To write a book you need three things: An idea, a reason and a plan.
The idea for your book doesn’t have to be original (consider all the management and sales books on the market). But it does need a unique slant, presentation or voice; ideally, all three.
The reason for writing your book is that which lies beyond the finish line. Whether it’s to position yourself as an expert or increase sales, you have to know what you want in order to get it.
The plan is what gets you from start to finish. It is fluid but well defined, to ensure your time and money are well spent.
Let’s examine these concepts more closely.
Your idea and reason
These two are separate, yet interwoven, and are subject to change. For example, I recently worked with an organizational consultant who wanted to write a best-practices book for a general audience. His goal was to gain national recognition and new clients. He later narrowed his scope to the manufacturing sector, where he was already creating a buzz.
Another client — a therapist specializing in phobias — wanted to write a booklet to help clients cope with their fear of driving. The booklet quickly became a book, the first in a series on different phobias, which he plans to market to mental health professionals.
Although your ideas and reasons will change, you have to start somewhere. Begin by answering these questions:
• Why do you want to write a book? What results do you hope to achieve? Are they in keeping with your business plan, or would they take you in a new direction (which may not be a bad thing)?
• What is your idea? What experience, expertise or insights do you bring to the subject matter? Would the subject sustain your interest over time? Do you even need to write a book? Could you write an article instead?
• Who’s your audience? What is their demographic profile? How knowledgeable are they of your subject? What perspective will you bring that they can’t get elsewhere? How will your book improve their lives and performance?
Books take more than writing. They take planning, so you — not the Muse — control the process.
• A good plan has a realistic timeframe.
You will need more than stolen moments to write a book. Weeks and months are required, and if you’re not willing to schedule time, don’t proceed.
You also have to be realistic about the timeframe of others. For example, an artist once consulted me on a yet-to-be written book she wanted to get into bookstores by Christmas. Although she believed she could finish the book by July, she didn’t consider the time necessary to find an agent and publisher. Nor did she consider the six- to 18-months time the publisher needed to edit, print and get the books into stores.
• A good plan has sufficient resources.
Time is money, yes, but so are graphic designers, proofreaders, publicists and other professionals whose services you may need. Keep as much in-house as you can to save money, but get the help you need. For example, if you’re self-publishing, don’t pinch pennies on your cover design. Covers sell books; use a homemade cover and you’ll actually lose sales.
If you’re a weak writer, hire an editor or ghostwriter. Authors do this all the time. Want proof? Go to a bookstore and glance at the bylines. Anytime you see an author’s name, followed by “and” or “with,” it means the writer had help.
• A good plan is detailed.
Writing a book is a progression of steps; each step has its own steps. For example, before you write Chapter 1, you must determine its content. Before that, you must determine the content of the other chapters. Before that, you must do preliminary research, organize your notes, etc.
Breaking your book down into steps helps you maintain momentum because there is always something you can do. Don’t have a large block of time in which to write? Then find a small one and do Web research. Not prepared to interview a source? Then organize your notes.
Finally, your plan should include a detailed project timeline tied to specific steps. Don’t set deadlines you can’t meet, but don’t slough off. Remember, you want to write a book that promotes you and your business. You’ll still want to be in business by the time it’s done!