March 2012

Olivier Blanchard on Becoming An Author #1

To supplement the book reviews I offer on Active under the category of Thought Readership (not a typo!), I like to — where possible — interview the authors.

Olivier Blanchard, Author


Brand strategist Olivier Blanchard’s Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization (Que – an imprint of Pearson Education, 2011) is due to appear on that site on April 30th. Before then, here’s the first of a three-parter with Blanchard, talking about — among other things — the differences between writing a blog and writing a book.



Liz: Olivier, probably the first thing that struck (and impressed) me about your book was your conversational writing style. I know that you do a lot of blogging but since this is your first book, how come you were able to write so engagingly? Is this a gift you were born with or something you’ve honed and refined over time?

Well… first, thank you. I appreciate that. I don’t know, really. I used to draw and write a lot even when I was little; that’s probably where it started. Every year until ninth grade, some random essay question that I’d answered on an exam invariably ended up getting published in the annual student “literary” publication. It was just a horrible little collection of poems and vacation stories, but it made my parents terribly proud. Naturally, it encouraged me to keep writing; that and a few of my teachers who told me I should focus on doing a lot more of it.

But there’s another piece to this: I think that writers are naturally drawn to write the sorts of things they read. Before I started blogging, I spent a lot of time reading magazine editorials and feature news stories; short stuff. I wasn’t reading a lot of books but Fast Company, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Vanity Fair, and Newsweek. I loved the kind of writing I found in those publications. It was crisp and fresh and had an easy style to it. When I started blogging, I sort of went with that. It seemed a natural fit. If I had been fonder of books, perhaps things would have moved in a different direction.

Let’s talk about the difference between writing a book and writing a blog. A lot of folks think writing a blog is a way of collecting material they’ll then turn into a book…is that wise, in your opinion? What are the key differences, if any, between those two writing formats? 

Until Pearson’s Katherine Bull came along and suggested I write Social Media ROI, I had pretty much given up on ever writing a book. I didn’t think I had either the talent or the brains for it. When I first started I thought it would be a lot like writing a hundred or so blog posts and putting them together in some sort of logical order that would more or less fit the Table of Contents. I actually tried that for about a week. It didn’t work at all. So yes, there is a very big difference between writing for a blog and writing a book. I think that people need to be aware of that.

The thing about writing a book is that you need to build into it a thread of continuity. Let’s forget about structure for a minute. A book, whether it’s a business book or a novel, always tells a story. It takes a reader from point A to point B, then from point B to point C, and so on. Just throwing together blog posts won’t work. Your book will come across as disjointed; it won’t be whole. So as a writer, you have to figure out what the story is. You have to find the narrative thread that will take the reader from the introduction to the conclusion and will give every topic and every chapter some measure of context. In that sense, you have to think “bigger” than when you write a three-page blog post or an editorial. You need much higher ceilings inside your own head. When it comes to managing your thoughts, books require scale.

Then there’s structure. A blog post can be about one thing, even if it fits into a ten-part series. A book is more like a Russian nesting doll: it has layers. Its structure is a lot more three-dimensional. You don’t just have a beginning, middle, and an end. Chapters reference each other; they build on concepts, ideas and anecdotes thqt you introduced in earlier chapters.

A book is a much bigger enterprise than a blog post. If I had to compare the two, I would say that writing a blog post is at best like building a tree house while writing a book is like building a working train station. I’ve gotten pretty decent at building tree houses. When it comes to building working train stations, I’m at best a novice and a dangerous one at that. It’s a very different animal.

How long did the whole process take…from idea to manuscript, then manuscript to published book? And what surprised you most along the way?

Olivier Blanchard, Author

I want to say it took about six months for my part to be done, four of which were devoted to writing. Then there was the production and printing, the stuff that I didn’t have a hand in. So all in all, maybe 8 months from the time I started writing to the release date?

