No need to reinvent the wheel when writing your book. Use a “hero book” to shortcut the process.
Your “hero book” is a book you use as a template for your own. However, you’re not going to copy or plagiarize it, rather, you’ll look to your hero book (or multiple hero books) as guidance, whenever you’re not sure what to do next.
For example, you begin writing your book but get stuck. “Gee, writing this introduction is hard,” you mutter to yourself. But then you’ll remember you have a hero book, and you think, “I wonder how the author of my hero book wrote their intro…”. You look it up, see how they did it, and it gives you the breakthrough you need to finish your own.
Mimicking or imitating others is not only the fastest way to get something done but it’s also how we learn to do things on our own. We’re hardwired to learn new tasks this way. In 1988, Dr. Giacomo Rizzolatti studied the brain activity in monkeys while they performed an activity. As one monkey participated in the activity, others sat nearby, still hooked up to the brain monitoring equipment. By accident, Dr. Rizzolatti noticed that when one monkey performed the activity, the same areas of the brains of the observing monkeys became active, in the same way as the brain of the monkey performing the activity.
I’m no monkey, but I know how to imitate others. When I was twelve years old, I wanted to draw robotic figures from a Robotech book I had, so I used tracing paper and copied them, exactly. There was nothing original about it, but after I did this for months, I got tired of copying and decided to try drawing something from scratch. It was easy! And it looked just as good as any drawing in the book, if I do say so myself. It was easy because my brain, my eyes, and my hand, had all become familiar with the type of drawing I wanted to do.
When I wrote my first book, my hero book was Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston, one of the founders of the famed startup incubator Y Combinator. After Livingston’s book became successful, the publisher recruited other authors to create a series of “At Work” books in which lawyers, venture capitalists, and chief technology officers were each featured in their respective volumes. My book, Chief Marketing Officers at Work, was the twentieth or so in the series, and it was easy for me to write because I could follow the model set by Livingston and many others before me.
Follow my example and steal your first book. Don’t steal content, but do steal ideas, structures, and strategies, and then create content that is your own. As the poet T.S. Eliot said:
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.
For example, in Good to Great, author Jim Collins examined data and conducted interviews to figure out why certain companies achieved sustainable success while others succeeded for a time only to ultimately fail. If I were going to “steal” from Collin’s and use Good to Great as my hero book, I might research why some marketing agencies achieved sustainable success while others flashed brightly for a moment before fading away.
You can also “steal” by openly taking someone’s ideas but applying them in a new way. For example, in Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow he writes about the anchoring effect. This is a cognitive bias which, when we’re exposed to a number, influences how we perceive following numbers.
For example, let’s suppose you’re watching a TV ad for a sale on dresses and it shows a dress with a price tag of $199, but then the tag switches to a sale price tag with the number $99. Because you were exposed to the higher price first, the $99 price seems like a great deal, whereas if you hadn’t seen a higher price first you might have thought $99 was too expensive.
If I were going to steal from Kahneman, and I were in the real estate industry, I might research how anchoring is used by real estate brokers to increase their fees. Just as startups will say “We’re the Uber of XYZ,” I could then say “My book is Thinking, Fast and Slow for the real estate industry.”
What’s your “hero book,” or list of hero books, you can use as a guide as you create your book?
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