“It was a dark and stormy night…”

My friend Bill Quain says that the four most important words for an author are: “Tell them a story.” In years of writing and public speaking, I have found no more powerful instruction for a communicator.

Ira Glass of This American Life giving a lectu...
Ira Glass – Image via Wikipedia

So what’s a story? From Google: “A message that tells the particulars of an act or occurrence or course of events.” This innocent definition c

ontains some powerful thoughts:

  • “A message”–”An object of communication, or the contents thereof.” While “message” has come to mean a communication with a purpose, the original and more general usage is simply a clump of stuff, usually intended to convey some meaning. That would include words, sounds, pictures, perhaps smells and tastes, or even just an experience.
  • “…that tells the particulars of an act or occurrence or course of events.” The particulars: What happened; to whom; when; where; how; why. The particulars put the reader/listener/message recipient into the frame of the story, engaging their senses.
  • “…act or occurrence or course of events” may in fact be too limiting. You can tell a story about an object–something that is just sitting there. The time element, which is probably important to engage the audience, can be introduced indirectly–the history of the object; something that is about to happen, or might happen.

Ira Glass, of This American Life, offers storytelling tips. The two main parts of a story are an anecdote and some reflection, according to Glass. He says, “The power of the anecdote is so great…No matter how boring the material is, if it is in story form…there is suspense in it, it feels like something’s going to happen. The reason why is because literally it’s a sequence of events…you can feel through its form [that it's] inherently like being on a train that has a destination…and that you’re going to find something…”

Reflection is telling about the anecdote. Why am I telling you this? What’s important for you to know?

Dr. Clare Albright has some good storytelling tips, including:

  • Paint images with your words by appealing to the five senses.
  • Create suspense. Use a provocative sentence or question: “What had caused the tremendous explosion?”
  • “Use words that ‘sing.’ This would include words that inspire, words that imitate a sound, words that paint a beautiful picture, etc. Become an investigator on the prowl to find more words that have this kind of effect. Examples: sanctuary, crescendo, seaside, etc.”

(Read this about the original “…dark and stormy night.” When my kids were growing up, they were greatly entertained by the recursive, “It was a dark and stormy night, and a band of robbers was seated around a table. Suddenly, one of them said, “Hey, Jack, tell us a story!” And Jack said, “It was a dark and stormy night, and a band of robbers…”)

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Be real

If you want to build an audience of people who know you, like you, and trust you, you need to be yourself. Which should be a relief, because you have no competition for that role.

But if instead you try to sound like someone else, or like something you are not, you are sure to fail. People are astonishing in their ability to smell the inauthentic, the phony. It’s not a conscious thing; it is intuitive. You are good at it, too; you know who sounds real, who sounds like a person you might get to like, and who is trying to sell you a bill of goods.

“Authenticity is the key. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made,” is an old cynical joke. But the truth is that authenticity cannot be faked or imitated. Your readers’ BS detectors will be ringing all over the world if you try to pass off some imagined image of who you think you ought to be on them.

Don’t bother. It has no upside. Be yourself. You are not only good enough; you are wonderful! You have something powerful and unique to offer, something that nobody else has. Yes, it may take some work to find out exactly how to express it. But you know what? You can get help from your public.

Start with a blog. Communicate on a regular basis with your audience. Ask for their feedback. Give them yours, respectfully. It won’t be long at all before you find out who you are and how you appear to your market.

You can use polls to ask your readers about things, too. And all of this interaction is fuel for your book, for the powerful message you will package and deliver to your readers.

But don’t wait to construct a flawless persona; nobody has one, and if you present one, it will be immediately recognized as phony.

Be yourself.

What will a book do for me?

Literally? Nothing. A book, even one with a  cover, and your name and face on it, and marvelous content describing your uniqueness, and the uniqueness of your approach to your clients’ greatest pain, will do nothing for you. Nothing.

