“In everything we write, we choose a voice.”
Poets and novelists talk a lot about their writing ‘voice’, but nonfiction writers, and especially business book writers, can write a full manuscript without giving it a thought. Which is a shame, because as Anne Janzer – copywriter, ghostwriter and business book writer – knows more than most, being intentional about your voice is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal if you want to write a book that doesn’t just tell the reader a bunch of facts, but engages them in a way that might just change their life.
As well as learning more about how to choose and develop your writing voice, you’ll also discover how to go about one of the best ways EVER for creating content, building engagement and crafting a marketing hook: carrying out original research.
If you’re going to write a business book and you want to do it well, you shouldn’t miss this.
Anne’s website: https://annejanzer.com/
Anne on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/annehjanzer/
Alison on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alison-jones-9b09893/
The 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge: http://proposalchallenge.com/
‘Kickstart Your Writing’ Workshop January 2024: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/666359076937
WriteBrained: A 28-day exploratory writing adventure: https://pi-q.learnworlds.com/course?courseid=writebrainedcourse
The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/
Alison Jones: I am here today with Anne Janzer, who is a nonfiction book coach and the author of multiple award-winning books on writing, including The Writer’s Process and Writing to Be Understood, and her latest book, The Writer’s Voice, is the one that I particularly want to talk to her about today. She’s fascinated by the science and the mystery of writing, and is always searching for clues to better communication.
So first of all, welcome Anne. It’s lovely to have you here.
Anne Janzer: Thanks for having me back, Alison.
Alison Jones: It’s always a delight to talk to you. I’m so excited because we get to talk about writing, what could be better.
Anne Janzer: It’s a joy.
Alison Jones: It’s a joy. So, well, first of all, congratulations on the new book.
Anne Janzer: Thank you. Thank you very much. Yes, another book,
Alison Jones: Next.
Anne Janzer: What was I thinking?
Alison Jones: I know you’re already starting to think about the next one, but before you do, let’s talk about this one. And I’m really fascinated by the idea of writer’s voice, so much. I’m excited about the concept itself. I recognized it as soon as you said it, but it’s not something I’ve particularly thought about. And I’m also fascinated by where the idea started and why you decided to write the book.
Anne Janzer: Okay. Well, let me share with you. It came from, originally, from my own writing career. I was a marketing writer for technology companies. And I had at one point, not all at once, but I worked with more than a hundred companies. And each of them, you’d go in and you’d try to write in their brand voice, so it became this sort of fun game of Oh, what’s the voice of this hip little startup versus this established, very trusted company. And then I started ghostwriting for executives. And, nobody teaches you how to ghost write, right? You’re just like, well, how do I make this sound like what I think this guy sounds like? I don’t know. You know, I’ll just try that.
So I was experimenting with voice without really thinking about it as voice. And then when I started to write my first book, which was about marketing, I wrote the first draft and it sounded very corporate, generic, it’s like, oh, this doesn’t sound like me, so well, what’s my voice?
So like most writers, I encountered the idea of voice, if I stop and think about it, in my own work. And now as a non-fiction coach, of course, I’m very attuned to the voice that authors present in their work. And how do you help someone find one that represents them well, while meeting the needs of the reader, right, finding that intersection?
So I thought this is a really, really interesting area to explore, and it’s something that I don’t see a lot. Poets talk a lot about poetic voice, and there’s some fantastic books on that. Literary authors, fiction writers talk about the voices of their character.
So we come at voice in all these different ways, but you know, you and I, in everything we write, we choose a voice. We choose a voice in everything. And so this is another sort of portal into the quality of our writing and how we show up and how we serve. So I thought it would be a really, really interesting subject to just research and explore and play with. And so that’s what got me into this, into this one.
Alison Jones: And I want to come back to the research in particular because I was really fascinated by the way you went about that as a craft. But I think, your point about we choose our voice, I mean you’re absolutely right, of course. But I think an awful lot of, particularly first time business book authors, don’t think about it like that. They just see themselves as writing and it’s transparent and there’s no sort of conscious use of voice in there, and it’s quite a shock to people I think that they, when they realize that they can choose the voice that comes across to the reader.
