What I’m Reading

People often ask me what I’m reading or which books have made the most difference in helping me achieve my business goals. But I find that the categories of information I read are easily as important as the actual material that I read.

So here are my categories:

Business books – new

I try to read at least a couple of new business books each month. There’s a lot to keep up with, so I really on reviews from trade journals I respect to help me determine what’s truly worth reading. It’s very easy to game the system and get any book to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list for a few days. So be aware of that and don’t fall for the hype from “authors” who have bribed others to give them good reviews.

This week, my favorite new book is John Jantsch’s “The Commitment Engine”. I have an early review copy and this book, but it’s now widely available. Amazon has both the print and Kindle editions.

The book digs deep into why some businesses have tremendous commitment from their customers and employees, resulting in continuous growth, while other businesses never seem to get past the “feast or famine” stage.

One of the key points John makes is that it is not enough to just have passion for your business, regardless of how strong that passion is. And it’s not enough for just you to be committed to your business.

Your real goal is to generate commitment for your ideas, your values, your story, your products, your services, and your way of doing and being in all of the various groups of people that make up your businesses ecosystem.

And the book truly delivers on showing you exactly how to do this.

Business books – old

Each month, I try to review part or all of at least one book that I’ve found to be very valuable throughout my career. “Rework” by Jason Fried isn’t all that old. It was released in March, 2010, but I’ve read it at least 3 times. And I return to it regularly.

One of the founders of 37 Signals (maker of Basecamp and other software), Jason continuously hits home on rigorously making simplicity the driving force of your business. So many businesses try to be all things to all people or deliver dozens of different products and services. But “Rework” shows you in quick-paced, entertaining detail while focusing on less will nearly always get you more – and by that, I mean more of the results you want.

Industry trade journals

I find that it’s important to read industry trade journals on a regular basis because they pour through tons of information and distill it down to what’s most important for your industry. Since my industry is marketing and sales, here are some of the trade journals I regularly read (in no particular order).

MarketingProfs Today


SmartBrief on Small Business

Marketing Sherpa

Web Digest for Marketers

Inc. Magazine’s Small Business Success

One article you might enjoy (I did, but I’m biased on this one) is “19 Ideas for Growing Your Email List” which appeared in a recent edition of Marketing Profs Today. It was written by Hunter Boyle, who is the Senior Business Development Manager for AWeber. Hunter was kind enough to include me in the article, but aside from my bias, the content in this article is excellent.

You can find it here:


Fun stuff

I’m a big believer in reading purely for enjoyment as well as for business. So I focus on two categories that I find particularly pleasurable: photography and mysteries.

I’m an amateur bird photographer, so I’ll read just about anything on bird photography, nature photography and the broader categories of digital photography and photo processing software.

I’ve been at this for a bit over two years now. Here’s an example of a photograph I recently took at a beach near my house. It’s a Long-billed Curlew landing on the sand.

As for mysteries, I love a great crime thriller. Probably the best mystery I’ve read in the last 5 years is “Stone’s Fall” by Iain Pears. It’s a sweeping epic and physically huge, clocking in at 596 pages of small type. Complex and brilliantly constructed, it boggles my mind that anyone could ever conceive of a plot of this complexity and have it all hold together.

Now, the reason I like to have a few books in this Fun Stuff category going at all times is that if you love to read like I do, you need things to read that are a departure from your daily business. The last thing I want to do is read a business book or industry trade journal right before I go to bed. Because if I do, my mind immediately kicks into work mode and I know I won’t get a good night’s sleep.

Similarly, I can’t remember the last time I read business material on vacation. When I’m on vacation, I want to relax and recharge. So the only thing I’m interested in reading is the Fun Stuff.

Final category – what NOT to read (and what I replace it with)

There’s one more category that I find critical, and that’s what NOT to read (or listen to). Right now, we’re in the middle of an ugly political campaign here in the U.S. The coverage of the campaign, particularly on partisan cable outlets, is toxic.

So one thing I avoid is any reading or listening to the news two hours after I wake up and two hours before going to bed.

I avoid toxic news in the morning because I want to start my day off in a positive, productive mood. I don’t need all the doom, gloom and nastiness tainting my positive outlook. And because this type of news is designed to upset and scare people (in order to attract more viewers), I avoid it before going to bed as well.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do keep current on the news. But I do this primarily by browsing the major news outlet web sites a couple times a day for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. That’s all it really takes to keep current – and I look at both the liberal and conservative news outlets so I get balanced exposure to each “version” of the news.

My morning reading

Here’s what I do instead of reading the news in the morning.

I like to spend about half an hour in the morning reading and having a cup of tea. But instead of reading toxic news, I read the comics, the sports page and the gossip page!

I read the comics for the pure pleasure of it – and it helps put me in a positive mood to start my day with. I read the sports partially because I’m a fan, but also because sports reflect a certain aspect of the culture. And if you’re going to be a successful marketer, it’s critical that you fully understand the culture you’re operating in.

For that same reason, I read the gossip page. It’s an excellent view into what’s currently going on in our culture. And understanding what people find entertaining can only help in making you a better, more effective marketer.

So what are YOU reading?

Feel free to let me know what you’re reading – or share your own experience with this topic – by leaving your comment below.

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3 Responses to What I’m Reading

  1. frank says:

    I enjoy reading a chapter from the Bible before i go to sleep at night.
    It is Calming & RELAXING.

    I also enjoy reading everything you post Bob!

  2. Hunter Boyle says:

    Hey Bob,

    Thanks very much for the inclusion. I really like the list (use those same sources myself) and will check out the new Jantsch book. I follow a similar routine as far as filtering TV news (and most TV, really) but I end up with my nose in magazines more than fun books lately.

    A few biz books I’m currently juggling are: Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing (Jason Falls & DJ Waldow), The Lean Startup (Eric Reis), Book of Business Awesome (Scott Stratten) and Website Optimization An Hour A Day (Rich Page). I’ll likely be blogging about them, so I’ve got my work cut out for me. I’ll keep you posted!

    Cheers — Hunter

    P.S. Didn’t know about the bird photography. That’s a cool shot up there. Where can I see more of your images?

    • Bob Serling says:

      Hey Hunter,

      Great recommendations – thanks! I’ll definitely check a few out. And fortunately for the civilized world, my pictures are only stored on my computer for now. One of these days, I have to get them up on SmugMug.



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