The Extraordinary Business Book Club

Alison Jones, publisher and book coach, explores business books from both a writer's and a reader's perspective. Interviews with authors, publishers, business leaders, entrepreneurs, tech wizards, social media strategists, PR and marketing experts and others involved in helping businesses tell their story effectively.
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The Extraordinary Business Book Club






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May 8, 2017

It's time for another collection of The Extraordinary Business Book Club's Best Bits! Sit back and listen to half and hour of jaw-droppingly practical and powerful tips from the top writers and publishers featured in episodes 51-59, with some fascinating differences of opinion and approach: 

  • Mark Levy (Accidental Genius) on organising your ideas
  • Lucy McCarraher (How to Write Your Book Without the Fuss) on the importance of structuring before you start
  • Lisa Earle McLeod (Selling with Noble Purpose) on forgetting all about structure and just starting
  • Ross Lovelock (ScQUARE) on writing for the reader
  • Alan Weiss (Million Dollar Consulting) on writing for yourself 
  • Caroline Webb (How to Have a Good Day) on her writing playlist
  • Melissa Romo (Head of Global Content, Sage) on creating a writing ritual (and specifically how her frog helps...)
  • Adrian Zackhemi (Portfolio Penguin) on how publishers evaluate an author's proposal
  • Louis Rosenfeld on why publishing is about so much more than the book

I guarantee there's something here that will inspire you, restore your writing mojo, get you unstuck, or at the very least make you feel like you're not in this alone. 

May 1, 2017

Lou Rosenfeld is in the ideas business. He's a writer himself, and a speaker and trainer, and now with Rosenfeld Media he's created a distinctive approach to publishing that's based around ideas - and the community engaged with them - rather than books per se. 

His company supports the 'three-legged stool' of the ideas business, which Lou himself discovered as an author: 'I found that I really couldn't succeed with writing if I wasn't presenting, and I couldn't succeed with presenting if I wasn't teaching, and couldn't succeed with teaching if I wasn't writing so it's a virtuous circle.' 

So the publishing company he created is format-agnostic, and devotes an extraordinary amount of time and energy to supporting its authors as a co-collaborator and focus for the community.

'I still think we're reinventing publishing,' he says. 'I'm not even sure the word publish means anything like it did 10 or 15 years ago. It shouldn't really. I felt like the traditional publishing model, which to my mind emphasised quantity over quantity, is really broken. It's not anything I really want to be affiliated with so we've very studiously avoided that approach and taken a very different one.'

Find out more, including his advice to authors, in this fascinating interview.

Apr 24, 2017

Caroline Webb writes about the everyday, the little things that make a big difference to how we feel: being interrupted, boring meetings, feeling stressed, late-night emails, giving directions to someone who's lost. So on one level, How to Have a Good Day is an everyday book. What makes it remarkable is the way that she explores these everyday experiences through a rigorous research-based framework encompassing psychology, behavioural economics and neuroscience. So now not only do you know why you feel so bad when someone interrupts you, you know why, which also allows you to deal with it and continue having a good day.

It's a great example of one of the most important skills in business book writing: synthesising experience, research and stories to create a distinctive framework that not only helps people understand why things are as they are but gives them tools for making things better. 

'Take a step back and think, "What is my system of thought here? What is my grand theory of how this all knits together?"' advises Caroline, and you can find out more about she achieved it herself in this fascinating interview. Also revealed, her writing playlist. I guarantee it's not what you expect.

Apr 17, 2017

'The best idea in the world is useless if you can't sell it,' says Ross Lovelock. He learned that the hard way in his 20s at Pepsi, when he was forced to scrap the 'data dump' he'd put together as a strategic plan for his sales unit and rework it as a story to present to the President of PepsiCo. 

He realised pretty quickly that nobody was teaching people how to do this work: not just to assemble the facts, but to interpret them, articulate the problem, find the solution and craft the whole into a persuasive narrative to sell the solution upwards.

That's why he set up SCQuARE, a strategic consultancy that supports clients to build the complete plan and present it effectively. And out of this journey too came first the self-published book Getting Everyone on the Same Page and then The One Thing You Need to Know, published by Wiley. Not bad for the kid who left school at 16. 

In this episode, Ross sets out his own extraordinary journey and the secrets of taking your idea and turning it into a story you can sell to the world. 

