Friday, November 4, 2011

New Blog

All new content will be posted to and this site will be discontinued in the next few weeks. Please visit and subscribe to blog updates there. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reading For Writers

Do writers need to be readers? The short answer is YES! This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many manuscripts we receive from non-readers. When we receive a manuscript,we will either accept without reservations, accept if conditions are met, or reject it outright. In almost every case where we have rejected a manuscript outright, it is due in part to the author not being a reader.

Reading books should be a part of your schedule each day, a minimum of an hour a day if you are serious about becoming a published author. By reading an hour a day, you are building on a number of qualities that every great author has:

1. Knowledge of subject matter. Read books in the genre you are interested in writing for.

2. Copiousness. Read books from a wide variety of genres. (Want to see copiousness in action? Check out Collision with Doug Wilson & Christopher Hitchens).

3. Writing For Reading. Read consistently and regularly will help you find your own natural rhythm with your readers.

4. Ideas On What To Write. Reading is one of the best ways to brainstorm without thinking about it.

5. Ideas On What NOT To Write. Don't write a book that has already been written. Many would-be authors make this mistake.

Reading is one the key ways to build your skills as an author. Read more, write more, & publish more.

Brad's personal reading guidelines:

  • I read Scripture every day. Everything else I read is viewed through the lens of Scripture. It is not all I read, but it effects all I read.
  • I try to read at least one non-fiction and one fiction book at the same time. More often than not, I will be reading multiple non-fiction books at once. The key for me is that they are in different genres. For example, I am currently reading business (Personal MBA), psychology (Influence), philosophy (On The Shortness Of Life), trivia (Brain Candy), and Christian (Three Gospels). The fiction I am reading currently is actually a true crime type of book, which reads like fiction (Gang Leader For A Day).
  • I will try to read only non-fiction most of the day. Two hours before bed, I switch to only fiction. This was a suggestion from Tim Ferris, I believe in The Four-Hour Workweek, and it has proved very helpful for my sleeping habits. Reading non-fiction before bed gets the brain juices flowing too fast.
  • I try to finish a book every day. I average 4-5 books a week, not counting the manuscripts I read for the publishing business. Reading is a large part of my job as well.
  • Most people who don't read insist it is because of time. I don't have the time not to read . . . once you build reading into your life, it is hard to remove it without feeling like something is missing.
  • As you can tell by the variety of books that I am reading now, I read from a wide list of genres. I have found it very helpful to read books simultaneously and follow what you are most interested in at the time.
  • I stop reading a book if I don't like it. Don't feel like you have to trudge through a book you don't like - just stop and pick up a more interesting one.
  • I review almost every book I read on Amazon (of course, besides the ones published by our company). This small commitment has made me both a better reader and writer.
  • I write in my books. A lot. I plan on sharing more of this in the future, but in the meantime, if you aren't writing in your own books, see How To Read A Book and Mindhacker.
Hopefully this is helpful to see how at least one other reader actually reads. Post your own reading plans or thoughts below in the comments section.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

3 Ways For Authors To Use Social Proof

Man has always relied on a variety of shortcuts when making decisions. Rather then reevaluating every facet of every decision, we rely on principles to help us judge new decisions based on the past. We rely on our brains and our intuition to push through the noise, which has grown louder and more far reaching than ever before.

(Courtesy of katdaned)

Social proof is one of the tools that we use to help make decisions. The principle of social proof is simply using what other people think is correct to determine what we think is correct. This is a powerful psychological principle and plays a part in our lives every day. In fact, it is so powerful that the suicide rate will often jump after a highly publicized suicide, widely known as the Werther effect.

As an author, you want to insure that social proof is working alongside you and not against you. It can often be the difference between selling a lot of books and struggling to sell any. Here are three ways authors can use social proof.

1. Endorsements: Seek endorsements from as many people as you can before your book is printed. Find authority figures in your field who are willing to give an honest, positive endorsement of your work. Make sure that the best are displayed on the back cover, and any others are recorded inside the book or on your website. This is a shortcut that many people use when deciding whether or not to buy a book, and sometimes it is all that it takes.

