Branding The Books of An Author

Visuals play an important part of the presentation of books.

One of the interesting problems is how you handle an author with multiple books.

There are advantages to readers being able to recognize titles from a given authority, but that can also introduce a symmetry which makes the books seems like copies of one another.

I noticed recently that Tor chose to rebrand all the books by Cory Doctorow. I honestly can’t decide if I like the decision or not. I remember the books by their original covers and I like these too.


Here is the catalog of books from Pat Lencioni.


The covers are smaller here but you can see how across the room you can identify his books.

My designer Joy pointed me to Marilynne Robinson’s books and how they have pulled them together. The balance of difference and sameness feels best to me in this series. The typography creates consistency but its placement and the images makes them feel like different books.

robinson series

So, this is just three examples. Cover consistency is an interesting question because there is no magic answer, but it is interesting to see how different publishers approach it.

The Mary Roach Approach

Mary Roach writes books about the science of being human.

The titles are one word and each offers a hint of humor.

Early in her career, she was a copywriter and then worked in PR for the San Francisco Zoo. As a freelance writer, Mary found the stories about science were always interesting.  For the books she writes, she looks for a combination of science, history and humor. She also says she had no idea she’d have a career writing about science.

What can we learn?

  • The titles are crystal clear and memorable.
  • Each topic of each book is universally human and a little surprising.
  • The utility the reader gets is entertainment for the curious mind.
  • The books she writes are uniquely her. Do same in your books.

Bonus: Mary visits with AV Club and talks about one syllable book titles.


Book Review – Five Star Billionaire


I have this long-term desire to find good fiction that takes place in a business setting. When you find the workplace in a story, the boss is mean or the characters are depressed or someone has cheated another out of something they deserve. Business and greed are a good pairing, but I would like to see stories with less suffering.

I just got done reading Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw. I got this book after seeing a review describing it as a good portrait of modern life in China. White Tiger by Aravind Adiga did a good job of that for modern-day India.

One of the main characters uses personal development books to learn the rules of the go-go world of 21st century China. The chapter titles read like self-help tomes: “Move To Where The Money Is”, “Choose The Right Moment To Launch Yourself”, “How To Achieve Greatness.” I’ll admit this pulled me in.  Aw’s observations describing Shanghai and rural Malaysia also drew me into the book.

The narrative is an intertwining story of five loosely connected characters who all want more, are at different stages of getting it, and the circumstances that intervenes. Those circumstances are slow to develop across more than 400 pages and the book loses momentum early in the book. I stayed with it though, because I wanted to see how it turned out.

For me, Five Star Billionaire is sad book about the tragedy of growth, greed and everything we’ll do to get what we want. Others will disagree and see instead the power of motivation to change your circumstances. Both exist in this book.

In the meantime, I’ll keep looking.

Dan Ward – Author of F.I.R.E (Better Books Podcast – Episode Two)

Better Books Podcast Tile EP2

In this episode, I talked with Dan Ward about large scale innovation and book publishing.

Dan served in the Air Force for 20 years delivering large, complex projects.

In a nod to the title of his first book, he believes that fast, inexpensive, restrained and elegant methods are the ones that work best for innovation.

Dan also talks about his approach to using minimum viable publishing and building an audience over time.


Dan Ward’s books:

FIRE: How Fast, Inexpensive, Restrained, and Elegant Methods Ignite Innovation

The Simplicity Cycle: A Field Guide to Making Things Better Without Making Them Worse


Seven Weeks Ago…

I started a daily writing practice seven weeks ago.

You are reading the 35th post in the series.

If you have been following, I have been talking about books and publishing for the most part.

On Fridays, I opened it up a little more to things like tower defense games, World Cup and Sense8.

Writing every day is a good exercise in both becoming a better writer and seeing what has your attention.

Expect more posts 🙂

Act One of Your Business Book

A common problem in the manuscripts I look at is the author moving too fast through the opening section. Like screenplays for movies, business books should have three distinct acts.

Authors too often want to go running through the opening of the book. They assume the reader is with them based on the fact they opened the cover. Authors forget that no one will be there is explain why this book is important. The reader only has what is written on the page.

I like how Michael Arndt, the screenwriter behind Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3, describes what the beginning of a film needs to do. He says writers should:

  • Show the main character
  • Show them in their environment
  • Show them doing what they love
  • Then show them their biggest flaw based on their love

If we translate Arndt’s ideas to business books, the author needs to throughly describe the world the reader lives in. What sort of problems are they working with? What is the reader afraid of? What do they want more than anything? And finally, what does the author believe is keeping the reader from their goal?

