About Megan Kerr

I'm a teacher, editor, and writing coach, and a published writer of fiction, articles, and poetry. I have a Masters in English Literature from Oxford University, a background in teaching, and substantial experience in editing and book development. As a book coach, writer, and editor, I've worked on a variety of books, including • business coaching • personal development • mainstream & genre fiction • literary fiction • academic theses & monographs. I love learning about people's wildly varied expertise and helping people create their books.

Case Study: Melinda Carbis-Reilly, Diggin Your Dark Side, and the value of your story

When Melinda and her teamDiggin your dark side - Melinda Carbis-Reilly first approached me about her book, I was both excited and alarmed about the subject matter: depression. As well as my own past experience of depression, two decades ago now, over the past couple of years I’d helped two people very close to me navigate depression. At times I felt like a flimsy life-raft when they needed a steamliner, or that I was caving in the dark without a map – and I was only the carer. I was excited to read a book that offered help and strategies, but I was also very anxious about what approach it would take. Did the author really understand the life-sapping weight of depression? The terrible feelings of guilt and shame it can bring, which is only made worse by jolly-hockey-sticks advice to “pull yourself together”? So much well-meaning advice given to people suffering depression just pushes them deeper into self-loathing and a sense of inadequacy. I felt frightened that the book might take that approach, and fiercely protective of the two people I’d helped life-raft back to shore.

I needn’t have worried. Melinda’s understanding of depression is deep and intimate, and her advice beautifully shaped to meet people where they are. From the first sample pages I saw, I breathed out with relief. I was also quietly awed by her willingness to share her own experiences with such raw honesty, and immediately felt, as she did, that this was absolutely integral to the book. She’s a powerful storyteller, and the way she shares her own stories makes the suggestions that follow so much more powerful. Even the best advice can be difficult to accept without that deeper truth, “I’ve been there.” The life-giving power of “me too”. Also, very wonderfully for a book on such a dark subject, she manages to keep a sense of light and hope running throughout it. This was definitely a book I wanted to work on.

Melinda’s book

Diggin’ Your Dark Side: Guidance to Transform Anxiety and Depression into a Deep Sense of Belonging and Love

Feeling like you have lost your purpose is terrifying. Feeling disconnected to your life and loved ones for reasons unknown to you can take you to a ledge that you may not come down from. This is the grim reality of depression.

Life should have been blissful for Melinda but her past was haunting her. Through a journey of healing her heart from the loss of her son, forgiving her sexual abusers and working tirelessly to overcome the internal self-loathing she found a place where the darkness could no longer hold its power over her heart and her life. Melinda shares her battles with depression and suicidal thoughts with rawness and authenticity. The story unfolds keeping you engaged at every juncture as she shares the tools and techniques she used to get down from the ledge and into a loving and joyful place.

There is no stone left unturned, from nutrition, exercise, meditation, healings, self-love and the pure joy of laughter you will find the right practices to bring you back to the peaceful being you truly are.

This book is for anyone who has experienced trauma that has not been healed, depression that has stolen joy, purpose that has been lost and for the carer who has watched their loved one get lost in the darkness.

Melinda’s story and passion for helping others will inspire you to find yourself and realise how magical you really are.

You could have dabbled with the dark side for ten days or ten years, this book has powerful tools to elevate you into the most loved up and joyful place creating a life beyond your wildest dreams.

Melinda’s package

The original email from Melinda’s team said she wanted help with “grammar, sentence structure, overall flow of the book and spell checks throughout the book” – everything, in short, to get it ready for publication. These are actually three separate parts of the book-writing process:

  • overall flow: a critique of the manuscript, to see what aspects may still need work or more development.
  • sentence structure and style: this is called editing, or style editing, to smooth over the shape of the sentences and sometimes rearranges sentences and paragraphs as well.
  • grammar and spelling & punctuation checks: this is called proofreading, or copy editing, and is the absolute final stage before a book goes to print, to make sure there are no errors remaining. It’s best to do this after layout, as new errors can creep in during the layout stage.

