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receiving feedback

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

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 

Looking at the Stars and Finding the Constellations

This week was very productive. I spent it absorbing feedback I received from my reviewers. An author friend cautioned that reading feedback “…is both exhilarating (because you are making the final product that much better) and frustrating, especially when reviewers offer contradictory advice.” I found it exhilarating and exhausting, but not frustrating. There were more common themes than individual threads. 
                                                                                                                                                                  
The great news is that I am on track to completing the book I wanted to write. Equally great news – there are many ways I can make it better and I still have a lot of work to do.

Reviewing multi-source feedback feels like the role Tom Cruise played in Minority Report; your job is to look for patterns across multiple pieces of information. The challenge is to keep everything in your head while you find the connections. I wonder if Tom got headaches while he was filming these scenes.

Speaking with my reviewers to clarify points and test solutions has been a great help.  Halfway through these discussions, here are the changes I am making:

  • Audience: clarify who the book is written for
  • Navigation: be more directive on how best to use the book
  • Structure: categorize chapters by theme – results, the plan, resources, and communication
  • Format: add graphic elements to help the reader find the information they need
  • Content: open each chapter with one or two quotes and remove the ‘Words of Wisdom’ section
  • Content: Delete the stories that don’t illustrate ‘What works/What doesn’t work’ sections
  • Writing Style: Make it more personal, more ‘Phil’ – some parts read like a text book

Reviewing feedback is like searching for constellations. The stars are in full view, but you need to look hard to find the patterns. Having a team of generous astronomers helps a lot.
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

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