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How Content Turns Prospects Into Customers [Book Review]

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How do you attract passionate customers?

What can you do to cut through the noise and get people to notice what you have to say?

The answer is CONTENT—interesting and compelling information that helps solve your customers’ problems.

Why Content?

It’s interesting content that drives people to push that Share button or say to themselves, “Wow! This is a great article! I think I’ll subscribe.”

Here’s an analogy: If a big-time investor invited you to pitch your business idea to him, how much effort would you make to impress him?

I’m guessing that you wouldn’t dare show up without a compelling idea and a well-thought-out strategy. And yet most businesses do just that when it comes to social media marketing.

Given the opportunity to influence an online audience of potential customers, they simply show up without preparing a compelling message. No wonder they don’t see the results they want with their social media campaigns.

Prepare Your Message

Social media rewards interesting ideas. What is your audience most interested in?Find out what that is and then create compelling stories that feed your audience and generate passionate followings.

In their book Managing Content Marketing—The Real-World Guide for Creating Passionate Subscribers to Your Brand, Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose sum it up this way: “Content is what converts customers.

Whether you call yourself a social media marketer, an Internet marketer or a traditional marketer, you should define the kind of content that interests your potential customers, develop it and then prepare for the conversion to take place.

This book shows you how to do that. Here’s what you need to know about it.

Authors’ Purpose

Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi wrote Managing Content Marketing to provide the vital steps required to understand this thing called content marketing.

Let’s face it—it’s not easy to create compelling content day in, day out. In fact, without proper knowledge, it’s practically impossible. But it can be done. It starts with understanding three fundamental things about yourself and your market space:

  • Who YOU are—What’s your story?
  • Who THEY are—Your customers, and why they should care about your story.
  • What CONTENT can you provide them to build loyalty?

Ultimately you want to develop a content marketing strategy that helps you:

  • Create passionate subscribers to your brand;
  • Continually engage them with great content from the first day you meet them throughout their entire life cycle.

What to Expect

This book is a reminder to all business owners and marketers that we are all storytellers, and we need to figure out how to develop stories that will win over our audiences.

At 173 pages (12 chapters) you can expect an outstanding guide for doing content marketing the right way.

Part 1 examines to WHOM you want to tell your story; WHAT story to tell; and WHERE to tell it. Part 2 shows you how to manage the strategy you’ve created in Part 1. Overall, the book digs deep and discusses the more robust processes behind content marketing.

Highlights

#1: Build a Business Case for Content Marketing

Content marketing is so new that it’s hard to identify the “hard business benefits” associated with it. However, the whole idea of creating compelling content is to get customers and make money.

To develop your business case for content marketing, ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s your business goal? (What challenges are you trying to solve?)
  • How big an opportunity is it? (What is the outcome if it works?)
  • What’s the business model? How are you going to make it work? What kind of content do you need to make it work? Who will create it?
  • What’s your differentiating value? How is your content marketing going to be different from other marketing efforts you have attempted in the past; e.g., PPC or SEO? Can you anticipate success where other efforts have failed?
  • What’s the risk if you fail?

#2: Develop Your Pillars of Content

What’s your story? If you own an air-conditioning company, for example, your story is not “providing and repairing air-conditioning systems.” Your company’s story should be “providing a comfortable home experience.” Once that story has been grasped, the content ideas can begin to flow.

Ecology concept: aerial view of a healthy forest in a book. Computer generated. Subtle grain texture added. Earth’s maps courtesy of http://www.shadedrelief.com Similar images here: [img]/file_thumbview_approve.php?size=1&id=13050925[/img][/url] [url=/file_closeup.php?id=13050964][img]/file_thumbview_approve.php?size=1&id=13050964[/img][/url] [url=/file_closeup.php?id=13050970][img]/file_thumbview_approve.php?size=1&id=13050970[/img][/url] [url=/file_closeup.php?id=13050976][img]/file_thumbview_approve.php?size=1&id=13050976[/img][/url] [url=/file_closeup.php?id=13050978][img]/file_thumbview_approve.php?size=1&id=13050978[/img][/url] [url=/file_closeup.php?id=13050982][img]/file_thumbview_approve.php?size=1&id=13050982[/img][/url] [url=/file_closeup.php?id=13050986][img]/file_thumbview_approve.php?size=1&id=13050986[/img][/url] [url=/file_closeup.php?id=13050989][img]/file_thumbview_approve.php?size=1&id=13050989[/img][/url]

