How to Pitch Your Startup to Investors

10 steps for crafting a story to pitch your entrepreneurial startup idea to investors using Square, AirBnB, and DropBox as examples.

 

Should Leaders Get Out of the Way?

While “give people an objective and get out of the way” sounds like great advice, it is not always sound advice.  As with most things in life, the degree of leadership involvement is nuanced and highly dependent on the employee and the situation.  I learned this the hard way a few years ago when I received feedback that I was treating every person on my team as low on will but high on skill.  This meant I was the polar opposite of a micro-manager – often inspiring people but leaving them to stumble in the dark. That was when I learned the invaluable lesson of situational leadership – to adapt coaching to the skill and the will of the individual on the project.

This being annual review season at my company (and many others), I have been thinking more deeply about what role a team leader should play.  Or, more specifically, when a leader should intervene and when a leader should get out of the way.  Here are the questions I ask myself:

 

1. Does the individual have a clear sense of WHAT they need to do?

Most organizations have a clear top-level business objective.  In for-profit business, the objective is quite obviously profit maximization with a healthy dose of ethics and global citizenship mixed in.  In the not-for-profit space, the objective typically relates to boosting the quality and quantity of life (human or non-human).

Some employees have reached the point where they are able to identify a potential set of granular objectives that serve the top-level corporate objective, prioritize among them, and focus.  In those cases, I get out of the way.  In the other cases, I do not simply tell people what to do; rather, I teach them the skill of identifying and prioritizing objectives so that they too can learn to lead.

 

2. Is the individual highly motivated (the WHY) to pursue their objective?

I’m a huge fan of all of Chip & Dan Heath’s work, and in particular, their book Switch. In that book, the Heath brothers use the leadership metaphor of a rider on an elephant headed down a path toward a destination.   The destination is the WHAT from the first question above.  The emotional elephant and the analytical rider are two sides of the motivation coin.  Here, I’ll use the more clinical terms – intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

If an employee has strong motivation, I get out of the way.  If they do not, I first turn to intrinsic motivation since that is easier to address in real-time and (according to research cited in Daniel Pink’s excellent book Drive) is the more effective lever for the knowledge-workers I interact with on a daily basis.  When I sense a person’s intrinsic motivation is low, I relate our team’s North Star, our vision, to the individual’s specific wants and needs.  Moreover, I try to express my love for what we are doing in the hope that my belief and my enthusiasm are infectious.

I rarely have to adjust extrinsic motivation in the type of work that I do. However, if you need to do so, remember that extrinsic motivation can come in the form of carrots or sticks.  The sweetest carrot is obvious – money; however, there are non-monetary carrots such as extra vacation time and appropriate gifts.  The big stick is job security – something that should only be threatened as a last resort in response to serious, well-documented performance issues. A more subtle stick is restating the cultural norms (or actual rules) of your team.

 

3. Does the individual have the skill (the HOW) to complete this objective?

My big mistake when I first led people more than a decade ago was assuming everybody was highly skilled.  When they are, I get out of the way.  However, when the individual does not know the methods or best practices to excel on their objective, they will appreciate learning HOW to do something.  As with coaching in other areas, your goal as a leader should be to coach people how to figure out how so that they can be independent on future projects. You can do that directly or using the Socratic method.

By way of example, I strive to coach people to become experts at bright spot analysis (another concept from Switch).  In broad brush strokes, the process is as follows:

a. Pick an objective (ex: increase sales productivity)

b. Pick a population of people that influence the objective (ex: sales managers)

c. Using an objective measure (ex: average sales per team member over a period of time), stack rank the population to identify the top 10% and the bottom 10%

d. Figure out what the top performers are doing that the bottom performers are not.  You will be able to partially figure this out using existing quantitative data.  However, you will also need to tease out qualitative insights through anthropological observation (i.e. ride-alongs, role-plays) or interviews where you are careful to ask the two populations to describe actual recent experiences rather than abstract, inspirational behaviors.  (I very rarely conduct large-scale electronic surveys unless I have no alternative. When I do conduct such surveys, I ask only the questions that inform burning, specific decisions.  This helps keep the surveys as short as possible – often just one or two questions.)

