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Would you buy this book? Writing Without Bullshit

josh bernoff head shot 01Today, I unveil the plan for my book. I’ll be pitching it to publishers soon. Here’s the title, subtitle, and table of contents. I took a shot at the flap copy, too. I’m avidly interested in your reaction. (I wrote the title, subtitle, and flap copy as they would appear on the book. I enhanced the table of contents with narrative content as it would appear in a book proposal.)

Writing Without Bullshit

How to make a powerful impression every time you communicate

Your day is filled with bullshit. Unfiltered, unedited crap floods your inbox and fills the Web — you need hip waders just to get through your day. I’m talking corporate doubletalk, lazy media, and all those random, unfocused communications from your fellow workers that just plain waste your time.

This is an opportunity, and you must seize it.

Writing Without Bullshit will teach you everything you need to stand out from the crap out there. Clear, powerful writing is within your grasp. I’ll show you how to do it.

I’ll reveal why most of what flashes past your eyes every day is crap, and how we got into this situation. I’ll show you how to cure the fatigue that lulls you into writing in the same dull and fearful way as everybody else. And I’ll explain the tricks you can use to become a bold and effective writer who stands apart from this background of blather — a writer who gets results. Whether it’s an email to your colleagues, a blog post for your small business, or a report for your company, you need these tools.

You’ll learn how to rip out the jargon and replace it with plain, provocative language. You’ll get the detail behind my ten top writing tips that hundreds of thousands have shared online, from busting pusillanimous passives to crafting first sentences that get people to sit up and take notice. You’ll master the brutal but necessary art of editing yourself. And I’ll show you how to write boldly even when you are afraid.

I know what I’m talking about. For three decades I’ve been developing powerful ideas and writing bold content that motivates readers to action. I’ve taught hundreds of bright thinkers how make their writing stand out. I’d like to do the same for you.

Let’s show the bullshitters we get things done.

Table of Contents

1. Why writing without bullshit matters

I hate bullshit, because it destroys our ability to get things done. It pollutes our world with meaningless drivel, interferes with clear communication, and leaves everyone depressed. But it’s curable. It’s a matter of attitude, process, and skill. To master these, you must understand why bullshit happens and how we all became immersed in it.

  • Why I hate bullshit
  • How word pollution kills productivity, energy, and trust
  • Sturgeon’s Law: Why 90% of everything is crap
  • Why there is so much more bullshit now
  • Everything you learned about writing was wrong
  • The iron imperative: do not waste the reader’s time
  • How writing without bullshit helps your career

2. How to write without bullshit

There are plenty of folks happy to tell you how to write better, just as any doctor will tell you to “eat right and exercise.” But changing your writing (or eating) habits only happens when you understand why you do what you do. I can help you with that. And I can tell you the key things you need to work on to make your writing clear, direct, and powerful.

  • The psychology of writing: why you write bullshit
  • How to write boldly when you are afraid
  • You had me at “hello”: titles, leads, and summaries
  • Eliminate the most pernicious habit: passive voice
  • Avoid the trap of weasel words
  • Root out jargon: the native language of the bullshitter
  • Write shorter: the brutal art of editing yourself
  • Shorter sentences make happier readers
  • How to tell the truth with statistics
  • The power of simple pronouns: “I,” “we,” and “you”
  • Leave the hype for the hucksters

3. Change the way you write

Now that you know what you’re supposed to do, can you actually write this way? Not if you stick with your old habits and processes. You’re going need to think differently about generating ideas, defining the stages in your writing, and especially, about editing.

  • Give yourself permission to be creative
  • The systematic approach to idea development
  • Finding writing flow on purpose
  • The four questions to ask before writing anything: readers, objectives, action, impression
  • Collaborating without tears
  • The essential value of editors

4. Apply “without bullshit” principles to your everyday work

Every day you are a reader, and most days you are a writer. The principles of writing without bullshit apply to everything you type, from emails and blog posts to press releases and reports. Here’s how to write without bullshit every day.