Readers are coming to your book already with the sense that they have a problem and are not sure how to solve it.

Make sure you are clear about the problem and they will trust you to lead them to a solution.


kitkat break

Today is Independence Day in the United States. Flags and fireworks fill stores ahead of the holiday.

For Valentine’s Day, we buy cards and roses.

For Halloween, we purchase costumes and candy.

My family baked me a chocolate cake for Father’s Day (the perfect gift this year).

All of those holidays were triggers for something else.

Jonah Berger talks about the power of triggers in his book Contagious. He says triggers work best when they are frequent and there is a strong link between trigger and the desired action.

The folks at Kit Kat found that people eat the candy bar during a break and with a hot beverage. They built an ad campaign called “a break’s best friend” that connected coffee and Kit Kats. The campaign was a hit and took the brand from $300 million to $500 million a year in sales.

Book publishing uses triggers too. In January, you will see publishers release titles that fit a “New Year, New You” themes like diet and personal empowerment. “Summer Reads” start to appear in May as readers make book picks for mid year vacations to the beach. And in September and October, the “big” books are released as everyone heads into the holiday gift giving season.

Is there something you can tie your book to?



How Much Time Does It Take To Read a Book?

More and more, I am convinced that books need time stamps.

You can’t look at a book to see you it fits into your life. And that matters more as we measure our lives in smaller and smaller slices of time.

I found this image on Alexis Ohanian’s book Without Their Permission:


I liked that the image marks how much time it would take to read and when it might fit into the reader’s life. Youtube videos, Audible audiobook tracks, and Netflix movies each tell us total time for that piece of content.

With digital content, we also know how far we are with the elapsed time marker. As we approach a point in time when we need to move to something else, we can easily decide if we should pause or continue.

Books are bad at both of these concepts because books vary so much. It is easy for publishers to shrink or expand the number of words on a page through line spacing or font size. The size of the page can vary too with big implications across hundreds of pages. The language the author uses can affect the speed of reading. Let’s not even talk about how pictures and photos have no real standardization. The bottom line is the physical appearance of a book is not a good way to judge how long it will take to read.

Medium estimates the time it will take to read their articles. This function also available as a plug-in for blogs and others forms of online publishing. Maybe our devices should tell us how much time is left in a chapter based on the data it has collected, based on our reading rate and the reading rate of others for our current book, other books in the genre and all books collectively. This would be a welcome replacement to our old method of paging ahead to find the chapter’s end.

I have been wondering if we should display the time length of the audiobook alongside the page count of print books or maybe even next to the price of the title. This information is more easily gotten as audiobooks are becoming more common. This could be another useful marker for a reader to determine if they want to buy that particular book.

Smart book publishers might even help readers get over the attention anxiety by providing time estimates for each chapter:

“You can read this book in ten easy installments of 17 minutes each!”

Books definitely fit into our lives. Let’s just do a better job of showing customers how.

The $140 Comic Book

CableBUILT_12_Week_Transformation_Program__Training__Nutrition__Supplementation__–_iambuiltWe all have notions in our heads for how much things cost.

Sometimes, they are right and sometimes, they can be very wrong.

I am a big fan of comic books, so I have a good sense that single issues cost around four dollars and the complied paperbacks are roughly seventeen dollars.

Would you pay $140 for a comic book?

On first thought, you probably wouldn’t.

Or you might if it was issue #1 collector’s edition signed by the artists.

I Am Built created a comic book to illustrate the 12 week training program that Josh Brolin used to prepare for his role as Cable in Deadpool 2. The comic book called CableBuilt covers staged workout routines and diet regiments for the program.

The description doesn’t say how long the book is or show any samples what it looks like inside.

So, would you pay $140 for that comic book?

With the right felt need, you might.

If you live at the intersection of gym rat and cosplay, you might.

P.S. Did I mention it is electronic? So it’s a $140 ebook.