Apr 10, 2017

Melissa Romo's frogThis is not just any frog. This is the frog that gets Melissa Romo into writing mode. Usually he sits atop the antique writing desk in her bedroom, but if she's travelling he comes along and perches wherever he can, so that even on a plane or in an anonymous hotel room, he quietly sends the signal to her brain: 'It's time to write.' 

Melissa has a unique perspective on writing: she's a novelist, a publisher, and also Head of Global Content at Sage, so she comes at the issue of connecting with people through content from multiple angles, bringing a fascinating insight to the business of writing business books.  

In this week's episode as well as discussing her own writing routines and tips we touch on bots, voice assistants, interactive content and AI stories - it's a fascinating glimpse into how one of the world's biggest companies sees the future of content marketing. 

Apr 3, 2017

One of the most common pieces of advice for business book authors - and one that I often repeat myself - is to focus on the reader. What problem do they have, what is it that they're seeking, what language will resonate with them? 

That's important, but it's not the whole story. As Henry Ford famously said, if he'd asked people what they wanted they'd have said faster horses. 

In this week's episode writer and positioning expert Mark Levy reveals how to balance what the readers want with what you as the author want to achieve and what you are uniquely positioned to create. 

He describes how you can capture your unique meaning and fascination pile, your own mix of insights from the various experience and areas of expertise you've devleoped over the years, from which you can write something genuinely original that will establish you as a thought leader. And how it works to develop your own thinking too: 'You need to use the writing itself as a discovery process.'

Inspiring, illuminating and incredibly practical advice for writers who want to make a difference in the world. 

Mar 27, 2017

'Noble embodies what we're trying to do here because it is about being in the service of others but in this case in business... Noble Purpose is about the impact you have on customers.' Or, in this case, readers.

Lisa Earle McLeod writes from two key drivers: frustration and passion. Her book Selling with Noble Purpose embodied everything she'd learned and passionately believed in her career as a sales consultant, that selling is for the benefit and the maximum impact for the customer, not just giving them what they think they want. 'It gives you more courage with your customers,' she explains. And there's a very clear parallel with writing for your readers, too. 

There are some great examples too of how the book works with the business, with a useful taxonomy of ways in which she as the author can work with clients who've read the book and want more. 

And if you're bored of me banging on about structure, you'll love Lisa's top tip for would-be business book authors:

'Think about what you're excited about and think about what you're angry about and just start writing. Everyone thinks they have to have this big outline for a book, you don't. Just sit at the keyboard, bang it out. Don't start at the beginning. If you've got something for the end in mind, start there. If you've got the middle in mind, start there. Just start.'

Mar 20, 2017

'There's an awful lot of talk about platform in the media business these days,' admits Adrian Zackheim, the founder of Portfolio, Penguin's prestigious business book list. 'It's an obvious strategy for publishers to seek out people with pre-existing platforms and attempt to extend them, [but] one of the attractions of this work, for me at least, is that there is this calculation that one has to make about where is that platform? How significant, how important is the platform, and how good is this person as a communicator? Then how significant are the ideas that are being developed here? You have to triangulate those three considerations in order to determine the prospects for an author.'

This is a fascinating insight into how one of the world's most famous publishers of business books makes his acquisition decisions, and where he sees the industry heading. 

Mar 13, 2017

How to Write Your Book Without the Fuss is just a brilliant title. And Lucy McCarraher is equally brilliant. Cofounder of Rethink press and the 'Publish' mentor for Daniel Priestly's Key Person of Influence programme, she uses the WRITER model to support her clients through the process and sets it out in this interview, along with her thoughts on how business owners can use their book to build their business. 

Packed full of practical advice and expert tips - without any fuss - this is essential listening for business book authors. 

Mar 6, 2017

'There's no such thing as writer's block. It's a myth. What you do is you sit down at a keyboard and you type a letter, and then you type some more letters, you have a word. Then you type some more words, you have a sentence. A few more sentences, you have a paragraph. What you write is better than you think, but what stops people is the self-editing, this little person in your head who keeps critiquing you. You got to kill that person, you just got to flick them off your shoulder, stomp on them 'til they're bloody. You have to sit down and write, and stop worrying whether people will like it. Just write for yourself.'

Alan Weiss's approach to writing is bracing. If you're getting bogged down in endless rewriting or self-critiquing, this is going to be uncomfortable listening. Uncomfortable, but essential. 

