‘So Kelly, what do you do?’
‘I’m an author.’
‘Oh really? How many books have you written?’
‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a book.’
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve had the conversation above, I’d be rich I tell ya! The same is true for most writers.
Unlike most writers, however, my eyes light up whenever I hear that wistful last line above. I know what it feels like to hold a book baby in your hands for the first time and am a bit addicted to helping potential non-fiction authors experience the same.
That said, I also know writing a book is a time-consuming and involved process. To help my new wannabe-author friend decide whether they really want to go through it, I start peppering them with questions. The ones below are where I tend to start:
1. Why do you want to write a book?
In other words, what are your personal goals for the book? What will make the whole experience ‘worth it’ for you?
The most common goals non-fiction book authors tend to have are to:
- Establish credibility. (They know a book will instantly set them apart from others in their industry/niche.)
- Position themselves as an authority in their space.
- Generate leads for a high-worth offering such as speaking or consulting.
- Make money.
- Simply experience the satisfaction of doing something many people talk about, but seldom follow through on.
The above are all valid reasons to write a book. The only one I’d ask someone have a good think about is the ‘make money’ one. Unless you have a large and established audience clamouring for your book, you generally have to invest a huge amount upfront to make a decent income directly from book sales.
(As an example, this is a run down on the time, effort and money that went into Michael Bungay Stanier’s book The Coaching Habit selling more than 200,000 copies.)
All the other goals mentioned? Any well-written book can deliver on those.
2. What’s the book about?
I’m always surprised by the number of people who declare they ‘want to write a book’ but don’t have the first idea what the topic of that book would be.
To answer this question, you simply need to sit down and list out the topics you have enough expertise or interest in to generate the material you’ll need to write a book.
(Note: You don’t necessarily need to have expertise in something to write about it. Malcolm Gladwell’s books tend to take the interest route. For example, an interest in what drives decision-making in humans became Blink.)
Once you have those topics, you’d then choose the one that best helps you achieve your personal goals for the book.
How specific does your topic need to be? The examples below are from some of the authors I’m currently working with.
- Writing better
- Thriving as an employee in the IT industry
- The psychology behind getting sh!t done
As you can see, the topics are narrow, but go deep. (There’s a lot of potential material that sits below each.)
3. What value will your book present to the reader?
If you’re going to ask someone to invest their time in reading your book, it has to deliver value to them. This can take the form of:
- Learning how to do something new
- Learning how to do something better
- Being better informed
- A change in worldview
- Being able to properly articulate feelings about something for the first time
The value you want to deliver to the reader will become the driving premise of your book.
Which makes this one of the most important questions you need to answer. If you can’t answer it, you’ll produce a book that is weak, overly generalistic, self-indulgent or … all three.
4. Who, exactly, is the reader?
Anyone who’s done Marketing 101 knows if you pitch your marketing to appeal to ‘everyone’ it will appeal to no one. Similarly, you cannot write a book that is for everyone.
Your book will have an ideal reader, and it’s so important to know who that person is. Why? Because it will allow you to craft your words in a way that makes the reader feel your book was written especially for them. When you achieve this level of connection with a reader it’s pretty special because they then feel compelled to share your book with other people who are ‘just like them’.
The most successful books in the world sell well, not because they had huge marketing campaigns behind them, but because thousands of individuals said to another, ‘You must read this book.’
5. Can you access that reader?
If you’ve written the best book in the world on the topic of ‘innovations in real estate marketing’ but you have no way of putting that book in the hands of real estate agents, then you’ve wasted your time.
For your book to impact lives in a positive way, it needs to find its way into your ideal reader’s hands. If your current network and connections don’t give you access to that reader, then you either need to build those connections first … or change the topic of your book to match a readership you can actually reach.
6. Have you got great case studies and stories?
Good books tell the reader what to do.
Great books show the reader what to do.
In chapter three of James Schramko’s book Work Less, Make More, James tells the reader they can reduce the number of things they’re doing in their business but still make the same amount of money (or more!).
How? By ensuring they’re doing only the impactful things.
It’s a powerful idea in the telling. But then he shows the reader how a client of his executed the idea and significantly reduced his working hours while increasing the money he made.
- Telling the reader what to do was aspirational and would have triggered this thought in the reader: Maybe I too can do this one day.
- Showing them someone who’d actually done it was inspirational and triggered a different thought: Hey, I can totally do this. Like, right now!
If you revisit any book that’s made a significant impact on your life, you will find great stories and case studies in there – demonstrations of people doing the thing the author is suggesting (rather than the author simply telling you ‘Do this, do that.’)
Once you know what your book is about and the value you want to deliver to the reader, you can start collecting great stories and case studies that support the ideas you’re going to share.
7. When are you going to write this business book?
Ah – the million-dollar question!
Many people will tell you the only way to write a book is to write every day. I disagree. I’ve binge-written all my books between 5am and 7am in compressed periods of time, (12 days for my first book, 30 days each for my other two) because I’m a business owner with two kids and a diverse range of commitments.
Another friend with a similar level of commitments booked a babysitter for four hours every Monday for three months and went to the library to write.
Figure out what kind of writing schedule and accountability it’s going to take for you to write your book and then … get writing!
How to get started
Once you’ve answered the above questions, there are no more excuses – it’s time to sit down and write your book. It’s usually at this point, however, that people become overwhelmed by the word ‘book’ and hit a brick wall.
My advice? Create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) version of your book. Write a blog post that is:
- On the topic you identified in Question 2,
- Delivers the value you identified in Question 3, and
- Is for the reader you identified in Question 4.
Doing this will get you doing the hardest thing in this whole process: putting pen to paper. It will also allow you to test your idea and ensure you can put it in front of the right people.
If your topic is great, delivers value to the reader, and you can reach that reader with your blog post, it should get great traction and a great reaction. Which, in turn, should provide you with all the motivation and drive you need to expand those thoughts into a book.
This article was originally written for, and published at Flying Solo here.