The Beginning Stages of Writing a Business Book
Norelis: What was your initial vision or goal that prompted writing a business book, Feedback First? How did your own experiences influence your writing in Feedback First?
Huibert: After having worked for 20+ years in large organizations, I noticed we spend a lot of time on change and transformation, without having the capacity to have open and honest conversations. It is, therefore, no surprise that most change initiatives do not work. Research indicates a 70% failure rate. With quality feedback, new “desired” behavior can be reinforced and corrected. Without feedback, we keep making the same mistake, over and over again.
Norelis: When you initially began writing a business book, was your core target audience more the lower level team members or the team managers or both? Did that change over time or how did you decide whom to write to as your central audience?
Huibert: I wrote the book for teams, from top to bottom. In today’s expert world, leadership has become a team sport, continuously re-distributed to the most qualified person for each situation and task. Obviously, the team leader has an active role modeling function, but ultimately feedback is everyone’s responsibility. The days where the boss was the smartest one in the room are over.
Norelis: As you began writing, did your voice and tone come naturally or was there anything you consciously did to develop your writing style?
Huibert: I have an academic/business background and my writing reflected that. I worked with my editor, Lisa Tener, on a more relaxed and straightforward style. Initially, I wanted to use more humor, but we Dutch can be very absurdist and sarcastic and that did not always translate well to other cultures.
Designing the Book Cover and Cartoons for Feedback First
Norelis: The Cover design is quite eye catching. Lisa tells me you designed it yourself. How did you come up with the design for the cover of Feedback First? What was the cover design process like? And how did you test your covers?
Huibert: As this book is about meaningful dialogues I use a lot of text bubbles in the book. Therefore, it made sense to use them on the cover too. It gives a nice contrast with the title and the rest of the cover design. It also visualizes the message of the book: before you start working on all these initiatives, make sure you have a culture of feedback.
Norelis: You are the main author and also the cartoonist. What gave you the idea of using cartoons in the book?
Huibert: The illustrations are there to “lighten up” the book and make it more memorable and distinctive. It’s much easier to remember images than text. It also gave me the opportunity to restart an old hobby. The fact that you can now draw directly on an iPad made it easy and pleasurable.
Norelis: They do add some fun and lightheartedness and they also get a message across. What kind of feedback did you get from beta readers about the cartoons?
Huibert: There were two camps. Some people (often from more serious business backgrounds) found it childish, and others liked it. It was an easy choice to make. When we do presentations or training we use the same images and refer to the book, so all our content is consistent and integrated. On top of that, we own it, so it saves money.
Norelis: Were there any challenges with using cartoons? Were there some cartoons that read well with certain cultures but didn’t make sense to others? Did you test them to see that they worked among many cultures, and did you need to tweak or make changes?
Huibert: The readers were asked to review the cartoons, and we did not find any problems. I did my best to avoid topics or elements that may offend people, like religion or race and I tried to include illustrations from all cultures, ages and gender.
The Process of Writing a Business Book Tweet This
Norelis: How did you come up with “The Clear+Calm” Formula?
Huibert: We needed an easy formula to remember (like the images). When we started looking at the steps, we found we could make the acronym cover the steps we outline in the book. It’s important to give people tools to remember the essential content of the book. CLEAR: Constructive; Language; Evaluate; Action; Relationship | CALM: Consider; Awareness; Listen; Manage
Norelis: Much of Feedback First is about communication among team members from different cultures. Did you ever struggle with how people from different cultures might respond to it? If so, how did you overcome that hurdle?
Huibert: No, not really. I have worked and lived all over the world, and my experience is that most people are naturally kind, curious and patient with other cultures if they feel respected. I have tried to write the book in a “carefrontational” manner to avoid offending people or coming across as impolite. For individuals who have limited exposure to other countries and languages, the world today can come across as a very nationalistic and even hostile. In reality, I have not found that to be the case.
Norelis: Did you have beta readers from different cultures? How did that affect the feedback?
Huibert: I had readers from all over the world, and it was interesting to see that their feedback style very much followed their cultural norms. However international business has its own language–often English–and norms, which many times, temporarily, override local norms.
Norelis: What feedback or responses did you get from beta readers about Feedback First?
