Erik’s Rules for Writing Short Books

A few days ago, I had to confront my elitist attitude toward books and whether or not I think a book can be anything less than 50 pages that gets spit out over a weekend.

It’s not.

But I also had to rethink my attitude toward any book that was not traditionally published, shorter than 200 pages, and didn’t take several months to produce.

I realized, thanks to my friend, Jim, that these short books — they’re called “novellas” in the fiction world — can actually serve a very useful purpose in helping someone develop their personal brand.

And that helped me to realize that I just need to get over myself and my attitude and learn to accept the newer definition of what a book is supposed to be.

BUT if you want to write a book, even if it’s a short book, there are a few things you need to do to make your book good, no matter how long it is. Otherwise, you’re just creating junk and you’re watering down what it means to write a book and to be an author.

1. A book does not take a weekend to write.
One does not simply "slap a book together." This is especially true if you're writing short books/You might be able to write the first draft in 48 hours, but it’s nowhere near ready. Don’t even think about publishing it. You’ll hear people brag about how they wrote a book in just a weekend or just a couple of days. Good books don’t take this long, so don’t ever be satisfied with the work you produce in a day or two.

This is supposed to be your major marketing tool, your calling card, your social proof that you’re an expert at what you do. You can’t produce that in just one weekend, and whatever it is you produce in that time won’t be good enough to serve that purpose.

2. Make it longer than 50 pages, please.
Expertise is deep and involved, and it has a lot to say. So your book, no matter the topic, should be more than 50 pages long. In fact, the deeper you dive into your topic, the longer it’s going to be. The broader and more general your topic is, the less there is to say about it. The more focused it is, the deeper you can dive.

For example, I could write a book about Marketing in general, and I would run out of things to say in about 30 pages. But I could write a book that focuses on content marketing for enterprise-level companies and come up with volumes of information — wait, I totally did that, and it was 236 pages long.

Dive into a niche, explore every important fact that you can, and add that to your manuscript. If your book is becoming huge and unwieldy, break it up into manageable sections, and flesh out each one thoroughly. Turn them into separate books and sell them as smaller volumes. Your book doesn’t have to be 300 pages, but it should never be shorter than 75. Otherwise that’s just a pamphlet.

3. Revise, revise, revise.
Honest to God, if you publish your first draft, you deserve any and all ridicule and shame because it’s just going to be bad. Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”And I’ll bet that’s what your first draft is. Listen, I’ve been writing for 30 years, and I still write shitty first drafts. So don’t fool yourself into thinking that yours is fine.

Revise your manuscript, then revise it a second time, and then you’re ready to start thinking about final edits and publication. You’re not there yet, but you’re ready to start thinking about it.

4. Take time between edits.
You need to wait several days between revisions. Reread your manuscript and make sure you’ve covered all the pertinent information and fixed all the errors you can find. That takes time. We all get used to seeing what we’ve created, especially if we try to revise right after we’ve written it, and so we gloss over actual errors. Our mind just fills in what we expect to see, not what’s actually there. But you’ll catch your errors if you can separate yourself from your work for several days.

Your book should get at least two revisions with at least three days between each one. A week would be better, if you can manage it.

5. Get beta readers.
Send out PDF copies to friends and ask them to read it. Ask them to find holes, typos, unanswered questions, and missing information. I know a guy who wrote a short book about college financial planning. After he ordered his first 30 copies from CreateSpace, someone asked whether it included information about 529 Savings Plans.

It did not. So he burned his first 30 copies, made the additions that ended up being another major section of his book, and ordered 30 more copies.

This guy had basically produced his book in a weekend, done some editing, and then uploaded it for printing. No beta readers, no expert input, no major time between revisions, and so he missed a very important part of college financial planning. This is why you need extra eyes on your work. Sure it’s going to add time, but your book will be better for it.

6. Hire a professional editor.
If you’re going to use this as a business card or a brochure, then it had better be great. You can’t have typos, you can’t have mistakes, you can’t have anything that makes it look half-assed and flawed.

There are people who say “perfect is the enemy of good,” but those are people willing to settle for “good enough.” And good enough is terrible. So do everything you can to make your book great.

That means don’t do the editing yourself. No one is good at editing their own work, even copy editors. Hire someone. For a 75 – 100 page book, you can find a decent copyeditor for a couple hundred bucks. Or you can find a great copyeditor for several hundred dollars. Even a recently-graduated creative writing or English major would be delighted to edit your work for $200, and they’ll do a fantastic job of it.

7. Get a professional cover.
CreateSpace has covers available, but you’ll be much better off if you can hire someone to do your cover design for you. If you’re not a graphic designer, this is not the time for you to take a stab at it.