e. Conduct a pilot to verify that (i) I have synthesized the right best practices (ii) I have found the right approach to spread those best practices.  Ensure that whatever you are piloting is practical and economically attractive at scale.  Define the scope of the pilot.  Identify what constitutes success from the pilot sufficient to broaden to full-scale launch.

f. Scale-up once the pilot is successful. (And yes, if the best practices are urgent, obvious, easy to deploy, and low-risk, you can skip the pilot).

 

4. Does the individual have the materials (the WEALTH) they need to complete the objective?

Referring back to the Heath brothers’ metaphor in Switch, leaders may need to “shape the path.”  If the individual has the resources (financial, human, etc.) and tools to get the job done, I get out of the way.  If not, leaders must intervene to remove such obstacles.

Relationships are often the biggest obstacles to address since people must influence at a distance in order to move their projects forward.  Sometimes, leaders merely need to help associates identify stakeholders and partners who will be instrumental in making the project a success. However, due to ever-present politics or lack of positional authority, associates often need leaders to take more active role.

 

5. Does the individual have a feedback mechanism to assess their progress?

If an individual if proficient at establishing metrics (leading- and lagging- key performance indicators) and at defining milestones, I get out of the way.  If not, intervene by coaching them how to manage projects in this way so that they can lead independently in the future.

 

Try it out!

If you boil all this down, you only have to remember two things.  The first is that great leaders adapt their involvement to each individual in each situation.  The second is that great leaders teach their people to fish. When you do that, you empower generations of future leaders instead of simply empowering employees.

Create the Minimum Viable Presentation

In the field of entrepreneurship, and more broadly in the arena of new product development, the term minimum viable product (MVP) is very much in vogue.  Coined by Frank Robinson and popularized by Eric Ries and Steve Blank, an MVP is a prototype with just enough features for early adopters to test and provide feedback to the developers.

I’m always on the hunt for new metaphors and it struck me today that this concept translates nicely into presentation design and knowledge-work in general. Instead of minimum viable product, consider the minimum viable presentation.

Imagine a person senior to you, perhaps your boss or another executive, asks you to create a presentation or requests some data.  They have asked you for a WHAT and maybe they were even prescriptive about HOW to assemble the information.  Regardless of their positional authority, you have the right and the obligation to work with them to understand the business objective (problem or opportunity) they are trying to address.

What strategic lever are they trying to pull?  What decision are they trying to make that will lead to incremental action?  In the course of problem solving to find the “WHY,” you may find: (a) the request was spot-on, (b) the request was not necessary, (c) the request was reasonable but there is a better way to address it, (d) there is an even bigger question you agree to go after.  By analogy, start-ups must identify the core customer need their product addresses.

With the “WHY” established, turn your attention to the designing (at least in broad brushstrokes) what the optimal solution would look like.  For the executive who requested the information from you, perhaps the solution is a mobile-friendly, real-time dashboard with alerting and visualization. For start-ups, the analogy is scoping the ultimate product to build if time and money were no object.

Finally park the optimal solution in the back of your mind and build the minimum viable presentation.  This is the presentation that answers just the WHY… no more and no less. Often, you do not need a presentation at all – a conversation, Excel spreadsheet, or email may suffice.  Even if you need to create slides, just address the WHY in the most efficient way possible.  As you build the “infrastructure” to answer the question, knowledge of the optimal solution tells you where to apply brute force and where to design for reuse or expansion.

Actionable Tips From Dave Paradi’s 2013 Annoying PowerPoint Survey

With so many opinions expressed about public speaking (something I too am guilty of),  I was excited to see Dave Paradi’s fact-based survey exploring the most annoying behaviors of presenters.

