I’ve been working with a book editor for the last few weeks to put together an outline and proposal for a new book based on this blog. At the suggestion of Michael Hyatt, I decided to focus on one specific area, and research the material extensively. This has been a fun endeavor and the outline is taking shape. Yesterday I wrote a preface page which is a basic synopsis of the book. This was more difficult than I first thought. I used Michael’s great book proposal program as a guide and expanded upon the basic outline.
To get some ideas, I looked at the preface pages and table of contents of a half dozen popular personal development titles. Most were concise and gave the reader a good idea what the book was about.
I only had one problem.
None of them really drew me in.
Most were a collection of facts, figures, and basic a,b,c, stories. They appealed to my left brain but their was no emotional tie. There were lots of promises, but no color or emotion.
In a point of contrast, none of these authors was a Malcolm Gladwell.
I wanted a good story, with lots of description, and human emotion. Instead I got three bullet points promising that I could get to point C only after I went past A and B. I like facts, but they don’t always make for a compelling read. Contrast that with a Malcolm Gladwell book. He will take some little known fact or piece of data and weave it into a masterpiece of story interspersed with color, sounds, life, and emotion.
To give you an example of the difference I’ll give you a small innocuous fact that will make up part of an early chapter of the book. The chapter will be about Skills; How we learn new things. The fact is that we can learn many new things by listening to audio books. The innocuous fact is that kinesthetic people (people who learn with their hands or by doing) often learn better if they listen to audio books while driving or exercising. It’s the act of doing while listening that makes the subtle difference.
Here is the difference in print.
In a facts oriented book it would read…
You can acquire many new skills by listening to audio books. People who are kinesthetic (people who learn with their hands or by doing) may find they learn better by listening while driving, exercising, or taking notes. It’s the act of physically doing something that makes the difference.
It’s simple and to the point. Unfortunately it has low emotional impact and may easily be glossed over.
If this were a Gladwell book, Malcolm would take this simple fact, expound on it, and show you how it changed someone’s life.
It might read this way…
Jack Strike drove down the 78 freeway in Escondido California, on a hot gray Friday afternoon during the summer of 2002. Recently divorced, he was headed out of town to spend a lonely weekend, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon, and playing the slots in Vegas. Jack was a newspaper man. Now 48, he did the local feature stories for the Escondido press. It was a two bit job with little excitement. He wrote about petty crimes, high school football games, and homecoming parades. His wife and stock fortunes, along with his glamorous day job with Epic magazine had crashed with the stock market in 2000.
Stuck in heavy traffic in his gray 98 Honda Accord, Jack listened to an audio book about writing. His friend at the paper, Bill Bingham, had lent him "Stein on Writing," and Jack was on chapter two. Bill had encouraged Jack to listen to the book. "It might get you out of your funk," he said, when he passed the CD collection along.
The air conditioner poured out cold air as Jack changed lanes repeatedly. It was just over a mile to the exit and the open road freedom of the 15 freeway. Jack twisted the steering wheel from left to right, trying to gain a lane advantage over everyone else in line. As he turned the wheel, the audio book seemed to get louder and more distinct. The words of Sol Stein seemed to penetrate his gray matter the harder he pulled on the wheel.
"If you need inspiration, look in front of you," Sol blared out from the speakers. Just that second, Jack caught that phrase and looked up. Like an inspiration from heaven or a lucky coincidence, Jack saw something that moved him to action. Two cars in front of him was a 1965 Sunbeam Tiger convertible, the kind of car Maxwell Smart used to drive. Its royal blue paint job and chrome bumpers stood out from the grey skyline, but the blonde driving it is what really attracted Jack’s gaze. It was like a scene out of a Technicolor movie. Her blond hair and red scarf were all that Jack could see but it reminded him of a scene from the movie Vertigo, where Jimmy Stewart followed the beautiful Kim Novak.
Now Jack had one mission, he needed to see who was driving that car. He turned right into the slow lane, but the traffic was slow and ponderous. He moved further back in line. As his car passed under the last bridge before the exit, he knew he only had moments to catch a glimpse of this car and driver.
Jack loved sports cars and this was a classic. He also loved blondes, having married one and now following a mysterious one. He went from the slow lane to the fast land on the three lane highway. He could now see the driver’s side of the Tiger and the side of her face in the mirror, two cars ahead. It was clear as the traffic moved ahead that she was headed towards San Diego on the 15. Jack was headed north towards Vegas.
As the Friday traffic guided itself onto the off ramps, Jack’s car slowly edged ahead. As his car came up along side the striking blue car, he took a fateful glance to the right. There she was. For a split second, like the blink of an eye, she looked straight at him. It was like time stood still. She was a gorgeous woman in her mid forties, her red painted lips contrasting a warm sun glowed tan. As this frozen view widened he could see her hands on the steering wheel, no wedding ring in sight.
Then just as quickly as it started, Jack blinked and she was gone, her car now exiting to the right. He glanced again and noticed an out of state plate with the letters NBJ 127. As his car stopped in traffic, he jotted it down.
That weekend, in a hotel in Vegas, NBJ became Nora B James, private detective. Her story became At First Glance, a novel that would go on to be a bestseller. That pitch of the wheel, that phrase from Sol, "If you need inspiration, look in front of you." made all the difference. They say that truth is stranger than fiction, but in this case maybe the truth led to fiction.
Researchers have found that listening to an audio book while driving or exercising can make it come alive. In this case, one book led to another.
While I’m no Malcolm Gladwell, I think you can see the difference. Both types of books work, but an immersive story really draws the reader in. I’m still working on the final format for my book and I would love to hear your comments.
Question: Bullet points or Gladwell style.
What is your favorite type of non-fiction book?