Perfect Author Tees

No essay in this blog post. Sorry. But I’ll be back at it in April. But in the meantime, have some fun looking at the new Author t-shirts I’ve designed!

Classy, clean, simple designs. I think there are about 46 designs. Obviously some of them are funny too. Go have a look, if you need a t-shirt that says I am the most beautifully-sublime, wisely-eloquent writer to grace God’s green earth! Or if you’re neither of those things: buy one for a writer friend, that is!

You’ll find them all here:

Go On Write Tees

What Makes a Book Cover Intriguing

Go on, Define ‘Intriguing’ If You Can

At first glance, the concept of ‘intriguing’ seems somewhat of an ineffable, unquantifiable trait. Intriguing makes someone stop and want to investigate further and hopefully subsequently enjoy that experience. 

But is it really that ethereal and out of our grasp or can we actually define it?

And when I say ‘we’, I obviously mean ‘me’.

This is going to be the fun task of this essay. So buckle up, we’re about to go on an interesting journey into the world of everything!

Intriguing is a concept I’ve always thought about in my artistic and creative life, whether designing book covers, making music, coming up with recipes, or even writing and selling my own books.

Also as an idiot consumer of entertainment I’ve always asked myself: why is my interest piqued by certain things, and not others? Why do some things work and others not? Why do some TV programs grab me and others I turn off after ten minutes, with an utterance of “boring, boring, boring!”

It’s a fantastic philosophical question. I could even go as far as saying: it’s an intriguing question. But I won’t.

I’ve also found it’s a subject that seems to pop up again and again in the books I read. Whether it’s pop culture, art history, art theory, psychology, philosophy, or even history and science. I guess because it’s always been rattling around in my head. A question I’ve wanted answered. 

But it’s probably taken me most of my adult life to truly understand what’s going on, to be able to quantify it and come up with my own theory. But more importantly to simplify into a usable form. Something I want to share with you.

And maybe, just maybe, if I can define it for you then maybe you can use it in your life to harness its power. 

It should allow you to get some more eyeballs on your book, by making people stop to look at your book cover, or even write better marketing copy, or maybe even write better books. And you can even use it to make more friends, by making yourself more intriguing. Okay, the last one might be a bit of a bold claim. But we’ll see.

There is a lot of groundwork to lay down so get yourself a nice big healthy smoothie and get comfy. 

We’re going to go on a wondrous journey through a good number of opposites, but as we were talking about people, let’s start off with that. 

Banal Vs Over Complex

Everyone knows boring people. Maybe you’re a boring person. I know I can be. Sometimes I’m talking about a subject and people just have that far away look in their eyes. But why do people bore us? Others not?

I remember when I was about 10 or 11 as a kid, there was an in-joke between me and my group of friends. One of us, I can’t remember who, had overheard a conversation in the P.E. block changing rooms, which went something like this:

So my group of friends would go around saying the most banal of things to one another. Pause. And then hilarity. The childish ‘Yeah, same here’ joke. 

This went on for weeks. It still makes me laugh to this day when I think about it. But why was the banality so funny? It seems rather childish. But there is a truth at the heart of that in-joke, as there are with all jokes.

What we already know is utterly pointless. It’s funny that it is so pointless.

But why is it pointless to know: that someone doesn’t smoke, is having their dinner that night, or is quite predictably wearing their school uniform at school?

In short, banal useless information doesn’t really benefit us. We already know it. The sky is blue. People like sunshine. The sort of thing that politicians serve up to us, the masses. Better jobs. More prosperity! Free ice creams for everyone. Who’s not going to want that?

At the other end of the scale there is another type of information that people love to serve up and we just love to ignore too. It’s another way people bore us. It’s those that insist on telling us overly complex information that has no use. 

You all know the sort. 

Someone will tell you in excruciating detail the specifications of their new 850cc motorbike, their camping-slash-hiking trip to the Mesa Verde national park, the electrical circuit layout of the 320A Airbus aeroplane. When you’ve never ridden a motorbike in your life, you’ll never visit Utah or will have to fix the electrics at 30,000 feet. 

It’s just a mass of overly complex facts that have no relevance to your life. In short, deathly boring. Not banal but just as useless because you’ll never actually use it. You tune it out.

And if we wanted to we could put these things on a scale it would look something like this. And because it’s a scale there has to be a sweet spot, right? Let’s bang that on there too. 

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here with that very good looking sweet spot. We’ll be returning to this scale throughout this essay.

But to summarise that’s why some people bore us: we already know the information or it goes over our heads. Either way we lack interest because our brains are not intrigued.

But why is this so?

The answer is pretty simple, it’s because that’s the way our brains have developed down the ages.

There is a Darwinist Imperative for this lack of interest. It’s how we survived as a species. Our brains are programmed for survival and survival is only based on useful information. If we expend energy on things we already know then we might miss out on new information that gives us an advantage for that lovely lovely survival.

We ignore the banal or overly complex.

Our caveman brains try to filter out the information we already know. That’s the feeling of boredom we have. It’s our brains saying, screw this for a game of soldiers. No use. I’m losing time on this rather than learning information that will help me put food in my belly or give me shelter from the elements.

Let me give you an example. 

A group of cavemen (or cavewomen) are sitting around the fire (that’s just been invented) and one person is talking about how you properly skin an animal so that the toxic part of the animal’s lower intestines don’t contaminate the meat but you already know this. Everyone knows this. But at the same time a second person in the group is talking about a new rich hunting ground they’ve found. Because the first person is taking your attention then you’ll miss out that valuable hunting information.  

And food!

Tuning out what we already know helps us glean new information, that puts us at an advantage.

Likewise, if someone is chuntering on about advanced spear techniques with hunting, and you’re the person that just lights the fire every night, because that’s your task in the tribe, your brain is saying to you: yeah, but this is not relevant to me. Too complex.

So next time you’re bored of a conversational topic, or part way through a film, you now know why your brain is losing interest. It’s looking for the next piece of useful information that will help you survive. Or at least the caveman part of your brain.

Our brains are trained to be intrigued by things that could give us an advantage and in turn we can use this fact, exploit it, to our advantage to intrigue others. 

But how does that help me create something that’s intriguing, I hear you ask. Hold on there, not so fast, there’s quite a bit of extra work to do. A few more foundations to lay. But this is a good start and a good thing to remember, as we move forward. 

So let’s leave the cavemen and cavewomen behind and zoom through the annals of history right up to the period of late-19th century / early-20th century and look at what was going on there. It was a very fertile period of change.

Seismic in fact.

Experience Vs Experimental (A Little Art History, Again)

Right up until around the middle of the 19th century western art was based on one pretty basic idea. Art was there to represent the elevated ideals of human experience, things such as faith, beauty, power, community, love. The more elevated the better it was as a piece of art.

