Writing A Business Or Self-Help Book? Ask Yourself These Four Questions.

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Writing and publishing a book is an important goal for many business people, but book writing isn’t for everyone. If you’re thinking of writing a business or self-help book — or ANY book — you should establish answers to these four questions.

Writing and publishing a book is an important goal for many business people, and it’s no secret why. Publishing a successful and well-written book can raise your visibility and garner positive media coverage for you and your company, product, or service. A book lends authority and credibility and can even tangibly help your business by serving as a tool for recruitment and sales. In this sense, a published book is like the ultimate business card.

But those of you in business with literary aspirations would be wise to consider this fact: book writing isn’t for everyone. In fact, if you’re thinking about writing and publishing a book, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions before you dive into the process, just to ensure you’re not setting yourself up for failure or disappointment.

Why are you writing a book?

If you answered, “To make lots of money,” you may want to reconsider. The chances of getting rich by publishing a book are extremely slim. A vast majority of writers who publish books through traditional means barely break even on their advance — which, most of the time, is a loan, not a payment — and the indie market is notoriously competitive. Only a handful of books, published either independently or traditionally, make meaningful amounts of money from sales — a low number considering that thousands of books are published each year.

It’s better, instead, if your aim is smaller and more measurable, like booking podcasts and speaking engagements or attracting a handful of qualified clients.

That said, just like other authors, CEOs and business people write for a variety of different reasons. Some write to advance a social cause, often the case with retired executives embracing an opportunity to focus their time on an issue that resonates with them. Others write purely to provide value for the reader. Jack Welch, who ran General Electric from 1981 to 2001, shared the history of his time at the helm in his book, Straight From The Gut, offering remarkable insight in the process. Howard D. Schultz, chairman and CEO of Starbucks, designed his book, Pour Your Heart Into It, as something of a textbook for aspiring CEOs.

One thing these CEOs have in common is that they had worked out exactly why they wanted to write a book before they started. This is key, as it allows you to purposefully identify what you’re working toward and whether that goal is realistic and worth pursuing.

Why are you the best person to write this book?

This question is equally important as the last. It essentially amounts to a marketing question: What makes you the most compelling and marketable author for this topic or idea?

Are you an expert on this topic? Have you conducted interesting and essential research on it? Are you telling a story that you’re passionate about? You’re more likely to write an engaging book that you can effectively promote if you are.

Will you be totally unable to write an intriguing or compelling book if you’re not an expert on the subject or if you’re not passionate about the topic? Not necessarily. But writing books is difficult and this level of interest or insight will make the process easier. It will also increase your credibility with readers and make your story more relatable.

Are you prepared for the writing process?

Many would-be authors underestimate exactly how hard writing a book is. There are a variety of challenges, including:

Time. Writing is a skill developed through daily practice and diligence. To write a book, you’ll need to write multiple days a week, multiple hours a day, for many months.

Humility. Many business people fancy themselves better writers than they actually are. Most good business leaders are great communicators, but communicating verbally or writing a great memo are not the same thing as writing a book.

Planning. Whether you’re writing a novel or a work of nonfiction, the effectiveness of your book-writing process hinges on planning. Many new authors just dive in, and this is a mistake. You need to outline, storyboard, and map out the logical trajectory of the story before you start writing — and this is hard. The first step is identifying your key ideas. When I wrote my book, The End, Now What?, I distilled the scope of the book to three key ideas that guided me throughout the writing process. They were:

  1. Writing and publishing a book is a personal and unique journey. Like snowflakes, no two projects are alike.
  2. Self publishing is like being the CEO of your own personal publishing company: you have the responsibility and freedom to make every decision.
  3. With every book there are six critical decision points that will determine its success.

How do you plan to publish this book?

The publishing logistics of your project are important to consider from the start. You need to decide if you’re going to try to publish through a traditional publishing house or if you’re going to go the self-publishing route through a company like BookBaby. If you’re planning to seek out a traditional publisher, you’ll need to take time to find an agent and write a book proposal. And you’ll need to be prepared to send out query letters and attend meetings before you write more than the first chapter or two. Plus, you have to research who you’re going to approach — which is a project in itself.

If you decide to go the self-publishing route, then you can go ahead and write your book today — but you’ll have lots more work to do on the back end. Make sure you’re familiar with the pros and cons of traditional versus self-publishing and that you’re prepared to be flexible — you may set out on one route and find the other is a better fit for you and your business.

Are you ready to do this?

Before you dive into the process of writing a book, ask yourself and seriously think about the questions outlined here. If, after critical self-reflection, you’ve determined that you are committed to writing a book, here are a few key pieces of advice to remember as you proceed through your journey.

