs-design-a-killer-book-cover-and-win-a-11-contract-for-a-full-3-book-website-design-book-cover-contest-2016-10-06-17-44-46

The graphics on this cover break like an end-of-the-week cocktail over ice. I like the inclusion of red and yellow, in moderation. This cover is classy and provides a hint of what the book is about: How to break apart your marketing side of the business into its basic building blocks, and then restructure them in a new way that nobody else is doing and that makes more sense for your market.

Ironically, the criteria met for my book cover meets none of what I mentioned being drawn to with the Clockwork Orange cover. But suffice it to say: my book is not Anthony Burges’s.

 

Self-awareness clouds judgement

This is the moment: These books are my babies, and now I know what authors mean when they talk about a “9-month long pregnancy” in front of a computer screen. From January 2016 on, I researched, wrote, designed, and most importantly, poured my most intimate marketing mind into this project. What will people say when they read it? What if no one ever reads it because they hate the cover? What if my babies aren’t the most popular kids on the block? Oh gosh. These final weeks and moments before coming out is excruciating.

 

Get your free copy

But I say: Let’s get the show on the road! Disrupt That is hitting the presses so Tell us what’s your favorite book cover in the comment section below, with a sentence or two of a “marketer’s eye” on why that cover works, and I will send you a free copy of “Disrupt That” when it launches.

 

  • david barmazal

    I vote for the “The rocket ship cover”. It’s clean and catchy. As an entrepreneur I clearly best relate to it.
    The airplane is my second runner.
    The graph analysis is great, only problem is that my first impression is that it is an MBA book rather than a marketing book. The white and red is very very clean and good – my main issue with it is that it reminds me of another book cover (though I can’t recall which one).
    Your choice is a bit “noisy” to my taste. But, hey, maybe that’s the whole point!

    • Great points David. Since you are an entrepreneur I can really see why the rocket ship cover is appealing to you. Perhaps I should write another version of the book specifically for startups!

  • zahava

    i like the airplane cover.. its striking and professional looking .. and subtle and elegant. i would pick that one up first .

    • Thanks Zehava. At first I really liked that one too. But then I discovered that there’s another book out there with a very similar cover. ;-/

  • I went over them and vote for the one you chose. It is clean and yet interesting. Thanks for sharing with us your dilemmas.

  • Rodger Harding

    I like the Airplane Cover best: On an emotional level… separating oneself from the herd is presumably what he book is about…
    Next best is the Graph Analysis Cover… feeds the current appetite for measurables… …

    Congrats Daniel… your intelligence, and distinct sense of individuality & creative thinking blew me away when I first met you 16 years ago…

    • Thanks Roger. I always recall our first meeting. It was one of those moments in life that determine a course. I hope you take some satisfaction and credit for yourself!

  • Out of the given options, I would go for the one you chose, however I am thinking of DISRUPTING the whole cover book thing. What about using the back of the book as the cover, and having the cover of the book as its back, or any disruptive idea like that? If you think of my proposal, on the shelf your book would be just juxtaposed to any other book 😉
    Just brainstorming here, best of luck with your book, can’t wait to read it!

    • Jordi, you are brilliant! Now that is the right kind of thinking…. I love it! This is the kind of great stuff you get when you work in a team. Perhaps we can do a joint project sometime?

  • TL;DR: you made the same choice I would.
    Long version: they are all good. the rocket ship is beautiful and playful and would appeal to first-name entrepreneurs, but that’s not what you’re going for. The charts and airplanes would appeal to old-school CMOs and they are reminiscent of “Crossing the Chasm.” The last two strike a beautiful balance between those two extremes, with the red version being a little too simplistic. The final option’s bold typograpgy, edge-bleeding layout, and clever color palette scream “MUST READ” with confidence. Well done, my friend. I’m very excited for you.

    • Thanks Udi. You know more than anyone how much work goes into Writing a book. You have been an inspiration to me along my journey.

  • Neil Anuskiewicz

    I don’t like the Clockwork Orange cover as it creeps me out almost as much as Donald Trump lurking behind Hillary Clinton on the debate stage.

    The cover you chose is perfect! Yes, that’s pandering in a Hail Mary attempt to win a free book! Note: I need to win a free book to fullfil my promise to give mine to Corinne when I’m done!

    • Funny you mention Trump as he may be the ultimate Disrupter. I decided NOT to mention him in my book. but perhaps a blog post about this topic will generate some good engagement 😉

      • Neil Anuskiewicz

        Yes, win or lose, he’s a disrupter. I don’t think politics will ever be the same.

  • Boaz Rossano

    You chose the best option

  • lydiasugarman

    I think you made the best and more importantly, the right choice. It communicates everything you said. Keeping in mind that you said this is the first in a series, it is a design than can be adapted for successive books in your series while building on the brand. I can see that cover in slightly different color combos lined up on a bookshelf, creating a coherent arc of story and brand.

  • Yifat Minkin Shani

    I like the rocket one, as it catches my eye and the subtitle helps in understanding what is the book about, even if I just have picked it up from the shelve.
    The “broken red letters” reminds me of something that may fit Tom Clancy’s book.
    The one you chose is my second option as it is cleaner than the other options.
    Good luck!

  • I like the cover you chose because it makes the point without assaulting the viewer as the red cover examples do. Red is such a strong color symbolizing blood, anxiety, panic, alarm or similar concepts, (IMO). The directional lines with splash of color (through the title) intrigues me more than a single color overall. It signifies there’s more going on or more than one concept to learn. I’d be interested in reading – congratulations and thanks for sharing!

    • “…makes the point without assaulting the viewer” – I like that.
      Thanks Margaret.

  • Shachar Pessis

    The graph analysis cover, just because it has “CMO CONFESSIONS” included which is what distinguishes you, no?

    • Good point Shachar. I do lament the loss of my personal brand in this design. ;-(