In fact, Sigmund Freud (of mother-loving-dream-diagnosis fame) proposed his own take on art in an essay. He was an experience-loving chap so as you would expect his definition was pretty straightforward:

Heightened reality, plus a person’s experience equals art. 

It’s how a lot of non-creative people think about art: I like pretty pictures. Pretty being the elevated part, and the picture part says “I have experienced this object before, so it’s a thing.” What they are saying is a very Freudian view of art. And most artists agreed with Freud for thousands and thousands of years. So he reckoned he was right. Smart people always do.

As an aside, Sigmund thought art pretty useless if the truth be told. It was of no value. It didn’t really elevate the ego. It was just a pretty bauble to look at. A waste of time. Sad bloke.

Then Modernism came along in Freud’s lifetime and blew his theory’s right out of the water.

So he simply changed tack and said that all art had become the artist’s neurosis laid bare. He said modern version of art now provided an ineffective escape to that elevated state, and that the only way to make great art was with the traditional recipe. Convenient that, eh?

So, what was this Modernism and why was it so important? And don’t worry we’ll come back to Freud. And why all this is important.

Modernism happened when some artists got together and said: screw this, why does art have to reflect how we see the world? Why does it have to be that elevated version of the human experience? Why do we have to paint in the colours we see (Cezanne)? Why can’t we write a piece of music which contains notes out of key (Debussy)? What actually constitutes art (Duchamp)? Or why do elements need to even be connected, life itself is all just nonsense, why not reflect that (The Dadaist)? To name but a few concepts.

It seems rather quaint thinking about it, sitting here in the 21st century, but they just started creating whatever they wanted. A boundary had been crossed and the ‘heightened experience’ way of making art went out of the window. Even if it made no sense in terms of what art was meant to be according to Sigmund Freud.

And the public at large was absolutely livid. “What is this guff,” they said with one accord, “it doesn’t make any sense.”

Because it wasn’t in the traditional mode of making art. It was literally a scandal that artists were no longer making that lovely heightened version of the human experience. “We like those pretty pictures,” said the general public.

And the artists, being the rebellious sorts that they were, just pushed it further and further. Becoming more and more discordant with their artworks, thinking that the further they pushed it, the more they’d find the magic, secret, special, Szechuan sauce we call ‘art’. 

This went on for decades.

They did not find the secret sauce. Because they were looking in the wrong place, as we’ll find out.

But if we look back now at some of the artwork that was produced at the time, such as Monet’s Water Lilies, Debussy’s Clair de Lune, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Seurat, the works of Picasso, etc. It just sort of seems, well, it’s just art. We see it as art. But it wasn’t at the time. And I’m about to explain why.

It was a period of great change, where a lot of the work produced you could call very ‘experimental’. And people didn’t like it because they didn’t know it. It was not part of their past experience. It left them cold. 

More than a hundred years later, people still say the same thing, “Modern art is rubbish.” In most probability it leaves them feeling stupid and uncomfortable. 

But if art is your jam, you don’t always feel this way.

Let’s talk about my favourite subject — ME! — to illustrate the point.

I come from a fairly working class background. I didn’t really visit galleries as a kid, even though I was really into drawing. But as I’ve experienced and read about art down the years — and as I know more I am more au fait with the field — I appreciate it more. It moves from the experimental side of my brain into my realm of experience. Thank you cultured ex-girlfriends, and my curious mind.

When you start going to galleries, you gain experience with the art works. And the more galleries you go to, the more art you experience and suddenly you find yourself enjoying it more and interpreting it in your own way, based on that experience.

It slowly ceases to feel experimental. It’s what you know.

It shifts along the scale towards the experienced. And you get to where I am today with what I know about art and you start saying things like: I don’t like that, very derivative of

Or something equally poncy and you’d think me pretentious. But I’m not saying it to sound smart. I’m saying it because I’ve experienced that sort of artwork before and what I’m looking at does very much look like copying (i.e. derivative).

Meaning it has slipped into the too experienced area. It’s no longer in the sweet spot for my brain. There’s not enough ‘new’ there for me to enjoy it.

Oh, a ‘sweet spot’ you say? I’ve heard that before.

So let’s do another scale then. This one we’ll call ‘Experience – Experimental’.

But where does this experience actually come from? Surely we all live different lives and experience different things? Everyone’s experience is different, right?

Well we could have a chat about semiotics here, but I’m saving that for a later essay, because that’s a whole different, interesting and important subject I want to delve into.

But for now let’s see if we can’t chat about some universal experiences we all encounter, no matter who we are, where we live, what we’ve been through. 

Harmonic Vs Discordant

There is some order to the universe. But not in some hippy way; if you ask it, it generally doesn’t answer. Well it will, but only with hard science and cold maths. Rather than, you know, your heart’s desires.

But some of this stuff is quite magical, at least to me.

So let’s talk about harmony. 

Colours sit on the electromagnetic spectrum at certain frequencies. Red, for example, sits at 430 terahertz, while blue’s frequency is closer to 750 terahertz. So far, so what.

Here’s where it gets interesting though. For me as a designer there are just some colours that go together well. These colours you’d call harmonic colours. They work together because there is actually a mathematical equation that strangely works on the ratios between the distance of where the colours sit on the electromagnetic spectrum. 

All visual harmony can actually be represented mathematically. Although I won’t bore you with the equations to those ratios — go look it up if you don’t believe me. 

It’s why ‘red and green should never be seen’, it doesn’t fit that equation of harmonic ratios. Most people have just an innate connection with things that work well. Some better than others, admittedly. But this is because harmony is an innate human trait, because of the maths.

Another place where you might have heard the word ‘harmony’ is as a musical term. And just like those ratios for the distance between colours of light that work well together, we have exactly the same thing for notes on the musical scale. 

So as an examples, the most basic chord in the key of C major is C, G and E, and the distance between them is pretty much:

C= 256 Hz

E= 330 Hz

G= 393 Hz

We could get into the maths of it, but let’s not though, eh? 

But there is a mathematical ratio that works for all triads (three notes played together). Basically the distance between the notes that make them sound nice together. Pleasing to the ear. In exactly the same way as some colour combinations are pleasing to the eye. I mean literally the same ratio distances.

We could even get into the timing of the way beats happen, because it’s governed by these mathematical equations. If you really want to go down the rabbit hole on this concept there’s a fantastically interesting video from a few years ago about it here:

In short, we find something pleasing because of these ratios and equations.

Not to get too hippy about it, but the universe really does tell us what goes together really well.

And you’re going to scream at me: I want things that work together. I love harmony. 

And I’m going to say to you, no you don’t. 

You’re wrong! Sorry.

Let me explain why in the form of a question.