However, you can do a lot with your book. You can use it as a key to unlock hitherto sealed doors, a credential to bring you the respect you deserve, a validation to allow you to charge the fees that are your due.

Moreover, the book-writing process–actually, my book-writing process–will empower you to take the stuff that is floating around in your head and turn it into an organized body of knowledge. That organized body of knowledge can become a book, and much more–ebooks; courses; keynote speeches; and many other products.

By writing your book my way, you actually inventory your store of knowledge. You see, if you are like most people, you don’t know what you know. That is, you can’t make a list of all the things you have learned. You just know them, and they serve you in your profession. But if asked to make a list of them, you’d be hard put to lay them out.

My book-writing process empowers you to do just that–to list all the things you know in a way that you can share them with others.

Once you have this catalog, this inventory of your peculiar expertise and experience, you can easily turn it into products. Each chapter in your book can be a string of podcasts. Each subchapter is, at the very least, a blog entry. The book’s title is a theme for a course, a membership site, a coaching program–you get the idea. It’s all knowledge, and it has value.

So do it. Try my book-writing process. Build your new business.

“Perfect Pages”–a guide to producing books with Microsoft Word

Perfect Pages by Aaron Shepard is an indispensable aid to someone who wants to produce a fully formatted book manuscript in Microsoft Word. Get it for about $12.60 at Amazon.com and read its 150+ pages, and you will save yourself a lot of grief.

Microsoft Word 2010 Icon
Image via Wikipedia
Word Mac 2008 icon
Image via Wikipedia

Now you may think, “I’ve used Word forever. I don’t need additional tips.” You may be right, but I doubt it. Book formatting requires different

things than article or report formatting.

Word is a powerful program, and it can also be maddeningly cranky. This book helps you avoid the cranky parts.

The few pages on styles are so lucid that you will get your money’s worth from the book if you just absorb them. Styles are the blessing and the bane of Word, and the five pages Shepard devotes to them are spot on.

Partial contents:

  • Managing Word–Options; preferences; workspace; features; safety; memory
  • Formatting your document
  • Typesetting your text
  • Formatting your text
  • Perfecting your text
  • Handling special text
  • Handling graphics
  • Enhancing your layout
  • Preparing for print
  • Creating a cover
  • Resources–a good long list of websites

This book will save you time and energy if you write in Word. Highly recommended.

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Quain: Kindle worthless?

My friend and colleague, Bill Quain, sent me this shocking thought:

The Kindle Is Practically Worthless

I just heard a very interesting story about the Amazon Kindle.  It demonstrates just how much publishing has changed, and how many opportunities there are today for authors – if you just open your eyes and your minds!  It is time to think different.

Why do I say “The Kindle is worthless?”  Read this:

My friend Rocco is one of theose classic gentlemen from the Old School.  He is 79 years old, and after a career in the hotel business, he became a college professor, and eventually a college dean.  Today, semi-retired, Rocco still travels frequently.  Before his recent trip to Paris for a meeting, he bought an Amazon Kindle.

Rocco was amazed at the convenience of the Kindle.  He told me that he immediately bought four books and put them on the machine.  “It only weighs 11 ounces,” he said.  He loved it, and used it extensively on the plane trip.

When he got home from Europe, he was unpacking the Kindle and dropped it on to the tile floor.  When he turned it on, a large area in the upper right corner of the screen was unreadable.  He called the Amazon support center to see what they could do.

The technician he spoke with tried directing Rocco on a few “saves,” but nothing worked.  So, the technician said “We will overnight a new Kindle to you.  The package will have an envelope to send us the old one back – no charge.”  Sure enough, the next day, the new Kindle arrived and Rocco was back in business.  Amazon even transferred his four books to the new machine.

Do you see why I say the Kindle is practically worthless?  Amazon places very little value on the machine.  They place TREMENDOUS value on their channel of distribution.  If that channel closes (if the reader no longer has a working Kindle) then Amazon  cannot sell books!  Folks, the machine is practically worthless.  The problem-solving process is where the value lies.  A Kindle is only worth something (to both the owner and the supplier) if it is in working order and if the owner is buying books to read on it.