The three stages are often done by two or three different people – the same person might do the critique and the editing, but the final stage, the proofreading, should always be a different person. I emailed back to outline the process for Melinda, and we set up a Skype chat to discuss the chapter I’d seen, her plans for the book, her business and background, and how to proceed. She’d almost finished her first draft, so we arranged for a critique, with the option of coaching or a further critique after that. After the first critique, Melinda worked on the suggested changes for a few weeks, then brought it back for a second critique. It was then in great shape for her to make a few last changes, and send it off for editing.

The four pillars of Melinda’s book

Melinda’s business and area of expertise

I am a naturopath, fitness therapist and speaker. I opened Redhead Wellness Sanctuary 18 months ago to create a hub for people who want to take a holistic approach to their health and fitness. My area of expertise would be bringing spiritual, physical and mental health into one plane and helping to educate my clients around the importance of a balanced and inspiring life.

After my own recent experience with depression, I now have an unstoppable drive to help anyone else that is struggling to find joy in life get their zest back and to fall in love with who they are.

The role Melinda’s book plays in her business

My book was written to give hope and tools to those struggling with depression, anxiety and loss. I believe my book will transform my practise as a naturopath and speaker as I share my own experiences with this condition, allowing my clients to open up more with me so I can help them on a deeper level.

Melinda’s readers

This book is for those who have struggled finding their magic, have suffered loss or abuse and for the carer of someone with depression or anxiety.

How Melinda’s personal & business values align with her book

There is an incredibly fine line between my personal and professional values: I live and breathe this life. My book is an autobiographical self-help book so it intertwines my personal experience of resetting my values with my work helping others do the same. My book is my business and personal life, collaborated together into fifteen chapters.

Melinda’s experience of writing this book

Melinda Carbis-ReillyThe writing itself was easy – I got lost in the process and loved every minute, the whole process felt smooth and natural.  My steepest learning curve was the book world itself. I learnt so much about writing. I also learnt a great deal about myself: reflecting over your life and the lessons you have learnt is an amazing experience.

Writing this book taught me how simple the most effective tools are. It taught me that I didn’t have to keep digging on an intellectual level for answers that are already in our souls. It taught me that the best way for me to help others be their happiest, healthiest and freest versions of themselves is to keep it simple and loving.

I chose to self-publish because I wanted ownership of my work, I wanted to be able to give copies away freely if I choose to, and I wanted to promote my work in a way that felt right to me.

To anyone planning to write a book, I’d say, just do it! Don’t over-think it, just lay out your chapters summaries and then write from your heart.

You can find out more about Melinda Cabis-Reilly’s work and order her book on her website, here.

Case study: Angela Vassallo and The Second Wives’ Guide

My real work with Angela and her brilliant, informative book started with one of the most difficult emails an editor has to write. Part of the way through a style edit, I realised that the manuscript wasn’t yet up to publication standard. Editing wasn’t enough: it needed a lot more content. And I had to tell the author that. As an editor, that feels like the worst-case scenario – but actually, the real worst-case scenario is to let your author go ahead with a book that doesn’t reflect their expertise. I normally don’t accept books for a style edit unless I’ve given them a critique first, to avoid exactly this situation: we make sure that it’s in order then we polish it. As with all my authors, their expertise isn’t book-writing, it’s whatever they’re writing about. Book-writing is the editor’s expertise and it’s down to the editor not to let the author down. In this case, a less industrious reviewer had given Angela the go-ahead, so it was left to me to tell her that she wasn’t actually finished after all.

I had a cup of tea, I carefully wrote that difficult, tactful email, and Angela responded like a pro. Because the book was foundational to her business, Second Wives HQ, she wanted a top-notch book that would really showcase her expertise and she was more than willing to do whatever further work was necessary. She valued my honesty, I valued her receptiveness, and so our work began. Angela’s enthusiasm, her opennenss to learning, and her energy made her a joy to work with – and I think the same traits help explain how she navigates so well the various aspects of being a second wife.

Continue reading

“Do you tell people if their book’s rubbish?”

The question makes me blink.
“I mean,” he presses, “If their book’s just shit, do you tell them that?”
I’m at the Institute of Directors, in support of my author, Shirley Mansfield, whose book is being showcased. In the break, a knot of would-be authors has gathered around me at the bar. I glance around the art-deco chic, trying to word my answer. The question is as black and white as the clacking tiles underfoot, but there is no black-and-white answer. The question is wrong – it crucially misunderstands two things. Continue reading

Does your storytelling sparkle?

