Cover Advice

Option 1.

Option 1.

We at Black Irish Books are preparing for our annual end of the year blow-out Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa extravaganza and we need your help.

(Mark your calendars for Wednesday November 24th for the Writing Wednesdays launch. For all of you First Look Access people, you’ll get a first dibs email for the deal/s on Monday November 22nd.)

We’ve got a brand new book from Steve called THE KNOWLEDGE to share.  It’s the wild and woolly origin story behind The War of Art.  Set in the mean streets of 1970s New York when Steve made every amateur writing mistake imaginable (how do you think he knows so much about them?), we’re calling it a “Too Close To True Memoir.”

Option 2.

Option 2.

[Attention Joel and Ethan Coen…you guys need to option this ASAP!]

Alas, we’re unsure of which cover to go with…

So we thought it would be fun to get your takes.

You can vote here!

We’ll keep the ballot boxes open until midnight, next Friday September 16, 2016.

Callie will give you the results in her WIT column next week.  Many thanks for voting early and often.

Posted in


Read this one first.
It identifies the enemy—what I call Resistance with a capital “R,” i.e. fear, self-doubt, procrastination, perfectionism, all the forms of self-sabotage—that stop us from doing our work and realizing our dreams.
Start here.
Everything else proceeds from this.



  1. Irene on September 9, 2016 at 6:11 am

    The car does not speak to me of the content. Either the one above , simple, or one that speaks of knowledge or knowing but cannot think of one right now – too early in the morning!

  2. Mark Clemens on September 9, 2016 at 6:14 am

    Can’t say I’d vote for either one. Back to the drawing board…

  3. Janice Crago on September 9, 2016 at 6:14 am

    I voted for the first one only because I thought the tagline was important. I actually like the second one better because the type takes me back to the 70s and I don’t get the relationship of the car on the first one. All of that to say, I’d go with the second one 100% if it had the tagline too.

  4. Sean Crawford on September 9, 2016 at 6:24 am

    I like what Janice said.

  5. Cecilia Lombard on September 9, 2016 at 6:24 am

    I’m with Janice on this one, though I think the red on yellow can raise readability issues with some people.

  6. Karen on September 9, 2016 at 6:34 am

    I voted (for the red one) as a cooperative act (of a loyal, caring subscriber to this blog, to TSG blog and podcast, to all of Steve’s nonfiction works, and to Shawn’s TSG book), but I didn’t feel good about it because neither design attracts me.

    Realizing that the choice to invite votes without a way to comment was probably deliberate I hesitate to offer any input other than the binary… I’ll simply offer a few questions:
    – How does the car relate to the content?
    – Why those primary colors used without nuance?
    – Why have title and author in same size?

  7. Mark Tucker on September 9, 2016 at 6:34 am

    I voted for #2, but I do think it needs the tagline from #1 with “The War of Art” in a slightly larger font than the rest of the tagline text.

    Moving “Steven Pressfield” lower with the tagline right under “The Knowledge” might look nice too.

    Keep in mind this is the opinion of someone with zero graphic design experience.

  8. Michael Matthews on September 9, 2016 at 6:35 am

    If you’re selling primarily to an established list (readers of this email) it hardly matters. Both covers are pointless and inept. If you want to recruit new readers, look to the print edition covers of your best sellers. Pitch the desktop publishing program from the 1990s and free up some cash to hire a graphic designer.

  9. Sarah McAshan on September 9, 2016 at 6:37 am

    I agree with Janice too. The tagline is important, but the first design is ho hum. The second cover makes me think not just of the ’70’s but specifically Philip Roth books. That may or may not be what you are going for.

  10. Henry Wittenberg on September 9, 2016 at 6:41 am

    Steven I chose the red cover. The taxi suggests movement, going somewhere, perhaps only to work but maybe it’s to the airport for a trip. Anyway, to me it is the suggestion of moving in a positive direction, which is what happens to me when I read your writing blog and your books on writing!

  11. Mary Doyle on September 9, 2016 at 6:46 am

    Voting for the red one, but I’ll be honest…not crazy about either cover. That said, I cannot wait to get my hands on the book in November!

  12. Mark Mayerson on September 9, 2016 at 7:13 am

    Is that car a police car or a taxi? It’s ambiguous. Each would imply different content. The yellow cover looks more like a novel than a memoir.

  13. Mark Mayerson on September 9, 2016 at 7:14 am

    And if that second cover is green, not yellow, pardon my color blindness.