Anne Janzer: Yes, and this is my goal, Alison, the whole goal for this book is that people understand and get comfortable, putting on and choosing a voice the way they choose a pair of shoes or a jacket for the situation. It should be, oh, this is a fun one, or, this is going to keep me dry, those kinds of, we have choices and it’s something that we do mostly instinctively. If you write as you speak, we do this in instinctively in speaking, right? If a three-year-old walks into your office, you’re going to speak to them differently than the CEO of a company that you work with or something. We automatically do this. This is a human communication thing. And I want people to be able to understand how to bring this to their writing and even look at some of the mechanical things on the page when they’re done, that affect the voice, because the voice isn’t just us, the voice is what the reader perceives. We are just half of that equation.
Alison Jones: You made that point beautifully, and it hadn’t struck me before, that actually the reader creates the voice, without the reader, there is no voice. You know, unless it’s an audio book or you’re speaking directly to three year old, then there’s no mediation. But if it’s being mediated through the page, it’s about how the reader receives it as well as how you communicate it, which I thought was really fascinating.
Anne Janzer: Yes, and I found this interesting little bit of research that someone did a survey and they found that like 70% of people, the psychologist believes, hear an inner reading voice when they read silently. So just think about that for a moment to yourself. You think, do you, do I, and I think, oh, I do sometimes. Yes.
Alison Jones: I don’t think so, do I? Maybe I do. Is it my voice?
Anne Janzer: Well, so I think about reading Jane Austen. No, of course, in that narrator I hear a voice that it’s not me, it’s someone else and it’s a woman and it’s, you know. So, I don’t think I do with everything, but I often do with non-fiction, when the author is speaking in the first person.
So in a business book, I am supplying a voice of the author. And if the author’s not intentional about that, I might choose a voice that it’s like, oh, this person’s kind of a jerk. I mean, I might choose a voice that they may not necessarily want, or this person’s kind of a blowhard, you know, so we’ve got to think about what that voice is and how we are presenting it and realize that it’s something we do in combination with our reader.
Alison Jones: Yes, and that metaphor you used before about choosing what to wear on a particular day, that’s a great metaphor because it makes the point that it’s conscious, but it’s not inauthentic. All these clothes are in your wardrobe. They’re all you, you know, you like them all, you just wear them for different purposes.
Anne Janzer: Yes, thank you. Because this whole idea of us having one authentic voice just kind of drives me nuts. I mean, we want our voices to be authentic to who we are, but that doesn’t mean there’s just one
Alison Jones: Yes, you don’t have one authentic T-shirt, right?
Anne Janzer: Right, right, exactly.
Alison Jones: You might have a couple of favourite T-shirts.
Anne Janzer: Sure, some favorites. All right, fair enough and you have a style perhaps, of the way that you dress. I mean, that would be fine too, but it’s not the same. It’s not exactly the same.
Alison Jones: No, it’s a very helpful metaphor. So tell me about the research because I thought this was so fascinating. I took part in it myself and I got the email with all the results and I pored over it. It was just a really great way to go about writing a book I thought.
Anne Janzer: Yes and I would recommend this to people thinking about doing a business book because this is the second time I’ve done this, which is to create some original research with questions that will be really useful for you to know in your book. I mean, I’m genuinely curious about the answers. How do writers feel about their voices? How many different genres are people writing in? How easily do they think about when they change their voice or not? So I created a series of questions and this entails writing a survey, which is a little trickier than, you know, it takes a little thought to write one well.
Alison Jones: This is research methods
Anne Janzer: It’s research methods, right? Yes, if I was smart, I would’ve hired a researcher, but I kind of winged it. And then I put the survey out and asked people to take it. So for this particular voice survey, I had 255 respondents, which was okay. The hard part of any…
Yes, it’s hard to get people to do a survey, so just remember that too. Don’t pile on too many questions. You don’t want to ask people for… this only takes…, do you ever get those surveys? This will only take 30 minutes. I’m like, are you kidding me? You want 30 minutes of my time?
