Jargon Words Are the Hallmarks of a Pretentious Ass

As David Ogilvy once said, jargon words “are the hallmarks of a pretentious ass.”

And that’s how I feel when you use handshake as a verb when you mean to say “introduce.” Or a value add.

Too many business types, especially in the tech and social media world, can’t stop sounding like the Dack.com Bullshit Generator. They say things like “disintermediate bleeding-edge paradigms” and “synergize mission-critical infomediaries” without actually knowing what they mean.

(Seriously, go check out the Bullshit Generator and build your own sentence. Pick one term from each of the three columns, and you can generate phrases like “we matrix cross-media web-readiness.”

Here are 10 jargon words that we need to get rid of immediately

  1. A value add: From “value added,” which comes from “valuable.” Don’t make up a noun phrase when there’s a much better word available (see “on a going forward basis”). Like useful, helpful, vital, beneficial, prized, advantageous, and meaningful.
  2. Gill's Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon

    Gill’s Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon

  3. Drinking the Kool-Aid: For one thing, this is horribly offensive, since it refers to the Jonestown Massacre of 918 people in 1978. For another, the people who died in that mass murder-suicide drank Flavor Aid. But mostly you should stop using it since it mocks the deaths of more than 900 people.
  4. Onboarding: Sign up. Register. I hate this word so much that even though my spellchecker is flagging this word right now, I refuse to add it to my user dictionary. So it’s just sitting there, with a little red squiggle under it. This offends my sense of competitive perfection, but “onboarding” offends it even more.
  5. Frictionless: Easy. You know what’s easier to say than “frictionless?” “Easy.” It’s literally one syllable less. And if you ever say you have “a frictionless onboarding experience.” you deserve to be mocked openly by children. Just say “signing up is easy.”
  6. Learnings: They’re just “lessons.” There was nothing wrong with saying “lessons.”
  7. Learners: Students. You mean students — students learn lessons, learners do not learn learnings. If you feel funny calling adults in a conference breakout session students, then call them “participants” or “attendees.” I have never heard of a single example where “learners” was the best option.
  8. Handshake: I heard someone say they were in the business of “handshaking” companies together. At first, I thought she meant meeting new people. When she said it a second time — “we can handshake you to other companies” — I was worried she was having a stroke.
  9. A tweet I wrote about the jargon word "to socialize."

  10. On a going forward basis: From now on. Seriously, “going forward” was bad enough, but someone said, “You know what? That’s not complicated enough. Let’s add more words to it.”
  11. On the go forward. The bastard child of “on a going forward basis.” Seriously, I would rather you said “going forward” than to hear you utter this again.
  12. Socialize: Just say share. You socialize at a party, you don’t “socialize this data.” And if anyone ever says “socialize these learnings,” I’m going to scream.

Very rarely do bullshit words make effective jargon. There are some words that we use that started out as jargon words — Jeep, radar, scuba — but those are words that actually made communication easier. People got tired of saying “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus” over and over.

And I understand that we need things like acronyms and acrostics to shorten some industrial terminology, like how emergency responders have to go through “NIMS” training, which refers to National Incident Management Systems. No one wants to say that every time.

But until and unless you can convince me that “on the go forward” is better than “from now on,” keep your bullshit jargon words where they belong: in an iron box that gets rocketed directly into the sun.

Photo credit: Joe Mabel (Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License)

How to Work With a Ghostwriter

I’ve been a ghostwriter for over 10 years, working on blog articles and even books with people who have a story to tell. I’ve worked with dozens of clients and have written over 3,500 articles in that time, as well as eight books, including my new novel, Mackinac Island Nation.

My clients have ranged from CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to entrepreneurs running one-person operations, both in the United States and overseas, in a staggering variety of industries. I’ve been able to learn from all of them, and — I hope — they’ve been able to learn from me.

For those of you who are thinking about working with a ghostwriter, whether it’s for corporate blog articles or even your own memoirs, there are a few things you need to realize before you start.

It’s going to cost money.

A photo of hands over an old Compaq keyboard, like a ghostwriter.

You can tell this is an old photo (from 2004) just by the Compaq logo in the bottom corner.

Writers need to eat. We have to pay our mortgages. We have to take care of our families. We don’t write for the promise of royalties or the exposure. This is not a hobby, this is our job. And just like any skilled position, the better the writer is, the more it’s going to cost. Things will get done faster and they’ll be done better than if you go with the less expensive option.

