I'm frequently asked for advice about writing a business book. Some people want to understand if writing a book might be right for them. Others are beginning the process and would like to know how to get published. Here, in one place, are some practical ideas based on my experience writing 12 books of my own as well as coaching more than twenty people to write and publish their first business book.
1. What’s your goal for the book?
It helps to have a clear goal in mind for writing a business book. Are you looking to build credibility in your industry? Do you want to launch a speaking career? Are you a consultant looking to raise fees and close more business? All of these are good reasons to write a business book. However, since most business books sell less than 5,000 copies, making money from your books shouldn’t be your primary goal.
What should I write about?
Are you seeing patterns in the universe that are unique to you and that you are eager to share with others? That’s the perfect start for a compelling business book. Unfortunately, too many people write “me too” business books – they take what’s already been done by other authors, tweak the topic slightly in an attempt to make it their own, and put it out. Resist this urge. For example, the world doesn’t need another social media marketing “how to” guide. But we’re all looking for a great book that shows us a new way to look at some aspect of business.
Don’t be a cover band
One way I like to describe creating an original idea for a business book is to point to the world of music as an analogy. Musicians can write and play their own original music, or they can become a cover band by playing other artists’ music. Both are noble professions. However, the original music is what makes for recordings and streams and when it catches fire makes for a career. When you write a business book, be original!
But I don’t have time to write a book!
When you hold a book with 250 pages in your hands it has heft. If you flip through the pages, it looks like a daunting task to write. Yes, but nobody sits down to write the entire thing in one go. It’s better to think of your writing process as creating sections that come together to create a whole. A 50,000-word business book can be a clever combination of 100 blog posts of 500 words each. If you find time every week to write, if you’re diligent, you should have a first draft inside of six months and a revised draft ready to publish within a year. Or, as an alternative, you can do a first draft as an audio recording that you then have transcribed. You can then working with a professional editor to craft it into a book.
Write stories and create conflict
Many first-time business book authors think back to writing papers in secondary school or university and use a similar writing style for their book. However, a great business book is not a collection of quotes from others together with footnoted citations of facts! Instead, create a compelling narrative by telling stories. Introduce conflict into your work. That's tough for many because that’s not the sort of business writing that people are familiar with. Writing without conflict is propaganda! Stories infused with conflict is an important yet overlooked aspect of all good communications.
Eliminate the gobbledygook
Ditch the cutting-edge, mission-critical, best-of-breed corporate jargon in your writing. Many business books drip with the sort of big words that are so overused as to have become meaningless. Instead of “flexible, scalable solutions” to your writing, simply write as if you are explaining your ideas to a friend over dinner, a friend who doesn't know your industry.
Hire your own editor
Depending on what kind of publisher you use for your book, you may have several editors working with you through the process of preparing your manuscript for publication. The professionals assigned to you might include a developmental editor who looks at the big picture elements like chapter flow, a copy editor who looks at smaller details like word choice and grammar, and a proofreader who does a final check for errors and non-compliance to house style. That’s all great, but you should consider those people an added bonus. You should work with a professional editor who you hire so that you create as compelling a book as you can and then submit a clean manuscript to your publisher.
Build your platform now, before you do anything else
If you want to go with a traditional publisher who covers the costs of producing your book, you will need what the industry calls a “platform”. The traditional business book publishing game is not about great book ideas. It is about great platforms. Business book publishers look for authors that can prove they will sell many thousands of books because the author has a large audience -- through social media, speaking, being quoted in the press, being famous for something, or whatever.
In a proposal to a traditional publisher, you will need to say a lot about your platform. Be specific. Do you speak at conferences? How many? Run seminars at companies? How often? Will your clients buy bulk copies of books? How many? Are you quoted in the press? Where in the past year? How many people read your blog? Watch your videos? Follow you on Twitter? Publishers need to know if you will be able to sell books.
Even if you don't work with a traditional publisher, working on your platform now will be beneficial when you begin marketing the book.
Spend as much time marketing your book as you spend writing
Here’s the advice that almost nobody follows. Many people spend hundreds of hours writing a business book but then just toss it out into the market without any marketing support. My rule of thumb is to spend as much time marketing your book as you spend writing it. You should be working on your marketing in parallel as you are writing the book. As a start, you’ll need a book website or a page on another site. Here’s my Fanocracy site to give you an example.
You’ll want to find as many ways as you can to get the word out about your book. With my Fanocracy launch, for example, I was a guest on well over 100 podcast episodes where I talked about the book. Most of the hosts kindly held the episode recording until the week that Fanocracy published. Having over 100 podcasts hit in a week plus several virtual events, blog posts, and other forms of promotion all on the first week the book was out helped to sell enough books to make the Wall Street Journal bestseller list.
There are many ways to publish
Okay, so let’s assume you’ve got a great idea for a book and your manuscript is nearly done. The most common questions I get are around how to publish. To be specific, people want to know how to get published by a big famous New York publisher.
However, in today’s world there are many ways to get a business book into the marketplace. I’ve written 12 books and have been published several large publishers. I’ve worked with John Wiley & Sons multiple times (including 7 editions of The New Rules of Marketing and PR) as well a Portfolio / Penguin Random House for my latest book Fanocracy. These are fabulous business book publishers but not the only way to get your book out there.
You can also work with smaller niche publishers, academic presses (my book Marketing the Moon was published by MIT Press), or you can publish yourself. A great option for some people is to go with Amazon Direct Publishing which I used to publish my book Standout Virtual Events in both print and Kindle versions. With Amazon Direct Publishing, you control every aspect of your book such as cover design, pricing, and so on. A great benefit of Amazon Direct Publishing is speed to market. A traditional publisher typically takes six months from manuscript submission to a book in readers hands. With Amazon Direct Publishing my co-author Michelle Manafy and I had a book in readers’ hands just two weeks after our manuscript was complete.
Another option to publish is via hybrid publishing. The basic idea with the hybrid model is that the author pays for the book’s production (just like a self-published book) rather than the publisher covering costs as is the case with traditional publishing. However, the royalties to the author on each book sold are higher. An example of a company focused on the hybrid model is the Advantage family of publishers which includes Forbes Books.
Disclosure, I am on the board of Advantage/Forbes Books.
A business book can be a very rewarding process. You build authority in your industry and create fans of your work. It’s a lot of work but in my experience everybody I’ve spoken with finds that the effort has been worthwhile.