Posts Tagged ‘thought leadership’

Thought Readership #20: The GOODREADS Challenge

by Liz Alexander on January 21, 2013

GaneshaWhen you get to a certain age you think you’ve seen everything, right? But no, I logged onto LinkedIn recently to find a “Can you recommend me?” request from an “award winning fiction author/top client” I’d never heard of (although I was obviously daft enough to accept a previous request to connect) whose 76-page novel was compiled by a self-publishing services entity called Infinity Publishing. Currently ranking 797,095 on Amazon, her various reviews point to the “terrible” writing, “disjointed” plot and a comment, from someone giving four stars, that “I wish it had been edited a little better.” So where did the “award-winning” part come in? (And, no surprise, I declined her invitation!)

In a world in which anyone can (and does) claim “best selling” or “award winning” status for their book I thought about how, when talking or writing about thought leadership, I remind people that this is a term that’s meant to be bestowed on you by others, not something you get to adopt just because it sounds cool. So in that vein I went searching for last year’s Best Books lists. Who gets on them, anyhow?

After giving up on the undoubtedly worthy but dull-sounding (and long!) lists of nonfiction books I’d never heard of, produced by the likes of Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, and the New Yorker, and stopping briefly by the business-specific books reviewed by strategy +business plus the December 2012 best-sellers offered up by 800-CEO-READ, I decided to wander over to Goodreads to see what had shown up in their Choice Awards nonfiction category for 2012. Why? Because what we want for our books (or, at least, I do) is approbation from a mainstream audience—people who typically read rather than get paid to review. And who do so NOT because of the “I’ll-offer-you-entry-in-a-drawing-for-a-free-iPad-if-you’ll-write-me-a-five-star-review” tactics of some self-published authors that increasingly taints the comments seen on Amazon.com; in genuine appreciation of good quality writing.

The following observations will (hopefully) spark some spirited discussion about what still constitutes successful nonfiction (at least as far as unbiased readers are concerned) in an era when it sometimes feels that we are being drowned in mediocre dross.

Among Goodreads’ Top Ten (books garnering 1,000 votes or more)

–          Despite (I’m assuming) no discrimination against self-published books, ALL of these books were published by major houses—Random House; Little, Brown; Free Press etc. Not a single CreateSpace original among them!

–          All were written by journalists or self-proclaimed professional writers (with a sprinkling of academics).

–          None was the author’s first book and several had appeared on the New York Times’ bestseller list.

Of Goodreads’ Top Three:

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.

Common praise for these three very different books covered many of the themes I’ve discussed in this column over the past year:

–          Quality writing.

–          Well researched, providing not just the author’s experience and opinion but third party “science” or other content.

–          Entertaining, strong on storytelling.

–          Addressing topics that haven’t been done to death already.

–          Interesting conversation starters.

So what’s the point I’m making? Am I suggesting that, if you’re not already an award-winning, professional writer who has nothing else to do but research and write then you should give up the goal of ever crafting a book that could inspire readers to consider it (as one did for Boo’s book) “an impressive achievement”?

Not at all! But that’s where the bar is set, so it behooves those who are supporting the self-publishing revolution to rise to the challenge, not drag standards lower.

How?

  1. Stop thinking of your book as a spare-time project. Get into the mindset of a professional writer. Make regular “appointments” with your book when you do nothing but write it!
  2. Write every day—quality prose, not informal email exchanges, tweets, or stream-of-consciousness blog posts. Writing well comes from writing well a lot.
  3. Leave aside your opinion and personal experience and do some objective research. Who is supporting or rejecting the premise of your book? How can you weave this into your manuscript?
  4. Become a better storyteller. There are no end of books, articles, and blog posts (my favorite site being Copyblogger) on this topic. Take a screenwriting or novel-writing course to learn the rudiments of crafting a powerful, emotionally engaging story.
  5. Do your due diligence before you begin writing your book. There’s a reason why publishing houses (big and small) ask for a competitive analysis when you submit a book proposal: you need to be aware of what’s already been written about your topic (even tangentially connected topics) in order not to simply repeat what’s already out there.
  6. For goodness sake, hire a professional editor to help you craft a quality manuscript before self-publishing. At the very least, one who will help you avoid readers’ comments like: “terrible writing” and “I wish it had been edited a little better.”

Your thoughts?

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Call me fifty shades of confused! Why is it that so many books have numbers in their titles?

