Read This Book: 9 Ways ‘Epic Content Marketing’ Delivers

Joe Pulizzi, Epic Content Marketing, storytelling, brand journalism, expert, Jay Croft, Atlanta, storycroft, public relations, corporate communications

Joe Pulizzi’s “Epic Content Marketing” is available in all formats. I liked the audiobook version so much I downloaded the Kindle version.

I read a lot about content marketing — books, blogs, Twitter feeds, white papers. There’s so much content about content that it’s great to find an outstanding piece to recommend — something that speaks with authority but isn’t didactic. Something well-reported and smoothly written. Something with an expert’s knowledge and a mentor’s heart.

Joe Pulizzi’s most recent book, “Epic Content Marketing,” hits all those marks and more. Pulizzi has legions of followers and the book came out last year. But everyone interested in brand journalism/storytelling/content marketing should find something of interest and value here, from beginners to experts, from writers to CEOs.  Even the know-it-alls on theory will appreciate the countless examples of best practices Pulizzi presents. He’s like Malcolm Gladwell (“Outliers,” “The Tipping Point”) in his thorough presentation of case studies that prove his points about communicating to drive business goals.

(“Tweet Naked” and two more worth reading)

Here are nine highlights of “Epic Content Marketing.” Some will be familiar, some fresh, and others might just crystallize your thoughts. That’s part of the value of a book like this – it’s a little bit of everything, in a broad and useful context. Flip through it, skip around. Lots of good stuff. You know: good content worth sharing and discussing.

  1. Joe Pulizzi, storytelling, storycroft, Atlanta, Jay Croft, Epic Content Marketing, Jell-0

    Jell-O’s early example

    “Customers don’t care about you, your products or services,” he says. “They care about themselves.”

  2. Pulizzi cites the many “content marketing” definitions and settles on this one: “Content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyers more intelligent or perhaps entertaining them to build an emotional connection.”
  3. U.S. consumers are hit with 5,000 marketing messages a day, up from 500 in the 1970s.  “Telling a quality story to the right person at the right time always cuts through the clutter.”
  4. Storytelling goes back to the cave, and content marketing goes back at least as far as John Deere and its magazine, The Furrow, 120 years ago. Then came Jell-O recipe books … and radio soap operas…
  5. Joe Pulizzi, Content marketing, brand journalism, storytelling, storycroft, Jay Croft, Atlanta, Red Bull

    Red Bull is a leader of content marketing, Pulizzi says.

    Corporations engaged in content marketing find residual benefits like improved morale, recruiting and internal collaboration.

  6. Smart brands and companies are hiring journalists to tell stories — to plan and create content.
  7. That dovetails with Pulizzi’s “less is more” approach: Don’t sell so hard. Content shouldn’t be advertorial. It has to bring value on its own to create new customers or strengthen bonds with existing buyers.
  8. Pieces of content (articles, graphics, photos, videos, etc.) are business assets. Think of them – speak of them – as such.
  9. Pulizzi’s Six Principles of Epic Content Marketing: 
  • Fill a need
  • Be consistent
  • Be human
  • Have a point of view
  • Avoid sales-speak
  • Be best of breed

Along with endless examples of brands, bloggers and resources to help writers, marketers and executives, Pulizzi employs helpful formatting that keeps his reasoning on track and the book highly readable.

But the book’s most endearing strength is his good-hearted enthusiasm. He’s sharing what he’s learned because he’s excited about it and wants you to be, too.

Worked on me, Joe.


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11 Ways I’m Terrible at Writing Blog Titles!

53564334Among the key lessons I’ve learned about blogging is the importance of writing a great title. (Or is it a headline? Either one, I guess.)

I’ve written blog posts here that I thought would burn up my page-view counter … and then… crickets.

I can’t say why for sure, of course. But it’s occurred to me that my titles need some work. I looked around the blogosphere for tips, and analyzed what I was doing vs. what worked and didn’t work. Here are 11 tips I’ve found or learned on my own.