Get someone with some decent design skills to put one together. It doesn’t have to be fancy or be a $5,000 masterpiece.. If you want some ideas, go to the bookstore and study the book covers in your particular field. Note the design trends, font choices, whether they used photos or illustrations and what kind. Get an idea of what you want your book cover to look like, and then ask your designer to create it for you.

8. Do not, do not, DO NOT screw around with font size and margins in order to boost your page count.
This isn’t high school. Those tricks you did when you had to write your papers to meet word and page count — lots of adverbs, squeeze the margins in to 1.5″, line-and-a-half spacing, 14 pt. type — only make your book look like a complete scam and like you’re deliberately trying to be tricky.

Real books are single spaced, 12 pt. type or smaller, and have 1″ margins or less. A few years ago, I met a guy who bragged about turning a 20 page manuscript into a 30 page collection of words — I won’t call it a “book” — and he advocated screwing with the fonts and margins to make the book thicker.

If you have to do that, just delete your work. Delete it and go back to the drawing board or the classroom, because you clearly don’t have what it takes to write a book in the first place. Because that’s not writing, and it doesn’t demonstrate expertise. That’s dishonest garbage. If you have to lie about how long the book is, I won’t trust a single word in it.

I’m learning to change my way of thinking and my elitist attitude about being a book author. But you have to meet me halfway. Anything that’s less than 30 pages, is poorly written, unedited, and is a stinking word turd is not a book.

Slapping a collection of pages between two pieces of card stock doesn’t make it a book anymore than me wearing bread earmuffs makes my head a sandwich.

So do the work, take the time to make it good, produce something of value, and make sure there’s enough in it to actually be proud of. When you look at it five years later, you don’t want to be embarrassed by a comedy of errors and bad writing that you could have easily prevented with just a little more time..

Writing Books for Personal Branding

I have a confession to make.

I’m a snob when it comes to being a book author. To me, a book has gravitas. It’s more than 200 pages, it’s been properly edited and revised numerous times, and it takes several weeks and even months to create. And, if I’m being honest, it exists in a printed form, having been printed by a traditional publisher.

This puts me at odds with a lot of people, because the modern definition and process of creating a book has changed, thanks to new technology.

  • Word processors let us write and revise manuscripts instead of rewriting them. Forty years ago, you typed a manuscript, made edits, and then retyped it.
  • Ebooks has changed book lengths. Now, we can churn out short stories and novellas, and publish them online and sell them for as little as $1.
  • Short-run self-publishing lets us print a few books. Rather than buying 2,000 copies from a vanity publisher, and having 1,990 copies sit in our garage for years, we can print out a few books at a time.

All of this has democratized the book industry.

The last time we had technology this disruptive was when the printing press was invented. Instead of waiting for a monk to copy a book by hand, you could gather a small group of investors, buy a printing press, and go into publishing yourself, and print whatever the hell you wanted.

That world grew and grew to the point where publishing was huge and unwieldy, and only very special writers could get books published. And then, like most everything else, the Internet broke that system.

Now, not only do the very special writers get books published, so can everyone else.

On most days, I embrace democratization of any elitist system. I’m all for tearing down walls and letting everyone be awesome and cool.

The Branding Yourself cover. Cover design is just one important facet of writing books.Want to write your own book? Awesome! Cool! There are ways you can get that published and you don’t have to be a part of that stuffy old elitist system! Power to the people!

Except I finally got to be special this time. I co-authored three books that were published by Real Publishers, and I won’t lie. That feels pretty good. (I co-authored a fourth book that was self-published, but I feel a little self-conscious about it.)

So I roll my eyes whenever someone holds up a 50 page stack of papers and says “I wrote a book!”

Because that’s not a book, that’s a pamphlet.

“I wrote it over a weekend,” they boast.

I want to shout. “That should be a warning, not a brag!”

“And you can too!”

“Like bloody hell you can,” I want to say, but I never do.

And so my protective instincts kick in and I want to stop people watering down what it means to be an author, or promoting this crazy notion that you can just spit out a book over a weekend.

Except I’m rethinking my whole attitude.

I have seen the light!

I was at a networking lunch recently where someone was talking about how “easy” it is to write your own book. It happened a day after I heard a podcast interview about the very same thing.

“Just take a talk you like to give, and record yourself talking about it. Or come up with 10 – 12 questions and record yourself answering them. Get that audio transcribed, edit it into something readable and coherent, and upload it to CreateSpace. Bada-bing, bada-boom, you’ve got a book!”

Look, a good book is not that easy. And something that easy will not be good.

All of my books have taken two people four or five months to write. The last edition of Branding Yourself took four months, and I worked on it for 10 – 15 hours a week. I was supposed to cut it down to 300 pages, and instead, it weighs in at 380 pages. But it’s good, and I’m very proud of it.

