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)

Five Secrets I Used to Trick Klout. Sort Of.

It’s really been grinding Douglas Karr’s gears that my Klout score is higher than his, even if it’s only by a couple points or so.

He mentioned his anguish during a recent talk at a Northwest Indiana tweetup, and then again on his Marketing Tech radio show, so I know it’s getting to him. Still, Doug has set the bar plenty high, so to even come close to him on something is a pretty big deal, let alone beat him. (And since it’s the only thing I’m going to beat him in — ever —  I want to hold on to this for as long as I can.)

It’s possible to game the Klout system, but it takes a long-term strategy. Sure, you can try to work it in short bursts, but the system will weed out people who don’t stay dedicated, mostly because they use cheap techniques that take too much energy and effort for an extended period of time. So I came up with my own system that will work, by tricking Klout into thinking I’m actually a model Twitter citizen. Here’s how I did it.

1) Be choosy about who I follow.

One of the things Klout pays attention to is the follower/following ratio, how influential my audience is, and whether they take action on my tweets. Having a big network doesn’t do me any good if I’m following junk accounts, abandoned accounts, or spammers.

I use Manage Flitter to unfollow people who don’t follow me and haven’t tweeted in the last three months. This way, I clean out all the deadwood on my network. Why run up my following count on people who won’t use the system more than once every 90 days? They don’t provide value, so they’re out.

I also carefully consider whether to follow someone. I’ll follow people if they provide good value, if they are real people and not brands, and if they don’t tweet crap, constant news headlines, or motivational quotes. I avoid the spam accounts, bot accounts, and the accounts that follow 2,000 people but have never written a single tweet. By following people who know how to use Twitter properly, my network is made up of people I’m happy to read and retweet.

2) Be choosy about who follows me.

I am actually a little choosy about people who follow me. I will “block & report for spam” any porn accounts, anyone who uses Twitter to promote their MLM or money-making system, or is going to do nothing but sell crap. By eliminating these people, my network is more engaged and more likely to read my tweets and react to them. I don’t need to artificially boost my follower account by letting in these spammers and fakers, and I would certainly never join one of those “find followers fast” networks that promise to boost my numbers.

3) Tweet good stuff.

If you want people to pay attention to your stuff and retweet it, make sure you say something useful. I will never tweet out motivational quotes, daily “good morning tweeps” messages, or news headlines after news headline. Instead, I send out things that will be useful, interesting or funny to my Twitter network. Since my network is made up primarily of social media folks, writers, and people with a sense of humor, I make sure at least half of my tweets will be appealing to one or more of those groups. The other half are real conversations and responses to other Twitterers.

4) Retweet good stuff.

I set up a few columns on my TweetDeck to monitor people I want to pay careful attention to. I have columns for people in my state, other social media pros, humor writers and comics, and PR and marketing pros. Whenever someone in those groups tweets something useful, interesting, or funny, I retweet it. I also respond to their conversations with thoughtful responses, and answer questions.

This introduces these new voices to my own network. And since I have earned my network’s trust by only tweeting out good stuff, they’ll read and respond to those retweets as well. This helps expand their networks by connecting these people to each other, which can enhance my own reach as well.

5) Write good blog posts.

Of course, the best way to get people to retweet my stuff is to write good blog posts in the first place. People don’t retweet my vacation photos. They don’t retweet posts where I talk about what I do, what my plans are for my company, or what kind of magazine I would be. I have to write useful information, like exploding grammar myths, how social media is not an entry level position, or an SEO strategy using microsites and specialty domain names. By writing useful posts like these, and promoting them on Twitter, people are more willing to retweet them to their own networks.

So that’s my strategy for gaming my Klout score. By spending an hour writing a single blog post, searching for valuable information to tweet and retweet, and by sending it all out to a drum-tight network that I insure is made up only of valuable and interesting people, I’m able to trick Klout’s algorithm into boosting my overall score without having to work very hard to. . . ah, dammit.

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.

5 Types of Presentations You’ll Find at Blog Indiana 2010

I’ve been Blog Indiana 2010and attended several of the presentations here. Our sessions tend to be the same kind of presentation, although they cover a wide variety of topics. Whether it’s at a conference, a seminar, or a corporate presentation, presentations tend to follow the same formula.

Me at my presentation at Blog Indiana

If you’re interested in becoming a public speaker, there are five basic types of presentations you could give.

    1. How to: Basic tips, how-to, suggestions, and strategies. These are great for sharing information, and to establish your expertise. Title your talk something 7 NEW Secrets To Promoting Your Blog Through Social Media. People who are interested in sessions like this are looking for concrete, nuts-and-bolts ideas. This is the kind of talk I gave this year.
    2. Case Study: These historic talks show how you got from point A to point B, and the lessons you learned on the way. They can be inspirational or a cautionary tale, and if they’re done well, people can get both types of information from them. If you’re a great story teller, then I suggest you give this a try. Do a case study of a single client, or tell a part of your story (Note: We didn’t ask for your life story), or even 3 -4 short stories that are all centered around a single point. This is also a good place to ask for discussion from the audience. Paul Poteet gave this as a keynote presentation this year.
    3. Futurecasting: This is where the futurists and 30,000-foot-view thinkers can really shine. You can talk about what you think the future of your industry will be. If you make enough accurate predictions, you’ll be one of the hot properties on your industry’s speaking circuit. This presentation may look back historically to make its point, but a futurecasting talk is going to discuss what they believe will be happening over the next few years.
    4. Educational: Educate your listeners about a topic, idea, or tool. It may not be as in-depth as the how-to, but it’s great for teaching beginners about a particular concept. An informative session will teach people about Twitter — why use it, how it works, who uses it — while a how to session will cover the specifics of using it — signing up, following people, sending tweets. Doug Karr told listeners why their site sucks, with his Why Your Site Sucks educational session.
Jason Falls, Jay Baer, and Chris Baggott participate in a panel discussion at Blog Indiana 2010.

