Wonderful workbooks

Recognise this thought process?

‘I want this to be more than just a book you read. I want people to engage with it, to be able to reflect and scribble down thoughts and answer questions as they go: I know, I’ll put space for them to write in the book!’

It’s a good thought process, except for one big logical flaw: people don’t like writing in books.

It’s partly cultural: books have a certain status in our society (that’s partly why you’re writing one!), and it feels inappropriate to deface them. It’s partly future-proofing: a book is an economic unit, we might want to sell it one one day, or give it to a charity shop, or someone else might if we go under a bus tomorrow, in which case we’d rather it didn’t include our honest self-reflection. And it’s partly practical: traditionally bound books don’t lie flat, which makes them hard to write in unless you’re prepared to break the spine. (And if you are, we can never be friends.)

From the publisher’s perspective – and that’s you if you’re paying the production bills – there’s another problem: it makes the book longer without including any more useful content and that makes every single copy more expensive to print.

And finally, the killer punch, if your reader’s reading the ebook rather than the print edition, they’re going to hate you for all these blank lines they can’t use.

So if you’re now convinced that leaving space for people to write in your book isn’t such a great idea, consider a workbook instead.

A workbook has no cultural pretensions. It’s just so many sheets of paper. It screams ‘Scribble all over me! Make me your own! I’m a workbook, so work, dammit!’.

You don’t have to pay to manufacture it (unless you want to), because the simplest and usually best route is a PDF that can be downloaded from your site, optimised for a standard A4 printer.

And perhaps best of all, it brings the reader from an offline experience of reading your book into your online orbit, which means you can start a conversation.

Glenda Shawley, author of Founded After Forty, created a superb, beautifully designed workbook to accompany her book. It’s effectively a blueprint for the reader’s business, and it’s gone down a storm. She’s also had a quantity printed and bound and sells them at events and from her website for people who don’t want to take the hit on their own printer ink and paper stocks.

I asked her for her advice to anyone considering a workbook when we spoke in Episode 62 of The Extraordinary Business Book Club:

‘Try to keep it quite simple and to be clear about where the link is between the workbook and the book. Are you going to put extra instructions in the workbook or are you simply going to use the book and expect people to have both open side by side?’

Founded After Forty has a ‘workbook’ icon to show where there are exercises to complete, but she’s designed them so that both can stand independently. And even though the workbook’s free, don’t fret about people downloading and sharing that rather than buying the book. Brand the heck out of it, include your URL, big up the book, provide other touchpoints (Glenda has a Facebook community, for example), and see it as marketing, not piracy.