How to Write a Book Like Seth Godin
How do you write a book like Seth Godin?
Who? Seth Godin is one of the world’s top marketing experts and he’s written 22 best-selling books.
If you want to write a book (a great book), here are ten writing tips you can learn from Seth Godin to help you make it happen.
Plus, in the end, I’m going to make a big announcement.
1 Read like Seth
To write a book like Seth Godin you need to know what Seth Godin’s books are like. The obvious thing to do is read them.
In The Song of Significance, Seth says:
“As we make change, the rules are altered and the changes compound. A key part of the work is to do the reading and to understand the forces involved. Not simply reading a book, but understanding what others are concerned about. …you’re expected to understand that has come before, to read the thread, to contribute to the written conversation, and to make decisions.” (Page 109)
I’ve read almost 80% of his books. I know how Seth writes from my experience of reading his work.
Your first step in writing a book like Seth Godin’s is to read his work and step into the groove of his style.
ACTION: Grab your favourite author’s books and start reading. Learn how they write.
2 Look like Seth
Next, you need to look the part. You’ll need a haircut. And some glasses.
Ok, they’re optional.
But seriously, you want to look the part of what writing a book looks like for you. This might be as simple as scheduling time for writing each day or clearing a space to say, ‘I’m an author. I write here.’
ACTION: What do you need to write at your best? Make a list and make it happen.
3 How Long is a Book?
Every author asks: How long should your book be?
A typical non-fiction business book is 50-60,000 words. They’re usually 250-300 words per page in small type. They’re dense.
How big are Seth Godin’s books?
Naturally, over 20 plus books there’s a mix of lengths. Some are short, some are long. The Big Red Fez (about website design) is 324 pages compared to only 80 for The Dip. The shortest of all is the Ship It Journal which is a project workbook. The granddaddy of them all is Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck. That’s a collection of blog posts and comes in at whopping 608 pages.
The average length of all these books is 201 pages.
But here’s the kicker. Counting pages can be misleading.
Seth’s printed books use a bigger typeface than the typical business book. Plus, they’re more spacious – they have bigger margins and bigger line heights.
This means the word count is much lower. For instance, The Song of Significance is 200 pages. But at only 200 words per page that’s around 40,000 words.
That’s 10-20,000 words or 20-30% shorter than a typical business book.
ACTION: How long is your book going to be? There is no right answer here. But shorter might be better.
4 What’s the Big Idea?
What’s the big idea of your book? This is crucial for promotion – especially word of mouth. If I read your book and I can’t share your big idea quickly and easily with others then the pace of spreading the word slows down and the reach of your promotions falls.
Seth’s superpower is the clarity of his message – the big idea. When I read his books, I always walk away with a clear understanding of his key point.
And the test here is: Can I share his big idea with other people in 60 seconds?
Here’s my take on Seth’s book, Purple Cow.
If you saw a purple cow what would you do? I bet you’d take a photo of it and share it with your friends. When you make remarkable things your product does the marketing for you.
That’s the big idea in 36 words or three short sentences – make your product so remarkable that it does the marketing for you.
Can you describe the key message of your book in 1-2 sentences? More importantly, can your readers?
ACTION: Put your big idea to the test. Script it so it can be read in 1-2 sentences. Then ask for feedback from your colleagues to see if it lands.
5 How to Create an Ear-catching Book Title
Most business books have descriptive titles that tell you precisely what the book is about.
- How to win friends and influence people
- Good to Great
- Start with Why
- The First 90 Days
- The Minimalist Entrepreneur
But Seth Godin’s books don’t do this. They have unusual titles.
- Meatball Sundae
- Purple Cow
- Poke the Box
- Free Prize Inside
- All Marketers are Liars
- We are all Weird
If that’s all you knew about these books, would you pick them up to read or buy them?
With Seth’s books, you can’t guess what the book is about by only reading the title.
The choice here is to use a benefit-driven title or an intriguing concept.
To write a great book you need a strong, unique concept. Seth uses this concept as the title. And then he combines that with a practical sub-title. For example:
- Purple Cow: Transform your business by being remarkable.
- Linchpin: How to drive your career and create a remarkable future.
- We are all weird: The rise of tribes and the end of normal
ACTION: Write a list of BOTH descriptive and intriguing book titles. Test them with your colleagues to see which ones work best.
6 You MUST create this!
How would you describe Seth Godin’s books?
If I had to capture the style of Seth’s books in a single word, I’d say they’re ‘possibility’ books. He’s saying, ‘Here’s how the world could be’.
He rarely uses statistics. And they’re not case studies to prove a point. Instead, they are built on lots of stories, lots of analogies and lots of examples of what is possible.
That’s what makes him a thought leader. He challenges our current view of the world and presents an alternative.
Is your book creating a new world? The key is to go beyond merely saying problem-solution. Go deeper. Describe the world of the problem and what it will look when it’s solved.