2. Early Reviews: You want your book reviewed positively as soon as it is released by as many people as possible. These reviews must be honest, not a part of your family (happens more than you would think), and public. The best place for you book to be reviewed is Amazon. We offer our authors a letter that is helpful to use when you are seeking reviews and filtering strategies for choosing reviewers who will likely give you a positive, honest assessment. Email us at if you are interested in a copy of the letter or finding out more about selecting reviewers. Also for all of the books you send out for early review, plan on a 10% success rate. If your goal is to get 20 reviews, send out 200 copies of your book.

3. Crowds: Magicians, street performers, and sidewalk vendors have all known a secret for a long time that others are just finding out. The best way to attract people, is to have people there already. Crowds attract crowds. If there are 15 people surrounding a performer, then he must be good; if there is no one there, its probably not worth you being there either. As an author, you can use this social proofing method to your advantage in many ways. 

At book signings, engage with multiple people at once and use something else besides your book to get them to come to the table. Build your momentum and you will have a crowd around your table soon.

Keep track of your selling stats and any awards you receive, and advertise any positive trends. If more people are buying your book, then more people will buy your book.

Social proof is powerful concept that can make or break an author. Use it to your advantage. For more information about social proof and other psychological principles, pick up a copy of Influence.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Results Vs. Process

One of the most interesting things about owning a publishing company these days is talking to everyone who wants to write a book. Even with all of the books published each year (now topping the 1,000,000 mark), there are many who will never get past their rough idea or outline. The creative process is still viewed as hit or miss, but there are some practical skills that anyone can develop to create an idea from their outline.

(Photo courtesy of jayneandd)

Ideas are plentiful, execution is rare. I am as guilty of this as anyone else. It is very easy to come up with great ideas consistently, but much harder to execute an idea, even a mediocre one, even once. Rachelle Garnder put it well in her latest post, "Unfortunately, the old adage is true – ideas are a dime a dozen. In themselves, ideas have no value. The value is in the way a writer is able to capture those ideas using the written word, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction." If you want to learn more about what strategy really is, take the advice of David Maister, author of Strategy and the Fat Smoker. "The necessary outcome of strategic planning is not analytical insight but resolve."

Focus on the process, not results. This is advice often given, rarely taken. Focusing on the end result or a finished book in this case will get you nowhere. Focusing on your next step, no matter how small, will actually move you towards your goal. It seems counterintuitive, but it works. If you focus on the big picture, you will freeze up. If you just do the next small step, then you are on your way. Tim Ferris, author of The Four-Hour Workweek, did a lot of the legwork himself and by focusing intently he was able to create a #1 New York Times bestseller one paragraph at a time. 

For instance, when deciding on which book cover to use he tested multiple covers by taking them to a local bookstore and putting them on the shelves. He spent the next few hours watching and tracking how many folks actually picked up the various book covers and he was able to focus on the best design quickly. It may be overwhelming to think about how your book should look in the future, but focusing on what you can actually do in a local bookstore for a few hours will move you towards your goal in record time.

Creativity takes many, many drafts. There are some great creativity/productivity tips in Mindhacker, a book that focuses on many different areas. Hack 34, Don't Know What You're Doing, has some great advice for authors. It is worth picking up the book just for this chapter, but here are some of my favorite quotes from it:

"Successful artists and writers know . . . that drafts are key."

"Realize that not everything you make must matter, and that making stuff that doesn't matter is also part of the process. If you have an idea for a story, write the same story five times; if you write about a memory, try writing it from five different viewpoints or interpretations."

"A piece of art should be a by-product of the adventure of making it, not the goal."

Too many ideas are never realized, too many books never move beyond an outline. Focus on the next step in your work and start writing. Remember that value only comes from doing something, no matter how great the idea is.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Crucial Conversations - Review

Although this book has already sold over 2 million copies, I did not pick one up until this second edition came out. Crucial Conversations is the type of book that you can recommend to just about anyone and have them thank you for it. It has valuable, practical tools that will help you have conversations that are useful in very real ways. Whether you are looking for conversation advice in business, marriage, love, friendship, or just about anything else, this book will help you push through your emotions and accomplish your real purpose in conversation. 