If you’re reading this, maybe that means I’m catching on, right? Send me more. I need all the help I can get!

  1. Use numbers in titles. For examples, the one on this post… Content marketing guru Joe Pulizzi says using two numbers is even better. I tried this recently with How 5 Friends Reinvented Themselves, and 6 Resources on How You Can, Too. The results were good, but not great. (What gives, Joe?)
  2. Controversy sells. Maybe, but I’m uncomfortable with being deliberately provocative. Should I have titled this post, 7 Reasons Why You’re Wrong to Focus on Titles? I could have put “suck” in this title, but that’s borderline vulgar, isn’t it? My mother reads this. Damn it.
  3. Use keywords if you can, but don’t be obnoxious about it. Try to optimize for SEO.
  4. Keep it tight and punchy, with bold words and maybe even a little attitude.
  5. Find the right length to maximize on the channels you use to share. Stop at least 10 characters short of Twitter’s 140-character limit so it’s easy for followers to retweet you. “I try to shoot for 70 characters or less in my titles so they don’t get cut off in most emails and search engine results,” says Corey Eridon of hubspot.com.
  6. Some punctuation is OK, like question marks and even exclamation points, which I usually hate! (I double-dipped on this one: Does Exercise Make You More Creative? Go Take a Walk and Let Us Know!) More problematic are special characters like @ and #.
  7. Be topical. I had success with this (‘The Normal Heart’ and How a Story Evolves) because I wrote it the week “The Normal Heart” debuted and was receiving media attention. It wouldn’t have worked months before or later. 
  8. Start with the title in mind and then write to it. This seemed counter-intuitive to me at first. But I caught on pretty quickly, like with this one, 11 Ways to Keep Balance in Your Life.
  9. Be Clear about What You’re Offering. This was one of my best performers: 16 Easy Ways to Write Better.
  10. A blog post is not a newspaper article. I used to write headlines for a living, and I was good at it. But this is not that.
  11. Odd numbers are better than even. So they say…

How’d I do? Here’s a link to a dozen more resources on writing better titles. Check ‘em out.


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What’s Her Story: From Covering Atlanta’s Mean Streets to Hollywood’s ‘Different Kind of Scary’

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Maria Elena Fernandez, writer, writerchica, Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta, Hollywood, reporter, Venice Beach, Latina

Maria Elena Fernandez

Maria Elena Fernandez and I became fast friends at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the mid-‘90s when we were both Metro reporters. She was on the police beat and I had the courts. She’d cover a murder and its investigation, and then I’d get the trial. It was a fun tag-team.

Fast-forward through the next decade or so, and Maria ended up in Los Angeles, spending a dozen years covering TV for The LA Times. That switch from the streets to the studios was followed by another, from print to digital. Maria joined The Daily Beast and then NBCNews.com. She lives in Venice with her fabulous husband and their two dogs. The last time I visited, she was prepping for the next day’s Emmy Awards. A far cry from, say, interviewing suspects, victims and cops here in Atlanta.

We covered crime together in Atlanta and then you took on showbiz in Hollywood. Which is scarier?

Good question! There’s probably nothing more nerve-wracking and challenging than knocking on the door of someone who just experienced a personal tragedy. You talk to parents whose missing child has been found dead, and anything can happen in terms of how they respond to you.  It takes a special kind of strength and heart.

That said, Hollywood is a scary beast of a different kind, without public records or the public right-to-know on your side. All you have is your ability to connect and establish relationships. When you’re covering crime and you catch a cop doing something wrong, you might get a call from someone accusing you of being biased or not getting the whole story. But in Hollywood, you get angry, berating calls from people saying things like, “How could you? I thought you were a friend.”

It’s a very different perception of what a journalistic relationship is and entails. It’s a different kind of scary, in other words.

Which do you like better?

Maria Elena Fernandez, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jay Croft, Los Angeles times, MSNBC, Daily Beast, crime, Atlanta, Hollywood, show business, journalism, newspapers, reporters, online

Con mi amiga, Maria Elena Fernandez, on Venice Beach a couple of years ago.