Because writing a book is hard work, it takes time, and you have to know your subject and you have to be able to write about it well.

And it has to be thick, right? Right?

Maybe not.

“These short books are a good personal branding tool, aren’t they?” asked my friend, Jim. We were sitting together at the networking lunch. “They show that you have some expertise about that topic and they give you some credibility.”

I stared at Jim, stopped in my tracks, mouth open a little. “Well. . . maybe,” I said begrudgingly

“They don’t all have to be big thick tomes, right? I mean, this is the kind of information you’d share with someone in an hour-long conversation over coffee.”

I stared a little more. “I guess,” I pouted.

I hate Jim.

It was in that moment, mouth open and staring, that Jim’s question was my epiphany. Books aren’t just meant to be read. They don’t exist independently of the author. They reinforce the author’s expertise and make them look like geniuses about their particular field. They support the writer’s personal brand better than a business card or even their social media accounts.

That’s when I realized books don’t have to be 380 page bludgeoning weapons. They really can be smaller, shorter, and less in-depth than my “proper” book that I toiled over for nearly half a year.

I really hate Jim.

One guy who spoke at the networking event had just published his own book. In fact, it was his third attempt, because his very first attempt was over 200 pages. Then he revised it and cut it down to 100. And then he dumped that version and wrote it in 75 pages.

Because — and this is important — his subject matter didn’t need 200 pages.

Pat used to own a high-end AV company that helped event, conference, and meeting planners put on big stage shows. And he knew how to grow other AV companies to become successful.

That kind of knowledge is really only useful to other AV company owners, and most of them already have a lot of the knowledge that Pat has. Which means he doesn’t have to explain the basics, and he can get right to the point without any fluff and extraneous bullshit.

And that only takes 75 pages.

It didn’t need to be any longer. Anything more would have just been wasted space and wasted effort and it wouldn’t have added anything of value.

Which means I have to rethink my attitudes about books and what a “real book” can and should be.

Stupid Jim!

But that doesn’t mean you can slack off! There are still certain rules and expectations we all have.

I mean, we’re not graphic designers, for God’s sake!

I actually came up with 8 Rules for Writing a (Short) Book. But this post ran on too long, so I decided to cut it here, and I’ll run those 8 rules in a day or two.

FL Entrepreneur Can Fulfill 12 Days of Christmas for 76% Less Than Leading Experts (PRESS RELEASE)

For Immediate Release
November 17, 2017

(ORLANDO)—Entrepreneurs know how to get things done with less money, fewer resources, and in a shorter amount of time. Humor writer and Florida entrepreneur Erik Deckers recently demonstrated that by hypothetically fulfilling all the items mentioned in the 12 Days Of Christmas. Deckers was able to find everything for $8,407, nearly 76 percent less than PNC Bank’s proposed cost of $34,558.65.

For the last 33 years, the PNC Financial Service Group has calculated the cost of every item of the classic Christmas carol. Deckers, a newspaper humor columnist and small business owner, decided he could do better. He did some basic Internet research and contacted a couple of friends, and came up with a figure much lower than PNC, and wrote about it for his latest humor column.

12 Days of Christmas. A real entrepreneur can fulfill this for $8400.“The swans and the dancers were the budget killers,” said Deckers. “PNC was spending nearly $13,000 for seven swans a-swimming, and another $13,000 on nine ladies dancing and 10 lords a-leaping.”

Deckers said he checked a bird-selling website and sourced seven swans for $3,050. He also contacted a friend who works in entertainment at Disney World.

“Based on her recommendations, I think I could get 19 male and female dancers for $50 each for a two-hour gig, plus a couple passes through the craft table,” said Deckers. “That’s $4,000 to PNC’s $26,000.”

Deckers also researched other poultry hatcheries for the geese, partridges, and French hens.

“PNC was spending $180 on French hens,” said Deckers. “I found five of them for $7.75 apiece. That’s $38.75 total, with two hens left over for Easter eggs next year.”

Deckers admits this is all tongue-in-cheek, and he appreciates PNC’s annual efforts. But he also wanted to show that small businesses can achieve nearly the same results as large corporations, especially since they don’t have the same resources.

“There are plenty of entrepreneurs in this country who are doing great things on shoestring budgets,” said Deckers. “We don’t all get millions of dollars from venture capitalists, and we don’t have the huge budgets of the corporations. So we get things done by being resourceful and calling on our professional networks for help. I thought this was a great way to remind people of that fact.”

About Erik Deckers

Erik Deckers has been a newspaper humor columnist since 1995, and has owned his own small business, Pro Blog Service, since 2009. He recently published the 3rd edition of his book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (Que Biz-Tech), with co-author Kyle Lacy. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.