Storytelling has had a resurgence in business, with Hubspot, The Content Marketing Institute, and the Harvard Business Review all leaping into the fray – while I blink in astonishment, feeling like the business world has suddenly discovered cheese. Stories are all over your business already. Every time you give an example, a case study, or an anecdote, you’re telling a story. Your bio is a story, your company history is a story, your company plans are a story – so how do you make those stories sparkle? Take a few lessons from an award-winning storyteller. Yep, that’s me. When I’m not helping my clients whisk and whirl all their expertise into captivating, powerful books, I write stories – novels, short stories, novellas, stories that people read not for the information in them, or for useful tips, or to understand a business, but because the story itself is that interesting. So grab a coffee, maybe a nice piece of cheese to nibble, and let’s make your stories sparkle. Continue reading

What’s stopping you writing your book?


You want to write your book; you’re not writing your book; why not? Before you blame yourself, the answer is never “Because I’m crap.” Even in the very unlikely event that you are crap, you’d still need to find a way to work around your crapitude, so let’s push on through to the more interesting and useful answers. We have all sorts of false thoughts and skewed approaches that stop us writing that book – here are seven of them. What’s stopping you?  Continue reading

Your author-editor relationship

What does your editor do? Will they rip apart your book? Will it hurt? If there are typos in the book, is the editor to blame? What are all these different kinds of edits? The editor’s role is often misunderstood – from thinking that’s the person who fixes the commas and typos, to characterising them as vicious monsters who make authors cry.

The editing process: it’s far more than fixing the words

Continue reading

Case Study: Shirley Mansfield and The Grown-Up Business

Cover_webShirley Mansfield contacted me on 6 November 2013, saying “I hope you can help me…” and that she wanted to write a book. The Grown-Up Business was released on 4 November 2014. From starting point to release for a full-length high-quality published book in just under a year – now that’s superb! Read more to find out how Shirley did it and what she can teach you from her experience. Continue reading

How’s your book going? Your third-quarter reflection

reflections_3rdquarterThree-quarters of the way through the year, it’s just 12 weeks before the Christmas week and the whirl into the next year: it’s time to pause and reflect on your book’s progress, and decide how to spend the next 12 weeks. At this time of the year, it’s easy to feel like “the year is almost over, it’s too late to try now” – beware that kind of calendar addiction! You can do a lot in 12 weeks, even if you haven’t started yet or are feeling behind. Scroll down to “What can you do in 12 weeks?” for some ideas. Why not enter the new year in midstream of your book, instead of with another resolution for the future?

It’s best to do this reflection away from your usual workspace: physical distance helps you get better perspective. And as ever, I recommend that you work on paper. Continue reading

Are you getting tangled in your sentences?

“Having read the job application in detail, I now feel competent in all aspects of office work,” someone wrote in a cover email to my friend. Wow – that must’ve been one helluva job application! Simply reading it confers competence in all aspects of office work.  But I don’t think that’s what they meant.

For a start, they didn’t mean job application; they meant job ad. And having read it, they felt sure they could do the job – not every aspect of all conceivable office work. (Inconceivable!) So what happens, to make normally literate people suddenly burble nonsense? Continue reading

The four pillars of your book: 4. Your passion

4columns_passionYour book rests on four pillars: your expertiseyour purpose in writing it, your readers, and your passion.  Your passion is your WHY for the book: why are you writing it?

You may feel you’ve already found your “why” with your purpose in writing the book: you’ve identified its role in your business, so that’s the reason, surely? Your passion, though, is a different and deeper kind of motivation. It comes from two places: from your enthusiasm for the subject and from your values, both in your business and personally. Nigel Collin’s story illustrates the difference beautifully and highlights the importance of this pillar. Continue reading

The four pillars of your book: 3. Your readers

Sculpture by Matthew Simmonds, http://www.mattsimmonds.com/Your book rests on four pillars: your expertise, your purpose in writing it, your audience, and your passion. Each of these pillars, as it takes its turn in the spotlight, can be seen as the single most important thing on which everything else depends, so right now, your readers are everything. In identifying your purpose, you may have said that your book’s role in the business is to raise your profile for speaking gigs, or as a freebie in return for sign-ups, or to earn passive income… but without readers, it has no purpose. Continue reading

Is your draft a mess? Step-by-step guide to fixing it. With Outfits.