If we have the cheat code to harmony why don’t we all just use it all the time? It is after all the thing that pleases us. 

The answer is, we do! 

All the blinking time!


So much so that it actually becomes pure banality (remember that?). It’s something you’ve heard a thousand times before. And you turn off. Not another cheat code song. The caveman parts of our brain kick in and say, not this again. 

So visual artists, musicians, even chefs need to come up with new combinations to keep your ears, eyes, and taste buds interested. To keep us interested. But at the same time they can’t stray too far away from what’s mathematically correct.

Let’s return to those crazy Modernist artists for a while. 

At the other end of the harmonic spectrum we have the discordant. Like a toddler smashing their tiny ham-shaped fists on a piano thinking they’re Nils Frahm and it just sounds like a mess. It’s horrid. It’s because none of the notes work together. This we call ‘discordant’.

And those crazy modernists said to themselves, why not explore this discordant area, see what we find there. And what they found there was a lot of fertile ground. Things that didn’t go together, they found, made them think in strange ways. And they liked that.

A good example of something discordant actually working are the films and television of David Lynch. None of it makes sense or fits together well. It’s not for everyone. But some people like the strange feeling it gives them because it is so zany.  Enough I guess that he gets to make them.

But this exploration into the discordant gave rise to the artists and musicians saying: people will leave my concert if it’s completely discordant, but maybe I just sprinkle a little bit of oddness on my cornflakes then that would serve as a counterpoint to all the trite harmony people have heard a thousand times before, that might work. Maybe we’ll mine the discordant for ideas and bring a little back into the harmonious realm.

And that’s actually what they did. And it worked. It’s basically why people call the art period we’re in now: post-modern. We did the modernist exploration and we’re back now with our discordant goodies to use.

Even in the modern pop music you’ll find topping the streaming charts you’ll hear small discordant concepts dropped in here and there, to keep the listeners ears playing attention. It’s something that the Beatles understood more than half a century ago. It’s one reason, even though I despise pop music, I can’t get enough of Toxic by Britney Spears (true fact).

And here’s the point, you can’t have something that is completely in tune with the harmony because we’ve heard it all before, we turn off. And we can’t serve up something that is utterly discordant that people don’t understand. 

We need a third way, a sweet spot if you will. 

Does this sound familiar?

Yes it does. Yet again, this sits on a spectrum. 

I’m starting to see a pattern, are you?

So are these things completely unrelated?

Not on your nelly.

Pulling it All Together

These spectrums we’ve looked at thus far I feel explain why we grow bored of the known and are fearful of the unknown. There is something intrinsically scary about what we do not know, like the sabre tooth tiger for the caveman, I don’t want to hear about that area of land to the north where someone spotted one. Don’t relate that story to me. I’m just never going there. 

Or to put in another way, our modern brains feel that: this piece of information makes me feel stupid. Best avoided then I won’t feel bad about not knowing. What you don’t know won’t kill you, if you will.

At the other end of the scale, you have the interminably dull, you’ve heard it a thousand times before, the ‘grey goo’ as good friend Lars calls it. He’s a DJ and has to trawl through all the grey goo music to find the gems to get the dancefloor moving.

But why does it have to be one thing or the other?

A good life is lived in wonderful shades of grey. It’s not black and white. It’s in the exploration of that spectrum. No one wants to feel 100% comfortable or 100% uncomfortable all the time.

And here is where it gets interesting. Very interesting. 

Let’s put all these things on a scale. All these opposites. 

So remember back when we were talking about Sigmund Freud and his rather slapdash approach to trying to define art. Well a little later, in the 1960s, another Teutonic chap came along called Theodor Adorno. Another proper philosophical thinker. And his last work was called Aesthetic Theory

It’s a book I’ve tried to get through a few times. But it is heavy philosophy with a capital H, E, A and a V and the Y. But the basis of this post is pretty much something that he was saying. Art is nothing to do with experience or neurosis as Freud posited, it is the dance in the sweet zone on what I’m going to call my Unified Spectrum of Interest. 

That’s what gives something the moniker of art. This sweet spot is the enjoyable area. Because it is hitting the required ‘not too scary’, or ‘not scary enough’ sweet spot. It’s the area where the art works because it opens your brain up to different ideas, emotions and possibilities.

All good art dances along that line without straying too far into either forbidden zone. 

It stays in that ‘intriguing’ sweet spot. It may for a short period of time take you into the direction of what you already know or don’t know. But it never tarries too long in either place. It moves back and forth between these two poles.

It’s forever moving along the line from what’s comfortable and uncomfortable, what’s banal and what’s over complex, what’s harmonious and what’s discordant, what’s experience and what’s experimental. 

To Theodor this is what good art is.

For what Theodor said about art, I say exactly the same thing for ‘intrigue’. They’re inseparable concepts. And this is important to remember when approaching any creative activity. How to pique people’s interest, keep them hooked.

But this seems all very abstract in nature, right? 

Okay. Let’s give you some real world examples to explain what I mean and you’ll start to see the power of this concept.

Example #1: The Murder Mystery Novel

In my working week I make a heck of a lot of these book covers. It’s a super popular genre. And these sorts of books are wildly popular simply because they’re basically taking this concept and presenting it in a pure narrative-form.

These types of stories are constantly moving along the line with dropping information for the reader to do their own detective work. Between what’s known, and what’s unknown, what’s banal, and what’s not. What is comfortable and what’s uncomfortable. What makes sense (harmonious) and what doesn’t make sense yet (the discordant). They are literally doing that perfect dance in the sweet spot to generate intrigue in the reader’s mind as the story moves along.

Well, that is, until a story is neatly wrapped up at the end.

It is a genre that is wholly based on this concept. And without dancing on that line they simply wouldn’t work. Anyone that is a master of their craft in this genre is already a master of this concept, whether they know it or not.

Think of a murder mystery without the discordant red herrings, or the banal characters that turn out to be the murderer, the little clues that move from the unknown, into the known, when we work out who the killer is. Without this dance along the line it just wouldn’t work.

Example #2: Star Wars Cinematic Universe

If you don’t like Star Wars, then don’t worry. I don’t either. But it serves as a perfect, albeit more complex, example of what I’m talking about.

Sometimes I watch the films and TV shows if I’m a little hungover, mainly to see what’s going on with CGI these days. It’s quite fun. But it’s all a bit childish for my tastes really. But this is a fantastic example of what I mean. So let’s have a chat about that.

Sorry, if it’s not your bag. 

I’m rather obsessed with the Star Wars Cinematic Universe on a conceptual-level simply because it is such a good example of what I mean. It really solidified my thoughts on this subject.

Here we go …

So we have the first three films: Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. These stand alone on their own and were wildly popular at the time. They must have hit some sweet spot with the movie going populous at large.

