Five Books Every Blogger Should Read or Own

Writers need to read if they want to improve. We learn, we borrow, we’re influenced, and in some cases, we steal.

Whether you’re a blogging veteran or wet-behind-the-ears rookie, there are certain books that will give you the knowledge, insight, and ability to be an effective blogger.

I am always reading books, sometimes in my industry, sometimes outside (my favorites are Christopher Moore humor novels and British murder mysteries), and trying to learn some of the techniques these writers use.

I have five books that I think every blogger should own, or at least read, if they want to improve their writing and become a better blogger.

These five books vary in industry and focus. They may tell you how to blog, how to write, or how to spell. But these are the five books that I have found to be the most valuable in my own professional blogging career.

  • Corporate Blogging for Dummies: My good friend, Douglas Karr (@douglaskarr), and Chantelle Flannery wrote this tome for corporate bloggers everywhere. And while the title suggests it’s for corporate bloggers, anyone who wants to be a blogger can learn from this one. It talks about why blogging is important, what tools are available, and even how to write blog posts.
  • The AP Stylebook: I’ve long maintained that blogging should follow AP Style when it comes to settling confusing questions of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. After all, we’re becoming citizen journalists, so we should follow journalistic style. The AP Stylebook can answer odd and esoteric questions, like the “proper” abbreviation of state names (AP style does not use the two letter postal abbreviations), whether to capitalize job titles (you don’t, unless you’re referring to the President of the United States), and even whether to use an Oxford comma (they don’t, but I think they’re horribly wrong about this one.)
  • Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing: (affiliate link) I am a regular listener of Mignon Fogarty’s (@GrammarGirl) “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips” podcast, and recommend it to anyone who wants to improve their grammar and punctuation usage. Her book on Better Writing is also a must for anyone who wants to improve their writing mechanics, and avoid the little nagging errors that are so tiny but seem to throw everyone into a terrible tizzy. (I’m also a fan of the A Way With Words show on NPR/podcast, but they don’t have a book out. Plus, I made Grammar Girl’s “Wordsmiths” Twitter list, which I’m very proud of.)
  • Ernest Hemingway’s short stories: If you want to learn how to write with punch and power, read Hemingway. Especially his short stories. Especially anything with Nick Adams (Big Two-Hearted River). It has that punchy, short dramatic style that tells you how to craft short sentences that carry a lot of impact. Hemingway cut his teeth at the Kansas City Star in 1917, learning the style that made him the most recognized writer of his day. While some of his language and ideas are definitely from the early 1900s, his writing style is still something to study and learn from.
  • Once More Around the Park

  • Roger Angell’s Once More Around the Park: Roger Angell is the baseball writer for The New Yorker, and the master of the long meandering sentence. If Hemingway is a boxer, writing short, punchy sentences, Roger Angell is the old dude doing tai chi in the park on a warm Sunday morning, moving slowly but fluidly, and never stopping until he has achieved inner peace and gotten a low-impact workout in at the same time. Angell’s descriptions of baseball games, baseball fans, and even the parks is something even the non-fan will enjoy. It’s a book I definitely recommend reading, whether you’re a baseball fan or not. While the fan will appreciate his explanation of the games and the names of the fan’s childhood, the writer will appreciate the images Angell is able to conjure up, and the ease at which he writes long, smart sentences that carry the sounds and smells of a faraway day.
  • What are some of your favorite books for writers and bloggers? Are there any that you recommend? Any that you would stay away from? Leave a comment and let’s hear from you.

It’s Still Corporate Blogging, Not the Social Web

Debbie Weil doesn’t like the term “blog” anymore. She wants to do away with it.

I was listening to Debbie on Doug Karr’s Blog Talk Radio from the end of February, and she said she doesn’t like the term “blog” anymore. Rather, she wants to call it the “social web,” since blogging has grown beyond a string of chronologically arranged thoughts by writers who wanted to journal publicly (I’m paraphrasing).

I couldn’t disagree more.

While blogging may be old hat to people like Debbie, Doug, and me, it’s still new to a lot of businesspeople, who are only just now hearing about it. They’re only just now hearing about social media. They have just recently quit calling it “Facespace,” and realize there might be something to allowing their employees to contribute to their website.

Amish buggy and cart

Some of these guys even have a website. (No, not the horse.)

Keep in mind, the business community still hasn’t embraced the Internet as a whole. According to Formstack, only 45% of businesses in the US have a website.

That’s a friggin’ website! That’s not even a blog.

I built my first website in 1994. On Adobe PageMill. It was horrible. But we were one of the first businesses in our industry to have one, and I’ve been online ever since.

It’s 17 years later, and more than half of the businesses in this country still don’t have a website. They’re certainly not thinking about a blog. Maybe they’ve heard of it, maybe they know someone who’s got one. But they’re not seeing the need to have one.

And if that’s the case, they’re certainly not ready to embrace the social-ness of their website, and stop referring to it as a blog, since they don’t even have one.

Decoder Ring Theatre cast

Cast of Decoder Ring Theatre, an audio theatre company in Toronto. They're airing 6 of my radio scripts this summer on their podcast.