This question popped into my head the other day, sparked in part by the response by many independent bookstores to Amazon’s publication of Tim Ferriss’ latest book in his “4-hour” franchise: first workweek, then body, now chef. So I went over to the Amazon site and searched for books listing the numbers one to ten and found Ken Blanchard’s classic One Minute Manager; several “fives” (love languages, dysfunctions of a team; and a whole slew of “sevens” (habits, principles, spiritual laws, myths, steps, pillars, wonders….). Other than some books about the management approach known as “six sigma,” that number doesn’t appear to be hugely popular—or 2, 3, and 9 for that matter. But the trend doesn’t stop with the number ten. What, I wondered, would be the outcome if John Kador’s 301 Best Questions to Ask on Your Interview got together with Vicky Oliver’s 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions?

Author Vicky Oliver has established quite a “numbers” trend with her books over the years, moving up from 201 smart ways to handle tough people to 301 smart answers to give during interviews, and now 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions (by Skyhorse Publishing, who more recently published a book of hers with an even bigger number, “millionaire”).

Having had cause to read a number of business etiquette books recently, I agree with what’s alluded to on the back cover of Tough Business Etiquette Questions: Most of them are as topical and fun as a Victorian tea party! What Oliver has going for her is a witty take on 21st century etiquette concerning topics such as “Casual Friday,” handshaking when abroad, and who gets mentioned first when introducing your ex-boss to your current boss. She’s right, they probably don’t teach this stuff in business school (any school, come to that) and more’s the pity!

There’s not just wit but wisdom too within the book’s 370 pages (and Skyhorse has done such a great job of the layout, it’s a very easy and accessible read…the kind of book you can dip in and out of as circumstances crop up). I especially liked what Oliver wrote about that annoying habit of some folks to respond in a different medium every time, as in “You leave your client a voicemail message. He replies with an email. You email him back. He responds with a text message. You text him back. He sends you an IM. The two of you have had six communications yet still can’t find the time to meet in person. What’s going on?” As Oliver rightly points out, “Your relationship is strong” (otherwise you would have gotten zero response!), “but your closure skills are wobbly.” Perhaps it’s time to break the project down into parts that can be dealt with electronically, given that a face-to-face meeting looks unlikely any time soon, Oliver suggests.

But back to my original question. Why are we (authors and readers) so enamored with having books with numbers in the title? What is it about the “ten rules for…” format that nine out of ten blog posts and a significant number of magazine and newspapers articles offer these days? Is it, as Jillian Steinhauer bemoaned in a recent article, that “We risk becoming masters of our own triviality,” because of this seeming obsession with lists? Then again, maybe having “42 Rules for Your New Leadership Role” makes a honking big responsibility feel more under your control and less chaotic. And knowing you can become a 10-Minute Virtuoso for the instrument you have always longed to play, feels more manageable and accessible.

There’s the potential for an interesting debate here, but it’s one I don’t have the time or space to address. Suffice it to say, in the spirit of offering you—as an aspiring nonfiction author—pointers to making the book development process as clear and successful as possible, the “numbering” format is a very useful one. From what I continue to see when consulting with writers who are attempting to write their first book, it’s organization that scuppers them every time. Their material tends to be all over the map, with no discernible route for readers to easily follow and understand.

So, even if it ends up not being the way your book is finally structured, it’s always useful to come up with a list of core principles, steps, habits—or whatever is most appropriate—when brainstorming the content for your nonfiction book, and use those to organize your chapters. After all, it worked very well for Stephen Covey, Deepak Chopra, and Napoleon Hill. And given all those book awards, it looks like it has too for Vicky Oliver!

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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A while back I was playing “dueling authors” with a guy who claimed to have written 16 books (meaning he won the game!) and said he had two that he wanted to give me as gifts. Initially embarrassed that I couldn’t return the favor, I was stunned to receive a couple of – well, let’s be kind and call them “pamphlets.” This is the same term The New Republic used recently to describe the TED Book Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization, which at least has 77 pages. The ones I was given were closer to 30!

It’s hard to know what constitutes a “book” these days, given that folks like my friend believe anything over a couple of dozen pages fits the description. And I guess it’s wise not to be too snobbish about this issue, since many famous works of fiction have been short and sweet, such as Samuel Johnson’s Rasselus, Prince of Abyssinia (97 pages) or Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (96 pages). In the realm of nonfiction, Deepak Chopra captured The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success in a mere 117 pages. And one of my favorite nonfiction books, Patricia Ryan Madson’s Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up, runs to just 159.