Then the next three films came along in the 90s: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith. They were generally panned at the time, when they came out. It’s as if George Lucas thought that all the fans had now grown up and were interested in all the political intrigue, council meetings, and some sort of more grown up love tale. But this meant that they ended up being too far away from the ‘experienced’. So they probably end up here on the scale:

The for the final three films that JJ Abrahams or whoever directed and wrote those films went back to the tried and tested formula of the original films and they made The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker.

And it’s not controversial to say that they were roundly panned. It is generally agreed amongst the die-hard fans they were just horrid rehashes of the first three films for a new generation of kids. Or that was probably the idea. 

But because they were too close to the fans’ experience they drifted into the banal zone. They’d basically overshot in completely the wrong direction this time. Oops. So something like this:

What has happened in the meantime though, is that Disney bought the IP and has been churning out stand alone films and television programs. And some of these have been successful with the fans. Mainly because they’ve hit that sweet spot of being completely new (unknown) and yet familiar (known).

Just off the top of my head, and I’ve not watched them all, but they interestingly sit on the scale, to varying degrees of success. This is where I’d roughly place some of them:

In exactly the same way as me becoming more experienced with galleries, we need to remember that the ‘Experienced’ always informs everything that comes after it. So that sweet spot is based on all the Star Wars Cinematic Universe material that has come before it. It’s a constantly changing and evolving set of experiences for the fans. So that needs to be borne in mind when something new comes out.

To my mind I find it quite shocking, in a way, that some of these Star Wars products failed. It’s as if the producers and writers of these things were just employing a hit-and-hope strategy and no one asked them where their project they were working on sat on my Unified Spectrum of Interest scale. 

If the Hollywood Producers had just sat down, one afternoon, and hashed out where these projects sit on the scale compared to the original films I feel they might not have had as many duds. They were probably too busy getting their cute dogs manicured whilst drinking posh coffees. Actually that’s unfair. I have no idea what Hollywood execs do with their afternoons.

Example #3: Gossip / Soap Opera / Politics in the News

All three of these things are pretty interchangeable to my mind. I mean really. They pique interest with intrigue because they all have the same quality of having ‘known’ characters we feel comfortable with (i.e. friends, soap characters, politicians).

But the thing that makes these three things so powerful is the fact they share the same trait of constantly having new ‘unknown’ storylines popping up on an unstoppable regular basis. Also, don’t they always have that small sprinkling of the discordant strangeness that keeps us coming back for more? That ‘you’ll never believe what happened’ quality. 

Of course you can believe what happened because they are rooted in our knowledge of that person, but with just enough of the unknown, in that sweet spot that keeps us hooked and coming back for more. 

It might sound like I’m being dismissive about all three. But I enjoy them all immensely, like anyone else. But I’m under no illusions of why this is the case. We are being manipulated in this sweet spot by the sheer scandal of it all.

It’s pure intrigue all the time, 24/7.

As a little side note, as this is entirely true, somewhere in my hazy past I lived in Belgium for a year. I moved there to live with a woman I was in love with. At the time Belgium did not have a government in power (or actually, for about 5 years), I had no friends there other than my girlfriend, and I wasn’t watching soaps. I look back to that year and think to myself, it was rather dull. Well, apart from the beer and the love making. Oh, and spending a night in the police cells for crossing the road, but that’s a whole different story. Intrigued?

Example #4: It’s How Fiction Actually Works

If you stop to think about it, it’s how fiction or nonfiction actually operates in our brains when reading. In a story the author is actually performing a delicate dance of the known and the unknown to drive the story forward. Slowly moving from what we know, or have just learnt, onto something we don’t already know about the characters or their story. It’s that tension between those things that gently drives a narrative forward.

If a story becomes too repetitive and we already know that aspect of that protagonist, and we’re just shown the same aspect but in a different scenario we turn-off. We like to learn new things about the protagonist. Likewise if the protagonist does something too unexpected and discordant it breaks the spell of the suspension of disbelief in our mind’s eye. A good story will always build the character and story by dragging the reader from unknown into the known. That’s what gives a story its momentum.

Great writers are a master at this sweet spot balancing act.

Example #5: Okay, One More and then I’m Pun

Love them or groan at them, a pun is a perfect example of this concept. They tickle our brains in a really odd little way. What they’re doing is actually hitting our brains in that sweet spot. It’s something that we immediately know and most of us understand, whether that be a common saying, an existing title or what have you. And then we’re introducing an unknown element into the mix. Boom. It takes it into that sweet spot on the Unified Spectrum of Interest.

For the most part, all jokes work in exactly the same way if you start to pull them apart and understand their structure. They all share this sweet spot of thinking you know where you are going, and then at some point we sprinkle a little discordant or unknown magic in there.

So I think we’ve established the veracity quite clearly here when I’m talking about with my Unified Spectrum of Interest scale. 

But you want to know how it can be helpful to you as a writer, right? And not just to be able to write terribly punning titles. So let’s see how we can apply this theory in the real world.

Finally — Let’s Talk About Self Publishing

It’s been a long ride thus far. But finally we’re arrived at a point armed with our scale we can use as a tool to apply to all manner of things. But before I get onto my specialist subject of book covers, I feel it’s probably a smart and fun thing to talk about things I see in self publishing all the time in relation to this scale, and how it can help you.

Because after all: I do write; I always deal with lots of books on a constant basis; have to work with marketing copy; people come to me with their premises when they commission me to do work. So I’ve probably seen more books than I can shake a stick at over the last 10 or 11 years. So I am somewhat well-placed to talk about it. Although you’re more than welcome to disagree with me.

So how can we apply what we’ve learnt to self publishing. 

Well maybe it’s a good place to start is to talk about the two mistakes I see all the time, with book covers and with marketing copy. They’re always too far outside of this sweet spot. I would say with 80% of the books I see this is what happens:

It would be churlish for me to not take some time to explain to you how these can be improved. Along with the other marketing bits and pieces you might do as an author. We’ll get onto how we can fix these. Suffice it to say, book cover ideas tend to be a tad banal and the marketing copy tends to be a bit obtuse. We know we have to hit that sweet spot right. But how do we do that? Well let’s give it a go and see if we can’t generate some of our wonderful intrigue. 

Perfect Taglines

Years ago I read a few books about taglines. Because I thought it was an interesting subject. Most of these books were truly awful. But one really stuck with me. An author had written a book, because they had changed their tagline, and it had suddenly become somewhat of a bestseller. So he decided to share his wisdom in the form of a guide for taglines.

In the book he proceeded to spend page after page scrambling around trying to understand why his new tagline was so powerful. He couldn’t quite grasp it. The book blathered on forever skirting around the real reason. It was all psychology 101, primitive thinking, etc. There was even something about the high jumper who started jumping in a different way. I dunno. Baffling stuff that didn’t make any sense to me, because he just didn’t see the wood for the trees. 

