'We’re designed as cyclical creatures, from the most basic microcycle of breathing in and out to the annual cycle of the seasons, and if the New Year to come is our time for resolutions and purposeful action, the days before it, these Twixtmas days, are a time for gathering our resources quietly, relaxing and massaging our tightly bunched cognitive muscles so that we’re ready to pick up the weight of the year again next week.'
It's too late to wish you happy Christmas, too early for Happy New Year (what day is it, anyway?), so here are some thoughts on making the most of the odd in-between days of Twixtmas - which might mean not doing very much at all.
There's also 10 fabulous 2021 business book recommendations from listeners, for when you're ready to pick up a business book again. (Don't leave it too long.)
What DO commissioning editors look for in business book proposals? Eloise Cook is the publisher responsible for Pearson's business list, and in this conversation she reveals what makes a proposal worth pursuing (and also what makes her quietly file it under B for Bin).
We also talk about the future for business books, and how authors extend their idea beyond the book to maximise engagement.
If you're planning to pitch a business book proposal, this is pure gold.
'No one wants to be preached at or talked down to, or made to believe it's fancier than it is. This is not rocket science. This is just good, plain common sense. You need a framework. There are lots of them out there. This is the one that works for me. And I think there are some good reasons it will work for you. And I'll just explain that to you.'
Discovering the 12-week year approach saved Trevor Thrall's career as an academic, and now he teaches it to other writers. In this conversation he tells me how it transformed his own writing, and how he's built the idea beyond the book into a community.
This system is GENIUS, and might just transform your writing life too...
'What's the worst that can happen?'
It might not sound like the most positive of mantras, but that simple question lies behind Sonya Barlow's astonishing success: one of 2020's Most Influential Women in Tech, a top 50 BAME entrepreneur, LinkedIn's Changemaker 2021 for Gender Diversity and Inclusion and Marie Claire's Future Shaper 2020.
Her determination to learn from failure and her remarkable resilience have not only driven her career as an entrepreneur, they're what made writing a book possible for someone who started to shake at the idea of writing 1,000 words.
In this conversation, she talks candidly about what it took to overcome that fear and write a book. Because if you want something badly enough, the worst that can happen is that you don't give it a go.
What's the magic by which the Word document you've been working on for so many weeks and months is transformed into a book? Jo Bottrill, head of Newgen UK, is a book production expert who's worked with thousands of authors to perform exactly that magic, and in this conversation he not only demystifies the production process but also explains what you as the author can do to make it as smooth and effective as possible.
From copy-editing to repurposing for multiple formats, typesetting to cover design, discover exactly what's involved in transforming a manuscript into a beautiful book you can be proud of.
"Talk to anybody who will listen about your idea. That's the way that you improve it."
Michael Buckworth is an anomaly: a lawyer who's also an entrepreneur. He founded the only UK law firm working exclusively with startups, and he's the author of Built on Rock: The busy entrepreneur’s legal guide to start-up success.
If you're setting up a new business, you're already interested, amiright? But even if you're not, there's a huge amount to learn here about how to develop your intellectual property (hint: don't over-protect it) and how to make complex material accessible and engaging. Plus a helpful new twist on the classic 'the dog ate my homework' trope...
'You have to be good enough and you have to be persistent, [and] if you combine those two things together, then if you keep putting yourself in new situations, eventually there is going to be something that clicks.'
Dorie Clark is very clear that creating content - sharing your ideas - is an essential part of building your reputation as an expert. But she's living proof that it doesn't happen overnight - with writing, as with relationships, you have to play the long game.
Now one of the most respected business writers of our day, she's open about the rejections and failures she's experienced all along the way, and right up to the present day. This is a masterclass for anyone engaged in putting their ideas into the world, but it's also a hilarious and candid conversation, in which we find out why she once burst into tears on an Irish road...
'I came to writing really late. I was told I couldn't write... I had no first degree. I came to learning at 40 plus with an idea that I couldn't write, but I still loved learning. So it's been a total joy. It's like, wow, you can do that too, you can learn in another way. Writing... gets more and more joyous.'
Dr Lucy Ryan started writing Lunchtime Learning for Leaders mid-pandemic, in response to the frantic cries for help from leaders grappling with the huge issues facing them but little time for traditional training. It wasn't intended to be a book, and the way in which she went on to shape those articles into a coherent whole is a masterclass in writing and editing.
We talk about imposter syndrome (her gremlin is called Bob, how about yours?), overwhelm, curiosity and writing in service of the reader - and it's a joy from start to finish.