I like them both because they bring out different sides of my personality. I love news, I love to cover things that matter, and when I was covering crime, I very rarely felt I was writing something trivial. I enjoy covering  entertainment the most when I’m writing about something in the zeitgeist. People take their pop culture interests seriously and it’s always really fun when you have the inside scoop on people’s favorite movies, TV shows, actors.

I never get tired of talking to the writers and producers behind shows and movies. They are the real geniuses to me. I love the way their minds work. But the way Hollywood operates can be really draining. On those days I miss running around communities and talking to people who don’t necessarily want to be famous.

Now, put it all together, like when life handed me the “Desperate Housewives” trial (when Nicollette Sheridan sued over losing her role) and I am in heaven. Big show, big stars, big drama unfolding in a courtroom. It was a rare, open, behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood. I always tell people who love stories: Hang out in a courtroom.

That’s for sure! People always ask me if I miss the old newspaper days. I don’t. Do you?

I miss the time I used to be able to spend reporting a story. It literally feels like a luxury to think back now to the days when a crime happened late at night, and I’d spend the next 12 hours figuring it out before I wrote a word. In today’s Digital Age, that’s a lifetime. Now you confirm something’s happened and a few sentences are up on a site in a flash.

Cuban-mapWhere did you get your passion for telling stories?

My grandmother was my best friend when I was a kid. We went on long walks every afternoon and she’d tell me all kinds of stories about her life in Cuba. When I couldn’t sleep at night, she’d tell me more. She never even finished elementary school, but she was gifted. She made me love words, the way they sound together. She was hilarious. Her favorite words were all curse words! My father, too, played a big part. He taught himself English reading the newspaper and made me fall in love with newspapers at an early age. He always used to tell me if you want to write, you must read. He was so right.

As a reader, do you like print or digital?

I still love to hold a book in my hands, but I can’t remember when the last time I actually touched a newspaper. And I can’t live without with my iPad.

Joe Manganiello, Maria Elena Fernandez, True Blood, Emmy Awards, Emmys, LA Times, reporter, MSNBC

With Joe Manganiello at the Emmys

A little Hollywood dish, please? Who are the most gorgeous stars you’ve met? I was so jealous when you met Alcide from “True Blood.”  The smartest? Funniest? A behind-the-scenes moment, something like that?

There have been some grand moments, like riding horses with William Shatner. As a big fan of “24,” meeting Kiefer Sutherland and watching him go from aggro Jack Bauer to soft-spoken and grateful off-camera is a pretty cool way to spend a workday. Also:  spending the day at James Spader’s favorite sculpture garden or getting make-up tips from the stunning RuPaul. Come on! When a short interview over coffee turns into a three-hour lunch just because you’re having a blast with a very funny person like Sofia Vergara, the job is a joy. Antonio Banderas re-enacted a scene from “Puss in Boots” for me during an interview, and my heart was won!  Lunch with the entire cast of “Big Bang Theory” was also really memorable. It was early in the run of the show–before it was the big hit it was today. It’s great when you meet people under those circumstances and later see that success doesn’t change who they are essentially. That is rare. Chris Colfer, America Ferrera are people I’d count in that short list, too. And, of course, the almighty Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. And I would be crazy not to include one of the best days ever: a one-hour interview with Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray about a year before Hagman died. That one was for the ages.

We have so much film and TV production here in Atlanta. Any chance you’ll come back and cover something going on here?

Oh yeah! I would love to. Atlanta is home to the biggest show on TV. I need to get over there and interview some zombies!

Follow Maria Elena Fernandez on Twitter @writerchica and me at @JayCroft


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How Jackie Onassis and a Hopeful Author Helped Me Find a New Career

jackie onassis, martha stewart, books, editor, doubleday, viking, careers, reinvention, new career, how to find a new career, Chapter 2, Plan B

Jackie Onassis in her book-editor years

One day when Jackie Onassis was a book editor at Doubleday in the 1970s, her assistant came into her office and said, “Mrs. Onassis, your next appointment is here.”