I had cause to think about quantity, not just quality, after completing my latest book #THOUGHT LEADERSHIP tweet: 140 Prompts For Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign with co-author Craig Badings. We ended up with the same page count at Madson’s book (159 pages) for a word count of approximately 7,500 words. Which would take the average person, what – less than an hour to read?

Except that this isn’t a book that’s meant to be read cover to cover in a single sitting. And here’s where the issue of how long a book needs to be needs to take into account how the book is to be used, as well as what content it contains.

What we did with this book was to compile all the questions that aspiring thought leaders should ask themselves before embarking on a thought leadership campaign. Within the seven sections (each containing a short introduction followed by a series of relevant tweet-sized prompts then a couple of pages of examples under the heading ‘Putting Into Practice’), we provoke readers to consider: What it means to be a “thought leader”; What impact they want their campaign to achieve; How to measure its effectiveness; How best to discover their thought leadership point of view…and much more. We then close the book with a short Blueprint to guide readers’ actions and provide additional case studies and examples.

Would this have been a better book if we’d rambled on for page after page giving extensive details about each of these issues? We didn’t think so. In fact, to come up with the right questions to ask in 140 characters or less takes a lot of thought and relentless editing. In this case, less is definitely more – but it’s not necessarily easier!

As former President Woodrow Wilson is reputed to have told a cabinet member who asked him how long he took to prepare a speech: “It depends. If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”

When new writers ask me how long their books should be, my answer is always: As long as it needs to be and no more, which I accept isn’t all that helpful until you actually knuckle down and start to write. (Yet it’s amazing to me how many aspiring authors want to know exactly how many words they’ve got to write, as if this were the sole measure of a good book.)

Having experienced writing #THOUGHT LEADERSHIP tweet, I would add a further caveat: Think about how you want the reader to use your book. Is it to be read by a single individual, cover to cover? Will it be of most value if they dip in and out as the need requires? Or, as in the case of our book, is it meant to provoke conversations among a team of people tasked with implementing a specific initiative? In our case, Craig and I considered the comprehensive yet concise nature of our material – not least the highly focused questions – to be what offers the greatest value for readers, not all the fluff we could have wrapped around them.

What are your thoughts about shorter books? Do you think books are often longer than they need to be? To what extent might this be due to the pressure authors and publishers feel to create books that appear (at least in terms of the quantity of paper they use up) worth their cover price? Please contribute your comments below.

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Consider how many things we’re familiar with that come in “threes”:

Tenors. Magi. Bears.

Fates. Virtues. Graces.

Snap. Crackle. Pop.

There is something magical about the number three, which permeates writing just as much as anything else. This is perhaps why we have three-act plays; a beginning, middle, and end for stories; and sayings that come in three parts – from Julius Caesar’s “Veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered)” to Thomas Jefferson’s “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Next time you review your favorite nonfiction books, look to see how many of them are written with three sections. Examples from my own library include: Daniel Pink’s Drive; Blue Ocean Strategy by INSEAD professors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne; neuroscientist Andrew Newberg’s How God Changes Your Brain; Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port; and Alan Weiss’ mega-bestseller Million Dollar Consulting.

For serial entrepreneur, Trevor Blake, the decision to structure his book this way is immediately apparent from the title: Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life (BenBella Books, Inc., 2012). Part One: Escaping the Quicksand offers three chapters (there it is again!) on how to “reclaim your mentality” by focusing your thoughts more on what you want than what you are against. Part Two: Staying Out of the Quicksand – again, three chapters – offers one simple yet timeless and universally applied (at least by extremely successful folks like Henry Ford and George Washington Carver) technique for creating more winning ideas. And Part Three: Beyond the Quicksand articulates how to transform those ideas into achievements.

Written in the style of many of the truly great “self-help” authors of the early 20th century, Blake’s book is as much a memoir as anything – one you would advised to put on your reading list above books written by people whose only claim to fame and source of wealth has come from writing – well, self-help books. Contrast that with Blake who, like so many successful entrepreneurs, came from nothing to create businesses that were eventually sold for hundreds of millions of dollars. As the back cover blurb by Drew A. Graham, managing partner of Ballast Point Ventures states: “Finally, a book about how to succeed by an author who has actually achieved something before writing about it!” Not only that, I found Three Simple Steps to be a compelling read.