'It's not that you're wrong. You're just no longer right. And that's a big difference.'
Michael Leckie has built his career on asking good questions at the right time, and in his book The Heart of Transformation he talks about 'operationalizing curiosity' as one of the capabilities that drive successful transformation in organizations.
Questions are also core to creating a powerful business book: questions for yourself, and for your reader. In this fascinating conversation we talk about change, curiosity and co-creation at work and on the page.
"We sometimes forget the value, or the power, or the impact of words because, 'Hey, we're speaking the whole time, or we're writing the whole time... it's only me, how powerful can it be?'
So we say things that are the wrong things to say, or we miss our opportunities. If you have an opportunity to get a message across and you just treat it casually or you fluff it or you don't prepare, then that's a shame."
This insightful comment from Jeremy Kourdi was the inspiration for this Best Bits episode, in which I look back over the last few conversations in this podcast and pick out the sparkliest moments, stringing them together to create fairy lights for your mind.
With powerful words from:
Words matter. Use them, and use them well.
'Why would you write 28 books? To get good at some of the stuff that you're writing about.'
As well as writing those 28 books, Jeremy Kourdi has experience of senior leadership at The Economist, Duke University and the CMI. It's fair to say he has an all-round perspective on the value of content in business thinking, and in this fascinating conversation he reveals his own approach to writing as well as his thoughts on the value of words more generally. As content creators, we have a responsibility to use our platforms well: what does that mean for you?
Using words well is a core business discipline, as fundamental to effective leadership as financial management or strategic direction, and this is a masterclass for any leader wanting to go from good to great.
'I would encourage every author to have their own-book-shaped plan and their own-marketing-shape plan that is theirs, because that is what creates the books that really reflect our own message and that are really full of integrity.'
If you're tired of formulaic approaches or cynical marketing tactics, this will be a breath of fresh air. Alice Sheldon had a powerful message to share but found the obvious writing route and standard marketing tactics didn't sit well with her. So she created an Alice-shaped way of authoring and promoting her book, a way that drew on her strengths and drew in help and support from a whole team of 'book friends'.
In this conversation we talk not only about the transformational Needs Understanding framework, the 'surprisingly simple secret' of the title, but also the way that by understanding your own needs as an author you can create a way of writing and marketing your book that is not only effective but also joyful and authentic.
'The individual is a research project, every time we try something new we're being a kind of scientist in our own life.'
Megan Hayes studied the links between writing and happiness, and the first thing she discovered is that it's both more powerful and more complex than we think. Yes, 'getting it all down on paper' is a great way to process a difficult experience, but it turns out a writing habit can also help us be more creative, more energised and more effective OFF the page.
We talk about accessing the full range of voices within you - not just the shoutiest - to resource yourself fully, self-efficacy and sense-making, the ghost of the English teacher, the power of NOT being a writer, and so much more.
If you listen to nothing else this week, listen to this.
When you're writing a business book - or indeed any business writing - WHAT you're saying is the most important thing, of course.
But HOW you say it can make all the difference as to how people read it. I asked a group of editors what really pushed their buttons, and compiled this run-down of mistakes to avoid if you want to make a good impression. This is especially important if you're submitting a book proposal, but nailing this stuff will improve your credibility with all sorts of readers.
Spoiler alert: these might not be quite what you expect...
'They need to be able to 'get' the concepts that I'm trying to convey in whatever space they have available on the top of their phone screen.'
Used to writing for an academic audience, Dr Jen O'Ryan quickly realised that she needed take a very different approach for her business book if she wanted it to make a difference. And she really wanted it to make a difference.
In this episode we talk about diversity and inclusion, in the workplace in general but also in publishing, about relearning how to write, about sweariness, and about the fact that you need a really big table to write a book.
'How can we fall back in love with the idea of enough as a way of living, so that we stop striving and start thriving?'
The Art of Enough is the challenge of our age, says Becky Hall: as individuals and as a society we're beset on the one hand by scarcity (feeling inadequate, being under-resourced) and on the other by excess (overwhelm, over-consumption). Our personal and business goals are dictated by a relentless growth imperative that neither we nor the planet can sustain.
In this powerful conversation, Becky shares how she translated her profound message into a book, and the difficult decisions she faced about keeping its integrity.
A treasure of an episode.
Humans don't easily 'get' exponential growth - we've evolved in a linear world, and the pace of change we're facing now can leave us wrong-footed and disoriented. But Azeem Azhar argues that we need to get to grips with it, and fast, if we're to thrive in the modern world.
We also talk about synergistification, aligning your content creation and community to build your brand and your business (ok it's not a word, but it should be).
