Easy Read vs. Deep Content
Disclaimer (Not an excuse): I will flat out state that my buddy is a speed reader. I’m fast, but I never invested in a speed reading course and I like to relish well put together collections of words. My buddy reads many books due to business obligations—they are written by clients or he has been asked for an endorsement or foreword for a certain book. My obligation to read this particular book was not as high.
The book contains dense content about a very important topic that is meant to put a spotlight on issues and provide alternative solutions. A disruption combined with innovative thought. It’s probably much needed as well as timely.
It’s also a bit of a slog. As I said, it’s dense with content, well researched, thoughtful—pretty much everything an important book should be. But it’s not an easy read.
Which brought us to the discussion we were having. Via email. Because Thor forbid that anyone should actually talk to anyone anymore. And that discussion got me thinking (as all good discussions should).
Your Book Should Be an Easy Read
If a book doesn’t get read, the people won’t hear what you have to say nor will they become fans. I think of James Altucher’s book, Choose Yourself. It was an easy read and told people what they wanted to hear and everybody loved James (except of course, James, who has made a damn good living out of having more issues than National Geographic).
The same with Gary Vee – short, easy to read books that make people feel like they have some control over their lives and they can actually accomplish something. No one ever went broke buttering up the American public.
Both books urge you to take action, but they also make you feel like you can take action. They build your confidence while telling you a story that you want to hear.
Even academic books, books aimed at experts should be easy to consume. This doesn’t mean the book will be easy for a lay person to read. It does mean that it should be moderately easy for someone in the field to read. (I couldn’t get past the first chapter of Physics for Dummies which is why Asimov’s Understanding Physics sits uncracked on my shelf. I know my limits.)
It’s About Knowing Your Target Market
The book my buddy and I were discussing actually had two target markets—people in the specific field, academics to a large degree, and potential clients for the author, which would be entrepreneurs. To hit both markets at once is a difficult task. And therein lies the problem.
Too often, a book written to appeal to two distinct target markets ends up appealing to neither market. It’s too heavy for one group; too lightweight for the other. And neither group comes away satisfied.
Sometimes You Need to Write Two Books
There is nothing wrong with writing a thorough, content-dense, high level book. In fact, there’s everything right about it. Unless your target market is the average reader, not a scholar.
I’m thinking of Gary Taubes book, Good Calories, Bad Calories. Taubes is first and foremost a science writer, with a degree from Harvard in Physics and a Masters in Aerospace Engineering from Stanford. You would expect his head to be shaped like an extra large egg (it’s a very handsome head—don’t be alarmed), and his writing to be incredibly technical.
I read Good Calories, Bad Calories and did not find it to be too dense and not at all a slog. I probably went over some passages more than once to make sure I understood the concepts, but all in all, I did not get bogged down by the book. It was interesting, the material was easy to understand without being obviously “dumbed down.” You didn’t need to be a nutritionist or doctor to understand it.
That’s why I was a bit surprised when he came out with a more user-friendly version of the book a couple of years later called Why We Get Fat. It is the same basic material, put into an easier to understand format for the general public. With a diet to go with it, of course, because diet books sell.
Interestingly, while both books were national bestsellers, Good Calories, Bad Calories hit the New York Times bestseller list while the easier to read, “more popular” follow up book did not. (The NYT list is all about algorithms.)
But Gary (‘cause we’re BFFs now) is a very, very good writer. He is able to break down very technical, scientific, high level concepts so the average person can understand them. And he does that with a smooth, easy-to-read style.
So don’t be afraid to write that scholarly book if your target market is made up of scholars and experts. However, if your target market is the average consumer, then you need to write to at most, the high school level. (Every guide says write to the 8th grade level, but I aim a little higher.)
And if you have two distinct audiences, write two versions of your book, one for each.
No matter what level your audience, you need to have a user-friendly writing style.
Do You Have to Sacrifice Content for Readability?
Just as confused consumers don’t buy, baffled readers stop reading.
Am I saying you have to dumb down your material to gain readers? No. But you have to break down concepts into something understandable for your target market. And if you can’t break it down into something the average person can understand, as the saying goes, you probably don’t understand it well enough yourself.
That’s why you should give your manuscript to people who aren’t familiar with the book’s subject matter. If they can understand what you’re talking about or successfully complete a process that you’ve described, you have done it right. (Even better if they say it was easy.)
If they don’t understand the content or don’t finish reading what you’ve given them, then you still have work to do.
But You DEFINITELY Need Strong Content
I have also been having discussions this week with a couple of people about another book, a short, sort of “book-in-a-weekend” business book that is indeed an easy read. It’s just over 100 pages and has some good and useful information in it. Unfortunately, there is nothing new. It’s all rehashed advice that you can find all over the internet. Yes, it’s an easy read, but it leaves the reader unsatisfied because there was no meat to it. Anyone who has read anything on this topic has already seen this material before.
“Crap,” you’re saying. “Make it easy but not too easy. Make sure it has good content, but not so much content that people can’t get through it.”
Writing a good book means giving people great information in a way they can actually consume and apply it. Otherwise you’re not doing them any damn good.
Give Your Book a Fighting Chance. Make It an Easy Read.
You want your book to be read. You want to show that you know your stuff. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you probably want to help people, especially if helping people also includes putting money in your pocket. (Ain’t nothing wrong with that.)
The books that we write to increase our business or to help our clients need to be easy reads. You can’t help anyone, you can’t get anyone to know more about you and your business, if they don’t actually read what you have to say. You want people to read it, enjoy it, learn from it, and recommend it to friends. People don’t do that with books they don’t like or can’t get through.
Your Book is a Marketing Tool
My buddy and I both know that book sales are not the big money maker in the business book equation. The money for nonfiction books is in the back end—increasing your following or at least name recognition, helping people to know, like, and trust you, creating a level of authority and credibility that takes some of the hard work out of selling yourself and your services or products.
Your book is a marketing tool. Make sure it is an easy tool to use.