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business writing

Did I tell you about the time I caught the Dali Lama as he stumbled on a plane?

I realized last week that the book I set out to write is not exactly going to be the book I will complete. And thank goodness for that. My first draft was focused on getting the content right and organizing it in a way that readers could easily navigate. I was determined to capture every lesson learned and successful approach tried so whatever a change leader could face would be addressed. 

My editor, Ken, says there’s the book you intend to write and the book that it could be. The book I had written was technically sound but wasn’t very interesting to read. Why couldn’t my book do both? My first step is to include amusing stories that happened while being on change assignments. The ones I love to tell and people enjoy. Change is about people and not including the lighter side of being on change projects is a miss. Friends have suggested this from day-one, and so has Ken, but not until now have I understood the importance of doing so. 

I see these stories (and pictures) being displayed in sidebar boxes. Not too many; just enough to make it interesting. I am excited about the possibilities. I may even be writing a book I would be interested in reading. So, did I tell you about the time I caught the Dali Lama as he stumbled on a plane? 

Phil

Diegogarcity – I’ve got it and I want to keep it!

Have you ever been exposed to something new, say a word or a product, and then you see it everywhere? You buy a car and then see the same model on the road. “I didn’t know they were so popular,” you might say.

This is called ‘diegogarcity,’ which sounds more like a destination than an affliction. I have been experiencing diegogarcity since I started researching book proposal writing. Books are everywhere – no kidding – and the publishing industry is extremely prominent, too. It seems that every newspaper, magazine or T.V. news program is covering some aspect of this business. 

Diegogarcity isn’t always positive. The publishing industry is going through hyper-change and the printed book is being challenged by cheaper media alternatives, industry consolidation, and shrinking distribution channels. This wave of discouraging news can dampen spirits. It can also awaken the warrior within.

Knowledge is power and the more I learn about this fascinating industry, the better I am positioned to be a part of it. Perhaps I should start thinking more about victory.

Phil

What presence?

Every year during the holidays, a friend and I choose a destination to visit  in the summer. We’ve been to many cities in the US and Canada. Each one has its special attractions and memories. 

Ernest Hemingway’s study, Key West

This year we discussed going to Key West, Florida, the southernmost city in the continental United States. It would be great to visit Ernest Hemingway’s home to see where he wrote ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro.’ 

Why are we fascinated by environments that produce great things? Is it the belief that we, too, can get something positive from these spaces, that something magical will rub off on us? If so, is it the physical space or the spiritual presence that holds this magic? Could we get it by sitting in Hemingway’s writing chair or by closing our eyes and taking in the essence of his study?

Inspiration
Reading

I started thinking about how my environment has played a role in my writing.  What made it productive? What facilitated the connection between intention and output? Perhaps, like most things, it’s a collection of factors versus one ‘silver bullet.’ 

If you get inspiration by visiting famous places, that’s great. If you create your own productive space, that’s great, too. As long as an environment helps you get to where you want to go, you are in the right place. So far, it’s working for me.  Phil

Writing: 1. Source materials, calendar, to do list, and latest draft, 2. Where thoughts turn into words, 3. My plan – front and centre, 4. My printer that churns out numerous drafts, 5. Reference materials

Can you be strategic about holiday reading?

Holiday reading lists are dangerous things. They can lead to disappointment if your appetite is bigger than the time you have to feast. I made this mistake last year. The challenge is that there’s so much you want to read and so little time in which to do so. Since family and friends come first, reading can be relegated to the “I will do it soon” pile.

Here is my pared down list:

‘Hearts and Minds’ is a book written by a close friend, Dan Azoulay, who was an inspiration for writing my book. He captures the essence of romance in Canada between 1900-1930 based on 20,000 letters written to magazine ‘correspondence columns’.  It’s an engaging read. 

‘On Writing Well,’ is William Zinsser’s excellent guide to writing clearly and compellingly. I was half way through it in June when I decided it was time to start writing my book versus reading about how to do it.

‘Writing a Winning Non-Fiction Book Proposal’ is a  ‘how-to’ guide written by the Chairman and former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. I’m excited about starting the research for the next phase of my adventure.

