Steve Krug tells it like it is. 'People don't read nearly as much of [your book] as you think.'
Painful though it is, much of writing is actually editing: reworking sentences, cutting out fluff, converting long paragraphs to bullet-points, so that you get your point across.
Steve used all these tricks and more when the wrote the bible of usability experts - Don't Make Me Think. He wanted it to be readable in a two-hour plane journey, because that's about how long his target reader would be able to give it. And to achieve that he did a lot of 'throwing stuff overboard'.
Writing, says Steve is like usability: 'it's all about 'keeping the user in mind and trying to be as kind to them as possible and trying to make it as rewarding an experience for them as you can.'
Invaluable, practical and refreshingly sane advice whether you're writing a book or a page of website copy.
"What separates the successful writers from those who 'kind of want to' write," Bec Evans realised during her time working at a writers' centre, isn't talent or even the original idea, important though they are. "What made them successful was their persistence, building that writing habit, and, fundamentally, finishing their projects."
And so she developed WriteTrack, 'Fitbit for writers', a clever way of using technology to hold yourself accountable for your writing progress.
In this podcast she dives into the psychology of setting goals, establishing a writing habit and understanding how to trick yourself into achieving success.
I'm particularly taken by the idea of rewarding myself with a bottle of champagne after a solid 250 words...
You know those business book authors who tell you, 'Dip in and out, read this book any way you choose'? Andy Cope, author of The Little Book of Emotional Intelligence, is not one of them.
"I specifically set this book out so it starts easy, and then it gets a little bit stodgy in the middle, and then it knocks your socks off at the end... It's like going to the swimming baths. You get your bathers on, and then you go out, first of all, you step through the chlorinated little bath, where your feet get wet but nothing else happens, so I take you through the chlorinated foot bath of academia first, because it's not very challenging, and then we go in the shallow end, and we splash around a bit and get a bit wet, until we get our confidence, and then, and only then, are you allowed in the deep end. If I chuck you in at the deep end first, you'll die. We do get to the deep end in the book, but we start in the shallow foot bath of chlorinated academia."
And it was at this point that I found myself actually crying with laughter, which is a first for this podcast.
Andy describes himself as "in a very lonely part of a Venn diagram", as he's most of the way through the world's longest PhD but also writes stories for 8 year olds (mine loves them). I promise this interview will make you laugh, but it will also give you some incredible insights about life in general and writing about big ideas in particular.
Amy Wilkinson pulls off an extraordinary feat with The Creator's Code: she interviewed 200 top entrepreneurs to discover what had made them successful, then rigorously distilled down her findings into 6 universal skills - the Code.
The research, on 'the biggest data set currently in the entrepreneurship world on high-scale or high-impact entrepreneurs', took 5 years. The 300 pages of the book were distilled down from 10,000 pages of transcripts.
As you'd expect from someone who lectures at Stanford and Harvard, the research was rigorous and the grounded-theory approach behind it is cutting edge. But as you might NOT expect, the output is not an impenetrable scholarly paper, but an engaging, readable narrative.
If you're struggling with translating a large body of material into an accessible story, or if you simply want to find out what's behind the success of 200 top entrepreneurs, all of whom have taken companies from zero to $100m in annual revenue in under a decade, this is an unmissable episode.
Amy also draws out the parallels between starting a business and writing a book that matters, and reminds us that if it's not easy, that's OK:
'It's difficult to be a first timer in any field, really. You talk to people that are first timers in writing books, in starting companies, first-time professors, first-time doctors that are just getting started, first-time lawyers. Everyone is learning and growing, and it takes a lot of energy, and effort, and focus, and it takes some time. The thing about the modern economy is that we are all beginners all the time.'
As always, for the full transcript see www.extraordinarybusinessbooks.com.
When Patrick Vlaskovits told his dad he was writing a book called Hustle, his father was baffled: 'Why would you want to write a book about stealing?'