But back to the theme of this post: how to structure your nonfiction book. Oftentimes the biggest issue I see with manuscripts has to do with the way the author has organized their material – or, rather, not. Typically these books read like streams of consciousness with no discernible structure.

If you know what you want to write about but have no earthly idea how to set it out in a book, consider what I describe to my clients as The Power of Three. Of course, it’s easy if – like Trevor Blake – you have a three-part process to describe. But what if you don’t? Let’s go back to some of the other examples I gave earlier.

Take Blue Ocean Strategy. Part one outlines the philosophy and explains what it means to create a “blue ocean”; part two clarifies the strategy behind the concept; and part three explains how to execute it. Alan Weiss’s Million Dollar Consulting, on the other hand, begins by identifying what you need to do to prepare to be a million dollar consultant, then goes on to the tactics you would need to employ, and dedicates the final part of the book to ways to grow into the role.

One final example: Daniel Pink’s Drive first considers why we need to look at motivation in a different light; secondly he looks at what are the three elements of “Type 1” motivation; and thirdly shows you how to implement what you learn in his book.

So, even if you don’t find yourself with a neat “three-act play” as Trevor Blake did with Three Simple Steps, you can still find a way to make this structure work for your book. Part one might offer the philosophy behind your concept, why it’s important, or some foundational issues for the reader to consider. Part two could lay out the strategies for success and what planning needs to be put in place to use the book’s material successfully. Part three would then offer “how tos” or tactics to employ to help the reader successfully implement that learning for themselves.

What favorite book of yours is structured this way? Please let me know in the comments below. And for more about this topic, I invite you to go to Episode 6 of my audio series.

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Innovation. Barely a day goes by without some piece of content related to that topic dropping into my e-mailbox. Are you finding that?

And what about the 385 billion links that Google provides for the search term “innovation”? Or the fact that Amazon lists over 52,000 books on the topic (without getting into sub-categories and associated terms such as “creativity”)?

Sounds like innovation has been well and truly covered, doesn’t it? So why would anyone in their right mind write another book about it – aside from the fact that “the ability to innovate” remains a top concern and priority for CEOs?

Well, let’s employ one of the tactics commonly used by innovative individuals. Let’s ask a different question. Imagine that like Scott D. Anthony, author of The Little Black Book of Innovation: How it works; How to do it (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012), you’ve “been focusing exclusively on innovation for more than a decade.” How might you resolve the dilemma of writing on a topic that’s already swollen with content? You would ask yourself: How much of what’s currently available truly serves readers’ needs?

When Anthony reviewed what was already out there he came to the conclusion that, “Academics and leading practitioners have generated a huge amount of insight – but it’s not readily accessible. In addition, there isn’t a lot of practical information about innovation.”

Hence his Little Black Book  — an odd title choice given an association with the likes of Hugh Hefner and Tatler’s annually produced “shallow compilation of the 100 ‘most eligible’ below-thirty-somethings in London.” But I digress!

One of the most valuable services that have emerged in the era of information overload is “content curation.” Consider, for example, that every 60 seconds there are over 1,500 new blog posts available, more than 168 billion emails sent, and goodness knows how many presentations made. And if you’re an executive, entrepreneur, project manager, or consultant and want to know how to boost the innovative capacity of yourself or your team – well, you have over 52,000 books to choose from.

Who on earth has the time (or energy) to wade through all of that material to find which nuggets can actually help you be innovative?

Enter Anthony who (as many delighted Amazon reviewers attest) has distilled all of that otherwise confusing, conflicting, or unintelligible “wisdom” into a single book that is accessible, practical, and immediately implementable. And it’s an approach that can be “stolen” by any of you looking to write a book, whose core expertise lies in a similarly over-written area.

Instead of trying to figure out what you can say that’s new, think instead of how you can curate information that readers can use. Why not produce a “primer” that makes your topic understandable and shows people what they can do with that material to achieve their goals? Anthony does this by including, in Part Two of his book, “The 28-Day Innovation Program” offering four weekly sets of daily questions to ask, one-sentence answers to those questions, as well as how-to action points. There’s plenty of meat in the book too, including my favorite way of sharing information: stories.