“Help! I’ve written this draft of my book and now I can’t get it into shape. I know I need to reorganise this chapter, but my brain keeps turning to wool then it explodes. (My brain and the actual writing. Words everywhere. Sentences poking out the ceiling.) I can’t see the wood for the trees. I don’t even know if there is a wood, anymore. What do I do with all these trees? I’ve been shuffling these sheets of paper and willing clarity to descend and… HELP!” Continue reading

You write what you read

Something awful happened to my writing last week. My pen was looping speedily across the page, the story was coming freely and easily, but I kept getting brought up short by the phrases that were coming out: blushing furiously – the tension was palpable – he bit his lip… The cliches were coming thick and fast, despite my attempts to stem the rising tide. Great collocations if you’re a language student trying to demonstrate your command of the English language. Not so great if you’re writing a literary novel.

I spent all day wrestling with the language, but it kept slipping back into its ruts. Where on earth was it coming from? That’s not how I write! Only that evening, bemoaning my day on Facebook, did I realise what had happened. Actually, the realisation came when I wrote, “It was all jolly rotten!”  Jolly rotten? What am I, a schoolboy from the fifties? Ah… yes. Continue reading

Your CALENDAR you must book…

Certain phrases tell me immediately what’s going wrong with someone’s writing. They usually look something like this: I’m hoping to write a book this year. I’m going to try do some writing this weekend. I’ll see if I can do some writing in the evenings. I’m planning to write a book sometime this year. At the risk of coming across all Yoda… Continue reading

How to get your book published

From the outset of your book project, you should decide whether you’re going for self-publishing or traditional publishing. That will completely shape how you approach your workflow and focus for your book. If you haven’t decided yet, read my posts on self-publishing versus traditional publishing - each option has its own merits and your choice will depend on what role the book is going to play in your business. If you’re going for traditional publishing (ie not self-publishing), this is for you. Continue reading

Are you in breach of copyright?


PIRACY: not as fun as it looks

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” wrote Isaac Newton, to express how much of his work relied on what others had done before him. Including that quote, actually: the first person to use it was Bernard of Chartres, in the 12th century. We all rely on the work of others, but it’s a fine line between standing on the shoulders of giants and outright piracy. Are you an accidental pirate? Continue reading

Could your blog be your book?

Have you already written much of your book without realising? With a bit of tweaking, blogs make surprisingly good books, and here’s why.

  • road-tested content: Through writing your blog, you’ve learnt what content people click on, share, and respond to, and adjusted your course. You’re writing for the reader.
  • a community of readers: You should always build a community of readers before publishing. Your blog is exactly that.
  • natural writing style: Whenever a client’s style is going awry, I read their blog to find their natural voice. In your blog, you’re already using that.
  • street-level information: First books often make the mistake of being too general and vague, like an outline of continents. Blogs are generally close up to your work, nested in what you’re doing, and reacting to your projects. That’s exactly the gritty detail your readers need.
  • evolving structure: Each time you tag and categorise a blog post, you’re grouping your content the most natural, flexible way possible. The shape of your book is already evolving.

If you’d like to evaluate your content for a possible book, get a critique of everything you’ve written on the blog so far, to get clear practical guidance for its structure, what to include or leave out, and any extra content it still needs.

How to write… an introduction

Before you read anything, you need to know what you’re reading: what’s the topic here? What am I going to find out? If you don’t know that, you quickly become frustrated. At best, you skim down or flick through to find out for yourself. At worst, you stop reading and never reach the good, useful content buried somewhere inside. Everything needs an introduction: every book, every chapter, and every section within a chapter.   In Structuring your writing – the back-to-basics masterclass, I talk about the horror of headless horsemen: Continue reading

4 pointers to write great coaching sections

If you’re writing a book on your expertise, you’re coaching the reader and the quality of your coaching is what sets your book apart. When you plan your book, treat each subheading within a chapter as a coaching section: what does the reader need to learn and what do they need to do? This fail-safe structure will help you hit the bull’s eye, every time. For well-rounded coaching, each section should include these four things: Continue reading

Redeem your book plans

How’s your book going? Are you writing away steadily or have other demands pushed it onto the backburner? Does the question make you grimace with guilt; has it turned out a bigger challenge than you thought? Do you have a draft outline and notes or heaps of pages? Do you know what to do next?

