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:
- Writing and publishing a book is a personal and unique journey. Like snowflakes, no two projects are alike.
- Self publishing is like being the CEO of your own personal publishing company: you have the responsibility and freedom to make every decision.
- 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.
- 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.
- Remove your ego. Every book is going to receive some criticism. Enter into the process knowing that your writing will not please everyone.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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