Jackie slowly looked up and breathily asked, “And what does this one want to write a book about?”

“She wants to educate people about how to host dinner parties, make nice invitations, entertain properly in the home – that kind of thing,” the assistant said.

Jackie didn’t blink. “But doesn’t everyone already know how to do that?” she said, as the assistant brought in … Martha Stewart.

Cute story, right?

Well, it helped change my life a few years ago, when I realized I needed a Plan B, like the folks I blogged about Monday.

I had decided to leave the newspaper industry. It was showing signs of the disaster that soon followed and, somehow, I saw the “iceberg dead ahead” a bit before many of my colleagues and started looking for a life raft (way too much of a scramble to be called Plan B).

But when I began looking for another way to make a living, I was overwhelmed by bizspeak about “skill sets” and “project management” and “holistically synergizing teams and assets” — or whatever.

One night with a friend, I was complaining – whining, maybe – that my skills as a writer, editor and manager were not transferable outside of a newsroom.

“You think just because you can write well that everybody can write well,” he said. “Is that what all you newspaper people think – that you don’t know how to do anything special? Every day, you lead meetings and send out reporters to cover the news, and then you make a hundred business decisions about the product your company sells.”

Martha Stewart, jackie onassis, books, new career, reinvention, chapter 2, plan b, how to jump-start your career

Hey, girl.

That’s when my friend smiled and shook his head and told me the story about Jackie and Martha.

And then I understood. Maybe my skills and experience were, indeed, special. Maybe I could be of use to a different kind of organization.

Armed with this fresh perspective, I continued networking and eventually found a new place to work in corporate communications, where I felt appreciated and was nurtured in my transition into the business world, so different from the frat-house culture of newsrooms.

I tell that story a lot when I hear people with career troubles in any industry. Hang in there. Forget the nonsense you were told. Not everybody knows how to do what you do.

Thanks, Jackie. And Martha.


 

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How 5 Friends Reinvented Themselves, and 6 Resources on How You Can, Too

MY OWN VERSION:  How Jackie Onassis helped me write my own Chapter 2…

Chapter 2, Second Act, Plan B, how to start a new career, re-invention, re-create yourself, re-invent yourself, madonna, fitzgerald

The author of “The Great Gatsby”

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “There are no second acts in American lives.”

But I never believed him.

And now, in the years after the Internet revolution the economic recession, we have proof all around us — so many Americans having to reinvent themselves to keep their careers going, find a new one or just make a living.

This topic of re-creating yourself has been on my mind a lot lately, whether you call it a second act, a Plan B or self-invention. If we all write the story of our lives, then sometimes we have to turn a page, right?

Russ Kendall, a photojournalist of many years, left newspapers 18 months ago to run a pizza restaurant in Washington State. Russ and I worked together in Alaska in the early ‘90s. I left the business seven years ago. Since then, more than 54,000 jobs have been lost in the industry.

Chapter 2, Second Act, Plan B, how to start a new career, re-invention, re-create yourself, re-invent yourself, madonna, fitzgerald, russ kendall, gusto's pizza

Russ Kendall of Gusto Wood Fired Pizza in Bellingham, Wash.

This summer, Russ started a Facebook group for ex-newspaper people, or those who might soon be ex-newspaper people. He calls it What’s Your Plan B and it has 1,300 members. Many have shared their stories of despair and inspiration.

“This group is designed not so much to share the horror stories we all have but more to help each other to move forward with a successful Plan B,” Russ says.

Newspaper guru Jim Romenesko wrote a nice little piece about it here. He shared this: Most of the posts are serious, but I laughed at this one: “Um.. Photojournalism WAS my plan B. Plan A was to own a video rental store.”

Not just journalists

Chapter 2, Second Act, Plan B, how to start a new career, re-invention, re-create yourself, re-invent yourself, madonna, fitzgerald

The mother of reinvention, Madonna, had other ideas. Here’s the poster from her Re-Invention Tour.