Don’t put a black line through “Write a book” just yet: get yourself a review. This will clear the ground and give you a clear plan of what to do next. And you’ll keep your promise to yourself. Continue reading

What does your reader want?

When you start to write a book on your thought leadership, it’s easy to feel that you know better than your readers. They may think that their problem is time-management, but you know it’s an issue of aligning their goals with their values. They may think they’re struggling with an overload of work, but you know they need to sort out their time-management. And then your brilliant, well-written book jampacked with insights just languishes in a warehouse, or out in the ether, or as a potential click on a print-on-demand that never happens. And all around you are people struggling with issues which they could solve if they’d only read the damn book! So how do you make it a book they will read? Continue reading

Lessons from teaching: Use your coaching to create your book

One of the most exciting, challenging commissions I’ve had was to design and deliver a two-week teacher-training course on literary analysis. Teaching teachers – always a challenge to raise your game, and, yes, “literary analysis”, all of it, without much more to the brief than that. Could I do it? Uh… hell, yeah! It nearly killed me, but I did, and loved it.

I realised afterwards that my process for creating the course was an excellent model for book planning. Of course it forces you to think wholistically about the subject, but thinking about potential students for a course also gives you a much better sense of what to include and how to arrange it. It returns the planning process to being helpful and communicating with real people, both excellent touchstones to keep in mind. So here’s your six-step guide: Continue reading

The Evil Secret Stretch Goal

The Evil Secret Stretch GoalMost creatives and ambitious types know how difficult it can be to keep a normal, healthy self-esteem. Doing something good isn’t enough – you want it to be magnificent!  And if it’s not magnificent, you are shit. And so self-esteem gets trapped between unrealised magnificence and unrealistic shittitude. A close cousin of this is the overambitious idea-killer. You have an idea and it’s great. You keep imagining just how great it could be until it is so amazing that it’s impossible to do. The idea blows up like a bubble until it pops.

We know this stuff. We can all quote Voltaire, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” (Or if we’re being really perfectionist, “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.”) But sometimes it still slips under the radar – and one of its techniques is The Evil Secret Stretch Goal. Continue reading

How long is a book? How long is a chapter?

how long is a bookWhen you first start working with books, you realise that everyone talks in word count – editors, publishers, layout people. At first that feels bizarre, like measuring tree-size in leaves. Surely pages is a better measurement? When you discover how much page count changes with minor tweaks to font, line spacing, and margins, though, you realise why. Book lengths vary, but they’re all measured in word count – so that’s where we start. Continue reading

Trick of the trade: how to keep your readers in mind

readersEvery book on writing says “Think about the reader” – and of course that’s essential, to think about what they need to know and how you need to say it. The content you choose and the way you write depends on who you’re talking to. In practice, though, how do you do that? Simple: look at them. Pictures of real people you really know. Writing can sometimes feel difficult, but communicating is effortlessly human. It’s part of what defines us as human. The throes of unrequited love aside, it’s usually easier to explain what we mean when we’re talking to a human face. So here’s how to do it. Continue reading

How to write something you can’t write

The_ScreamEveryone finds some types of writing difficult. Your thoughts hit a brick wall, your mind goes blank, your fingers freeze.  It might be a difficult chapter, a cover letter, your web text, or a biography. Usually, you’ve hit an emotional or psychological barrier: it’s too personal, too important, or too far outside your comfort zone. It feels like anyone in the world could write it better than you – but you’re the only one who can write it, because the information’s in your head. Longer term, you might want to sit down with your fears; if it’s just one piece of writing, though, and you need to get it done now, this is how. Continue reading

What kind of an expert are you?