Some Points to Ponder

  1. Amazon is not trying to keep books out of the market.  They want as many books available as possible.
  2. Amazon does not make any decision about the quality of the books.  They let the customers decide if the book is good.  And do you know how Amazon judges the quality of a book?  “Is it good enough for someone to buy?”
  3. Amazon does not care if a book is good or not because they have no costs invested in the book.  This is quite different than “traditional” publishers who spend thousands of dollars–no, make that hundreds of thousands of dollars–on a book before they ever make a dime.
  4. If a book only sells ten copies, and those ten readers were satisfied with it, then that makes Amazon happy.  Amazon knows that happy customers buy more books.

Some Lessons to Learn

Stop wasting your time trying to find a traditional publisher and a traditional agent.  Self-publish your book NOW.  There are people out there with Kindles who want to read your book.  There are also people who buy from Amazon (and other distributors).

Remember, there are riches in the niches!  Know your market segments and work them hard.  Give them exactly what they want and they will want more.

If your dream is to be in a bookstore, then write a great book and promote it to your niche.  Sell some books.  Look for a traditional publisher AFTER you sell a lot of books.  Better yet, let them look for you.

Kep your costs down.  Amazon makes money because they have few costs.  Look for a “print on demand” company.  Better yet, look for a company that gives you ALL the tools you need to publish your book for FREE.  (For more information on this incredible news flash, write to me at bill@quain.com and use the subject line “How do I get FREE publishing tools?”

Be like the Amazon Kindle.  Don’t worry about the bookstore, worry about the book buyers.

Bill Quain, Ph.D.
CEO & Executive Author
Wales Publishing Company
(609) 399-2119 – office
(305) 606-8976 – cell
www.walespublishing.com
bill@quain.com

Helping authors WRITE,PUBLISH, and SELL their books

“Begin with the end in mind”

This is one of Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Successful People.” It also corresponds to an ancient Jewish dictum that is part of the Shabat service, “Lekha Dodi”: “Sof ma’aseh b’makhshava tkhila,” says the Hebrew–”The end of a deed is in prior thought.”

Here’s the application to books: If you want to wind up with a book, you have to start with a book in mind.

“Well, duh!” I hear you snorting. And yet–most people who want to write a book don’t do that. They start with some general notion that they want to get to a book, then do random things–journaling, reading, lots of web surfing, thinking, feeling frustrated… and are disappointed and distressed that they seem to be no closer to a book weeks or months or years later than when they began.

It’s not their fault. It’s as if they had determined to travel to some distant destination–say, Joplin, Missouri–but had no idea where Joplin is.

So they start traveling. They drive, they walk, they fly, just to be moving. But they never get to Joplin, and feel worse and worse about it all the time.

One thing that would be helpful would be a map. Here’s one:

  • Decide who you are writing for
  • Decide what you are going to say to them, and why they will want to hear your message
  • Name your book
  • Create the table of contents–the list of chapters
  • For each chapter, create a list of subchapters
  • Only when you are satisfied that your table of contents and all the subchapters are in the right order do you begin to write
  • If there’s anything you need to look up or find out, note it and leave it for the end. When everything else is done, go do whatever is required to fill that blank

That’s how you build a book. You begin with the end in mind.

Need help? Schedule an appointment with me for a free strategy session. Click below.


I offer online scheduling using BookFresh

Manage your state

In book-writing, as in other activities, the quality and quantity of your output will depend on your state. No, I don’t mean California or New York. I’m referring to your internal state–the vector sum of your emotions and feelings. What comes up for you when you ask yourself, “How am I?” Serene? Frazzled? Happy? Grumpy? Some combination?

Many people experience their emotional state like the weather, believing they have no control over it. If you are such a person, I have good news for you: You can affect your state.