And that's part of the interesting thing about this book - it's about giving things a name, or in this case taking back a name, giving shape and weight to things we know but perhaps haven't articulated to ourselves. It's full of phrases that hit home, such as 'cycle of suck', 'mediocrity of meh'. Patrick argues that this is a key duty of the writer in our society:
'The greatest impact that authors can have is to give names to phenomena that don't have names yet. That things perhaps are felt, perhaps are sensed but haven't been articulated...'
In this episode we also explore the pros and cons of writing as a team, with some great practical advice on how to do it well, and the power of storytelling.
Patrick doesn't hold back, and his advice is awesome. Brace yourself.
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 21-29, including:
Sit back, relax, listen, enjoy. Be inspired.
We spend our lives just one click away from the answer to any question, with instant access to entertainment, education, distraction, connection to the hive mind. Our digital culture makes so much possible, but what's the cost to us?
In this episode Tom Chatfield explores the nature of attention and creativity, how print books engage us differently and why that matters.
Write This Book is a beautiful, tactile experiment in interactivity and physicality, because as Tom says,
'We need things to have friction and texture. Really, memory and understanding are information plus emotion, if you like, and to make things stick in our minds, to make things really belong to us, to work out what we mean rather than just what is out there in the Web of information, is becoming more and more valuable as we're lucky enough to have more and more information at our fingertips.'
If you're interested in how print books serve us in an increasingly digital world, this is a fascinating listen.
Seth Godin is my hero. Whenever I need an example of a clean, authentic, punchy writing style, he's the one I turn to. When I'm talking about interesting new publishing models, he's my go-to guy.
It took me quite a while to work up the courage to invite him onto the show. While I still hadn't asked him, he hadn't said no, right?
Yet when I did finally find the nerve to send the invitation, inviting him to talk about blogging, books, and business, he replied within seconds. 'I'd be thrilled... Let's do it.'
I suspect I was thrilled-er, to be honest, but we did it, and here's the result. He's funny, inspiring, honest and just a little bit life-changing. This episode is a bit longer than usual because after I'd wound it up in the usual time and said, off-mic, 'Man, I really didn't want to end it there, I would have loved to have kept on talking,' he simply said, 'Well, I'm not going anywhere. Let's keep talking.'
So we did. You're welcome.
When Barbara Gray thought about pulling together the research she'd done over her years as a top-rated equity analyst into a book about the fundamental disruption within the fast-moving market, she asked some friends for advice on publishing.
'The publishing model is broken, Barb,' they told her. 'Sorry.'
She did have a chat with an agent, but realised that if she took that route the book wouldn't see the light of day until 2018, by which time it would be ludicrously out of date. So instead she took to the Reedsy publishing marketplace, found an editor, and is in the process of managing publication herself.
In this interview she talks about that process, and about how the shift from scarcity to abundance - the key theme of Ubernomics - has empowered authors and changed the dynamics between publishers, authors and readers.
Giles Colborn is an expert in creating beautiful user experiences, which means making things simple and putting the user first. Writing a book, he says, is no different:
'You have to have a number of things very clear in your mind. You have to understand, at a very deep level, what it is you want to say. You have to understand who your audience is, and you have to appreciate the way in which the writing is likely to land with them. The temptation as an author, or as a designer, is to try and pack everything in, to try and say everything you want to say, to try and put every feature you want into the product, and the difficult thing to wrap your head around, very often, is that the book is only half of the story... what really matters is what happens when it lands in somebody's hands, what happens in their head in response to it.'
In this episode, we discuss just how hard simple writing is, and why what you take out is just as important as what stays in.
Julia Pimsleur was angry. The statistics on women's business success - only 4% of venture capital goes to women-run businesses, and only 3% of all women entrepreneurs ever reach $1m in revenue - appalled her and she thought someone should do something about this. It was something of a shock to realise it was going to be her.