Years ago, when I taught English as a Foreign Language, a student asked me to explain how continental drift worked. As a confident, authoritative teacher, I launched into it – and halfway through my garbled explanation, I realised several things. First, I know my geography is hopeless. I’d only recently discovered that the West Indies weren’t West of India. I had no idea how continental drift worked. Second, I was assuming that as Teacher, I had all the answers – but I didn’t. I had all the answers about the English language. Third, my whole class was also buying into that assumption, The Teacher Knows All, even though one of those students had a doctorate in geology. I stopped, checked that they understood the phrase’s meaning, then asked the geologist to explain the mechanism. Continue reading

No glass slippers! Is your model working?

For thought leaders and experts, a great model is the gold standard.  It showcases your expertise, explains both the concept and the process in the best possible way, and becomes part of your intellectual capital. At its best, it tells you more than you already knew and opens up new avenues of ideas.  In your book, it creates the most logical and helpful structure you can use. But what if your model’s turning into a glass slipper? Continue reading

Why you need a developmental editor

Tom Allen’s successful Kickstarter project, Love on a Bike, reveals a discovery that every person writing a book needs to know. After the video’s beautiful intro of cycling around the world and falling in love, we see Tom typing away on his laptop. “My name is Tom,” says the voiceover, “And really, ever since I began travelling, I’ve been wanting to write a book. I’ve got to a point now where I’m on the very edge of having finished that book…”  Hurrah! we think. Done! But Tom has become wiser: Continue reading

5 reasons you should blog – even if no-one ever reads it

BookshopYou probably know the great business reasons why you should write a blog, just as you know why you should write a book (and not just because Seth Godin thinks you should!)  Something that will support your business, expand your network and your influence, showcase your expertise, raise your profile, develop your insights…  But here’s the surprising bit.  You should write a blog even if no-one reads it.  If a book is part of your business plan, start today with a blog.  This is why. Continue reading

Create your book… in 30 seconds!

What? Yes, really. Have you taken leave of your quality-driven senses? Not at all. This isn’t the book you’re going to publish, but it is a book full of great content, all carefully considered and written by you, and it might well be the John the Baptist to the Jesus of your book.  It’s The Book Of The Blog! And thanks to BlogBooker, it really does take 30 seconds. Maybe a minute, if you read the instructions carefully and take a couple sips of coffee. Continue reading

Are you throwing away great info?

Situation: My friend’s fantastic book was lying dormant for a year or two – frustrating for him and for everyone who’d read snippets of it. When he passed through Oxford, we came up with a plan to get it back to life.  For three weeks, he wrote like a demon – then he hit a snag in the plot and a work crisis at the same time. Writing jerked to a halt. After two weeks, he confessed his “failure” and a plan to resume writing in March. Failure? When he’s been writing so much? March? Three whole months away? Just a week before, I’d read an article with exactly the info he needed, on how we build habits and react to breaks in habits.  It was… Continue reading

Quick – slow down! The paradox you need to practise

I make people work fast – and I insist they relax. I make them do an exercise in 10 minutes instead of an hour – then I tell them to take an extra-long shower. I give them a demanding schedule of work – and tell them to take it for a lovely long walk. I do all this not out of crazed split-personality psychosis, but because I know, intimately, the creative process. Continue reading

This video will light you up

“Do what you love – the rest follows,” it said. My brother’s 21st: everyone is in full medieval regalia. One of our coolest friends, already urbane and grown-up at the grand age of 23, throws a crumpled-up piece of paper to my brother. Smoothed out, it shows a man playing a saxophone, next to the words “Do what you love. The rest follows.”

The words hit me like a religious conversion. Of course my life was already full of writing – not writing would be like not breathing – but suddenly, here was authority, permission, validation, all at once. It’s hard to recapture the passionate conviction you feel at 19, but this video does: Continue reading

Why I do what I do: the passion behind the business

Creating my Springboard Your Book programme helped me define why I’ve chosen the work I have. It’s easy to just assume people already know, or can see my eyes light up, or realise this is obviously the most amazing thing in the entire world. Putting that into words (even as a wordsmith) is a different matter – and hugely rewarding. So this is why I do what I do and the passion behind my business. Continue reading

