Call it a business card, a resume, a billboard, or whatever you choose, but the short of it is that books are no longer just books. They are branding devices and credibility signals. Publishing a book is less about sales and much more about creating a brand. The real customers of books are no longer just readers but now include speaking agents, CEOs, clients and investors. Publishing a business or self-help book is now considered a crucial part of the small business platform, much like having a website used to be.
Time to write a book
It is time to write your book:
- If you are on a mission to tell the world something important, it’s time to write a book.
- If you have a unique idea or take on solving a genuine problem, then writing a book will enable you to stake a claim to this unique information and even protect your intellectual property.
- A published book is a very tangible piece of evidence that you said what you’re saying first. The first step in your journey to writing your business or self-help book is to develop a winning idea that will be worth all the work you are going to put into this project.
- There is nothing like having authored a book to accentuate your credentials as a thought leader and authority in your market.
Writing a book is an experience
Writing a book is a tremendous experience. It pays off intellectually. It clarifies your thinking. It builds credibility. It is a living engine of marketing and idea spreading, working every day to deliver your message with authority. You should write one.
Writing a book is content marketing
It is pure content marketing. When an entrepreneur crafts their knowledge and processes into book form, they reach an audience that they would never have the time or opportunity to contact personally. Their book becomes their ambassador, working 24/7 to spread their name and expertise.
Start with why
Before you start looking at how you can write your business or self-help book, you should first ask why you want to write it. Writing a book isn’t for everyone. Writing is hard work, not magic. It begins with deciding why you are writing and whom you are writing for. What is your intent? What do you want the reader to get out of it? What do you want to get out of it? It’s also about making a serious time commitment and getting the project done. To help you with the “why?”, I developed a checklist which you can download here.
The authors use AUTHOR as the frame. Attention, understand, trust, help, original and reaction. Marketing, problem, solution, credibility, differentiation or not-to-copy and sales. Effectively a business plan or pitch for your book. That should always be the starting point. The same language I use with my business clients. Niche market, though leadership, reputation management, value proposition, positioning, competitive analysis, money and magic. Defining the enemy. Making clear what you are not. Reader persona. Buyer persona. Future trends. Where do you see yourself five or ten years in the future? It is never about the book. It is always about what you want to achieve with the book.
Don’t write before the plan
Only then should you start writing. If you have already written something, you can submit it here, and I will be happy to give you feedback. The authors suggest four steps to planning your book. I have three.
Your book cover – front and back – and the introduction, which is what people will turn to first, whether they are physically holding it or ‘Looking Inside’ online, must talk about the benefits to them first, and the features only where necessary. Your business or self-help book must present you as the expert they need to listen to, and it must have a call to action. That is in effect your sales pitch.
Mapping or outline
Map out your entire book so you can see any gaps in the overall content and make certain you’re not missing anything important. Get a massive sheet of paper or loads of squares of scrap paper and a big table. Map out your main big picture themes and topics first. For each main topic, add sub-topics. Optionally, for each sub-topic, map out any tertiary level topics. These are often just keywords to enable you to further split the subject down into manageable chunks for your audience. Map out your book so that you know how many chapters it will contain and all the pieces of information you require.
Structure is everything
It is your business or self-help book blueprint. Take it from me. The structure is everything. The more effort you put into planning and structuring, the easier it will be to write your book in the end.
Know how many words you’re aiming for and work out how many words each chapter should contain, on average, to create the whole book. The average business or self-help book is under 40,000 words. We would advise you to think in terms of 30,000 to 40,000 words. Some self-help books can be dense but brief, between 20,000 and 30,000 words. Less than 20,000 words, though, makes for a very slim book or very large typeface.
Writing your book
My experience with clients is that writing is much harder than expected. It should be part of you 100-day plan, word count should be your metric, and you need to make writing (including research, interviews and pre-selling) a key process you do every day before you do anything else (that includes opening e-mails). 40,000 words in 100 days are 400 words per day. And then never give up. Most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in. Always write as yourself.
