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The evolution of the Strategy First book cover

Updated: Apr 25

I thought readers would enjoy sharing in the process I went through with my book publisher Greenleaf Book Group to develop the cover and book design for Strategy First. There is no cover up here and no cover charge to read on. And naturally, I am going to cover quite a bit about the Strategy First book cover. That said, while there are many detailed decisions we made, I am going to focus on the cover design, theme and the major graphic elements inside the book.


First, some background. For readers that don’t know, I started doing my Strategy First talks a few years ago. My talk explains why building winning strategies is the single most important element to business success and then outlines how to build winning strategies.

A core part of my talk is my strategy model. For fun and memorability, I play off Albert Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2 with my own twist: Strategy = E × mc2. The E stands for Execution, the m for market potential and the c for customer value. The c is squared because, in most non-commodity businesses, customer value is most critical. And, in a nice parallel with Einstein’s Relativity equation, a key tenet of Strategy = E × mc2 is that strategy effectiveness can only be measured relative to the competition. (Note my blog software does not support superscripts, sorry about that)


When I started working with designer Alicia Thornber on my presentation, Alicia suggested using a blackboard theme for my slides. Alicia thought a blackboard theme would not only be unique and impactful, but also a nice tie in with Einstein who is famously pictured in front of a blackboard in some iconic photos. Below, with one slide as an example, you can see the highly effective and much praised results:


When I decided to turn Strategy First into a book, Greenleaf designer Teresa Muniz first asked me what current book covers I like and what my goals were. Naturally, it was important for my book cover and overall design to also be consistent with the chalkboard theme of my Strategy First talk. More broadly, my goals were to grab customers’ attention online or in a bookstore and build a powerful brand for Strategy First. I found most book covers, especially in the business book space, did not achieve those goals or resonate with me. I did like the design for Margaret Atwood’s Handmaids Tale and her sequel The Testaments. The simple, yet bold, graphics appealed to me, and I wanted to incorporate a bold style into my book cover. Three of the collection of book covers I liked are included here:








































Teresa designed several book covers for my consideration. I gravitated to a design with a bold Strategy First branding on a ribbon with a powerful “1” behind it. Teresa provided three color alternatives of this design.



We decided to focus on the first color scheme, pop the colors, and bring out the chalk look more:

We all loved this cover design! And the feedback was enthusiastic from everyone who saw it. Alicia updated the color scheme in my presentation to fit this color scheme as well.


The overall book design followed the cover. To extend the chalkboard theme to the interior of the book, we decided to start each chapter with chalkboard graphic from the presentation that was symbolic of that chapter. For example, in my presentation I use poker chips to represent how strategy is all about making bets:

In the book, the importance of making bets is a key part of chapter 1. So, we incorporated poker chips as our graphic symbol for the chapter:

There was still more to be done. One part of the book creation process is printing a limited number of Advanced Reader Copies, or ARCs. This is like a final beta of the book. The copy is basically complete but has a bit of editing remaining and the book has a paperback cover instead of a hard cover. The ARCs are used for promotional purposes to help market the book in the industry.


When we received the ARCs, we noticed a few key things. First, the blue ribbon on the printed book cover was not popping on the black background like it did digitally. We also noticed that the cover of the ARC did not show any of the blackboard effect we were after. Finally, the blackboard effect was also not coming through well in the interior of the book. The chalkboard theme was not clear to readers.


So, we made some changes. On the cover Teresa lightened up the blue ribbon and enhanced the chalkboard background so it even bled through the blue ribbon a bit:


We also enhanced the chalkboard look on the interior of the book, so the chalkboard eraser marks are clearer and more prominent. In a few cases we even added a piece of chalk and/or a chalkboard eraser to the page to reinforce the chalkboard theme as the example from the first page of the table of contents below demonstrates:

Feedback from readers and resellers will be the ultimate gauge of success, but I am super excited about the unique and compelling nature of the Strategy First book design. Alicia and Teresa deserve kudos for all their work on my presentation and the book and for collaborating to make the two harmonious.


Strategy First will be available on June 16th and is available for pre-order now at places like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and many independent book stores like Island Books.


Guess that covers it.

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