His new top seller tagline was something simple, like:

“What if the serial killer turned out to be your husband.”

But why was this tagline so intriguing to potential readers? 

Well, he never quite got it.

I do.

And having read thus far through this article I’m sure you can tell me, too. 

Yep, it hits that sweet spot between known (what a husband generally is) unknown (what a serial killer does), banal (home life if you’ve been married a while), the complex (how serial killers do stuff), harmony (marriage), discordant (murder). I mean it’s pretty much perfect in its construction when you think about it. It’s sweet-spot-heaven. It’s a balancing act between both poles.

I would obviously put this down to being a perfect premise (but that’s a whole different subject I’ll cover in a later essay, at a later date) rather than tagline, but we can still use our Unified Spectrum of Interest to come up with something that fulfils the same sort of brief.

A tagline needs to offer both that balance between the two poles, hitting that sweet spot, to create intrigue and tension. 

And tension is not one of my pet hates: faux-jeopardy. I despise faux-jeopardy. I can feel the bile rising just mentioning it. 

We all know the formula, “Janice is returning to her hometown after a messy divorce, will she ever find love?” 

It’s that question that’s meant to create the tension. The only problem with the question is that it doesn’t create tension because potential readers already have experience with those sorts of books. So the answer is always: yes. I’ve never seen a book where the answer is: no. Which I find infinitely amusing. So it’s pretend jeopardy, it’s not real. That faux-jeopardy is meant to drag the book into the sweet spot, it does not.

One reason why this is the case may be because all lazy authors use the same formula. It’s overused.  Which drags the tagline into the realm of the banal, the known, the experienced. But it’s mainly because it doesn’t actually create tension because there is no ‘unknown’ in there.

So with a tagline, to hit a sweet spot, we need to make sure that tension is real. It needs both ends of the spectrum represented in the right balance to work. To pique interest. 

Even something as simple as “Janice is returning to her hometown after a messy divorce and no one likes her,” is a hundred times better because in a potential reader’s mind, they have no idea why people don’t like her. But they wanna know, it’s too much of a gossipy unknown to pass by. 

I mean it’s really that simple. 

We know and have harmony with what our own home town is like to us,  so we have a ‘known’ in there to anchor readers, and then we’re giving them an ‘unknown’, and it there is also that discordant feeling of people not liking us. It makes us fizz.

That’s where the tension operates, in space between the known and unknown.

That, in short, creates intrigue. As long as you’re making sure you have both things in there, as a sprinkling of something unknown that a potential reader wants to know, as well as something that they also can anchor themselves to, then you’re creating something in that sweet spot. 

Stupidly simple, eh? 

Better Marketing Copy

As I said earlier, I tend to run into most sets of marketing copy being too far on the overly-complex, unknown, discordant, uncomfortable end scale. And as such rather uninviting. But why is this? And how can we improve that?

I would say, most authors are great at writing and telling stories but when it comes to telling someone something that will invite readers into the story they fail. Maybe it’s because they seem to think that the marketing copy should be some sort of backstory to the protagonist, so we can fall in love with them, like they have when writing their novel.

Or they think marketing copy should be a cut down version of the story. 

So they simply do this: it’s this person, here’s their details, and the circumstance, this is what’s happened to them, what they have to do in this story, and buy my book to see what happens to the protagonist. 

But let’s look at this another way. 

Imagine you’re in a bar (or on a plane) and there is a person sitting next to you and they want to tee-up a great anecdote. What they’ll do is sell that anecdote to you. They might find on opening in the conversation to say something like: 

“Sounds like have a great relationship with your family, but yeah I have this one aunt, she’s a crazy one, there was this one time she was at a wedding dressed in a clown outfit, man, it was one of the saddest yet most beautiful thing I’ve seen my life, wanna hear the story?”

Who’s not going to be all-in on such a premise? What happened? It’s just far too intriguing to turn down. Tell me, tell me, tell me.

And this is because it’s pulling you in both directions without you even knowing it. Hitting the sweet spot.

So for fun, let’s break it down:

Crazy Aunt: this grounds you in the known, we all generally know who’s the crazy aunt or crazy uncle is in our family. By the way, it’s me in my family with my nieces and nephews.

Weddings: Also a rather banal concept, something we either really like or think they’re trite. But most people know how they feel about weddings.

Clown Outfit: Banal too, but you’re adding this into the mix at a wedding. No one has ever seen someone dressed at a wedding. What would happen? Why was she dressed as a clown at a wedding? How would everyone react to a clown at a wedding? It doesn’t make sense. We need to know, because it’s an ‘unknown’ mixed with a ‘known’.

Saddest: This is also interesting because both of those emotions are ‘known’ to us. We’ve felt sad, we’ve had empathy when we see sad things. We generally don’t want to feel sad. It’s not really cool. It’s sad to see homeless people without a roof over their head. Kids with cancer. Sad is not good. But we know it. And it wouldn’t work …

Beautiful: … but then you add ‘beautiful’ to the mix. This is very much an ‘unknown’. Things that move us in a beautiful way can be sublime (like music) when we’re feeling a certain way, or the kindness people show or other sentimentalities we call beautiful, but it’s not just one single emotion. It’s somewhat undefinable. But when coupled with the ‘known’ sadness, now our interest is piqued. ‘Sad’ plus ‘beautiful’ is exactly like ‘clown’ plus ‘wedding’.

It’s the crazy mix of all those things in succinct succession that gets us interested, all those elements that make us feel we want to know more.

But that’s not what most authors do when they write marketing copy, and I’ve read thousands of these down the years. 

This is the formula they follow:

“A story of an aunt. She was a small town gal from the wild planes of Ohio and had lived all her life in that same small town of whatever, until she went off to college in Chicago and met the love of her life, whilst she was studying for her law degree to help the underprivileged. It was when she’d just come back from Mexico that she realised Richard, who was now a hot shot copyright lawyer for the Music Industry, was getting married to the new woman in his life … etc … etc …”

On and on with all this superfluous backstory, world building, and details, until that faux-jeopardy line of …

“Will she be able to win him back by dressing as a clown?”

Imagine I’m back at the bar, on that plane, and someone started to talk to me in this manner, with lots of detail about someone that I didn’t know, and the love of her life, who I also don’t know. It would have me thinking: what’s my second favourite bar in this neighbourhood or where are the parachutes? 

And this is what most authors are doing. 

They’re not creating intrigue because they don’t think about what a potential reader coming cold to the situation knows and doesn’t know, so why not just tell them everything. I’m educating you about my story. I’m going to preach to you. 

Sorry, no thanks. 