As you brainstorm your own content ideas, think about these questions:

  • What environment do you find yourself in currently? Who are your customers? Are they happy or frustrated? What kind of content will make them happy?
  • What’s that big, audacious goal that you have for your company? Is it to introduce a new product? What kind of experience will your new product provide to customers?
  • What happens if you launch this new product and it fails? How will you address your story then?
  • What about the frustrations you faced while developing the new product? Work that into your story and get the audience on your side.
  • How will you respond to those who said it couldn’t be done—the competition and the naysayers?
  • Reach out to other bloggers and share your point of view with them, and ask them to share theirs.
  • How will the story continue after the product is launched? Tell stories that will continue to provide thought leadership.

#3: Create Passionate Subscribers

Content generated by satisfied customers is the most powerful way to reach your content goals. Apple® is the quintessential example of this. They have no social media presence and they have no blog. But they have successfully built a passionate subscriber base that is willing to create fan sites, write, share and evangelize the Apple® brand.

Here’s how you can you create passionate subscribers:

  • Know your target audience—Never create content from the “inside out” (based on what you already have in your “library”). It may not be relevant. Instead think like a cable TV station and define a very specific audience. Then create content that will inspire them.
  • Feel their pain—Let’s say your customer base is 80% men and only 20% women, but your product is equally useful to both sexes. Clearly you’re not attracting enough women. What kind of content could you put in place that would attract the women who are not currently drawn to your product? For example, P&G uses a blog called ManofTheHouse.com to attract dads and a separate blog called HomeMadeSimple.com to attract moms.
  • Determine the opportunity—What would happen if you could write content that eases the pain of your target audience? (Hint: “cha-ching!”) This is where RETURN on investment comes in.
  • So if the opportunity is big enough to justify spending your time and money, then pull it all together with a solid content marketing strategy.

#4: Case Study: What Happens When You DON’T Write Your Story?

If you don’t write your own story, guess what will happen? It will be written for you.

P&G found this out in early 2010 when they introduced a new Pampers product that was hailed by many as the “iPod of baby care.” It was a redesigned diaper that was thinner and more absorbent than the previous design.

But instead of repackaging the new product, P&G put the new diaper in the old packaging and didn’t communicate this to their customers. As a result, furious mommy bloggers and Facebook groups popped up all over the place calling for the company to bring back the old product.

What P&G didn’t realize is that their subscribers, in the absence of a story, would go ahead and make up a story themselves. A successful content marketing strategy would have made the launch more successful.

#5: Case Study: What Happens When You DO Write Your Story?

If you do write your own story, then YOU remain in control and can influence what your customers think about you.

In August 2010, a flight attendant on JetBlue flight 1052 from Pittsburgh to New York got into a fight with a passenger and proceeded to have a “take this job and shove it” moment! Then he grabbed a beer from the plane’s galley and slid down the emergency evacuation chute.

Over the next few hours, JetBlue’s Facebook page lit up with a torrent of angry comments. But an opportunity was brewing. The next day, JetBlue posted a rather tongue-in-cheek blog post titled, “Sometimes the Weird News Is About Us.”

What happened over the next few days was very interesting.

Slowly, the sentiment about JetBlue began to turn around. There were hundreds of sympathetic comments on the blog post and soon bloggers and the press began to notice. They wrote about JetBlue’s “comeback” and how they “survived the crisis.” Soon everything was back to normal.