Feb 27, 2017

It's The Extraordinary Business Book Club's half-century episode! And we're celebrating with an extraordinary selection of Best Bits from episodes 41-49: 

  • Michael E. Gerber on creating a legacy
  • David Taylor on being the best you
  • Martin Goodyer on the single strong idea
  • Heather McGowan on visualizing information
  • Emma Serlin on the psychology of speaking
  • Susan Heaton Wright on overcoming the fear of speaking in public
  • Kelly Pietrangeli on building the platform before the book
  • Scott Pack on what it takes to crowdfund a book successfully
  • Guy Kawasaki on crowdsourcing feedback to improve the book 

It's an incredible line-up, and the themes reflect the very best of The Extraordinary Business Book Club, from the big picture to the tactical details of communicating your unique message in a multiplatform world. 

Plug in and play, and lose yourself in half an hour of inspiration, ideas and insight. And cake. 

Feb 20, 2017

Susan Heaton-Wright has performed on many of the world's greatest stages as an opera singer, but it was only after she'd had her baby that she realised the skills she'd developed - being able to walk into a room with confidence, to project her voice clearly and perform in front of an audience - could be invaluable to business people. 

A whole new business emerged, and now Susan helps people speak in public effectively (she also has a side-line in providing live music for events, but that's a whole other podcast...). 

In this episode we talk about the beautiful synergy between writing and speaking, and how authors can create and use speaking opportunities strategically to promote their book and build their business.

There's a bit of podcasting love going on too: Susan is the host of top podcast Superstar Communicator, and occasionally the interviewer/interviewee roles get a bit muddled...

Feb 13, 2017

'I don't think many authors would put themselves through what I put myself through. How many authors are confident enough or stupid enough to send their manuscript to a thousand people who they have no idea who they are, and just say, "Okay, just tell me what you don't like."'

But over the course of 13 bestselling books, Guy Kawasaki has discovered that this is in fact the best way to create his best book. 

'There's no doubt in my mind that the crowd improves my books,' he says. It began when he sent out his first manuscripts to a select few beta readers and noticed how invaluable their feedback was.

'Then I figured out that... maybe you don't know all the intelligent people in the world firsthand, so maybe you should broaden your net.'

Now he puts up publicly the table of contents and then the full first draft, turning on the comments function and inviting anyone who's interested to give their opinion. The feedback helps in the rewriting, and it also completely changes his relationship with his readers, who become invested in the book and its success. 

An incredibly inspiring episode, and Guy keeps it real with his advice on getting the darn thing done and not messing up your cover. 

Feb 6, 2017

When Emma Serlin founded the London Speech Workshop, she came at the science of effective communication from two perspectives: her professsional background in the theatre as an actor and director, and her academic background in psychology.

The result is a powerful theory and practice of communication - The Communication Equation. At its simplest it's an equation: 

Authenticity + Connection = Engagement

In this episode we explore how understanding the principles of both performance and psychology can help you communicate more effectively, with important lessons for writers as well as speakers, and how bringing together diverse perspectives and experiences can generate creative insights for your business and your book. 

There's also some practical advice on adapting face-to-face exercises for a book and the power of stories. And, as you'd expect, Emma has a really, really nice voice. 

Jan 30, 2017

One of the many opportunities open to authors today is the chance to crowdfund their book: to whip up enthusiasm for the project and get friends, relatives, ex-girlfriends (yes, really) and total strangers who want to see this book happen put their hands in their pockets and pledge to support it. And one of the leading crowdfunding platforms out there for books is Unbound. But what's really involved in crowdfunding, and is it a good use of your time?

In this week's episode Scott Pack, Associate Editor at Unbound - and Associate Lecturer with me on the MA in Publishing at Brookes University, where we recorded this interview - talks about how it works (and what happens when it doesn't), and who it's for (and who it's really NOT for).

Jan 23, 2017

If you're struggling to write your book, here's an idea: try drawing it instead. That's how Heather McGowan, academic entrepreneur and futurist, gets started. 

'I don't usually start writing anything. I start drawing a lot of things. My starting process is: how would I put this on a single page so that people can understand it with very few words using shapes and different types of frameworks? I usually start with a series of frameworks that tell the story to me in my head and then after that I write.'

