Thought Leaders: Answer These Questions Before You Start Writing That Book

Writing a book is terribly hard work. It requires time, concentration, and energy – three things that are often in short supply.

But after 20 years in thought leadership, it’s become clear to me that a fourth factor is in short supply: original, useful ideas supported by research, case studies, and data.

Consequently, instead of encouraging people to write books, we often discourage them if they don’t have the key ingredients described above.

We’ve written some books ourselves and proposals for several more. We’ve also successfully guided people through the entire process.

But believe us, “terribly hard work” is a mild way of describing the endeavor. Writing a good proposal – one that will convince an editor that your chosen topic is worth a book and that you personally have the smarts, skills, and dedication to deliver a manuscript – will take several months. Writing the book after your proposal has been accepted will take at least a year of hard work – some of the hardest work you’ll ever do. And even if you can find and hire someone (like us) to help you, it will still consume hundreds of hours of your time – time that presumably could be spent more profitably on your day job.

So, before you go down that tricky, tiring road, ask yourself:

  1. Do I have an idea that no one else has already written about? Book editors aren’t interested in twice-told tales, and just because you believe your point of view is dewy-fresh doesn’t mean it is. Check the literature to be sure.
  2. Does my idea require hundreds of pages and tens of thousands of words to explain? If it doesn’t (and most ideas are not so complex), perhaps you should consider writing an article rather than a book.
  3. Do I have the time to write tens of thousands of words or the money to hire someone to write them for me? Most people I know are pretty busy, and I cannot overemphasize how time-consuming writing a book is. Not only is hiring someone to do it for you expensive, but it still won’t relieve you of the responsibility of supplying the examples and data that will make your case and satisfy your editor and presumptive readers. And that’s before you invest time in vetting what your writer has done.
  4. Do I need a book to validate me? There is an undeniable romance to authorship. Who wouldn’t like to be known as Jane Fabulous, author of “A Stunningly Perceptive Theory of Everything”? Authors are feted and respected. People ask for their autographs. But if you’re going to be able to persevere during the arduous grind of writing a book, you’re going to need more motivation than feeding your ego will supply. The ego is a hungry, impatient little bugger and the rewards that a book may bring you are always down the road a piece, never right there on the plate in front of you where your ego wants them to be.
  5. Am I willing to market my book? Publishers don’t devote large budgets to advertising unless your name is Kim Kardashian, and your selfies are amazing. If you want people to buy and read your book, you will need to promote it yourself. As my colleague Laurie has pointed out, the first question an agent or publisher will ask you is, “What is your platform?” by which they mean:
    • Do you give speeches or hold seminars at which your book could be sold?
    • If so, how often, to what groups, and what are the audience sizes?
    • Do you make regular appearances in print or on radio or television that might help promote yourself and your book?
    • How might your organization contribute to getting the word out about your book?
    • Do you have a client list or database of individuals that you could use in direct marketing efforts?
    • How many copies would you estimate your clients and your organization might purchase over the first year of sales?

To satisfy a publisher with your answers, you might have to start building your marketing platform even earlier than you start drafting.

So, before you start that book, think once, think twice, and then try forgetting about it. See how that feels. It may feel very good indeed.

But if not, and you want help, give us a call!

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