How do you craft the kind of book that is truly useful in an over-populated arena where, in Anthony’s case, you’re competing with luminaries including Jim Collins and Clayton Christensen? Start with the end in mind, as the late Dr. Steven Covey outlined. What would you need to do for future reviewers to say, “If you read only one book on X, it has to be this one”?

Here are three suggestions:

  1. Make it simple: Distill what readers need to know – and no more.
  2. Make it practical: Give them a roadmap to follow.
  3. Make it readable: Write in a conversational style (as opposed to how some Amazon reviewers described Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business (HarperBusiness, 2011): “The book reads like a Ph.D. thesis written by a lobotomized 3rd grader” and “This book was as compelling to read as a college quantitative analysis text.”)

What business book have you read recently that offers all three of these must-haves? Share them by commenting below.

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Have you ever attended a writing workshop were one of the participants doesn’t want to publicly share their book idea because it’s so good someone is likely to steal it? Yeah, right!

As avid readers of Acknowledgments pages know, (take a look – they’re incredibly instructive), professionals never think that way. Well-known novelists will tap the resources of numerous experts to research their plots; leading non-fiction authors discuss, share, and ask for feedback on their ideas before they begin to write.

It appears to be the mark of the amateur writer to fear “giving away the store.”   Which is probably why so many of them are incredibly stingy with the insights they’re prepared to give in their books. This seems to be especially true of consultants, who fear that if they put all their knowledge into a book no one will need to hire them!

If that thought has concerned you in the past, I highly recommend Gihan Perera’s excellent Fast, Flat, and Free: How the Internet Has Changed Your Business (First Step Publishing, 2011).

What Perera has produced is that rare find: a high quality, self-published book whose content is vastly more valuable than the cover price. Indeed, what stood out for me as I read the book was how generous Perera has been with his material.

How many business books have you read where you get to the end only to wonder, “How the heck do I put any of this into practice?” Particularly frustrating are those books that give high-level advice without any examples or a means of embedding true understanding (rather than just knowledge).

When I work with clients I always want to ensure that they’ve covered the “4 Es” – preferably within every chapter. By which I mean:

  • Give a clear Explanation of what you’re talking about.
  • Offer reputable Evidence (from other books, scientific papers, respected articles etc) to back up your claims.
  • Provide relevant Examples so readers can see how others have applied the advice you’re offering.
  • Follow this up with ways that readers can achieve Empowerment, by suggesting practical exercises: things they can think about and do.

It’s rare to find a book that embraces all four of these reader “must-haves” – and even rarer in a book that’s self-published – which is why, hands down, Perara’s book is so outstanding in its accessibility and usefulness.

Here are just two examples of what this author did that any subject matter expert worth their salt should be able and willing to do:

  • In the Introduction Perera identifies one of the biggest challenges for small businesses today: how to compete with the “big boys.” He relates the issues faced by owners of small wineries in the region of Western Australia close to his home town of Perth, then outlines 18 specific on-line marketing and positioning actions that these wineries could take (two for each of the nine strategies highlighted in the rest of the book) – which could be adapted by any reader.
  • In the section cleverly headed Familiarity Breeds Content, Perera mentions a prospective client who wanted to position herself as an expert in selling Belgian chocolates. He reminded her that she should think instead of becoming an expert in solving her customers’ problems and goes on to mention three concrete ways in which she – and other readers – could do exactly that. (Unfortunately the silly woman decided she just wanted to be an expert on Belgian chocolates!).

There’s a valid complaint about this book in one of many testimonials on Perera’s website, and it’s one I agree with: this isn’t a “dip in, dip out” book. It’s a book that compels you to sit down, pen in hand and take copious notes. It’s choc-full of amazing advice – the kind, I imagine, that Gihan the Consultant offers to his clients for large sums of money.

Why isn’t he concerned about “giving away the store” as so many author-consultants do? Because once you’ve read his book you’d hire him in a heartbeat!

In this Fast, Flat and Free world we now live in there are – as Perera points out – so many “passionate amateurs” who will share their expertise with you for nothing. They’re all over the place, including online bookstores, where you can often get suckered into buying their ill-conceived, poorly written works full of superficial thinking.

Authors like Gihan Perera (and you, if you follow his example) have nothing to worry about in the era of Fast, Flat and Free…because they deliver those rare, superior experiences that savvy business people will always pay for!

Note: For an interview with Gihan Perera and some of the other authors featured in the Thought Readership series, please visit my AG page.