What’s better would be something like this:

“She’s that crazy aunt. The years haven’t been that kind, fun or funny. That is until she goes to his wedding dressed as a clown. It’s the saddest and most beautiful story you’re read all year.” 

It suffices because you’re hitting enough known and unknown to create the intrigue. Potential readers are not stupid. They know you’ll fill them in with the tedious details inside book.

So four or five sentences max, interest piqued, intrigue created. Job done.

Marketing copy is the person at the bar teeing up the story with a great Tweet-length intro to a really good anecdote. That’s what marketing copy should be and you can use the Unified Spectrum of Interest to make sure you’re hitting all your bases. And you will notice that the sweet spot is not in the middle, it’s more to the ‘experienced’ end of the scale. That’s a massive clue! So you need to anchor your copy in things that people know. What do all people? Use them: feelings, human connections, activities.

I have four or five clients I work for (out of thousands) that actually understand that potential readers don’t want all the guff of back story, and don’t have time to read two hundred and fifty words. Suffice it to say, this small handful of clients all sell really well.

There is a whole book somewhere that I started writing last year about this subject. So I could go further into this topic but now who’s being verbose now?

So let’s get on with it.

Titles with Power

We’ve covered puns already, and to me this is pretty interesting. It seems a rather formulaic thing to do, but unlike the aforementioned faux-jeopardy this does seem to sit quite neatly on the sweat-spot scale, it is after all a pun.

Or does it?

Maybe it’s something that authors have utilised so much that potential readers are now blind to it, because it now sits on the banal over-experienced end of the spectrum. I guess this is open to opinion. And I’m sure you have one.

So let me tell you my experience, because I’ve seen them all.

I tend to find when I’ve given titles for book covers most of the time I’m pretty unmoved. Although I don’t think that there is anything wrong with a utilitarian title. They’re serviceable. But I feel that authors are somewhat missing a trick. A chance for intrigue.

And unlike taglines, or marketing copy, it’s rather impossible to create tension in three to five words, it’s harder to achieve this intrigue, because you don’t have space for those vying elements. 

So I would say we need to use our intrigue scale in a very different way. A more poetic way, but none-the-less in the same way, to get it in that sweet spot. 

So let’s explore how we do that.

There is one of my expressions that I tend to use a lot, one that all my friends use as well, which is ‘it all a bit poetry for poets’. It’s when you go somewhere or see something and the only people interested in it are the people making or doing that thing. Karaoke is a really good example. Maybe reading and writing are too?

But as a writer myself, I am actually not that dismissive about poetry, in actuality. It’s just a thing I said to my friends to not come across as a dandy fop. I am a dandy fop. Or wish I was.

And I feel poetry can teach us a lot and should not be avoided. If you don’t read poetry then I suggest you go find someone that tickles your fancy, it’s not all daffodils and clouds. Some modern writers use the form really well. 

Above are a few books of poetry that I remember reading and if you knew me, you would not think, yep poetry guy. Also another place I used to go to every morning with my coffee was to read the poem of the day. It would set me up for the day.

Because what poetry is really great for is teaching us the feeling a sentence can give us when coupled with an economy of words. And that’s what a good title is all about. It’s the tension between the ‘unknown’ nature of a well constructed sentence and the ‘known’ nature of the semiotic connection we make with words. That’s what hits our sweet spot. The tension between the banality words and complexity of how we order them.

Let me give you an example. 

A decade ago I was designing a book cover for an author and he wanted to call his book ‘The Drunken Artist’. So far, so utilitarian. What was the book about? Yep, you guessed it: a boozy painter. This was back at the very start of my book cover designing adventure, so I had time to spend chatting about titles with him (don’t ask me now, far too busy with the designing, sorry).

We spent a while chatting and came up with: Painting with Wine.

Not amazing admittedly but better. Much better. 

Because in reality you don’t paint with wine, have you ever seen anyone paint with wine: nope. It doesn’t make sense. You use paint to paint. It has an unknown poetic quality to it. It gives you just a little of the discordant sprinkling in with the semiotic connections you make with both ‘painting’ and ‘wine’. This mixing of two knowns creates a new unknown, which places it in the sweet spot. 

I’m sure I could go into detail of other ways to target the sweet spot with titles. But it is something you can use yourself to create intriguing titles, as long as you remember you need to create that tension.

And playing with the words for their interconnected feeling is half the fun of being a writer. So that play should be something in our toolbox when coming to discovering tension with titles.

And I don’t like to say, and don’t tell anyone I said it, and I’ll never say it again but: reading poetry really helps. It gets your brain working with words in a different way.

We’ll keep that our little secret, eh?

Mailing Lists / Social Media Engagement

This is another topic I want to cover in a whole other essay, to really sink my teeth into it, because I find it incredibly interesting. So watch out for that. But in the meantime, if it’s something you do with your reader fan club, then hitting the sweet spot is also vital. 

So you might have discovered this post because you, yourself, are on my mailing list. In my fan club. And as such, you’ve probably thought to yourself: oh, James’ mailing lists are usually pretty nice, he seems like an okay chap. You probably think the newsletters are natural and off the cuff. In a sense they are, yes.

But at the same time, I’m going to let you see the man behind the curtain.

When I first started writing newsletters all those years ago I did spend a terrific amount of time considering the tone I was going to use. Without even knowing about it at the time what I came up with was somewhat in this sweet spot. 

I said to myself if I keep it all salesman-like ‘I’ve got book cover designs to sell’ it would become stale very fast (banal). If I chatted too much about myself it would put people off (for I am ‘unknown’ and ‘complex’). Maybe throw a bit of both in there. And without knowing about it I was actually doing the thing that keeps people intrigued in GoOnWrite.

You know what to expect from me, but also at the time, I tend to drop the odd leftfield tidbit into the newsletter. You never quite know what you’re going to get without it being unfamiliar.

If you have your own mailing list and you’re not getting great engagement it might be because you’re offering too much information that’s at the wrong end of the scale. You might be offering information that readers already know, expect, have already experienced (the banal). A writer just talking about their books or writing, for example. Or you might be offering too much information that way out there, readers have no connection with, too discordant.

You need to mix it up a bit.

This is what a quick google search revealed of what should be typical:

My stats hover around 40% openers and 15% click throughs. So I must be doing something right, hitting the sweet spot.

And Finally, Book Covers

Oh, I have led you a lovely merry dance thus far. We’ve covered a whole lot of ground. It’s like one of those hikes my dad will take me on when I go back to the North East of England. But here we are at the top of the mountain. That being my so-called specialist subject and actually the title of this article. 

So what makes a book cover intriguing?

I guess we all pretty much can answer that now, pretty succinctly. 

It’s a book cover that hits our sweet spot on the Unified Spectrum of Interest. Something that creates tension between the experienced and experimental, known and unknown, banal and over complex. Harmony with a bit of the discordant thrown in.

