Writing for social impact
Writing a book is a big task. Nate shares his process to write and edit his book, from start to finish.
Nate Birt is a communications consultant who helps organizations with social impact communication. Nate recently published 7 Secrets of Highly Effective Social Impact Communicators, about communication strategies. We asked Nate about the process to write his book.
Let's start with an introduction. Who are you, and what do you do?
I work in industries including agriculture, conservation, construction, energy, finance, food, forestry, logistics, media, and transportation.
I help executives develop clarity, confidence, and targeted action plans for implementing their top communication and fundraising priorities. Unlike most communication consultants, I bring a $45-million-plus fundraising track record, and deep experience leading multi stakeholder partnerships involving businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies. My clients grow their financial potential and accelerate communication strategy following my fun and well-organized framework of coaching, action-planning, and implementation support.
You recently published a new book. What is your book about?
My book is titled 7 Secrets of Highly Effective Social Impact Communicators: How to Grow Your Influence to Solve Society's Most Pressing Challenges. The premise of the book is that every modern leader trying to tackle our thorniest societal problems needs a framework—a framework most of us are inventing as we go along.
Essentially, I’ve taken the framework that’s served me and other leaders I admire extremely well and put it to writing. It’s not the end all be all—this work evolves rapidly on a daily basis—but it basically pays tribute to the incredible work of change theory, journalism, marketing and other disciplines. Then it says, “And here’s what the modern social impact communicator needs to be doing to develop the right mindset and practices across the organization to effect positive, long-lasting change.”
Why did you write the book?
As I share in the opening to the book, I wrote this for two key reasons:
- This is a skill set every leader who communicates at any level of an organization needs to learn and implement to remain relevant and insanely attractive to talent while doing the good things they promise.
- It helped me articulate what I do—and what other communicators like me do—so colleagues and partners have a deeper appreciation of one another’s skills and strengths.
Social impact work is fundamentally work of the heart. It’s fully compatible with our brains and our pocketbooks, but it’s a heart-first approach that builds connections and mobilizes people to voluntarily want to take action to make a difference in the world.
What can technical communicators learn from your book?
First, I quote several experts who are doing this type of communication work everyday; I found it especially insightful to learn from them, and I think your readers will, too.
Second, I highly recommend the chapter on translational communication (though all of them feel like family at this point). It’s a valuable skill in a world where previously siloed functions of an organization are busting down walls and finding innovative ways to work together to address the climate, improve racial equity, and so on—all without a roadmap.
What tools or technologies did you use to write the book?
So I wrote the book in Microsoft Word. My business coach, Ed Gandia, is a nationally published author who advised me (on the recommendation of another trusted author) to write in 4-point font. This circumvents the tendency to edit while you write. I must say, all that squinting paid off because I made it through the manuscript and through to publication in about 8 months. Thanks, Ed!
My writing approach is admittedly pretty low tech, but it was absolutely critical for keeping track of word counts and staying motivated to get the book written!
Post-publication, I’m using the reMarkable tablet for my next book project and it’s blowing my mind in the best way possible because I can use a stylus to write by hand for journaling and reflection or the Keyboard folio when I’m in the mood to type and produce content faster before I have time to second-guess myself.
What was the edit process like? How did you review edits and suggestions from your editor?
My publisher is Apress, and my awesome senior acquisitions editor, Shiva Ramachandran, guided me through the whole process along with her team. Honestly, it was better and more rewarding than I could have possibly dreamed.
We met initially via email after I submitted my book proposal. Soon after, her team decided to pursue the project and we hopped on a video call to talk through next steps. Once I had drafted and edited my chapters pretty extensively, I placed them in Google Docs.
From there, my publisher worked with my amazing technical reviewer, Amy Skoczlas Cole, so she could give me content-focused feedback to improve the material for a professional audience. I incorporated and responded to those changes, after which the chapters went to my publisher’s editorial team.
In the final review, I used my publisher’s proprietary review platform, which flagged specific questions or proposed edits that I could review, respond to, and accept.
Nate Birt is the founder of Silver Maple Strategies, a communication consulting company primarily serving executives whose work advances environmental stewardship and mitigates risks associated with climate change.
Thank you to Nate for this interview about writing a book. 7 Secrets published in late October 2023 and is available wherever books are sold, or direct from the publisher.