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December 08, 2006
10 things about writing your first business book
Last week, I was lucky enough to be part of 800-CEO-READ's first-ever author PowWow conference. 8cr's pooh-bahs, Todd and Jack, invited 21 business authors and a delicious handful of publishing industry luminaries to hang out for a few days and talk shop. It was the best conference I've ever attended, primarily because it wasn't structured like a conference. It was a more like a two-day dinner party.
If Todd and Jack invite you to a future PowWow, go. Check out of the hospital. Cancel your vacation to Bimini. Just go.
The PowWow was designed for people who'd already published at least one book, but many of the topics could also apply to someone who's been thinking about her first business book. I've distilled those ideas from the conference, plus what Jackie and I have learned from our two books, into a list of 10 things to know about writing your first business book.
1. Why exactly do you want to write a book?
If you answered, "because people say I should," start over. Your book should have a clearly defined business purpose. You will jeopardize months of time, bundles of cash and quite possibly several relationships because the manuscript alone will grow into a voracious black hole that consumes all attention matter. Therefore, give your book a strategic purpose, like: Growing your consulting practice. Attracting more speaking appearances. Launching a career in the media. Something.
Barbara Cave Henricks of public relations firm Goldberg McDuffie tells the story of "First, Break All the Rules," which was written by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman and released in 1999. At the time, the authors were consultants with the Gallup Organization, and their book was based on the company's research. The book's primary purpose: Build Gallup's consulting practice. Before the book, the practice billed about $2 million per year. After "Break All the Rules" was released and became a hit, Gallup's consulting practice was pulling in $50 million per year.
2. Your book should be a magnet.
A book must be magnetic, as publisher Ray Bard says. He knows, too. More than half of the books he's published with Bard Press have hit the various bestseller lists because of their magnetism, such as "Nuts!" and more Jeffrey Gitomer books than you can comfortably carry under one arm. Magnetism is art and science, based on your ability to discern an unmet need (the art) then create a compelling solution for it (the science). There are thousands of books on customer service, branding and leadership; if one of those categories is your subject, your idea magnet must be exponentially powerful to interest a publisher and sell books.
3. Be aspirational.
Business books dripping with sour medicine are tough sells. Write a book that people want to read because it will improve their life, job, career or business. "Good to Great" is an aspirational book. It's also an idea magnet. The title and concept are elegant and magnetic. Of course, author Jim Collins backed up his magnetic idea with buckets of research. Then there's a book like "The Number," which helps readers calculate the amount of money they need to live after retirement. Even after a tremendous amount of press, the book did not do as well as many in publishing predicted. Turns out people didn't want to face up to their "number."
4. First, spend 1-2 years building an audience.
"Platform" is everything. A platform is the stage you have already created. It may be your successful entrepreneurialism, your noteworthy career as a muckety-muck at a famous company, your research as an academic, your work as consultant or analyst at an agency, your well-read blog or your quotability in the media. Or a combination of all of that. Platform is the primary criteria by which publishers will decide to buy your book. A publisher will rely on your platform for book sales, too. A publisher wants you to be the CEO of your book. Attorney and blogger Glenn Greenwald's first book hit number one on Amazon shortly after he announced its availability on his political blog, Unclaimed Territory. That's a very strong platform.
5. Fish in the ocean.
A successful CEO always plans for success, as does a successful author. Like any other product, your book's sales potential is based on the size of its intended audience plus the depth of its need for your solution. That means, as Bard suggests, fish in the ocean. Write a book for a market that's the size of the ocean, such as entrepreneurs. Don't write a book for a puddle, like a book on entrepreneurialism for teenagers. The trap many authors fall into is that they write a book for bayou markets. Bayous can stretch for miles, but they may be only a few inches deep. Big markets with very little need. The bigger the audience coupled with a big need, the better the sales potential.
6. Book royalties won't buy a BMW.
If you land a book deal, your royalty rate of 15% means you'll earn about $1.25 per book. That's after the publisher recoups the advance money it paid you. Chances are, total annual royalties from your book will barely exceed the U.S. poverty level; the majority of busisness books don't sell more than 25,000 copies. But if your book is a part of larger plan, the book should help grow other parts of your business where money is made.
7. Invest heavily in your writing.
If a book deal is imminent, or you've planned to self-publish, it's time to write. Writing is editing. If you're not a trained writer, invest in an editor or writing coach. Use your own money to hire an experienced editor. Don't rely on the editors at your publisher. They have more projects on their plate than you do, so you must continue to be the CEO of your book. Write the book yourself, but rely on the editor to excise cliches, fix tired or stilted writing and force you to focus. Once readers are drawn in by the magnetism, great writing keeps them reading.