Alison Jones: 30 minutes, you going to pay me?
Anne Janzer: You’re right. So I want it to be five minutes or less. That’s kind of where I’m at with my surveys, very quick.
And then this gives me a rich bunch of research to look at. I can include some in the book, I can include in presentations when I talk about it. And all of these wonderful, you know, really the joy is the insights it gives me. And I always have open text or comment areas and I get some fantastic insights from the comments that people leave, which is really, really great.
Alison Jones: This is the stuff you didn’t know you didn’t know.
Anne Janzer: Yes, exactly. So it’s a great way to widen, I mean, I could not, I did not have the time to interview 255 writers. I just didn’t have that time. But I do have the time to do a survey and some of them gave their email, say, you know, ping me a few questions, and then I share the results so that when you’re done with this, you get all the results and you tally them and create a report, and then I share back to anybody who requested it.
And you do not have to be on my email list. You know, I can say, here’s the results, if you want to join my email list great. But I try not to make it a sales thing or anything. I’m just sharing the results of the survey with people who ask. So it’s a really fun entree.
And if you’re actually working on a topic, and are not sure exactly perhaps where your book lies in that topic. A survey might be a really, really interesting way to dig into what people are struggling with or interested in in that topic. It might tell you where a sweet spot is to answer questions people have.
Alison Jones: And it’s multifaceted, isn’t it? Because as you say that the real joy of it, of course, is it gets you such interesting information and insights and it gives you something to talk about in presentations and marketing and so on, as well as the book. But also, you’ve got this tribe of people who are suddenly engaged in the book and really interested to find out what you do with that.
Anne Janzer: That’s right. They’ve all participated in this, you know, like, look at what you helped me do, this is in this book, you know, thank you. It gives you a group of people who are interested in your topic with you. It’s really a wonderful technique if you have some time while you’re preparing to work on your book, front load it with this kind of research.
And it’s something of value to share. Yes.
Alison Jones: Yes, it’s terrific. I was really impressed by it. It was fun actually. I think that that’s part of it as well, is that people really enjoy being part of the creative exercise that is writing a book.
Anne Janzer: That’s right. It gives people a little window into this, look, I’m writing this book, you’re part of it.
Alison Jones: You’re in on the ground floor. It’s brilliant. And talking about exercises, it’s very striking that you write this book in such a practical way. It’s basically a 12-week course if you want to treat it like that. Although you are very open about, you know, you can if you want, you don’t have to.
Anne Janzer: You don’t have to. Right. Exactly. So, your book, you do what you want, race through it in a day, I don’t care. But yes, so this is a little departure for me. And it came from, I could tell you the story of the writing of this book because it’s not my usual approach. A year ago I created a workbook to accompany my book, The Writer’s Process.
The Writer’s Process is about writing process, and I thought, you know, people will engage with it more deeply if I give them some exercises that I’ve since developed in working with authors. So I created a workbook and it’s doing very well and I see that a lot of people just want the workbook. And I’m like, well, of course it’s writing, you know, of course we want something to do.
So I thought, well, for this book, because it’s voice and what I really, really want is to give people a set of tools that they can use to explore their voice. And I really, really want it to be fun because I had so much fun creating some of these exercises and doing them.
So I thought, well, there’s going to be a workbook accompanying this book. So, I’m going to work on… I can maybe… I started writing on the book and I kept thinking, oh, you know, it would be a great exercise, and I’d go off and I work on the exercise and I’d try it and practice it. And then I had some people testing them and then I go back, oh yes, get back into the text of the book.