Every day on Facebook, I see other former journalists going to law school or getting MBAs. But it’s not just the news business that got the rug pulled out from under it. And some people choose to change their lives for reasons that are more personal than the struggles of an industry alone.

  • I know a doctor who left his practice, went back to school in his 50s to get another advanced degree – and then changed cities and career focus. He’s still a doctor, but in an entirely different field. He wanted to make a big change for the remaining chapters of his career and took empowering, successful steps to do it.
  • He and I were having dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Atlanta recently. The waiter, clearly 40-ish, joked that he was a college sophomore, so we asked him about that. He said he’s going to nursing school so he can help people and have a new, more rewarding career.
  • Another friend used to be a high-flying chef in New York City, back when he was wild and single. Now a happily married dad of three in an Atlanta suburb, he runs a family travel business with his wife. Side jobs cooking and teaching give him an outlet for his passion and skill in the kitchen.
  • And just Friday night, I went to a wedding reception. The couple had asked a friend, an IT professional of 30 years, to prepare his gourmet cupcakes. He’s testing the waters for a new chapter of his own. (I told him he had to do it – the cupcakes were that good.)

Plenty of articles, resources

Chapter 2, Second Act, Plan B, how to start a new career, re-invention, re-create yourself, re-invent yourself, madonna, fitzgerald

From Psychology Today

There are many good articles and online resources for anyone wanting to write their own Act 2. Here are a few:

  • “Major life changes are never easy, because your instincts and the urgent matters of the day work against you. But when you learn to focus on your future self, you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve,” says a Psychology Today article.
  • From The Harvard Business Review: How to Reinvent Yourself After 50.
  • From techcrunch.com: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Reinventing Yourself.
  • “Are you serious about transformation? I’m not talking about polishing yourself, improving yourself, making things a bit better. I’m talking about the reset button—a reinvention that changes the game. That means an overhaul in what you believe and how you do your job. If you’re up for that, then right here, right now, you can start. How? Do work that matters.” From a success.com piece headlined Ways to Reinvent Yourself.
  • From More magazine: 10 Things to Know Before You Change Your Life.
  • From Forbes: Five Steps to Reinventing Yourself Professionally.

Share your experiences through the link at the top.


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They Found Their Voices: Photos from Atlanta’s Powerful Center for Civil and Human Rights

“My friends, find your voice.”

Center for Civil and Human Rights, CCHR, Martin Luther King, MLK, Atlanta, museum, civil rights, John Lewis, Edmund Pettis Bridge, George Wallace, segregation, March on Washington

His eyes seeing; hers shut in prayer… A child watches a giant-screen presentation about the March on Washington. MORE PHOTOS BELOW

My head was spinning just moments into my tour of the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the newest jewel in downtown Atlanta’s crown of attractions and in its history as a mecca of the struggle for equality.

So much comes at you, right from the start. TV news images of racists like former Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox saying the most hateful, ignorant, awful statements, the noise from several of the broadcasts competing in a cacophony of hate … Bull Connor’s office door… a bus covered in photos of Freedom Riders… a replica of a lunch counter that lets you hear and feel a sample of what it might’ve been like… those infamous film clips of hoses being turned on citizens… On and on…

Then the March on Washington and I Have a Dream, in a big room of white… followed by the Four Little Girls, LBJ, and then Martin Luther King’s assassination…

It’s so much that by the time I reached the end, when images were flashing on giant panels depicting civil rights struggles by women, gays, religious minorities and others, I heard a recorded voice say, “My friends, find your voice,” and something clicked.

The fight for what’s right is much bigger and scarier and out-of-control than that, of course. But learning to stand up for yourself and others like you, to use words to form community and share principles, hope and decency… well, it’s hard to imagine any kind of civil rights movement without the voices. All of them and each of them, from King’s magnificence to Rosa Parks’s quietude, from James Brown singing and dancing after King’s murder to the wails of sadness at the funerals, to LBJ’s White House leadership and the Nobel committee’s recognition of King. At the museum, King’s frighteningly powerful speech foreshadowing his death induces chills and gasps still.