With Dave’s permission, I have taken the annoyances he found and transformed them into actionable tips:

 

I. Content

- Have a clear, primary purpose (to inform, persuade, inspire, or entertain)

- Have a single message framed from the audience’s perspective as: To (what) so that (why/outcome/benefit). This will help eliminate information overload and ‘data dump.’

- Apply a narrative flow that supports your purpose & message

- Customize your content (at least to a degree) for your specific audience

 

II. Delivery

- Instead of reading text from slides, use them as a launching and landing point

- Limit the amount of time you spend facing the screen

- Rehearse to figure out what slides belong in your presentation. Delete or Appendix the rest.  Never skip slides.

- “Mute” your slide by going to black (hit the “b” key) when you want to focus your audience’s attention on you

- Use pauses to eliminate filler words

- Plan where you will stand and where you will move to (avoid standing projector’s line-of-sight)

 

III. Design

- Make sure text is large enough to be read easily by people seated in the back of the room

- Proofread your slides to eliminate typos

- Use short bursts of text (or bullets), not full sentences

- Use the simplest diagram possible to support/prove the message of a slide. (Tables are rarely the best choice.)

- Use a harmonious color palette and apply intentional use of contrast

- Avoid clip-art and random images that just dress-up a slide

- Use video sparingly and only when contextually relevant (and well tested in the environment/room you present in)

- Builds are fine but avoid decorative animation

 

IV. Odds & Ends

- Ask yourself if the topic warrants a presentation or could be handled more efficiently with an email or a conversation

- Recognize that design software can be used to create presentations or documents.  Create one or the other depending on where and how you will use it.

 

Try it Out!

Dave Paradi also has a couple great, free self-assessments.  Check them out at:

Best Practices for Effective PowerPoint Presentations Assessment

PowerPoint Skills Inventory

Free Public Speaking Self-Assessment

Check out my free public speaking test by clicking here.

You can access your results on-screen immediately and also download a report with actionable advice. The results allow you to compare yourself with the aggregated, anonymous results of others.

Leave a comment to let me know what you think of it.

Zen and the Art of Public Speaking

Though I spend most of my time reading books about public speaking and leadership, every so often I consume five books on a topic far outside of what I have exposed myself to in the past.  While I do this mostly for intellectual enjoyment, I often find concepts and techniques to apply to public speaking.  Over the years, I used this approach to explore screenplay writing, fiction, and comedy, three genres that are gold mines for speakers.

Inspired by the fact that Steve Jobs left “The Autobiography of a Yogi” as a final gift to mourners at his funeral, I recently decided to read up on Eastern religion – particularly Buddhism.  While I have gained no more than a rudimentary, ‘arm-chair’ understanding, the core concepts of mindfulness and compassion that comprise enlightenment reminded me of the journey toward public speaking mastery.

To explore this analogy, I’ll use Noel Burch’s ‘Conscious Competence” learning model:

Stage I – Unconscious incompetence: This stage is best described as obliviousness.  A public speaker in this stage would stand up without fear, deliver a terrible presentation, and then sit back down again without awareness of how poor their speech went.  While I have not encountered many people in this stage, I imagine there are two sub-types: (a) those deluded about their ability (b) those who could care less about public speaking.

Stage II – Conscious incompetence:  In this stage, an individual knows public speaking is a critical part of sharing ideas worth spreading (i.e. they know “WHY”), but they have not yet learned “HOW” to be an effective communicator.  From what I can tell, this is where most people are. This is also the stage where natural speaking anxiety causes fear.

Stage III – Conscious competence: I like to refer to individuals in this stage as “expert speakers.”  They know the why and the how of public speaking.  They know, for example, to speak loud and slow to be authoritative or to make deliberate eye-contact for 3 seconds in a random pattern.

