Anatomy of a Book Cover: This is How to Get Your Next Job (Is Less Always More?)

Our Creative Director Cathleen Ouderkirk brings us another behind the scenes look at how a book gets a cover in a new installment of our “Anatomy of a Book Cover” series.

I’m a less-is-more fanatic. How many times have I fought hard for a single small image on a book cover? Or cheered on one-word titles (bad for search, I know)? And I never wear earrings AND a necklace . . . it’s just too much. So there’s no doubt I’m a radical less-is-more gal. Until recently.

We’re publishing a book this month called This Is How to Get Your Next Job in which the “less is more” adage was put to the test on the jacket design. Our design firm was Faceout Studio (a hip and helpful group out of Oregon), and our instructions to Faceout were: Give us a very strong but very simple design to go with this very commanding title. We received three designs.

Let’s take a look. First this one, which I call Teal Retro. Handsome (of course, it’s a Faceout design), but not simple enough, and more charming than strong.

Image of alternate book cover, This is How to Get Your Next Job

Next, something completely different, which I’ll call Grey Icons. Very contemporary and much more focused on the job-finding process. But not completely clear – were those icons representing the jobs you had held and the orange was the “next” on — or were the doc icons all the competing resumes and yours is the orange. Hmmm.

Alternate book cover image, Grey Icon, This is How to Get Your Next Job

The next design I simply call Checkmarks.

Alternate book cover image, Checkmarks, This is How to Get Your Next Job

Wow. Now that’s what I call simple and strong on several levels:

  1. Big declarative title (in a fresh font).
  2. Simple presentation — just an unfolded piece of paper that implies resumes and almost nothing else to interfere with the powerful title.
  3. And then the frosting on the cake – four checkmarks (and the marker, just for fun) to show you the process you go through.

We felt the four checkmarks really worked, because they’re not only energetic and positive, but they literally illustrate how you get a job by using the book:

√ one
√ step
√ at a
√ time.

Brilliant! Visually gives the reader a sense of how easy it is to check off the steps that lead to a job. And then a final confirming checkmark on the word JOB, because you got the job!  We were in love.

We asked Faceout to make a couple of changes (bump up the subtitle, give it a darker background) and eagerly sent it off to author Andrea Kay.

Here’s her reaction:

Andrea: “I love it. Strong. Simple. Clear. Except for one thing — too many checkmarks. They obscure the title.”

Us: What? No, they enhance the title, they lead you through the idea.

Andrea: Nuh uh  — they’re so powerful and red, it’s hard to “see” the title.

For once I was arguing on the side of More, and someone else on the side of Less. It felt really weird, like I was playing the part of a villain in a school play. And yet in this case more DID seem like more. The four checkmarks made a strong point.

But what to do? Andrea’s the author – it’s the face of her book. She’s our partner in marketing the book. So we had Faceout create the Single Checkmark version. Here it is and this is what we went with. Simple, handsome, clear cover with a fat red checkmark, reiterating “you’ll get that job.” And it looks great.

Book cover image, This is How to Get Your Next Job by Andrea Kay

But I still like it with MORE checkmarks. What do you think?

Cathleen Ouderkirk is Creative Director here at AMACOM. With us for over 20 years, she started as a copywriter and then moved to producing catalogs, sales sheets, and direct mail pieces, before moving on to design. After secretly designing on her own book jackets and showing them to the acquisition editors, her work evolved into overseeing all of our jackets today. Visit our website for freelance design inquiries.


3 responses to “Anatomy of a Book Cover: This is How to Get Your Next Job (Is Less Always More?)

  1. What a pleasure to read about this process. Tip of the hat to your logic. I would agree that the four check marks obscured the title; and I also agree that there is a high value punch to more than one check mark. My artistic input focuses on the last cover. I would slide the highlighter up just a little and move the red check mark to the end of the word “job” then put another check mark at the end of the word “get.” This arrangement would present checking off the two main points of the book “how to get” and “your next job” without obscuring the thin font used for the title.

  2. The final design with one checkmark is the best.

  3. I think Andrea’s right — the single check mark is cleaner and serves as emphatic punctuation. I say this reluctantly because the jackets of my own books have benefited from Cathleen’s keen eye and superb sense of design. I can’t remember disagreeing with any of the work she’s done on my own books — or even asking to see alternatives — so my opinion is this case may be wrong, not to mention ironic.

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