I’ve seen this “we’ve got to stop calling it by the old name because it’s not accurate anymore” phenomenon so many times before in so many different industries. Radio theatre is no longer called “radio theatre” anymore, it’s called “audio theatre.” Why? Because you don’t listen to these plays on the radio anymore, you listen to them via streaming audio, podcasts, mobile phones, CDs, and even tapes. Who the hell uses radio?

The audio theatre groups I’ve been a part of have been arguing about this for the last 10 years. (In fact, if I want to rile them up, I’ll bring it up again, like shaking a jar of angry bees just as they’re starting to calm down.) But the only people who care about the distinction are the practitioners themselves. Most of the non-audio theatre public still calls it “radio theatre,” because that’s the name they know. That’s how they refer to it when they talk about what they, their parents, or their grandparents listened to.

When I ask them about “audio theatre,” they stare at me blankly, until I say “that’s the new word for radio theatre.” Then they get it. Audio theatre’s biggest marketing blunder was when they stopped calling the art form what the typical listener was calling it, and I think it played a role in the diminished acceptance of the art form, even as audiobooks and other forms of audio entertainment and education have taken off.

If we want corporate blogging to continue to grow, we need to keep calling it a “blog” for as long as the business community has not fully embraced the Internet as a whole. Once everyone has a website and a blog, then I’ll call it a “social web.” Until then, I’m going to stick with the term the rest of the business community is already using. The social media pros can call it whatever they like.

Photo credit: pullarf (Flickr)

Really? We’re STILL Talking About Ghost Blogging?

What is it with these social media purists and ghost blogging? What exactly do they not understand?

Ghost blogging is a service that is provided by ghost writers. We transcribe interviews from our clients, get their approval for what we’ve written, and we post it to their blogs.

This is no more inauthentic than hiring a social media agency to run your social media campaign, or an ad agency to create your TV commercials. It’s no more inauthentic than private labeling/white labeling a product made by someone else — food companies do it all the time, and no one complains.

Avinash Kaushik makes a misinformed tweet about ghost bloggingMy friend, Doug Karr, recently wrote a post about Avinash Kaushik’s rather misinformed statement about “ghost blogging being the antithesis of everything social.”

Doug said:

It’s always interesting when someone with as much authority as Avinash throws out a rule like this. Not only do I disagree with Avinash, I know many, many companies who would disagree as well. Ghostblogging is not the antithesis of everything social… inauthenticity, dishonesty, and insincerity are the antithesis of everything social.

As a professional ghost blogger, I’m sick to death of people who paint ghost bloggers as some sort of moral leper, the used car salesmen of the social media industry. (Oops. There, now you’ve made me offend used car salesmen. Happy now?) These social media purists decry ghost blogging as being less than honest because CEOs of large corporations and small businesses don’t spend 1 – 2 hours a day crafting a single blog post.

“Oh, but if you were serious about it, you’d make the time,” they lilt, wagging their fingers at the slacker CEOs who whine that they’re “tired” after a 14 hour day. “Because social media is all about the conversation and community and the inherent good in other people.”

No it isn’t. Social media in the business world is all about making money. Businesses can’t pay their workers with conversations. You don’t appease shareholders with community. And their vendors don’t want to hear about all the good you’re finding in other people when they ask why you’re 60 days overdue.

If we followed the social media purists’ logic to its logical conclusion, we would not be allowed to use these other ghost-type services:

  • Businesses would have to produce their own ads, commercials, and graphics in-house. They could not hire an outside agency to do it. Or if they did, there would be a big disclaimer on it saying it was produced by that agency.
  • Software companies could not outsource their programming to freelance coders. They should do it all themselves.
  • Celebrities should not hire ghost writers to help with their books. They should be allowed to suck on their own.
  • Politicians would not be allowed to use ghost writers to write their speeches. They would have to mumble and fumble their way through every speech, no matter who they were. Or if they used a ghostwriter, they would have to interrupt their speech every 10 minutes with, “This speech was written by my ghost writer, Jeff Shesol.”

Ghost blogging is the last bastion of any kind of ghosting, where some purist thinks that we shouldn’t be allowed to do it because it’s “inauthentic.”

Do you know what’s inauthentic? Inauthentic is following fewer than 100 people while 25,000 people follow you on Twitter. f you’re in “the conversation” business, don’t you think you should have a conversation? Otherwise, you’re just holding a one-way broadcast with 25,000 people, and are showing that you’re not willing to listen to anyone else. That’s not authentic in the least bit.

Whether the purists like it or not, ghost blogging is going to only get more popular. As companies want to enter the social media marketing realm and realize they can’t, because they just laid off their best writers, they will look for other ways to gain that competitive edge. If they’re going to outsource their web design, their ad creation, and their strategy, why shouldn’t they outsource their writing too?

There are freelance writers in all other parts of business — marketing copy, TV scripts, radio scripts, ad copy, web copy, annual reports, press releases, white papers, grant proposals — so why is blog writing so different from all those other forms of ghost writing?

It isn’t. If you hire someone to write something for you, and you don’t stick their name on it, they’re a ghost writer. I don’t care if it’s marketing, advertising, or grants. They’re a ghost writer. No one is complaining about their inauthenticity or their non-transparency.

So the purists need to get off their high horse, learn how the world works, and accept the fact that ghost writers are skilled writers who are paid to provide a service for other people. And we’re going to be here for a while.