The authors start off with a detailed discussion on what makes someone successful. They argue, unsurprisingly, that it is the ability to effectively communicate and not be locked into a Fool's Choice when making hard decisions. Fool's Choice is a false either/or dichotomy and the authors do a great job of exposing it, maybe the best I have seen in print.

After arguing why conversations are so important, the authors go on to give you the tools to help you communicate effectively. Some of the best takeaways include:

* The advice on page 46,47 on overcoming Fool's Choice's. Great advice, extremely helpful for all.

* The Chapter 5 tools for creating a Mutual Purpose. "Lord, help me to forgive those who sin differently than I."

* The advice in Chapter 6 on how to reframe your stories and control emotions. Very good, especially the section on taking another look at victims, villains, and the helpless.

* The last three chapters are very practical explanations and tools from the rest of the book. If you aren't sure if this book is right for you, just flip to Chapter 10 and read through some scenario's where conversation is crucial and you will be convinced.

Though I have not read the first edition, there are some great bonuses in the second. You get access to the authors' video archive with many of the conversation tools acted out. There is also an online test to measure your "Style Under Stress", a Crucial Conversations visual model, and real life stories about how Crucial Conversations has helped others throughout.

Some of these things are obvious, some of them aren't. Though you are probably skilled in some areas already, this book will help you see the motivation behind your actions and help you see what needs to be done to improve other areas. This is a valuable book and recommended to all - I wish I had found it sooner.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mark Up Your Books & Feel Good About It

For years, I hated to write in books. I would always carefully flip through texts at the used book store and find books that were untouched, and I made sure to keep them that way. Writing in a book was not only something I didn't do . . . its something that I despised. Bookmarkers were the graffiti artists of the reading world, and I wanted no part of it.

A few years ago, a good friend recommended that I read How To Read A Book, and it changed my bookmarking habits forever. Mortimer Adler's classic text on reading includes a section that teaches you both how and why to mark books. I now carry at least two different colored highlighters, a pen, and a pencil everywhere I go in case I need to mark a book. I have found that it has greatly increased my reading comprehension and retention and made my books more valuable in the future.

So how do you go about marking up books . . . First, the basics.

Buy The Right Materials: Get a good highlighter. You need one that is not too thick, not too thin, and one that won't bleed through. I prefer the common yellow highlighter that Sharpie makes. Also, pick up a good mechanical pencil - you can never find pencil sharpeners anymore. In addition to a highlighter and pencil, you should have at least one color of pen, preferably two. These tools will help you mark up your book properly.

Basic Highlighting Skills: As you read, highlight the material that stands out to you. Bert Webb points out that using the Pareto Principle here (the 80/20 principle) is a good rule of thumb. Don't highlight any more than 20% of the text - it will often be much less than that.

Basic Pen/Pencil Work: When you come across something that really strikes you and you want to remember it, put a star next to the section or highlighted quote. You can also star entire chapters in books if they are particularly interesting. On any two page spread where you have something starred, put another star in the lower right part of the right page. This will make it easy to find.

Building Your Personal Table of Contents: Once you star a particular passage, then you can work on adding the information to the table of contents. For instance, I starred a particular passage in a The Violent Bear It Away, then I flipped back to the Table of Contents. Under the appropriate chapter I added "grace, 82" to indicate that there is a great quote about grace on page 82. Using this method, you are able to quickly find relevant information about the book that was important to you in the future.

This is a basic overview of bookmarking, most of which is covered in How To Read A Book. Other resources on bookmarking are listed below.

How To Read A Book - A classic, well worth the read. The more avidly you read, the more valuable this book is.

How To Mark A Book - Online essay by Mortimer Adler covering much of the same material on bookmarking. Easy way to preview the book.

Twelve Ways To Mark Up A Book - Some points aren't helpful, some I disagree with. You may find some ideas to help you though.

How To Take Notes Like An Alpha Geek - Great post on note-taking from the author of The Four-Hour Workweek

- Great book with a ton of useful information. Hack 7 gives three ways to take advanced notes including building your own index, annotating in two colors, and using your book as a notebook.

- Have not read this one yet, but looks like a great text on historic note taking. Definitely picking it up soon.