Personal Impressions

A lot has been written about content marketing and there’s always a risk that another book on the same topic is just “beating a dead horse.”

However, Managing Content Marketing is modern, thought-provoking and at times even risky. It doesn’t deal with the basics (there are plenty of other books for that); rather, it focuses on helping you develop a structure for your storytelling enterprise. If you’re serious about learning how content marketing works, you won’t go too far without it.

Fair warning—there are a few bold ideas in this book, some of which made me a little skittish; for example, the ideas of budgeting for failure (page 30) and switching your story when the current one doesn’t work are not appealing, but they’re sometimes necessary.

In the end, the authors’ execution of content marketing as a business strategy is brilliant, and you can’t help but feel a little smarter for having digested it.

Social Media Examiner gives this book a 5-star rating.

Over to You

How are you using content to convert your audience into customers? Please share your ideas in the comments box below.

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book/product review

Can Social Media Actually Make You Money [Book Review]

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If you’ve ever asked the question, “Can I make money with social media?“, you might have heard a variety of answers such as, “No!”, “Maybe” or “It depends.”

Rarely (if at all) have you heard the confident and unwavering response, “Yes, you can!

In their book, How to Make Money with Social Media—An Insider’s Guide on Using New and Emerging Media to Grow Your Business, Jamie Turner and Reshma Shah explain that there’s a big difference between people who make money with social media and people who don’t.

People who fail to make money with social media are those who never get their planoff the ground. They’re the ones who (among other things):

  • Don’t know how to set up a landing page
  • Don’t remarket to “customer prospects”
  • Don’t know how to turn a social media campaign into a sales campaign
  • Think they can do social media in ten minutes a day
  • Sit on the sidelines
  • And other faux pas

But people who make money are different. They set objectivescreate a plan and execute the plan relentlessly.

And that’s what this book is all about—The Plan. You’ve heard the old adage, “People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.” Well it’s true. And to make sure that it doesn’t happen to you, the authors provide a thorough, “no-wiggle-room” roadmap that willput you on the path to social media success.

Here’s what you should know about the book.

Authors’ Purpose

The goal of the authors is to teach you some innovative ways of using social media, in order to generate real revenue and profits for you and your company.

Jamie Turner

Reshma Shah

In this book, Jamie Turner and Reshma Shah explain that by following “the roadmap,” you can use social media effectively to grow your business and make money as well.

So whether you’re a small business owner, a regular business-to-business company or you run a huge division at a large global organization, the authors provide a practical plan to help you set up, launch and run a money-making social media campaign that will work specifically for you.

What to Expect

How to make money with social media

At 275 pagesthis book is not meant to be read cover-to-cover in one sitting. It’s much too extensive for that. Fortunately it’s an easy read, has many interesting examples and lots of bullet points, and is therefore very skimmable.

The book starts with a brief history lesson on what advertising and marketing looked like before the Internet. It goes on to talk about how things have changed and where social media is going to take us in the future.

But the core of the book is literally a roadmap that starts by laying the groundwork for success, and on to measuring the only really important thing – money!

Also notable, toward the end of the book is a checklist of 59 things you need to doon your way to a successful social media campaign.

Some of the more interesting ideas that the authors introduce are:

  1. How to tell if your brand is a social media magnet
  2. How to use circular momentum to build your brand
  3. How to conduct a social media competitive assessment
  4. How to build new relationships with customers using augmented reality
  5. How to use different social media platforms to network, promote and share(they’re not the same!): Facebook is like a pub, LinkedIn is like a trade show,Twitter is like a cocktail party, YouTube is like Times Square on New Year’s Eve, MySpace is like Woodstock, and perhaps in their next edition, the authors will give us an analogy for Google+.

Key Highlights

For the most part, this book is rather elementary. But don’t write it off altogether, even if you’re a social media pro. There’s still a good chance that you might learn one or two cool things such as:

#1: How to Tell if Your Brand is a Social Media Magnet

social media magnet is a brand that people want to be associated with. Big brands such as Nike, Apple and Harley-Davidson have no problem there.

The first step to acquiring social media magnetism is to use traditional media to drive people to your Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn pages.

This Smirnoff ad prompts viewers to check out their Facebook page.

If you’re a small and underfunded brand, you’ll probably lean heavily on word-of-mouth marketing to promote your social media profiles.

The authors suggest that you ask yourself the following questions to figure out if your brand is a social media magnet:

  • Do people wear your logo on their sweatshirts?
  • Do people put bumper stickers with your logo on their cars?
  • Do people wear hats with your logo on them?

Obviously the vast majority of small business brands will answer “no” to most, if not all three, questions and the authors know this.

Their intention in asking these “trick questions” is not to shame you or make you feel like a loser, but to make the case that social media is about running a successful business, not about being social. They want you to know that by applying the lessons you learn from their book, you too will be on your way to running a successful business.

#2: How to Think About Social Media

Some people use social media platforms as if they were all exactly the same. What they need to know is that each platform is different and should be approached in a completely unique way.

Facebook is a casual space (like a pub), LinkedIn is a space where you talk strictly business (tradeshow), Twitter is a noisy place where you share helpful links to position you as an expert (cocktail party), YouTube is packed with people clamoring for attention (Times Square on New Year’s Eve) and MySpace… well, that’s history unless you’re a musician.

On LinkedIn, it’s important to focus on networking and to carry out professional conversations.

Your job is to review the parallels among these platforms and their analogies(i.e., pub, cocktail party, tradeshow and so forth), and share those parallels with people in your office so that they can get comfortable and figure out how to use each individual platform. Visit other people’s social media pages to see what they’re doing on their various platforms.

Also when reviewing the different platforms, keep in mind that some of them help you to network (LinkedIn), others help you to promote your brand (Facebook) and others help you to share content (Twitter and YouTube).

#3: How to Create Circular Momentum

Turner and Shah suggest that we’re all connected through six degrees of separation.

What that means in business parlance is that your product is linked to a lot more people than those who’ve had direct contact with it. So if people have had a negative experience with your brand, then word will get out very, very fast! This is calledcircular momentum.

Now, if you can create positive experiences for people using your social media channels, you’ll be able to leverage circular momentum to bring about a great outcome.

Equifax, for example, is a very conservative company. They realized the benefit in allowing fans to vent their frustrations on their Facebook page. After they vent, customers feel much better and Equifax then uses this opportunity to provide support and encouragement. As a result, their customer retention rates have improved by a huge margin, thus justifying their social media efforts.

#4: How to Use Augmented Reality to Generate Business Leads

Augmented reality (AR) is a phrase used to describe a direct or indirect view of the physical, real-world environment through a computer-generated sensory experience. Companies can use AR technology to build new relationships with customers and to persuade prospects.

Side note: You might have experimented with some AR apps on your iPhone; e.g., WorkSnug to identify nearby wi-fi hotspots, DishPointer if you’re into cabling and CarFinder if you can’t remember where you parked the car!

Businesses are also using AR in very interesting and innovative ways. IKEA in Germany for example uses AR to get prospects to try out new furniture right from their homes. Prospects can simply aim their web cam at the current furniture in their living room to see a stylish new piece of IKEA furniture superimposed over their old couch! Just think of how often you could virtually redecorate your house!

This video clip shows how IKEA uses augmented reality to get more customers:

#5: How to Conduct a Social Media Competitive Assessment for Your Business

You’re already familiar with how competition in business works. In the last few years, for example, we’ve seen Amazon grab the lion’s share of the book market, as Barnes & Noble and Borders battled each other for physical retail dominance. What they didn’t realize is that competitive shortsightedness can actually render a business extinct, as Borders later found out.

Today your competition is not just your direct competition, it is actually anyone who competes for your customers’ disposable income—more so now because of social media and the universal competition for consumers’ attention.

This makes social media competitive assessment very challenging.

At the very least, you want to figure out how your competitors are using social media so that you can analyze how to compete against them.

However, you might also want to deliberately place yourself on the competitive grid as far away from them as possible. So if your nearest competitor has hired a specialist to manage his social media networks on a frequent basis, you might decide that you’re only interested in a few channels, say only blogs, and that you will be relentless in that one area.

Personal Impressions

I don’t like the title, How to Make Money with Social Media. It sounds like a scam, and in any case the book doesn’t live up to it. However, the subtitle, An Insider’s Guide on Using New and Emerging Media to Grow Your Business, is a lot more accurate.

I also thought the book was rather elementary. Save for a few novel ideas, it might not be very interesting to the experienced social media marketer. Also, most case studies used are big-name companies. Small businesses will have a tough time relating with Coca Cola, Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, IKEA, Colgate Palmolive and other industry giants.

That said, if there’s one social media book that executives and senior managers should read, it is this one. I believe they will be drawn to its interpretation of social media from a commercial perspective, and how social media activities tie to the bottom line.

This book serves as an important reminder that social media is only a means to an end to generate value for your organization. Ultimately you want to set up a social media campaign that is designed to make money. Everything else is just a stop along the way.

Social Media Examiner gives the book a 3.0 star rating.

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How to Write, Publish and Market Your Book

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Do you want to write a book but don’t know where to start?

Or perhaps you have a manuscript that hasn’t been published.

If so, this article is just for you.

These days it is next to impossible to get a major publisher interested in a book deal, particularly when you’re a novice writer without an established platform. As far as they’re concerned, you’re too risky and they’ll avoid you like the plague.

So what do you do?

Well, Guy Kawasaki, co-author of APE: How to Publish a Book, would tell you to self-publish.

“Self-publishing enables you to determine your own fate. There’s no need to endure the frustration of finding and working with a publisher.”

Not that self-publishing is easy! In fact, Guy calls it a “mystifying, frustrating and inefficient task” if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Then why bother?

Because the publishing industry is in turmoil.

Guy explains the constraints of traditional publishing—logistics and limitations of shelf space, of access to printing presses, editing, production expertise and shipping of physical books. As a result, someone has to act as a filter to decide what gets printed and what doesn’t—and it’s not pretty.

On the other hand, self-publishing is unrestricted, accessible and shelf space for ebooks is infinite. If you know what you’re doing (you can read the book to learn), self-publishing will open doors of opportunity that would otherwise remain firmly shut.

Here’s what you need to know about APE the book.

Authors’ Purpose

Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch are seasoned writers.

Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch, authors of APE.

Between them they have written 16 books (including APE). So when Guy decided to self-publish his previous book, What the Plus!, he was stunned at how difficult the process was. In fact, had it not been for his friend Shawn who explained the complexities of self-publishing, he would have hit a wall.

Together Guy and Shawn decided to write a book to help novice writers who are considering self-publishing. They humanize the publishing process, and remove all knowledge barriers that would otherwise make the experience traumatic.

What to Expect

If you’ve never written a book before, you’ll learn why you should write one, and why you shouldn’t. If you’ve never been published, you’ll figure out how to go from manuscript to book. And if you want to turn your book into a cash cow, you’ll learn how to do that too! Some other interesting things you will learn are:

  • How to write your book
  • How to avoid that “self-published look”
  • How to price your book
  • How to sell your book through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others
  • How to share your book on social media
  • And much more!

Highlights

APE is about empowering people who want to write their own book without giving up control to a publisher. To do this, you have to become an author, a publisher and an entrepreneur (APE). Here’s a glimpse of what that looks like:

#1: Author

Before you write a book, ask yourself, “What am I trying to achieve?” Most people write books for the wrong reasons—to make money, to become a thought leader or because “everyone says I have a good story.” How typical. Why not take four and half minutes to check out this video and see if you’re a “typical author” (featuring Siri!).

A good writer seeks to enrich people’s lives; for example, to entertain, provide knowledge, promote understanding, further a cause and so on. If it has to be about your personal goals, let it be because you want to master a new skill. This way if no one reads your book, at least you went out on a limb, took on an intellectual challenge and learned something new.

Being an author is a marathon. Guy’s advice is to postpone self-criticism because if you’re too harsh on yourself at the start of the writing process, chances are you might convince yourself that your book isn’t good enough to finish.

#2: Publisher

A high-quality book needs extensive testing and copy editing. You don’t need a traditional publisher to do these tasks, but you cannot eliminate them either. Here’s a cost estimate for publishing a 300-page book:

Your distribution channel depends on the type of book you want to publish.

Remember, your goal is to produce a book that reads, looks and feels like any book from a major publisher. So don’t try to take shortcuts. However, you can get great feedback and save some money by following these tips:

  • Editing. Get your family, friends, co-workers or niche online communities to copyedit your manuscript. You can also do a Facebook Graph search of ‘self publishing’ to find people or groups that can help you. Other sites to check out for editing help are Review FuseWritersCafe.orgCritters Workshop and Critique Circle.
  • Appearance is everything! People will judge your book by its cover. An attractive cover shows your professionalism and increases the marketability of your book. To avoid that sloppy “self-published look,” refer to the Chicago Manual of Style for numerous tips on grammar, style and presentation.

Distribution is another key process in book publishing. There are four ways to distribute your book: Online book resellers, direct sales, author-services companies and print-on-demand. Here’s a decision matrix to help clarify your distribution channel options:

Even with self-publishing you still need to outsource some essential tasks.

Bonus tip: If you’re not interested in mass distribution and just want to print a couple of book copies to give away to family and friends, you can use the Espresso Book Machine, a print on demand (POD) machine that prints, collates, covers and binds your book in about five minutes!

#3: Entrepreneur

Usually “entrepreneuring” is the hardest and most neglected of APE’s three roles because many authors don’t understand marketing. (Side note: For Social Media Examiner readers, this should be a walk in the park!)

Little businessman busy working with papers

As an entrepreneur, you should market your book for as long as people want to buy it.

Your job is to turn the book project into a marketable product that people will want to buy. First you have to understand how people discover new books:

  • Friends and peers tell them about it
  • They read about it on blogs or websites
  • Amazon suggests it to them
  • They Googled a term and your book showed up in the results
  • They searched for an item on Amazon and your book showed up in the results

When they’ve found your book, people look at the star rating and the user reviews. Then they decide whether or not to buy it. So here are some tips to “guerilla-market” your book:

  • Use all your online and offline contacts and connections and offer a PDF version of the book to anyone who is willing to review it. (Cost: $0)
  • Use Google+ Hangouts on Air to broadcast your book and give it away. (Cost: $0)
  • Catalyze user reviews on Amazon within 48 hours of when your book ships—ask your social media connections and the people who wrote a blurb on your book. Also don’t forget to contact Amazon’s Top Reviewers as well. (Cost: $0)
  • Make it easy for others to review your book by putting all background material (e.g., author’s bio, picture, book cover image, book specs, blurbs, etc.) in one place such as a landing page on your website. (Cost: $0)

Remember your activities as an author don’t end when your book is published. You should market your book for as long as people want to buy it.

Personal Impressions

Having read some of his other books, I know how passionate Guy gets about a subject he loves. Likewise this book is seasoned with his enchanting, humorous personality (he writes most of the book, by the way).

But what struck me about APE is how honest and pragmatic it is. It’s remarkable to see how he exposes the very publishing model that made him a New York Timesbestseller! Though even as a self-publishing advocate, he cautions that ebooks make up only 10% of total book sales in the U.S.—one of the huge doses of reality in this book.

So here’s the good news. If you’re aspiring to become a published author, APE’s message is that you don’t need a publisher to get your story out. It’s a great time to be a writer and this time around, the system is rigged in your favor. Why notpick up the book and get started on your self-publishing adventure!

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Why Book Reviews Matter and How to Write One

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Book reviews matter.

In a free society where people can say and write whatever they want, it’s important to have ‘filters’ in the system to prevent preposterous ideas from taking root.

Book reviewers perform an important service to the reading community. They give credit where credit is due, and point out errors where they exist.

This, not just for the sake of grading someone else’s work, but to help our ill-informed culture to distinguish between serious ideas and drivel a.k.a ‘crap’.

As Tom Lutz, editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Review of Books says:

“It’s not like we live in a culture that is too well informed. For all the talk of information overload, we are all of us a little behind on our reading. Book reviews, even short ones, provide a service. Longer ones, not because they are longer, but because they can…address ideas more seriously: they end up becoming a more substantial service.”

Some of you may know of my earnest passion for writing book reviews. For now, I am reviewing mostly in the business and marketing category. But that might change one of these days.

Here’s my simple, unambiguous approach to writing book reviews.

The Intro

I don’t literally name it ‘the Intro’ but this is how I start my reviews: It might be a short story explaining how I met the author, like in this case, or why I was compelled to pick up a particular book, or some other interesting narrative like this one, to build up momentum for the review itself.

I might add too, that this is where I start to build my case for or against the book, and also where I start to examine the significance of ideas presented by the author.

Author’s Purpose

In this section I try to analyse the author’s intention or purpose for writing the book.

Why did he write this book? Was it to teach a new subject, to explain something technical, or to convince the reader of his belief about something? Who is the audience? From what point of view is he coming from? How well does he understand the field that he is writing about (this last one is particularly important for the category of books that I review).

Ultimately the success of the book depends in part on how well the author was able to accomplish his purpose.

What to Expect

Before someone makes an investment to purchase a book, they want to know whether it’s worth their time and  their money.

In this section, I give readers a general outlook of what to expect. How many pages, the general theme of the book, an indication of the book’s relevance or appeal, an idea of what they will learn from it and so forth.

This information will help the reader to determine their interest (or lack thereof) in the book. There is no prescribed length for this section. It all depends on how much I want to reveal at this point.

Highlights

In this section I dig a little deeper.

I summarize the most important ideas or chapters, and describe in some detail the argument that the author is trying to make. In this section I also look at the author’s use of illustrations, images, or other techniques of bringing the point home.

The greater  the insights I can deliver here, the more value I give the reader by allowing her to see what the book is really about and whether or not it belongs in her bookshelf.

Personal Impressions

This is the final judgement and the section where I evaluate the book’s strengths and weaknesses.

I think it’s important to give the reader an honest, objective opinion of what the book is like. I don’t believe in sucking up to the author or trying to score brownie points. However I also recognize that a well-written book review is an excellent way to connect with the author. (Trust me, authors read ALL their reviews).

This is a busy section. Here I respond to the author’s opinions, explain why I agree or disagree with his ideas, if applicable I show why his arguments are inaccurate, indicate what the author might have omitted, I compare the book with other books in the same category, and finally I give the reader my recommendation to read or not to read.

Rating

Not everyone gives a rating but I think it gives extra value to the reader. I also think a rating completes your evaluation of the book very nicely. Here’s how I rate books (based on a five-star system):

  • 5: Outstanding, difficult to put down, you’d be foolish not to buy/read it.
  • 4: Really good book, worth every penny, some very minor weaknesses.
  • 3: Good, could appeal to a lot of people, but could be improved on several levels.
  • 2: Fair, not very interesting, you won’t miss much if you don’t read it.
  • 1: Don’t buy it, don’t read it – no matter what anyone tells you, it’s not worth your time!

Finally, let me say this, there is really no right or wrong way to write a book review. Keep in mind that book reviews are highly personal and they reflect your own opinion of someone else’s work.

However, in order to provide the best service to readers of certain book categories, I think it’s a good idea to have a structured book review that gives your audience all the insights they need to make up their own minds.

Over to you

Do you read book reviews? How much value do get from them?

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