Visualising your ideas has a double benefit: for you as author, to help you get clear on what it is you're saying, how your ideas fit together and flow, but also for the reader. 

'When you look at text, you turn those texts into symbols that you store in your mind visually. When you look at a picture, you can be something like 30,000 times faster reading all the same information... if [blogs or books] have visuals in them, they are much more often read and understood than if they're just plain text because it breaks it up, it allows you to process things differently.'

And given the astonishing quantity of information that comes at us on a daily basis, demanding our attention - the equivalent of over 280 newspapers a day - this shortcut to communicating complex ideas is a powerful competitive advantage for writers who want to be heard.  

Heather and I also discuss the future of reading and writing and the skills we need to teach our young people to equip them for the future of work. A fascinating, thought-provoking episode.

Jan 16, 2017

'Anyone can read those things, whether they've met me or whether they haven't and go, "Yeah, that's about me," because the stories are relevant to so many people.'

Coaching psychologist Martin Goodyer has a very simple idea he wants to get across to as many people as possible: we can all do better if we ask ourselves better questions. To get that idea through to the reader, he uses stories. WTF Just Happened? is a collection of stories about individuals in all sorts of situations, from losing weight (or rather, failing to lose weight) to making disastrous relationship choices to bombing in business. I guarantee you'll read at least one of them and say: 'Oh my goodness, that's me."

In this interview we discuss the art and science of telling stories, particularly the tricky issues of truth and confidentiality, and explore why they work so well in engaging our attention and changing our behaviour.

Martin believes most 'self-help' books don't work, no matter how brilliant the advice, because fundamentally we don't like being told what to do. Stories, on the other hand, engage our emotions, they smuggle big ideas into our brain because we let our guard down - the book is 'a form of open-eye hypnosis'.

There's also a brilliant idea for an attention-grabbing book launch and an incredibly powerful question for you to ask yourself as a business-book author. 

Jan 9, 2017

Back in 2012, Kelly Pietrangeli and her friends had a brilliant idea for a book. Project Me was all about helping busy mothers balance their lives with more effective time management, productivity skills and goal-setting, using tools techniques they'd developed for their own lives. 

They began to write, but then:

'It just occurred to me one day, how are we going to get a book deal on this book called Project Me, when we have no website, no social media platform whatsoever, like who are we, you know? We're just a couple of mothers who are writing this book.'

She persuaded her friends to do it backwards, taking the content they'd written and putting it out on a website. She built a blog, a community and an online programme, and before too long she found herself the focus of a bidding war with several publishers vying to sign her up.

'That's what the book has come from, from a book idea into a website, into online programs and coaching, and now full circle.'

Kelly's story might just transform the way you think about your book and your platform, and how they work together. 

Jan 2, 2017

Perhaps the most powerful thing you can do as the writer of a business book is to cut through the fluff and change people's lives. Many of us feel uncomfortable making grand claims for our ideas. We hedge them around with qualifiers and we're anxious to cover off all the objections we imagine readers might have, or all the various different ways our message might apply to people in different situations. 

And very often, the message gets lost along the way. 

David Taylor writes in a completely different way to any other writer I've interviewed. He calls it predictive persuasion, and he's refreshingly unapologetic about the simplicity of his message and the directness of his style. 

Here's why - he cares more about what people do than what people think of him.  

'I don't really mind what they think of The Naked Leader or the message. I just want people to fulfil their own potential in their own way in the very short time that we each have on this planet and it is a very short time indeed.'

There's so much here to inspire and challenge you about how and why you write. And even more to challenge you about how you live. 

Dec 26, 2016

One of the first episodes of The Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast featured an interview with Michael E. Gerber talking about one of the most extraordinary business books of all time - The E-Myth Revisited. So it feels very appropriate that we end 2016 with Michael talking about his new book, Beyond the E-Myth: The Evolution of an Enterprise: From a Company of One to a Company of 1000

Michael turned 80 in 2016, but both the book and the interview demonstrate that his passion for helping small business owners achieve success hasn't dimmed since the E-Myth was first published in 1985, in fact the sense of urgency and passion is if anything greater. 

There are big questions in this episode, and the turn of the year is the perfect time to face them. 

"Look at yourself more seriously. Stop thinking about how you're going to get by and start pondering what you're going to leave behind."

Dec 19, 2016

New to the Club? Missed a few episodes? Or just want to revisit some of the most mind-tingling insights from recent guests?