Leave any thoughts, comments, or suggestions you have about bookmarking in the comments section below. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mindhacker - Review

With a book that covers as much ground as Mindhacker, its hard to know where to start. The authors have written a book that is chock full of brilliant techniques to save time, money, and brainpower. If you find just one tip you can use out of the 60 that are offered, it will be worth the cost of the book - the information is really that good. I have listed just a few of my favorite chapters below, some of the ones that I will definitely be implementing in my own life. 

Hack 2: Build A Memory Dungeon - Ever since I read Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything a few months ago, I have been fascinated with memory palaces and how to use them. One of the problems I have had in implementing this is running out of locations for my memory palaces. This hack solves that problem, and then some. This is a great idea that will give you virtually unlimited memory palace locations that you can visit and memorize from the comfort of your couch. Worth the cost of the book by itself.

Hack 4: Space Your Repetitions - Great idea for using an open source program to memorize anything you want to quickly and easily.

Hack 7: Write in Your Books - This hack teaches 3 easy ways to go beyond writing in the margins and highlighting your books. You will understand and enjoy books more by using these techniques. Really great. Also, Hack 6: Establish Your Canon is an excellent essay on why you should read great books, what they are, and how to define them in your own life.

Hack 8: Read At Speed - The authors have condensed the best advice about speed reading down to four pages . . . great advice that will save you close to a hundred dollars and many, many hours of studying all of the books that focus exclusively on speed reading.

Hack 12: Study Kid Stuff - A great list of resources and websites that will help you relearn quickly all that you have forgotten. Great advice, easy to use, and free.

The Hacks that I have listed above are just the ones I really liked in the first two Chapters on Memory and Learning, and there are 48 more hacks to choose from throughout the book.The other chapters cover information processing, time management, creativity and productivity, math and logic, communication, mental fitness, and clarity. There aren't any clunkers here, a rarity for a book like this - the hacks in the time management and creativity chapters are especially good. Half of the fun in a book like this if finding which of these hacks really work for you.

All in all, this is a brilliant book that delivers on what it promises. Its written by a couple of geeks who have condensed great information into bite size pieces that will help you in many ways. Highly, Highly Recommended.

While I think this one is the best of the bunch, by far, see these also: Mind Hacks: Tips & Tools for Using Your BrainMind Performance Hacks: Tips & Tools for Overclocking Your Brain (same authors as Mindhacker), and Lifehacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, and Better (almost all computer tips, not brain tips, but still very helpful).

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Before You Quit . . .

3 Questions To Ask Before Quitting: Seth Godin's book, The Dip, should be essential reading for authors. He offers a lot of helpful advice on overcoming "writer's dip", both in the writing process and in the marketing process of the book. All writers hit a point where they struggle to decide whether they should quit or keep pushing, especially in the marketing phase. 

The market for books is as wide as it has ever been with over 1,000,000 books a year published, but that's not the whole story. The market is also as shallow as its ever been with the average book selling under 200 copies. That means that authors need to push their book for a longer time frame, overcome the dip that comes for every book once the initial burst of activity happens. But how do you know when to quit? Seth Godin has three helpful questions that can help you decide.


Don't make crucial decisions, like quitting, when you are dealing with emotions. Look at the project cooly and logically, or put off a decision until you can. Sales will take a dip on almost every successful product, sometimes you just have to power through it. One great way to counteract the panic is to have a "quitting plan" in place before you start. What would have to happen to make you quit? Answer that question now and stick to it when times are rough later.


Are you focusing on one person at a time, one niche market, or every buyer on earth? Make sure that your efforts are being directed to the right group effectively before deciding that it's not working. 

"Influencing one person is like scaling a wall. If you get over the all the first few tries, you're in. If you don't, often you'll find that the wall gets higher with each attempt.

Influencing a market, on the other hand, is more of a hill than a wall. You can make progress, one step at a time, and as you get higher, it actually gets easier. people in the market talk to each other. They are influenced by each other. So ever step of progress you make actually gets amplified" (The Dip, 68).


