What Are You Thinking? – by Mary Ann Weber

What are you thinking? It’s my job as an editor to find out. Or, at least it is as long as your thoughts are about resources produced by MennoMedia.

That’s why I spent time earlier this summer exploring how to develop surveys. What makes a good survey? How can I convince people to complete a survey? How can I write a survey to get the information I need?

I discovered that it’s good to offer an incentive to complete a survey. For example, we frequently include a discount code that can be used toward a future MennoMedia purchase at our store. I learned that it’s helpful to let people know about how much time they may spend taking a survey. No one who has two minutes of free time wants to get trapped in a survey that takes five minutes or more to complete. And I gathered that it’s good to include a no-answer option for those who want to take the survey but don’t want to respond to a specific question.


(We generally use Survey Monkey to create handy online surveys
that are actually kind of fun to complete.)

With my new found knowledge, I put together a number of surveys related to projects I’m working on. Are churches interested in an intergenerational worship resource? How do pastors and other church leaders find resources for their ministries? What would be a good title for an upcoming Bible study guide? Which cover option will make people want to purchase a book? Why does your church offer vacation Bible school? As you can tell, survey topic possibilities are endless.


The information I receive is used to shape current and future projects. It turns out that half of the people to whom I sent the survey about intergenerational worship resources, responded. That might sound like a small percentage in general, but in the world of surveys, a 50% response shows tremendous support. Those results spurred me to begun preliminary steps to create a worship resource that all generations can use together.

We can track how many times the offered discount codes are used. Surprisingly, they are not redeemed very frequently. Maybe it’s the idea of receiving something, instead of actually receiving something that motivates people to complete surveys. Or, maybe people just understand that if they want their voices and opinions heard, they need to take a few minutes and tell us what they are thinking. Surveys also help us involve a wider spectrum of the church and the public in developing or fine-tuning the projects and products we produce. They give us some hard data to go on, instead of guesses.


If you ever receive a survey link from a MennoMedia staff member, we’d appreciate if you take a few minutes to work through it. Your willingness to do so means that we can continue to create and offer relevant products that meet real needs. Thank you!

If you would be willing to give occasional feedback by means of surveys, please indicate your interest by leaving a comment below. We will then be able to have your email address as well as your area of interest. Here are some key areas in which we solicit feedback:

  • Trade books
  • Book content, titles, and covers
  • Curriculum materials
  • Websites
  • Periodicals

Thanks again for any help you are able to offer!

Mary Ann Weber, Curriculum Managing Editor120127_3988

How to Design a Book Cover in 3 Easy Steps – Part 2 by Merrill Miller

Last time I discussed the first two of three steps for designing a book cover, “Problem” and “Process.” Now we’ll get the final stage.

PRESENT: In which the designer presents cover mock-ups to the committee and prays the best direction will result

The best way to kill a brilliantly creative idea is to show it to a committee.”—said every designer ever.

Although some ideas are not killed quite as dead as others, some truly creative solutions have been strangled by committees, focus groups, authors, brothers-in-law, and other experts. But, lest I sound too harsh or whiney, most of the time this critique process serves to strengthen and refine in positive ways.

I decided to present four ideas: an Amish man riding bike (because that’s how the author got around), an Amish man standing at the Grand Canyon, a softball game, and an Amish man chasing his buggy. I sketched out these ideas, one of which I fleshed out in color to present a style of illustration as a possibility. For the softball cover I found a photo which I thought fit the character of Wisecrack Wanda from the book.

AmishForLife_4optionsI really felt that the image of the man chasing his buggy fit the humorous nature of the author’s writing best and was the most likely to grab people’s attention. I stated this in our meeting and after short deliberation it was agreed that this image was the most promising. The decision was also made that the cover image should be photographic, not illustrated. This meant finding photos that could be composited or take a photo on location with a model and a buggy. It was also voiced that the typography I had chosen might not appeal to a popular market. This imagery also spurred the change of title from Amish for Life to Chasing the Amish Dream—much more interesting and fitting.

I returned with this information to the Creative Action Center (see the diagram here, the same I shared last time).3EasySteps72dpi I searched for photos that could work together. At this point I was still making mock-ups and didn’t need a final image yet. I presented two cover ideas based on the Chasing theme.

Additional work was still needed on typography. My fellow designer, Reuben Graham, developed an outstanding logo for the Plainspoken series and it made most the sense to use the same font for the cover type as well.


The author sent us some of his own clothes and a straw hat to use for the photo shoot. I then began carefully looking for the perfect model. Mostly, they had to fit in the clothes and be willing to act like they were running as fast as they could. Also, we needed to compose the model in such a way to obscure his face, since most Amish groups do not appreciate having their photo taken. No, we didn’t hire a highly paid model. I leaned on a willing fellow staffer here at MennoMedia. Now you know.

