In the course of my days, weeks and months, I do a lot of reading. I read blogs, I read, web sites, I read Twitter and Facebook and Google+, but I also read a LOT of books. Usually these books focus on some aspect of business, innovation, thinking, gardening or food. I am always looking for new ideas, new ways of thinking and new ways to jumpstart my own thinking.
Over the last few years, though, I have become frustrated with may books — especially those involving business and/or innovation. Whether a factor of the book publishing process, editorial advice or writer insecurity, I am seeing a few fundamental flaws in the books I am reading (or trying to read) today.
1. Excessive attempts to prove the writer’s or the book’s worth to the reader
Several books in the last few months have spent the major it of their length in the writer justifying why the book should be written and why they should write it. Frankly, I don’t care. If I pick up a book, I do so because I know the writer’s past work or the topic of the book interests me in some way. I don’t care about your degrees, your past publications, the status of your co-authors or even how to you came to write the book. I am reading to discover what new thoughts you have developed and, more importantly, how they might help me. You have already earned me as a reader, don’t waste my time trying to prove to me what I am already doing — namely, reading your book.
Keep the justifications to a minimum (along with chapter length acknowledgement sections) and tell me your ideas. If you don’t, you might lose me a reader before I ever hear what important things you have to say.
2. Excessive review of supporting materials
I come to a book to hear what you (the author) have to say, not what everyone else in the past 5 decades has had to say. If I feel I need more supporting information for your ideas or arguments, I can go and find additional material on my own. In fact, if I am interested in the topic of your book, I have probably read much of the supporting material you address or at least have passing knowledge of it. Again, I am reading YOUR book to hear YOUR ideas, not a general review of the topic.
If you feel you must, use footnotes to direct me to additional material I might find interesting or important. Trust me — and other readers — enough to give your book the chance it deserves without trying to bury us in overwhelming supporting material. We can’t be forced to read your book, only encouraged to read it through the power of your ideas.
GET ON WITH IT!
If you truly have an idea worth sharing in a book, then GET ON WITH IT! Enough waffling and hemming and hawing and supporting and proving. Tell me what is so important that you have to say it in a book.
If you were telling me your idea face-to-face, you wouldn’t spend hours giving me all the background first. I would simply walk away. That is exactly what I will do with a book that does the same thing. You can interweave the supporting material if you think it important, but when I read your book I want to hear what you have to say about a topic.
Why do so many books fall victims to these errors?
It is my belief that it all has to do with insecurity. The writer is insecure in their ideas and so tries to include every supporting study and report they can find. The editor is insecure in selling the book unless they provide some sort of overwhelming proof that it deserves your attention. The publishing company is insecure that a book can be written or sold in any way other than the traditional methods.
The truth is, all this insecurity wastes the reader’s time and convinces them of the exact opposite message of the one the writer, the editor and publisher are trying to convey. When faced with these errors, readers simply abandon the book. Sure, we might try to flip ahead to see if we can find the “meat” of the book, bit in most cases I will simply look elsewhere.
Authors, trust in yourself, your message, your writing and your book. If you have something important to say, readers will notice and acknowledge it. If you feel you have to justify your book and the thoughts within to a large degree, you may want to think more deeply about your ideas, instead.