Job done.

All good and well but how can we practically achieve that visually?

With words this seems a little easier, right?

Well it’s a good job that I’ve been designing book covers for over ten years of my life on a daily basis. Because I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve, things I’ve learned and I’ll share a few of them with you. 

It’s probably best to explain what is the banal, the experienced, the know, the comfy first.

There is an expression that designers will use when it comes to stock images they’ll say, “it looks a bit too stocky that one”. But what they’re really saying is that it’s too banal.

Here’s an example:

It’s staged and it’s horrid, it’s all the tropes you’d expect from a business meeting image. In short, it is banal and we switch off, no matter how much it’s trying to communicate our business’s core message: which is obviously ‘business’. That is a stocky type of stock image. It’s the visual equivalent of our ‘grey goo’.

So what’s the equivalent in terms of a book cover? Well if we use our Unified Spectrum of Interest it would be something that is banal, experienced, comfortable, harmonic, and known. Basically a book cover that potential readers have seen a thousand times before for a genre. 

But some of you, as writers, are screaming inside: I don’t want to turn up at the party looking completely out of place.

To which I would counter: but don’t you want to catch the eye of a prospective handsome man or lovely woman at said party?

I thought so.

You don’t have to look out of place but you’ve also got to have something about the outfit you’re selecting that’s will make you stand out.

And that’s where our sweet spot comes in.

But how do we achieve that tension between both things? 

Well there are a good few techniques I’ve learnt over the years to subvert what is a cliche, and I am always playing and discovering new fun ones. But here we go with some of my ideas, with examples of what I mean.

1. Adding a Soupcon Madness to the Mundane

The simplest way of achieving intrigue is to take all this a bit literally. Take something that we are comfortable with visually within a genre and just add another element that we don’t expect. Our small sprinkling of the discordant with the harmony.

2. Using Colour Creatively

Colour is information. Colour tells us things, as does objects, typography and composition. But if we keep everything else standard but present the colour in an unfamiliar way we’ve created that tension we need. If all horror books are dark dark dark but we go light, it’s intriguing. Another way is to go to the more stark end of the scale. But if everyone else is using stark palettes in that genre then it becomes banal. So to use this concept we need to understand what is already ‘experienced’. But there are loads of colour palettes out there, and generally a single banal one that gets used all the time in a genre. Intrigue with a new palette. Easy-peasy.

3. The Medium as the Message

It’s quite easy as a design amateur to say there are only two ways you can present something, with a photo or with an illustration. Job done. As someone that’s spent the last thirty years designing, it’s a little more complex than that. There are hundreds of different ways of taking a photo, or illustrating. All these different mediums have their own message associated with them. They all say different things and speak to potential readers in differen ways.

For example, if you draw something in the kawaii k-pop or j-pop styles it says happy-happy-joy. If you draw something in the Frank Miller school of comic book illustration it says dark and brooding.

The message is always intrinsic in the style.

So we can always take a bog-standard banal element and present it in a non-standard medium to create that tension between subject and presentation. Something that creates intrigue.

For example, if all erotic fiction covers are male torsos photos shot in moody black and white why try a different medium for the photo, maybe of a male torso but in bright 50s technicolour. After all, your story is bright and fun. And you’re creating an unknown feeling in the average reader of erotica’s mind when they stumble across your bool. Why is this cover not a modern looking black and white studio photo, they think. You’ve got them intrigued.

4. The Composition as the Message

For a designer it’s super easy to be drawn into a rather rote way of composing a book cover because after all you don’t have much space to play with and you have to fit at least the standard elements of title, picture and author name on there. And that in turn starts to feel all very much ‘known’.

It’s easy to go the banal route of designing in thirds, centre aligning, a simple visual index of title, picture, author name, or what-have-you. All lazy book cover designers do this all the time. I know I do when I’m feeling lazy designing pre-made covers.

But the other things I try to do as well is break my coding. Go outside the rules. Compose in odd ways. That oddness creates our sweet spot tension. It takes more time to experiment but that’s the fun part of design. This shouldn’t work but I like it. Zoom in the crop too close. Have something hanging off the side of the page. Have the image off kilter. Stupidly small text. Stupidly large text. Split the image in two. Format one thing as another. There are hundreds of fun little experiments you can do which will create intrigue and visual tension, by making something very much known to feel like something unknown with exactly the same elements.

5. The Mood as the Message

Likewise, our mood-type tropes are really probably the strongest thing that comes to the fore when we talk about genre. Memoirs have that vintage hazy quality. Horror book covers are dark and brooding. Romance covers should be sweet, warm, inviting. 

And all these ‘known’ moods or tones make sense. They tell our story. They set an expectation for potential readers. They’re a great shortcut.

Get the mood wrong on a book cover and it all falls to pieces. 

So you would think that we don’t have much wriggle room with this to move it from a ‘harmonic’ expectation and move it to the right on our spectrum, into our sweet spot. And I’ve purposefully used the word ‘harmonic’ because if we go back to what we’ve learnt thus far, it’s not about throwing out the harmonic. It’s about sprinkling our harmony with a few ‘discordant’ elements to drag into our sweet spot. 

Emotions in stories, or in life, are not blankly uniform. We have a few laughs in the hard times. In those terribly sad memoirs about awful childhoods there are always flecks of hope and joy. Or dark moments of adversity in a happy romance book. It’s what keeps us intrigued within the narrative. Otherwise it would all be one long parade of mystery or happy-clappy love.

And this is something to remember when designing a book cover. Those little sparks of the opposite of the standard mood is what can elevate a cover into the realms of intrigue.

6. A Good Visual Metaphor

I remember when I first started designing book covers all those years ago it was all about Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight. It’s fair to say I’m not a massive fan of either of those books, in fact I’ve not read them, surprise surprise, but I am a massive fan of their book covers. Either book could have quite easily gone for the easy option of sticking a half-dressed bloke and woman on there, or a sexy vampire. But they didn’t. Instead they had both had poetic visual metaphors on their book covers instead. Bravo!

This creates tension and intrigue.

Fifty Shades: A tie (oh, I get it, the book is about tying people up, nice visual pun) but the photo is shot in those sexy platinum grey tones we all associate with wealth. 

Twilight: The temptation of Eve. We all know that story. But I heard this book isn’t about Eve, it’s about vampires, right? And this creates tension and intrigue. Our protagonist is going to be tempted just like Eve? I wanna know how!

