On November 1 (today) we celebrate National Author’s Day. This might seem a far cry from those of us working in the world of technology. But when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s book ‘Hit Refresh’ was launched last September, it shipped out to bookstores across the world. And he’s far from the only business leader who writes. Past bestsellers include those of Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Richard Branson, amongst several other household names (and countless other less-well-known ones). Whether in a frantic office or a private island, entrepreneurs have stories to tell. And what more practical way to relay their wealth of knowledge than through the art of the book?
There’s no easy way to write a book. From my own experiences writing and editing, it’s a long, arduous process, where a chapter will take a lifetime, and that hell will freeze over before the final product is ready. That said, dread can be eased if you remain conscious of one thing: direction. Even if you can’t visualise exactly what you’re writing next, you’ll at least know where your story is heading. So, when writing your story, whether futurist vision of tech or memoir of your CEO years, here’s three questions to keep asking yourself during the drafting:
- Does your chapter match up with your book’s overall character?
Despite your journey likely consisting of numerous twists and turns, each chapter should have its own unique character. However, this shouldn’t sacrifice the overall voice that leads your story. If you’re writing a futurist opinion of a growing industry like artificial intelligence (AI), your narration should reflect your experience and expertise as much as possible. As a result, even when posing a forward-thinking question, the reader is assured that your answer is based on years of trying and testing. The details in your content should be diverse in character, but your language and tonality should remain consistent. It’s the same approach in PR. Your content can be and complex and comprehensive, but at the end of the day, the number one priority is your client’s unique voice. This will save you a lot of editing once you’ve typed that final full stop.
- Do you already know the conclusion of this chapter? And more importantly, does it end with a bang?
There’s an old proverb that reads ‘a good beginning makes a good ending’. Well, when writing, this saying often works best in reverse. With your ending already in sight, you can map out exactly where your reader needs to arrive and the exact lesson that should be imparted on them when they reach it. It’s the same in the world of PR, with the writing of blogs, bylines and sometimes even the preparation of a new business (with a campaign’s end product envisioned first). And with your conclusive paragraph already in sight, you can map out not only the steps that lead to this conclusion, but the exact messages and reflections you want your reader to internalise during the build-up of tension towards your ending. For example, if your chapter discusses the evolution of software testing and you want to conclude with an emphasis on the need for faster implementation, you can create this suspense by basing the chapter on growing public impatience with slow and faulty technology. This will give your closing stress on sped-up implementation far more of a ‘wow’ factor.
- Are you writing with your audience’s pre-existing knowledge in mind?
While we’ve previously been analysing how you could make your chapters easier to write, let’s now take a step back and examine how you should present your messages and arguments throughout the book. Are they easy to read, or will your reader’s confusion commence three lines in? One might argue that that contemporary thrillers are currently more popular than 19th Century Russian realist novels because the suspense, shock, unpredictability and a fast-paced adventure that characterise the genre provide far greater entertainment without enforcing an academic-style mental strain in the process. The same applies to your tech novel, and your product’s PR. The ideas you’re explaining will undoubtedly be intricate, but bear in mind that if you’re looking for a readership that expands beyond the specialist bandcamp and into wider audiences, you’ll have to write in a slightly different structure.
This doesn’t mean changing your vocabulary, just make sure your arguments are phrased in a way that can be grasped beyond a highly technical audience, perhaps even by any member of the public – not just your CTO. This is unless, of course, you’re writing specifically for a niche target readership, which takes us back to the moment before you start writing. Who do you want to read it? A broad readership or a niche one? Each answer will determine whether you write in a simple or complex way.
In the past year, CommsCo has seen two brilliant books published by its clients, educational, visionary, and entertaining at the same time. For companies wanting to be seen as thought leaders, there can certainly be no better vehicle than this. With the proliferation of blogs, it is increasingly difficult to differentiate, so why not take it one step further, and try your hand at a book?