Stage IV – Unconscious competence: Here is where Buddhism comes back into the picture.  Individuals in this stage are “enlightened speakers;” they are “experts who speak” rather than “expert speakers.”  In my own experience, this is actually a state rather than a stage since, like enlightenment, it happens in the delightful situations where you are both fully mindful and compassionate. It is a state Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as Flow.  To be mindful in the public speaking context is to be one with your content, free of expectations of what may or may not result from your speech.  To be compassionate in the public speaking context is to speak purely in the service of your audience and without self-judgement.

The fascinating thing to me about being in the Stage IV, enlightened speaking state is that you do not get there by learning. You get there by unlearning.  Watch a very young child speak; they inspire with great passion and no fear.  Enlightened speaking is inside all of us; we simply have share ideas we are passionate about with people we care about and without regard for what came before or what will come after.

How to Market a Nonfiction Book

Lately, I have been getting a lot of questions from people wanting to know how I write, publish, and market my books, especially my most successful book, “How To Deliver a TED Talk.” I love helping others become more effective communicators so I’m happy to share the insights and techniques I have learned along the way. This post, Part 3 in a three-part series, covers how to market a nonfiction book. The other posts are:

How to Write a Nonfiction Book
How to Publish a Nonfiction Book

Tip 1: Build your platform by being an active content giver

At this point, I am assuming that you have written and published a well-edited nonfiction book that has material people value and want to share with their friends. However, no one knows that your book exists. To help people find it, you have to start giving

I’m a strong believer in the hypothesis that if you give great content away, people will want to buy your book. They are not rewarding you. Rather, they hope (and it should be true) that what is in your book is as valuable as what you give away for free. I give content away by blogging at least once a week. In case you are wondering, I use and recommend the Focus child theme on the Genesis Framework in WordPress. (I used to use and love the Thesis theme, but the new version became way too technically complex even though I used to be a programmer.)

There are tons of books written on platform building for people entering the ‘expert economy.’ Three of my favorites are Michael Hyatt’s Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, Brenden Bruchard’s The Millionaire Messenger: Make a Difference and a Fortune Sharing Your Advice, and Michael Port’s Book Yourself Solid.

Tip 2: Give content on other people’s platforms

It is going to take a while for a critical-mass of people to find (and hopefully share) the content you are giving away on your own platform. While you build your content empire, give content away freely on other people’s platforms. My main way of doing this is serving as a guest on other people’s Podcasts. One of my favorite podcasters is Moe Abdou at 33Voices. At least at this stage, I’m happy to be interviewed by any Podcaster independent of the size of their audience.

Every once in a blue moon, I write a guest blog post but I try to reserve written content for my own platform.

Tip 3: Figure out who the influencers are in your genre and send them two review copies

I maintain a list of the top influencers (mostly bloggers and other writers) on public speaking. My go-to resource is Guy Kawaskaki’s Alltop which aggregates and ranks blogs in every imaginable category.

Once I identify an influencer, I reach out with a very personalized email to ask if they would like a copy of my book to do an objective review. Most say yes since they are as hungry to get content as I am to give it. Plus, we are all fans of each other’s work.

Next, I mail the influencer two physical copies with a handwritten note. Even though this process is more time consuming and expensive than sending an eBook, I send physical copies because it shows I care. I send two copies so that the reviewer can read one and pass one on to a friend.

Outside of influencers who regularly write reviews, I do NOT give books away. With my first book, What Great Looks Like, I gave hundreds of books away and ended up with two reviews. When you give a book away, it will collect dust. When people buy your book, they read it since they have skin in the game. If they enjoy it, they may reward you with a review.

Tip 4: Get as many positive reviews on Amazon as fast as you can

Though I do not have scientific proof, I believe that building a strong, early flow of positive reviews on Amazon is a major driver of book sales, triggering a virtuous cycle – reviews drive sales which drive reviews which drive sales…

Your friends and family will likely provide the first reviews. The next wave will come from the influencers to whom you sent books. Then, when you book takes off, everyone else will jump in. As an added touch, I do my best to track down people (usually via LinkedIn) who gave me four or five star reviews to thank them.