So while many people who want to write a book have a fascinating story to tell, a good writer is not going to want to spend 3 – 6 months working on your book in the hopes that they’ll get something from your efforts. It’s impolite to even ask, so if this is your plan for paying them, either save up your money or start writing it yourself.

Typically, a ghostwriter will ask for half up front and half at the end, but my practice has been to ask for half of the fee up front, one-fourth when we reach the halfway mark, and the remaining fourth when the final chapter is delivered and/or the manuscript has gone through one or two rounds of edits. For corporate ghost blogging clients, I typically work on a retainer basis where there will be a set number of articles written each month, and the client is invoiced on the 1st.

Be prepared for some give and take.

This is a collaborative process, and the manuscript will be evolving and changing. When the ghostwriter gives you the first draft, that’s so you can make the big changes, like rearranging sections, clarifying details, and rewriting problem sentences. This isn’t the finished product, so don’t get upset that your writer just handed you a pile of garbage. Your job now is to go back and read it and make sure everything is correct and you’re satisfied with the direction this is going.

That first stage is also not the time for fixing typos and punctuation or spelling errors. That will come later. Like I tell my clients, there’s no point in polishing a turd, let’s make it a not-turd first. Make all the major revisions and changes before you start fixing the tiny errors.

Similarly, you will have to call it done at some point. Yes, you want this to be perfect, and you want it to be polished to a high sheen, but that’s not always going to be your ghostwriter’s strong suit. Their job is to write the manuscript, make some revisions, and get it to a reasonable state where a copyeditor could take it over.

So be sure to work out in advance how many revisions and changes you can ask for. No writer wants to spend 12 months polishing and changing your manuscript, so save your revisions for one major passthrough rather than trickling them in. Typically, you should be able to get to the copyediting stage with no more than two revisions. If you’re not getting there, then one or both of you are the problem.

Leave the mechanics to your writer

There’s a very good chance that you’re good at punctuation and grammar, but there’s a very good chance that your ghostwriter is a nerd about it. That means that they know whether the grammar rules we learned in school are totally bogus..

For example, I was working with a client who tried — rather smugly, I thought — to correct me on a preposition I had used at the end of a sentence. So I explained to him:

This is a rule that should never have been in existence in the first place, but it had been created by an 18th-century Latin scholar named Robert Lowth in his book, A Short Guide to English Grammar. Lowth had read a similar admonition in a commentary by a 17th-century poet and scholar named John Dryden.

The problem was Dryden and Lowth were applying Latin rules to English, even though English didn’t actually need a few of those particular rules. It has been unnecessary for centuries, and most grammar nerds will never expect someone to contort their sentences just to follow that rule.

I could tell by the reaction from the client that he hadn’t expected any of that.

“Oh,” was all he said, and he never brought up grammar issues again.

The moral of the story: When someone starts spouting 400-year-old grammar history knowledge, he probably knows when you can break the rules.

So let him.

Don’t feel guilty that you’re working with a ghostwriter

Look, if you could write, you’d be a writer. If you had the time, you could do this yourself. But chances are, you’re working with a ghostwriter because either writing is not your forte or you just don’t have the hours and hours to put in the work.

This is the same reason you don’t change your own oil, fix your own leaky plumbing, re-roof your own house, or do your own taxes. You want a professional who’s good at what they do so you can look great at what you do.

Once, when I was ghostwriting a speech for a client, they felt embarrassed to have someone writing for them, like they weren’t important enough to need a speechwriter. I told them it wasn’t a question of being important, it was a question not having the time.

“Do you have four hours to devote to this project?” I asked.

“No, I barely have four hours to do anything,” said the client.

“Well, I do,” I said. “This doesn’t make you too big for your britches, it keeps you from looking unprepared when you give this speech.”

This is true whether you need a speechwriter, blog writer, or book writer. It’s not a question of whether you’re too important or have more money than sense. It’s a matter of helping you present your best story, whether it’s in a book, your company blog, or even a speech.

You need a professional who understands the subtleties and nuances of language, can tell your story in a clear and compelling way, and can do it in a timely manner.

