What We Learned Along the Way – 10 Tips to Writing Your Own Book
Newt and I learned quite a bit on this book-writing journey. So much, that we wanted to share a few of our key points with you as we started and completed Get Content. Get Customers.
So here goes…my eleven key steps to writing and publishing a book when you have absolutely no time to write or publish a book. Even executing a handful of these recommendations will help you get closer to your book publishing dream. Remember…keep your goals in mind. A book can do far more for your business or career than you realize.
- Find a Co-Author. This may not seem like a sound strategy to most, but finding another body takes 50% of the workload from you. When Newt and I first spoke about the book last summer, we were actually both in the process of starting our own individual books. As our conversation continued, it seemed obvious that our topics were so similar that it might make sense to team up.A couple notes if you decide to go this direction. First, pick someone who has a vested interest in your customer base or industry, but is not competitive. Newt and I are both entrepreneurs and own marketing consultancies, but the type of work we do is different enough that there were no competitive issues. Second, make sure you trust that person with your life. Newt and I worked together at Penton Media, Inc. for years and were friends, so no issue there. But, even with that, we created a thorough partnership agreement through my attorney. Even family members split sometimes, so we wanted to make sure that if some issue arose that we differed on, the agreement spelled out a solution.The final point to the co-author arrangement is that we both had expertise in different areas, which really helped. Newt was much better than I at interviewing and case studies, while I was a bit more proficient on the industry and research behind branded content and custom publishing (which we call content marketing). Once we completed the table of contents, we could both work on our areas independently, hit key dates, and continue to always more forward.
- Keep and Adhere to a Production Schedule. To be honest, our goal was to release the book in March of 2008. Didn’t happen. But we were always true to our production schedule. Even though we kept moving the dates back, the important part was that we kept dates. As you may be aware, most people that start writing a book never finish it. Part of the reason may be that there are no hard dates to keep their eye on. I have a big white board in my office with the key book dates written in blue marker. Every morning I would see those dates. Makes a difference.
- Before You Start, Create the Table of Contents. Creating the table of contents for your book is like your business plan. Understand full well that the original table of contents you create will look nothing like what you end up with, but you need the TOC in order to start and finish the book. I believe we had four or five significantly different TOCs by the time we finished. We even reworked the entire order of the book after our initial reviewers gave their feedback.Here’s the real importance of the table of contents: if you just start writing, how will you know if you are making progress. If you write 100 pages, is that almost all of the book or 25% of the book? How do you know when to stop and move to the next section? Seems obvious, but I know quite a few people that just started to write with no idea where they were going. Needless to say, those people still have not completed their book, and they most likely never will.
- Work the Financials and Publishing Plan from the Beginning. Newt and I had the budget complete, and were well into finalizing the self-publishing details with our partner, Lightning Source, within the first month. We received quotes for the design, the copy writing, knew what our break even point would be, and both agreed to the financial terms. But more than anything, it made the process real and manageable. Writing a book is such a labor-intensive project, that you need as many tangible things as possible to keep you going.
- Find a Review Team and a Great Copywriter. The book draft was sent to two people, Mike Azzara and David Drickhamer. They were simply fantastic. Their feedback uncovered some key gaps in our methodology. We were able to develop a much better book with their honest expert opinion. Also, our copy writer, Lisa Murton Beets, is one of the best. She really brought it all together. So don’t think that you can write a book completely sheltered from the outside world. Find a team of reviewers and a copy writer that you can trust. Makes all the difference in the world.
- Expert reviewers help you qualify and pitch the book…use them. We approached a number of marketing and publishing experts in the field for book reviews. This does two things. First, you’ll know if you have a bad book if they don’t want to give you a review. Fortunately, all but one of our reviewers made the date in time for publishing. The team included the father of integrated marketing Don Schultz, bestselling author David Meerman Scott, digital expert and author Rohit Bhargava, Mr. Magazine Samir Husni, leading marketing blogger Greg Verdino, post-advertising expert Simon Kelly, and the copyblogger himself, Brian Clark. Second, the “praise for” section of your book is a wonderful way to market the product. I don’t know about you, but I almost always read the testimonials before purchasing a book. They’re priceless. We were overwhelmed with their reviews, and will be leveraging them for our marketing efforts.
- Develop a System to Write during Off-Hours. If you have a real job and are not a full-time author, writing during the day is almost impossible. Most of my writing was done between 10pm and 2am. Find what time suits you best, but probably not during regular work hours.
- Tell People You Are Writing a Book. This keeps you honest. Tell as many people as you can. They will start to ask you how the book is going (especially to see if you are one of those people who never finish a book). Use this as motivation to actually complete your book. There’s nothing better than showing a copy of your book to friends when many of them never thought you could do it. Ha.
- Determine a Core Selling Strategy (If You Can) Before You Start Writing. Part of our strategy was to sell bulk copies to custom publishers and other organizations who would benefit from giving the book to their customers. Upfront bulk sales to other businesses may be a lot easier for you than selling individual copies. Using both would be the ultimate goal, but if one falls through you have the other. Minimizes risk. Find a strategy that makes sense to you so you can get off the ground running. Doing it from the start gives you a good focus on who your core audience should be.
- Stop Somewhere and Realize that Perfection Is Unattainable. We could have kept writing the book forever if we wanted to. At some point, you have to draw a line in the sand and publish it. As soon as you finish it there will be some new research, some new story, or some new perspective that you should have covered.Don’t worry about it…just use it for your next book.
- BONUS ADDITION – From Rohit Bhargava – Start Blogging First. “The benefit of being a blogger before writing a book is that my writing was “in shape” when I started my book. As a result, I feel like I was able to write much faster and make my points much more quickly. For anyone considering writing a book, I would highly suggest starting to blog at the very least so that you can start to flex your writing muscles in a consistent way. And you get the side benefit of starting to build your platform online too.”
Remember, books can be one of the most powerful forms of content marketing. Use it to your advantage. And, as a good friend of mine once said, “Handing a book to your client or prospect is the greatest business card ever created.” Good luck with yours.