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Photo credit: Xavier Romero-Frias (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

Twitter Verified Self-Proclaimed White Supremacist

Twitter verified a Nazi yesterday.

You know those little blue checkmarks some people have next to their Twitter handles? That basically “verifies” that yes, this person is at least semi-famous. Or is someone of “public interest.”

A few years ago, when the Verified symbol first showed up, only celebrities had them. Movie stars had them. Rock stars had them. Professional athletes had them. Big-time authors had them.

Basically if you had a little blue checkmark next to your name, it meant you were someone famous.

Then, less famous people started getting them. Journalists of national publications got them. Radio DJs got them. Local TV anchors got them.

And soon after that, not-really-famous-but-you’ve-maybe-kind-of-heard-of-them people started getting them. Scott Monty (@ScottMonty) got one, partly because he’s been a big name in social media for years, partly because he’s a well-known Sherlock Holmes podcaster, but mostly because he was in the public eye as Ford’s social media manager for years. Other local journalists got them, novel authors, and small business owners.

Even people who have over 100,000 followers (that they most likely got through cheating) but haven’t even published 10,000 tweets are Verified. (I know, because one of them followed me yesterday.)

I, however, am not.

I’ve struggled with whether I even want the little blue checkmark. On the one hand, it seems rather needy and high school-ish, like jumping on the latest fashion trends because all the cool kids are wearing them. On the other hand, I never did what the so-called “cool kids” did in high school because I thought they were morons.

My good friend and book co-author Jason Falls (@JasonFalls) is not Verified. He thinks it’s stupid. And I mostly agree. It just seems so needy and insecure to try to fit in with the cool kids, because the cool kids are by and large insufferable asshats.

Still, it would be nice to have. There’s still a small part of me that wants that little blue checkmark, because it would be so validating. Like what I did was important. And in the public interest.

But I don’t have it.

Twitter verified this white supremacistOh, it’s not for lack of trying. I applied for it a few weeks ago. I cited the four books I co-authored — including Branding Yourself (which has a whole chapter on Twitter), No Bullshit Social Media (which mentions Twitter constantly, and was a groundbreaking social media book in 2011), The Owned Media Doctrine, and of course, Twitter Marketing for Dummies (which I “ghost co-authored” in 2009).

I also mentioned my newspaper humor column, which I have written every week for the last 21+ years.

And I mentioned that I was the 2016 Jack Kerouac House writer-in-residence.

But it wasn’t good enough. I received a rejection email that didn’t actually explain why I didn’t get it. That’s fine. I can deal with that. Maybe my books aren’t famous enough. Or they were all written more than four years ago (although the third edition of Branding Yourself dropped this month). Or that nearly all the 10 Indiana newspapers that publish my column are weeklies.

Or maybe it’s because I’m not a white supremacist.

Because Twitter verified Jason Kessler, the self-professed white supremacist who organized the Charlottesville white supremacist rally that left one protestor dead.

They verified him, and Twitter went nuts and started tweeting to Twitter’s CEO @Jack Dorsey in protest.

Am I bitter that I wasn’t verified? No. Am I angry? No. Am I annoyed that a Nazi was verified before I was?

Sure, a little bit.

I write books that help people find jobs. I write books that help businesses be more successful. I write newspaper columns that make people laugh. I don’t try to oppress people, denigrate minority groups, organize violent rallies, or joke about the death of a protestor and call her “a fat, disgusting Communist.”

I mean, if you were to ask people who should be verified I would hope “four-time non-fiction book author” would rank somewhere above “white supremacist Nazi dirtbag.”

Doesn’t that make sense? That someone who contributes to the betterment of society would be slightly more worthy of verification than someone who calls for the wholesale genocide of an entire race of people?

I mean, I know I’m old-fashioned, but I figured helping people succeed was more noble than joking about their deaths.

At the very least, Twitter, don’t verify this guy. Remove the verification. I don’t have to have it. In fact, I don’t think I want it anymore. If you’ve granted it to something you find on the bottom of your shoe, I don’t want it.

But for God’s sake, don’t give it to someone who promotes hate and genocide. I thought you were better than that.

Who’s Who In Branding Yourself – The Case Studies in the 3rd Edition

We’re five days away from the new edition of Branding Yourself (published by Que Biz-Tech, a Pearson imprint) coming out, when it will be available on Amazon, as well as in Barnes & Noble.

This edition was less of a revision and more of a major overhaul. We had new tools to add and a lot of tools to drop. I deleted a couple mentions of MySpace and had to delete every third-party Twitter app that Twitter had blocked and destroyed. We added a few new sections and fleshed out a few that we had shorted the last time.

