The ultimate copywriting challenge

copywriting challenge

By Mark Schaefer

Ryan Holliday once wrote that you truly know you’re an author when you feel tormented every waking moment until your book comes out.

By this definition, I am certainly an author, and there was no greater period of torment than developing the title and cover for my new book Marketing Rebellion. I think you’ll be interested to learn about the torment involved in bringing those two simple words to life!

The ultimate copywriting challenge

A book title seems so easy for a fictional book. Just make something up like “A Summer’s Dawn” or “The Periodontal Papers” and you can let the reader figure out the rest.

But with a nonfiction book, you’re required to provoke interest, be original, and accurately describe the book in three words or less. Greatness looks like:

  • Good to Great
  • Principles
  • Made to Stick

The book title becomes your legacy, a permanent imprint on your professional life story.

Writing the two words that became the title for this book was the single most excruciating creative process in my life. At one point, I actually hired a copywriter, surveyed dozens of my friends, used creative writing apps on the web … and I still could not name this book.

Part of the challenge was the vast scope of the book. I cover historical trends, emotional truths, strategy, tactics, and projections. It is marketing reimagined, reawakened, rediscovered. It challenges a status quo and rebuilds a marketing future.

After nine months of copyrighting torture my wife and I were brainstorming in our kitchen. “This is nothing short of a revolution,” she said, “but revolution seems so very scary. Guns and stuff. What’s another word for that?”

“Rebellion!” I answered. “It’s a marketing rebellion.”

It was a title that had the right tone and energy. It was bold, provocative, and accurate. I could imagine some cool imagery to go with the book and a new speech.

Not so fast, mister.

But the job still wasn’t done. Some people hated that title. It still seemed too violent. “You have a reputation as a sweet guy,” counseled my friend Mitch Joel. “Don’t ruin it with a negative title.”

He was right. The only way I could use that title was to counter its impact with an uplifting subtitle. I knew “human” had to be in there. Most non-fiction subtitles offer a promise like “Six ways to deliver record profits in one year.” I took a risk instead by offering a conclusion: “The Most Human Company Wins.”

Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins was a working title for about two months … but the more it settled in, the more I liked it. It was me.

The torment starts all over again.

Paris Woodhull

Paris Woodhull

I finally slayed my copywriting dragon but now I needed an image that was provocative and unexpected. No raised fists. No angry mobs. I wanted to hint at revolution but not say revolution. My book isn’t angry. It’s a book of hope.Now, it was on to the book cover!

One theme of the book is that marketing needs to seem local and hand-crafted. I decided early on to hire a local illustrator to oversee the art direction of the book and I made a great choice in Paris Woodhull.

Paris had zero experience with book covers so it was a lengthy collaborative process. We played around with different symbols of peace …

copywriting challenge

Finally, the repeating, Warhol-like peace signs seemed to capture the duality of my message. A rebellion with hope. The edgy red art hinted at revolutionary propaganda but the peace signs offered hope to the reader. The book also describes three consumer rebellions, so the three images made sense.

I thought Paris knocked it out of the park.

Not so fast, mister (part 2)

I tested the cover design with my social media audience and the reactions were mixed.

Some thought it looked like “Russia” or “communism.” Some hated the red color. A few simply did not understand why there would be peace signs on a book about rebellion. Where are the raised fists?

But some understood: “The cover is great. It reminds me of old war propaganda poster artwork. However it’s tied in with a peace sign. A human connection! Bringing people together. That’s not the norm of marketing and marketing is changing. The design is interesting and intentional. Great work!”

Hurray! That was the validation I needed. It was exactly the sentiment I wanted to provoke.

And even the people who disliked it were talking about it. In fact, they were debating it! The book generated hundreds of comments across the web. Hmmmm. A conversational cover. Yes, please.

Mission accomplished

Now that I look back at this process it seems unreal that it took nearly a year to come up with a title and book cover.

I hope I never have to go through that again, but if I have to, I will, because when I write a book for you, I don’t want it to be just great. I want it to be beautiful. I want you to see the care and energy I put into it, like a hand-crafted item you’re proud to display in your home.

Marketing Rebellion is my seventh book, my best book, my best professional work. I am completely proud of the finished product in every way.

Will I ever go through this again? I don’t know. I’ve never had a plan to write any books. I solve problems. So if I ever write another book, I’ll need to find the next big problem that needs to be solved.

My guess is, there will probably be one out there somewhere.

To learn more about the inside story on my latest book and the creative process, be sure to tune into this special Marketing Companion episode:

Click on this link to listen to Episode 149

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