November 17, 2006
News & Opinion: Tom's Essential Resources for Writers
Tom Ehrenfeld is hosting a writing workshop for business book authors later this month. So we asked him what books he would suggest a business author read.Here's his list:
The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
I guard my copy of this little masterpiece as closely as Linus does his blanket (or, for that matter, as crazily as Mark David Chapman did with The Catcher in the Rye.) Every single person who cares about the craft of writing should keep this book within arm's reach. Last year Penguin Press published an illustrated version, which contained drawings by Maira Kalman, that were vibrant, evocative, and had nothing whatsoever to add to the core ideas of the book. Stick to the real thing.
Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark.
This terrific recent book breaks down its lessons into short focused chapters. Clark illustrates his smart strategies with vivid writing samples that engage and instruct. A new classic.
On Writing by Stephen King.
If only all books about writing were written as well as this one. While he indulges in material about the life of the writer, King stresses the most important fact about what writers do: they write.
52 McGs: The Best Obituaries from Legendary New York Times Writer Robert McG. Thomas.
[Editor's note: this book is out of print.]
Obits are typically a short format, yet Thomas writes with such precision and flair that his stories feel as full as a grand epic. Read these pieces as a primer on how concise writing can be animated with style and grace.
Like obits, the page one stories in the Journal must conform to formal restrictions. Yet when written by masters, as so many Journal writers seem to be, the pieces never feel formulaic. In fact, formal elements are handled so effortlessly that only upon re-reading these gems does one notice how well the articles open with a great lead, come upon a nut graf, and end with a bang.
Another Life by Michael Korda.
The most low-brow high-brow you'll read. Korda's memoir of a life in publishing is ridiculously addictive (I read it on a beach.) His tales of dealing with everyone from Jacqueline Susann to Ronald Reagan provides a terrific overview of the publishing business as it has evolved in this country.
Publishing Confidential: The Insider's Guide to What It Really Takes to Land a Nonfiction Book Deal by Paul B. Brown. [Editor's note: This is also out of print.]
Brown, a former writer and editor for several business magazines and a veteran business ghostwriter, has produced one of the smartest and funniest resources on the process of publishing. His book takes a chance by having his editor Ellen Kadin insert "snide editorial comments" into Brown's material, and it works beautifully.
Putting Your Passion Into Print by Arielle Eckstut & David Henry Sterry.
This extensive resource balances a punchy sense of humor with a wealth of useful, insider-y information on the process of getting a book published. Eckstut is an agent with one of the leading agencies, and this guide reflects a deep knowledge of what works.
Moneyball by Michael Lewis.
The definitive "takeaway" book for business readers. Ostensibly, this is a baseball book. Lewis writes about how one smart general manager, Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics, challenged generations of conventional wisdom about how to scout talent by implementing a fundamentally different approach to assessing the promise of young players. By capturing this approach so fully, Lewis sheds deep insights into the broader topic of organizational change, showing what happens when an individual introduces an entirely new way of judging the potential of individuals. A great read with deep resonance.
Who Says Elephants Can't Dance by Lou Gerstner.
Who says business books can't be fun? Gerstner ran one of the biggest and most successful turnarounds of all time, taking IBM from a tailspin in 1993, to a leading place in the economy at the end of the decade. And just as impressively, Gerstner wrote (sans collaborator) a book about how he accomplished this feat. The writing may not be pretty. But it's good and clean and clear.
A Ghost's Memoir by John McDonald.
If Charlie Kaufman, screenwriter (of films such as Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) were ever to adapt a business book, he would choose McDonald's memoir. Remember, this is a book about the making of a book. Not just any book, of course, but one of the most important business works of the past century, Alfred Sloan's My Years with General Motors. McDonald was an editor at Fortune Magazine when the recently-retired Sloan invited him to act as his ghost. Looming anti-trust challenges led the GM board to suppress the book from publication, and it took more than five years after the work was completed before Doubleday published it. McDonald captures the story of producing and eventually publishing this book with a dry intelligence that suits the story perfectly.
The Age of Heretics: Heroes, Outlaws, and the Forerunners of Corporate Change by Art Kleiner. [Editor's note: This is also out of print.]
This masterpiece of business analysis proves that when you let one of the best ghostwriters of the past decade loose on his own material, he can illuminate a compelling business idea with insightful writing. Kleiner reports on how our modern managerial mindset was largely created by groups of "heretics"-revolutionary thinkers who led corporations to enact fundamental change in how they discussed and thought about their people and their purpose.
The Savvy Author's Guide to Book Publicity By Lissa Warren.
One Great Insight Is Worth a Thousand Good Ideas: An Advertising Hall-of-famer Reveals the Most Powerful Secret in Business By Phil Dusenberry. This is the paperback version of Then We Set His Hair on Fire.