“What does an editor do?” in terms of ninjas

Ninja editing“An author working without a professional proofreader is a bit like a school bus with no brakes speeding toward a cliff on an icy road. And the school bus is on fire, and an angry ninja is stabbing the driver in the head.” – Scott Lynch

What is a proofreader’s job? What does an editor do? What’s the difference between an editor and a proofreader? And what are all these different kinds of editing – what’s style editing, what’s structural editing, what’s developmental editing, and who will help me kill the ninja? At last, the answers you need – in simple ninja terms. Continue reading

Why you should be reading… BPS Research Digest

Why you should read it

As thought leaders, business experts, and coaches, we need to understand how people work.  How they learn, how they think, and how minds tick.  There’s a wealth of information out there – but a lot of it’s wrong. As neurology gets more popular, even more info is exaggerated, misinterpreted, or just plain nonsense. SO – sailing into the rescue comes the BPS Research Digest, by Christian Jarrett. Continue reading

Why you should never write “Anon”

If someone’s idea is important enough to quote, 
they’re important enough to mention. - Megan Kerr

I’m amazed by the number of books from thought leaders and experts that include quote after quote by “Anon”. Usually, it’s not actually anonymous – the writer just doesn’t know who said it. As the editor, I shoot off to Google, spend 5 minutes digging around, and come back with the person’s name and the exact words they used. This isn’t just a pedantic nicety: this is the heart of what we do as thought leaders.We all talk about the ideas economy and the value of expertise. Having ideas, good ideas, good enough for people to like and quote, takes time: they don’t spring out of nothing. They are the tip of an iceberg of thought and work. Likewise, expertise takes years – often unpaid or self-funded years, knowing that once you have it, it’s payback time. If you’ve put in your 10,000 hours, you know what you’re talking about. You can speak with authority and make a name for yourself. Unless, of course, people steal that.

When you write “Anon”, you’re stealing. It doesn’t feel like it, you don’t mean to, and it takes most people a while to realise that it simply is theft. Someone has had a great idea, for which the minimum payback is exposure, their name, and you’ve stolen it. Not just that sentence – but part of the 10,000 hours that went into them being able to say that, because that was their investment.

Writing “Anon” also looks unprofessional. It reads as “couldn’t be bothered to find out”. Sometimes, someone does know the source, but doesn’t want to say, because the name just doesn’t match up to the other people they’re quoting.  Uh-uh. If someone’s idea is important enough to quote, they’re important enough to mention.

When you’re writing online, on blog posts, Facebook, and Twitter, it’s easy to let things slide. For a start, there’s no editor pulling you up.  And as soon as something starts proliferating, it gets harder to track down the original source. It feels less important – everyone knows everything on the internet is basically free! No. Every great line, every awesome picture, was created by a person. Credit the person. Actually, this is even more important online. Things whizz around so fast that the chances are much higher of the original person seeing their quote or picture being used. Turn it around. Think of the ideas you’re proudest of. Now see them in a snazzy little online poster format, without your name, being shared by someone else. Your trust and respect for them capsizes. What are you doing to people’s trust and respect for you, when you write “Anon”?

Intellectual capital needs to be respected. People whose businesses run on intellectual capital need to lead the way. Attribute, attribute, attribute. There is no “Anon”.

Some tips on tracking down the original source

  • Only write “Anon” if a printed, respected dictionary of quotations gives the source as unknown.
  • Don’t trust a rash of Google results – mistakes proliferate. Hack back to a respected source, either first-hand (their own website, the original newspaper report at the time) or an established knowledge site, eg Mirriam-Webster, Oxford Press.
  • If the whole quote in quotation marks doesn’t get you good results, try using a few key words without quotation marks. Often a wrong version is doing the rounds.
  • For original image sources, work backwards in time, for the earliest chronological version. Check some image stock sites.
  • At conferences and panels, write each speaker’s name at the top of your notes and use their initials to mark their contribution in your notes. Afterwards, you can thank them for specific comments you found helpful and you can attribute their words if you write about it.
  • Online, link to people’s sites as well as giving their name.
  • Einstein probably didn’t say it. Check. Wikipedia has a helpful list of sayings commonly misattributed to Einstein as well as a list of general misattributions.

Want this this kind of vigour, rigour, and discipline applied to your book? Email me to book your work in and discuss your project.