My Notes from Grit

My Notes posts are the key ideas I jot down about books after I read them. They capture what caught my attention and I want to remember. I post them here to share them with you.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

by Angela Duckworth
Notes from Sept 19, 2016
  • Consistent theme in success:
    • “In sum, no matter what domain, the highly successful has a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways,. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hardworking. Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted. They not only had determination, they had direction.” p8

  • Specific domains need other things –
    • salespeople->prior experience,
    • students->supportive teacher,
    • Green Berets->physical fitness
    • BUT grit still mattered for all of them
  • Talent x effort = skill
  • skill x effort = achievement or talent x effort x effort = achievement
  • Take the Grit Scale Test.
  • From Stanford psychologist Catharine Cox 1926 study of high achievers: key difference of successful “geniuses”
    •  Degree to which one works with distant objects in view (as opposed to living from hand to mouth). Active preparation for later life. Working toward a definite goal.
    • Tendency not to abandon takes from mere changeability. Not seeking something fresh because of novelty. Not “looking for a change.”
    • Degree of strength of will or perseverance. Quiet determination to stick to a course once decided upon.
    • Tendency not to abandon tasks in the face of obstacles. Perseverance, tenacity, doggedness.
  • 1 and 2 are passion, 3 and 4 are perseverance
  • Genes predict 37% of perseverance and 20% of passion
  • Experience matters, we appear to get more grit over time, starts on Grit Scale at 3.4 in our 20’s and ends up at 3.9 in our 60’s
  • Interest
    • Before hard work comes play
    • Early Years – relaxed, playful interest, discovery, development
    • See work from Benjamin Bloom
    • Paul Silvia
      • For the beginner, novelty is anything that hasn’t been encountered before
      • For the expert, novelty is nuance
    • Angela’s suggestions
      • What do I like to think about?
      • Where does my mind wander?
      • What do I really care about?
      • What matters to me most?
      • How do I enjoy spending my time?
      • What do I find absolutely unbearable?
  • Practice
    • World class people practice more
    • But Anders Ericsson research shows they practice in a deliberate way:
      • They find a specific stretch goal
      • Give goal undivided attention and great effort to achieve
      • ASAP, they gather feedback on how they did.
      • Repeat, repeat, repeat with reflection and refinement
      • Tends to requite more effort and is less enjoyable
    • Connecting to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow…
      • Gritty people do more deliberate practice and experience more flow
  • Purpose
    • Gritty people are dramatically more motivated by meaningful, other-centered work
    • The three bricklayers story
    • Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski finds that people naturally split evenly into the three groups
    • Recommends “thinking about how, in small but meaningful ways, you can change your current work to enhance its connection to your core value.”
    • Teenagers who connect self and others to their future calling are more motivated
  • Hope
    • “Fall seven, rise eight.” -Japanese saying
    • Optimists can find reasons something didn’t work
    • Pessimists blame themselves, the conditions are permanent (learned helplessness)
    • Sales – Optimists outsell pessimists 20-40%
    • Carol Dweck – Fixed vs. Growth Mindset (people can change)
      • Growth mindset people are grittier than fixed mindset.
      • Growth Mindset -> Optimistic Self-Talk -> Perseverance Over Adversity
  • Parenting for Grit
    • Successful (“Wise”) parenting involves being supportive AND demanding
    • Consistent activity outside of class is predictive of grit.
    • This involves multiple years and receiving achievement for success
    • Her family has The Hard Thing Rule
      • Everyone has to do a hard thing
      • You can quit (when the season is over)
      • You can pick your hard thing
  • People are more satisfied with life when they have higher grit.

Try, Try, Try Again: An Essay


  1. In the book Gamestorming, Dave Gray and his fellow authors make the argument that if you know Point A and you know Point B, it is very easy to plot the steps necessary to get between the two points. And they ask the more important question – what happened when you don’t know what Point B is? They argue you need a completely different set of tools to make that journey into uncertainty.
  2. Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero or “Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the future.” We rarely hear the 2nd half of that.
  3. Daniel Cates is 21 years old and in 2010 he earned $5.5 million playing poker online, a million dollars more than his nearest competitor. Journalist Jay Caspian Kang, in his profile of Cates for New York Times Magazine says ” If an 18-year-old online whiz can play 12 hands at once, then by his 19th birthday, he is no less experienced than a career gambler who has sat for a dozen years at the big-money table at the Bellagio.”

