For Robert Kelsey, writing is an essential business skill in the knowledge economy. And he won't accept excuses. In this conversation he shares his fear-free approach to effective business communication, and his tips for getting started and keeping going.
We also talk about the new landscape of publishing, and the extraordinary resilience of the printed book.
Energising and insightful listening.
'I delighted in writing it. That doesn't mean I found it easy.'
Time management has been seen as an issue for individuals for too long: Helen Beedham argues that the real issue is systemic. The way that organisations manage and value time, she says, is broken. And it's not just a productivity issue, it's hurting our wellbeing and working against inclusion and diversity, too.
Developing that insight into a book was something of a rollercoaster - as her family will attest...
Creative work is to a large extent invisible - which makes it tricky for managers to manage. It also means that we're left with the challenge of making our invisible ideas visible if we're going to do anything with them.
In this fascinating conversation I talk to creativity expert John Howkins about that process, the naming, defining and describing of a new idea, together with his best advice for writers (and his confessions about his own writing process...).
But sometimes, strategic inaction is exactly what the situation demands - and much more productive in the long run than the rush to do something, anything.
In this week's conversation I talk to Jinny Uppal about how she learned this for herself, and about writing, publishing, crowdfunding and curiosity.
In this week's podcast I chat around the virtual campfire to seven members of the Extraordinary Business Book Club - some have just begun their first book, others have written several - about what they've learned so far in their journey as authors.
Practical, thought-provoking and often very funny, these dispatches from the front line are essential reading for anyone considering writing a business book.
These ten tips come partly from my own experience of nearly 30 years as an editor (ahem), but also from the Practical Inspiration Publishing development editors and other editors who responded to my call on social media.
From pitching a great proposal to delivering your manuscript to responding to feedback, here are some practical tips straight from the horse's mouth to help you get the best out of the relationship with your editor, the person who can, if you let them, take your book from good to great.
In this conversation we talk about what that meant in practice for structure and style, and how three authors in three different time zones can collaborate without tears...
'It starts off as me working out what I think, and then it becomes something I'm going to share with other people... The point at which I allow myself to start imagining a reader is really important.'
Writing isn't just a tool for communication, and your book isn't just a product. In this thoughtful and practical conversation, best-selling author Cathy Rentzenbrink reveals how she approaches both life writing and how-to writing, and charts the looping, iterative progress that allows you to develop your ideas from exploration to exposition.
She also shares her own writer's tricks for managing energy and getting unstuck, and explains the importance of avoiding kitchen-sinking...
And if you're thinking that you're not a writer, there's good news for you: your business communication skills may be more transferable than you think.
They told Christian Busch that it would be 'academic suicide' to do a PhD on the science of luck. But it turns out that luck isn't a random force at all: the results may be unpredictable, but the process of becoming luckier is a simple matter of creating more connections and joining the dots more effectively.
In this conversation, he explains more about how to become luckier by adopting a 'serendipity mindset', and also how you can benefit from 'peak-hour writing' to get your own book written.
This just might be your lucky day...
A great way to celebrate a new year and a tricentenary episode: a 'best bits' compilation of wisdom from recent guests talking about one of the most important and rewarding aspects of writing a business book.
Whether you need to focus on building your following or your partnerships, or simply be a bit braver at making new connections, there's inspiration and ideas for you here.
'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.