How I Judge A Book

Jim and I were just at the VCU Brandcenter portfolio review. As usually, there was some very impressive work on display. By my count, I looked at 22 art directors, 22 copywriters, and 10 creative technologists. Some were good. A few were great. All made me feel I’m glad I graduated when I did, because this generation is a lot more competitive than mine was.

Let me explain why.

When I look at a student book, I typically look for two things:

1. Craft. Can the writer write? Is the art director a real art director, or just an ad director who knows Photoshop. Craft shows passion, and it’s easy to see who has it.

2. Thinking. Is the strategy smart? Or self-indulgent?

But now there’s a third thing I look for:

3. Jealousy.

Let me explain.

When I left school, I had double-page magazine spreads spray-mounted to black boards. That was it. And we all got jobs based on how good those spray-mounted ideas were.

But this is the Maker Generation. If you have an idea for an app, a website, a product, some kind of technology, chances are, you can go out and physically make it. Or at least have it made. And I’m pretty jealous of that.

So if you’re putting your book together and you have an idea for an app, don’t just mock up what the program would look like on your iPad, go make it. That’s what a lot of the students at the VCU Brandcenter were doing. And it was pretty inspiring.

How Can You Make It Better?

I saw this sign at Jimmy John’s yesterday.* This sign could have been your standard NO SHOES, NO SHIRT, NO SERVICE, but someone thought it would be funnier to rewrite it. And it is.

It reminded me of when I first read Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.** When I opened the book, I saw that he’d actually written all of the boilerplate legal copy that comes in the first few pages. The copy that most authors ignore because most readers ignore it too. Eggers’ legal copy was the best, funniest legal copy I’d ever read.

You will have a lot of people telling you what you need to include in your ads. Sometimes it’s legal copy, sometimes technical copy. But that doesn’t mean you have to take it as it is. See if you can make it better. It could be: “Professional driver, closed course. Do not attempt.” Or it could be: “Tony Stewart, closed course. You couldn’t do this if your life depended on it, so don’t even try.”

Not that many people read legal copy, but if someone does, why not use it as another chance to give them a good impression of the brand?

*I highly recommend Jimmy John’s. For those of you in San Francisco, they just opened one in Crocker Galleria. 
**Highly recommend AHWOSG, or really anything by Eggers.