  • Recognizing bullshit in what you read
  • Business emails that get stuff done
  • Marketing emails that generate sales
  • Blog posts, Facebook posts, and tweets that make you look smart
  • Web copy that makes people want to work with you
  • Press releases that escape the ordinary
  • Reports that captivate readers and make people smarter

5. A world without bullshit

Now that you know what bullshit is and how to avoid it, you can stand out. Your writing will be better, and people will think of you differently. You’ll be known as a bold thinker and a person who commands powerful ideas. Here’s how to create that change with your writing.

  • How to spread the “without bullshit” message to your colleagues, your department, and your company
  • How writing without bullshit could change the world.


So, would you buy it? What needs to be different, or better, to make this as strong as possible? I’d love to hear from you.

Photo: Ray Bernoff

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  1. Definitely would buy. I am always looking for resources to help clients and help myself. Love that the title and tone are a little “in your face.”

  2. Josh, I will buy your book because it is a secret weapon in this world of puff and fluff, especially on the web. I want it. I want it now. Hurry up and write it! Need beta readers? I’m a good one, trained as a lawyer and a coach.

  3. I want to buy copies of this book for everyone in my marketing department. I don’t write much bullshit, I’m proud to say, but it’s an uphill battle to edit out other folks’ bullshit around here. It would be great as an external, unbiased source to explain “why I took a machete to your stream of golden words.”

    Suggestion: Remove the comma in the TOC, item 1, sentence 1.
    It’s stronger without it. “I hate bullshit because it destroys our ability to get things done.”

  4. I love your blog and I would definitely buy your book. Your explanations and examples of fixing the passive voice are perfect. The only problem I have is that I would love to refer you to my co-workers, but in a corporate setting I can’t get away with recommending something filled with the word “bullshit.”

    I have found a few ways to direct the less squeamish (and the non-HR people) to your site. I just wish I could recommend (and buy) your book and send it to all the writers at our company. Meanwhile, I love what you do and hope you publish this book. I can at least buy it for us three foul-mouthed editors. 🙂

    1. I agree very much! The word “bullshit” is coarse, to say the least. Not only that, the title is in the negative sense. Maybe you might say, “Writing for Extreme Effectiveness”, or something like that.

  5. I would buy it. As a fledgling freelancer, I could use help improving my dry, technical writing. Your top 10 tips have already helped.

  6. I would definitely buy this book. I like your writing. I like the way you have this laid out. And I’m aspiring writer myself.

  7. Good stuff. But I’m kind of sorry to see the most important thing buried halfway through chapter 3: the four questions. Who’s my reader? What do I want to say to them? What do I want them to do? What impression do I want to make?

    Get your reader to focus on those questions, and most of the rest will snap into focus. In fact, much of what you say might not even need to be said. Which could make your book very short. Faced with that problem, most writers would just add some bullshit to pad the page count. Guess that’s out of the question, huh? 😉

  8. I’m afraid that once I would have read the book I would see “bullshit” everywhere and go crazy.

    How about a sixth chapter: A world _with_ bullshit. How to live in a world where everyone has not yet adopted what the book teaches.

  9. Hey Josh,

    Looks like a great start.

    The reason that I love your blog is because of your perspective as an analyst. You have decades of experience learning how to read the curve balls, fast balls, and sliders that companies have tried to blow by you. Your experience in getting to the core message is in your wheelhouse.

    What makes you different is your perspective as the professional influencer who must wade through polished turds to find the real story. You are trying to help them understand that cutting to the chase makes it easier for influencers to arrive at more accurate conclusions quickly. Essentially, PR with no tears. 🙂

    So, when I look at this outline, I wanna see that JB perspective. I see some, but other parts are sounding a bit familiar. For example, I see a lot of “Everybody Writes” by Ann Handley. Of course, your tone is much more aggressive than Ann’s (that’s what I want in a JB book!), but the structure is essentially the same. In addition, there’s a plethora of content marketing books that describe what companies “should” be creating–one even has “Bullshit” in the title: “No Bullshit Social Media: The All-business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing” by Jason Falls and Erik Deckers (2011).