Insightful and intriguing, this is definitely not an episode to miss.
'Author-speakers... are often people who are true thought leaders, on a mission to share their knowledge. And yes, there are people who blog and there are people who post on social media and there are people who do podcasts.
But... to really achieve that thought leadership, visionary status, there's got to be a book.'
Speaking and writing go together naturally, but how can you make the most of both? Bobbie Carlton has an extraordinary breadth of experience helping writers and speakers - particularly women - be heard. In this conversation she explores the mindset and the tactics that lead to success on stage and on the page, including some genius tips for leveraging your book as a speaker and for promoting it more widely.
Grab a notepad and listen up.
'There's something about the writing process, the words on the page, just holding you accountable in some way to your thinking.'
Jodie Rogers has identified the real competitive advantage for today's organisations: the mental fitness of the people working there. But as she points out, it takes more than an elearning module on how to take an afternoon walk to unlock the benefits of a workforce that's not just avoiding mental ill health, but positively mentally fit.
She also talks honestly and thoughtfully about her own struggle to write this book - not just overcoming imposter syndrome, but rejecting the early, easy answers she came up with for a deeper, more rigorous self-interrogation. And all this against a backdrop of the pandemic coping with running a business, a family tragedy, and two small children not allowed out of the front door for 45 days during the Spanish lockdown.
Absolutely compelling listening.
We talk a lot on this show about the grind of writing business books, and indeed of business in general, but there's a lot of joy to be found in the process too. This Best Bits episode celebrates all those moments, from the creative peace of the early morning start to the excitement of the book launch. Wherever you're at, there's a bit of raw joy here to inspire you on your journey.
With joyful moments from:
Fill your tank and get inspired!
'We wanted to explore how books, which seem to be a real missing link in the corporate world, could be brought in and really used to enhance people's development... If I could step away from everything and invest in myself, what does that look like?'
If there's one experience common to pretty much every business sector in every industry over the last 18 months, it's screen fatigue. Which is a challenge for learning and development professionals who also care about wellbeing: sure, people need to learn new ideas and skills, perhaps now more than ever, but are another few hours staring at a screen for a webinar or elearing programme the best way to support that?
Leanne Hamley (and I'm right behind her) thinks that businesses are overlooking one of the most powerful, lightweight development tools of all: the book. Along with Kate Bowers, she has founded Wot the Book!, a subscription service, podcast and community dedicated to bringing brilliant books to businesses. She's also an author herself, and talks frankly about her own experience of writing a business book.
'Be a bit braver with what you define to be a business book, you don't need to follow a template.'
Why is B2B marketing typically so dull? Whereas consumer marketing is focused on creativity, engagement and originality, B2B marketing all too often consists of a features list.
Mark Choueke is here to change all that. His passionate call for bravery in B2B marketing is transforming the industry, and he applied exactly that same thinking to writing his business book too. Forget the templates and formulae, and write the book that only you can write.
Half an hour that will leave you feeling braver and more human, covering as it does marketing, writing, book proposals, Star Wars, grief and a gorilla.
Penny Pullan was talking about virtual leadership and running virtual events long before it was fashionable - now that the rest of the world has caught up, she's leading the way in making virtual and hybrid events (which are surely the future) not just possible, but powerful.
Most people at work have sat through interminable Zoom meetings over the last 18 months, few of us have experienced the kind of energy and engagement that Penny can bring. In this conversation she reveals some of the techniques she uses to inject vitality into virtual and also some of the potential pitfalls - it's all too easy to subtly exclude members of remote teams.
She also talks about her own approach to writing - highly visual and voice-based - and explains why her engineering background helps her see things differently in business.
Making Workshops Work was the winner of the very first 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge, over 5 years ago: it's been a long time coming, but it turns out to be the right book at exactly the right moment.
Earlier this year, I passed the 1,000-day mark in my #goldenyear running streak. In this week's episode, I reflect on what I've learned from building that habit, and what it's taught me about writing, resilience and when NOT to wear shorts.
A short episode this week, but I hope you'll enjoy it.
Much handwringing goes on over the impact of technology on young people. Many domestic disputes centre on the amount of screentime that should or shouldn't be allowed.
Robert Wigley saw the issue from two perspectives: as a father of adolescent boys, but also as a mentor and investor working with Gen Z entrepreneurs. The results of his research with both are fascinating, and reveal a more nuanced and optimistic story than we usually hear.
As a first-time author, he also discovered much about the process of writing and publishing which will be equally fascinating to other first-time authors!