  14. patti on September 9, 2016 at 7:16 am

    Sorry, I don’t care for either one. Car is meaningless…why a car? I like the color yellow…grabs more attention…good luck!

  15. nicoletta metri on September 9, 2016 at 7:17 am

    I love you guys, so I will be true. A “neather” option was needed. I voted the red one but I didn’t like it so much. The icon style is nice and web oriented, but what is the meaning of the car (taxi)?
    I hate the yellow one although I’m really a fan of the 70″ design. C’mon, it’s Steven’s new book, it shouldn’t look like a Janice Joplin album cover. Pressfield has a naked writing, straight to the point, no frills…that’s why I like him so much. He deserves better than this.

    Thank you for involving me. It was fun.

    Good Luck 🙂

  16. Aaron on September 9, 2016 at 7:21 am

    Agreed with most here. I chose the red, but didn’t know why the car was there. I also like the blurb at the bottom.

  17. Charles on September 9, 2016 at 7:36 am

    #2 with tagline. Has 70’s feel. Has a Robert Altman or Tarantino vibe so works for different generations/target audience (if you talk about pitching it). Also reminds me of your experience in porn or am I giving that genre too much credit?

  18. Matt on September 9, 2016 at 7:54 am

    Agree with others that these cover ideas seem to miss the mark. In the past, it seems most of your cover ideas really nail the core concept with a single image that perfectly conveys the theme of the book.

    I am NOT a designer, but I can’t help but think the visual representation for this cover should be a waste paper basket full of crumpled paper.

    Something like this maybe:

  19. Scrivener on September 9, 2016 at 8:04 am

    I suspect the car is there on the red cover because of its connotation of London Taxi Drivers. ‘The Knowledge’ of London streets is hard won and constantly renewed. Their livelihoods depend on it.

    The yellow one has been done before – I can’t recall it exactly, but is definitely not original.

  20. Stacy Chambers on September 9, 2016 at 8:10 am

    I voted for #2, but I too think it needs the tagline. I didn’t understand the significance of the car on Option 1.

  21. Robert Betti on September 9, 2016 at 8:26 am

    Dear Steven & Shawn:

    The first thing that jumped out at me is that both covers, while simple and economical, remind me of other extremely popular novels —and since “The Knowledge” is a memoir, of sorts, these covers might evoke unintended comparisons.

    Your first nominee — the red one with the cab coming at you — instantly reminded me of the Mark Haddon’s novel, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” Excellent novel — but do you want to risk being seen as a copycat? (See it here:

    The other cover looks way too much like the 1970’s wildly popular mass market paperback runs of Philip Roth’s work. Nothing against Mr. Roth, he’s a great novelist — but keep in mind: his biggest seller is about a guy who masturbates excessively. Will you really be comfortable knowing that people might make that comparison? (

    I agree with Mark Clemens: go back to the drawing board!

    Love your work, fellas! Hope this helps.

    All the best,
    — RB—

  22. Charlie Quimby on September 9, 2016 at 8:32 am

    I didn’t vote. If you’re primarily selling from your site, Steven’s name and the primary color may be all that matters. If these were covers proposed for a book of mine, though, I’d be sorely disappointed.

  23. Joyce on September 9, 2016 at 8:49 am

    I voted for the yellow one. If you see something with a mass of yellow, you will not forget it. It will stay with you, in your mind.

    Going to be late for a meeting? Have to leave a meeting early? Wear yellow (a tie for men is enough), and everyone will remember that you were there.

  24. Kwin on September 9, 2016 at 8:56 am

    I like really like the inclusion of the subtitle. Shouldn’t the picture be of a London cab?

  25. Keena on September 9, 2016 at 9:00 am

    Voted for number 1 only because there was no choice for a neither option. Steven is a no-nonsense writer, and option 2 is too “frilly” and too kitschy (and Philip Roth-y). The font style of 1 is more suited to Steven and the tagline is helpful. Otherwise, meh. Both covers elicited an “Eewww” response. 😛

  26. Joel D Canfield on September 9, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Immediately reminded me of one of the taboo books from when I was a kid: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.

    If anyone actually read it, let me know if I missed anything important.

  27. Joel D Canfield on September 9, 2016 at 9:09 am

    Clearly a psychological experiment. I hope our votes are simply to gather our collective psychosis and not to actually choose one of these.

