Would You Approve This Excel Book Cover?

There is a list of Excel books on my Contextures website, and it hasn't been updated recently. Today, I checked Amazon, to see what new and exciting Excel books had been released, so I could start adding them to the list.

There's a book – Excel 2010 Made Simple, by Abbott Katz -- with a release date of May 31, 2011, from Apress, the publisher of my pivot table books. Amazon lists the book as "not yet released", but they show the cover, which you can see below.


One of the chapters is on Excel charts, and the book blurb promises that you'll learn "How to create colorful, meaningful charts". I hope the cover chart was selected by someone in the Apress marketing department, and not the author!

Missing Books

I'll be updating the list of Excel books over the next few weeks, so if you know of any recent books that are missing from the list, please let me know, so I can include them. Thanks!


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33 Responses

  1. Ken Puls says:

    Ouch. Doesn’t Apres give the author the chance to review the book cover? Our author team certainly influenced the cover art on the RibbonX book. While I’m not going to say it was brilliant, it ended up miles better than the first pitch.

    Personally, this cover art would stop me from buying the book as it obviously doesn’t represent good charting displays…

  2. Jon Peltier says:

    You can’t even make a chart like that in Excel, fortunately.

  3. Ricardo says:

    No, the chart in te cover would be flashy but for someone who has experience is useless.
    I would no buy it, if no know you as writter.

  4. Patrick M says:


  5. Jason Morin says:


    Visually appealing covers and catchy titles get interested buyers to pick up books and look inside. The conversion rate jumps exponentially. While I think authors should exert some influence on the cover, the ultimate goal is to sell, right? Authors should focus on what’s between the covers, not what’s on them. That should be left to the marketing experts.

    And while Excel experts like you or data visualazation gurus probably are not likely to buy the book based on this cover, are Excel experts and data visualatization gurus really the target audience? My guess is that the target audience is more beginner/intermediate users of Excel. A 3D shadowed pie chart may not be very useful (or even possible per JP), but visually, it looks cool and it may entice a potential buyer to investigate further. Mission accomplished.

  6. Jon Peltier says:

    Jason –

    While it is true that sizzle sells the steak, there are two problems with this cover. First, the unknowing buyer picks up the book, then is upset that he can’t find how to make the chart on the cover. Second, someone with a little knowledge of effective data visualization techniques who wants to learn about Excel will take one look and pass this one by. I guess if the former outweigh the latter, that’s fine, because the buyer who is upset about not learning how to make atrocious charts has already paid for the book.

  7. Lynda says:

    I wouldn’t buy it, and I probably wouldn’t even take it off the shelf to look inside. That “chart” looks more like “Excel Made Stupid”.

  8. Ken Puls says:


    I agree that the cover should be visually appealing, and that it helps sell the book, yes. But I’m not in the camp that any advertising is good advertising. There are loads of examples out there of great looking, functional and effective charts on the web. Jon and Chandoo’s sites are two that immediately jump to mind as repositories.

    Flash and sizzle is absolutely important, as a book is often being judged by it’s cover (as we’re doing now.) But so is the credibility of the author amongst both the purchasing audience and his/her peers. (The peers are very often people who recommend the book to potential customers.)

    My feeling is that Marketing people are there to market, but often lack the deeper knowledge of the subject matter expert. It is up to that person to pull the marketing people back and tell them (in this case) “I like your idea, but could we use a more effective chart type so it doesn’t compromise my standards?” I’ve been sold bills of goods in the past, and it’s not a good feeling. As Jon points out, you can’t even build the featured chart in Excel. That may not have been an issue in the past, but with the full feedback systems we have now, you risk a 1 star review on Amazon.

    To be clear, I haven’t read the book, and don’t know the author. I even hope the book sells well for him. This is meerly meant as constructive criticism of the choice of artwork by whomever decided.

  9. Jason Morin says:

    Let me ask a dumb question. Are you sure you can’t build a chart like that in 2010 (I don’t have 2010) with some creative VBA? I’m guessing the designer didn’t use any native 3D charts in Excel because none them were visually stimulating.

    Great discussion.

  10. Patrick M says:

    Visually stimulating or not, one should not use 3d charts, period. With any luck, a future added protocol to the Geneva Convention will list them as “crimes against data.”

  11. Ken Puls says:

    “Crimes against data”! Beautiful!