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Think back to your days in college or high school. You’re sitting in a lecture hall or classroom. The speaker is droning on and on using confusing vocabulary. Your mind drifts. You know you should be paying attention but you can’t.

Remember what that was like?

Then hold that experience in mind next time you write. Especially when you sit down to write a book. Because you can’t mandate that your readers will, like dutiful students, force their way through to the end like they had to in those interminably dull college lectures. They’ll shut your book and be done with it.

How do you avoid what I call “textbook creep” – the tendency of new authors, especially, to write incredibly worthy but dull prose?

For a start, you could study a book like Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization (Pearson Education Inc., 2011).

A quick bit of “back story,” first. This was not a book I had intended to review. I bought it only because I was developing a program that covered the metrics of strategic communications and thought it would be especially interesting to my participants to learn about how to measure social media effectiveness.

Thinking that this was going to be a painful but necessary exercise on my part, I dove in to the book – and was pleasantly surprised.

What does author Olivier Blanchard do that so many folks, writing these kinds of instructive books, don’t? Three things.

Before I tell you what they are, however, look at these examples from Chapter One:

“Building a social media program for an organization is hard. I won’t try to convince you otherwise.”

“What do people do on social media all day?… At its core, what people do on the social web is communicate and interact.”

“Now that we have touched upon what a social media program is, let’s discuss what a social media program does.

In the first example, I feel like Blanchard is talking to me — human being to human being. Not expert to novice or lecturer to student. That endeared me to him straight away (remember Know, Like, and Trust from Thought Readership #2?).

A line like “I won’t try to convince you otherwise,” is very conversational. When you read that you already get a sense of Blanchard as a down-to-earth guy who isn’t going to try and pull the wool over your eyes.

In the second example, the author anticipates the kind of questions that his readers will be asking as they read the book. I mean, what do people do on social media all day, for crying out loud? Again, this is a conversational sentence that also conveys that Blanchard is having a two-way dialog with his readers, not offering a soliloquy.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why I chose the word “soliloquy” and not “monologue,” it’s because a monologue is where one person dominates or monopolizes the conversation, and a soliloquy is where they are talking solely to themselves.

Neither are good ways to write a compelling book. Never forget that there is a person reading your words that might not agree with you or have questions of their own. If you can anticipate and address these, as Blanchard does skillfully throughout Social Media ROI, then you’ll score major Brownie points with them.

Thirdly, like all good presenters of information, Blanchard throws in lines that move us deftly from one set of information to the next. Again, that third example above is very conversational and natural – the kind of thing you would say if the person you are writing for were sitting down with you.

So how do you develop a more conversational tone in your writing, if this is something that doesn’t come naturally? One tip that was useful to a client of mine – let’s call her Brenda – was to speak and record.

It was the oddest thing. When I’d ask Brenda a question about her subject matter expertise during our sessions, she was incredibly articulate and natural. But ask her to write something by herself and it was a whole other ball game. Her prose was stiff, full of jargon, and read like it was coming from a textbook.

What we ended up doing most of the time was for me to ask her questions that I believed her readers would want answered and to record her responses. Now that Brenda is working on her second book, she’s doing this for herself.   

Even if you’re not planning to write a book, bear in mind how tortuous it is when “experts” start pontificating about their material, almost forgetting that there is a human being on the other side of the interaction. You don’t want your book (or any business communication) to have the same reputation as the Medicare legislation – over-written gobbledegook – do you?

Make sure your book is as “user-friendly” as Olivier Blanchard’s Social Media ROI. Otherwise, guess what? You’re likely to find you don’t have any users!

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Thought Readership #2: Er, Who Did You Say You Were?

by Liz Alexander on February 20, 2012

We all know the three pillars of marketing, right? Know, Like, and Trust. Then why do so many non-fiction authors, many of whom intend to use their books as marketing tools, ignore this when they write? They dive straight into their material as if that’s enough for us to trust what they have to say.

Sorry, but it isn’t.

Perhaps such authors think that back cover blurbs or page upon page of “praise” from third parties will do the trick. But that’s like asking me to do business with someone because they’ve come highly recommended, without being able to discover for myself whether we’re a good fit.

Superior nonfiction authors never segregate themselves from their topic.

Mike Figliuolo accomplishes this skillfully in One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach To Powerful, Personal Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2011). This book takes you through a series of provocative questions from which you can express your leadership philosophy – not in a document the size of War and Peace – but on a single sheet of 8.5- x 11-inch paper. And in a way that not only makes that philosophy unique and easy to remember but ensures it more effectively engages your audience.