    I am reminded, at this very moment, of the feedback I got from another Joel on one of my covers: “Perhaps you should hire one of the professional designers sharing their work here.” And here I thought I was a professional designer.

    Here’s hoping whoever designed these has a healthy ego. Or a healthy sense of humor. Or both.

  28. Michael Beverly on September 9, 2016 at 9:10 am

    Yes, of course I read it.

    Great section on Emergency Room visits. You missed out.

  29. Joel D Canfield on September 9, 2016 at 9:11 am

    From the Department of How to Take a Meaningful Survey:

    I find it interesting that every time I load that page, Option 1 is already selected, giving us the powerful leaning toward the default.

    I also notice that I can, in fact, load the page multiple times. Perhaps I’ll come back and vote for #2 obsessively while I have lunch.

    No. I’d never do that.

  30. Joel D Canfield on September 9, 2016 at 9:12 am

    Of all the times you have frightened me, this is near the top, pally.

  31. Jperly on September 9, 2016 at 9:16 am

    Surprised there wasn’t a null option. I’m not a fan of either cover

  32. Dick Yaeger on September 9, 2016 at 9:17 am

    You should fire your creative adviser.

  33. Michael Sayre on September 9, 2016 at 9:22 am

    #2, by a lot. Add the subtitle, too, according to the good arguments above. Then also incorporate the taxi to ice the cake. Perhaps a different sort of graphic reference to ‘taxi’ would work even better, however, as the look of a computer icon is disjointed from the 1970s. An appropriate taxi image would pay off ‘knowledge’ as others have noted, and with some finesse could be added to the layout without compromising the typographic style of the title, which is otherwise 70s-spot-on.

  34. Chris on September 9, 2016 at 9:25 am

    #2 is a clear winner here. Has the same feel I get from “Stranger Things.” Also, this:

  35. Ellie Rezk on September 9, 2016 at 9:29 am


    Great news about Steven’s new book! Just had a couple of more thoughts…

    First, I picked the cover with the cab because it conjures up an urban theme, along with “secret” knowledge learned by a cab driver.

    Also, I would hyphenate … A true-close-to-true Memoir, etc. because I had a hard time understanding subtitle without hyphens

    Finally, I think a title like “Unfiltered Knowlege” or something along those lines would be more enticing and further support subtitle.

    Looking forward to it!

  36. Erika Viktor on September 9, 2016 at 9:38 am

    Whatever, if it was an instagram pic of Steve’s morning bagel and latte I would probably still read it.

    I went to college for graphic design and we did hundreds of book cover mockups. I think it’s the fun part of writing anything.

    I’m personally not in love with either. I think both covers are a bit too reductionist. Does Steve have any personal pics of his time in New York? I can imagine a black and white cover of him in NY during the 1970s.

    Depending on the feeling of the novel, I would do something creative with the photo, like facial obscura (partially covered face, it’s everywhere because it gets attention), or perhaps superimposed on a cab . . . Something something.

    What about just a photo of a few objects germane to driving cabs at the time? Like fuzzy dice or one of those hula ladies, plus one surprising object that captures the reason (theme) of the book? A broken pencil and some scribbled notes? A coffee-stained script on a cabbie seat?

    The type should fit in with the book theme too. You got the spirit of the 1970s with the second cover, but only half way. The 1970’s was a typographic throwback to the late 1800’s and we were just getting over the Peter Max psychedelics of the 1960s but we were still doing fancy stuff in the 1970s. In other words, it was less reductionist and more victorian.

    I don’t know what “too close to true” means. It conveys that it’s a memoir that isn’t true but its close. So is it fiction? Or huh . . . ? I do like the idea of a subtitle because the title is waaaay too general. I need to know what the hell the book is about if I’m Joe Schmo at the B&N.

    Yellow catches my eye more, by the way.

    This is a garble of thoughts, sorry. I’ll be more eloquent later.

  37. Ellie Rezk on September 9, 2016 at 9:40 am

    One more quick thought … I did go back and read the comments of others and agree the car could be either a police car or a cab driver. Because I read your blog post about how the book is from Steven’s NYC days in the 70s so I associated the car as a cab reference. Another option would be to have an image that reflects urban (skyline or something) and then also an image that references writing. Better yet, how about a sketch of a young man writing (on his yellow legal pad …lol) in a cafe in NYC!!