And I’m back into the text of the book and I’m more theory and stuff and I was, I don’t know, 20, 30,000 words into this book. And I thought, you know what? Reading about voice isn’t going to take people very far. They have got to do it. The value lies in the exercises. Maybe I don’t need to do a standalone book. Maybe I mesh it and I turn it into a book with exercises. So it’s really, not only just, I mean, I’ve read books that invite you, oh, at the end there’s a question and try this. I want to put blank spaces in so people feel like they have to fill it, you know?
So it’s like, yes, it is okay to write in this book. If you have the physical book, pick up a pen and write something. Because that is how this book is going to make an impact with people. That’s how someone’s going to walk away at the end and go, you know what? I can do this thing and that thing and I’m going to explore this. So I actually abandoned the standalone book partway through and just went all in on this book, and I divided it. I realized I had about 12 different topics. The first six are things that pretty much live on the page, and the second six are things that kind of live in your head before or as you write. And I thought, well, okay, so I’ve got 12 topics and I’m going along, and the world at this point in time, suddenly threw Julia Cameron at me in mysterious ways.
I had gotten one of her books for registering for a conference, and I just happened to pick it up as I was working on this and go through that, oh, this is interesting how she structured this and, you know, so Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way is her first book and she structured it as a 12-week course. She has done a bunch of books since that are structured as a 6-week or 8-week course.
So I read this one and then a neighbor just randomly put a different Julia Cameron book in my mailbox. I’m like, what is this? Okay, this is a sign, hey, maybe this is a 12-week course. That was a very strange way to open my mind to thinking about the book. Entirely different than how I set out to write it.
I was partway through when I said, this isn’t serving the reader. I think the reader’s better served by this other format, this other approach. So it was an interesting way to write a book.
Alison Jones: It’s so fascinating. It’s so emergent and it makes a lot of sense, as you say because it is… and it also, I think probably makes it more flexible as intellectual property because it means you can deliver a 12-week course with actual people, in the actual room or on the actual Zoom.
Anne Janzer: Yes.
Alison Jones: Yes.
Anne Janzer: I can definitely turn this into… and that’s something to explore. I think it would be really fun for people to do and then share some of these exercises in a weekly gathering. I think we could have a lot of fun with that. So that’s definitely in the works.
And if I go do a workshop or something, I have a whole book, full exercises to do in a workshop that people would enjoy. I mean, plus, like I said, I had a lot of fun creating them and because I have to do them all and try them, and I realized just what fun it can be to just play with your writing voice.
Some of the exercises, I ask people to do things at super extreme ends that they would never do with anybody, but I think that’s where we learn.
Alison Jones: So playful. It’s so playful, isn’t it? Yes, and I absolutely, yes, I was delivering a talk on exploratory writing the other day in the room with people, and you can write all you like about it, and you can sort of tell people, you can talk about it, but when you see people do it and the energy in the room, it’s just such a joy, isn’t it?
Anne Janzer: Yes and in a way this is almost, some of these exercises are almost getting people to do exploratory writing with a hook, that is a stylistic hook. You know, it’s almost just, go wild, try to write as if you were submitting a piece to a literary, a hoity-toity literary magazine, you could about this, you know? And what does that do?
Yes, so it’s all, people have to do it as with the exploratory writing. They just have to do it. Reading about it only takes them so far.
Alison Jones: Only takes you so far, yes. And it’s that wonderful moment when you realize that you’ve been playing. I mean actually going back to Jane Austen, that sort of little piece of ivory, two inches wide, suddenly you realize you’ve been playing with a sort of one octave and the piano keyboard has, you know, four or five of the damn things.
Anne Janzer: That’s it. That’s it. That’s right. Or there’s another analogy you could use, which is exercising. If you only ever work your upper body and then you go to the trail, you’re like, oh my gosh, this is so hard. Whereas if you’ve worked all those different extremities or types of training, then you can do many more things; writing becomes much more fun when you can do many more things.
Alison Jones: Oh, that’s a great quote. I think there’s my opening quote right there. Brilliant
Anne Janzer: Great.
