A Checklist for Bullshit-Proofing Your Book

file0001564894818Clichés, unclear processes, and unsupported ideas are the bane of writers and speakers. Facing them and overcoming them is what drives me crazy about my work—and makes me love it.

Dan Blank wrote a masterful post that articulates the constant challenges. (If you’re an author, his blog is a must-read.)

Dan’s post is about crap-detecting presentations at conferences. Most of what he says applies to editing books as well. Based on his thinking, we can begin to create a checklist for trouble-shooting a manuscript.

1. Catch Clichés

This is tricky because clichés can point to timeless truths—or pure fluff. Dan writes about how to avoid the latter:

Clichés suck the soul out of conferences…. clichés have to be the jumping off point to a conversation, not the goal. So if someone says “The more you give, the more you get back,” then I want to hear specific examples of how that happened in their career. And I want to hear about the scary parts of that process.

2. Clarify Processes

Most business and self-help books give instructions about how to produce a specific outcome. Usually this involves a process—a sequence of suggested steps.

Writing about processes is unsexy—and crucial to the success of many nonfiction books. Dan wisely suggests that you flesh out each step with details:

So if you are going to present a model about creating an amazing product/service or how to best help your clients/audience, then I want it to make sense in a way that measurably changes my work week. That you don’t just say: “Listen. Build. Do.” but that you REALLY dig into how to do each step, what the risks are, and how you hacked through system and after system before you landed on this one.

Here we can borrow from David Allen, author of Getting Things Done—specifically, his concept of next actions. These are physical and visible behaviors (explained well by Merlin Mann here).

In short, a next action can be captured on video. It involves people moving their hands, arms, legs, and mouth.

Fill your instructions with as many next actions as possible.

3. Share Personal Experiences In Depth

Dan explains:

I didn’t want to hear stories of others, I wanted to know specifics about what they learned, how they learned it, and how that helped them evolve. If they said a cliché, I wanted them to back it up with research data or with a very specific story about how it played out in multiple scenarios for them. Inherent in this, for me, is often identifying the pain points: the stress/anxiety/risk of such scenarios. In other words, saying “Hire Only A-Players,” and then saying “And we have an amazing team of developers,” doesn’t cut it for me. Because I can’t do anything with that.

Acting on this suggestion includes sharing your vulnerability—disclosing your pain points, feelings, and failures on the way to success.

Ironically, this content can actually enhance your credibility and improve your instructions at the same time.