Net Minds co-founder Tim Sanders recently caught up with Alex Miles Younger, early stage member and creative director of Seth Godin’s Domino Project. He now operates Unozip, a book design service for independent authors. He’s also working on a Net Minds project with author Robert Tercek. His story should inspire you to apply your talents to work on a book project.
Tim: So what did you study in school?
Alex: Believe it or not, I was a theater major, so I spent four years in a conservatory-style program studying to become an actor. As unrelated as it seems, theater taught me a lot about making art and training myself to adopt new habits effectively and engage with my creative process, and that's something that carries over to this day.
After school I was working one of my first jobs in nonprofits and at the same time that I was doing fundraising and nonprofit management. The experience taught me to make my own opportunities. One of the nonprofits was very small and I realized that the systems that we inherited were just made up. I realized that if I thought there was a smarter way, I could just redo it because someone before me had simply invented it. And was sort of one of the first times I owned the idea of hacking your career or your lifestyle.
Next, I moved out to Colorado and I started apprenticing myself to photography, web, print design, and advertising. As a photography and advertising freelancer on ad shoots, I worked with Burger King, Nike, Microsoft, and learned a lot about editorial, visual composition, typography, color theory. I also learned how to code and build web sites.
And it wasn't until I started with Seth at Domino that I looked at all these skills and went, ‘wait, these actually all apply to book design.’ The cover is a lot about advertising and catching people's attention and holding it and it's print design. Interior is about a certain kind of use of typography and layout that allows the reader to get carried away about a story and it doesn't get too flashy and draw too much attention. And then the entire eBook revolution is built on code that is eerily similar to web sites from the early 1990s.
Tim: How did you and Seth Godin get together?
Alex: A good friend of mine sent me information about him and then said, “Here's this guy who is near you who is doing this fun, crazy project.” And I knew I was ready to jump off a cliff professionally and really learn. So I went and did this sort of whirlwind application and interview process and he hired me. I was very fortunate to get the job.
Working with Seth was absolutely transformative. As I said, I was in a place where I knew I wanted to shift and I couldn't have asked for a better person to lead that shift. The process at Domino completely changed my work DNA. I think it helped that I went in knowing that I wanted to shift. Because as soon as I started digging in, I realized this is someone who I would love to have as a mentor and to model my behavior after.
He helped me with understanding my own resistance and knowing how to get past it. I'll use the Steven Pressfield term for that thing that comes up that keeps you from doing your best work, that keeps you from shifting, that makes you sort of shy away from whatever work you should be doing most. And it's one thing to understand it conceptually and a completely different thing to know the feeling and say, “Okay I can feel myself resisting this. I'm not going to let it win. I've gotten through this before. I'm going to lean into it, and I'm going to come out the other side.”
The second thing, was to think in terms of tribes. This is something Seth talked about all the time. Is there a group of people out there that would engage with this project? Do we know where to find these people? Do they talk to or know each other? Do they spread ideas? Will they spend money on this?
The fourth thing has to do with a book’s longevity, not just the subject. I love eBooks and I love yoga. Information about eBooks is changing constantly. It has a very shorter life cycle. New information is coming out all the time, so that's a very sort of quick turnaround. I also practice yoga and while there are changes, a lot of the information in it has just been passed down for decades, or perhaps centuries, without any sort of change.
Tim: Regarding book design, with the exception of a single title, all your covers were just pictures with that little Domino logo in the corner. No bold titles. How did that come about?
Alex: Well as with every design, it's a collaboration, so Seth and I sat down and talked and one of the things we knew we really wanted was something that was going to feel like a series. So we wanted a style that would tie the books together in a family. Between my background in photography and Seth’s love for it, we had our approach.
We decided not to put words on the covers for a couple of reasons. We knew that the cover would work well as a picture and be seen primarily on the Amazon product page (underneath the title). Second, if you saw one of our book’s sitting on someone's desk, you would have to ask them, “Oh what's that book?” and then you engage with them and recommend you read it.
Tim’s takeaway: This was an inspiring conversation that underscores how any creative can find a home in the publishing industry. Alex’s story reveals two key approaches to making the leap: continually grow your talents and seize opportunities to work on work that matters.
Follow Alex on Twitter, he’s @alexmyyounger
Tim is a bestselling author and former Yahoo! executive with a mission to disrupt the traditional publishing and self-publishing industries and share knowledge with authors looking to publish and market high-quality books.Follow @sanderssays