    You have a unique perspective and a very distinctive voice. This outline is a great start. My recommendation is to cut the stuff that others have covered, add the unique ideas from your wheelhouse, and then deliver them with the straight-shooting, non-bullshitting voice that we’ve come to expect.


    1. I appreciate the kind words, Ron. It’s a fascinating perspective.

      I chose this path because I think there are far more regular business communicators in the world than people analyzing technology press releases. I am aiming for the bigger market.

      More than that, I am passionate about great writing and want to spread the message to as many workers as possible. I may not eliminate bullshit from the world, but I can certainly put a dent in it and raise awareness. With this blog, I’ve already stirred a potential army of bullshit haters and bullshit spotters.

      My book has very little overlap with Jason Falls’ book. As for Ann, I am very much a supporter of what she explains. But I think I have more to offer, in revealing the psychology that drives us all to bullshit. And from an attitude perspective, I think Ann lives on the sunny side of the street. I’m willing to go to the dark side, and that should be fun.

      Maybe what you’ve suggested is the plan for my next book. For now, though, I’m remaining on the path that I’ve chosen.

  10. I’d buy it for the same reason I read your blog every day. The one thing that caught my critic’s eye were the titles for chapters 2 and three. When you read the bullets you realize how they are different, but the titles ‘How to . . ‘ and ‘change the way you . . . ‘ seem too similar to me.

  11. This is your fanbase Josh. Certainly we will buy your book.
    I will buy the book even if, using the ‘fresh fish’ principle, you edit it down to one chapter.
    Please leave some juicy typos.

  12. Shame.

    Seriously, can’t wait to read it. I’m sure it will make a great gift for my friends, unless it’s digital only – hard to gift wrap.

    Many purchase decisions are based on judging a book by it’s cover, so giving us artists and designers much fun. Getting your publishers to have you well covered, will increase sales and give you pleasure whenever you look at your book.

  13. I would definitely buy this book. And if I worked for a publishing company that gave huge advances (the one I work for doesn’t, sadly), I’d be vying to buy your book RIGHT NOW. If this is well received, would you consider making a teacher’s edition? I would love to see how you’d advise writing teachers–or even college professors, high school/middle school teachers–how to get their students to stop writing bullshit.

  14. I teach college writing and composition courses… and sections SPECIFICALLY for business students (Learning Communities tied to various business classes for freshmen and sophomores). Look forward to checking out your book. If you want to test drive/ beta test activities or content with actual students starting off their business-related careers, let me know at my email. Putting together my syllabus right this moment and first activity…surprise…studying the press release (models, case studies) vs creating a cover letter (active learning assignment 1).

  15. I would totally buy a book about writing from you. Just don’t make it too short. I HATE “how too” books that are 50-100 pages long, expecting me to pay 5 bucks in a kindle version. 50-100 page books tend to be curated blog posts, organized in a book form. Fuck that. My thinking is: If some one can’t provide 200 pages or more of primium content that reads with more depth than standard blog posts: Then you’re not qualified to be writing about the topic

  16. Would I buy the book? Yes. I heard you on the six pixels podcast and came here hoping to buy a copy. Will keep looking….

  17. 1. I don’t like the crude title. A writer that descends to crudeness does not have an adequate command of his or her vocabulary.
    2. You need to define your crude and vague term first. And don’t give me the “I know it when I see it” avoidance tactic. How are you differentiating between white lies, deep fakes, honest (and dishonest) errors, biases, assumptions, and deceptive lies behind statistics?
    3. The impression I’m getting from your title is that you want to screen information that you don’t like–but I don’t think you really want to give that impression.

    1. My definition of bullshit, in the first chapter of the book, is any form of writing that wastes the reader’s time by failing to communicate clearly and accurately — such as jargon, passive voice, and weasel words. It has nothing to do with lies and biases, nor does it have to do with screening information I don’t like. It’s an unconventional definition, but one that has little to do with politics.

      The “impression” you are getting is generated completely in your own mind.