  4. TED conference curator Chris Anderson believes online video is accelerating innovation. He points to Jon M. Chu and his dance troupe Legion of Extraordinary Dancers. “Because of the web, specifically online video, dance [is] evolving in Internet time. A series of challenge videos by rival groups of street dancers had created an upward spiral of invention as they strove to outdo one another. The best videos were attracting tens of thousands of views. Much more than pride was at stake. Chu knew something weird was happening when he saw a YouTube video of Anjelo Baligad, a 6-year-old boy from Hawaii who had all of the moves of a professional.”
  5. The Lean Startup movement, started by Steven Blank and now being taking to a whole new level by Eric Ries, combines the philosophies of agile programming with the methodologies of the Toyota Production System. In relationship to failure, Ries argues that projects that that require extensive specifications, months long development, and follow-on quality checking acquire ever increasing amounts of risk the longer the time between the idea and its release. “Minimum viable product” is the lean startup term for putting out only what is necessary to gather customer feedback. This eliminates the risk early in the process and with frequent iteration the product is never far from the (paying) customer and his wants.
  6. FailCon (yes, this is a real conference)
  7. Cursor founder Richard Nash asked me the other day what the implication of 3-D printing is for publishing. The direct corollary is print on demand. To this point, publishing has looked at POD technology, whether Espresso machines or Ingram’s buildings full of HP printers, as a mechanism to mitigate inventory risk. That is certainly important, but what if these “batches of one” technologies could be used to make publishing more innovative?
  8. In The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, Dan Pink  uses Diana the chopstick evoked genie to deliver  Lesson One : There is No Plan. He distingishes between Intrumental Reasons and Fundmanetal Reasons for career choices. Instrumental reasons are one that imply that it will lead to something else. Fundamental reasons are “inherently valuable, regardless of what it may or may not lead to.”  “[Sucessful people] take a job or join a company because it will let them do interesting work in a cool place–even if they don’t know exactly where it will lead.

  9. Another term from the lean startup methodology is pivoting, the practice of changing a component of your business model to improve your chances of overall success. In the startup phase as a company searches for a business model, a company may pivot several times.  While this might be viewed as failure, the opposite viewpoint would be that this extends the life of a young company as it adapts to better suit the needs of customers. Twitter was a side project after the primary product – a tool for podcasting called Odeo – was made obsolete when Apple added podcasts to iTunes.
  10. US Air Force Colonel John Boyd referred to the iterative process as the OODA Loop – Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. Boyd believe the person who could complete the loop faster and more often would win the battle. Boyd never wrote a book, but many including Tom Peters have seeked to apply his theories to the business setting.
  11. The New York Times Magazine on their September 14, 2011 in their education issue asked “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?” According to research- zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity are the keys to success.

  12. Authors are starting to test titles and subtitles using Google Adwords. They create ads with their titling and then test various iterations against keywords that match with the contents of the book. Measuring the click through rates shows which titles produce better response. This ability to acquire feedback instantaneously and in large quantity is changing the way we develop products.

  13. Etsy is creating a marketplace for small batch arts. Kickstarter is funding small projects with patrons acting as investors; projects that couldn’t be created through commercial sources. Startup incubators like Y Combinator and Techstars are combining small sum angel investing, compressed development cycles, and high touch mentoring to produce a whole new set of startups. Grameen Bank has created microloans for people in developing countries to pursuit their dreams. These are all incredible examples of how the scale necessary to launch new products has dropped by two to four orders of magnitudes.
  14. “It’s better to fail spectacularly than to succeed tenatively.” –Roshi Jiyu-Kennett

  15. Derek Sivers, in his new book Anything You Want, says he misunderstood persistence: “Success come from consistently improving and inventing, not persistently doing what is not working.”
  16. Just Start: Take Action, Embrace Uncertainity, Create The Future by Leonard A. Schlesinger, Charles F. Kiefer & Paul B. Brown. The book was originally published as Action Trumps Everything: Creating What You Want in an Uncertain World advocating a simple three step process:

    Step 1. Make sure what you are about to do is something you really care about. It’s silly to launch into the unknown if you don’t.

    Step 2. Don’t over-think. Don’t imagine what might happen. Get started with what you’ve got in hand and take a small, start step toward your goal and find out.

    Step 3. Evaluate what you learn, and if you like the results take another step. In other words: Act. Learn. Repeat.

  17. Paul Graham saysBeing relentlessly resourceful is definitely not the recipe for success in big companies, or in most schools. I don’t even want to think what the recipe is in big companies, but it is certainly longer and messier, involving some combination of resourcefulness, obedience, and building alliances.”