The start was pretty easy. I spent a few weeks working with Pearson on the proposal itself. It seems trivial because there wasn’t a lot of heavy lifting involved, but in hindsight it was the most crucial part of the process. It was then that we put together the Table of Contents and what turned out to be the book’s DNA. That early in the process, you can’t really know what the book’s personality is going to be, but you do know what it is going to be about, what it is going to cover, in what order, etc.

I didn’t know it at the time, but it is one of the most important aspects of writing a book – or rather, to make it possible to finish a book. I don’t think that starting books is a problem for anyone who likes to write. Actually finishing one is the real challenge. 

Having a Table of Contents and a detailed proposal gives you a road map for the book. That’s crucial, vital. I don’t think that the majority of books – business or otherwise – would actually get written without one. Think about it: you’re going to be writing a book for three, five, maybe eight months. That’s a long time to be wrestling with one project. The thing about working on something for that long is that you’re going to lose your way at some point, and probably more than once. You’re going to go off on a tangent. You’re going to take a wrong turn. If you don’t have that road map to get you back on track, you could be stuck in the weeds for a really long time. That’s how books don’t get finished. It isn’t for lack of will or talent or ability. It’s just that writers go a little crazy; they get a little lost. They end up going off course and can’t find their way back. Having a strong Table of Contents right from the start — a solid road map for the book — makes sure you can always find your way again, and sooner rather than later. It takes most of the dangerous guesswork out of the equation.

The writing itself didn’t take that long for me. I’m a pretty prolific writer. I can write fifteen, twenty pages a day if I know ahead of time what it is I want to write about.

And that’s the other thing: Having a schedule and a process in place that ensures that the schedule is the schedule. In my case, the project had been divided by Pearson into four simple due dates. Every four weeks, I owed them twenty-five percent of the manuscript. That kept the momentum going. The schedule wasn’t random or vague, it was set. Meeting that schedule was a job like any other. That kept things rolling. If my publisher hadn’t set those deadlines or incentivized me to stick to them, I would probably still be working on the book. It would have never gotten written. So deadlines matter.

Aside from those types of practical insights, I was surprised by two more things.

The first was how much more work the editing took. I don’t know if other writers have the same experience, but I found the editing portion of the project a lot more difficult and time-consuming than the actual writing. I swear I must have spent three times more energy reworking chapters than writing them in the first place.

The second thing was how important it is to feel that you have someone in the trenches with you during the entire process, especially when you’re going through tough spells (and every writer does). The relationship between a writer and an acquisitions editor is far more important than people realize. The two have to get along. They have to work together, build a rapport, build trust and mutual respect and even some measure of affection. That human element is key. If you don’t have that, I think you’re going to end up with a pretty lifeless book.

In Part Two of this interview, Blanchard explains why he went with a commercial publisher rather than self-publishing his book, how well it’s selling, and his aspirations as an author. 

If you have written a book or have a particular favorite (recently published) title that you’d like me to review for the Thought Readership series, email me the details and I’ll see what I can do!



Help! I Need a Book Editor (But Which One?)

© Saniphoto |

As a wordsmith, I find the origins of words fascinating.

A “consultant” originally referred to someone who visited oracles, until a reference in a Sherlock Holmes story in 1893 changed it to one qualified to give professional advice.

Back in the early 19th century “coach” was Oxford University slang for a tutor who got students through their examinations.

“Doctor” comes from the Latin root meaning a teacher or adviser.

Over time a “shepherd” shifted from a person who tended sheep to someone who generally watched over, protected and guided others.

Stick book in front of each of those words and it’s not surprising you’re confused as to what exactly a book consultant, book coach, book doctor or book shepherd actually does, let alone whether you need one. Only the term “book midwife” and the alternative moniker “book doula” directly alludes to the birth of a book being akin to birthing a baby. Let’s agree – for the sake of brevity – that this is an activity inadvisable to do alone.

Let me focus instead on helping you sort through the morass of options available, should you decide to engage professional help to birth your brainchild.

Who are these people?