I said to my assistant at the time, "I really want to go out and get the word out that there's this problem that needs to be addressed. Can you please research, for me, how I can do more public speaking on this important issue?" He came back looking sheepish and said, "Um, you have to write a book." I was like, "What do you mean you have to write a book?" He said, "Yeah, no one is going to have you come speak if you don't have a book." I was like, "I don't have time to write a book, I'm not writing a book."
The book, Million Dollar Women, is linked to a powerful online business model that has grown out of it almost accidentally:
When you write a book, it's almost like having a baby. You have to then be open to all the life changes that come about with it.
Julia's passion is inspiring, and anyone, particularly any woman, struggling with that common feeling of 'not enough' needs to hear about how Julia overcame this in both her business and her book.
As a psychologist, Tony Crabbe was fascinated by our habitual response to the question, 'How are you?' 'Busy.' Every conversation and every observation of human behaviour seemed to point to a constant sense of overwhelm, and he saw it in his own life too.
'I had this growing gnawing sense that I was failing to be the dad I wanted to be, failing to have the impact in the career I wanted because of this busy-ness. As a good psychologist, I went to do research and I thought "What can I learn from great psychology that will help me on this?"'
What's particularly interesting from an Extraordinary Business Book Club perspective about this book is the way it mixes research evidence, human stories and practical application so effectively.
'I wanted to write a book that took research from really great studies but applied it to something, a user problem that people were really grappling with. I made it practical... academically robust, but at the same time deeply simple and practical.'
If you like me are interested in that tricky balance between academic research, engaging stories and drawing out the 'so what' in your book, this interview is pure gold.
A landmark episode this, with one of my all-time podcasting/writing heroes, Joanna Penn, who started her The Creative Penn podcast before the term was even invented. Her new book The Successful Author Mindset brilliantly demystifies the process of writing, and in this episode she shares how she's overcome her own demons of fear and self-doubt - demons that are shared by every writer, but which feel so uniquely our own.
She gives some great tips for pushing through the resistance, especially the special kind of energy required during the 'saggy middle', which I personally found invaluable, and on finding your 'voice'.
If you're struggling with any aspect of your writing, this is a great episode to pick you up and give you a whole load of practical tools for making things better.
In this week's episode I chat to John Bond, former MD of Press Books at HarperCollins and founder of Whitefox, which provides publishing services to authors and publishers, about how publishing has changed over the last few years, where it's going, and what that means for authors.
'Writers are getting more impatient and more entrepreneurial... they no longer find it acceptable that there's a process that traditionally involved finding a publisher, maybe via an agent, and that a year to 18 months later that book would see the light of day... It's a very exciting time to be producing things and connecting with people that might want to read them.'
This week's guest is Dr Penny Pullan, author of Virtual Leadership: Practical Strategies for Getting the Best Out of Virtual Work and Virtual Teams, and one of the winners of my recent 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge!
Penny describes how she fell first into the world of virtual working and then into writing books about it, and shares some great tips for fellow extroverts who (like me) wilt at the thought of sitting alone in front of a screen for hours.
The Extraordinary Business Book Club is 20 episodes old! To celebrate, this is a 'best bits' compilation, with some of my personal favourite clips from the interviews so far. From structure with Michael Bhaskar and Karen Williams, through the marketing funnel with Bryony Thomas, lean authorpreneurship with Brant Cooper, and metaphor with Michael Neill, to the story of what happened to Natalie Reynold's first draft, which still makes me feel slightly sick.
If you're new to the Club, this is a GREAT place to start.
In this week's episode I'm joined by The Author Maker Ginny Carter, book coach and ghostwriter. We talk about why the 'bestseller' label can be a vanity metric, how to streamline your book and your marketing, and what Ikea furniture can teach us about ghostwriting.
In a world in which we're bombarded with information and have choices available to us every waking moment, curation - 'selecting and arranging to add value' - is just as important as creation. Michael Bhaskar argues that it's essentially a business model: you have a responsibility to your customers, your clients, your readers to select, organise and present material effectively.
