“Smart Brevity” Book Review — Can it Help Improve Your Writing?
I’m not 100% sure when it was that I first heard about the site Axios. Regardless, these days, I’m subscribed to several of their newsletters, regularly visit their website, and may or may not have already taken some inspiration from them when revamping the news style of the Disney site I write for. For those unfamiliar, Axios is a news site with a unique hook that they call “smart brevity.” Not by coincidence, Smart Brevity is also the name of a recently-released book authored by the site’s founders that not only goes into the philosophy of smart brevity but also looks at how its principles can be applied to all sorts of writing. Seeing as I’ve been a fan of this style and have already somewhat bought into its powers, I decided to download the audiobook version of Smart Brevity: The Power of Saying More with Less.
First, true to the theme of the book, the runtime on the Audible edition was a short three hours, which was further reduced once I adjusted it to my preferred playback speed. That might make it sounds as though the book is skimping, yet I can’t really think of anything they’d add — and that’s exactly the point. Still, if you’re paying $17.50 (note: I must have purchased it on sale because it was $9.99 for me) for what’s basically a podcast-length book, you might raise an eyebrow.
Turning to the content of the book, the basic idea is that we as writers can communicate more effectively by boiling down what we want to say and highlighting what we want readers to take away from what we’re saying. While I think this inherently makes a lot of sense to many of us, to writers like myself, it can also be a bit scary. After all, as someone who loves Aaron Sorkin scripts, I’m attracted to “stylish” writing and the musicality of words. Yet, especially in today’s world, it’s important to realize that most people aren’t poring over your prose the way you intended. Instead, you really need to cut to the chase if you want people to pay attention — with Axios’s popularity proving that the model does, indeed, work.
Truth be told, the audiobook format might not have been the best option for a book like this where it relies a lot on supporting examples. Luckily, the download was accompanied by a PDF that highlights some key case studies. Apparently, readers can also try out what sounds like a free demo version of the company’s Axios HQ software — an AI-powered platform that offers suggestions on how to make your writing better to achieve smart brevity. I have yet to actually try this demo for myself (mostly because I know I’d fail) but plan on giving it a shot in the future.
While Axios is a news site, it’s also a company. Furthermore, as they explain, they’ve also been asked by major corporations to help them integrate smart brevity into their efforts. Because of this, beyond the implications for bloggers and journalists, the book also focuses heavily on how businesses can communicate with their employees. From subject lines to memos to meetings, there are plenty of examples how brevity can be beneficial to getting teams of people on the same page. Going back to bloggers, there are also plenty of tips for getting readers’ attention when posting on social media, which I think is something just about everyone can use help with.
Overall, I found that there were a lot of interesting ideas to be found in Smart Brevity: The Power of Saying More with Less. And while I might not be sure to implement them all into what I do now, I suspect other bloggers may be more receptive to the concept and be immediately inspired. However, in addition to what bloggers can learn from this book, it seems especially useful to those with newsletters that might be easier to adapt to this style. Additionally, those with businesses and teams will certainly want to take some of the pointers shared in regard to communications. All in all, as expected, Smart Brevity was an interesting listen and is a book I definitely plan on revisiting.