THE current self-publishing free-for-all is not unlike the Klondike gold rush, not least because of how often the unwary are parted from their money. As you review the websites (found by Google-ing any of the terms I mention above) of folks purporting to help you with your book, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How long have they been in the publishing business – and where’s the evidence of that? Anyone can say they’ve been involved in book publishing for decades; providing proof is another matter.
  2. Do they come from a book services background (e.g., a former editor at a publishing house) or have they actually written books themselves? How many copies have those books sold? It’s one thing to have assisted others to publish their books, quite another to have direct experience as an author. If you plan on an extended period of writing support, for example, the empathy of a published author may well be important to you.
  3. What direct experience do they have of the genre in which you are writing?  Children’s books and anything historical are just two examples where I believe it’s advisable to collaborate with someone with specialized knowledge. I turn down work all the time from novelists, as my only experience with fiction is a handful of published short stories and completing last year’s NaNoWriMo ( I encourage my clients to incorporate storytelling principles into their books, but as a nonfiction author and journalist with a background in self-help, “how-to,” and business, these are the areas in which I feel most qualified to serve.
  4. Does all of the expertise you need reside in one person or will you be working with a “creative team?” Be wary of a website that only extols the virtues of the founder or principal when in practice your project will be passed on to a team member whom you know nothing about. If you are relying on a single individual, do they have experience with agents and commercial publishing, with self-publishing – or both?  

What range of services do book consultants offer – and to whom?

Here’s a list of typical services, although not every business may offer all of them:

  • Idea development.
  • Strategic planning (e.g., how a book can help you reach business or career goals).
  • Various forms of editing – developmental, substantive, line-by-line etc.
  • Manuscript critiquing.
  • Copy editing and proofreading.
  • Copywriting for back cover; cover design; interior layout.
  • Title and subtitle generation.
  • Creation of a book-focused website.
  • Consulting on publishing options, book production, distribution, fulfillment etc.
  • Book proposal coaching.
  • Writing coaching.
  • Time management strategies.
  • Co-authoring or ghostwriting.
  • Peripherals: ISBNs, LCCN, PCIPs etc.
  • Marketing and promotion plans; professional press kit.
  • Outsourced publishing.

Client backgrounds vary but most have one thing in common – the willingness and means to invest in themselves as authors of good books that sell.

What’s it going to cost me?

That’s like asking how long is a piece of string? Fees can vary widely. Most reputable book consultants don’t charge less than $50 an hour…some cost $200+. One book consultant & marketer quotes $500 an hour on his website! Obviously this depends a lot on the professional’s length of experience, depth of expertise and chutzpah!

As a rule of thumb you might budget around $125 an hour. Bear in mind that you may need 50 hours or more of the professional’s time to move from idea to final manuscript.  Some book consultants offer discounted rates on bigger projects. For example, you might pay $350 for a two-hour “ad hoc” consultation to talk about a specific aspect of your project, with no commitment to move ahead, but find this hourly rate is significantly reduced when you sign up for a three to six months’ package of services leading to a published book. 

How do I find the right professional for me?

Do your due diligence. You’ll likely spend several thousands of dollars with this person or their business. If you were shelling out that kind of money for a car, wouldn’t you do some preliminary investigation? At the very least review their website (I can’t tell you the number of people who contact me, for example, with projects that are outside my scope of interest and expertise); read their testimonials; ask to speak with satisfied clients (the best you can hope for; no one’s going to put you in touch with a dissatisfied one!).

But remember that this isn’t just a business collaboration; it’s also an intimate one-on-one relationship that may last several months or longer. Most reputable professionals offer some form of free “taster” session – from regular group call-ins where you can ask questions to 30-minute one-on-one, complementary phone consults.  Be prepared with lots of questions and trust your gut.

Red flags – what should I be wary of?

This is a personal peeve, but I’d run like hell from any who uses the word “guarantee” in their marketing copy. There are no guarantees in publishing. Here’s legendary editor, Bob Loomis, who retired earlier this year after 54 years with Random House:

Every day when I wake up in the morning and I come to work, I have no idea what’s going to happen. All the books that I think are going to sell don’t work, and all the books I don’t think are going to work sell a lot and win awards. That’s why I love this business so much.

