If you want to write a business book you face three primary challenges. You’ll have to figure out how to:
- Get started
- Keep going
- Finish and publish
Before I go into each challenge and some tricks to make these a lot easier, my own story as a first-time author might be instructive.
I published my first book, Chief Marketing Officers at Work, in 2015. However, it wasn’t the book I planned to write.
In 1999, I launched my marketing agency, MWI. In 2013, I began writing articles for Forbes and then several other business publications. Those articles helped my agency gain lots of attention and lots of clients (we were able to track over $5M in revenue to a single article I wrote).
One day, we had a meeting with a new client to sign a large contract. I went to the meeting, expecting to walk out with a signed contract and a big check, but instead I saw a new face in the meeting. She introduced herself as the new CMO, and then told us, “We’re not signing any new contracts until I do a full audit.”
We left empty-handed and frustrated. Having seen how quickly the CMO squashed our deal, I asked myself, “What can we do to get on the radar of CMOs and convince them to work with us?” I continued to write articles for Forbes and focused many of them on CMOs, but the idea of writing a book began to percolate. Finally, I decided to write a book on “digital marketing for the CMO.”
I began to write the book, but quickly realized I didn’t know much about the CMO role. Who was I to tell them what they needed to know when I didn’t know their needs or what their job was like? I needed to do more research.
Years before, I read a book called Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston, one of the founders at Y Combinator. It was a great fly-on-the-wall view of what it was like to be a founder at companies like Apple, PayPal, and Adobe.
After reading Founders at Work, I read Venture Capitalists at Work, another book in the “At Work” series. I was also aware there were several other books in the series like Lawyers at Work, CTO’s at Work, etc. I figured I would go read CMO’s at Work and then get back to writing my book. There was just one problem—there was no “CMO’s at Work” book.
I couldn’t believe it. How could CTO’s get a book before CMO’s?! I kept searching, convinced the book must exist.
That search led me to the website of the publisher of the At Work series, where I saw a link that said, “Want to write a book for this series?”
“Hmmm,” I thought, “What better way to do research for my book than to write CMO’s at Work myself?”
I reached out to the publisher with my pitch. I told them I wrote for Forbes and could secure interviews with top marketing executives and well-known companies. That was enough, and they gave me a contract.
It took me around nine months to do thirty interviews. The hardest part was scheduling, once the CMO had agreed to do the interview. One CMO rescheduled ten times and in the end never did the interview! However, I finally got interviews with CMO’s from The Home Depot, Target, Spotify, PayPal, GoDaddy, and many more—thirty in all (although for complex reasons the interview with the CMO of Twitter couldn’t be published).
After the interviews were complete they were edited, the book was typeset, and the cover designed (a story in and of itself). The book was released, and it did everything I hoped it would, except one thing. I never wrote the book I intended to write.
What can you learn from my experience, as well as those of the hundreds of clients I’ve coached on book writing projects?
How to Get Started On Your Book
Many authors want to write a book before they know why they want to write a book or what the book will be about. It just seems like a cool idea to have a book.
It is a cool thing to have a book. But what book should you write?
I find it helpful to borrow Clayton Christensen’s idea about “jobs to be done” when trying to figure out what book to write. What jobs do you want this book to do for you?
In my case, I wanted a book to:
- Attract attention from CMO’s and other marketers
- Establish credibility with CMO’s, for me and my agency
- Build my personal brand
- Grow my business
Sidenote: One unexpected job the book did for me was to land me an all-expenses-paid week on Richard Branson’s island with 70 other marketers and Sir Richard himself.
What jobs do you want your book to do for you? Maybe you want your book to:
- Attract attention from your ideal audience or customer base
- Help you establish credibility with your target audience
- Build your personal brand and that of your company
- Grow your business
Your author journey starts with a clear vision, not of what book you want to write, but of what you want your book to do for you. Then we can figure out what book to write that will make your vision reality.
Once you know the job your book will do, then the next question is who needs to read your book and what action they need to take as a result of reading your book in order for your vision to become real.
I knew from the start that my primary audience was chief marketing officers. Who is yours?
Once they know what book they want to write and what they want the book to do for them, many first-time authors run into another challenge—confidence, or lack thereof.
“Who am I to write this book?” they ask themselves. “There are so many other people out there more qualified, more knowledgeable, and who probably know how to write better, who could do this.”