Huibert: The feedback topic is popular, and my readers enthusiastically volunteered to help. However, giving feedback on a book about giving feedback is not an easy task. The first version was still a bit academic and lacked examples to make it interesting, and they found it hard to get through. In later versions, there were more examples, case studies and illustrations, which made reading a more pleasurable and memorable experience.
Getting Book Blurbs and Endorsements Tweet This
Norelis: Feedback First got excellent blurbs/endorsements from Seth Godin and Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries. In additon to writing a book worth blurbing, how did you get these endorsements?
Huibert: I first made a list of people who I wanted to have on the book, not because they are famous or commercially interesting, but because they matter to me and are connected to the book. Manfred has written countless best-selling books—which I have all read—and he was my professor at INSEAD business school in France. I managed to build a relationship with him long before the book came out. When I sent him the request for endorsement he told me he was busy. 2 weeks later he came back and made my day. Seth was amazing. I wrote him a short, but carefully crafted, email and he asked to see the manuscript online. The next day I had a blurb. What mattered to Manfred and Seth:
- The quality of the book was good enough to attach their name too. Both of them have a professional reputation to protect, and rightly so.
- There is a strong cause / purpose driving the book: creating better dialogues between people from different cultures, generations, ranks and gender.
- I am self-publishing…they would be helping me personally, not a publisher.
The Decision to Self-Publish a Business Book
Norelis: What made you decide to self publish?
Huibert: We use the content of the book to coach and train teams in communicating better. Signing away your rights to a publisher would make that difficult. We need the flexibility to make rapid changes, wherever and whenever we want. We also needed the book fast, which means we did not have time to build the platform you need to get published.
Norelis: What were the steps you took to self-publishing your business book?
Huibert: I started by finding a book coach. I am not a writer, and you need somebody to put you on the right track. Once you have a manuscript, you need to find a book designer to do the layout and then you can upload the final version the self-publishing platform of your choice.
Tips for Authors on Writing a Business Book Tweet This
Norelis: Any tips for authors looking to write and self-publish a business book?
Huibert: The most important thing is just to make a start and learn. Work with people like my book coach, Lisa Tener, who can help you clarify your thoughts/ideas and guide you through the process. Companies like Createspace also give you a lot of tips on how to (technically) publish.
Norelis: Did you encounter any roadblocks during writing and publishing processes? How did you overcome these?
Switch on.You need a lot of discipline to write, and even more to edit, re-write, and edit again and again. That’s why it’s so important to write about something important to you.
- Switch off. The dedication (or obsession) you need to write a book can also become your enemy, as it becomes hard to relax and stay connected to the rest of the world. I found myself thinking and writing about conversations, but not having them with my family and friends.
- Get help.You need to find the right people who can help you with editing, proofreading, layout, marketing, etc.
- Take responsibility.You do need to be on top of everything. I can imagine a publisher would help get the writer through the publishing process. With self-publishing, you are on your own.
- Last but not least you need to manage your ego, especially when you are asking feedback about on a book on feedback. If you are lucky enough to have a coach, listen and follow advice.
Norelis: What are some tips you would give to individuals wanting to write a business book, particularly one for a multinational or multicultural readership?
- Find a topic you love. Don’t do it for the fame or the money; do it for you and the audience you aim to help. This will give you the fuel to power through the process.
- Get experience.Get loads of international work and personal experience if you do not already have it. Travel, live abroad, learn a foreign language. Marry a foreigner (I am Dutch, and my wife is Spanish).
- Read everything you can about your topic.
- Discuss the topic with other people and test your concepts before you start writing.
The End Result
Norelis: What results are you hoping to see from the book—both for your readers, their companies and in your own life?
Huibert: I wrote Feedback First to have better conversations and better relationships inside and outside organizations. I am convinced that bad or absent feedback is a big problem in society. I try to use my own medicine every day and, so far, my professional and personal life are in perfect health. Good luck!
Huibert Jan Evekink is a first-time author, of Feedback First, who after 22+ year in big organizations decided to reset and start his own company. Together with his co-author and business partner Steven Becker he runs Futureteaming: a high tech/high touch training company that boosts performance through communication. He lives in Spain with his wife Isabel and their two daughters Vitoria and Sara. You can find Huibert on LinkedIn and Twitter. You can buy Feedback First on Amazon here.