We promised them 300 pages; it’s 385 pages now.

We also redid most of the case studies, with a few exceptions, replacing some of the previous studies with new, more up-to-date examples of people who have used certain tools and techniques to build and promote their own brand.

We kept Starla West, Hazel Walker, and Lorraine Ball because they’ve been very important to our own growth in this area, but we added a lot of people who have done some amazing work in the last few years. These are people we have been friends with, appeared on podcasts with, followed like little puppies, or been intrigued and mightily impressed by. In many cases, two or three of those things at once.

These are the people we wrote case studies about, or at least called out, in the book. We’re grateful to all of them for participating and answering our questions, making this edition of Branding Yourself the best — and thickest — one yet.

Who’s Who in Branding Yourself?

  • Mignon Fogarty: Mignon runs one of the most popular language and grammar podcasts, Grammar Girl, and has managed to turn that into a series of grammar books as well as the Quick And Dirty Tips podcast network. She was also kind enough to read two of my essays on her podcast. You can follow her on Twitter at @GrammarGirl, which I strongly recommend.

  • Park Howell: Park (@ParkHowell) runs the Business of Story podcast, and I’ve been lucky enough to appear on it. In fact, I get to be on it again in December to talk about telling your brand story, which is the subject of Chapter 2.
  • Jonathan W. Thomas: Jon and I were travel writers for the Indiana Office of Tourism Development (along with Amy Magan), and he’s also the creator of the very popular Anglotopia, the blog about life, culture, and entertainment in the United Kingdom. His whole career is built on his blog, and it’s even gotten him some free trips to the UK as well.
  • Anthony Juliano: Anthony is VP and general manager at the Asher Agency in Fort Wayne, and a social media strategist. We wanted to include him in the book when we first started talking about the new edition, but forgot until he posted something about teaching on LinkedIn about teaching a LinkedIn class. I said “serendipity, bay-bee!” and emailed him.
  • Qasim Muhammad (@MuslimIQ): I’m a big fan of this guy. Qasim Muhammad is a Muslim writer, speaker, and teacher, and puts up with some of the worst shit from people, but he doesn’t back down, and he looks to teach whenever he can. (But he’s not afraid to clap back either. Hard!) And he’s actually changed some minds about Muslims and gotten people to see them in a different light. Best of all, he loves dad jokes, so that makes us brothers.
  • Paul Anthony Jones (@HaggardHawks): As a lover of language, I have several language-related Twitter accounts I follow. And @HaggardHawks is my other favorite (tied with @GrammarGirl’s). He publishes old terms that were used 100–400 years ago.
  • Lynn Ferguson & Mark Tweddle: This is our big celebrity addition! Lynn Ferguson (@LynnFergy) was a writer on The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, is a host of The Moth Story Slam, and was also the voice of the Scottish chicken on Chicken Run. She and her husband Mark now have a company, You Tell Yours, where they teach people to tell stories as a way to build self-confidence, learn to speak in public, and learn how to speak their own truth. If we ever do an audio version of this book, I want her to read it.
  • Crystal Washington is one of the featured case studies in Branding Yourself.

    Crystal Washington and me.

