I love how-to books. They are tools. They are assistants. They are mentors and demystifiers. I have hundreds in my office. I love the generosity and courage you find in the best how-to books. Superbly accomplished individuals faced the screaming threat of the blank page, yet intelligently shared everything they knew about their craft … with humility, wit, even tenderness and abundant mercy for us yearning and ignorant readers.

Great how-to books are a gift to the world; an art form, in my view.

Here are 6 things I’ve learned from my faves:

Books—— #1 ——

Page 98, Jeff Brooks, The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications: ” …through close observation, fundraisers have discovered three ‘Design Laws’ – practices that, if we follow them well, encourage our fundraising messages to bear fruit. Those laws are: 1. Make it plain. 2. Make it corny. 3. Make it obvious.”

—— #2 ——

Page 2, George Smith, Tiny Essentials of Writing for Fundraising: “So let me say it loud and plain – this is the Age of Bullshit. For we live in the first age of Verbal Predictability. For the very first time in recorded history you know what someone is going to say before they say it.” Neuroscience has an answer, by the way. But that’s in a different book.

—— #3 ——

Page 97, Susan M. Weinschenk, Ph.D., 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People: “Imagine you’re at a cocktail party. You’re talking to the person next to you. It’s noisy, but you can screen out the other conversations. Then you hear someone say your name. Your name … quickly came to your attention.” I.e., this is why we strive to personalize stuff. There is MUCH wisdom in 100 Things (it’s a series).

—— #4 ——

Page 31, Joseph Sugarman, Advertising Secrets of the Written Word (out of print; Kindle edition): “If the purpose of all the elements in an ad is therefore to get you to read the copy, then what we are really talking about is reading the first sentence, aren’t we?….

[And] if the first sentence is so important, what can you do to make it so compelling to read, so simple, and so interesting that your readers – every one of them – will read it in its entirety? The answer: Make it short.”

—— #5 ——

Page 107, Donald M. Murray, Writing to Deadline: “Lively writing often results from finding the point at which the people or the issues in the story are in conflict. [But we] look for the information that fits the stereotype and forget to search for the moment of tension at which the particular energy of the story is released.” Journalist Donald Murray won the Pulitzer Prize. This is the only book about storytelling you’ll probably ever need to read. Sample chapters: “Asking the Reader’s Five Questions,” “How to Write Without Writing,” “Learning from Yourself.”

—— #6 ——

Page 6, Jerry Weissman, Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story: “They mistakenly think for the audience to understand anything, they have to be told everything. That’s like being asked the time and responding with complete instructions for building a clock.” I worship the ancient marketing gods. Jerry W. is one: a TOTAL TRUTH TELLER. This is the best “case writing” book I know … and it’s not from inside the fundraising world: that’s its strength.

What are some of your favorite books? Let us know in the comments below!

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This post originally appeared in the Ahern Donor Communications Newsletter

Tom Ahern
Author of four books, Tom Ahern is considered one of the world’s top authorities on donor communications.
Tom Ahern

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