Are you moving in the right direction? Often when you are are trying to tip a scale in a large market, it takes a long time to build momentum. Make sure that you are measuring progress realistically and effectively. Don't be content with no movement at all, but realize that the larger the market is the harder it will be to reach critical mass.

Push through "writer's dip" and if your work is good it will succeed. At the very least, don't quit before you have given it the chance.

Read our full review of Seth Godin's book, The Dip, here.

The Dip - Review

The Dip is a short book by Seth Godin about when you should quit and what you should quit. It focuses on one principle again and again, and it is one that most of us need to be reminded of. When we start a business, write a book, sell a book, start training, or just about anything else, there will come a time of diminishing returns. Those who can distinguish the dips that we can push through from the dead ends will have more success. A simple concept and one that you have probably heard before, but this book still adds enough value to the conversation to make it a worthwhile read. 

The value of being the best in the world, the best in your category, is huge. This small book will help motivate you to define your category, quit the useless things, and create something great. It's really not rocket science, and a book like this offers a lot of value to a lot of people.

Two criticisms I have heard about this book, and Seth Godin's work in general is that it is too short and too simple. Both critiques are hollow excuses for not engaging great work. I love books and I love reading both short and long works, but I would rather read non-fiction that has been boiled down to its most useful any day over the other stuff. Seth took his own advice for this book and quit the 80% of the book that was not as helpful. The 20% that remains is absolutely great material that will appeal to many. Recommended. 

For those of you looking for more insight into the two main concepts of this book, check out these.

On being the best in the world . . .

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind 

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk!

On strategic quitting . . .

The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less

The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated: Expanded and Updated, With Over 100 New Pages of Cutting-Edge Content.

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

Monday, August 29, 2011

Social Media Analytics - Review

Social Media Analytics is a book that will introduce readers to many of the best social media analysis tools and firms that are out there. The author does a great job of explaining what a business really needs to measure and then gives plenty of information on how to get there. 

Chapter 5 was my personal favorite - Friends, Fans, and Followers: Determining Their Worth. One of the hardest things for me to get my head around when it comes to social media is how valuable it really is to have a fan on Facebook, if at all. This chapter helps you answer those questions in concrete ways backed up with real data. Very helpful for anyone who wants to achieve measurable results rather than shoot in the dark until they finally hit something.


* Very informative, great source to find more information on every topic

* Uses real data to back up what is still thought of as art more than science

* Case studies were helpful


* Some of the company profiles are too long, a couple of them read like a commercial at points

* Would have liked more "how to do this" type of information

All in all, this book is recommended for anyone with a business that wants to really measure their social media results. Makes a great companion to Zarrella's Hierarchy of Contagiousness: The Science, Design, and Engineering of Contagious Ideas.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

3 Best Tips for Authors From Zarella's Hierarchy of Contagiousness

The new book by Dan Zarella (reviewed here) has plenty of applications for authors. I highly recommend that you purchase the book, but wanted to share the top three tips from the book for authors.

1. Build Authority and Claim It. Zarella found that Twitter users with the word "author" in their username had, on average, almost 100 more followers. While this is not necessarily cause and effect, it does indicate that authors should not be afraid to identify themselves. Building your authority and claiming it will help you reach more people. Interestingly, Zarella also found that self-referencing in your posts is not helpful, so include most of your claims to authority in your bio, not posts. His advice: "Talk as yourself, not about yourself."

2. Originality and Familiarity. Zarella found that ideas that are both original and familiar are the ideas that are most easily spread. For authors, find a way to separate yourself from the genre, but don't abandon everything. Unique perspectives on common subjects can boost your book's marketing quickly. For more information on how to brand your books, I suggest picking up a copy of the classic marketing book, Positioning.

3. The When of Social Media. The author found that Facebook posts are shared more and that blog posts are commented on more often if they originate on a weekend. Don't work harder, work smarter - post during the optimal times and the same marketing will go much further. 

These are just three tips from the book, there are many others that authors can apply in this 80 page manifesto. Pick up a copy and see your social media reach take off.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Zarella's Hierarchy of Contagiousness - Review

Social Media Science sounds like a fairy tale, but Dan Zarella proves otherwise in his new book on contagious ideas. He focuses on social media because they are a "petri dish" for ideas, but the principles that he is able to extract from social media metrics can be applied to all of your ideas. This short book will tell you the best ways to spread your ideas and make them more contagious. 

