I’ve got to be honest with you – list posts aren’t normally my thang. But three times in the last few days I’ve been asked by blogging folk that I like and admire to recommend them some books – so I thought the easiest way would be to post a list with some short thoughts on each book.
So first a shout out to those blogging folk:
Tristan Higbee was the first to request it in the comment thread of this post:
Then Davina Brewer over at 3 Hats posted this:
In the comment thread I suggested some compelling reasons why Davina should try and read offline and away from the Blogosphere. So this list is for her too.
And finally Steve Scott seconded Tristan’s request in the comment thread on Blogging Bookshelf.
The Importance Of Reading Away From The Blogosphere
If you’re anything like me you already read a ton of blogs online. The thrust of Davina’s post that I linked to above was that she didn’t have time to read books. She reads lots of blogs (and comments in her inimitable acerbic style) – but finds it a struggle to read actual books.
The problem (IMO) with this is that there is a dearth of great writers on the Blogosphere. There’s no shortage of bloggers who are creating interesting and useful content – but there really aren’t many who combine that with a great writing style. (If you disagree….please let me know in the comments!).
And reading well written content is one way to improve your own writing. Most published books have been through an editiorial and proof reading process, so are generally of a much higher quality than the average blog post. So you need to seek out a steady diet of ‘quality’ writing to go along with your reading of blogs.
So, let’s get to the list.
OK. Here’s the first category:
I’ve got two criteria for recommending ‘business’ books – they must be well written, and they must present useful ideas in a straightforward manner.
1) The Longer Long Tail by Chris Anderson
Most of you who read this blog are probably familiar with the concept of The Long Tail. The phrase ‘long tail keywords’ is a staple of SEO discussions. Well, Chris Anderson was the guy who came up with the phrase ‘’he Long Tail’ in this book. Chris writes well – and the lightbulb idea for me from reading this was that with digital delivery there will always be potential customers out there for you, irrespective of what you do.
See also ‘Free’ by Chris as well – the audio version of this used to be free in iTunes.
2) Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath
This book is a guide to what makes an idea memorable or not. The authors isolates the six factors that make a good idea ‘sticky.’ In doing so they lay out a structure that you can apply to your own ideas – and tweak those ideas accordingly – so that your ideas are memorable to potential clients who encounter them.
3) From Good To Great by Jim Collins
From Good To Great is a book that looks at the questions: Can ‘Good’ Companies become great? And if so, how?
The conclusions are no surprise to those of us who know there’s no such thing as overnight success, and that all success is built on hard work over time. But the book is well written and worth reading.
4) The Brain Audit by Sean D’Souza
Sean has been one of my mentors for the last couple of years. The Brain Audit is a book I recommend for two reasons: it’s chock full of ideas that if you implement will help you grow your online business; and it gives you a template for taking ‘blog’ style writing and expanding it to book length.
5) Tell to Win by Peter Guber
This is an anecdotal book on the power of storytelling in business – always a hot topic on the old Interwebz. Guber is an engagine writer – and has definitely walked the walk (CEO of Sony Pictures and Mandalay Entertainment).
If you didn’t know I’m a great believer in the power of story. If you want to know more about business applications of stories, go buy this.
6) Content Rules by Anne Handley and C.C. Chapman
This is a book about Content Marketing. If you blog, you’re a content marketer whether you call yourself that or not. This book looks at the power of content marketing – plus different forms that it can come in (video, audio, Webinar, etc).
It’s a good primer on the topic – plus it features some quotes from Mr Sales Lion himself, Marcus Sheridan.
7) Resonate by Nancy Duarte
Nancy Duarte writes about creating engaging presentations (Powerpoint or Keynote). Don’t let that stop you buying this book though. This book is about crafting and creating compelling stories. Duarte is a sharp cookie, and a good writer. Plus this book is a good model for those looking to incorporate images into their work.
(On that topic, you should also go check out Tristan’s Infographic Academy and sign up whilst the price is still only $27.)
8 ) The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk
I’m a big admirer of Gary V. What’s special about this book isn’t the ideas that are expressed. Instead it’s the way they’re expressed. Gary dictates his books, and then his ghostwriter (Stephanie Land) converts those dictations into prose.
One of my goals for One Spoon is to interview Stephanie at some stage – because she does a fabulous job of making the prose read effortlessly whilst retaining the authenticity of Gary’s voice. Considering she strips out all the F Bombs too, that’s a major achievement!
If you’ve read any of my posts on ‘talent’ you’ll know where I stand on the whole Talent debate. The following 3 books share two characteristics: they are all well written books, and the books were instrumental in shaping my own thoughts on the topic. Oh, and they also pointed to areas where I could do futher study.
9) Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin
I can’t say enough great things about this book. It’s one of only TWO books that I possess in three formats (physical book form, audio and Kindle – you’ll find the other below in the Writing Books section below).
