Throwing Your Minibook Into A Black Hole

When a minibook comes into an agency at the wrong time (i.e. the agency doesn’t have that position available), or it’s not good enough to get the person a job and not bad enough to get trashed directly, it ends up in a black hole of sorts–a drawer, a pile, a file, a broom closet. At my agency, we have a box.

Today we had agency-wide spring cleaning and I had the pleasure of going through that box to see if there were any books we should hang onto. I thought I’d pass along a few observations to help keep your book from getting tossed directly into the black hole.

A minibook’s packaging will not get you a job. What’s inside it will get you a job. If you do something “memorable” with your book’s packaging, make sure it’s not memorable for the wrong reasons. Unfortunately, I see too many students spend 2 years putting their book together and then at the last minute slap some lame joke on the cover. Smart ads are smart ads. Jokes, themes, and gimmicks are very subjective. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot before you get to the good stuff.

So, with that in mind, here are a few guidelines:

1) Sloppy is not a good theme. Don’t bind your book with corrugated cardboard and duct tape and scrawl your name in sharpie marker across the front. Don’t clip all your ads loose into a clipboard. You may intend your garbage bag cover to say “I don’t care about my cover because I spent all my time on my phat ads,” but what it really says is “I don’t care.” Really, you’re trying to start a career that’s all about creating good impressions. Don’t blow it with the very first impression you make.

2) If you’re going to have a theme, have a reason for it. Thundercats, as big of an impact as they may have had on your early development, is probably not a good theme.

3) Crappy grade-school report covers or $4 photo albums from Wal-Mart are not good things to use for your book. I know it sucks, especially on a student budget, to shell out $150 printing and binding nice, color books. But believe me, once you get a job with a paycheck, you’ll be glad you did.

4) Skip the clever sayings and platitudes on your cover. You can’t go wrong with your “JOE PENCIL, COPYWRITER.”

5) Photos of you doing a funny dance belong on your myspace page, not on your portfolio cover.

6) It’s called a minibook because it’s smaller than traditional carry-around portfolios. Don’t be a wiseguy and make your book the size of a toenail. Get it! It’s mini! It’s a MINI BOOK! Black hole.

7) Forget everything you learned in your business class about cover letters. I saw one today that STARTED OFF by saying something like “I would be a great asset to your agency because I have a versatile skill set, am dependably task-oriented, and possess a wide range of communication achievement GPA resume blah blah blah.” a) Get over yourself. b) Who talks like this? You’re not applying to business school. Include a short, sweet note that introduces yourself, says what you’re interested in, maybe mentions some of the agency’s work that you like (if that’s true), and thanks the person for their time.

8) A simple resume with your education, experience, awards if applicable, and contact info should be IN the back of your book (loose ones tend to get lost). A FEW personal details are okay if you want, but this is not the place to try out your comedy monologue. Nowhere on your resume should it say anything as dumb as “good with people.”

In the end, a simple, spiral-bound book, printed on a decent printer at a reasonable size (somewhere between 8.5″x11″ and 11″x17″) with a simple, tasteful cover will say all you need to say. Namely, the work inside speaks for itself.

5 thoughts on “Throwing Your Minibook Into A Black Hole

  1. My experience can prove every point you’ve made. Except for the part about an agency cleaning out its office.I’ve heard the argument that you should be able to “advertise yourself.” That a cleverly constructed book shows that you can even do an ad about you.I buy that. But a simple black book with “JOE PENCIL, COPYWRITER” on the cover is still communicating something.Good advertising keeps the target audience in mind. And if a bunch of creative directors are your target, simple is almost always better than cute or clever.

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  2. I agree, too. However, do you think that there’s a distinction in an Art Director’s portfolio and a writer’s portfolio? Shouldn’t an AD’s portfolio have some sort of visual dessert other than the “dreaded, spiral-coil bound (I just got this done at Kinko’s) book”? After looking at an AD’s book, shouldn’t you get a sense of craftsmanship after looking at it, both in the work inside the book and the material that “makes” the book? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for not having grass, astro-turf or some sort of “grunge” material on your book that you think is “cool”, but shouldn’t an AD’s book convey craftsmanship? Just a thought. Cheers

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  3. David-You make a good point. I think Jim and I are not arguing against craftsmanship and thought, but against gimmicks and tomfoolery.I’ve seen some very well-crafted books from art directors that were simple, straight-forward and beautiful.This may be a poor analogy, but a simple black Bible with “Holy Bible” in gold on the cover is both simple and beautifully crafted. (But I’m not encouraging you to do a “Book of David” theme for your portfolio.)

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  4. I agree. If I get a writer’s book that is really simple, courier font, absolutely no frills, I won’t ding it. For an art director, I’ll expect a little nicer layout, better typography on the resume, etc. I don’t necessarily expect fancy from an art director, but well-designed at the very least. And to be clear, I don’t see good design as a gimmick or “theme” any more than I see correct spelling as a theme.

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