'If you want to be a good designer, you don't really bring an ego to the work, you listen to what people say and you try and design the most customer-centric thing that you can and I've tried my best to bring that mentality to writing. A book ultimately is a product.'
Matt Watkinson's first book, The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences, won the CMI Management Book of the Year award, so it's clear this approach is working well for him.
In this interview he explains how he set about writing his new book The Grid: The Decision‑Making Tool for Every Business (Including Yours). When he was asked at a conference what his second book would be, Matt answered "Oh it's a single model that's going to explain all the factors that make a business succeed or fail and it'll fit on a single page." The entire audience burst into hysterical laughter, but he was quite serious.
This is a superb example of how a distinctive model can underpin a book, and also a generous, entertaining interview.
You'll also hear the suppressed squeal in my voice as I announce some big news of my own...
While publishing's been going through massive disruption over recent years, journalism has had its own problems. Ironically, in a world that runs on content, it's harder than ever to be a professional journalist.
'It's not that people aren't reading newspapers. It's just that they're not paying to read them anymore, so everybody wants content, but nobody is prepared to pay for it.'
So to succeed in journalism today, or indeed in any type of content creation, it's not enough simply to write well: you have to develop an entrepreneurial capability, and part of that is developing and marketing your personal brand.
In this week's episode I talk about these changes with Sara Kelly, associate professor and chair of the Department of Journalism, Film and Entertainment Arts at the School of Professional Studies, the National University in San Diego, a former newspaper editor who's also written two books, The Entrepreneurial Journalist's Toolkit and Personal Branding for Entrepreneurial Journalists and Creative Professionals.
'One of the drawbacks of working in the traditional publishing world is that they're very, very big on the idea that you need to go out and sell books. I've always thought of a book as something that should go out and sell the author, so the reason I write books is to get a message out there to connect with a lot of people. For me, it's more important that the book is out there doing its job, as opposed to just simply trying to sell the book. The book, for us, fits within a broader context of a bigger business.'
For Daniel Priestley, author of bestsellers such as Key Person of Influence, The Entrepreneur Revolution and Oversubscribed, a book is the ultimate business development tool. It costs a fraction of a business development manager, it never gets tired or leaves to join the competition, and it never goes off sick or off-message. His own books sit at the heart of his businesses, and in this episode he reveals the strategies he's used to integrate the two so successfully, and goes under the hood to share how he developed and wrote his new book, 24 Assets.
This is one to listen to again and again.
'Creative writing, creative publishing, creative living'
That's Orna Ross's byline, and it sums up her empowered approach to life as an independent author. Having 'won the literary lottery' and secured a deal with a major publisher, she didn't expect to get involved in self-publishing. But when she became frustrated with the way things were going, she decided to experiment with self-publishing.
'I loved self-publishing from the start. I love creative freedom, and the control that you get. Yes, there is responsibility that goes with that. Yes, it is not for those who don't like good, hard work, but if you do like good, hard work, and if you have a clear vision of who you are as an author, then I think it really is the most creative possible way you can publish.'
And from her own experience, and wanting to create a community to support others on the same journey, she founded ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors.
In this interview she talks about her experiences with both traditional and self-publishing, the power of writing for personal development, and the need to embrace the commercial along with the creative.
Oh, and yoga.
Pure gold from the last nine episodes of The Extraordinary Business Book Club - insights, ideas and inspiration from some of the world's leading writers and some who've just begun the journey. Hear from:
It's an extraordinarily broad and deep compilation from an extraordinary group of people. As you've come to expect.
John Hall practically invented content marketing. As CEO of Influence & Co he has helped companies of all sizes, from startup to Fortune 50, become 'top of mind' with their customers by establishing trust through useful, engaging content.
In this episode we discuss what it means to have a content strategy, and how a book fits with that. He also explains the thinking behind his substantial appendix and his offer to connect directly with readers, and gives his tips on writing a book for anyone still struggling with making it happen.
Louise Wiles took part in the very first 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge. As the deadline approached to submit the completed proposal for a chance to win a publishing deal, she hesitated.
"I haven't sent it in. Am I going to send it in? Oh, I'm not sure."
In the end, encouraged by her husband, she submitted it. Which is lucky, as it turned out to be one of the winners.
In this week's episode, Louise describes how she and her business partner and coauthor Evelyn Simpson set up Thriving Abroad without ever having met in person, how she overcame the resistance and fear of putting the book out into the world at every stage, from initial proposal to just three weeks before publication, and what she'd do differently next time round.
If you're struggling with self-doubt and resistance as you write your book, this is for you.
'Computers and the networks that we connect to them, they're the nervous system of the 21st century.'