7. Mixing Two Knowns for an Unknown

Let’s do a little thought experiment here. Think of a sexy shirtless man with a cat on a book cover. Got the picture in your head? Good. Now how does that make you feel? What do you think the story is about? The sexy man part makes you think this sort might be somewhat romantic or erotic. But where does the cat come into it? The mind boggles. Hopefully not in a bad way. Maybe the man can turn into a cat? Maybe he uses the cat to entice the woman of his dreams. Maybe the cat controls our man telepathically with the right chat-up lines to get the woman. 

See, our mind is racing. We have no idea. There is enough of a gap between the two ‘known’ elements to create an ‘unknown’ quality, and in turn creates intrigue.

There is an art to this though. Creating that correct distance. So for example if we had the sexy man holding an ice cream. We think, so what, he likes ice cream. Where’s the intrigue? But at the same time we can’t turn a cover into a Salvador Dali surrealist painting where we can’t make a connection of intrigue in the potential reader’s imagination.

It needs to be a distance where we write our own stories, we make our own semiotic connections. A good cover will do this. One of these covers below work, the other doesn’t (but I’d read the second because I’m psychopath).

8. Never Seen Before

For me this is the holy grail of book cover design.

Back when I was using more stock images to use for creating pre-made book covers, rather than playing with MidJourney, I used to spend hours and hours trawling for images. Too many to count, if I’m honest. If something suddenly caught my eye it was generally because I knew it could work for a book cover, i.e. it was something ‘known’ that would work for a genre, but it also had this quality of having never seen that sort of image before.

It would give me a little spark of joy. I’d think: cool, this is my jam!

I feel exactly the same way when I’m sitting here playing with a bog standard image and I get it to work in a new way. Or generating images using MidJourney and it comes up with something odd but not too far away from what people would want on their book cover. In that sweet spot. That ‘new’ intrigues me.

And that same sort of thing will happen to potential readers, when they spot your book cover that’s new enough to be outside what they’ve experienced but still inside their frame of reference.

New is good

We all like ‘new’, right? New shoes or sneakers. The smell of a new carpet, new born babies.

So don’t be afraid of it, as long as potential readers can make a semiotic connection they’ll get a little rush of joy at the ‘new’ too.

I know what you’re going to say now: but I’ve been to your GoOnWrite website and a lot of the book covers I see there are more of the comfy banal stuff. 

You’re right. There are two reasons for this.

Authors, I have found, are generally not as adventurous as I would like (hence all these words I’ve just written), and if I don’t have the banal on my website, then I don’t get sales and a man needs to keep a roof over his head.

Rightly or wrongly: banal sells.

I look at some of these covers on my website and I’m actually sick to my stomach at how dull some of them are. But needs must.

And more importantly …

A lot of my more adventurous covers actually sell well, and have already been sold, because the adventurous authors have been intrigued enough by looking at the cover, that they wanted to purchase that cover, and all probably without even thinking about it on anything other than a surface level.

Intrigue sells! Who’d have thought it.

Something deep down inside of them has felt this all along and now they know why.

The ‘new’ gets snapped up fast.

Furthermore, when it comes to commissioning me from scratch you get the full intrigue package of me playing with ideas until we hit on that sweet spot and it’s been some of my best work down the years.

Here’s to many more, because I really enjoy my job!

In Conclusion (Yes, We’ve Got There)

Humans are spotting pattern machines, we turn off if we see the same thing over and over again. We become immune to the grey goo.

That’s not what creates the glorious intrigue in people’s minds. The thing that suckers them in and keeps them interested. We don’t have to be completely out there to be artists. I know I fit into this latter category for sure, with my own creativity, and need to keep reigning myself in from the ‘overly discordant’ zone.

We just need to keep in mind that something truly glorious sits on the scale and is generally just an ever so slight nudge to right of where we feel comfortable.

It’s quite simple really. 

This small amount of bravery, this nudge to the right is why we enjoy in: falling in love; riding roller coasters; travelling to new places; and why we pick up books we’ve never read before.

It’s this mixture of the known with the slight addition of something completely unknown that creates pleasure. 

So next time you sit down to work on something remember: will the people interacting with the thing I am making already know this, or do I need to add something unknown into the mix.

And if you promise me that, I’ll try to remember to do the same, and stop being so experimental with my works and pull it back in the realm of what people know.


And Finally. I Promised, You Could Make More Friend

Okay. If you’ve read all the way down to this point I guess it’s only fair to share with you my thoughts on this subject.

From everything we’ve already covered you can probably work this out yourself: where your interest in new people should lie; or how you should present yourself to others to be intriguing, without coming across like some Dale-Carnegie-How-to-Win-Friend-and-Influence-People, insincere, try-hard creep! 

We all know the sort.

Obviously this is going to be a little right on the Unified Interest Spectrum of how you currently probably present yourself when meeting new people.

But if you need it spelled out. Here we go.

Present yourself in a braver way. People are judgmental creatures. They already think they know who you are at first glance. 

And what you do in tern is think to yourself: I don’t want to rock the boat with this new person so I’ll just present in a non-confrontational way.

What you’re doing is this:

You don’t need to be one of those wacky people we all knew in the first year of university.

Offering one small single piece of information that people wouldn’t think about you immediately changes their tack. Makes them think in a different way about you. You’ll intrigue them.

You just need to give a little more of yourself when you meet people for the first time. And a little more of the unexpected. Confound their judgments.

So more like this:

Secondly, ask braver questions. Slightly different questions.

I’ve lived in a number of big cosmopolitan cities over the years: London, Berlin, Barcelona. I’ve met all manner of people from all over the world in bars and pubs. It’s glorious. As a writer myself, other people’s personalities, lives and stories are my fuel. As such I’ve become adept at asking somewhat intriguing questions. You don’t have to go too far outside of the known to get something. Just that little nudge to the right. 

An example.

Most people when meeting new people always end up asking those three utterly banal questions: 

Where are you from? 

What do you do? 

How long have you been in here? 

Which I used to answer: my mum; drink; about an hour. Which I thought was rather facetiously delicious until I bored myself with my drollness. And changed my tack. 

I simply started asking them more intriguing questions. My favourite being:

What have you been up to today? Has it been going well?

It’s odd. It’s an off-kilter thing to ask a stranger you’ve just met. It’s not what they expect, but at the same time it seems like a perfectly normal question beyond that. It hits the sweet spot. 

And believe me, people will always, but always, answer you. Telling you all about themselves and their life, starting with their day, that day. It’s a wonderful jumping off point for them. And people like that, they love banging on about themselves. 

And with that it seems like I’ve been banging on for quite a while now. I think I’ve taken enough of your time already. So here’s where today’s ‘banging on’ finishes.

Even if you couldn’t get a word in edgeways at least you’ve made a new friend at the bar, 

And that’s me,


PS I promised this essay would be a little shorter than the last one. It wasn’t. I lied. The next one will be, though. Although I wouldn’t bet your house on it. Because you might end up with nowhere to live.

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