Think about your writing style and core voice. Here are few voice characteristics you might want to adopt or avoid: Opinionated, Ranting, Cheeky, Jocular, Serious, Authoritative, Inclusive, Instructive, Supportive, Aggressive, Tough, Soft, Friendly, Energetic, Calm, Considered, Balanced, Nice, Self-Deprecating, Persuasive, Excited, Humorous, Encouraging, Optimistic, Pessimistic, Sceptical…
When you first start writing, stamina may be an issue, and if you can’t focus for long periods, your narrative may falter too. The only answer to this is to treat writing as you might an exercise programme: schedule regular short sessions at first, write what comes easily, and slowly build up the quantity and quality of your output.
- Go on an information diet. If your book requires a research phase, you should do this before you start writing.
- Use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English. It is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep.
- ‘Be kind to your readers’. It’s in your interest for readers to enjoy reading your book and not to feel as though it’s hard work to understand or an uphill battle to get through.
- Do your reader a favour by keeping it crystal clear and by not assuming they have your level of knowledge – they are reading your book precisely because they do not, so make sure your points are easy to understand.
- Good metaphors are emotive because the comparison is so much more dramatic than any amount of literal reasoning could be.
- Avoid clichés like the plague ‘Be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else.’
- Know your daily and monthly word count targets. Write one word at a time.
- Know your deadline. Work backwards from your deadline and count how many days you have available.
- An average of 1,000 words per hour is reasonable when working through a first draft (without revising or improving) from your detailed book structure.
- Clear your head. That is based on Maxwell Maltz’s advice in his classic book Psycho-Cybernetics. If you’ve got other stuff on your mind while you’re trying to write your book, then you’ll be trying to do two things at once.
- If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem.
- Rest and reboot Some authors swear by the efficacy of a session of vigorous exercise to divert them for sufficient time, and get their re-oxygenated brains firing again.
Six stages of writing
The authors use WRITER. Writing, review, improve, test, edit, repeat as a sequence. WRITER and AUTHOR. Get it?
Start writing first, and work from your book plan, get your words out onto the page. Fill out everything in your structure with all the content you can bring to it. Do not review until you have your first full draft. You can write your book like a series of articles, or you can write your book chapter by chapter.
Don’t mistake this step for proof-reading; reviewing is looking through your book with the perspective of a reader rather than a writer. The questions to ask are:
- Have you used the simplest word?
- Is every word necessary?
- Are your verbs active and direct?
- Can you cut out adverbs, adjectives and qualifiers?
Go back to your electronic manuscript and work through your book a chapter at a time, using your hard copy Review notes, to add, remove, re-order or sharpen up content.
It’s time to get some feedback on your improved first draft. Ask no more than six trusted colleagues, clients, authors or anyone who falls within the potential market of your book, to read and give you honest feedback. Both positive and developmental.
Process all the suggestions made by your ‘beta readers’ and decide which to implement.
Repeat steps 4 and 5 as often as necessary.
The book has some useful quotes about writer’s block from famous others. Personally, I do not think it exists. It is a lack of discipline.
- Get started ‘You don’t need to wait for inspiration to write. It’s easier to be inspired while writing than while not writing.
- Prescription for writer’s block: begin.
- Write. Write anything. ‘The beautiful part of writing is you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.
- Write it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you’ll do anything good.
- Keep writing. ‘A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.’
The book ends with their own checklist, covering market, big idea, impact, style, endorsement, your reputation, competition and launch platform. Bringing it back to a business plan. Start with the commercial plan. Spend a lot of time on the structure. Develop a pitch deck for your book. Only then start writing. And remember that writing a book is a tremendous experience. It pays off intellectually. It clarifies your thinking. It builds credibility. It is a living engine of marketing and idea spreading, working every day to deliver your message with authority. You should write one. It did me a world of good.