  • Crystal Washington: I’ve been a fan of Crystal’s (@CrysWashington) for several years. I’ve watched her turned her social media savvy into an international speaking and consulting career that sees her sharing knowledge with major companies, large conferences, and audiences that measure in the hundreds and thousands. I finally got to meet her in September, when she was in Orlando for a trip, and we got to visit for 20 minutes before she had to fly back home.
  • John Wall: One half of the Marketing Over Coffee podcast with Christopher Penn, John (@JohnJWall) has been podcasting since the early days. They’ve turned their in-depth marketing knowledge and willingness to share into becoming some of the leading marketing voices in the country.
  • The Eephus Podcast: I love baseball and baseball history, and Marty and Larry (@EephusPodcast) tell some of the funniest stories about America’s pastime. Even my kids like to listen, and they don’t like baseball. While they didn’t get a case study, they certainly deserve a shout out. And so I mention them here in the hopes that they’ll feel morally obligated to buy the book.
  • Dewey McGeoch: I met Dewey at the Indianapolis Fringe Festival when he was performing with his now-husband Douglas in the Screw You Revue. (Their 2010 final night’s performance is still the funniest damn show I’ve ever seen.) I gave him a copy of the first edition of Branding Yourself, and he said they had been using social media quite extensively, but had stopped after his laptop was stolen. He started up again (I’d like to think it was because of the book, but I know it wasn’t), built up a strong online audience, and the two are now full-time drag performers in New York City.
  • Sheryl Brown-Madjlessi: Sheryl (@BionicSocialite) used to live in Fort Wayne, Indiana, about two hours from me. But we both had to travel to Boston just to meet at MarketingProf’s B2B Conference. Since then, we’ve been great friends, and I’ve watched, amazed, as she got an entire financial services firm to buck up and start using social media. (I mean, these guys won’t write down directions to the bathroom without running it by Legal first!)
  • Hazel Walker: Hazel (@HazeWalker) is the co-author of several books with Ivan Misner, founder of Business Networking International, including Business Networking And Sex. And she used to hassle Kyle and me about wearing jeans to give presentations. I still wear jeans, but we took her lessons of Giver’s Gain to heart, and totally stole it for Chapter 12 of the book.
  • Dave Delaney: Dave (@DaveDelaney) is a master networker, so much so that he wrote a whole book on it — New Business Networking — also published by Pearson. (We’re publishing buddies!) He also runs the Networking For Nice People, which I write a monthly column for.
  • Lorraine Ball: Kyle’s very first job out of college was working for Lorraine (@LorraineBall), and she was my networking mentor back when I was first learning how it all worked, as well as learning my way around the city. We both owe her a lot, and she continues to influence us even now.
  • Jay Baer: When Jay Baer (@JayBaer) first moved to Indiana from Arizona, he came to the Blog Indiana kickoff party where I had a chance to eat tacos with him and tell him about his new home state. I also took him to MacNiven’s, a Scottish restaurant in downtown Indianapolis on Mass Ave., and took a video of him explaining how to eat their 8″ wide hamburger. (There’s a video of it somewhere on YouTube.)
  • Kate Toon & Belinda Weaver: The Australian hosts of the Hot Copy podcast get a mention because they do a stellar podcast, and have earned a big following for them, their services, and their online copywriting classes.
  • Doug Karr: Doug didn’t have his own case study, but he was mentioned several times throughout the book — I can think of four off the top of my head. Doug (@DouglasKarr) owns DK New Media, and has been one of the leading marketing technology writers and thinkers over the last 10 years. A lot of what we know about social media, we stole from learned from him by paying close attention.
  • The Branding Yourself cover

    The Branding Yourself cover. Isn’t it pretty? The people at Pearson/Que Biz-Tech did that.

  • Starla West: Starla (@StarlaWestIntl) is so accomplished, she always makes me feel like I’m not doing enough. Her story about how her personal network helped her launch her business literally within minutes of quitting her job has been included in this book since the very beginning. And her “I Got a Guy” philosophy is the very essence of networking. I published a version of it on my blog.
  • Jackie Bledsoe: We met Jackie (@JBledsoeJr) the day of the first Branding Yourself book launch in December 2010 at the downtown Scotty’s Brewhouse. It was his birthday night out with his wife, and he wanted to come to our book launch. We sat and talked for a while, and started hanging out and became good friends. I can’t think about that night and how it has led to some amazing opportunities for Jackie and his family without getting a little choked up.
  • Jason Falls: Jason (@JasonFalls) is one of the leading thinkers on social media, and I’m happy to count him as a friend. He was also my co-author on No Bullshit Social Media, the first social media book with a swear word in the title (and the book I started on two months after Branding Yourself was finished. He has used his accomplishments and his personal brand to land two amazing jobs and two start two separate companies, all in the eight or so years that I’ve known him.

These are the people who have had an impact on us, shaped us, or just given us a lot to think about over the last 10 or so years. We liked them enough to include them in our new edition, and I wanted to thank them publicly.

As of today — October 23, 2017 — you can get the latest edition of Branding Yourself for 31% off the cover price. The book is roughly 385 pages long, and retails for $29.99, but you can get it for $20.61.

Be sure to order a copy for you and some for your colleagues or friends who are job hunting right now. We’ve written Branding Yourself to help people change careers, redefine themselves, or even find their very next job.

Personal Branding: Cultivating the Right Relationships

Starla West is an executive presence and business leadership coach, “helping business professionals their interpersonal and leadership effectiveness.” She’s also in the third edition of Branding Yourself (pre-order your copy here), which drops on October 28. The following is the information she provided me for her case study. I wasn’t able to use all of it, so I asked if I could reprint it on my blog. This is what she wrote.

Why Do It?

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a million times: Effective networking is all about farming, not hunting. The goal is to cultivate relationships and gain trust. If we network only when we have to, we are way behind the game, as the full benefits of networking are most often realized after solid relationships are developed and maintained over time.

I have to admit I never fully understood this until I left the corporate world to pursue my entrepreneurial dreams. Prior to starting my own business, I was a consultant for various financial institutions throughout the United States. My job was twofold: 1) help my clients obtain more than their fair share of new customers (bank executives), and 2) help them keep these customers for as long as they possibly could.

Starla West says personal branding is all about cultivating valuable relationships.