Some people will give you 1 or 2 star reviews. You just have to accept that some people will hate your work. Do not try to change their opinion. And, don’t feel hurt; as Seth Godin would say, it is a good sign you created something remarkable when some people love your work and others loath.

Tip 5: Sign up for NetGalley

Once you get some traction, reinvest some of your profits by signing up for NetGalley. They provide their community with access to your book in exchange for objective reviews. The NetGalley reviewers are quite active and influential so your reviews will show up on Amazon, GoodReads, and blogs.

NetGalley is the only “service” of this type that I use. I avoid all forms of paid reviews, including Kirkus.

Tip 6: Speak for free or for fee every chance you get

Early on, you are probably going to need to speak for free at every venue you are invited to. Go for it and have fun. You should be able to sell books from the back of the room (if you do that, make sure you use a credit card processing device like Square and sell at a price equal to or less than what people can buy your book for through any other channel). Once you are established, you can start speaking “for fee” and bundle your books with the deal.

*****

Please add a comment if you agree or disagree or if I missed anything.

How to Publish a Nonfiction Book

Lately, I have been getting a lot of questions from people wanting to know how I write, publish, and market my books, especially my most successful book, “How To Deliver a TED Talk.” I love helping others become more effective communicators so I’m happy to share the insights and techniques I have learned along the way. This post, Part 2 in a three-part series, covers how to publish a nonfiction book. The other posts are:

How to Write a Nonfiction Book
How to Market a Nonfiction Book

Tip 1: Pay for developmental editing, line editing, interior design, and cover design

If you followed my advice in my last post, How to Write a Nonfiction Book, then you have a manuscript with basic formatting. Unless, you want to release garbage, you need feedback on your book. Start with friends and family, but engage a developmental editor if you can afford it. A good developmental editor knows your genre and will provide you with actionable feedback. A developmental editor gives you notes and suggestions; they don’t actually touch your text.

Once the content of the book is in great shape, pay for line editing which includes proofreading to find typos and copy-editing to fix issues at the sentence and paragraph level. I rely on the amazing PJ Dempsey for line editing.

Finally, pay a professional to do your interior layout and cover design. When I self-published, I use CreateSpace’s custom services for this.

Tip 2: Self-publish

Congratulations, you finished writing your book and you should be proud. Now, you want the world to read it. If you are a celebrity with a following of hundreds of thousands or millions of adoring fans, you can skip this tip. For everyone else, I recommend self-publishing since it is nearly impossible to get a large, traditional publisher to acquire a book. (You can always switch to traditional publishing later if your book takes off – that is what I did.)

If you actually have a choice to make between self-publishing versus traditional publishing, here is what you need to know:

  • Speed (winner = self-publishing): It takes six months to a year to get a book published traditionally. Self-publishing is nearly instantaneous.
  • Quality (winner = traditional-publishing): Traditional publishers have their brand and their money on the line so they will make sure your book is a quality product. You can try to achieve the same on your own, but you would need to find a freelance editorial team with deep, current expertise in your genre.
  • Editorial control (winner = self-publishing): The quality you get from traditional publishing comes as the price of editorial control. While I don’t think an editor will change your ideas, a good one will challenge you and tell you that some of what you wrote garbage. That bothers some people.
  • Cache’ (winner = traditional publishing): For better or worse, there is a certain amount of prestige with having a book released by a large publishing house. That endorsement feels good and also helps open doors for speaking engagements and press interviews.
  • Volume & Distribution (winner = tie): Though traditional publishers can help a little, the truth is that you will need to do 99% of your own marketing. Yes, traditional publishers will get you into bookstores, but most of your volume will come from Amazon (Kindle and print). With my self-published books, I sell 50% Kindle, 40% Amazon print, 9% Audible, and 1% other (Nook, Google Books, iBooks, etc.).
  • Income (winner = self-publishing): I suppose that if your book is a flop, then you will make more money with traditional publishing since you get to keep the (small) advance. However, if your book is a success, you get to keep a much larger percentage of the royalties (typically 75%). Plus, you get to set the price.