So if you ever need to work with a ghostwriter, be clear and upfront with your expectations, and ask your ghostwriter to do the same with you. Don’t get bogged down in the process and let them do their job, while you do yours.

Photo credit: hobvias sudoneighm (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

How to Use Storytelling on Your Social Media Campaigns to Increase Your Engagement

Every so often, I will feature guest posts from writers who actually have important and interesting things to say. Patrick Bailey is a professional freelance writer, working mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He wanted to write about storytelling and social media, so I let him take a crack at it. At 1500+ words, I think he knocked it out of the park.

Patrick Bailey, a writer who specializes in mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He wrote this piece on storytelling in social media.Even before civilization came to be and nothing was in print, humans were hard-wired to listen and tell stories. Stories became the backbone of many ancient cultures because they were passed on from generation to generation through verbal means. Traditions were built through sharing stories. Stories were written as books, and they became the time-enduring classics.

Now, we have the capacity to share and record stories in the digital world. With the use of the Internet, blogging became an avenue for ordinary people to share their stories whether it was something personal or related to their business. After blogging, social media became a tool for people to share the mini-stories of their lives.

That is just one side of the coin — in fact, there are many facets of storytelling that shows how much power it holds to influence others. In marketing, storytelling plays a big role in capturing the minds and hearts of readers and viewers.

What is storytelling in social media?

Storytelling in social media is quite different when it comes to those found in books, magazines, or even blogs. Since people have a shorter attention span when browsing through their social media feeds, it is important that our stories are concise yet captivating. Here are some of the characteristics of an engaging story in social media:

  • Stories should start with an attention-grabbing headline or first statement. The stories you post in social media should be interesting from the beginning. This is the hook that makes readers or viewers stay engaged.
  • Stories should be concise. Unlike blogs, people don’t have the patience to read page-long stories about you or your brand. It is important to be concise and only state important details in your story.
  • Stories should be accompanied with other multimedia forms. Although text can be engaging in itself, it is proven that multi-sensory experiences in the digital world can help users retain far more information: Include images or videos with your story.
  • Stories should have a strong call-to-action at the end. Before even creating a captivating story in social media, you need to think of your primary goal why you are setting up the campaign in the first place. Do you want people to visit your website? Do you want more email subscribers? Do you want them to purchase your product? Think about your goal and start making your story from there.

Now that we understand the characteristics of an engaging story in social media, how can we create one from start to finish? Here are some steps you can take.

Think about your audience persona.
Some stories may be interesting for a particular group, and yet some wouldn’t really bat an eye on the same topic. When formulating your story, think about the type of audience that your platform or business serves. This is called your audience persona, which means personifying the archetype of audience that you may have. Think of your audience persona based on the following characteristics:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Cultural background
  • Where they live
  • What they do
  • What their problems are
  • What they look like
  • What things do they need

These considerations can help you create a story that will be interesting to your target audience. Without building an audience persona, you may end up formulating a story with full effort and no engagement.

Remember the rules of capturing attention.
One of the most popular copywriting formulas called AIDA, which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. These four pillars of effective copy can also be incorporated into storytelling. Now that you have established your audience persona, it is important to place yourself in their shoes. What would be a story that can capture their attention?

Many marketers would go for the first-person story technique. They can talk about their personal struggles which make them relatable to their target audience. This is very effective because people want to know others’ story and how they have succeeded.

For example a company called Mountain Springs Recovery focuses on addiction rehabilitation. They use storytelling campaigns through testimonials of others’ struggles in rehabilitation and how they have succeeded through the help of the company. This is a great way to tug to your audience’s heartstrings and make them read the rest of your story. Other attention-grabbing techniques include:

  • Sharing a short case study of your previous client. Ask permission from a previous client to tell their background and how they have achieved success through your business.
  • A story about someone who benefited from your business’ advocacy. If your business supports an advocacy (e.g., helping cancer patients, providing scholarships, etc.), share a short story of how these people have benefited from your business, and how others can support them by supporting your business as well.
  • Your own before and after story. If you are a professional who has experienced the same problems as your target audience, you can use your own story as a marketing tool. For example, a fitness coach can post his or her before and after results while sharing a story of their struggles and triumphs in the weight loss journey.