My good friend, Starla West!

To effectively assist my clients, it was crucial that I quickly gained (and maintained) the trust and support of my clients’ executive teams. Needless to say, day in and day out I called upon my relationship building skills to “win over” these bank executives. Over time, these relationships eventually strengthened. At the end of my eight years as their consultant, these executives were more than just business acquaintances; they were now my friends.

How did I know that? Well, late on a Thursday evening, as I comfortably sat with my feet propped up on the sofa, I sent an email to my clients announcing I was leaving the company and starting my own business. After pressing Send, I closed my laptop, turned, and placed my feet on the floor. No joke, no exaggeration! Within 30 seconds, my phone rang. I thought, “Wow! I just sent that!”

I answered the call. It was the senior vice president and director of marketing for a large client of mine in Florida. I assumed he was calling to wish me good luck, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. He was calling to share his marketing knowledge and advertising expertise with me. He wanted to help catapult my business into full operation as quickly as possible by helping me develop a marketing plan. I couldn’t believe it! This extremely busy man who is next to impossible to catch on the phone was graciously giving me two full hours of his time and expert advice, and I didn’t even ask for it!

Over the next 24 hours, I received phone call after phone call and email after email from clients who wanted to help. This is when it really hit me: Networking is simply relationship building. If cultivated and nurtured correctly, these relationships develop into lifelong friendships that include a healthy balance of giving and receiving that and over time positively impact your professional growth and advancement.

How’s Your ‘I Got a Guy’ Network Looking

Could it use a little tender loving care?

The above lesson was further reinforced when my husband and I learned our friend, Alan, was badly injured in an automobile accident. While visiting Alan in the hospital, we learned our friend, Brad, was taking care of Alan’s personal matters since he didn’t have family living nearby.

During this conversation, Brad mentioned the other driver’s insurance company was calling non-stop. He was avoiding their calls because Alan’s insurance provider mandated, “Do not speak to that insurance company until you’ve hired an attorney.”
Let me pause my story there and ask, “Would you know the type of attorney needed to help your friend through this horrific situation?” If your answer is a personal injury attorney, you are correct.

That said, at this very moment, do you know a personal injury attorney whom you also like and trust?
If your answer is NO, welcome to the situation in which Brad found himself. He said, “I don’t know who to hire, Starla. I don’t want to call those ambulance chasers you see on TV but I also don’t want to pick one from an online search,” to which I replied, “I agree. You shouldn’t do that.”

I stepped out into the hallway and did a mental scan of my personal and professional relationships. Within seconds, I returned to Alan’s room and said to Brad, “Let me reach out to my friend, Amy. She’s a partner at one of the big law firms here in Indianapolis. This isn’t the type of case her firm would take. However, Amy is well-connected and I trust her. She will tell us which attorneys in Indianapolis to work with and which ones to stay away from.”

I immediately sent Amy a text and within 30 minutes she responded with a recommendation. I passed it along to Brad and said, “I know Amy very well. I trust her so this is who you should call.”  Without hesitation, Brad contacted the recommended attorney the following day.

Let’s take a moment and think about what happened.

  1. Brad needed help and I was able to help him because of the extensive network of relationships I’ve built and nurtured for well over 15 years.
  2. To help Brad, I reached out to my friend, Amy, whom I met at a business event two years prior. I was comfortable asking for help because over the last two years, Amy and I cultivated and nurtured our relationship to a point that we like and trust each other.
  3. But it didn’t stop there. To help me, Amy reached out to her network and confidently referred a personal injury attorney whom she liked and trust.

Let’s recap…

  • Brad used his network to help Alan.
  • Starla used her network to help Brad.
  • Amy used her network to help Starla.
  • And Amy helped another attorney by referring his services!

THAT is how an ‘I got a guy’ network works!

Networking is about building relationships with people whom you can share your knowledge, expertise, and talents and add value to their lives, and when done correctly, you’ll enhance your visibility and anchor your brand in the minds of others and eventually become a part of their ‘I got a guy’ networks.

As you continuously add to and nurture your ‘I got a guy’ network, it will always be full of individuals you like and trust and can comfortably refer and reach out to whenever you need assistance

A 25 Page Booklet is not a Book

Maybe I’m being elitist, but I’m getting annoyed at what people call “books” these days.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a so-called expert advise a room full of people to “slap together a short book to demonstrate your expertise on a topic.”

“It doesn’t actually need to be that long — 30, 40 pages tops. I churned mine out in a weekend,” one expert said a few years ago. He was giving a talk about how writing a book can get you speaking gigs and TV appearances.