He also gives some insights into his own secret weapons as a writer, juggling his books with a full-time job and a new baby: structure, coffee and Google Docs.
Book coach and mentor Karen Williams found writing her first two books easy, but quickly realised that not all her clients felt the same way. So she put together a course to help them, and in the process earned several thousand pounds and wrote another book!
In this interview she shares her 'jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down' approach and offers top tips on planning and writing your book.
Bryony Thomas knew exactly what she was doing when she wrote her bestselling book Watertight Marketing: 'Lots of people write a book and then go, "Now what?" I thought, "What do I want to be? Ah, a book's a good way of getting there."'
What she hadn't expected was the extraordinary community that she created, and the creative ways in which they've used her principles in their businesses. She reveals how she runs her community to maximise engagement and results, not just the businesses following her Watertight Marketing plan but also the consultants licensed to train her method.
As you'd expect from an author committed to revealing to readers how to create watertight marketing funnels, Bryony's own funnel from book to site to client engagement is perfectly executed, and I've learned a lot from simply walking through her process. She also has fascinating insight into how to use case studies for maximum impact, and the inestimable value of the post-it note.
This is a masterclass in embedding a book in a business for maximum impact.
Sometimes you're not just writing a book, you're starting a movement. That's what Malcolm Durham's aiming for with Wealthbeing, a new way of achieving and measuring success for a more balanced life. The book is the centre, but there's a whole raft of online and offline services around it. In the process, he also created a word that he'll be submitting for inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary...
In this episode I speak to Brant Cooper, author of The Lean Entrepreneur - which was a crowd-funded book - and founder of Moves the Needle, about treating your book as a startup. Brant has some awesome practical examples and advice for business writers on identifying market segments and needs, building a community and testing out content and so much more. We also talk about how illustrations and format choices impact how we approach a book, and how authors can use other channels such as video to grow their readership.
When I first put out the call for recommendations for extraordinary business books, Gay Hendricks's The Big Leap was one of the titles that just kept coming up. When I read it I understood what all the fuss was about. The two central concepts - the 'Zone of Genius' and 'upper-limiting problems' - are immediately recognizable to any entrepreneur or business leader, and taken together they become a blueprint for understanding ourselves better and putting an end to self-sabotage.
In this interview - recorded in September 2015 - Gay Hendricks reveals how the book came into being, his writing habits, and his unorthodox approach to structure.
Melissa Hood is one half of The Parent Practice - with partner Elaine Halligan she has just been named one of the top parenting gurus in the UK by The Daily Mail. Her book Real Parenting for Real Kids, published by Practical Inspiration Publishing in April 2016, was described by Carl Honoré as 'a blueprint for building families that allow both parents and children to become their best selves. A wonderful book.'
But it nearly didn't happen. Melissa had been writing this book for more than six years when she started working with me on The Expert Author programme last year: in this interview we discuss how she overcame all the fears and doubts that had been holding her back, and how she assembled a team to support her through the writing and publication of the book that meant so much to her.
The Space Within: Finding your way back home is a very different type of business book. And to be fair, Michael Neill - transformative coach and mentor to CEOs and 'creative spark plug' to celebrities, CEOs and royalty - is no ordinary writer. If you're getting tired of chasing after the next 'how to do', if you're finding that no matter how many books you read or courses you take or videos you consume you're still restless and uncertain, this is probably the book for you. As you read it, you'll probably have the sensation that it's not so much telling you something new as reminding your of something you already knew, but had somehow lost or forgotten.
If you're struggling with ways to express your thinking, this will be a particularly helpful episode. We talk a lot about metaphor and the role of writing in balancing what it is you do without necessarily articulating it: 'putting words to the music', as Michael so beautifully puts it.
I don't have favourite episodes, obviously. But if I did, this would be one.