There are many other unread books staring at me from my bookshelf. I have learned they need to stay there. I’m enjoying getting back to reading, when I’m not visiting with family and friends.

Phil

Like a Light Bulb

The weeks that fly by are also the ones that spark the most vibrant memories. I had one of those last week. I was driving hard against an aggressive deadline, but falling behind my plan. There are two options when this happens: cut corners or cut sleep. I chose the latter. I wouldn’t have felt right handing over my draft without cleaning up  my sections. It’s like leaving home with coffee stains on your shirt – it’s something you just don’t do.

Seeing the print out of my manuscript for the first time was emotional. Flipping through the 252 double-spaced pages felt like I was holding a real book. I could sense the day when this will be true. The owners of our local UPS Store were friendly and supportive. They even gladly took my picture in their store.

The highlight of my week, however, was meeting my editor, Ken. We spoke for over two hours about my book. He observed that I talked about what I wanted my book to be. Ken wisely pointed out that he might be able to help me discover what it could be. What a riveting conversation we had. I was beaming as I shared a few of my stories and he shared a few of his views on book-making. I am excited by our partnership and look  forward to reading his notes in January.

But now it’s the holidays, a time for family and friends. It’s also time to catch up on my reading. It will be good to focus on what others have to say.

Phil

The 14 days of Changes

I had an exhilarating call with a professional editor whom I met through a friend. He was personable, fun and knowledgeable. We discussed my book and how a reader might use it. He shared his first perceptions and briefed me on the publishing world. My favourite observation was that fifty-five questions (chapters) may be too many. But they are all important, I thought. I also thought, I think I need a professional editor! 

Time flew by, as it usually does when absorbed in conversation. By the end of the call a partnership was formed. I would handover my draft manuscript on December 21st and he would edit it over the next couple of weeks. 

After hanging up the phone, I created a mindmap drawing of what I needed to do before the 21st.The page quickly became full. I needed to reformat quotes, rewrite the introduction, and write a ‘how to use this book’ section, an ‘afterword,’ and six more stories. I also had to inject more ‘Phil’ into the writing style – all in fourteen days. 

Given the messiness of my drawing, and with a nod to the holiday season, I created an Advent Calendar to share my work schedule. I have five more days and nights to go and am on track. The good news is I’ll have three days to do my Christmas shopping after my draft is complete!  Phil

On Assignment: Chapters Bookstore, December 5, 2011

As I make changes to my book’s content and structure, I am starting to think about its layout. This element of publishing is another important one. It can either make or break a book’s accessibility. This is especially true for the time-starved reader who needs advice fast.  The more I can facilitate quick access to relevant information, the better. 

Charlie, my accomplice

A couple of my reviewers suggested I go to a bookstore to see how other books in my genre are formatted, so I went on assignment. I flipped through books in the business and self-help sections. I felt like Goldilocks before she tried the third bed: some were too academic, some were too playful, and none were ‘just right.’

Traditional layouts included blocks of text that were hard to scan – they looked like work. Highly illustrated books were fun but difficult to navigate. What struck me was that a book was either easy or hard to navigate – there was no middle ground.

Phil, looking inconspicuous 

Here are guidelines that will help me select an effective layout:

Titles need to stand out – they are the key navigation markers
White space is good – the less on a page the easier it is to navigate
Elements need to balance – lopsided pages look wrong
Icons are effective signposts – too many are confusing and gimmicky
Text boxes prioritize content if used sparingly –  too many are confusing 
Different fonts and text sizes communicate order – too many are confusing
If pages aren’t inviting and easy to digest,  they need to be simplified

Charlie’s reward
…not in my genre

Now, I find myself assessing the layout of every book I pick up: Where is my eye directed to? Is there a logical order to the page? Is it easy to navigate? The biggest question, however, is ‘Do I want to keep on reading?’

