Cover croppedE-books (short, illustration-rich explainers of complex concepts) can be good or they can be trite. Too much dense copy and they become as hard to read as the worst white paper. Too little copy, or a too-cute theme, and they turn off serious buyers.

Sonatype, in my opinion, hit the sweet spot with their promo pamphlet “Go fast. Be Secure.”  While I picked up a paper copy at the MIT Sloan CIO Summit last week, it’s crying out for re-purposing as an ebook.

It uses a medieval type face and “knights in shining armor” theme to explain how Sonatype’s  software automatically ensures that Java code from the global open source community (rather than from commercial software vendors) won’t pose a security threat to corporate developers.

Short and Sweet

They had me on the cover page with a concise value statement. “Go fast. Be Secure.” The subhead explains: “A true story of how Development and Security came together to fix the risk in open source.” Note the short, direct sentences. (One quibble: Using present tense would emphasize this is a service available now, not something that happened in the past.)

Keep reading and you see big, clear pictures and a maximum of about two dozen words per page, in large type for easy reading. The words are carefully chosen for maximum impact, without redundant background or jargon. “Development wanted to GO FAST. But Security wanted to slow down and BE SAFE.” I like that the wording is specific enough that CCF05252013_00002experts in software development “get it” but even an outsider (like a CFO or CEO) can get the general drift. And the illustrations reinforce, rather than confuse, the message.

About four pages in, the e-book introduces technical concepts and the pain point they solve. “Code became like Legos™ – applications easily assembled from thousands of freely available parts. Developers ran even FASTER and Security found it even harder to SECURE.”  Note there’s only one concept introduced per page, and not a word is wasted.

A few pages on they describe the answer: “Bringing SECURITY and SPEED together by building component intelligence and governance in from the START…using all the tools developers love to use today!” Again, the sentences are short, direct, and describe what’s new and better about their approach.

Halfway through the ebook they introduce their notion of “component lifecycle management.” This might turn a reader off as jargon if the vendor had led with it. Instead, they wait until they’ve described what type of components they’re talking about, what kind of lifecycle these components have and why those components need to be managed.

Ye Olde Mini Demo

The second half of the book is essentially a mini-demo of the service. There’s a standard format with a short, concise value proposition on the left (“AUTOMATE and enforce GOVERNANCE in the tools you use today”) and a screen shot CCF05252013_00001on the right. A one-sentence supplemental explainer sits under each screen shot.

One added benefit of the e-book format is that it makes these screen shots large enough to actually read — long a pet peeve of mine in conventional white papers and trade pubs.

Finally, at the end, there’s the call to action (a link to a free snapshot of the reader’s application vulnerabilities) and a “Learn more” page.

Looks Easy But It Ain’t

Creating an e-book this clear required, I would guess, a lot of gut-wrenching work behind the scenes. You need to:

  • Define very, very clearly the top two or three messages you need to convey.
  • Find a very, very clear and concise way to say them.
  • Choose your words carefully so you’re not speaking down to or confusing or reader.
  • Choose and execute a graphical theme that supports but doesn’t distract from your message.
Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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