This was my introduction to Deliberate Practice – which I’ve written about on the blog – and is a book I dip into just about week.
In addition to being well written, this was originally a 20 or 30 page ‘essay’ that was later expanded. So another takeaway for writers is you don’t have to hit ‘book’ length immediately. (The Brain Audit by Sean D’Souza – above – originally started as a 16 page PDF.)
10) The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
I don’t care what side of the Talent argument you’re on, you should get this book if only to reverse engineer how Coyle writes. He’s a great model for contemporary writing – whether at blog post length or book length – and there are a gazillion lessons on improving your writing that you can take from this book.
If improving your writing is not your thing, then it’s a provocative and enjoyable read. At some stage this book will be the third book that I have in three different formats.
11) Bounce by Mathew Syed
If you read Bounce after either of the two books above, or Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, you’ll find Bounce a little derivative. Mathew is transparently honest about writing his book at a similar time and drawing from similar source material.
You should still read it though – because Mathew is a good writer. (He’s an aware winning reporter for the The Times btw). As with Daniel Coyle, he’s a good model to reverse engineer for those looking to improve their writing.
Books About Writing
Blogging is writing. And whilst there are a slew of books on blogging topics, there’s not a single book aimed at helping bloggers and content marketers improve their writing.
Fortunately, there are books out there who those of us looking for that help.
12) Stephen King ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King
Stephen King is an excellent writer. If you don’t like horror and dark fantasy you’ve probably avoided his fiction writing. ‘On Writing’ is part memoir and part instructional book. It’s highly recommended with one caveat.
For fiction writers King advocates just start out on your writing without outlining. Which I think is a disservice to would-be writers – because he’s probably overlooking the fact that he’s written so many books, stories and screenplays that the ‘outlining’ part of writing is something that he does subconsciously.
So ignore the advice on outlining. Pay attention to the rest. The book is also a great model of how to write in your own voice.
13) The Writer’s Journey by Chris Vogler
This might seem a strange book to recommend for bloggers and content marketers. The Writer’s Journey is a practical application of the Hero’s Journey (Joseph Cambell) for screenwriters.
Here’s why I believe it’s something that anyone running an online business should understand: the Hero’s Journey isn’t just a template for story structure, it’s a model of human psychological development. You can use this model to structure everything ranging from your life to your business, to the customer experience when buying something, to eBooks, to blog posts. It’s incredibly powerful.
If you believe in the power of stories, you need to check this out. At some stage I’ll be writing more about this – either in eBook form, or here on the blog.
14) The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
This was the first book I had in all formats – physical, kindle, and audio. (Actually I have a first edition – one of my goals is to personally interview Steven Pressfield and get him to sign it!).
If you strive to do anything creative you should buy this. Even if you don’t strive to do anything creative, you should buy it anyway. It’s well written, easy to read, engaging, brimming to the top with personality, and is one of the few books I’ve read more than 10 times.
Don’t think – buy.
15) Seven Basic Plots – Why We Tell Stories – By Christopher Booker
This is an intriguing book. It’s a detailed tome on Plot and Story structure – and how those plots developed. If you use storytelling consciously then you should definitely read this. The 7 basic plots that Booker outlines can be models that you explicitly use – and you can explicitly target different demographics with the different models.
Booker is another UK journalist – and his writing style is very good. One warning though: this is a beast of book in terms of length (it’s around 700 pages). It’s probably the ‘densest’ book on this list.
‘General’ Good Writing
These books are general books – not business books, or writing books. But books by a couple of authors who write well.
16) Adventures in The Screen Trade by William Goldman
William Goldman is an Oscar Winning screenwriter, novelist and essayist. Adventures In The Screen Trade is his memoirs about Hollywood – reading it will make you wonder how Hollywood manages to produce any quality films at all.
Goldman is a great writer – further non-fiction books of his include What Lie Did I Tell and The Big Picture.
17) What The Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell is a well known writer – and he’s pretty good too. What The Dog Saw is a collection of essays that Gladwell wrote for the New Yorker. And these essays are on a bunch of diverse subjects. What’s great about this book is that you’re short of time then you can pick one of the essays at random, read that, and then move onto other things. And pick the book up at a later date and read another essay. (Freakonomics is another book you can read in this manner).
Other books by Gladwell that are worth reading include The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers.
It’s crucial for bloggers that you read outside of the Blogosphere. Partly this is so you can absorb new ideas, and partly this is so you can read good writing. (There are ‘good’ writers on the Blogosphere – just not many of them. Again, that’s just my opinion).
The list above makes a good starting point.
Obviously there are a gazillion books out there, and I’ve probably missed off your favourite. So tell me what I’ve missed – and WHY you would recommend it. Is it the ideas? Is it the writing? Both? Let me know.
And if there are any bloggers who you think are great writers – let me know who they are!