  18. The First Try – Overcoming Fear

    The Second Try – Overcoming Failure

    The Continual Try – Embracing Iteration


1 –

2 –

3a – [Blank] –

3b – [Ries]

4 –

6 –

7 –

8 –

10 –

Suggested Reading:

  • The Lean Startup by Eric Ries (Crown, Sept 2011)  – In my opinion, this is the most important book of the Fall 2011 season.  The idea of iteration is one of several points in the book. I believe this book is the roadmap for how entrepreneurship will practiced.
  • Little Bets by Peter Sims (Free Press, April 2011) – Sims writes a whole book on the idea of making lots of little bets, rather than focusing on a few big ones. He uses stories from Pixar and Frank Gehry as well as research from Carol Dweck and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This is a good book that pulls together a bunch of ideas around how it is less risky to more chances.
  • Obliquity by John Kay (Penguin, April 2011) – The subtitle is “Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly.” This book makes the clear case that our lives our full of “pivots.” The book description makes the case very well: “The best way to achieve any complex or broadly defined goal-from happiness to wealth to profit to preventing forest fires-is the indirect way. As Kay points out, we rarely know enough about the intricacies of important problems to tackle them head-on. And our unpredictable interactions with other people and the world at large mean that the path to our goals-and sometimes the goals themselves-will inevitably change. We can learn about our objectives and how to achieve them only through a gradual process of risk taking and discovery-what Kay calls obliquity.” This is fun, big idea book.
  • Do More Faster by Brad Feld and David Cohen (Wiley , Oct 2010) – This is written by two of the founders of startup incubator TechStars. It might be better described as an anthology of writings of startup CEOs, mentors, and other associated with TechStars. This format normally worries me, but in this case the book really works.
  • Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo (O’Reilly, July 2010) – This book is 70+ tools that can be used in group setting for generating and evaluating new ideas. I have not seen a collection of tools like this all in one spot. For the iteration trend, this is a very tactical book for people who are doing the work.
  • Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky: How the Top 1% of Entrepreneurs Profit from Global Chaos by Sarah Lucy – Lucy is a journalist who has written about technology for BusinessWeek and now the website TechCrunch. In this book, she examines what is going around the world in countries like Israel, China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Rwanda and why startups are thriving in these developing regions.
  • Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur (Wiley, July 2010) – This book is being held up by the leaders of the Lean Startup movement as a critical book for formulating business models. This project started as a self-published experiment that has gone on to be commercial published with great success.
  • SuperCrunchers by Ian Ayres (Random House, 2007) – The argument here was using vast sets of data to make decisions is vastly superior to experts. If you have the datasets, regression is the tool of choice as Netflix does when they make recommendations. If you need to generate datasets, randomization or A/B testing fills in the blanks. The book contains straight forward explanations and examples of both methods.
  • Anything You Want by Derek Sivers (Domino Project, June 2011) – Sivers shares 40 lessons he learned through the creation, growth, and sale of CDBaby, a retailer that specializes in selling music for independent musicians.
  • Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure by Tim Harford
  • Culturematic: How Reality TV, John Cheever, a Pie Lab, Julia Child, Fantasy Football . . . Will Help You Create and Execute Breakthrough Ideas by Grant McCracken (my review here)

Reduce Friction

What do I see in books?
I think it is a lack of friction for someone who wants to read books.
Meaning my information needs to be empathetic to the way people want to consume.
So,  if there are enough people who want to read a book in hardcover, I don’t have an ideological point of view on how one should consume.
I could give a fuck if you want to listen to it on Kindle or audiobook or read a hard copy.
The greatest job for all of us is to create no friction for somebody who wants it.
So, the place of a book in 2018 is lots of people read books.
So, I don’t have a problem producing my content in that form.

Read The Second Book

Many authors get famous for the first book they write.  There is a great idea that is delivered at the right time. That popularity normally offers them the opportunity to write another book, as publishers clamor for a repeat of their current success.

The second book often doesn’t do as well. There are a million reasons why. Many of those reasons are connected to the next book not being different enough from the first. Authors are asked to write a sequel and it is hard for follow-ons to do well in the non-fiction space. The core of the idea was pored into the first release and as readers, we think there isn’t much to improve upon.

I think that is wrong and that you are missing something.

If the first book was successful, the author is given opportunities to presented those ideas dozens of times to conference audiences and executives boardrooms. The ideas get improved. The language and metaphors shift. You’ll find the author can summarize his main points more clearly in a few paragraphs than when he could across several chapters in the first book.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout is the more succinct version of Positioning.

The Clay Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma is great, but Innovator’s Solution is better at describe the original problem and solution.

So, if you like the first book, consider again picking the second book for the opportunity to get an even clearer sense of what the author has to share.



Peter Armstrong from Leanpub (Better Books Podcast – Episode 1)

Better Books Podcast Tile EP1

For episode one, I am interviewing Peter Armstrong, co-founder of Leanpub.

I met Peter about eight years ago. We have been both on the same path believing that books are startups.

While I have been publishing books, his path has been creating a platform for publishing and selling books.

I hope you’ll take the opportunity to learn more about how they are changing book publishing.