The author starts off by building his framework on three points. For your ideas to be more contagious, you must:

1. Increase the number of people exposed to your content.

2. Create more attention-grabbing content.

3. Include powerful calls to action.

Following this, the author provides relevant data to prove his claims. This information is invaluable, and very helpful to anyone who uses social media at all. For instance:

Do you know if it helps or hurts to call yourself a guru (or author, speaker, founder)?

Do larger groups or more active small groups spread ideas faster?

Are negative or positive ideas more contagious?

Should you talk about yourself?

How often should you share content?

What is the best day and time to attract "retweeters"?

What is the best time to blog for your click rate? For comments?

All of the answers to these questions, and many more, are in this book. Each section is short and to the point, no more than four paragraphs and a visual graph of the data that backs it up. This is a book that will pay for itself easily, and the information contained in it is valuable to every business, author, and marketer. Highly Recommended. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

3 Questions to Maximize Your Writing Productivity

One of the most surprising things about the publishing business is finding out how many people want to write books. I honestly have more people who tell me they want to write a book then people who talk about reading books. Now more than ever, that goal can be realized quickly and effectively. Yet it is still hard for some to take the first step or to get over the hump and really get moving on an idea.

I finished one of the best productivity books I have ever read this week. The title is Eat That Frog, 21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done In Less Time. Chapter 4 discusses the consequences of our goals and what should be considered when we set them. The author suggests asking three questions of yourself to maximize your productivity, which I have modified for writers.

What can you and only you write that if done well will make a real difference? Peter Drucker, one of the best business thinkers ever, originally asked this question. For writers, it is the most important question that you can ask yourself. Until you have an answer for this question, don't start working on a manuscript. There is no need for another book that covers the same things in the same way with the same tone. Think outside the box, assess your passions, and write something that will make a real difference when you put your pen to paper.

What are my highest value writing activities? Ask yourself where you write best, when you write best, and how you write best. If you love one area of the writing process, like research, focus on that goal alone in the beginning and just move in the right direction. Identifying those times and activities that help create the most productive time for you will help keep you motivated and more productive. For instance, I have found that the mornings are my best time for thinking. If I wake up before anyone else and start working on my creative projects, I will often check off more things on my list from the hours of 6 to 8 then I would from 9 to 5. Find your highest value factors and maximize your productivity and time.

What is the most valuable use of my time right now? Ask yourself this question daily to keep you focused on the right things. Make sure that what you are working on moves you closer to your goal and that its not just busywork. Spend time on high value activities until they are finished. Apply the 80/20 principle to the list of activities that you have before your next manuscript will be finished. The 80/20 principle says that 20% of your activities will provide 80% of the benefit - focus on those activities. Hint: Spending time building your list on Facebook, Twitter, or making your website prettier will almost always be a low value activity. It will not move you closer to your goal of a finished book.

Ask yourself these questions and your writing productivity will skyrocket. Remember that strategy is really more about doing than knowing: you have the tools, now you just have to do it. What questions do you ask yourself as a writer? Have these questions had any effect on you? What will it take for you to get started?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Eat That Frog! - Review

Eat That Frog! is a book that a few of my favorite authors have recommended, but I never picked up a copy until last week. Very glad that I did, it is an excellent time management/productivity book that gets right to the point. Even if you just pick three concepts to implement, any three concepts, I predict your productivity will double. Is there some obvious information in it? Sure there is, but like the author says in the introduction, this book brings the concepts to the forefront of our minds. 

* Pros:

Very short book - can read in a couple of hours. Makes it easy to recommend.

Information is solid and practical. Almost like a Cliff's Notes of productivity techniques.

Some great questions to ask of yourself and to ask of those you are mentoring.

Practical steps to implement the techniques are given at the end of each chapter, making it easy to put into practice.

* Cons:

Not much new information . . . not necessarily a con, but it is what it is.

Further reading suggestions for any given topic would have made this an outstanding work.

