The Window of Opportunity

Recent books I've designed

Books are magic. I’ve discussed that in some detail here. I use the word ‘magic’ in it’s right use, I believe, meaning ‘something that has an extraordinary effect whose mechanism we don’t understand’.

That’s how it is with books. If someone is an author, we think of them as the authority on the subject. We think of them as something special. We will pay more for their advice.

The reason we respect authors and their books is because we know deep down that it’s an amazing thing to get published. Aside from the actual writing, you have to be picked up by a ‘publisher’ who, in recognising your talent and greatness, verifies and validates your work. A published book has been approved by several experts who know a good book when they see it. A published book has gone through a process of peer review. Only the very best get published. A published book is a proper book. An unpublished book is like an unsigned rock band: if they were any good they’d have got a deal.

But there’s a problem. Now, almost, anyone can get a book out. It requires a little bit of skill and knowledge, but not much. Anyone can get a book ‘published’. All that requires is the tiny bit of know-how. It’s shockingly easy.

So what does that do to the magic of books? What does that do to our admiration for the published author? Does it mean that there’s a window of opportunity that having a published book still counts as cool, but in a short while when more people realise how easy it is, that glory will be undermined. So you’ve got a book out? So what?

We call it democratization. A leveling of the playing field. Now, more people can get into the previously invite-only members club of publishing. So what will happen next? Will the magic be undone?

Let’s have a look at previous democratisations for the answer. Here are a few:

Photography was the domain of the professional expert from its invention in the late 1800s until around the 1950s. Then it entered the domain of the committed hobbyist who had the cash to invest in it. Then cheap instamatic cameras and Polaroids in the 1970s opened it up to everyman. Now, ridiculously cheap digital cameras in recent years has made everyone a photographer. But there’s still a place for the photographic expert…

Filmmaking follows the same pattern. You needed serious cash to make films, even on consumer Super8 cinefilm up until the 1980s. Then VHS cameras, MiniDisc, digital tapes and then hard drives made everyone a filmmaker. But television programmes and movies are still made by committed professionals.

Graphic Design was one solely the domain of the draughtstman, illustrator or typographer. Their tools were indian ink, marker pens and lead. Desktop publishing became a reality only in the early 1990s when the tools changed to computers and software. The PC became cheaper. Ready made clip art appeared. Everyone can now be a graphic designer. But if having affordable professional tools was the answer, every Church magazine in the land would look like a quality periodical like those on the shelves in WH Smiths. Every PowerPoint presentation would inspire and compliment a speech perfectly. Every poster or flyer produced would be worthy of being framed and have prints sold in those poster shops. But clearly they aren’t.

Just as with photography, filmmaking and graphic design, having the right tools and the right methods does not create greatness in itself. You still have to create a quality piece. Quality work is produced by dedication, persistence, practice, research, willingness to learn, experience and perhaps a few other factors.

It’s likely that the world will become awash with new books written by new authors. But the magic will remain, but change form. Democratisation means everyone can do it, but it also means that we can’t and won’t rely on third party endorsement alone. The democratisation of publishing means we now have the power as writers to publish and as readers to judge for ourselves what is worth reading. The external filter has gone so we have to filter for ourselves.

More television channels gave us more telly. But it didn’t give us more good telly. Self publishing will give us more books to choose from, but not necessarily many more good books.

This is why, more than ever we have to focus on quality. Our books must be brilliant. They must look brilliant. Just being ‘published’ will soon not be enough…

Don’t just do a book – make it a good book.

This article came out of a conversation I had with Howard from

Learn more about writing and publishing your book:

Call us today on +44(0)1865 779944 to discuss how we can turn your expertise into a brand or create a book with selling power.

Turn your Blog into a book: 

Book Ayd to speak at your event.

Secrets of the Wealth Accelerators

Not only is this book packed with business growth secrets, but the story of its conception reveals perhaps the best strategy of all…

I met up with Paul Avins, Award Winning business coach and speaker and author of Business SOS (see here) to talk about a new book idea he had.

The idea was this: to create a book of new business growth strategies with chapters written by different authors. We chatted through the concept for a while and then Paul said, “Oh, and we want the book to launch at the Business Wealth Club Open Days.”

“Which Open Days?” I asked, “You don’t mean the ones on 6th and 7th of September? That gives us…” I looked at iCal on my MacBookPro, “5 weeks.”

“That’s right. We’ll need about 250 books for those events” said Paul.

I took in a sharp draw of breath. “Ok” I said, “How many authors do you have in mind for the book?”

“About, say, 30, each contributing 1500 words or so” said Paul.

“And how many have we got in so far?” I asked.

“None” said Paul.