This is the place to start. A few selected highlights from episodes 31-39, including:

  • Bec Evans of WriteTrack on establishing your writing habit (may or may not involve champagne)
  • Productivity Ninja Grace Marshall on why procrastination is an inevitable part of writing a book and how to beat it
  • UX legend Steve Krug on applying usability principles to writing your book
  • Robbie Kellman Baxter with a brilliantly practical tip on using writing as a thinking tool
  • Business coach and web strategist Robin Waite on the book as part of the personal brand ecosystem
  • Nicholas Lovell on the Curve - using the power of free to turn followers into superfans
  • Patrick Vlaskovits on hustle and the art of not waiting for permission
  • The Creator's Code author Amy Wilkinson on the myth of overnight success in both business and writing, and the importance of discomfort
  • Andy Cope on his life-changing epiphany in the Tesco's checkout queue (warning: this is the bit where I cry laughing)

Think of it as an early Christmas present. You're welcome. 

Dec 12, 2016

The CurveYou know about the Curve, even if you don’t think of it in those terms. You’ve noticed how successful businesses have been developing offerings at a wide variety of price points, and how they’ve been focusing particularly on giving stuff away in order to get people’s attention and engagement. You probably do it yourself – it’s the entire principle behind content marketing, in fact. But have you thought strategically about how and where your book fits in?

Nicholas Lovell, this week’s guest in The Extraordinary Business Book Club and author of The Curve: Freeloaders, Superfans and the Future of Business, explains it further:

‘The Curve comes in three parts. You have to find an audience. That probably, but doesn't necessarily, involve free. You have to earn the right to talk to them again. It's no good having a newsletter that you get people to sign up for if they immediately unsubscribe because your content is boring and rubbish. Then, having done those two things, found them and got the right to talk to them again, you have to let those people who really want to spend money with you, the people who love what you do, the Superfans, spend lots of money on things they really value.’

Your job, and your book's job, is to move people along that curve. Your potential superfans will finish your book and say to themselves, ‘That was great! Now what?’ This week's episode will help you give them a good answer. 

Dec 5, 2016

Grace MarshallI'm fed up with saying, 'I haven't got enough time. I want to have a different conversation about time.'

Grace Marshall was naturally disorganised, but also incurably impatient. She therefore decided the only way to make sure she was able to develop her business while raising a young family was to get really, really good at managing her time more effectively. 

She got so good at it that she became the first female Productivity Ninja with Think Productive and has written two books on the subject. As you might expect, she has some kick-ass tips for writers to overcome procrastination and get the book written (and you'll be glad to hear she found it hard too!). 

Essential listening for anyone who has 'write book' on their to-do list. 

Nov 28, 2016

Robin WaiteRobin Waite was a web designer who got increasingly frustrated with clients who only thought about websites. He understood, although they didn't, that your website is only part of your online strategy and your personal brand. Online Business Startup was written out of frustration, but the result was the transformation of Rob's own personal brand. 

This is also a masterclass in how to write a book at speed: despite having a new baby and a full-time job, Rob managed to dictate, transcribe and edit his bestselling book in just six weeks, and he shares the full details of how he did it in this interview. 

'My book's sold several thousand copies, my videos are going into tens of thousands of views across Facebook and Youtube and Vimeo. I've couldn't have had that impact, without having the book and the personal brand and this whole ecosystem set around it.'

This is an interview packed with practical ideas: don't listen unless you're ready to be challenged and to take action.  

Nov 21, 2016

In business today it's personal. Across every sector, businesses are shifting their emphasis from the transaction to the relationship, from simple communication to community. Membership, says Robbie Kellman Baxter, is a transformational trend. 

In this episode we talk about the implications of that trend, but we also explore Robbie's own approach to writing her book The Membership Economy - how she discovered the power of writing as a problem-solving tool and how she used the research period to extend her network upwards and outwards. 

Robbie's approach to her own book is refreshingly and challengingly direct: 'I didn't write the book to sell a lot of books and make money as a book author. I wrote the book because I'm a consultant, and I wanted people to have that kind of one pound business card to understand this is Robbie Baxter and this is how she frames the challenges in the business world, and if we worked with her this is how she looks at things.'

There's SO much good stuff in this interview for you if you're running a business and writing about it. 

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