A BLOG DEDICATED TO PROFESSIONALS WHO WANT TO WRITE BOOKS

Your crappy best

A computer designer in Tracy Kidder’s venerable Pulitzer-Prize winning book, The Soul of a New Machine, was fond of saying, “Not everything worth doing is worth doing well.” He was talking about product development, and he was on track to produce a commercial megabit in computer technology. But that notion of doing less than your [...]

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How many words?

How long should your book be? I write a lot of management and business books, so I recently posed that question to a number of business editors. The result? Nobody quite agreed. I thought the editors would say 50,000 to 60,000 words, or 200 to 250 typed pages. I figured they would want shorter manuscripts [...]

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To self-publish…or not

Self-publishing gets a lot of good press these days. It’s faster, easier, cheaper, more profitable, a better deal—choose your superlative. But depending on your goals, the decision to choose self-publishing is far from a no-brainer. I’ve done both, so here’s my two cents for professionals writing books: Seriously consider self-publishing if— You’re a celebrity with [...]

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Metaphor for life

In his essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell had some famous words of advice: “A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? [...]

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Quadruple your time budget?

Authors can learn a lot from Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. A psychologist and Nobel-prize winner, Kahneman points to flaws in human thinking. One of them is the “planning fallacy.” In simple terms, the fallacy is this: Most things take a lot longer to finish than we think, because we don’t think rationally. [...]

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The unconscious elephant

“When the thinking isn’t done, the writing can’t begin.” That, in effect, is my motto when I get stuck writing. If I can’t push ahead in composing the next paragraph, I figure I haven’t formed a complete thought. Or at least a thought worthy of publication. My mind simply has to do more work. But [...]

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Find your fascinations

If you’ve started on a book manuscript and gotten to the point of feeling “lost in the forest,” you should try an exercise suggested by John Butman. John, whose work I lauded in my last post, recently published Breaking Out: How to Build Influence in a World of Competing Ideas. His exercise is called “fascinations.” [...]

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Speaking for the reader

What so often makes a book resonate with readers is the expression of a universal thought. Maybe a book is ostensibly about how people can better train dogs, but it meanwhile expresses plenty of wisdom about people training themselves. I was reminded of this while reading a colleague’s new book, Breaking Out: How to Build [...]

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Sample chapter? Yes, no, maybe

When you talk to people in the book business, you hear all kinds of answers to the question: When you submit a nonfiction book proposal, do you need to include a sample chapter? I’ve written about this question before when I cited my own experience. This time I decided to ask ten editors with whom [...]

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Writing like jazz

How does an award-winning, globetrotting journalist think about weaving the wealth of material he amasses—enough to fill many books—into a simple story line? He likens his approach to the organization of a John Coltrane jazz piece. Award-winning South African journalist Beauregard Tromp spoke at a writers’ conference in Boston a couple of weeks ago. Tromp, [...]

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