Tip 3: Offer print-on-demand and eBook Versions

I looked around at many self-publishing alternatives including Amazon’s CreateSpace, Lulu, SmashWords, Outskirts Press, and BookBaby.

I use CreateSpace for print-on-demand and Kindle conversion since they are tightly integrated with the rest of Amazon and have exceptional quality and price. Once a book gains traction, I expand distribution in other eBook channels using BookBaby. If a book is really cooking, then I use Amazon ACX for Audible conversion. Since audio quality is so critical, I rely on Kevin Pierce on the ACX platform for his voice and production skills.

Some people have asked me about print-on-demand versus regular printing. I emphatically recommend print-on-demand for two reasons. First, you can fix typos easily with print-on-demand. Second, you do not have a maintain inventory or handle shipping since your distribution partner does that for you. Yes, you get less profit per book with print-on-demand but that tradeoff is a pittance for the two big benefits, especially since odds are (just being honest) you are not going to sell as many copies as you think you will.

Tip 4: Set the price of your book

There is plenty of incredible research available on book pricing. This presentation is among my favorites:

In my opinion, the right initial price point for a self-published non-fiction book is $2.99 Kindle/eBook and $9.95 print book. If you start higher, you risk pricing yourself out of the market. If your book is very successful, you can always increase the price over time without offending your early buyers.

Tip 5: Get an agent

You don’t need an agent if you are self-publishing. However, if you decide to ignore my advice and pursue traditional publishing, then you need an agent who is well connected in your genre to shop your book around (do not waste your time trying to engage publishers directly). The best advice I can offer is to look in the acknowledgements of your favorite books. Most authors thank their agents. You can then reach out directly to the author who will usually be glad to facilitate an introduction to the agent. It is almost as hard to get an agent to represent you as it is to get a publisher to take on your book so expect a lot of rejection. Also, reputable agents do not charge you; instead, they take a well-earned cut of your eventual earnings (usually 10%). My agent is Jackie Meyer from Whimsy Literary Agency.

Tip 6: Get an attorney

Once you get an agent, get an attorney. You should have the attorney review the agent’s contract before you sign it. Then, if you get a publisher interested in your book, you need the attorney to review the publishing contract. Do not skip this tip if you get to this phase or you will be penny-wise and pound-foolish. My publishing attorney is Maura Wogan from Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC.

*****

Please add a comment if you agree or disagree or if I missed anything.

 

How to Write a Nonfiction Book

Lately, I have been getting a lot of questions from people wanting to know how I write, publish, and market my books, especially my most successful book, “How To Deliver a TED Talk.” I love helping others become more effective communicators so I’m happy to share the insights and techniques I have learned along the way. This post, part 1 in a three part series, covers how to write a nonfiction book. The next posts will be:

How to Publish a Nonfiction Book
How to Market a Nonfiction Book

Tip 1: Write to express your ideas

The first advice most writers give aspiring writers is, “Don’t Write!” While there are blissful, Zen-like moments, writing is mostly lonely and mentally taxing work. Worse still, publishing is frustrating and occasionally costly. If that is not enough to dissuade you, marketing a book consumes more effort than the other two activities combined.

Still, at least for me, writing is worth the pain. A few weeks ago, I was writing in a Starbucks when an aspiring novelist engaged me in conversation. Even after I warned him that I know almost nothing about fiction writing, he still wanted to pick my brain. He shared his visions of great wealth from the millions upon millions of copies that he planned to sell. My advice was as follows. Let go of the concept that writing is a business. Writing is a hobby. For every J.K. Rowling or John Maxwell, there are perhaps hundreds of thousands of authors who sell no more than a few hundred books. To the best of my knowledge, a raging nonfiction success is 10,000 books sold; that is a very rare feat.

