Sunday, 27 November 2011

Looking at the Stars and Finding the Constellations

This week was very productive. I spent it absorbing feedback I received from my reviewers. An author friend cautioned that reading feedback " both exhilarating (because you are making the final product that much better) and frustrating, especially when reviewers offer contradictory advice." I found it exhilarating and exhausting, but not frustrating. There were more common themes than individual threads. 
The great news is that I am on track to completing the book I wanted to write. Equally great news - there are many ways I can make it better and I still have a lot of work to do.

Reviewing multi-source feedback feels like the role Tom Cruise played in Minority Report; your job is to look for patterns across multiple pieces of information. The challenge is to keep everything in your head while you find the connections. I wonder if Tom got headaches while he was filming these scenes.

Speaking with my reviewers to clarify points and test solutions has been a great help.  Halfway through these discussions, here are the changes I am making:
  • Audience: clarify who the book is written for
  • Navigation: be more directive on how best to use the book
  • Structure: categorize chapters by theme - results, the plan, resources, and communication
  • Format: add graphic elements to help the reader find the information they need
  • Content: open each chapter with one or two quotes and remove the 'Words of Wisdom' section
  • Content: Delete the stories that don't illustrate 'What works/What doesn't work' sections
  • Writing Style: Make it more personal, more 'Phil' - some parts read like a text book

Reviewing feedback is like searching for constellations. The stars are in full view, but you need to look hard to find the patterns. Having a team of generous astronomers helps a lot.


Friday, 18 November 2011

An Author by Any Other Name is Half as Sweet

Last week, I attended a 'Change Management Roundtable' session hosted by the Strategic Leadership Forum. It was the first industry function I had been to since starting to write. The registration form had asked for my title; for the first time in my career, I didn't have one.  I thought about using my old title, but that didn't seem right. I thought about leaving it blank but that also didn't seem right. I settled on 'Author' because 'Author-to-be,' although accurate, really didn't seem right.

I received my ID tag on arrival, which included my name and title. My initial feeling was embarrassment. I felt naked among a crowd of clothed business people. I hadn't earned this title and already I was displaying it on my chest for the world to see. Things got worse. The administrator asked for my card so it could be entered into a draw.  I knew that someone might ask me for my card so I was confident in saying, "I don't have a card at this time." She kindly offered to make one for me. Then I thought, what happens if I win the draw and they broadcast that Phil Buckley, Author should come up and collect his prize? I felt naked again and hoped I didn't win. 

As the evening wore on, I felt more comfortable with my newly adopted title. I also felt clothed again, which was a relief. I met an interesting man who showed a real interest in my book. He said he looked forward to reading it. I also had a great conversation with a woman who was encouraging about my journey. There are many amazing people in the world to cheer you on. Sometimes they are people you have just met.

Looking back at the experience I am reminded of a great quote about confidence by Adlai Stevenson:  “It is hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.” So, here I am, Phil Buckley, Author, typing away with purpose and conviction. My name tag is in front of me on my desk, just in case I forget who I am.


Wednesday, 16 November 2011

How to Unwrap a Gift So You Fully Appreciate It

The other day, I was scrolling through a technical newsletter (to improve my social media strategy!) and I came across an intriguing article called 'Unboxing the Kindle Fire.' A lot has been written about this low cost, high value tablet but this was the first article I had seen about how to properly unveil one. Since feedback is like a gift, this was an apt analogy for opening my reviewers' comments on the sample excerpt they have read.

Like most things in life, there are bad, good and best ways of doing them. I reasoned it would be wise to put some thought into how best to open my feedback to make the most of the experience. 

Here are the guidelines I follow:

- Open one gift at a time
- Unwrap it slowly
- Look at the whole gift first and then look at 
the details 
- Appreciate why the giver chose the features - they were selected  for a purpose
- Keep the packaging - care was put into the wrapping, which is an important part of the gift
- Enjoy the experience
- Be grateful

To push the analogy further, I will line up my gifts and look for trends. Are there common themes? Any types of gift I haven't received? What is the best order in which to explore them?

It is better to give than to receive, but receiving is great, too!


Thursday, 10 November 2011

All feedback is good, but could you include these things?

As I was preparing my book excerpt to be reviewed by a few peers, I realized I needed to give guidance on the feedback I wanted to receive. All feedback is good, however, I don't want to miss certain aspects.

Overall, I'm looking for feedback from a reader's perspective versus a content expert's. The content is built from my experiences of 'making change,' so I expect others will have different experiences and views - no issue. What is far more helpful is feedback on how people take in the book. Specifically, its utility and style: "Is it valuable?" and "Is it interesting?" I am also looking for feedback on how the book is constructed. Finally, I'm curious about what I should call the creation. What title will speak to the reader when looking for a practical change management book? 

Here are the questions I included with my book excerpt:

  • Does it effectively convey the reader's challenge?
  • Does it effectively outline the format of the book?
  • Does it make you want to read on?
Table of Contents (each question  is a chapter)
  • Does the order of the questions look right?
  • Have I missed any essential questions? If so, which ones?
  • Too much, too little, just right?
Six sample Questions
  • How useful is the information?
  • Is the style engaging, boring, etc.?
  • Does the format help or hinder the time-starved reader in finding the information needed?
Possible Title Options
  • Rank order the top three options, including any you can suggest
  • How much do you like your top choice?
Possible Sub-title/Tag Line Options
  • Rank order the top three options, including any you can suggest
  • How much do you like your top choice?

You may be thinking what I am thinking: I am hugely indebted to my feedback providers for taking the time to review my material and give me this feedback. I will appreciate every comment. 

Hmmm, maybe I should have asked one more question: "What do you think about the number of feedback questions - too much, too little, just right?


Friday, 4 November 2011

I've Never Met A Deadline I Didn't Like

I've been focusing on editing the first draft of my book. It's detailed, painstaking work that can't be rushed. I tried rushing at one point, and like the novice speed reader, accomplished the task and achieved little. 

I resigned myself to putting in the hours and slowly made progress. However, no matter how optimistic I am, finishing 8 questions out of 55 still left 43 questions unfinished at the end of last week.  I told a friend that I was getting concerned about the time it would take until I could send an excerpt of my book to some esteemed colleagues for feedback (my next step). He pointed out that since I was only sending the introduction and 6 sample questions, I could send it off before editing the rest.  Why didn't I think of that?

The clouds parted and I could see sunlight. I had a short-term goal and all I needed was a deadline. Due dates that are close enough to touch always have been the most motivating for me, so I picked the following Friday -- today!

I am not like Douglas Adams who said, "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound as they fly by." I take them seriously and tap into them for energy. They put me into action mode and drive me to make a plan based on the resources and time available. They also keep me focused on the most important activities.

Once I had set my deadline I accomplished the following:
  • Broke down the work into a plan
  • Defined the feedback I was looking for - reader versus editor based
  • Created a prototype review package including instructions, content and feedback questions
  • Selected the six questions for review that are representative of the entire book
  • Tested the logic of my selections with a friend and advisor
  • Edited the introduction and sample questions
  • Chewed many packs of Trident gum

By Wednesday night, time was running out. Editing was taking as long as usual and one of my questions needed to be rewritten. I stayed up until 2am to get back on track, which felt both tiring and invigorating. At 10pm on Thursday night, I completed my package. After a quick review with the same friend this morning, I'll send it out to the people who have generously agreed to read my work. 

It will feel good once the last package has been sent. Then it's back to the 43 remaining unedited questions. Time to select a new deadline.