So we we were going to contact 30 busy experts and ask them to write 1500 words, send a biography and a photo. I was to design the concept, the cover and layout the book. We were then going to publish it and print 250 copies… all within 5 weeks.

Stress is a major component to heart disease and stomach ulcers. A book from nothing to published in 5 weeks? Dear reader, I certainly don’t want to cause you undue stress and tension in this article so I’ll relieve you now and put your mind, heart and stomach at rest by revealing up-front: we did it. Not only that, the result was, even in my biased opinion, startlingly brilliant.

Let me back-track a little bit first. A multi-author book? I probably grimaced when he first suggested it. Multi-author books are often the worst kind of self-published books. Why? Because they’re usually cobbled together because the organiser doesn’t have enough material of their own, the contributions are often rambling, irrelevant, disparate, of varying quality and often, well, pointless.

First of all, Paul wasn’t short of material. He’s got at least 7 books all backed up to be finished up and edited ready for publication. So that wasn’t the reason. What was it then?

The key was this. The secret of wealth acceleration is collaboration. Collaboration and Joint Venturing on a scale hitherto unrealised by most businesses. By pulling together 30+ experts into one place, Paul would not only have introduced them and their material to his own audience, he would have introduced each of them to each other. That was the key to why they would want to be involved. It was a win-win from the start for everyone.

Paul has nurtured a great network of business experts so we weren’t short. They were contacted and given a deadline of a week to produce their chapter. They all did it. It just shows what can be done when you set a goal with a deadline. And these are busy people we’re talking about here, from all over the world. In fact, we got too many chapters in, so had to hold back of a few for volume two.

I was more than satisfied that the content was going to work. The short punchy chapters were all on the ball. They were all on topic and fitted into a number of topic headings. Paul thought there would be seven of those.

“Make it six” I said.


“You’ll see…”

I had two challenges to sort out. One of the other weaknesses of multi-author books are in how they portray the authors with respect to each other and to the organiser. Usually, no-one comes of well. I knew that each author had to be treated with equal respect. After all, we wanted them to be proud of the book too and to be able to use it to promote their own businesses. They couldn’t do that it it made them look subservient to Paul or each other. I was also conscious that Paul should be positioned as a key player too, not just someone with famous friends.

The solution was in the design of the chapters. We started each one with a strong biography and photo to position the expert’s credibility. Then Paul wrote a piece about the expert, how he had met and worked with them before. That way you knew there was a personal connection. Then the expert had four or six pages where I could clearly layout their content in a readable way, ending with a call to action or offer.

The other nice touch was to have Paul comment on each author’s material by having ‘post-it’ notes dotted around the book, drawing attention to certain paragraphs and giving an ‘interactive’ feel to the book. When you read it, it feels like a collaboration between the author, with Paul and with you. It feels like having a conversation, of being in the room with the experts. Paul also contributed his own chapter and introduction to the book.

The best bit about the book for me, and the bit I’m most proud of, is the way the design cements the concept of the book being ‘non-linear’. What do I mean by that? Let’s face it, few people will read this book from cover to cover, not initially anyway. Partly because the readership is going to be busy business owners and partly because not everyone will be interested in every strategy at the time they read the book. To put it another way: they’ll dip in and out, reading the bits they want to read in a random order. (I still prefer calling it ‘non-linear’ though).

So how do you enable this ‘non-linear’ reading in a book? I used two design strategies. The first is to design and layout the book more like a magazine than like a typical non-fiction book. People flick though a magazine and their eye catches things of interest. That’s why the headings are all nice and big and bold. The sections are clearly delineated and we have the tabs down the side to help with ‘flicking through’.

The second way is to use the contents page. That’s why I wanted six sections as a six-sided shape is a hexagon. I used the hexagon to create a neat non-linear, sort of mindmap type contents page. You can look at the contents diagram and quickly see, in one glance, which topic area you may be more interested in and then easily jump to that page. You don’t have to scan your eyes down an endless, boring list over a number of pages. The contents diagram lets you know that it’s ok to pick and choose which bits to read in the book.

For the cover we knew a few things: we didn’t want Paul’s image on the front (that could undermine the other authors use of the book too much). We did want movement, acceleration and speed. The image we chose works quite well (I coloured it purple to tie in with the Business Wealth Club colours). I created the title as a strong block. We want it to be punchy enough to become a brand. We thought hard about how to bill Paul on the front too. We knew we didn’t want multiple names on there, but it did need a name. We settled on ‘From the network of’ rather than billing Paul as editor, as he is a contributor too as well as overseer. It also helped re-enforce that these are his contacts, not a collection of unsolicited manuscripts that fell onto his desk. These are freshly commissioned articles, unique to this book.