I think the best attitude is to write to express your ideas. That means you declare victory when you type, “The End.” It should not matter if you sell a single copy. It should not matter if your ideas are groundbreaking or not. Just express yourself. Though not required, I recommend writing about ideas that make the world better in whatever way you define as better.

Tip 2: Own a nerdy niche

Express your inner nerd. I’m a leadership-nerd so my first book, “What Great Looks Like,” was about leadership. Though a commercial failure, it was a great personal success. I’m also a public speaking nerd since speaking is fundamental leadership skill.

When I started writing “How to Deliver a TED Talk,” one of my close friends in publishing said the topic was too niche. I wrote it anyway and it has had reasonable commercial success. My third book, “How to Win the World Championship of Public Speaking,” is so esoteric that I’ll be lucky if I sell a few hundred copies to Toastmasters with competitive speaking aspirations. I just keep expressing my inner nerd and do not concern myself with what will sell. Commercial success for a first-time author is infinitesimally remote, so in my opinion, you are better off writing about something you think is cool.

Nerdy niches are more interesting if you can combine ideas from two words. For instance, in “How to Deliver a TED Talk,” I combined what I knew about public speaking with what I knew about cinematic storytelling. Those two worlds were only just beginning to touch when I wrote the book. What two worlds do you geek-out on that you can combine?

Tip 3: Go three levels deep in a single genre

Even if you “combine two worlds,” I still recommend staying within a single genre. Some major genres, based on Amazon book departments, include: Business & Investing (1,665,809); Health, Fitness, & Dieting (523,688); and, Self Help (239,466). If you want to write a book that combines the major genres of investing and fitness, then go for it; just go in with eyes wide open that readers (and publishers) prefer books that fit neatly into a single genre.

Saying “go three levels” deep is a way to find a big enough, yet unique enough, niche. By way of example, “How to Deliver a TED Talk” is: Business –> Public Speaking –> TED. There are countless books available that stop at the second level, public speaking, but are boring since they all say the same thing. Contextualizing public speaking best-practices to TED Talks makes things interesting. By the same token, Carmine Gallo’s “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” does the same thing: Business –> Public Speaking –> Steve Jobs.

Tip 4: Read a lot

When I was in my mid-20s, I shared with my wife my dream writing a novel. Much more well-read than I (she learned to speak English by reading Shakespeare at age six), she said, “You need to read a lot more fiction than you do if you want to write a decent novel.” I disagreed with her at the time, but I see her wisdom now.

I have read hundreds of nonfiction books. Though I was not consciously paying attention, I was learning how to write. On my best days, I hope I’m a good writer, not great, good. I try to logically order my thoughts, stay in active voice, and use accessible language and grammar. I now fully agree with my wife… if you do not read a lot in your chosen genre, then you have little business writing.

Tip 5: Keep your intended reader fixed in your mind

I recently read a manuscript that a friend of mine was about to submit for publication. Sometimes his explanations were at a very basic level – useful for a 21-year-old with limited professional experience. Other times, he assumed a level of knowledge that only a seasoned corporate executive would have. His mistake was that he was trying to serve both audiences; however, he served neither. When I wrote How to Deliver a TED Talk, I imagined that I was writing for a 35-year-old, white-collar professional with limited public speaking experience.

In many instances, the gender (or other demographic and behavioral factors) of your intended reader matters but I wanted to write for men and women. By keeping the intended reader fixed in my mind, I applied a consistent depth to my subject at all times.

Tip 6: Write then edit

I find that if I edit as I write, I get bogged down. For that reason, I write the first draft of my entire book start to finish without editing anything. That is what second, third, and occasionally additional drafts are for.

Strive to write at the same time and in the same place every day.  For many, the most productive time is in the morning.  However, I have a pretty demanding day job, so I write between 7pm-9pm in a particular room in my house (though I do break things up by writing occasionally in Panera, Starbucks, or Barnes & Noble.)

