Most books are disposables, to be read once and passed on to a friend. Some books are gems, to be analyzed and marveled at for their beauty and power. But some books are what I call “tool books.” Tool books are to be read once and then applied again and again. You don’t learn how to use a hammer, and then leave it on the shelf when you see a nail. Similarly, tool books contain ideas and strategies to solve problems in your career. Below are the best write-your-book tools that I know of. These resources will not tell you what book to write, but they will help you take your brilliant idea and shape it into a book that people will want to read. I've ordered them along the chronological process of writing a book. By the way, I don’t work or consult for any of these authors.
APE: Author Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish a Book
by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch
This book should be read at the beginning of your book-writing journey, and consulted throughout as you progress through each stage of the process. Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch have written the authoritative text on how to navigate the entire process of writing a book, from writing, to publishing it yourself, to selling copies. Whether you self-publish, or go with a traditional publisher, you will be able to enter authorship with your head up and eyes wide open.
Where to get APE: go to APEthebook.com.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
by Chip and Dan Heath
A friend of a friend of mine from graduate school was doing research in a big city during the summer. One day, after staring at books for 12 hours straight, he went out on the town with friends. Things got a little out of hand. The next morning, he woke up, groggy, lying in a strange room in a white hospital bed. He looked around at what seemed to be an empty warehouse, but noticed a bright orange medical unit near his bed. He put his hands to his head and felt nodes attached to his skull, with tubes running from his head to this orange medical unit, and on that unit was a handwritten note on a blue-lined yellow pad, which read: “You have great ideas but you don’t know how to communicate them. We have removed your boring academic writing-brain and replaced it with the ideas in this book.” The note had an arrow pointing downward, towards the bright orange medical unit, which my friend now realized was not a medical unit at all, but a book: Made to Stick.
If you read only one book on this list, read Made to Stick. If you depend on communicating ideas for your livelihood (in other words, if you’re breathing), read Made to Stick. If you want to find the core of your message, your work, even your life, read Made to Stick.
Where to get Made to Stick: find it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or any other bookseller.
Also see the Heath brothers’ website for free Made to Stick resources (when you give them your email), including the entire first chapter and a one page summary of the book.
How to Tell a Story
by Donald Miller
Why do stories such as the faux urban legend above (about my “friend of a friend”) act upon us so strongly? Because as humans we seem hard-wired to understand information that is put into story form. While Made to Stick will convince you of the importance of stories, Donald Miller’s short ebook will give you a simple formula to start putting your ideas into story form. Though its principles apply to storytellers of any skill, this book is perfect for those who are not yet professional storytellers. Use Miller’s story template wholesale to start, and then go from there. Here’s the template: a character; has a problem; then meets a guide; who gives them a plan; and calls them to action. That action either results in: a comedy, or a tragedy. You can tell almost any story using this format, from the time you discovered Beethoven’s long lost set of dentures, to the way you chose which university to attend. Using stories helps your reader empathize with your message. Instead of you having to convince them to keep reading, they will be deducing the morals of your stories (that is, your book’s main theses), on their own.
Where to find How to Tell a Story: Get the pdf ebook free (with mailing list sign up) here.
Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer
by Roy Peter Clark
Roy Peter Clark—the best writing-coach-as-author since William Zinsser—has put together 50 tools to make your writing more readable, powerful, and clear. In a series of short, useful chapters that can be immediately applied to your writing, Clark has laid out an apprenticeship program for any writer to become a skilled crafter of words. The book is so useful, you can just read the chapter titles and your writing will become instantly better.
Here are a few:
Tool 1: Begin sentences with subjects and verbs.
Tool 7: Fear not the long sentence.
Tool 8: Establish a pattern, then give it a twist.
Tool 14: Get the name of the dog. [I.e., pay attention to details.]
Tool 22: Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction.
Tool 34: Write from different cinematic angles.
Tool 40: Draft a mission statement for your work.
Where to get Writing Tools: find it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or any other bookseller.
When you have a groundbreaking idea for a book, by all means start writing. But you might also want to make time to read these four books. Use these books as dependable tools to take an idea and make it into an ape-ish, sticky, storified, crafty book, one that people will want to read.
What do you think?
Have you read these books? What did you think of them? What are the books on your list that are “tool books?” Which books do you come back to time and again to shape your craft in writing, storytelling, or teaching? Share your comments below.