Alison Jones: I’m a bit dubious about the approach of writing, giving space in the book for people to write, because I wonder, I sort of feel A) you’re never going to leave the right amount of space because people get carried away, and B) do people write in books?
You know, it’s quite hard to write in a book
Anne Janzer: So I agree. I never do, I mean the book has to scream workbook to me for me to do that, right. Because other books, if there’s just little space, I don’t write in a book. I was taught not to do that as a kid.
Alison Jones: Right, culturally, it’s weird.
Anne Janzer: Don’t write in your book. So for this book, and I don’t have it with me, but my previous workbook for The Writer’s Process, this is a similar format.
Alison Jones: Lovely. That’s right. It’s gorgeous.
Anne Janzer: I made it full paper size and just like, super, I hope, it just looks like you’re meant to be writing in it. I recognize people are going to write in a journal or do things online or whatever, but I just, I really wanted to tempt people to pick up that pencil and say, it’s okay. It’s all right. Do it, write it, you know?
But I agree. It’s hard, that’s why I identify it as a workbook. You know, I say it’s a workbook. It’s a workbook so that you actually do the work. Because otherwise, if I’m just reading, if I’m just reading a book, I’ll just be like, yes, I might get back to that later and I don’t do it.
Alison Jones: I know. That’s the thing. That’s really interesting. And I’m also, here’s a meta question for you, how did writing a book on writer’s voice shape your own writer’s voice?
Anne Janzer: Oh yes, that’s a good one. That’s a good one.
Alison Jones: Must make you cripplingly self-conscious.
Anne Janzer: Well, it does a bit. I mean, I think I’ve been writing about writing so that self-consciousness has been with me all this time. I think I’ve gotten comfortable enough to just say, this is how I’m showing up with this. This is why that is very useful.
I mean, like I said, I’ve done all of these exercises myself and I included some of my passes at them to give people an idea and also permission to be absurd because this is really what I want people to do, is take permission to be absurd. So, yes, I don’t know. It has affected my writing voice in the sense that, again, by doing these exercises, I’m like, oh yes, maybe my next thing should be something entirely different.
Maybe I need to go more poetic for something just for the hell of it. Or maybe I need to, you know, it’s made me realize, again, the possibilities that I was not paying attention to.
Alison Jones: Yes.
Anne Janzer: So we are never done with our writing voice. Our writing voice changes and evolves as we do, and it’s a gift to give yourself permission to expand and do more with it all the time. It’s a gift.
Alison Jones: I’ve got that metaphor of the wardrobe, now I just sort of reach in every morning and grab one of the same three or four T-shirts and actually, there’s a whole lot of really nice stuff in there that never gets worn.
Anne Janzer: That’s right. That’s right. Yes, the wardrobe metaphor works well, right? And also there’s appropriateness. I mean, you’re not going to wear spike heels on the trail, right? I mean, there’s certain…
Alison Jones: I am never going to wear my spike heels, but yes, I take your point.
Anne Janzer: I’m never going to wear them again. Actually, I don’t have any, so, to be fair, but there are still shoes I wouldn’t wear on the trail, let’s just say that. Or, you know, we have to think about where we’re going, who we’re showing up for.
So, I think for this voice, for this book, I have chosen, have developed a voice that I feel comfortable with for this kind of book, and I put that on comfortably, knowing it fits. It works. I hope. It seems to work for people, but …
Alison Jones: It’s slightly self-deprecating. It’s quite funny, when you talk about the research and everybody says, no, I haven’t got a problem with voice. You’re like, well, you’d think I’d stop there, wouldn’t you? But no. I found myself smiling and that’s so…
Anne Janzer: oh, good.
Alison Jones: …disarming in a really good way, you know, when you’re reading something that could potentially be intimidating, having a really friendly voice like that is super helpful.
Anne Janzer: Yes. I really want to be encouraging and supportive. That’s really a huge part of what… the voice I want to show up with is encouraging and supportive and companionable, I’m not preaching from on high. There is no ‘on high’ in the writing world. There are people maybe much higher up the mountain than me for sure.