Anyone can be a published author these days; guaranteeing which books will become “best sellers” is the province of those with big marketing budgets, big lists, and scores of adoring affiliates.

Final advice? Partner with someone who loves their work and your book (almost) as much as you do. Combine their passion for the world of publishing with solid experience and a personality that will motivate you, for an enjoyable journey and a successful outcome.

This was originally a guest post on Joel Friedlander’s The Book Designer blog. Thanks, Joel, for allowing me to reproduce here. (And, yes, Joel’s one of the good guys, with LOADS of brilliant resources and other material to help the committed Indie author!)

Latest Author News

Best-selling author, Ken Brand

Congratulations, Ken Brand, who just knocked off Donald Trump — figuratively, not literally, lol — from the Amazon bestseller list with the book we worked on together in 2010/11.  News story here.

Less Blah Blah, More Ah Ha: How Social Savvy Real Estate Agents Become Trusted, Preferred, Referred – and Rewarded

Thought Leadership #2: Q&A with Craig Badings of Canning Corporate Communications

Ah! The wonders of social media. I first came across Craig Badings when I chanced upon his website, aptly named Thought Leadership, and delighted in finding someone  both passionate and thoughtful about the topic. One way or another we found ourselves sending direct messages on Twitter, after which I invited Craig to connect on LinkedIn.

Craig Badings

If you want to learn how to effectively communicate and broaden your sphere of influence you could do no better than to study Craig. Unlike many, he followed through and enjoyable conversations have ensued ever since.

Including this one, in which I engaged Craig in a bit of Q & A banter about thought leadership, what it is (and isn’t) and why so many people keep getting the wrong end of the stick!


Liz: Craig, you’re director at Canning Corporate Communications in Sydney, Australia…how did your interest in the concept of thought leadership come about and how much of it is influenced by the work you do with clients at that firm?

Craig: I first witnessed the power of thought leadership with a client six years ago.  Importantly, they understood that thought leadership had to be ‘owned’ across the organization from the CEO to the sales team.  Critically the research they did each year played back to enabling conversations that the sales people could have with their clients.  If the research couldn’t achieve this, they wouldn’t do it.

It worked for them.  They could have conversations about the industry and the issues their clients faced that no-one else could.  It gave them a fresh media platform and, for the CEO, great new speaking material.

From that moment I decided to deep dive on thought leadership as a strategic communications tool and what it could do for a brand.  Since then, I’ve immersed myself in it, lived it, breathed it, written a book and blogged about it and practiced it with my clients.

Liz: Is it me, or does there seem to be increasing misunderstanding about thought leadership these days, with the term at risk of becoming synonymous with “expert” or “trusted authority” or any of those other common titles folks like to give themselves?  And what, of all the various definitions of thought leader already out there, is the one that — for you — best encapsulates the spirit and true meaning of this term?

 Craig: Is it too arrogant to say mine?  Seriously, there are lots of definitions out there and none of them is wrong – except those that talk about content curation as thought leadership!

There are lots of smart people out there who know a lot about this topic and they all have something to add to what thought leadership is or what it should be.  I have assimilated some of these on my blog under the category Definitions of Thought Leadership.

Liz: Given that definition, what’s the key thing that differentiates a thought leader from any other business resource, in your opinion?

Craig: Simply that they deliver new insights that add value to their clients in a way no other part of the business can.  In doing so, they differentiate themselves from the competition.

Done right, it’s a very compelling way to engage with your clients and to excite your employees about your business, your vision, and your place in the world.

Liz: Who do you consider to be some of the most impactful thought leaders — across any industry — in the world today?