Find your voice, indeed.

Click on a photo to make it bigger. Scroll over to see a caption.

 

The Center for Civil and Human Rights, 100 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd., Atlanta, GA, 30313. (678) 999-8990. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days.


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This Is Really Weird: Al Yankovic Hits No. 1 and Re-Ignites the Ancient Debate over the Oxford Comma

UPDATE: A New Annoying ‘Word’ to Add to the Buzzword Generator!

Weird Al Yankovic, Word Crimes, parody, songs, No. 1 album, comedy, punctuation, Oxford comma, comma, serial comma, Like a Surgeon, Eat It, My Bologna

Weird Al Yankovic

Weird Al Yankovic has the No. 1 album in the country. Not only is it a first for the ’80s MTV stalwart, it’s the first time since 1963 that a comedy album has claimed the top spot.

That was good enough for an article yesterday in The New York Times, which makes some interesting points about the changing record industry and Internet/video marketing.

Turns out Queen Beyonce could learn a few things from Weird Al, whose funny parodies of songs and videos include “Like a Surgeon” and “Eat It,” after Madonna and Michael Jackson hits.

But what’s been most interesting to me about Al’s comeback is this: He singlehandedly has reignited a debate that has raged for generations of grammar nerds and former copy editors (like me): To use or not use the Oxford comma.

Weird Al Yankovic, Word Crimes, parody, songs, No. 1 album, comedy, punctuation, Oxford comma, comma, serial comma, Like a Surgeon, Eat It, My Bologna

Screen grab from the “Word Crimes” video

His current song “Word Crimes” is a sendup of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” and it’s clever and fun and full of smart, pointed tips about speaking properly, all to a snappy reproduction of last summer’s ubiquitous hit.

I read your e-mail
It’s quite apparent
Your grammar’s errant
You’re incoherent

The line that’s causing so much discussion (seriously — Google it) is “But I don’t want your drama / If you really wanna / Leave out that Oxford comma…”

I can’t tell if he’s for or against — in this debate that ignites passion in people who care passionately about, well, commas.

What’s the Oxford comma?

It precedes the conjunction in a sentence listing three or more items.

I love parodies of The Knack, Michael Jackson and Madonna.

OR

I love parodies of The Knack, Michael Jackson, and Madonna.

It’s an ancient argument, with some authorities in favor of its use and others, like The Associated Press, against it. I’m an AP baby all the way.

Put a comma before the concluding conjunction in a series, however, if an integral element of the series requires a conjunction: I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast.

Use a comma also before the concluding conjunction in a complex series of phrases: The main points to consider are whether the athletes are skillful enough to compete, whether they have the stamina to endure the training, and whether they have the proper mental attitude.

If you don’t need it, don’t use it. Seems clear to me.

And anyone who disagrees is obviously crazy, illiterate or just plain wrong.

What do you think?


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Friends Weigh In: How to Choose Which Book to Read Next — PLUS: 3 Quick Recommendations

How do you decide what to read next, books, reading, novels, Believe Me, Michael Margolis, a storytelling manifesto, Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch, ask Facebook friends

So many books, so little time… Sometimes I just go to one of my shelves and find something I haven’t picked up yet.

Tony blames it all on “The Goldfinch.”

For me, Donna Tartt’s divisive novel deserves only half the fault.

But we’re both in the same place, stalled in trying to figure out what to read next.

My friend and I are good, steady readers with broad interests, usually going from one book to the next. But lately we can’t find our groove. We both realized this when we tried to read “The Goldfinch” at the same time, after some positive early buzz but before the Pulitzer. We are fans of literary fiction, and I had enjoyed Tartt’s debut, “The Secret History.”

But each of us sheepishly admitted we weren’t enjoying this one, and we eventually gave up before page 200, or about a quarter of the way through. It was just such a slog, almost unreadable – and then we heard from more friends who had the same response.