As a real book author, this bothers me. It bothers me because it cheapens what I do. It turns the several hundred hours I’ve spent on my four co-authored books into a weekend errand you tackle between washing the car and getting a haircut.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I stayed up well past 3:00 am, writing until I fell asleep at my keyboard only to wake up and still be typing.
One does not simply "slap a book together"
But here’s this guy telling me you can just barf out a random assortment of words on any topic in a few hours, upload it to CreateSpace, and bada-boom bada-bing, you’ve got a book!

But my rant is not against self-published books. In fact, one of my books, The Owned Media Doctrine, is a self-published/traditionally-published hybrid of sorts. The others were published by Wiley and Que Biz-Tech (a Pearson imprint). And they’re all 250 pages and longer. So you’ll understand why I get annoyed when someone equates a 30 page weekend project with an actual book.

These stacks of paper aren’t books, they’re booklets. The -let comes from French and means diminutive or small. It’s literally a “little book.”

“If you run short of material, just bump the font size up to 13, set the line spacing to 1.5 lines, and bump the margins in a quarter of an inch,” said the guy. “I turned a 20 page book into a 35 page book that way,” he boasted. (I actually groaned out loud at that, and people looked at me funny.)

And punctuation and grammar? Don’t even get me started on punctuation and grammar! I’ve only ever heard one booklet advocate suggest getting someone to proofread the manuscript. The others recommend giving it one more read through on Sunday “with fresh eyes.” My books went through four read throughs before they were ever printed, and we’re still finding issues.

The whole reason for writing a book is to demonstrate your expertise on a topic. It implies that you have a depth and a breadth of knowledge that the average industry member does not. That you study and research more than the rest of the people in your field. (Whether you do or not is a different matter entirely.)

This is important if you ever want to get speaking gigs, especially paid ones. The idea is that you just wave your book in front of the conference organizer, and they’ll believe your expertise, and boom, you’re hired.

The problem is that 1) the minimum acceptable standard of what we call a “book” is slipping, and 2) our guy’s advice implies conference organizers are easily distracted by jangling car keys in front of them.

Booklets Play an Important Role

Look, these booklets might be fine for sharing with potential clients. You could even sell them for $.99 or $1.99. I know one guy who has made a decent living by writing ebooks and booklets about specific elite athletic techniques and selling them for $10 or $15.

He even goes so far as to break them out, chapter by chapter, and sells those for $.99 apiece. If you can do that, more power to you. This guy has a specialized piece of knowledge that, frankly, doesn’t need an entire 280 page book. It can be explained in a few thousand words with some pictures and diagrams. It doesn’t need to be any more than that.

There are booklets out there for launching a business, passing specific industry certifications, repairing appliances, cast iron cooking, and changing the oil in your car. There are short 15,000 word novellas and poetry booklets that take up 25 pages.

In the fiction world, these booklets are called chapbooks. Historically, those meant small pamphlets containing ballads or tracts, and they were sold by peddlers called “chapmen.” To modern creative writers, chapbooks are small paperback booklets usually containing poems or short stories.

And the chapbook authors are appropriately humble about their work. They recognize that this is a tiny work and not on the same level as a regular book. But they’ve also spent hours and hours on it, after spending years honing their craft to even start writing the book. It’s not something they “slapped together” one weekend either.

You Should Still Be Proud

Don’t get me wrong. What you’ve done is impressive, and you should be proud. You’ve strung together 4,000 – 5,000 words about an area you’re an expert in. I’ll bet 95% of the US population can’t say that. You have done something that only a few million people throughout history have ever done. And I’ll even say this qualifies you as a “writer.”

But that’s the first step. You’ve got a lot more knowledge rattling around in that great big brain of yours — at least another 55,000 words on that subject. You know about the history of your industry, the important issues of the day, the major themes, the political ramifications, and the tax implications.

You know the inside baseball, the little rules, the big problems, and what it all means for the beginner and expert in your industry. You could talk for hours and hours about the things you know and the things you’ve seen, and if we wrote it all down, we’d have 200 pages on the subject.

And that’s a book.

Your book should be thick. It should have heft. It should thunk when you drop it on your desk. It shouldn’t fit in your pocket. It’s the thing you’ll spend a few hundred hours on, wavering between pulling out your hair and setting your hair on fire. And when you’re done, it will be one of the proudest moments of your life, when you see that something you created occupies a physical space in the world, and will be around long after you’re gone.

If you want a real weekend project, write an outline of the book you’d like to read on your particular topic. Break it up into chapters (at least 12, no more than 16), sections, and sub-sections. And then write one sub-section for at least 1,000 words.

Then fill out the rest, one section and one day at a time. If you can write one section a day, at least 1,000 words per section, you should finish it in less than six months.

Then you’ll have a real book — something you can boast about and be proud of.

And I want a signed copy.