The New Writer’s Handbook: A Practical Anthology of Best Advice For Your Craft and Career by Philip Martin

Rating: Nine Stickies.

I’ve decided to rate the books I review with how many stickies I used.  Stars are OK, but what do they mean really?  Good writing, good idea, great cover, a famous author?

Exactly.

Stickies mean, these are the pages that I NEED to come back to because there is something I can use.  Something that is going to make an immediate change.

If you see this:

IMG_3799

You’ve got a pretty informative, life-changing, biz altering read.

For this book, The New Writer’s Handbook, nine stickies is pretty good.  It’s a 60 article collection contributed by best-selling authors, journalists, writing instructors, bloggers and literary agents.  I am not reviewing this book for Writers.  Because what freelancer, entrepreneur, solo flyer or small biz guy is not a writer today?  We’ve all been pushed into this field, and frankly, you may drink like Hemingway, but that will only make you think you are a writer.

I have found Tequilla works best for that particular delusion.

The first two chapters, Creative & Motivation and The Craft of Writing are kind of ho-hum.  Motivation?  If you don’t have it, this book’s not going to help you.

What rattled my brain was a short article called Story Techniques, written by Ira Glass, the host and executive producer of the nationally syndicated show This American Life (www.thislife.com).  It’s an ‘aha’ moment.  A master storyteller, Glass invites us discard the notion we all learned in high school – a topic sentence is always followed by the facts that fill out the argument.

What blogger has not been told to start with a story to reel the reader in and have them continue beyond the 8 seconds we have now allocated to the human attention span?

But how do we write a good story?

He suggests you start with two building blocks.  The first is the anecdote, which are literally a sequence of actions.  This happened, and that led to the next thing, and that led to the next thing.  He says the power of the anecdote is so great that in a way, no matter how boring the material is, in a story form, an anecdote has a momentum in and of itself.

“Okay, I’m going to think of the most boring possible story.  There’s a guy…

…and he wakes up.  And he’s lying in bed.

And the house is very quiet, very quiet.   Just unearthly quiet.

So he sits up, and he puts his feet on the floor.  And he walks to the door of his bedroom.

Again, it’s very, very quiet.

He walks down the stairs, looks around….

It’s just unusually quiet.”

This is the most boring possible fact pattern.  And yet, there’s suspense in it.  It feels like something is going to happen.  Sequence of events.  Moving from space to space.

The second thing about the anecdote is it’s raising a question from the beginning.  You want bait.  You want to continually be raising questions. The bait in this story is the house is very quiet.  So the question hanging in the air is why?  Glass says the whole shape of the story is that you’re throwing out questions to keep people watching or reading and then answer then along the way.

The other building block you have, is to have a moment of reflection.  Offer the point of the story.  Here’s the bigger something that you’re driving at.  The story is meant to tell the reader something new – your new idea or a new way of looking at what you want them to “see” or understand.

Oh Ira! – Beautiful, yes?

Five Steps to Successful Email Interviews by Terry L. Stawar, Boost Your Personal Brand Online by Philip Martin, Business Card as Offline Home Page, by Tony D. Clark were a few of the other stickies.

Well worth reading if you choose the chapters that relate to you.

Let me know what works for you in building a story or share a successful blog that always starts with a story – maybe it’s yours or maybe it’s someone who knows their craft.  Use your outdoor voice, people!

BTW  Check out indieawesomeness.com – we’ve launched a new site that is filled with awesome business generators, hacks and fabulous cheats to make the life of every independent a little easier and a lot more fun!

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

51rZPhIJD6LRate: *****

Read:  Cover to Cover (Many Times)

Categories: Business, Marketing, Selling, Best Seller

We all say “yes” to people we know all the time.    “Hey, could you do me a favor…” .  Just today, I had a call from a friend of mine in Australia.  He wanted to send some beer (ha! Ozzies – typical) to some guys in Vancouver, Canada who had done him a favor and he was having trouble finding a source that could do it (try googling “beer/Canada”).   He started out by outlining his dilemma –  the great favor his mates in Canada had done for him and that he wanted to thank them with a cold one.  I’m guessing this is a guy thing.  Me, I’m more the chocolate giver – my gift stays on the hips as a reminder.  Nevertheless, I could help him because I have low friends in high places there, so before you could say Labatts, I offered to get the beer to the hard working Canadian lads.  But now, I would have to call in a favor.

So what makes us say “yes”?  Why did I offer to go out of my way to help, when I easily could have kept my mouth shout and just sympathized?  I do that all the time.  Not the shout my mouth part – the sympathize but do nothing part.  For most of us, being persuaded by people we know is an everyday occurrence. Kids do it to us, friends do it to us, spouses do it to us, heck – have you looked at how your dog manipulates you and he can’t even use words.

We all “get” doing and receiving favors on a personal level, but the more interesting thing is, as we run our businesses, we are the ones trying to manipulate or persuade strangers/clients/customers/readers to say yes to us all the time.  Yes, means ca-ching.  Yes, means beans on the table.  Whether you have a small business selling goods or a blogger selling personal views or a web company selling subscriptions, we all need to find the techniques to make total strangers say “yes”.  So, what are the factors that make one person say yes to another person?  And are there techniques that we can use to bring about compliance?