How do you decide what to read next, books, reading, novels, Believe Me, Michael Margolis, a storytelling manifesto, Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch, ask Facebook friends, from gutenberg to zuckerberg, John Naughton

Micro-reviews of some of what I have been reading lately….
From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: Disruptive Innovation in the Age of the Internet, by John Naughton. Sort of like a Malcolm Gladwell book, this traces the history of innovation, starting with that famous Bible all the way up to the most famous social network. Naughton draws fascinating parallels and shows how changes in communications lead to profound changes in everything.

How do you decide what to read next, books, reading, novels, Believe Me, Michael Margolis, a storytelling manifesto, Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch, ask Facebook friends, Tweet Naked

Tweet Naked: a bare-all social media strategy for boosting your brand and your business. Levy’s an engaging writer and this is a highly readable primer on getting started. The faux provocative title just means: Be transparent.

 

How do you decide what to read next, books, reading, novels, Believe Me, Michael Margolis, a storytelling manifesto, Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch, ask Facebook friends

Believe Me: a storytelling manifesto for change-makers and innovators. By Michael Margolis. Short, smart, thought-provoking. And free online. Get it, read it over a cup of coffee, talk about it with a friend or colleague over a couple more.

The experience left Tony and me both oddly unable to get back on track with something new. Tony says he’s baffled by reviews now, and I admit my attention span seems shot – challenged, at least – by my focus on digital communications and social media.

(I have been reading books about those topics, though, as they relate to content, storytelling, branded journalism and such – just for different reasons and with different rewards.)

So I asked Facebook friends, How do you decide what to read next? Is it reviews? Cover art? Oprah?

The result has been a lively discussion, an edited version of which I want to share. Please join in, through the link at the top of this post. Let me know what works for you and what you’ve been reading lately, especially if it’s good. Or even “The Goldfinch.”

Stephen Bell Miller: I troll bookstores, take suggestions from reviews or interviews I hear on NPR; I look to biographies and mystery series; and the classics are always on my list.

Priscille Dando: Recommendation from someone I trust is the biggest influencer–friend, librarian, independent bookseller, reviewers at Booklist, publishing reps that know my taste. I do pay attention to Buzz books and awards but a book jumps the line if someone I know loves it.

Scott Pierce: My latest was The Circle by Eggers. I got it at Church Street Coffee & Books (in Birmingham, Ala.) for two reasons: I’d read Eggers before and loved him, and I trust Carrie to stock great reads.

Peter Rubin: I read a lot. They are cotton candy for the brain type books. If there is a CIA black ops, political intrigue, super spy thriller then I read it. If I like the author — then I binge read all his/her books. I know people who like the same types of books and ask them if I have run out of new ones to read. So, in essence, word of mouth from a trusted source.

Kelly Pierce: I mostly pick books up and flip to a random page. If I like that passage, I buy the book. Not very scientific. Sometimes I get heads up from friends or hear or see an author interviewed that sounds interesting.

Connie Ogle: Sometimes it’s something so simple as the cover or the description. … I read Fourth of July Creek recently and ended up reviewing it bc a colleague had suggested it. I do read reviews, too, of course, though I never trust Amazon reviews (what if it’s the author’s sister???) I get ideas from Twitter #fridayreads, too, and just looking at hashtags for books to see what people are talking about.

Michael Van Ausdeln: For me, it’s reviews. NYT Book Review plus Amazon Best of the Month.

Question: What was the problem with Goldfinch? I liked it thru the lens of grief. It was the reaction of seeing your mother die. It worked for me.

Connie again: It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever read, The Goldfinch, but I only got about 200 or so pages through and was annoyed throughout. I swear, a book is set in NYC, and all the NYC literati lose their minds. Good grief. When I heard how it ended I was even more glad I bailed out.