Were you ever in the middle of an angry exchange when the phone rang? Did your anger spill over to the phone call, or did you find you were able to “switch gears” and “get into a different head”? If you were able to set aside your anger and enter into a conversation of a completely different tone, you can understand what I mean–and that it is within your reach.

The first step: Be aware of your state. Ask yourself uncritically, “How am I? What am I feeling?” Accept whatever answer comes up for you as useful information.

Now ask: Is this state serving me at this moment? Is there some other state that is more appropriate to my current activity–completing my outline; writing a blog entry; preparing for a business call? Here are some things you can do to create your own pattern interrupt and choose your new state:

  • Get up and do some vigorous exercise. Run until you are exhausted. Do jumping jacks.
  • Call a close friend and tell them something wild. Or ask them for the happiest thing that they did in the last couple of days.
  • Change the music you’re listening to, or play some if you’re not. Put on something that always makes you smile–something with raw guitars and lots of drums.
  • Pick up your favorite book of humor or inspiration and read some things at random. Or go to a humor website you love.
  • Put on a hat; this is now your “state-change” hat.
  • Do your happy dance!
  • Read your favorite uplifting poem aloud.
  • Draw a picture that excites you. Use colors.

Brainstorm your own list of pattern-interrupts. Use them! Your writing will benefit.

The dance of communication

I went to an amazing seminar this weekend. The focus was on sales–and I just saw you wrinkle your nose. That’s ok. That was my reaction, too, when I first thought about it. I see it differently now.

Two years ago I began to realize that I was resisting sales. When I was a computer-aided design consultant, I did almost no sales. I was a celebrity, and $10,000 keynote speeches, $25,000 consulting engagements, and more, just flowed to me, because I was THE star.

When I became a coach, and decided to focus on helping people produce books, and income from follow-on products, all that changed. Nobody knew me. So I knew I had to learn about marketing and sales.

Marketing–letting my market know who I am and what I can do–has come fairly easily to me. But sales? No.

I realized I resisted sales as a yukky activity, as a sleazy kind of coercion, as a way to get people to do things they don’t want to do, for my own benefit. I knew that wasn’t right, so I adopted a motto: “Selling is an act of love.”

You see, I know I have something nobody else has: A way to help people express themselves by producing a good book, quickly and easily. And then taking the work they put into producing the book and leveraging it into an entire business. It can be a life-changing experience, as it already has for several of my clients. I want people to know about it.

But I was stuck with these bad–and incorrect–beliefs about selling. And one more, even more deadly to the sales process, that I just discovered this weekend.

What I discovered was that the overriding program in my communication process was that I want to be liked. I so wanted to be liked that I’d gladly forgo a sale to ensure that the person I spoke with would leave the conversation liking me.

Thus I sabotaged myself–and them.

Sometimes, just shining the light of truth on a situation is enough to change things. I believe that’s the case here. I learned to lead my prospect through a series of transactions that result in us both being able to make an informed decision about the question: Are we right for each other? Is there a match between their wants and needs and what I offer?

To help my prospect reach that point, I have to take control of the conversation–gently, but definitely. When the prospect asks, “Never mind all that, how much will it cost me?” I must civilly get their permission to bring them to the point where I can give them an answer that will make sense. “Of course you want to know how much it will cost. Would it be ok if I ask you just a couple more questions so that I can give you an accurate and meaningful answer?”

It’s a dance, and I must lead skillfully, so that my dancing partner enjoys and profits from the dance–even if we never see each other again.

Think about this when you write your book. Communication is a dance.

5 questions you must answer

Why write this book?
You’ve felt that you have a book inside you for some time, and you have had a growing sense what it is about. Or perhaps the idea just came to you: “I ought to write a book.” You came across the book you are now reading, and thought, “OK, I’ll do it. I’ll write a book.”

But—why? What is it that gives you the desire to write a book? What is the purpose of the project? What will you do with the results?

