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.
'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.'
'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.
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.
'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.
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:
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.
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...
'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.
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.
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).
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.
'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.
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.
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.
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."
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:
Think of it as an early Christmas present. You're welcome.
You 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.
I'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.
Robin 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.
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.
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.