Of course judge a book by its cover. Why would you not?

The cover is an invitation, designed to ask whether the book is for you. So whether you are designing a cover or evaluating one, consider that invitation to be genuine.

You might imagine that beneath a shoddy cover lies a masterpiece. You might. But your attention is limited, so you need to consider the cover on its own merits as a signal to what’s behind it. You have to make snap judgments, thousands per day, about where to spend your precious attention. We all do. Which is why we’re all judging, thousands of times per day.

Embrace it. Especially when it’s not just about books.

Each part has a purpose

For a book in today’s marketplace, an effective cover must do three things:

  • Demonstrate enough professionalism to be taken seriously
  • Hint at its purpose by showing an understanding of the genre
  • Stand out enough to get noticed.

All to persuade a browser to read the book description. The back cover pitch.

The pitch’s job it to make a reader read the first page.

Everything up to that point is marketing. Then the writing takes over – and it also has a purpose.

The first page sells the book, with a compelling hook.

The book itself engages, revealing enough sympathy or insight or storytelling in each scene and chapter to force the reader to turn the next page.

The last page, by leaving the reader satisfied or energized, sells the next book.

Everything has a purpose.

Work backward from the promise

That invitation is also a promise: invest time reading and the book will deliver what the cover said. Which means if you’re the one writing the book, you should design the cover last, once you’ve chosen your theme and tone. Otherwise, you can’t stand out enough to get noticed, because you haven’t yet created what you want to be noticed for.

Starting with the cover is steering by convention, by someone else’s custom.

Once you know what to say, once you know what matters, once you’ve set your words and beliefs in bedrock – only then can you can create a matching face for them.

Create a story you believe in, and then make sure your invitation expresses it.

Not just another pretty face

Of course, judge a person by the cover. Why would you not?

We all do. Our attention is limited. Snap judgments. Thousands per day.

How we show up in the world demonstrates professionalism, hints at our purpose, and might make us stand out enough to get noticed.

And every action beyond that is a further invitation to the world. Another request for others to learn more and become enrolled in the walking intention that we are.

All starting with the cover. The costume – our bearing and clothes and grooming.

Which might have us think we need to be buttoned-up and spit-shined at every venue. Pencil skirts with stilettos or Brooks Brothers suits.

But starting with the costume is steering by convention.

Work backward from the promise

This does not mean ignoring how you appear to the world. It means not wearing a costume.

How about instead of, “I need to look the part to get the part,” you design the unique role that only you can fill, and then match your persona to your purpose?

If haute couture is your thing, go embrace your elegance. But if that suit is a spiritual straitjacket, then sister, make a change. Lose the heels. Pull your hair back and slap on a ball cap. Or adopt a jeans-and-turtleneck vibe and take on the world on your terms.

All to hint at your purpose. Which very likely is not to be the person living up to others’ ephemeral fashion standards. Start by setting your words and beliefs in bedrock, and then create a matching face.

Create a story you believe in, and then make sure your invitation expresses it.

That’s a cover story I’ll turn the page for.

Glenn Miller's Newsletter – The Recess Bell

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