Phil 

An Author by Any Other Name is Half as Sweet

Last week, I attended a ‘Change Management Roundtable’ session hosted by the Strategic Leadership Forum. It was the first industry function I had been to since starting to write. The registration form had asked for my title; for the first time in my career, I didn’t have one.  I thought about using my old title, but that didn’t seem right. I thought about leaving it blank but that also didn’t seem right. I settled on ‘Author’ because ‘Author-to-be,’ although accurate, really didn’t seem right.

I received my ID tag on arrival, which included my name and title. My initial feeling was embarrassment. I felt naked among a crowd of clothed business people. I hadn’t earned this title and already I was displaying it on my chest for the world to see. Things got worse. The administrator asked for my card so it could be entered into a draw.  I knew that someone might ask me for my card so I was confident in saying, “I don’t have a card at this time.” She kindly offered to make one for me. Then I thought, what happens if I win the draw and they broadcast that Phil Buckley, Author should come up and collect his prize? I felt naked again and hoped I didn’t win. 

As the evening wore on, I felt more comfortable with my newly adopted title. I also felt clothed again, which was a relief. I met an interesting man who showed a real interest in my book. He said he looked forward to reading it. I also had a great conversation with a woman who was encouraging about my journey. There are many amazing people in the world to cheer you on. Sometimes they are people you have just met.

Looking back at the experience I am reminded of a great quote about confidence by Adlai Stevenson:  “It is hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you
look funny on a horse.” So, here I am, Phil Buckley, Author, typing away with purpose and conviction. My name tag is in front of me on my desk, just in case I forget who I am.

Phil

How to Unwrap a Gift So You Fully Appreciate It

The other day, I was scrolling through a technical newsletter (to improve my social media strategy!) and I came across an intriguing article called ‘Unboxing the Kindle Fire.’ A lot has been written about this low cost, high value tablet but this was the first article I had seen about how to properly unveil one. Since feedback is like a gift, this was an apt analogy for opening my reviewers’ comments on the sample excerpt they have read.

Like most things in life, there are bad, good and best ways of doing them. I reasoned it would be wise to put some thought into how best to open my feedback to make the most of the experience. 

Here are the guidelines I follow:

Open one gift at a time
Unwrap it slowly
Look at the whole gift first and then look at 
the details 
Appreciate why the giver chose the features – they were selected  for a purpose
Keep the packaging – care was put into the wrapping, which is an important part of the gift
Enjoy the experience
Be grateful


To push the analogy further, I will line up my gifts and look for trends. Are there common themes? Any types of gift I haven’t received? What is the best order in which to explore them?

It is better to give than to receive, but receiving is great, too!

Phil

All feedback is good, but could you include these things?

As I was preparing my book excerpt to be reviewed by a few peers, I realized I needed to give guidance on the feedback I wanted to receive. All feedback is good, however, I don’t want to miss certain aspects.

Overall, I’m looking for feedback from a reader’s perspective versus a content expert’s. The content is built from my experiences of ‘making change,’ so I expect others will have different experiences and views – no issue. What is far more helpful is feedback on how people take in the book. Specifically, its utility and style: “Is it valuable?” and “Is it interesting?” I am also looking for feedback on how the book is constructed. Finally, I’m curious about what I should call the creation. What title will speak to the reader when looking for a practical change management book? 

Here are the questions I included with my book excerpt:


Introduction

  • Does it effectively convey the reader’s challenge?
  • Does it effectively outline the format of the book?
  • Does it make you want to read on?
Table of Contents (each question  is a chapter)
  • Does the order of the questions look right?
  • Have I missed any essential questions? If so, which ones?
  • Too much, too little, just right?
Six sample Questions
  • How useful is the information?
  • Is the style engaging, boring, etc.?
  • Does the format help or hinder the time-starved reader in finding the information needed?

Possible Title Options

  • Rank order the top three options, including any you can suggest
  • How much do you like your top choice?
Possible Sub-title/Tag Line Options
  • Rank order the top three options, including any you can suggest
  • How much do you like your top choice?

You may be thinking what I am thinking: I am hugely indebted to my feedback providers for taking the time to review my material and give me this feedback. I will appreciate every comment. 

Hmmm, maybe I should have asked one more question: “What do you think about the number of feedback questions – too much, too little, just right?

Phil
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