All that may be true, but the fact remains that you’re the only person who is going to write your book. Even if one of them writes a similar book, it won’t be your book, and no matter how good their book is, there are people who will like your book better. There are people only you can reach, and there are enough of them out there to make writing your book worth it.
Who are you to write your book? You’re the only person in the world who can.
Do this right now—find a sticky note and write “I am an author” on it and stick it on your computer or somewhere else you’ll see it every day. When you publish your book, you’ll be a published author, but the second you start working on a book, you are already an author. Start thinking of yourself as an author, and it will become reality.
Starting Writing Your Book
Once you’re prepared to write, the best way I’ve found to start is to create what’s called a “parking lot.” This isn’t your book, it’s notes for your book. Use a Google doc, yellow note pad, or whatever is convenient for you.
When you find a quote you like that you think might be good in your book, put it in the parking lot.
If you have an idea for part of your book, put it in the parking lot.
Put anything and everything in your book parking lot, whether it’s an article, video, graph, illustration, statistic, or anything else.
Don’t worry about order, organization, spelling, grammar, or punctuation. This isn’t your book, it’s just notes.
Creating an Outline
As you fill up your book parking lot, you’ll start organizing it naturally. Sections and chapters will create themselves. Eventually, you’ll have a bare bones outline with your parking lot material organized loosely within it. At this point, spend some time formally organizing your outline until it feels 80-90% final (recognizing you can always rearrange later if you need to).
Your Vomit Draft
Your first draft of your book is your vomit draft. We call it your vomit draft because it’s a big mess that you clean up later. Nobody but you will see your vomit draft, so you don’t need to worry about how your writing sounds or what it looks like. You have only one job—get it all out.
90% of the authors I work with think too much while writing their vomit draft. Don’t think, just get it all out.
90% of the authors I work with spend too much time editing while writing their vomit draft. Don’t edit, just get it all out.
90% of the authors I work with spend too much time worrying what others will think of their writing while writing their vomit draft. Don’t worry, just get it all out.
When you think you’re finished with your vomit draft, create a new copy and save the old one. Your new copy will become your second draft.
Congratulations, you have finished starting your book.
How to Keep Writing Your Book
For some authors, starting and writing a first draft is the easy part. They might complete it in a matter of months or even just weeks. Then they get bogged down for years revising and editing. Don’t let this happen to you and your book.
How to Finish Your Second Draft in One Month
Set aside an hour each morning.
The first morning you work on your second draft, start reading it at the beginning. Make edits as you go. Don’t get too hung up on spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Focus on whether you’re getting your point across, or if it could be clearer.
The second morning, pick up wherever you left off the day before, and so on.
Some mornings your edits will be light. You’ll change a word here or there, maybe move a sentence or delete it, or add a new one.
Other mornings you’ll move entire chapters, delete several pages, or add a few new ones. If you are ever about to make a major change, save a new copy. Make sure to save these with names that make sense and will help you find them later. Numbering is helpful. Saying “Final draft” isn’t because chances are you’ll end up with “Final final draft” and “Final final really final draft” and you won’t know which one is the real final draft. There is no final draft until the book is printed.
If you finish your hour of work one morning, and you feel like you want to keep going, keep going. If you don’t feel like working on it anymore that day, don’t.
After a month, you should have put in at least 20 hours of rewriting, and for many authors that will be enough. If it’s not enough for you, keep going.
How to Finish Your Book
The secret to finishing your book is to not finish it. Do what Ben Hardy recommends in Who Not How and let someone else finish it.
Are you an expert at grammar, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure, word choice, citations, and formatting? Neither am I. That’s why we should all hire an editor. Let an editor do what they’re best at while you focus on what you’re best at.
In addition to editing, here are other things you should outsource:
- Cover design
- Internal design or typesetting
- Amazon profile optimization
- Getting reviews
There are something like 200 moving parts to consider when publishing a book, and unless you want to spend a ton of time and money figuring it all out, just pay the same money to someone else and save the time.
That said, if you really want to do it yourself, get my free workbook that will step you through it all.
The Easiest Way to Get it All Done
For most authors, this isn’t practical, but for some of you it will make sense—outsource your entire book.
This isn’t cheap—I have clients I coach through the process of hiring a ghostwriter and outsourcing everything, but they typically spend six figures and sometimes multiple six figures. Still, it’s the easiest way to get a great book done. It’s still your book, it’s your ideas, but you pay someone else who’s an expert writer to do everything possible for you. If you want more info, check out my book coaching packages.Liked it? Share it!