Tip 7: Develop a title and an outline to go deep on one big idea

If you are going to write then edit, you need to have a strong title and outline to make sure your first draft is of reasonable quality. The title serves as the promise of value to the reader. A title also helps you self-edit. As you are about to commit words to paper, ask yourself, “Does what I am about to say fulfill the promise of the title?” If not, note your idea for a future project but do not put it in the book.

Your outline then supports your title. While it is possible to write a book without an outline, I don’t recommend it for a number of reasons. First, an outline helps you organize your ideas. You may decide to write a series of essays that could be reordered without affecting comprehension. You may decide to write a book with a strong narrative arc (in nonfiction, the arc is often problem-solution). Second, an outline ensures that you have enough material to fill a book. There is no definition of how many words a book has to be to qualify as a book. On the low end, you can get away with 10K to 20K words in a self-published e-Book. A proper nonfiction book suitable for print publication should be about 60K words.

Some authors advise spending massive amounts of time outlining. While it is true that time spent outlining is time saved writing, I’m more in the minimalist camp. My outlines consist of chapter headings along with bullets for the ideas that I want to convey.

Tip 8: Do not waste time with fancy formatting

Unless you are a book design expert, do not waste even a second of time on formatting. Write in plain-text (occasional bold and underline is OK). When you are done, you can and should hire someone to make your book beautiful. If you want to spend as little money as possible, then pick up Guy Kawasaki’s book template which comes as a free bonus if you buy APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur.

Tip 9: Support your ideas with research and remember to cite sources and get necessary permissions

Countless low-quality, nonfiction books are published each year filled solely with opinions. You owe it to your reader to support your ideas with research. I use Google Scholar to find academic research studies that are esoteric but interesting.

You also owe it to your reader to cite sources. I see a lot of books that regurgitate anecdotes and conventional wisdom which on deeper inspection turn out to be urban legend. I always find and read the original source and so should you.

Finally, if you quote other people, it is good etiquette and often a legal requirement to secure necessary permissions. For “How to Deliver a TED Talk,” I reached out to every single speaker whose talk I quoted. In one instance, a speaker had a blog post stating that due to email overload, he closed all email accounts. My solution was old school – I sent handwritten letter to him via FedEx and included a postage-page return envelope.

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Please add a comment if you agree or disagree or if I missed anything.

A Dream Come True… Thanks Barnes & Noble!

Monday nights are writing nights for me. So, last night, after work I went to the Barnes & Noble on Route 17 in Paramus, NJ. It is one of my favorite spots to write while jacked-up on coffee and triple-chocolate-espresso brownies.

In a caffeine and sugar induced groove, I spent several hours editing my next book, a collaboration with Ryan Avery, the 2012 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking.  Though the book won’t be released until early 2014, you can check it out at: Speaker, Leader, Champion: Succeed at Work Through the Power of Public Speaking.

As I was walking out, I stopped at the self-service kiosk to see if my recently released book, How to Deliver a TED Talk, had made it onto store shelves.  I figured the chances were somewhere between zero and “you must be kidding.” My excitement built as I saw the option to “locate in store.”  Strolling over to the business section, I erupted into an ear-to-ear grin with pride and gratitude. To save the moment, I snapped a few photos and headed home to show-off to my wife and kids. My 13-year-old put things back in proper perspective, “Dad, just 3 books?” You’ve got to love the honesty.

I started to feel like an author when I self-published my first book.  The feeling grew stronger when McGraw-Hill released an expanded version of my TED book.  In my wildest dreams, I never expected I’d have a book on store shelves.  Thank you to my brilliant editor Casey Ebro and the team and McGraw-Hill.  Thank you to my meticulous line editor PJ Dempsey. Thank you to my wonderful agent Jackie Meyer.  And especially, thank you to the buyer (or the person who designed the buying algorithm) at Barnes & Noble for making one of my dreams come true!

 

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