  38. Eric Tolladay on September 9, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Option #2, because of the 70s typography, and the wonderfully uncluttered design (which is also a hallmark of the 70s).

    Like others I am surprised at the paucity of options. Usually when we do movie posters we offer 5-20 comps. Perhaps you’ve already narrowed it down.

    But this did make me wonder what a movie poster would look like for the same property. If my understanding of the story is correct, this is a difficult concept to represent graphically. It looks to me like the story is an Internal Content Genre, a change of Worldview. If so, I think the designer did very well considering the circumstances.

    Did you consider other ways of graphically representing the maturing process of the protagonist? What you have is a design that relates to the time period of the story, but I don’t see that as being the biggest draw. If I’m undemanding you correctly, the story is about maturity. I suspect you’d be better served with a cover that represents this.

    Then again, probably the biggest draw to the title is Steven’s name on the cover. If that is the case, just run his name big (like option 2) an don’t worry too much about the symbolism.

    After all, this isn’t art you’re making, its commerce.

  39. David Kaufmann on September 9, 2016 at 10:03 am

    #2 reminds me, as it does so many others, of a 70s book – Philip Roth I think has one with that exact typeface. For better or worse. I like the simplicity and color of #2, but not sure about the font. I don’t like the red, and have no idea why the car is there. The tagline is important. (I’m repeating and reinforcing what’s been said before.)
    So, #2 – yellow.
    With a different font and add the tagline.
    Joining the chorus here.

  40. Regina on September 9, 2016 at 10:04 am

    Love the red one! If it’s not about a New York taxi ride, then there is a twist! Pictures of that time are probably painted in text form. Thanks for the anticipation for an upcoming book! 😀

  41. Jeff Chapman on September 9, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Neither excites me, but option #2 looks so 1970s. I have to vote for it.

  42. gwen abitz on September 9, 2016 at 11:13 am

    YIKES – Interesting Comment-Shows to go I am not an author and viewed with a different perspective. LIKED the yellow immediately without hesitation. With a tag line???? I don’t know, maybe less is more.

  43. Paul C on September 9, 2016 at 11:15 am

    Put a crack in the car windshield and you’ll have a cover that reflects the mean street ’70s. The yellow of option two is too sunnyside up for the mean street ’70s. New York is option one. Sunny southern California is option two.

  44. Erika Viktor on September 9, 2016 at 11:30 am

    Large cab checkerboard line as a primary object, small as a secondary object, broken windshield cab central. Yellow background with the 70’s font. Subtitle included rewritten to make more sense.

    Maybe you’re wishing you hadn’t asked for opinions?

  45. Jonathan Berman on September 9, 2016 at 11:31 am

    Wow, so many responses!

    I’m a native New Yorker, and Option 2 just oozes my childhood back at me. (In the same vein, I automatically assumed that the car in Option 1 was a taxi, but having read the other comments, I can see the confusion.)

    I love it.

    Having said that, and again having read the other comments, I understand where people from other demographics don’t have the same associations, and therefore my degree of fondness. But I love it.

  46. Erika Viktor on September 9, 2016 at 11:31 am


  47. Monicka Clio Sakki on September 9, 2016 at 11:37 am

    I agree with all above comments – I am not super excited about any of them.
    I know Steven was a taxi driver, so I am ok with the image, but even if I didn’t know that, I am ok with it. Not every element on a cover needs to be understood.
    That said, the yellow with this font, takes me to the wrong place.
    And any cover of Steven’s should include that tagline…
    If I would really really have to choose, then I go with the red. Not crazy about the font though.

    Why not start a series? Especially for all the books that have writing advice, and are not stand alone novels? Then they can be clean with one bold color each…

    Looking forward for anything you guys put out there!!!

  48. Michael Matthews on September 9, 2016 at 11:46 am

    Here’s a guy who can fix the problem:

    Corey Barker

  49. Dora SIslian Themelis on September 9, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    I agree. For me Option 2 reminds me of the book Valley of the Dolls..

  50. BarbaraNH on September 9, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    “Callie will give you the results in her WIT column next week.”
    What is Callie’s EIT column? Is that her blog on Friday mornings? Or, is it another site?

    Exciting about the new book from Steven!!

  51. Niki on September 9, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    I agree with the consensus so far: NEITHER.

    The yellow one is so terrible, it screams 1970’s and is an instant turn off to me. I just assume it is a trashy and dated novel.

