Do This Before You Write a Book
The decision to write a non-fiction book doesn’t always come at the most rational of moments. You have a huge idea, or you realise you’re great at something and want to share this with the world, or you just have an urge to write — something indefinable but persistent.
If you’re happy to write without any notion of reward or readership, that’s great, go ahead. But most experts in the process of becoming authors come to a realisation that there needs to be a monetary, or marketing benefit to all the effort spent putting these words on paper.
Write From The Heart…
Yes, it’s a joy, there’s no doubt. There’s a reward just in getting your message out, and in the pleasure of sharing what you know.
If writing a non-fiction book is more than a dream, if you’re committed and serious, then you have to think with your head as well as your heart.
…Plan From Your Head
Writing a non-fiction book is a practical business decision — a chance to stand out as an expert, get noticed, solidify your reputation, and bring you new clients and customers.
However, there many other things you could be doing and, at this point, you need to make sure your precious time and energy are being well spent. And you need to ask yourself some serious questions before you sit down to write if you want your book to be a success in all ways possible.
You need, basically, a checklist like the one below.
These eight questions are by no means the only questions you’ll have along your journey of writing and publishing a book, but it’s essential that you answer then now, before you start to plan and write your book.
1. What’s your book about?
You know what your book is about, but can you explain it to someone? And how well can you explain it? Can you explain it the way a reader will understand it? And, better yet, can you explain it in a simple sentence or two?
Often people have no problem broadly defining what their books is about, but,
It’s about the future of HR.
Is a far cry from,
How 21st century digital privacy impacts the way HR professionals manage staffing problems.
You get the picture. If it isn’t clear, concise, and also interesting, you need to work this one out before you move on to the next step. Otherwise you’ll have huge problems later — both in how you communicate what you’re writing about, and also how you structure and present your material.
2. Who is going to read this book?
In other words,
Is it marketable?
It’s great to have a solid idea, but you need to know that it will sell. This usually goes back to what the book’s about.
Ask yourself: does my book solve a problem that someone is aware they have? And is it a problem that person wants to solve?
If it solves a legitimate challenge that someone beyond just you and your friend / partner / neighbour share, you should be fine. If it doesn’t, go back to Question 1, and see if you can tweak your topic so that it is addressing something specific that someone cares about.
Even if you said ‘yes’ to this one, it doesn’t necessarily mean your book’s going to be a failure. Your topic might be trending at the moment, it might be newsworthy, which means, if you can get it out quickly enough, you have an interested audience and some press coverage likely to come your way.
3. Has it all been said before?
Whatever your topic, even if it’s new and trending, there is (almost) always other material on the same subject. The most common plea I hear from people who want to write a book is this:
But I have nothing new to say!
And yes, you will need something different to stand out from the crowd. That could easily be your personal story, or your expert perspective on the topic — perhaps you have a controversial, or a different take on the topic to the mainstream?
It’s worth doing a bit of research here to make sure that there is space in the market for you. Of course, you have no idea what’s just about to be published, but do go and browse your local bookstore, or look at the relevant Amazon categories. Read the descriptions and the excerpts or, better yet, type your original first sentence into your search engine and make sure it doesn’t turn up 67 different books on your exact topic.
On the other hand, if you think you have a completely new idea, you need to make sure that you have a context to write in that will resonate with your reader. If you go too far out on a limb no-one will find you.
Ask yourself: are there books on similar enough topics that you I research from, refer to and use as a reference point for my material? Is there enough interest in the broad topic for my marketing campaign to succeed?
It’s hard, although potentially rewarding, to be a pioneer, so make sure your idea is strong enough to withstand it.
4. Are you the best person to write this book?
That sounds like a crazy question; it’s your idea so why shouldn’t you be? But writing a book will take time, and it’s an asset you want to use in your business for years to come.
Ask yourself: is this my sweet spot, and do I really want to commit to this topic?
If the answer is ‘yes’, ask a follow-on question: why am I the best person to write this? What’s my story?
The answer to this question is the background you need to hook a potential reader and help you get more publicity when you’re promoting your published book.
Being the ‘best’ writer, or the ‘biggest’ expert in your area doesn’t always mean that you will be the best person to write the book. Often it’s the author who has a unique perspective on an issue, or has lived through a particular life experience that makes a book worth reading.
If that person is you, you’re onto a winner. If it’s not, see if you can tweak your book idea just a little until you become the perfect person to write it.
Mediocre writers and thinkers have written great books just by being the person who has the most compelling perspective, or the most interesting story.
5. What is your purpose in writing a book?
Working out exactly why you are writing a book is key to its success, both because it allows you to know what you are working towards (and get there!), and so that you can be realistic in your expectations.
If you answered,
To make lots of money!
then you probably need to rethink this whole book thing. The chances of you getting rich from publishing one book are extremely slim.
If your aim is something smaller and more measurable, like taking your business or life in a new direction, getting onto some podcasts to share your message, or attracting a handful of well-qualified clients, then you’re on the right track.
Having solid goals to work towards when you’re writing non-fiction keeps you motivated and on-track and you’re more likely to achieve what you set out to do.
6. Do you have enough content?
Often the problem is too much content rather than too little, but do check that know how ‘big’ your book is going to be.
Non-fiction writers are not nearly as restricted by the rules surrounding the length of your book as fiction writers are, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to think about it.
The one true rule of your non-fiction book is that it has to be long enough to teach your reader everything they need to know, but short enough to retain their attention.
That said, if it will be published as a physical book, it does need to conform to the conventions of having some kind of heft, and body, or your readers could feel short-changed. Don’t, however, get sucked into thinking that more is more, because a longer, poorly presented book is far, far worse than a short, well-crafted book.
7. How will you publish your book?
This question might seem like one to decide later, but it’s helps you plan the writing if you know what the book will look like at the end of the process. The format you choose, and the type of content you have will determine how you want to publish, the length of each chapter, and the price and presentation of your book.
The differences don’t stop there. If you are planning to seek out a traditional publisher, you need to take the time to find an agent (perhaps), write a book proposal (certainly), and 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 — quite a project in itself.
If you decide to go the self-publishing route, then go ahead and write your book – but you’ll have more work to do at the end of the process that you have to plan in.
Make sure you’re familiar enough with the pros and cons of traditional versus self-publishing and be prepared to be flexible — you may set out on one route and find the other is a better fit for you and your business.
8. Do you have what it takes to write a book?
When you’ve answered all these questions, and ticked all the boxes, it might feel like that’s all there is to it. But there’s one important question that you have to answer before you take the plunge:
Am I committed to the everyday work of writing a book, getting it published, and making sure it sells?
For most people I meet and talk to about their book, this isn’t a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, it’s more a question of ‘is now the right time for my book?’
The results from writing a book are infinitely greater than you might imagine — and so much more rewarding than other things you might do. But there is an opportunity cost, there is a time and a financial commitment and you have to be sure that you are ready to do it.
I hope you are!
When you’ve answered these eight questions, when you’ve done the soul-searching about whether now is the time, and whether you are ready for your book, then you will be clear about your goals, your expectations, and the purpose behind writing your non-fiction book.
All of which means you will write faster, you will finish strong, and you will be ready to market your book to a waiting audience.
Of course, when you actually start to write you’ll find you have many more than these eight questions, but, for now, it’s time to get started.
Enjoy the process and let me know how you get on.
Let me know whether you’re ready and whether you have any questions. You’re welcome to reply to any of my emails or post a question over on Facebook.