The “leadership maxims method” that Figliuolo shares was something he says he “stumbled upon” after graduating from West Point and serving in the US Army as a combat arms officer.

To establish his leadership without resorting to meaningless jargon that inspires nothing in no-one, Figliuolo learned to communicate two clear expectations to his soldiers: work hard; be honest. He further developed his approach as a rookie consultant with McKinsey and Co., before launching his own professional services firm specializing in leadership.

It didn’t take me long (by page 10, actually), to get a clear sense of who this author is (know) and to admire his openness and honesty (like). Certainly, the clarity and confidence of his writing style helped engender a sense of trust, but also the way he shared his own development story.

The author could have limited referencing his military career to the dust jacket and simply focused on telling me about his extensive consulting experience. That wouldn’t have been anywhere near as interesting or engaging. To successfully differentiate yourself as an author these days, when so many coaches and consultants are publishing books, it helps to have something to share that goes beyond bog-standard professional knowledge.

For example, in Chapter 6 of One Piece of Paper, Figliuolo explains that one of his maxims (and to get a full appreciation of their power either read the book or someone’s review) is “What would Nana say?” (Nana was his grandmother). He relates the story of how, as a young platoon leader, he discovered his unit had “lost” a tank tool that would have cost $2,600 to replace. But this isn’t the usual whitewashed story; Figliuolo reveals that he didn’t follow Nana’s example of integrity but opted instead “to reinforce a culture in which barter and white-lie extortion were acceptable behaviors.”

It’s that kind of human frailty, and admissions of such, that endear us to others because we recognize the same tendencies in ourselves. That’s what makes the method Figliuolo shares so authentic and motivational.

Know. Like. Trust. That model works for marketing products so why not use it to better engage with your readers? After all, if I don’t know who you are, I can’t determine if I like you or not. When I do, I’m of a mind to forgive authors a heck of a lot more than if they never bothered to introduce themselves at all.

Coming Next on Thought Readership: What’s wrong with “chocolate fireguard” books — and what to do instead.

Stay tuned.

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Social Media and Tribes #7: Is Twitter doomed to fail?

by Deepika Bajaj on July 28, 2010

More and more, I am observing that people are denouncing Twitter and there is an emerging war between the “For” and “Against” parties. Most recently, retired basketball star Sir Charles (Barkley), on a CNBC replay said that, “people who use Twitter are idiots”. Well! it is these statements that categorize people into “those who have a life” and “those who don’t have a life”.

I am not here to say what is “Right” and what is “Wrong”. I am here to illustrate what Twitter can provide if leveraged strategically.

  • Using Twitter is about reciprocation. You need to promote other people who work at companies you’re targeting and business leaders you respect.  If you are looking for a job, the best way is to help people in companies that you are interested in. This is possible by sending a email newsletter to your network, a Re-Tweet along with a link to their website. This will eventually have a better reciprocation if you ask them help with your initiative.
  • Using Twitter is about connection. Never before people had the capability to connect with celebrities but now twitter has some profiles like Ashton Kutcher and Oprah where people sense a direct connection with the individual they trust. Even if you have these connections, they build into relationships overtime. Helping someone increase their circle of influence is a gift you can give by simply tweeting about their link.  Also you can connect others on Twitter by simply making an introduction in less than 140 characters. “Relationships are like muscles—the more you work them, the stronger they become,” says Keith Ferrazzi, author of New York Times best-seller Who’s Got Your Back.
  • Using Twitter is about sharing. If you found something insightful, you can broadcast it quickly to your network. You will be surprised at the #FF what you will get if people find you are someone who has something valuable to share. This is a way where others give you a gift by recommending you to their followers and recognizing your thought leadership.

My 2 cents: Start today by contacting at least one individual you’ve never dealt with and asking that person if she or he needs help. The response you get will surprise you… and please let me know how may I help (@invincibelle, @99tribes).

DD-new-pic-headshot Contributed by Deepika Bajaj, President and Founder, Invincibelle, LLC and co-founder, ActiveGarage (the company behind 99tribes). Deepika is also the author of the book DiversityTweet: Embracing the growing diversity in our world and Pink and Grow Rich:11 Unreasonable Rules for Success You can follow Deepika on Twitter at invincibelle
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