    Jason, haven’t tried. I avoid both 3D and pie charts unless mandated to use them by my bosses boss. And even then I argue vehemently.

    From a technical point, I don’t believe that you can build them, as Excel separates wedges rather than stacks them up, but you never know. Maybe you could do it by creative use of an area chart. Regardless, even if you could, you shouldn’t. ;)

  12. Jim Cone says:

    A stacked, 3D, pie chart in stair step format could be very informative if it used color fading.
    The color fade would illustrate the rate at which each pie segment’s value was accumulated.
    I knew there had to be a use for the additional colors available in xl2007 & 2010.

  13. Jon Peltier says:

    Jason –

    VBA doesn’t let you make charts you couldn’t do manually. The wedges in a 3D pie chart all have to be the same. I guess you could build something with several different charts, each chart having only one visible wedge, but that’s a lot of time to waste to make a totally useless graphic.

  14. AlexJ says:

    Maybe the marketing guys were just using the Homer Simpson strategy. “Ummmm, PIE !!!”

    Excel Made Simpson.

  15. Andy Pope says:

    “You can’t even make a chart like that in Excel, fortunately.”

    Oh I wish that were true Jon. Whilst not a chart it is Smart Art!

  16. Ken Puls says:

    Shouldn’t “Smart” be in quotes there, Andy? :)

  17. Andy Pope says:

    I was thinking more like the t! should be se! :P

  18. Jason Morin says:

    Patrick M,

    Agreed on 3D charts…not very practical from a business sense (I would never use them). But if it helps sell the book, then use it, right? I don’t think Ken and I will ever agree though on this one. ;)

  19. Ken Puls says:

    I’ll agree to disagree though. ;)

  20. teylyn says:

    @Andy, which of the SmartArt settings allows such a hideous presentation?

  21. andy pope says:

    Insert a basic pie from the cycle daigram section.
    Apply one of the 3d styles, birds-eye for instance.
    Select a slice.
    Via format dialog…
    3-d rotation > Distance from ground.
    3-d format > Bottom > Height
    Repeat for other slices.

  22. Jeff Weir says:

    Now if it had this on the cover, and showed you inside how to whip one up, that would be much better. http://www.curiouser.co.uk/illusions/opticalillusions/stairs.htm

  23. Abbott Katz says:

    Just for the record, I’m the book’s author, and did not select the cover :).

  24. @Abbott, congratulations on your new book! And next time, make them run the cover art past you. ;-)

  25. Contextures Blog » Do Not Build This 3-D Chart in Excel says:

    […] Would You Approve This Excel Book Cover? […]

  26. @Ed, nice start, but it need more colours. Or some animation.

  27. Jeff Weir says:

    Here’s your typical Excel MVP climbing a stairway to heaven after a hard day’s coding. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PI-b9ye4RqY

  28. AdamV says:

    Funnily enough, a printer did something similar to me.
    I wanted a couple of nicely printed and bound workbooks to be able to see the sort of quality I could get, and show them to a potential client.
    The course I used as an example was my Advanced Excel Charts course, as it had plenty of graphical content (as you might expect) as well as text.
    In order to make it look “better” the printer took it upon themselves to take my minimalist cover (company logo + course title basically) and jazz it up with some pictures of “fancy” charts, no doubt googled up from some horrid BI marketing pages.
    3D charts, gradient fills, black backgrounds, dials and gauges, every dreadful thing you could think of and totally against all the principles taught in my courses.

    I didn’t dare show it to my client, and luckily got the job anyway, but needless to say, I was fuming!

  29. @Jeff, that’s anyone after a day of working with stepped pie charts!

  30. @AdamV, glad it worked out for you, despite the “help” from that printer!

  31. Fred C says:

    Debra I have not seen so many comments on a subject in a long time that is in reference not to Excel, but to a book on Excel and even then on the cover no less. This author must right now be OMG!
    Note it reads – Excel 2010 Made Simple is for newcomers to Excel.
    Then again it was noted that the author – “has a doctorate in sociology and wide-ranging writing experience as well. Abbott has composed, and continue to compose, numerous complex spreadsheets, twinning technical fluency with the imagination to realize Excel’s potential in a diverse array of settings.”
    I think the last couple of words set the stage – “the imagination to realize Excel’s potential in a diverse array of settings.”
    Do we have a word from the author on the subject matter – hello out there you can come out now.

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