Nunzio Michael Lupo: Nyt book review. Sometimes being interested in a subject and hunting around for it. Like right now I’d like to find a good one on the politics of the Second Vatican Council and one on the 1968 Democratic convention

Phil Kloer: Goldfinch seems divisive. I thought it was amazing, Dickensian. Franzen is also divisive but I have loved his last two, I go by reviews (NYT, NPR, even sometimes Amazon), FB word of mouth, but in most cases the author’s track record.

Cara Neth: My neighbors put up a little library across the street so I tend to wander over and grab whatever looks good when I want something new. I just read “Great Expectations” for the first time because it was there. Otherwise, I focus on working my way through the stacks of books that I’ve bought over the years and never got around to reading…I want to get through those before I read the latest hot novel. I thought “Secret History” was overrated, so I haven’t had any interest in “The Goldfinch”…but if it shows up in the little library, I’ll probably pick it up.


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What Does ‘F.E.A.R.’ Mean to You? 3 Little Tricks to Keep It in Perspective

images-8I heard a young woman the other day say, “The word ‘fear’ just stands for False Evidence Appearing Real.'”

And this was someone who should know, having overcome cancer and a stroke to now be starting her promising career as a motivational speaker.

Then this morning, I heard someone unknowingly pick up on the idea by saying, “When I encounter fear, I can F— Everything and Run or I can Face Everything and Recover.'”

Conflict. Decision. Action. The essence of little dramas we all live every day, and big ones that shape history. Some people make the same choices over and over, while hoping somehow for a different result. Sometimes we let fear stop us, sometimes we fight it — and sometimes we persist in doing what we must, even while we’re scared. That’s what adventures are made of — myths, archetypes, even. It drives us as storytellers or grips us as an audience.

I like how these two people came up with a way to diminish fear with simple word games. Try one of these little tricks the next time you find yourself afraid and see if it works for you.

You probably have nothing to fear but, well… you know.


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When Curiosity Leads to Adventure, You Get a Story You Want to Share: Alaska Love in Photos

Alaska, map, Wasilla, Denali, McKinley, wildlife, beautiful scenery, hunting, fishing, salmon, bear, moose, cabin, camera, Facebook, video, family, wolf

My sister Sammye out with the dogs, The Great One behind her

Alaska, map, Wasilla, Denali, McKinley, wildlife, beautiful scenery, hunting, fishing, salmon, bear, moose, cabin, camera, Facebook, video, family, wolf

Vince casts his line

Alaska is one of those places people are curious about. Whenever I mention that I used to live in the Great Land, they usually say, “I’ve always wanted to go there.” Or “Is it really that cold?” Or “Do you know Sarah Palin?” (Answers below.)

Even for some Alaskans, like my brother-in-law Vince, the curiosity doesn’t end. It turns into love. A native of Michigan, Vince has a passion for Alaska that has continued to grow over his 30-plus years there.

He and my sister Sammye love the outdoors — bow hunting, salmon fishing, river boating. Snowshoe softball playing. Racing up mountains and swimming across rivers.

They have a remote recreational cabin near majestic Denali National Park. They get there via riverboat in summer or snowmachine in winter.

Vince’s photos reveal not only a love for a special place, but also his willingness and delight to dive into photography and social media — so he can share his excitement. I’m always telling him how stunning the images are. (See his Facebook page for lots more.)

But what caught my eye most lately are these shots from a camera Vince attached to a tree to record what happens when he and Sammye aren’t around. He equipped it with a motion sensor and the camera takes pictures of various four-legged visitors strolling by the front door. There’s something about these. Intimate isn’t right, is it? Maybe they’re just cool because they’re a different view than what’s usually seen.

Or because it’s another display of Vince’s curiosity — and his need to tell these stories of Alaska.

I also admire the two beautiful shots at the top. They all make me wish I could visit the cabin and catch some more king salmon with my family. It’s been too long.


(Answers: You should visit, absolutely, because it really is a great place. Yes, Alaska can be very cold, of course — often but not always, in some places but not all. And, no, I don’t know Palin.)


 

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