Remember what your teacher taught you.
Do you remember in literature class when your teacher would remind you of the parts of the story? Mostly, an engaging story or a narrative would include the characters, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution. You don’t have to elaborate too much when creating your social media posts. All you have to do is to keep them present when thinking about your story. Make it clear by introducing the main characters of your story (Is it you? Your client? A person you know?), where and when it happened, the premise, what the problem is and how the problem is solved.

Remembering these elements can help you create a formula that would always be engaging to your target audience in mind.

Experiment with multimedia.
Engagement is not just about using one form of media. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter have different tools to help create engaging stories.

This is where you can start experimenting. If you already have a small audience you can work on, try to create different types of content. Start by crafting your story accompanied by a photo, and in some instances you would want to shoot a video.

When you create social media accounts, engagement is counted as the amount of views, likes, shares, and comments in your content. If you notice that one form of media is more effective than the other, you already know what format of stories you would want to post in the future.

Essentially, focusing on the story format that your audience wants is the key to gaining engagement and social proof. As other people see that you have likes, shares, and comments in your stories, the more that they will be curious to see what your business is about.

Build trust — don’t rely on click bait.
Unless your ultimate goal is to get views for your business merely in your website or social media accounts, don’t exploit people’s attention through click bait. Clickbait is when writers over-sensationalize stories in order to get views.

It is best not to rely on this technique as it may cause people to lose trust in your business — resulting in bad comments, poor feedback, and eventually dwindling attention. Make sure your stories are genuine, and if you do promise something, be sure you can deliver. Do not simply make up stories in order to get future clients to sign up, then setting them for disappointment.

Utilize call-to-action buttons.
As mentioned earlier, an engaging story in social media must be built with a goal in mind. This goal is realized by creating a call-to-action. For blogs and websites, a call-to-action is usually done by posting a link or a sign-up form. However, social media is a little different because you can use buttons when you make sponsored posts for your stories.

A clear example would be Facebook sponsored posts. When you boost a Facebook post, you’ll notice that they will give you an option to place a button at the bottom of your sponsored post. Below your story, you can create a button that can make the users:

  • Message your Facebook page
  • Contact your business number
  • Visit your website
  • Shop in your built-in store

Whatever your call-to-action is, make sure that it is clear to your audience and they can easily access it through these buttons.

Create stories, engage your audience.
With so many businesses vying for people’s attention is social media, you can stand out by following these actionable tips in creating engaging stories.

Author Bio: Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. Find him on Twitter at @Pat_Bailey80.

Words that Rhyme with Orange, Purple, Silver, and Month

It’s a common misconception that there are certain simple English words that don’t have a rhyme. Orange is the most commonly cited one, although purple is a close second.

In fact, the list I hear the most is orange, purple, silver, and month. That list was even a clue in a recent Ellery Queen pastiche, which I heard on their podcast.

However, being the obsessed word nerd that I am, I like to know uncommon and esoteric words. Which means I know the words that rhyme with orange and a few others.

I even like to throw this out as a little fun fact, especially at conferences.

I spoke at the National Association of Government Communicators Communication School today and yesterday (June 19 & 20), and I promised to reveal those rhymes to the attendees. Which I forgot to do.

So if you’re interested, here are the actual rhymes to those four words:

Sporange is a word that rhymes with orange.

  • Orange: The sporange is a very rare alternative form of sporangium, which is the botanical term for a part of a fern or similar plant. It’s the case or sac where the spores — the equivalent of seeds in a flowering plant — are stored. It’s more frequently called the sporangium, but it exists, so count it! I had a debate over this one in the latest editions of Branding Yourself with @HaggardHawks, the British obscure word finder.
  • Purple: Two words: to hirple is the Scottish word for hobble or walk with a limp, and curple, which is the curved part of the hindquarters of a horse or donkey. Nurple is a slang word, as in “purple nurple” and it does not count.
  • Silver: A chilver is a female lamb.
  • Month: This one is a toughie. The word is the mathematical term, oneth, as in N+1th, such as “hundred-and-oneth” or even in fractions, as in 16/31, or “sixteen-thirty-oneth.”

There are other words that have esoteric rhymes, and I’ll start sharing those as I find some interesting ones. Or get invited back to speak at the NAGC!

A chilver is a female lamb

A chilver is a female lamb. It’s the word that rhymes with silver.

Photo credit: Le Monde végétal, Ernest Flammarion, 1907 (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain in France and the US)
jLasWilson (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

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.

