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.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Power of Because - 3 Tips For Authors

I am finally getting around to reading a book that has been at the top of my list for a few months, Cialdini's Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion. I am about fifty pages into it so far and can already count it among my favorite books. I will post a review of it in the next week or so, but wanted to share one of the principles from the first chapter with you.

Cialdini notes in the first chapter, Weapons of Influence, that "a well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason." He cites a study by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer that demonstrates the power of because.

Langer conducted a study by attempting to cut in line at a library to use a copy machine. When the phrase "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I'm in a rush?" was used the success rate was 94%. However, when no reason was given and the subject just asked "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?" the percentage dropped to 60%.

By itself, this is interesting but not really that surprising. The fascinating piece of the study is the third phrase that Langer used. The subject said, "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?" Note that there is no information added to this phrase; the purpose is simply restated with the word "because". You would naturally expect this to be closer to the 60% success rate, but it was 93% effective.

The simple truth is that if there is a reason for something, almost any reason, then people are more likely to respond the way we would like them to. "Because" is a powerful word and one that can be utilized wisely by authors selling their books. Here are three easy ways to incorporate this piece of psychology into selling books.

1. Know, and say, the reason why people should buy your book. You should buy my book because . . . 

2. When you are writing your book, keep this principle in mind as well. What makes your book different from others? Have you stated the reason for that clearly and succinctly?

3. Use "because" in your print advertising. Whether it is on the back of the book, online advertising, or print advertising the word "because" can convert interested lookers into readers (and potential fans).

You should use these tips because they will help you sell more books. Also, pick up a copy of Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion. It is excellent material.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Read This Before Our Next Meeting - Review

Read This Before Our Next Meeting reads like a dozen expresso shots being added to your morning coffee. The author definitely takes his own advice and does not waste the reader's time with chitchat or useless information, and I will try and do the same. 

1: The Modern Meeting supports a decision that has already been made. Make the decision to buy this book, just use this review to help you figure out why.

2: The Modern Meeting starts on time, moves fast, and ends on schedule. T-minus 480 words left . . .

3: The Modern Meeting limits the number of attendees. Buy it if you have meetings (business, church, charity, school, etc). Don't buy it if you don't (but you should - go participate).

4: The Modern Meeting rejects the unprepared. Buy it, or download it for free on Kindle in the next 7 days. It will give you the nuts and bolts, its up to you to actually do the work.

5: The Modern Meeting produces committed action plans. Buy it, its cheap. Then read it.

6: The Modern Meeting refuses to be informational.

7: The Modern Meeting works only alongside a culture of brainstorming. Keep meetings short, but add creativity boosting sessions to your work schedule. Concise, but really good, information on brainstorming.

Highly Recommended, go buy it. Meeting adjourned.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Divine Appointment - Lucid Books Spotlight

Published in May of 2010, Anita Wood's Divine Appointment is a powerful story of God's providence. 
It chronicles the humble beginnings of two people who met and submitted to God's direction for their lives. Their choices and decisions took them farther along the path God designed. Dick (through journal entries and other writings) and Anita write to convey God's movement in their lives through this chronology, Divine Appointment. Their biographical account traces life experiences that brought them to the Trinity River Bridge one cold Wednesday morning, 1989. On that bridge their lives intersected with a dead, mangled man. There, God prompted Dick to pray a miraculous, life-saving prayer for Don Piper. His book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, is the story of Don's miraculous return to life after the fatal accident. Coincidence did not intersect three lives that day, God did. When Dick and Anita happened upon the horrific accident scene, it was God's Divine Appointment, orchestrated by His hand.

Some of the reviews on Amazon since Anita's book has been published include:

"Unlike Don Piper's book, this is not a story about heaven. It's a story about the things we go through during our journey on this earth. . .and how those things can shape us into faith-filled history-makers. And I dare say, it's worth the price of the book alone just to get the bonus feature at the end of the book. Dick's "sermon" (really more of a life message) sent shivers down my spine. Wow!"

"What an amazing and inspiring testament! I am so thankful that you felt compelled to share your experience. Your faith touches us all. May God continue to bless you and your ministry."

Lucid Books Spotlight features books published by our publishing company, Lucid Books.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Dangerous Duty of Delight - Review

This is a small book, barely over 80 pages, but it is packed with truth. It is essentially a condensed version of Piper's famous work Desiring God, Revised Edition: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. I always recommend that folks read this when they start off with Piper because they will get the gist of what he saying in a very short time. This short read should take you no more than 90 minutes, but it is capable of being used by the Holy Spirit to affect change in many lives. For anyone interested in a very well put together theological work accesible to all, this is the best place to start. 
Some of my favorite thoughts from the book:

"Jesus is not safe, but he is satisfying!"

"The chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever."

"We are far too easily pleased" (Lewis).

The three part prescription for lack of joy in obedience: "First, confess the sin of joylessness. . . . Second, pray earnestly that God would restore the joy of obedience. . . . . Third, go ahead and do the outward dimension of your duty in the hope that the doing will rekindle the delight."

This small book packs a big punch, and I highly recommend to all (especially those new to Piper). This is one of five books that I pick up anytime I find a good copy for a decent price because it is one that should be shared again and again.

My recommendation for the top 5 Piper books you should read first, in order:

The Dangerous Duty of Delight: Daring to Make God Your Greatest Desire (LifeChange Books) 

Don't Waste Your Life (Group Study Edition)

Let the Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions (Spire Books)

Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ

Desiring God, Revised Edition: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist