Monday, July 23, 2007

A genuine expert writes . . .

My friend David Stuart has a friend called Marty Neumeier who is one of the two people on the planet who writes about brands in a way that I find exciting. (Jeremy Bullmore: shame on you for asking.)

Through David, I sent a copy of Can I Change Your Mind to Marty, who was kind enough to email me, saying how much he'd enjoyed it. But he also included some not entirely positive feedback on the book's title - and some thoughts on the general principles of naming books - which I thought you might find interesting. So here's a chunk of his email:


"I figure the title accounts for roughlyhalf of a book's success, so if you can get it right without spending half your time on it, you're ahead of the game. You can think of titling as a combination of positioning and advertising: first, you position the book in its category, and against the competition; second, you make a compelling promise to the reader.

"So, as a reader, when I see the title CAN I CHANGE YOUR MIND?, I'm not sure how to react. I can't quickly figure out what kind of book it is, why it's better than competing books on the subject, or why I should buy it. In fact, I'm not sure that I want my mind changed, and I can avoid the whole painful subject by not buying the book. I'm exaggerating, of course, because there IS something fun and clever in the existing title, especially with the second-reading graphics.

"I don't know what the title should be, but as a quick exercise, let's compare the existing oblique title with a more explicit one such as WRITE TO THE HEART. With this title, I can easily figure out that the book is about helping me to write better. Next I can guess that it's about writing to the emotions, or getting to heart of the matter, two things I probably could use help with. Finally, I might find the graphic presentation of this title to be more sexy, clear, and memorable than the existing one. Imagine a bullseye with a pen stuck in it, or a target with a heart-shaped bullseye, or some other symbol for writing and emotions or writing and persuasion. If the straightforward approach seems a bit boring, consider the experience of my friend Alina Wheeler, who titled her book DESIGNING BRAND IDENTITY. Despite this purely descriptive title---or maybe because of it---her book consistently outsells mine.

"The other kind of title that sometimes works is a blind title like John Kao's JAMMING. JAMMING doesn't immediately answer any of the obvious questions, but it does give a catchy name to the concept behind the book---that business collaboration should be more like jazz than classical music. My latest book ZAG uses this technique. It's riskier, but if people start using your "word" to describe the concept whenever they need to talk about it, then you're home free. Malcolm Gladwell's THE TIPPING POINT is a good example of a title that puts a new name to a concept. Now everyone is using the phrase "tipping point", and book sales have reacted accordingly."


I'm not sure I agree with everything Marty says. I still quite like the direct and engaging quality of Can I Change Your Mind? And, in any case, I've always tended to be sceptical about how important names and titles actually are. But when a world authority on a subject gives you free advice, you'd be a fool to disregard it. And I'll certainly think differently when it comes to titling my next book, if I ever get round to writing one.

Incidentally, before it was Can I Change Your Mind? my book was called No Milk Today, Thanks Dave! (If you'd like to know why, pick up the well thumbed copy you keep next to your computer, and turn to page 14.) And I'm pretty sure Marty wouldn't improve of that.

I wish I knew how to do links so that I could send you directly to the website for Marty's brilliant book, Zag:

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A word out of place

I wonder if you read a piece in The Guardian on Monday by Shimon Peres, the new president of Israel? He didn't promise to withdraw from the illegally occupied Palestinian territories, but he did commit himself to pursuing peace with Israel's neighbours. What really jumped out at me, though, was a single word in the following sentence:

"As president I intend to service with courage and kindness . . ."

Kindness? That just isn't a political word, is it? Politicians of the right occasionally talk about compassionate conservatism, at least when they are trying to get elected (after which they turn out to be Dick Cheney). And those to the left of centre are more than happy to use words like equality, opportunity and justice. But I can no more imagine a Blair, a Brown or a Cameron talking about kindness than the Pope turning out to be a former member of the Hitler Youth. (Sorry, bad example.)

The lesson here: the power of a word in a place where your reader wouldn't expect to encounter it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

An apology for an opening line

A young woman tried to sell me something in the street today. She wasn't wearing charity insignia, so she can't have been a chugger. But she did have a clipboard and a predatory look in her eyes, so I'm guessing she was hoping to persuade me to switch gas suppliers or consider some surprisingly affordable form of insurance. But I never found out, because here's what she said as she zeroed in on me: "Sorry to bother you."

Sorry to bother me? Then why virtually rugby tackle me as I'm scurrying past, staring at my shoes, obviously trying to avoid eye contact?

A textbook example, I'd suggest, of how not to engage the reader - or, in this case, passer-by - with your opening line.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Blair out: another triumph for persuasive writing

Just to point out, a bit belatedly, that my daily emails did indeed finally succeed in persuading Tony Blair to resign, just as I confidently predicted back in December.

No need to thank me: I did it because I believed it was the right thing to do.