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).