We did it. A week to get the manuscripts in. Three weeks to design, layout and check. One week to print.

A handful of the book's authors

The book is about new economy strategies and contains 33 expert chapters. But the book ITSELF is a new economy strategy

As Paul says in his workshops and talks, “money follows speed” and for a book that has ‘accelerators’ in the title, you shouldn’t expect anything less.

You can get your copy of the book from Amazon here. Go on, have a look and see if you agree with me.

Learn more about writing and publishing your book:

Call us today on +44(0)1865 779944 to discuss how we can turn your expertise into a brand or create a book with selling power.

Turn your Blog into a book: 

Book Ayd to speak at your event.

Here are the names of the authors featured in the book: Leigh Ashton, Paul Avins, Sue Avins, Bill Belew, Kath Bonner-Dunham, Steve Brooks, Nick Carlile, Marie-Claire Carlyle, Kim Castle & W. Vito Motone, Steve Catchick, Michelle Clarke, Ron Davies, MarcusDe Maria, Bernie De Souza, Gary Fox, Alan French, Dave Griffin, Nick Griffith, Andrew Griffiths, Dave Holland, Ron Holland, Gavin Holmes, Ayd Instone, Jeff Lermer, Joanna Martin, Daniel Priestley, Andrew Roberts, Peter Thomson, Simon Wallace-Jones, Daniel Wagner, Simon K Williams, Simon Zutshi

Just do me a cover…

Recent books I've designed

This is the mistake so many people have made. They treat their book cover as another graphic design job and that gives them three choices:

  1. They can do it themselves. Unless they have typographical expertise and knowledge of composition, layout skills as well as the technical issues involved, the result is likely to be less than remarkable.
  2. They can get it done cheaply. This may result in the same outcome as above, or perhaps give something ok, average or unuseable. A cheap designer is either inexperienced or isn’t prioritising the job as they have better things to do. Even if it’s ‘a mate’, many people run into trouble as the designer has to prioritise paid work, it’s just a fact of life. Either way, there’s a risk that the wonderful expertise promoting work that your book should be, may go out in the world a bit lackluster.
  3. They could spend a lot of money on it.

But all this is missing the point. The cover of your book is not just another graphic design job that needs to be ticked off in the same way that you need a plasterer to do the walls of your house. It’s not someone coming to fix the radiators or make the sandwiches. It’s not like insurance where you get the cheapest quote you can. It’s not even something that the more you pay the better the result. It’s not something you have to get out of the way in order to publish your book.

Your cover IS the book.

You think that the hard slog of writing, the early mornings, the late nights, the rushing to meet your deadline, the painful editing, the writers blocks and the years of research and experience is your book. It isn’t.

The clever title that communicates the message of the book, the relevant and neat typography of the title and subtitle and the metaphor contained within the image or graphics on the cover – that’s your book.

To put it another way: the COVER is your book.

In fact, many best-selling expert authors suggest that the first thing you do when you’re about to write the book is to not write the book but design the cover. With the cover you can gauge interest in the book and take advance orders for the book (i.e. sell it before you’ve written it).

A book with a cover is a real book (even if it doesn’t yet exist as a book). This is part of the magic of publishing and how books are embedded into our consciousness. Today, more than ever, the concept of the cover transmits the Big Idea that can arrest and hold busy minds whose attention is eager to flit to something else.

We don’t have time to wait till chapter 3 before we reveal our purpose to our readers. We can’ even rely on them getting it in the introduction. We have to get it to them right there up front with the cover, through the use of the right words, images and colours.

Once that eye of attention of our potential reader settles on our cover we have only a fraction of a millisecond for the image we have created to inspire neurons to fire in the mind of the observer. If the meaning and significance transmitted is unclear, dull and uninspired, the eye of attention will move on. If on the other hand it shines, causes an itch, invokes curiosity, intrigue, humour or hints at a solution, the image in the eye triggers a cascade of neurons to fire. This in turn makes new connections in the eye of the beholder which shoots a message from the deep unconscious to the conscious that says quite simply: find out more.

That’s the purpose of the cover. It’s a visual consciousness magnetic neural network triggering mechanism. And to create one of those you need more than a ‘graphic designer’.

To create one of those you need more than to just say that oh-so-underwhelming instruction, “just do me a cover”.

People won’t judge you by your wit on page 230. They won’t judge you by your startling conclusion. They won’t judge you by your extensive research and experience in the field. They will judge you first by what they see. And what they see is your cover.

Make it worth seeing.

Learn more about writing and publishing your book:

Call us today on +44(0)1865 779944 to discuss how we can turn your expertise into a brand or create a book with selling power.

Turn your Blog into a book: 

Book Ayd to speak at your event.