Updated: Apr 14
After more than three months, I finally picked a book cover!
In March 2022, I shared the three cover finalists with my author community. They provided me with tactical and actionable feedback. I took this to the design team to develop the final cover.
Naturally, once the cover was finalized, the NDP team created the book reveal video, and I moved on to the final stage of the book, which was the layout and securing quotes. Again, I'll write about this in the next blog post.
In this post, I'd like to share the work I did in the first two months of the year, as I worked on my cover brief and did my initial sketches for the cover and how we concluded the three cover finalists.
The cover brief
The first thing I had to do was to condense the 50,000+ words of the book into less than a 100 to help the design get up to speed about me and the book's goal.
Here's what I wrote up on December 24th.
I've come clarity through my book campaign in November that the book is much larger than breaking into product management. Gangsta Vision can help there, but it is about entrepreneurship, and I want to change the narrative on the word Gangsta. I created a video about this: (6) Post | Feed | LinkedIn. In short, the rules don't work for some of us. So we need to push against them, and find what works for us. And through this process we unleash something about ourselves we didn't know, but others actually did. It is this beautiful "aha" moment. Like breaking out of chains, or flying into the sky like superman, or taking down Thanos, for the second time. The cover needs to be captivating, and inspire someone to BE BOLD, and go forward.
It is interesting for me to reread it now. The core idea hasn't changed, but I've gotten a lot better at pitching my book!
I had to research the styles used by books in my category. So, a scorching in addition to spending an hour at Barnes & Noble, I also window shopped books on Amazon.com.
I love this book cover because the image does make you "think again." Is it water, or is it a really hot blue flame around the matchstick? Is it both? You can just sit there staring at the image. I think it is captivating and philosophical in itself. Plus san serif is clean to me. All caps, semibold, works for me.
Loved this book color, it captivated me at the bookstore when I first saw it. Of course I love Will Smith and seeing him on a cover is appealing to me. But I liked that it didn't have too much text, and the styling of the image, with a variety of colors, and sketchbook style was really cool to me.
I don't love the serif font on this book cover, but I love the graphic. It is highly related to the book itself, a person standing at the top of a ladder and unable to reach the next one. My book talks about breaking through a barrier and into leadership. I want a more impactful image, that speaks to breaking through. I don't want to be subtle about that.
I like the color of the book; it stands out. When I first got it for free, I got it just after the author's speech. So I was motivated to read it. The graphic and the inclusion of the mouse are cute and discreet and summarise the entire book in an image.
I love the graphic in this book by showing a very recognizable picture, of the "ugly duckling" becoming a "handsome swan". It captivates the holder as they look at the cover.
Tip to my friend Ahmed who introduced me to this program and created a fantastic book cover! That touches several of the points above!
I still love the style of Will Smith's book despite his behavior at the Oscars :(
The first sketch
After this research, I created a mood board on Canva. Here's what that looked like.
The hand sketches
Next, it was time for drawing! I developed the sketches below using my "art skills" and the mood board. It's interesting to look at where I started and contrast it against where I ended! Unfortunately, most of these elements did not make it from the mood board, except for the black sunglasses - and I think that is a good thing!
Due to licensing reasons (obviously), Vision or Cyclops didn't make it into the final version of the book.
When I first met Gjorgi from the design team, his first task was to try to come up with three concepts live. We both knew that we couldn't use any Marvel characters on the book cover, but he wanted me to explore a design that would be uniquely mine.
I thought that a Mario-style 8-bit cover would be attractive for a gamer. So the art director Nikola riffed on it live and came up with the below cover design in under 15 minutes!
The idea with this cover was that the path to leadership was akin to a game.
As you go up the stairs, you can level up and make it to the top, where the prize is a pair of black sunglass - Gangsta Vision.
As the designers put this together, I suggested adding diversity both in gender and race to bring home the point about anyone being able to take the path to leadership.
The designer, Nikola, had mentioned that he had worked on the cover for another book, called "Path to PM," which might have a style that I could get on board with. So he shared this cover with me and was able to extract some elements from the cover to create one more variation to keep the imagination flowing.
The black sunglasses were still the prize.
After several weeks, I received three covers from the NDP design team. Two of them were improved versions of the first two concepts, and the third one was a unique variation. The other artwork inspired the variation in the book - the interior images and the "hiking" theme.
These were the finalists I sent to the author community for their feedback.
Author community feedback
I sent out a Typeform survey to collect feedback on these three covers. Over 25 individuals responded with over 40 specific feedback points with extreme opinions!
I summarized all the points of feedback to see some revealing themes:
First, the video game cover, while excellent (despite the ugly blue), was unrelated to the topic of this book or the category.
Orange was the preferred background color.
Everyone loved ALL CAPS for the title and the author's name.
So that left concepts 2 and 3.
Many liked concept two because the floating stairs made it look like breaking into leadership was accessible (and easy). But it was also kind of boring—a definite safe choice.
Concept 3 was VERY polarized. Some LOVED it. Others HATED it.
The great thing about concept three was that the back view of the hikers meant it was tough to say the gender or ethnicity, or age of the hikers. It made it much easier for anyone to picture themselves achieving Gangsta Vision. I wanted this for the book.
One particular person said climbing a mountain seems really hard, so I'm just not going to do it. There was also feedback that the electronics seemed quite outdated, and no product manager has a stack of papers on their desk. It felt.. out of touch. I agreed.
I mainly wanted to separate feasibility and difficulty. While breaking into senior leadership can be challenging, it isn't impossible. I liked the imagery to show this.
I asked the designers to do another rev. Concept 3 had potential, and here's the specific feedback I shared with the designers:
I wanted to remove the electronics as I wanted the book cover to be timeless. Unfortunately, there's a new iPhone every year, so there's no way it would stay up to date.
The papers needed to be removed. Product managers use confluence!
Additionally, climbing the stack of papers is hard. There needs to be an easier way, and I wanted to bring back the ladder symbol.
This is what the designers came up with.
The team felt confident that the stack of folders and the updated electronics could work. However, I wasn't convinced - it just felt risky as a choice.
As for the ladder, it wasn't jiving with me. This looked like something from a swimming pool.
One of the original pieces of feedback suggested that I just use a mountain instead of the pile of books.
We decided to try that.
I really liked this cover. It has so many of the best components come together.
This version of the ladder worked with the idea I was envisioning.
As someone trying to break into senior leadership, you struggle to see that there might be an easier path.
Those at the top can see the ladder. So when mentors provide advice, it seems so simple and evident to them - they have a much better view from the top, especially once you achieve Gangsta Vision, signified by the black sunglasses.
This was my aim of the book, to write from the point of the mountain climbers and use my specific stories with the language and empathy needed for a product manager to hear it, and "get it".
The cover was almost perfect. I wanted to make it even more visible that the ladder is closer than you think. You're just so busy that you don't think to turn your head to the right to see it.
Here's the book's final cover, and I hope you like it as much as I do.
A subtle change made it perfect.