But I’m just a companion with you on this, you know, and showing you what the trail right ahead looks like. That’s where I’m at.
Alison Jones: And even for that reason alone, actually, it’s very worthwhile, I think reading this book because you model that and I think it’s a very… it’s a good place to start if you’re writing a business book, if you’re writing a self-help book, taking on that kind of role, that kind of voice is not a bad place to start. Whatever that looks like for you. Yes.
Anne Janzer: And it’s different for everyone, you know, as I work with business authors, I see just how different that is for everyone. But it’s really fun. We all have a way to, you know, one of the chapters is deciding your relationship with the reader. And I think this is something, as a business author, you need to decide upfront what is my relationship with this reader? How do I want to show up? How do they need me to show up? And then use that to guide your voice.
Alison Jones: See, I’m about to ask you for your best tip, and I’m just wondering if maybe you preempted me, but I’m going to ask it anyway: Anne, if somebody’s just starting out on this whole journey, what’s your best tip for someone who has not yet written their business book?
Anne Janzer: So here’s my best tip. And I think I may have been on this before and my best tip was probably get started, so let’s just assume that you’ve got ‘get started’ already in your back pocket. So now we’re getting to my next tip. Think about what serves the reader, what the reader needs. Sometimes that may lead you to question assumptions you have about the book you were going to write.
Does it serve them to give them a 50,000 word tome on the subject or 60,000 word book or not? Does it serve them to show up as an expert or does it serve them to have a companion? Think about that and let those insights guide the book that you envision and that you create.
Alison Jones: Yes. That’s a great piece of advice. Thank you. I love it. And I’m really interested to hear your answer to this, what book would you recommend us Anne? I mean, you’ve got so many of your own to choose from, but don’t, you’re not allowed. What other book do you recommend to people who are listening?
Anne Janzer: So if you’re interested in writing a business book, there is a new book by a friend of mine, Josh Bernoff. Have you seen this?
Alison Jones: I’ve not. How exciting.
Anne Janzer: Oh. And you need to get Josh, I will connect you. You need to get him on here. He’s got a very different style than me, but he is wise, wise about business books and he just lays out all of this practical advice.
It’s called Build a Better Business Book. You’ve got a little alliteration in the title, you’ll notice. Build a Better Business Book. It just came out this summer. And again, like I said, we’re different personalities, but a lot of the advice is the same. And I think he gives you a great, a huge amount of wisdom about the mechanics, the strategy, how to approach writing and promoting a business book.
So I think if you’re serious about it, I think you’d find a lot of value in that book.
Alison Jones: That sounds amazing. I am so going to just get off this call and get myself a copy. Brilliant.
Anne Janzer: Okay.
Alison Jones: I wasn’t aware of it, so thank you. No, it’s terrific.
Anne Janzer: Welcome. It’s brand new. Yes.
Alison Jones: And then I’ll have to talk to Josh once I’ve had a look at that.
Anne Janzer: You definitely will.
Alison Jones: Wonderful. And Anne, if people want to find out more about The Writer’s Voice, more about all your other books, which are all brilliant by the way, you are such a writing inspiration for me, where should they go?
Anne Janzer: My website is the best place to look for me annejanzer.com. And there you’ll find my books. The latest thing, I do have an email list with writing advice every two weeks and once a month I do a draw for a business- or no, for a writing-related book because my list there is fiction and non-fiction and all kinds of writers.
But once a month I give away a book about writing, which I think is, I really love doing that because it keeps me reading books about writing and sharing them with people. And that’s a lot of fun. So you can find me there, you can find my books there. If you have any questions, there’s a contact form there.
If I said something really strange here today and you want to ask me about it, go ahead and email me. Who knows what I’ve said today.
Alison Jones: No, it was all incredibly useful and practical and helpful, so thank you. It’s been, as always, an absolute joy talking to you.
Anne Janzer: Thanks for having me.