8. Follow the six-month rule.
The six months before publication are the most important marketing months for your book. Give as many galley copies of your book, a paperback-bound version of the manuscript, to friends, colleagues, thought leaders, bloggers, blog readers, media, or customers as you or your publisher can afford. (Number of galley copies printed can be a contract negotiating point.) Blog parts of your book during the six-month window. Building advance interest in your book or the subject is key to fueling word of mouth during the first month of its release.
9. Invest heavily in your marketing.
Rick Barrera, who wrote the Wall Street Journal bestseller "Overpromise and Overdeliver," equates books to Doritos. It's easy to share Doritos, and easy to make more, so give away a lot of books so more people will consume them. A book is the best business card imaginable to your business knowledge, so put that Dorito it into eager, outstretched hands. They'll reward the favor.
10. Seth Godin has 19 additional pieces of advice.
He thinks you should spend three years building an audience before writing your first book, but some prolific, dedicated and well-versed bloggers have shown they can build vast audiences in about a year.
That's one list. I'm interested in hearing what annoys you about most business books you read and what writers should do to stop.
Other blogs that reference 10 things about writing your first business book:
» 10 things about writing your first business book - Ben McConnell from Leading Questions
Ben McConnell of Creating Customer Evangelists fame and co-author with Jackie Huba of the new book Citizen Marketers offers some helpful ideas for those who are looking to write a business book. Here are the topics he covers. 1. Why [Read More]
I think the one thing business books need to start doing is giving more how to's, specifics and practical examples. There are enough books out there that speak at the 30,000 ft view, and theoretically. Authors need to not just be thought leaders, they need to be action heroes first.
Thanks for making it clear that a book should be just part of a bigger picture of a bigger potential stream of cashflow that could come anywhere from consulting to speech making etc.
As a book acquisitions editor, I appreciate the emphasis on detailed planning before you send your business book ideas out into the marketplace. Too many half-baked ideas with little vision are in circulation. It's one of the reasons I put the energy into writing BOOK PROPOSALS THAT SELL from my insider's viewpoint. I'd love to have more proposals from would-be authors who understand more about the publishing world and how we can partner together to sell books before they leap out with their ideas.
Excellent information. I would like to second the notion that more actionable things would improve many books.
I give birth to my 5th book this spring, with the great assistance of my publisher. I agree with each of your points, but fall heavily on the point stressing the importance of an editor. No writer should be the editor of their own book. Our words need an unbiased look. We all think our babies are beautiful. Unfortunately, they often are ugly and become beautiful only as they are nurtured.
Great tips and tricks, that I wish I had read before writing my first three business books (The brandgym, Brand Stretch and Brand Vision, that is just out). Tac, for what its worth, these are packed with practical stuff!
The one thing I have done is used it as part of a brand and business building drive. The books have had a "transformational" effect on our business, and helped us differentiate from the mass of brand consulants in London.
Will use your advice for book 4, called "Where's the Sausage?" As it comes out in Sep 07, I need to start work now on promoting it according to your timetable!
What annoys me about most business books.
They are one of the following:
* formulaic and shallow; not much depth of thought; often derivative of someone else's ideas
* too theoretical in writing style, but not academic enough to be really intellectually stimulating.
* a magazine article on steroids; there is less there than meets the eye.
* not practical or concrete enough; I want to know how to apply their ideas, and where to find additional resources.
What I look for from a business book is an introduction to an idea that is helpful and opens up a new world of learning for me. For example, The Tipping Point opened up the topic of Word-of-Mouth and diffusion theory, that eventually led me to your first book. I want to know how this book's ideas and practices are connected to other opinion leaders' work.
Hey, thanks for the advice here. I have always wanted to write a book on business advice and marketing too, though I may not have a PhD from Harvard or University of Chicago. Its more of an ego-stroking exercise (being honest!) and fulfilling a life-long desire to see myself publish something more substantial.
What I don't want to see in business books? Well, first they should not overpromise and underdeliver. Sometimes, you get too much hype without the gritty truth about spectacular failures. Business books should also qualify themselves more precisely about what strategies work for certain types of businesses versus others. For example, social media may be all the rage now, but it isn't going to save a bad business concept no matter how many blog posts, SEOs, DIGGs, technoratis and so on.
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This reminds me of a great new book I read by Clifton Lambreth, Ford and the American Dream. Clifton Lambreth has demonstrated extreme courage in telling the inside story of what went wrong at on of America’s biggest corporations – Ford Motor Company. This should be required reading for every college business major and every MBA student before they are allowed to graduate, Congress and the Senate should be forced to read as well!!! Thank-you Clifton Lambreth for standing up for America and American Jobs!
This reminds me of a great new book I read by Clifton Lambreth, Ford and the American Dream.
I find this write up extremely useful.
I have plans of writing my firt book and have been searching for tips.
This write up provides the opportunity for that.