Tag Archives: Writing

How to get a non-fiction book published: Q1

I’m currently working on my third book – “Brilliant Online Marketing” to be published by Pearson in late 2010. After my first two came out last year – “How to Grow Your Business for Entrepreneurs” and “365 Ways to Cut Costs” – quite a few people asked me how I’d gone about doing it.

It was in fact much more straightforward than I’d ever imagined, and I’d encourage others to give it a go. Don’t expect glamorous launch parties, international book tours, and six figure royalty cheques. You’ll be lucky if you get any royalty cheques. But I wasn’t after all that. I’m happy just to write about topics that interest me. And no royalty cheque would have given me such a rush as seeing my book on a bestsellers shelf in Waterstones Piccadily did. (OK – don’t tell my publisher that last bit. Royalty cheques would still be nice!)

So, here, for anyone who fancies having a go at getting themselves their very own ISBN number, I’m going to answer some of the questions I’ve been asked. I’ll post as many times as I can over the next couple of weeks, answering a question at a time. Feel free to drop me a line with any questions you’d like me to answer.

Q: How did you decide what to write about?

They say that everyone has a book in them, and I think that’s true. You might be an expert on cycle routes in Surrey, the emerging iPhone apps market, or the life and music of Erick Morrillo. Whatever it is, you need to ask yourself three questions:

One, do you know enough about it? I’d spent ten years interviewing entrepreneurs, seeing what marked out the ones who grew their businesses from those who didn’t, and prior to that I’d been Client Services Director at a small business where I’d personally faced many of the issues I wrote about in my first book. For the second book I took a different approach. I’ve never run a charity, but I know a lot of people who have, so I invested a lot of time into the research phase. Either way – through experience or research – you need to know enough to be a credible expert.

Two, are you interested in it? This isn’t just a passing interest but an in-depth enthusiasm that will sustain you over several months as you struggle to put together tens of thousands of compelling words. I could spend quite a long time talking to someone about cycle paths in Surrey, iPhone apps and Erick Morillo, but I’d never be interested enough to write 50,000 words about any of them. I am though genuinely interested in how to grow businesses. Make sure you care enough about the topic you choose.

Three, will people want to read about this? If you really, really care about a subject so much that you just want to write a book regardless of whether or not a single person reads it there’s nothing to stop you. You can even get it published if you have a few thousand pounds spare. It’s called vanity publishing, and there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with it. However, if you want to write a book that’s going to make you money you need to be sure it’s on a topic other people find interesting. There are thousands of entrepreneurs who want to grow thier businesses. There are thousands of charity managers who want to cut costs. I knew I had a market. What is the market for your book?

Tomorrow I’ll answer the question: Do you need an agent?

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Five tips for improving your writing: 5

TIP 5: Be as specific and vivid with your language as you can

Avoid the bland, me-too management-speak that characterises so much business writing these days. Avoid cliches like the flu. Pick your words carefully so that they produce maximum impact, and so your message stands out, bold, bright and clear.

So, to summarise, my five tips are:

1) Use short sentences

2) Always use the simplest, clearest and most direct word available.

3) Cut out unnecessary words

4) Cut the jargon

5) Be as specific and vivid with your language as you can

By going back over your writing and editing it for each of these five improvements you will, without fail, produce better copy. I hope this series of tips have been useful – do let me know if you agree or disagree with any of all of them!

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Five tips for improving your writing: 4

TIP 4: Cut the jargon

Many people think that using technical or jargon words or phrases makes them look intelligent. It doesn’t – it just makes it likely that people will stop reading what they’ve written.

Bear in mind that a word or phrase you, your colleagues and your clients use every day may be completely unfamiliar to your readers. Will they really know what person-centred counselling, user-generated content and interactive voice recognition is?

Much jargon is concealed as acronyms. Every time you introduce one you need to write it out in full, then have the acronym in brackets afterwards. Then you need only use the acronym. So, it’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

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Five tips for improving your writing: 3

TIP 3: Cut out unnecessary words

Using too many words makes it difficult for your reader to grasp your core message. It also makes it more likely they’ll tune out and stop reading. Yet, most business writing is too wordy. In fact I would say that you could halve the word count on most passages of business writing without losing any of the meaning.

So, once you’ve gone through your copy shortening your sentences, and then simplfying your language, look through it again and ask yourself whether you could cut that section, that paragraph, that sentence, that phrase, that word. Be ruthless – if it’s not adding something then cut it.