Jason Falls, Jay Baer, Chris Baggott (standing)

  1. Issues: Every industry has its issues and controversies, and these are a great place to address them. This can be a panel discussion, a single person facilitating an audience discussion, or even one person presenting one or both sides of the issue. Fellow ghost blogger Lindsay Manfredi talked about ghost blogging this year, which has been a big hot button issue for our industry for a few years. Chris Baggott, Jason Falls, and Jay Baer participated in a panel discussion to “dispel the myth of the blog reader.”

Yes Virginia, There Are Social Media EXPERTS

(Originally published on on August 14, 2009)

I’ve been thinking about the whole “there’s no such thing as social media experts” argument lately.

I’ve decided it’s wrong. It’s utter crap. I no longer believe it, and think the people who believe it are just parroting someone else they heard say it and thought it sounded cool.

We’ve heard this “no such thing” argument from a lot of people, including me, who all sound like a bunch of 8-year-olds fighting on the playground.

“Nuh-uh! Social media isn’t even 10,000 hours old. Malcolm Gladwell says you have to have 10,000 hours of experience to be an expert!”

Fair enough. Malcolm Gladwell’s idea that if you want to have a true mastery of a skill, you need 10,000 hours of work, practice, and study in that field.

However, keep in mind that this is to be a superstar in your field. The Michael Jordans, the Peyton Mannings, the Tiger Woods. If you want to be that good, then yes, you have to have 10,000 hours or more of practice.

But what about to be just “decent?” To be better than most? You don’t have to be better than everyone, you just have to be better than your clients, your colleagues, or the people who just invited you to speak to their trade association for a few thousand bucks. (Do you really want to tell those guys you’re not really an expert?)

Think about it. Do you truly have 10,000 hours of experience in your chosen field? If you’re a public speaker, have you given 10,000 1-hour speeches? If you’re in public relations and you consider yourself a good press release writer, have you truly written press releases for 10,000 hours? And how many years would it take to rack up 10,000 hours of experience as a professional photographer? (Measure it in 1/60th of a second increments.)

Let’s face it, there aren’t that many experts in any field. The 10,000 hour commandment we’ve all accepted as gospel from St. Malcolm is not appropriate for us.

My friend Doug Karr decided it was a load of bullshit last month, and has a new definition for an expert.

Peter Shankman has a big list about ways to tell if your social media expert is not really an expert. (My favorite: 5. Everything they learned about social media they learned by reading blog posts (i.e. no application). You can learn a ton about sex from reading Kinsey’s manuals, but I’d still rather be with someone who has some practical experience.

So I think we need a new standard when calling ourselves an expert, whether it’s social media, public relations, photographer, etc. And it’s a simple, 4-question survey. If you can answer yes to all four of these questions, you’re an expert. If you can’t, well, then get back to work until you can.

  1. Do you know more about your tool/method/equipment than most people? Would you be graded on the 90th percentile or even 95th percentile in terms of knowledge?
  2. Can you speak intelligently about the application and usage of that tool/method/equipment? Are you asked to give presentations and/or teach others about it?
  3. Have you written extensively about that tool/method/equipment? Have you published articles, blog posts, or even books on the subject? Do you have an extensive body of work that demonstrates your knowledge?
  4. Are you generally recognized by your peers as having some authority and credibility in this subject? Does your name come up frequently when someone asks, “who knows a lot about?”

If you can’t answer yes to these questions, it doesn’t matter how many hours you’ve spent on that subject. I can think of six people who I would gladly hang the label “social media expert” on, because they can answer “hell, yes!” to each of these questions.

To the people who put “social media expert” in the same “no such thing” camp as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, get over yourselves. Just because no one is recognizing you as an expert doesn’t mean you have to get all snarky about the ones who really are.

I’m with you when it comes to booting out the so-called experts who have only been using Facebook for six months, and that’s to play Pirate Clan. But when you’ve got people who are truly well-versed on the tools, don’t give me this “10,000 hour” bullshit when it just doesn’t apply in this case.

It doesn’t matter if these tools are less than five years old. It’s not the tool that matters. The tool is useless and pointless, and it doesn’t make you an expert.

Knowing what messages to send and how your message and those tools will affect a group (social psychology) is where the expertise lies. In a few days, I’ll be writing about how knowing how to use the tools is not nearly as important as knowing what messages to send and the social psychology of a group is where the true expertise lies.