In short, this is one of the best and probably the first I would recommend to others. Getting started on projects/businesses/writing books and getting more done in less time is a skill that all of us need, and this book will help you get there. Will definitely be buying more copies to give away to others. Highly Recommended.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Lean Startup - Review

The Lean Startup is a book proposing that the way businesses have traditionally started is wasteful, time-consuming, and relies on a lucky turn of the dice more often than not. Eric Ries presents a new way to think about business and a new way to start them in this book. Eric defines a startup as "an organization dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty". In today's world, that applies to all businesses both old and new. 

The key to the Lean Startup method is to use the Build-Measure-Learn cycle and to tighten the feedback loop as much as possible. The author start with 5 principles that the entire book is built on:

1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere.

2. Entrepreneurship is management. Your business is a business . . . not just a product.

3. Validated learning. A startup's most vital function. (39)

4. Build-Measure-Learn

5. Innovation accounting, or how to measure your progress.

This book has a lot of great examples and provides real methods to improve your business and your creativity while protecting the bottom line. The information that the author gives on testing products before launch, when to launch, and how to launch is easily worth ten times the cost of the book by itself. Testing is something that quite a few business books are pushing these days, but this is the first I have read that gives real world ways to do it other than using Google AdWords.

It would be easy to assume that a book written by an internet entrepreneur might not have much to say about other businesses, but you would be wrong. The fact is, every business is an internet business these days in some way. Whether it is actually run online, uses a website, or you test your business with some of these methods, you will learn how to create lean start-ups for any type of business. In fact, one of the examples that Eric uses is an on the ground laundry service based in India! You can't get much more low-tech than that, and they followed principles of a lean start-up.

The information in this book is valuable, accessible, and most importantly actionable. Buy it, use it - you will greatly increase your chances of creating a business that people are actually interested in. Highly Recommended.

Also: this book is just as valuable for authors as businesses. If you are writing a book that you expect to sell, the principles of testing and examining the market can be applied to writing a book. Would be especially helpful in narrowing down how you want to frame your book.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

George Orwell's Six Questions & Rules For Writers

George Orwell, renowned author of 1984 & Animal Farm, penned an insightful essay in 1946 entitled "Politics & The English Language". He skillfully parodies meaningless words and confusing phrases, pushing for writers to simplify. He translates a verse from Ecclesiastes from good english to modern english to demonstrate:

"I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Here it is in modern English:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account."
It is easy to strip writing of its power with complicated prose, and authors can benefit from asking themselves six questions that Orwell asked of his own writing.

1. What am I trying to say?

2. What words will express it?

3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?

4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

5. Could I put it more shortly?

6. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? 

Asking these questions are a great start to making your writing simple and easy to read. One great tip that I first learned from Capon is to always edit your writing out loud. This will help insure that you are writing good english rather than modern english.


In the same essay, Orwell gives 6 rules for writers that will also help you while writing.

" . . . One needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English . . ."

Follow Orwell's advice and ask yourself these six questions while sticking to these six rules, and your writing is guaranteed to improve. My favorite rule of Orwell's is the fourth, never use the passive where you can use the active. If authors would follow this rule alone, almost every piece of prose would improve dramatically.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ignore Everybody - Review

I have had this book on my wishlist for a long time, and I finally found a copy at a bookstore. I was expecting a practical book on creativity, but that's not exactly what this is. It's a lot closer to The War of Art then to Thinkertoys

If you are looking for a quick read that has some great advice for both businesses and individuals, this would be a good choice. It's not as good as The War of Art, but it is also more down to earth. The author's personal transformation into a famous business card size cartoonist provides anecdotes for almost every one of the 40 keys to creativity. The cartoons interspersed throughout the book range from great to "eh" to offensive.

Two of my favorite quotes:

"Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the "creative bug" is just a wee voice telling you, "I'd like my crayons back, please."

"Everyone has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb. You may never reach the summit' for that you will be forgiven. But if you don't make at least one serious attempt to get above the snow line, years later you will find yourself lying on your deathbed, and all you will feel is emptiness."

Bottom line: Recommended if you are stuck in a creative rut or need to be convinced that you have some creative gifts to offer. Warning: the cartoons will offend you, so skip them.