Do You Even Need a Style Guide? Not Necessarily

What’s the proper way to make an apple pie? Are they shredded, diced, or sliced apples? Do you make your own crust or buy pre-made crusts? Do you have a fancy lattice top or the Dutch apple crumble top?

And whose recipe do you follow? Is it the first one you Googled, or is it Memaw’s secret family recipe handed down from generation to generation?

Ask this question on Facebook, and you’ll have plenty of strong opinions from plenty of people, and about 12 back-and-forth arguments before someone is calling someone else a Nazi.

Style Guides Are Like Apple Pies

This is how people, especially writers, feel about their style guides.

Different style guide examples. It's hard to choose the right one.To them, their style guide is the One True Guide, their Bible about how issues and misunderstandings about language, punctuation, and even grammar are to be handled.

There are a few dozen style guides, including ones from the Associated Press, Chicago Manual of Style, American Psychological Association, Modern Language Association, Turabian, Council of Science Editors, and even The Elements of Style.

And you’ll find outspoken proponents of every one of them.

Each person will insist that their style guide is the right one and will argue with those heathens who don’t agree to worship The One True Guide.

Except there’s no One True Guide.

No one is able to lay claim that their guide is the definitive way to punctuate sentences, abbreviate states, or denote time (a.m./p.m. versus AM/PM).

(But you can have my Oxford comma when you pry it from my cold, stiff, and dead fingers, Associated Press!)

Each guide is assembled by learned editors who have heated discussions about each new entry and change in their guide.

They’ve discussed and debated new issues as they come up, they look at how language is being used and written in society, and they update the guides to reflect those changes when necessary.

In May 2012, the Associated Press said they would no longer object to using the word ‘hopefully’ at the beginning of a sentence, rather than making people say ‘I am hopeful’ or ‘It is hoped that.’

People went nuts. They howled in protest, they screamed and tore their garments, and the Internet burned for three days. People said they were going to die on this hill and they weren’t going to let any stupid Associated Press tell them how to use English when Mrs. Kugelschreiber had drummed this rule into them so many years ago. They were going to stick with the “right” way to do it, despite what these so-called experts said.

Ahh, innocent times.

Of course, the angry mob missed two important points:

  1. It was a made-up rule to begin, having been created in the 1960s. Before then, it was acceptable to start sentences with “hopefully.” Besides, there’s no rule about starting sentences with other floating sentence adverbs like “sadly,” “unfortunately,” and “surprisingly,” so this one was just something people latched onto without understanding why.
  2. The rule only applied to writers and editors who worked for the Associated Press. It had nothing to do with general language usage. People were free to start or not start sentences with “hopefully” to their heart’s content.

This is the important thing to remember about style guides: While these are prescriptive guides, they are by no means the official rules for The Way English Is Done. These guides are only for a particular job, field, or organization.

The Associated Press Stylebook tells writers about the rules they must follow when writing for the Associated Press, although many non-AP journalists use it. The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage is only meant for writers and editors at the New York Times. The APA Publication Manual from the American Psychological Association is written for academics in social sciences, like psychology, speech communication, linguistics, and sociology.

And if you’re not part of those organizations, you are not bound by those rules.

Which Style Guide Should I Use?

Bloggers and content marketers can argue about which style guide is the best, but there’s no right answer. I always recommend bloggers use the AP Stylebook, because it’s small, inexpensive, and addresses 95% of our issues.

I also like the AP Stylebook because many bloggers act as citizen journalists, which means we should follow the guide that most other journalists use.

However, there’s no real guide for bloggers to use. We’re free to pick and choose, but we do so voluntarily, not because there’s an official Way English Is Done.

Bottom line: As long as you spell words right and put them in the right order, the rest is up to you. The benefit of a style guide is that it helps you be consistent throughout your writing. It means you always know where to put punctuation, whether you’re going to follow the postal abbreviations for U.S. states, and how to capitalize headlines.

And whether you should use the Oxford Comma or if you’re a filthy, godless monster.

This means you can pick one you like the best and are most familiar with, or you can even create your own style guide. Just make sure you follow it consistently and apply it to all of your business writing — blog articles, web copy, brochures, emails, letters, and even internal communications.

Photo credit: FixedAndFrailing (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)