(Forbes first published my article here.)
Open almost any major newspaper or magazine and you’ll find a survey that says the overwhelming majority of professionals hope to write and publish a book “someday.” The benefits: Prestige. A career boost. Marketing and publicity for their products or services. Influence. Money.
So why don’t more people actually do it? First, they think it will take them a year or two to write a good book. (Not true. More about that later.) And second, they start and stop quickly because they’re going about it in the wrong way.
At the outset, let me say that technology has made it possible for anybody to publish a book today and have it for sale on Amazon in 24-48 hours—sometimes listed as a “bestseller.” If you don’t believe it, consider Brent Underwood’s experiment and satirical book called Putting My Foot Down.
To avoid these “time” and “know-how” problems, go about the whole process in the smartest way to get your book from idea to bookstore.
Publishers will actually send you a check before you start writing! With business books and basically all nonfiction, the protocol involves preparing a book proposal first. Then you find a literary agent to represent you to the various publishing houses. The agent acts as your salesperson in much the same way as a Realtor® does in selling your home.
Having a check in hand and a manuscript due date on your calendar provides great motivation to see the project through to completion.
The typical publisher takes 7-9 months to publish your book after they receive the final manuscript. Use that time to grow your “platform,” the industry term for your followers—those who will be interested in hearing about your book and sharing it with their friends. You’ll need to start these efforts before you write your proposal in order to convince a publisher that you do have fans and influencers to help you get the word out. But once you complete the manuscript and send it off to the publisher, your next step is building awareness and creating interest in what’s “to come.”
Connect and engage with influencers on social media. Answer questions in your area of expertise. Look for venues to speak on your topic.
In discussions about shaping the content to a sharp, publishable angle, my book coaching clients frequently mention their goal to reach as wide an audience as possible. Big mistake. Editors will want you to narrow your audience to those readers ideally interested in your topic. According to the CEO of one top publishing house, “There is no general reading audience anymore.”
As you plan your book, write for that one reader you know who wants or needs your information. The book will find its way into the hands of others just like him or her.
The reason writing a book takes “forever” (according to some people) is that they let it. Like most tasks, writing a book expands to fill the time allotted to it. On the other hand, if you’re writing in your area of expertise (and/or the research has been completed), you can typically write a 50,000-word book in 4-6 weeks.
Many nonfiction publishing contracts today ask for much shorter books of only 30-35,000 words. That’s roughly five to six times the length of a typical white paper you and your team might write for your organization or association.
Because all my business books have been written while I was also running a consulting company, I needed to be able to predict how long any book project would take and work around client commitments. For that reason, I’ve always kept a daily log of page output.
Drafting the typical nonfiction book takes me 12-14 days. My longest book (95,000 words) took me 28 days. My secrets to writing fast: Mindset to get it done. A functional workspace. A writing plan. Marathons. Solitude.
Your plan may differ: Writing amidst activity in social spaces. A chapter at a time. An hour a day. Whatever. Just decide what the plan is and work it.
Few things will give you the career boost and personal satisfaction that writing and publishing a great book offers.