ACTION: Write a before and after description of the world your book is creating.
7 How to Eat an Elephant
There’s an old joke that asks, How do you eat an elephant? The answer is one mouthful at a time.
How does Seth write his books? One blog post at a time. Seth writes his books every day in the form of a blog post.
On Seth’s website, he has thousands of blog posts. And I literally mean thousands. He’s posted every single day for 25 years. (since 1998) That’s 9000 days and 9000 blog posts.
Wow! That’s impressively consistent practice. It begs the question, how committed are you to your book writing? But it also gives us a strategy to write a book.
In The Practice (page 205), Seth says:
“Build streaks. Do the work every single day. Blog daily. Write daily. Ship daily. Show up daily. Find your streak and maintain it. Talk about your streaks to keep honest.”
To write a book like Seth Godin, you don’t need to write a 200-page book. Instead, you can write 200 daily blog posts.
Sure you’ll need a theme to organise them. I’ve read a few bad books that have simply bundled a lot of loose threads into a single volume. But if you think about this approach in advance it can work very effectively. Seth’s success is evidence that it works if done well.
The key strategy here is to create the bricks to build the wall to make a cathedral one day at a time.
If daily blogging is not your thing, here are 18 Different Ways to Write Your Book.
ACTION: What is your daily habit for writing your book? Will you post in public? I dare you.
8 How to Write Like Hemingway
One reason that Seth Godin’s books are so popular is that they are so readable. And that’s because he uses simple language and short sentences.
On his website, Seth lists the most Top 100 popular blog posts he has written.
I copied and pasted the top ten from his list of all-time most popular posts into Hemingway Editor. That’s an app that grades your writing. It points out long sentences, complex words and basic errors.
It also tells you the level of education required to understand your words. The lower the level of education, the more people can read and understand your message.
From his ten most popular blog posts, Seth’s lowest score was 1. The highest was 8. And the average score is 5.4. That’s Grade 5. This means they’re suitable for a 10 or 11-year-old.
Put your writing to the Hemingway test. What age are you writing for?
ACTION: Go to the Hemingway Editor web page and paste in some of your words. Adjust accordingly.
9 How Long are Your Sentences?
Another part of Seth’s writing style is his short sentences. They’re not all short, but a lot of them are.
Shorter sentences are easier to read and understand. You can see in this blog post that I’ve been practising this too. Some of my sentences are 2-3 words long. Others are up to 20 words.
I did another analysis of Seth’s top ten most popular blog posts to count the number of words in his sentences. The average length is 12 words.
How many words are in your sentences?
ACTION: Review the last page you have written and count the length of your sentences. Edit to vary your sentence lengths.
10 The Best Way to Write Stories
Another reason Seth Godin is so readable is his stories.
But they’re not long stories like most people tell you to write. They’re anecdotes or micro-stories.
Here’s an example from his book The Song of Significance (Page 60).
“The deal industrialists made was simple: show up and do what you are told and you’ll be rewarded.”
That’s a big statement written in simple everyday terms. But here’s the home run…
“Like for the kid who walks down a dark driveway on Halloween, the promise is simple. Show up, say “Trick or treat,” and there will be candy.”
Even I get that. And I’ve never done trick or treat. It’s simple, universal and powerful.
To become a great storyteller you need to practice. And one big part of this is to write micro-stories or anecdotes like these examples.
For bonus points, can you create a story in three images like the one of the astronaut boy above? He holds his astronaut costume (dream), then steps into it and climbs to the top (of the ladder).
ACTION: Review the stories and examples you have written. Can they be made better by being shorter?
Summary – How to Write a Book Like Seth Godin
Well, there you have it. That’s my ten points to help want to write a book like Seth Godin – to help you write a great book.
The key point here is this. While I’ve shared how Seth Godin writes his best-selling books, (Well, at least how I see it) your goal here is not to mimic Seth’s approach but to learn from it. You might ask yourself:
- What would be a good title based on Seth’s approach?
- How could you make my book more readable? Micro-stories or shorter sentences?
- Would it be easier to write your book as a series of blog posts?
- Can you describe your big idea in 2-3 sentences?
- And what’s the worldview you are presenting? Is it clear?
My Big Announcement
Now for my big announcement. My motivation for learning how to write a book like Seth Godin is that I want to write another book. Yes, I know I did say only a couple of months ago that I didn’t know I would write another book… But here we are. I feel like I have untapped ideas in some of my videos that also need to be shared in written form.
I think that takes me to book number 13. So who better to learn from than the master himself, Seth Godin.
More on How to Write a Book
To help you write a book more quickly and more easily, here are five other posts to devour:
- The Best Reason to Write a Book Right Now
- Answer this Before you Start Writing Your Book
- Seven ways to write your book faster
- My best ten tips for writing a book for the first time
- The Surprising Secret to finishing your book