You don’t need a reason. You can write a book on a whim, and enjoy the writing and the book, when it’s done. But writing a book—even quickly, as I teach you to do—does require a certain amount of determination, of stick-to-it-iveness. If you know why you are doing it, the reason or reasons can help you maintain your resolve when your interest flags a bit, or when you feel stuck
You don’t have to know why. But if you can give yourself a reason, it will help you.

For whom?
Related to the question of why is: For whom? Who are you writing for? What do you want your readers to understand or learn or experience from your book? Who are the people who will want to read it, or will benefit from it, or be enlightened by it? In a way, this question is more important than “why,” because you must have an audience in mind when you decide how to write and what to say.
What level of vocabulary will you use? What knowledge will you assume your audience has? Will your writing be controversial, or will it confirm widely held opinions?

When I write I find it helpful to picture my reader, to think about the person who is reading what I wrote. How old are they? Male, female? What’s their education? Their profession? Why did they pick up my book? What do they hope to learn? How can I speak to their need most clearly and directly?

When you have a clear idea who you’re writing for, and can maintain it, your writing has clarity and power.

About what?
You may think you know exactly what you are writing about. But do you really? Cluster your topic; see what comes up. Explain it to a friend; “sell” them the idea of your book. Listen to their responses. Are your topic and purpose clear?

Clustering will help you see what your topic means to you, what things actually come to your mind when you focus on your subject. You may find out that the book you thought you wanted to write was actually narrower than what is really in your heart—or it may have been broader.

Sharpening your focus will help you immensely. It will enable you to pour all of your creative power into a sharp-edged channel, so that your message is delivered to your reader with clarity and integrity.

What will the reader get from it?
You know who your reader is. You know what your book is about. Now—what will your reader get from it? Picture that reader just having finished your book, speaking to an intimate friend about it. “I just finished that book I was reading. Here’s what I got from it.” What do they say next? Are they happy? Disappointed? Matter-of-fact? Will they recommend the book to the friend? What response would you like them to have? What must your book be like in order for them to have the response you’re hoping to evoke?

What will you get out of it?
Picture this: The book is done. You’re holding a copy in your hand. What are you feeling? What are you thinking? Are you experiencing the psychic and emotional rewards you expected? What are they? It’s important that you have some idea what they will be.
What role will it play in your life?

For some authors, a book is an end in itself. It was inside them; it wanted to come out.

For others, the book serves another purpose. It may establish their authority. It may deliver a message. It may serve as the keystone of a consulting and speaking business. It may give them a product to sell, to enhance their income.
Other authors have more personal reasons for writing. The book tells about their family, for their family. Or about their town, or company, or military unit.

Whatever the role that the book is to play in your life, it must be planned, designed. It won’t happen automatically.

If you are a coach or consultant, plan out your business framework. Will you sell the book at speaking events? Market it on the web? Offer it in bulk to corporate clients? Give it away, like a large business card?

If it is a personal book—a biography or family history—will you distribute it at a family reunion?

Plan the distribution, the marketing, the applications of your book. Then create a timeline, so that you will know when to do what.

An old warning

Yikes! My hard drive crashed today.

Joy! I use the Mac’s built-in Time Machine functionality, so that I’m continually backing up to a 1T hard drive. I lost–nothing. Took my MacBook Pro (unlike most laptops, it’s not a do-it-yourself hard-drive machine) to the techs; 3 hours later, voila! The Mac’s ready to bring home. I turn it on, plug in my backup drive–and 3 hands-off hours later, all 350 gigs of applications and data are back–and even the tabs I had open in my browser are open.

Backup was not this easy in years past. And for many PC users it still is not. I haven’t done the research, but I use MirrorFolder on my PC; every action I take on the PC is mirrored on my backup drive. If the PC drive crashes, I’m completely up-to-date.

If you are serious about writing a book, you should either keep all of your writing (and other important files) in a secure online service, like FastPencil.com, or get a good backup system. Otherwise, you are betting against entropy–the proven tendency of the universe to go from order to disorder. Right here, on your hard drive.

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