Craig: There are so many across so many industries.  Some examples include:  Al Gore, Warren Buffett, Richard Branson; Mohammed Younis, Peter Drucker, Stephen Covey, John Kotter, Anita Roddick, Edward de Bono, Ken Blanchard, David Meerman Scott, Ricardo Semler, Robert Kiyosaki, Bill Gates, Howard Gardner, Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Tom Peters, and the list goes on.

Liz: I don’t consider Malcolm Gladwell or Daniel Pink — both extremely good authors and amazing curators of information — to be thought leaders, although many do. Where do you sit on this?  Is Gladwell a thought leader in your eyes, or just a really good writer/curator of useful and entertaining knowledge? An innovator who’s gifted in combining concepts in a way that most others wouldn’t think of doing?

Craig: My view is that if the market sees you as a thought leader then you are.  I would agree with you that merely curating content doesn’t make you a thought leader but if you curate content and from that content arrive at new ideas or insights that you share with your market then, yes, curation can lead to thought leadership.  But curation on its own is merely that – purveying other people’s insights and information.

Liz: Let’s say (hypothetically speaking) that I’m a very skilled subject matter expert; I know my stuff inside out and my clients trust me explicitly for the valuable information and ideas I share with them. What more (if anything) would I need to do to shift out of the SME category and be considered a thought leader?

Craig: It depends what you want.  If the SME market is your market why would you want to be a thought leader outside of that?  The best thought leaders know their market, what to offer them and they stick to it with an intense focus.

If, however, you wanted to become a global thought leader in the SME market, that’s an entirely different proposition.  You need to think carefully about how you reach a global market and how you would monetize your offering across that market.  Now you are talking about being very findable online, building an online following, possibly getting onto the international speaker circuit, writing a book (and speaking to experts like Dr Liz Alexander about this), productizing your content so that you can sell online while you sleep, literally, and link up with like-minded people and share your information and insights.

Liz: Great advice, Craig — I’ll bear that in mind, lol.

As you know, my strategic focus — on behalf of my clients — is the business book: principally high quality offerings that are thoughtfully conceived, well organized, skillfully written, and published with high production values. To what extent do you think having a book (in addition to writing articles, white papers, and suchlike) is an essential part of a thought leader’s promotional toolkit these days? In fact, given that thought leader is a title others confer on you and you don’t (or shouldn’t) call yourself, isn’t it more to the point to let others sing your praises than go around self-promoting? Or is that just hiding your light under a bushel?

Craig: It all depends on who you want to reach with your thought leadership material or where you want to position yourself.  That said, a book can be a very powerful tool for positioning yourself as the ‘expert’.  Having written one book and now that I am busy with my second, I can also tell you that writing a book does amazing things for your own thoughts on the topic – it really helps to distill and crystalize your thinking further.

Obviously we are not all going to produce best sellers and not many people make money out of books, but that’s not the point.  If it positions you as the recognized expert in a field and you get lots of work because of that, it is mission accomplished.

Liz: Exactly! I love that you’ve pointed out that developing a book helps shape thoughts, not just communicate them.

Finally, Craig, of the various business books you have read in the past year or so, which has made the biggest impact on you, and why?

Craig: I’d have to say “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working” by Tony Schwartz purely because it forces one to think contrary to the way we have always thought about our work and how we work.  Immensely refreshing and eye-opening.  I’ll be reading it again shortly.”

Liz: Craig, thanks so much for chatting and good luck with book #2. I know you’ve been kind enough to say you’ll take a gander at my next book, #Thought Leadership Tweet: 140 Prompts To Transform Subject Matter Experts Into Thought Leaders, which should be published by summer. Say “hi” to Sydney (Australia) for me — it’s been a long time!

If you are interested in connecting with Craig, here’s how:

Website  -  Email: cbadings(at) -  Twitter 

What did you think of our discussion? Please pitch in with what you consider thought leadership to be or with any other comment, below:

Thought Leadership #1: What Does It Mean? by Dave Gardner of Thank God It’s Monday


ne of the great joys of having friends who are not only super-smart but also write well, is that I get to invite them to craft articles for this new “thought leadership” section of my website.