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Five tips for improving your writing: 2

TIP 2: Always use the simplest, clearest and most direct word available.

Your goal with business writing is to convey your meaning as directly as possible, so always use the simplest, clearest and most direct word available. Your words should be a transparent glass through which we view your ideas, not an overly elaborate painting that distracts us.

Two words that always jar with me are ‘myriad’ and ‘utilise’. Neither word adds anything to ‘many’ or ‘use’, so why not go for the simpler, shorter version?

I’m not suggesting that you should avoid all words longer than two syllables, and peppering your copy with the odd, more florid, word can add colour, but use them sparingly and they will have greater impact.

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Five tips for improving your writing: 1

Good business writing is clear, direct and simple. It says what needs to be said in as straightforward a way as possible.

Why?

1)     No one has time to decipher your message; you need to make it immediately accessible for your reader

2)     Clear writing is a symptom of clear thinking. You’ll find that simplifying your writing will help you to clarify your thinking.

Many people think it’s easy to write simply. In fact it is much more difficult to write simply than it is to produce over-blown, jargon-filled text. Getting it right is not easy, and that’s why I run training courses specifically for PR professionals to help them produce this kind of good business writing. Over the next five days I’ll be posting a tip a day from this section of the courses. I hope you find them useful.

TIP ONE: use short sentences

Short, punchy sentences are easier to read – they also have more impact. Longer sentences, with convoluted phrases and clauses tend to appear like argument; shorter sentences tend to appear like fact. People are more likely to read and believe your copy if you use short, simple sentences.

Consider this example:

“As Manchester United and Arsenal, the two most successful clubs of the past twenty years have proven, success in footballing terms comes from continuity of management, and so Everton, if they want to achieve long term success, should be looking to support their manager, David Moyes, rather than firing him straightaway.”
Now compare it to this version:

“Successful football clubs have continuity in their management. Look at the two most successful clubs of the past twenty years: Manchester United and Arsenal. David Moyes may currently be struggling, but, rather than fire him straightaway, the Everton board should be supporting him. That is the way to ensure long term success.”
Which is easier to follow? Which is more convincing?

So, while you should vary the length of your sentences, you should favour short sentences.

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Is it wrong to hire a blog ghostwriter?

More and more companies are realising just what they can achieve with a blog. It’s one of those areas that’s morphing from from something enthusiasts do in their spare time to a mainstream marketing activity. And it’s happening fast.

One interesting issue thrown up by this surging enthusiasm for the company blog is whether or not to use a ghostwriter. I’ve been talking about it with various people over the past few months and have seen it discussed in several social media nooks and crannies, most recently here: http://reputationonline.co.uk/2009/12/15/the-surprising-verdict-on-ghostwriting/#comment-556

Here, for what it’s worth, is my take on the topic…..

Personally I just don’t get the argument against ghostwriting. Do those who oppose it have a problem with company spokespeople – do they demand that the Chief Exec speaks in person for the company at all times? Are they happy for the HR Manager to conduct preliminary interviews, or do they expect the Chief Exec to personally interview all staff? Are they happy with machine operatives making the products, or do they expect the Chief Executive to man every single part of the production process?

You get my point. The job of the Chief Executive is to set the direction of the company, hire the best people to deliver it, and then inspire them to achieve more as a team than they could individually. It isn’t to actually DO everything themselves. The spokesperson knows the Chief Executive’s line on the key topics of the day, the HR Manager knows who the Chief Executive wants to hire, and the machine operatives know how the company expects them to operate their machines.

In the same way, Chief Executives (or for that matter senior people in any company, large or small) can’t be expected to find time to write their own blogs. Some do; they enjoy it and are good at it. Most don’t. There’s no reason why they should have either the aptitude or the time. What they SHOULD do is find ghostwriters who they can trust to present their positions in a clear and engaging way. I do this for several companies, and they are using those blogs to great effect, building reputation and generating leads.

I suspect those who argue against the use of ghostwriters in this way simply don’t recognise that writing is a specialist skill, like speaking to the media, interview job candidates or operating machinery. Just because everyone can write to some extent, doesn’t mean everyone can do it well. I believe that, in time, the position of Blogwriter will become as estabished in companies as that of Press Officer and HR Manager. It’s about basic division of labour – and those companies that understand earliest how the new digital economy is creating new specialisations and job roles will in the coming years be best placed to attract the best writers, to put in place systems for making the process work well, and in summary to produce the most effective blogs.

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