And yet Cory Doctorow argues passionately that right now, the way we legislate the internet isn't serving the creators, or even the consumers.
If you care more about people seeing and using your content than you do about restrictive copyright law, there are alternatives. Cory released several of his own books under Creative Commons licences, and in this inerview he explains why, and why it matters.
He also gives us an insight into his own prolific writing practice, with some practical tips for getting a writing habit established and sustaining it.
This man is a hero of the internet - author, blogger, campaigner, visionary - and this is a powerful analysis of what's wrong with the creative ecosystem and what we can do about it.
What does 'Carpe Diem' mean to you? In his fascinating new book, Roman Krznaric reveals how the meaning of this famous phrase has changed over time, and how it's been pressed into service as a rallying cry for both hard work and hedonism, mindfulness and political activism.
He also talks about crowdfunding - he rejected a traditional publishing deal to publish this book through Unbound - footnotes, developing new ways to share ideas online, and creating a movement rather than just publishing a book.
'I've always wanted my books to turn into art projects and social movements... My advice is to write your business book about something that you care about, that you're passionate about, that you consider is important. Do it in such a way that anyone can understand it and work with it and make it practical, but don't necessarily try and make it fit too much into being relevant to a particular industry, or for a particular product.'
I defy anyone to listen to this interview and not be inspired.
'I wanted to write a book about how magical people are, as opposed to machines. How enormously efficient we are at understanding things, particularly each other, in a way that no machine will ever come close to doing.'
Through his work with ReD Associates, Christian Madsbjerg helps companies make better decisions by better understanding what is meaningful to their customers. In a world of Big Data and machine intelligence, he argues, it's vital to remember the extraordinary power of human intelligence: the humanities, he argues, are the best starting point for business thinking.
He also offers a refreshing take on writing a book, as something which can and should create controversy, provoke a reaction, and acknowledges just how hard it is:
'I find writing delightful sometimes, but most of the times I just find it quite tough.'
A thought-provoking and insightful discussion that reminded me, at least, of what really matters in life.
Kogan Page is one of the world's leading business book publishers and one of the last big independents. The company has just celebrated its 50th birthday, and in this episode I talk to MD Helen Kogan - daughter of founder Philip - about what it means to be independent, what commissioning editors look for in a proposal, and some hands-on, down-and-dirty tips for writing a business book that sells.
This is a fascinating glimpse into the workings of one of the truly great publishing houses, and to hear from the very top what they look for in the authors and books they take on.
'How can I write books that people will read all the way to the end, they can open at any page and find something interesting or useful or inspiring or actionable, and they'll come back to again?'
And with that question, Bernadette Jiwa - author of Difference: The one-page method for reimagining your business and reinventing your marketing, Marketing: A Love Story and most recently Hunch: Turn Your Everyday Insights Into the Next Big Thing - nails the question for any business book author.
Discover how she goes about answering it, and particularly how she uses the principles of storytelling and the backstory to write such compelling, generous books, in this fascinating interview.
I first met Glenda Shawley in January 2016 when she came along to my 'The Year of the Book' workshop, in which writing productivity guru Bec Evans and I helped a small group of entrepreneurs get clear on the book they wanted to write and plan how they were going to achieve it.
By Christmas of that year, she was holding in her hand advance copies of Founded After 40: How to start a business when you haven't got time to waste, the first of the books to come out of that session (another one was self-published earlier this year, and I'm publishing another two shortly).
In this episode, Glenda reveals how she did it, with lots of practical tips for linking the book with the business and building a community around it, and reflects on what the impact has been for her, personally and professionally. It's a masterclass in how to Get Stuff Done and create an experience that not only helps but delights the reader.
If you ever find yourself thinking, 'Well, of course it's easy for THEM...' as you listen to illustrious best-selling author celebrities on this show and others, this will be a refreshing and challenging insight into how a small business owner without a big existing platform got on and did the work, and is reaping the benefits.
You've heard the mantra: 'Focus!' You know you need to niche. You understand that multi-tasking is inefficient, and you curse yourself every time your attention wanders from the one thing you know you should be working on. You're trying to put in place systems and processes to optimise how you work, and when things go wrong it feels like the universe is conspiring against you.
The good news is that it's not that simple. Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist and author of Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World, argues that a tidy mind is unlikely to be a creative mind, and it's when things go wrong that we're likely to step fully into our genius.
This is heartening stuff for me, at least, and a great insight to have in your back pocket next time someone criticises the state of your desk...
Tim also reveals how moving between different modes of communication - from writing a book to writing articles to speaking to presenting on Radio 4 - helps him clarify his own thinking, and he has some brilliantly practical advice for anyone writing their first business book.
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:
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.
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.
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.
'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.
This 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.
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.