    The red one is less bad, the color and text are ok, but I don’t understand the vehicle.

    If these are the only options, I choose red, but please please please return to the drawing board?

  52. Erin on September 9, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    I voted for option #1, but I would really like is all of the design options of #1 — font, taxi, layout — on the yellow of #2. The yellow is eye-catching, and might help people make the connection that car = taxi.

  53. Rock on September 9, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    I like Janice’s suggestion. Regardless of cover, I’m buying a copy 🙂 Cheers! -Rock

  54. M. Daly on September 9, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    I don’t like either one. I voted for the red one only because of the tagline. The Author name should be smaller than the title and in a different font. In the yellow one the fancy font and same size author name suggests the words ALL refer to the title (without any author name)

  55. John E Simpson on September 9, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    Definitely #1. As someone above mentioned, #2 is waaaay too close to a Philip Roth cover for comfort — specifically, the first edition of Portnoy’s Complaint.

  56. Madeleine D'Este on September 9, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    I’m for the taxi option. Perhaps this doesn’t resonate with Americans but “The Knowledge” is the famous test London cabs drivers need to pass.

  57. Eric Tolladay on September 9, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    Yes to the checkerboard idea. That’s a good one. I like the idea of making the cab larger. Maybe even so large you don’t get that its a cab at first read.

  58. S.J.B. on September 10, 2016 at 10:57 am

    I voted for the red one, but I agree that neither would make me pull it off the shelf.

  59. June Randolph on September 10, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    I agree with Erika Viktor. Good ideas.

  60. Tina M Goodman on September 10, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    I like the first cover the best. The cab should look more like the iconic NYC taxi. Side view is best.
    The memoir takes place during the 70’s in the mean streets of New York, correct? Even so, I cannot stand the font on the cover of option number 2. I have read too many old paperbacks with yellowed pages and out of date pamphlets with that kind of font (plus psychedelic paisleys) on the cover.
    Red makes me want to pick up the book and buy and read it, so does orange. Yellow makes me want to sit back and think about it.

  61. Fiona Tarr on September 10, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    I honestly don’t relate to either, sorry. I don’t understand the car reference, in fact thought it was a police car at first.

  62. ZIYAH BLACKSTONE on September 11, 2016 at 6:46 am

    The Red Cover but maybe the cab could be yellow?
    I LOVE that it leads with the authors name n it’s equal in size to the title, it’s perfect! It’s STEPHENS name that makes it eye catching, and a must read.

  63. Don Rosenberg on September 12, 2016 at 7:54 am

    The taxi cover appeals too much to insiders: a) the London taxi-driver’s Knowledge and b) references to the author and to another book of his.

    What does the bookstore prowler who knows neither get from this cover?

    Your readers know Steven Pressfield as a fiction writer, and maybe as author of The War of Art. The bookstore prowler probably knows neither, and neither cover has enough information to cause him to pick up the book and look at it. Your fans will buy the book regardless of the cover, but strangers need a compelling value proposition on the cover before they will even pick up the book for a moment to (perhaps) look inside.

    Finally, the subject line of your e-mail sounds as if this article was going to be Steven Pressfield’s advice on cover design. Both covers and the e-mail subject line fail to communicate what’s inside.

    But if your book is an insider’s book for insiders, please disregard my comments above.

    With best wishes and thanks for your books and blog,

    Don R.

  64. LarryP on September 12, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    You guys are the experts in branding, but I think it makes more sense to have the cover be in the same style as Turning Pro and the War of Art.

  65. C. Longoria Gonzalez on September 13, 2016 at 5:04 am

    I went with the red one because the yellow one reminded me of a 70s movie with a Barbara Streisand soundtrack. Actually, now that I think about it, I should have gone with the yellow one. I love Barbara.
    Side note: “War of Art” changed my life. Where can I get a bootleg copy of “The Knowledge” RIGHT NOW?

  66. Allison Anthony on September 13, 2016 at 11:50 am

    Evocative of Portnoy’s Complaint.
    This could be a good thing..or a bad thing.

  67. Joel D Canfield on September 14, 2016 at 7:50 am

    Callie writes the “What it Takes” posts here.

  68. Jeff Sanders on September 14, 2016 at 8:02 am

    I agree with Mark. They are both ’70’s and along with Disco, the ’70’s are something I would rather not revisit, even in fonts.

  69. nicoletta metri on September 17, 2016 at 6:23 am

    I love this idea.

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