Why labor over an introductory article myself when I can get someone like Fast Company Expert Blogger, Dave Gardner, to write one for me?

So here it is. If you’ve ever wondered what they heck people mean when they talk about “thought leadership,” here’s Dave’s take. I’m not always going to agree with what my guests share about this topic (says the author of the forthcoming #Thought Leadership Tweet book, to be published later this spring), but in the spirit of free and open exchange, I’m delighted to invite these experts to voice their perspectives.

Dave Gardner

Over to you, Dave:

I was recently contacted by a company needing help with a business transformation.  The gentleman who contacted me said he had studied my websites, read my blogs and articles and concluded that I was a “thought leader” in the space he needs help with. There are two things that I loved about his email:

1. He said he concluded I am thought leader—something a management consultant like myself aspires to, and,

2. He wanted to speak to me about getting my help—what I want people to conclude when they read things I’ve written.

Being considered a thought leader is the gold standard for professionals.  Who are some well-known thought leaders?

  •        Marshall Goldsmith: coaching
  •        Jay Abraham: direct marketing
  •        Alan Weiss: solo consulting
  •        Peter Drucker: management
  •        Meg Wheatley: innovative leadership
  •        Rajesh Setty: entrepreneur, author, speaker, alchemist, on entrepreneurship and innovation
  •        Seth Godin: entrepreneur, speaker, author, innovative thinker,
  •        Steve Jobs: creating technology products the marketplace loves

© Ramesh Chinnasamy |

The “thought leader” designation is used by others to describe a person of stature and repute; an individual realistically can’t declare themselves to be a “thought leader,” though some try. It is certainly acceptable to tell others that others consider you to be a thought leader but that is best handled via testimonials or other written forms.

So, how does one become a thought leader?

You need:

  •        A track record of success
  •        Published articles or blog posts in third-party publications
  •        A book —and commercially-published books are still considered the gold standard
  •        To be invited to speak
  •        A willingness to help others
  •        Testimonials
  •        To be seen as the “go-to” person in a subject area
  •        To be quoted in books, articles, blog posts, etc.

A few months ago, Liz contacted me rather excitedly to let me know that I’d been quoted not once, but twice, in a recently published book, The Customer Experience Edge. I had no idea this was going to happen. I was quite honored.  When others quote you, it indicates you have something to say that they value.  Some might call this “thought leadership.”

To my list, Alan Weiss—my mentor—offers the following from his Thought Leadership Symposium:

  •        Create metaphors and examples used by others
  •        Constantly create new Intellectual Property (IP)
  •        Tend to be public figures who are easy to find and often written about
  •        Are known by virtually every professional in their industry, favorably or unfavorably
  •        Have others who attribute their success to them

Is a business leader a thought leader?  While it is certainly possible, thought leaders are known more for how they observe the world and how interactions occur in the world than a business leader whose mission is generally around strategy and business execution.

To be considered a thought leader is to be in rarified air.  The actions you take and the value you add can certainly directionally move you into consideration for being a thought leader.  But, it takes work and time.  The lists above provide food for thought for what actions need to be taken to become perceived as a thought leader.

So, am I a thought leader? It depends on who you talk to.  If you ask the right people, some might say “yes.” Others might say, “Who?”

It is something I aspire to constantly. Becoming a thought leader is a journey, not a destination.

So – what do you think? Please leave your comments below.

Dave Gardner is a management consultant, speaker and author based in Silicon Valley.  He’s been helping companies with configurable products and services with strategy and implementation for over 30 years. He holds a BA from San Jose State University and an MBA from Santa Clara University.  He’s the author of “Mass Customization: An Enterprise-Wide Business Strategy.”  Dave is a Fast Company Expert Blogger and a member of Dell’s Customer Advisory Panel. He can be reached through his website at or via Twitter @Gardner_Dave

LATEST UPDATE:  Dave was named as one of 8 “must read” business leadership bloggers by Business Insider. Read that article here.



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