It turns out, Dr. Cialdini, a distinguished researcher and professor outlines six universal principles and how to use them to become a skilled persuader.  Yippee.  Yes.  Count me in.  He admits to his own sucker status for being a patsy for peddlers, fund-raisers, pitches and magazine subscriptions, and implies that it may be the reason for his interest in the study of compliance.   He wants to know why a request stated in a certain way will be rejected, while a request that asks for the same favor in a slightly different fashion is successful.

His book is organized around six principles: consistency, reciprocation, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity.  He uses examples from his observations and studies that are interesting and relatable.  For example, if you were a billiards-table dealer, which would you advertise – the $329 model or the $3000 model? Chances are, like me, you would have said promote the lower-priced item and hope to trade the customer up when he comes to buy.  Well, chances are we’d have a lot of inventory.  Cialdini explains the aspects of the larger-then-smaller sequence occurs in the practice of “talking the top of the line”.  If you show someone the top of the of line and they buy, very nice.  If they don’t buy, the salesman effectively counter offers with a a more reasonably priced model.  We see this technique on the web all the time.  Think about how many times you’ve gone to a website and the price list is in three columns: One cheap, the second highlighted is mid-priced and the third is the Pro, Executive or Corporate fee. The original price is in the middle – that’s the one they wanted to sell you in the first place.  But without the other choices, we might not have recognized the value.  We know we don’t need “Pro” (typically a lot of fluff) and we always see our businesses as more than “Basic” – after all we are on the road to success.  So what do we see?  Just like in the Three Bears story, the perfect fit in the middle – not too big, not too small – just perfect.

As for my beer run, my friend just sent me a text that said, “Sure. No problem. Does it have to be cold?”

My Takeaway

This book sits very near my desk and is dog-eared and smeared with yellow highlighter on almost every page.  Every time I need to write a tag line or copy, I flip through to find the section I need to be persuasive.  I like brain science and I like psychology.  We have so many experts these days that are saying things that frankly, I think they just make up.  Dr. Cialdini is on my people bucket list of folks I’d like to meet.

Check out indieawesomeness – I write a weekly post for indies, freelancers, solopreneurs – you know, talented folks who fly solo.

Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Rate: ****

Read: Cover to cover

Category: Small Business, Entrepreneurial

Twitter Review: A take-no-prisoners approach to running a business in the 21 century

A friend and I were talking about books over a delicious hot cup of coffee at the neighborhood coffee shop – no Starbucks for us.  I asked him what his favorite book for small biz was and he didn’t hesitate, didn’t waffle, didn’t look toward the ceiling – nope.  He said it right away.  Rework.  And then he smiled and said, “I just love that book.  It’s my bible.” Now, I’m going to backtrack a little (no I’m not going to talk about religion) and say that I find two approaches to business – one is hip and the other is hip replacement.  Chris Brogan – hip.  Donald Trump -hip replacement. Guy Kawasaki – hip.  Jack Welch – hip replacement.  Jason and David, co-founders of the remarkably successful 37 Signals (and if you don’t know the company, watch those stairs) definitely fall into the hip category.  They crush the old knee joint of business methodology, replacing it with a new, shiny, technologically advanced titanium implant.  Run faster, jump higher, feel better.  They write like they have a stop watch tied to their ass.  Each thought comes with a hastily rendered illustration and then a page or two on expanding the idea.  Business growth?  Overrated.  Mission statement?  Yawn.  Press releases?  Spam.  Advertising?  For suckers.  They reject growth, meetings, budgets, boards, salespeople and almost everything else in the “real world.”  But you can’t argue with their success.  In 1999 they started out as a three-person Web-design/consulting firm.  Unhappy with the project management software available, they created their own and named the company 37 Signals.  Five years later, they have generated millions of dollars in profit a year and continue to make boatloads of money to this day, with a very small staff.  In Rework, they take the model home of business and in their words, “take it down to the studs,” rebuilding in a new way.  This isn’t an autobiography (Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, Zappos or the Method Method by Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry) – this is an advice book.  Easy to read, outrageous, funny and double espressoed, these two absolutely make you believe even if you know nothing about business (or everything), you can build your dream if you just do it.

My Takeaway

Let me just say, my knees ache a little in the morning, so I know what the old boys say and do in business.  And it served us well.  But so did coupons in the mail (replaced by Groupon) and the good old boys network (replaced by indie.bz, LinkedIn).  Time to put the old dogs down.  Humanely, of course.  But down nevertheless.  I like their advice.  I think it democratizes business – who can get in, who can succeed, what you have to do to succeed.  They say nonsense to the old standard practices and I agree.  I want to put in a caveat here – I think their advice is for people who don’t anguish over keeping their desk clean, order their closets by color or arrange their spices alphabetically.

Elaine Joli

all things Jason Fried