  1. Commit to it. Writing a book is no different than preparing and executing on a product roadmap, except it’s your own personal product. Make this a business goal.
  2. Remove your ego. Every book is going to receive some criticism. Enter into the process knowing that your writing will not please everyone.
  3. Identify who your target audience is. Simply saying that your potential readers are “everyone” is a recipe for disastrous results. Visualize the people who will most benefit from your experience, words, and ideas.
  4. Don’t be afraid to get help. With writing, editing, design, publishing, or promotion — there’s value in hiring experienced pros to help you produce a great book.
  5. Don’t skimp on an editor. It’s the same advice I give every single author. Anyone publishing a book has a lot riding on the quality of the finished product, and the ROI on editing cannot be underestimated.

There’s more, of course, but this should give you a workable place to start. Are you ready to do this?

 

The End

 

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Steven Spatz is a writer, marketer, and the President of BookBaby, the nation’s leading self publishing services company. Spatz’s professional writing career began at age 13, paid by the word to bang out little league baseball game stories on an ancient manual typewriter for southern Oregon weekly newspapers. His journalism career continued after graduation from the University of Oregon at several daily newspapers in Oregon. When his family took over a direct marketing food business, Spatz redirected his writing and design skills into producing catalogs. The Pinnacle Orchards catalog was named "Best Food Catalog," received dozens of other national awards, and the business grew into one of the nation’s largest gourmet fruit gift businesses. After the company was sold, Spatz continued his direct marketing career with Fortune 500 companies including Mattel and Hasbro. He joined AVL Digital in 2004 to lead the direct-to-consumer marketing teams for music industry-leading brands Disc Makers, Oasis, and CD Baby. After serving as Chief Marketing Officer, Spatz was tapped to lead the company’s new publishing division in late 2014. In 2019, the AVL Digital Management team purchased the New Jersey brands, including BookBaby. The company is headquartered in Pennsauken, NJ (just outside Philadelphia, PA) and meets the printed book and eBook needs of thousands of self-publishing authors around the globe. Spatz lives in Glenside, PA with his two children, a demented cat, and some well-used bicycles. Steven loves to hear from authors, editors, and publishers in the BookBaby community with tales of publishing trials and triumphs. To tell him your story, write to steven@bookbaby.com.

6 COMMENTS

  1. My book is about my experience of being homeless, addicted, mental illness, physical abuse and obsessive behaviors. So why can’t I say my book is just about for everyone?

    • Agreed, most people on the planet will likely relate to your subjects in some way, and that’s not a bad thing; personally, I relate to all of them. As for the writing part, the clearer you are about all the above questions the easier the writing process. Are you telling your story to show what it’s like to people who haven’t experienced these things? Are you trying to reach out to people who are still in the midst of these challenges and give them hope? Are you writing to reflect on all you’ve learned on your journey? Do your goals include getting sympathy or a potential movie deal? You will both write and choose your options differently depending on your purpose.

  2. Great advice! See my book Write Right, Right Now for additional detailed info on same subject. Includes costs and legal issues faced by authors.

  3. HELLO BOOKBABY. I READ YOUR COMMENT ABOVE AND DECIDED TO WRITE TO YOU ABOUT WHAT I HAVE WRITTEN. IT IS NOT REALLY A BOOK AS MY SON AND BROTHER TELL ME, IT IS THE STORY OF WHAT HAPPENED TO ME IN MY LIFE. AS IT IS ONLY A NORMAL LIFE WITH NOTHING SPECTACULAR, IT WILL NOT SELL MANY BOOKS , IF ANY AT ALL. IT IS REALLY THE MISERABLE LIFE OF A WOMAN WHO NEVER HAD ANY CHILDREN-NEVER FOUND LOVE OR HAD ANY SEX LIFE-NEVER ENTERED INTO THE LIFE SHE REALLY WANTED BECAUSE SHE WAS TOO SCARED EVEN TO WALK ACROSS A BALLROOM FLOOR FOR PEOPLE TO STARE AT HER AND DID NOT HAVE THE GUTS.I AM NOW IN MY EIGHTY NINTH YEAR AND I STILL DO NOT HAVE THE GUTS, EVEN THOUGH IT IS ALL DYING TO COME OUT. SO I THINK I SHALL HAVE TO FORGET IT AND STAY IN MY LITTLE OWN APARTMENT UNTIL THE END WHICH I DO NOT THINK IS VERY FAR AWAY. GC

  4. From one octogenarian to another: I say write your heart out, Georgia Girl. More books are written by “normal” people than the well-known. I see your book on the store shelf already. . . it is about living a lifetime of fear until one day fear knocked on your door and no one answered . . . there was only the sound of a keyboard clicking away.
    In other words, do it while you’re still afraid and ignore the naysayers (your son and brother included).
    I wish we could collaborate, for I too was afraid to speak out for many years, the daughter of a loveless mother living in a 1930’s society that said a colored child wasn’t worth much. So, I proved them wrong—while still afraid! Today, at 84,I write one word at a time because I deserve it. And you do too. Write Georgia, write.

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