We got some great options from the shoot and I combined them with a background scene and a buggy. I presented the third round of mock-ups to the committee. The overall imagery was well received but when shared with the author, we discovered that the buggy was an Ohio buggy, not an Indiana buggy.

So we contacted a photographer in Elkhart County and asked her to take a few photos of Indiana buggies from a certain vantage point that would fit into our composition. She pitched a strike and the fourth round cover presentation was a homerun.


There you have it—cover design in three easy steps.

It should also be emphasized that not all cover designs follow the same path. In fact, I would venture to say that no two cover processes are exactly the same. For example, I like to compare the paths of The Naked Anabaptist and Under Construction.


Under Construction took very little time to determine a direction/image. The actual photo search and assembling those photos in PhotoShop took days. While it is a complex image, it was fun to build.

The Naked Anabaptist didn’t take long once we found the right image. The process of finding the one right image took days of searching and multiple rounds of rejections. While this is a simple image it was sometimes an arduous process—but the end result is just as rewarding.

Yes, just like breaking rocks or teaching kids, the end result is almost always rewarding.


You can purchase Chasing the Amish Dream on pre-publication discount for just $9.75 (25% off) until October 21, 2014.

—Merrill Miller, senior graphic designer

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How to Design a Book Cover in 3 (Or More) Easy Steps – by Merrill Miller

Merrill Miller is senior graphic designer at MennoMedia/Herald Press

Actually, any kind of design solution is rarely reached in three steps—the ease of which depends on your point of view. If your normal workday consists of breaking rocks with a pick-axe—or trying to teach apathetic, defiant, hyper, high, and hungry kids the Pythagorean Theorem—then, yes, these steps might be viewed as easy. And, like students who fail geometry and have to repeat the class, sometimes (read “usually”) one or more of the steps below will need to be repeated.

But for the sake of this article I will reduce the procedure to three steps: Problem, Process, and Present.

PROBLEM: In which the book is presented to the designers and brainstorming ensues

The initial cover stages begin early in the life of a book so that the marketers can begin promoting it. Once the author contract is signed, even before the manuscript may be in its final form, sometimes even before a title or subtitle is finalized, we meet to brainstorm ideas. This group includes editorial, design, and marketing.

The editorial staff presents the PI sheet (which doesn’t stand for Private Investigator. It stands for Product Information. Kind of a let-down, eh?). This document lists pertinent information about the book, an author bio, a brief description, and marketing information.

It also includes book covers of competitive and comparative works that have been already published.This is somewhat of a conundrum to peruse: do we try to fit into this sample of published work or do we try to stand out from it? I suppose the short answer is that we want fit in while standing out. Easy.

For this blog post (2 parts) we will follow the process of one of our new books, Chasing the Amish Dream. This book is the first in our Plainspoken series written by Amish or Old Order Mennonite authors. The author of Chasing, Loren Beachy, is a school teacher and an auctioneer. His book is a collection of humorous columns he writes for the Goshen (Ind.) News called “The Plain Side.”

As the “problem” is presented we begin brainstorming ideas. At this point, the name of the book was Amish for Life, not Chasing the Amish Dream. We come up with words, ideas, associations, and images that represent the book and the author. Words such as: Amish, teacher, auctioneer, humor, and images of buggies and horses, etc. are thrown into the hopper. Sometimes the ideas get narrowed down and sometimes the designer is left with a mish-mash with no real direction.

PROCESS: In which the designer endeavors to narrow the focus to one idea

During this step the process may be repeated multiple times and may, or may not, go something like the diagram here:3EasySteps72dpi

The designer will take the words, ideas, and images offered during the initial meeting and work (read “play”) with them: joining opposites, looking for synonyms, doodling, writing more words, sketching, taking long walks or naps (while mulling, of course). As a last resort the designer may read some of the manuscript to glean inspiration.

No, actually, reading parts, if not all, of the manuscript is one of the first things the designer will do. Fortunately, we had several of the columns that were published in the Goshen News which I was able to read. In the case of the book formerly known as Amish for Life, these offered a wealth of imagery. There were stories about church, stories from the classroom, stories of softball games, biking, auctions and traveling to auctions. There were stories of train trips across country, stories of pranks, stories of people doing unwise things—like run beside their buggy in order to wake up.

Oh, how to narrow it down?

To be continued next time, on September 10, 2014.


What are some standout covers (general) that you have seen you really like? What do you like about them? 

(And no fair peeking in our store to see how the final book cover came out for Chasing the Amish Dream. Of course if you want to spoil the drama … peek away.)

—Merrill Miller, senior graphic designer

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