August 12, 2008
Writing a book is a dream for many but a reality for just a few. Between jobs and family, there aren’t enough hours in the day for most of us to sit down and write.
Find out how a business owner, marketer and father found the time to write a book. Includes tips for organizing time, maintaining a writing schedule, and sharing the load to get the job done.
Regularly putting a pen to paper is demanding work. A finished piece can give you great pride – whether it’s a blog post, a short story or a book. It’s arguably harder for first-time business book authors to write because many work full time and have a family. How do they do it?
Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Junta42, recently finished writing his first book, 'Get Content. Get Customers', with a co-author, Newt Barrett, President, Content Marketing Strategies. He says there is no substitute for hard work and determination. “You’ve got to want it. I’m consistently tired, to tell you the truth.” But he did write and publish a book.
Here are some of his tips for writing a book and getting it published while maintaining a business and spending quality time with a family.
Dozen Tips for Writing a Business Book
-> Tip #1: Find quiet place, time to write
Work in a quiet place that’s free of distractions so you can concentrate on writing. Most people work during the day, so you probably have two choices: early morning and late at night. Pulizzi wrote between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. – when his kids were asleep and his clients wouldn’t call.
-> Tip #2: Start with a blog
Start blogging about your book’s topic to help establish a writing rhythm and organize your thoughts. You can use some of the content in the book. “Let’s say I had three [blog posts] one week. I basically created a half chapter just from blogging three times,” Pulizzi says.
->Tip #3: Write tentative table of contents first
A table of contents is a book’s outline. Create one before you start writing to measure your progress and make sure the book has a beginning, middle and end. Starting without a TOC can waste a lot of time, Pulizzi says.
“I know one person who’s working on a 500-page book, but they don’t know when they’re going to be done because they didn’t have a table of contents to start with, [and] they didn’t have a due date. You have to set those things so you know what kind of progress you’re making...If you don’t, how do you know where to end? You don’t,” Pulizzi says.
The original table of contents will look nothing like the final version, Pulizzi says. His book’s TOC evolved through five or six versions before it went to a review team. Then it was reworked again one month before the book was printed.
-> Tip #4: Find a co-author you trust
Split the work with a co-author you trust and share similar goals with. Two people managing the design, writing and selling will quicken the process. You can also incorporate another person’s ideas and leverage their industry contacts. “If I didn’t find a co-author and split the time, [the book] would not be done right now,” Pulizzi says.
Pulizzi and Barrett had worked together for years and were writing separate books on a similar topic. Pulizzi had written a few introductory chapters and had a few conversations with Barrett before they dug in, so they knew that they:
-Understood the direction of the book
-Were working toward the right goals
-Knew the questions to ask during interviews
-Needed to maintain a writing schedule
(NOTE: Working with a co-author can have some problems as well. You may disagree on certain decisions or not be able to work out a uniform writing style, for instance. Then you will have to split any profits and share the fame, etc.)
-> Tip #5: Sign a binding agreement
Before starting to write, work up a legal agreement that details the following:
-Work to be done and who is responsible for what content
“We set it up right from the beginning that this is 50-50 no matter who wrote more pages or did more work,” Pulizzi says.
His partner was responsible for managing the financials of the project, the case studies and the website. Pulizzi was responsible for the research, writing the chapters and managing the book’s production.
Pulizzi suggests using a spreadsheet to coordinate the work. Each task, such as an interview or a chapter draft, should be scheduled and checked off as it’s completed. The schedule will keep you on track and moving at a steady pace. Do not get too wrapped up in which software to use for the task. Just make sure a shared document exists.
->Tip #6: Craft publishing and selling plan before writing
Look at how you will publish it before you spend months and months writing it. Consider the following:
Most first-time authors self-publish their books. To avoid interrupting the project at crunch time, know these details:
- Number of books to publish in the first printing
- Cost for the first run
- Cost for subsequent printings
- Cost for copywriting, proofreading and design
Pulizzi’s partner worked on approximately 10 different spreadsheet models for determining the best way to publish, he says. “We worked out all different ways to figure out what our break-even was. So we knew very early on, went through how much it would cost on a per-piece standpoint for printing.”
o Create selling strategy
Pulizzi’s selling strategy involved three primary steps:
- Leverage corporate clients to sell preorder copies
- Tap his blogging contacts for reviews
- Consistently churn out press releases.
->Tip #7: Follow a production schedule
Deadlines are great motivators. Set them and strive to meet them – but don’t kill yourself. A self-imposed deadline is not set in stone. Pulizzi initially planned to have the book written by March.
“Probably in the January time frame, we knew that we didn’t have all the interviews done that we wanted to. We didn’t have everything in order that we had to have in place…That’s when we pushed [the deadline] out to June.”
-> Tip #8: Tell people you’re writing a book
Tell your friends and colleagues you’re writing a book. They’ll ask about it. Pulizzi used the inquiries as motivation: He either happily reported the book was on track or admitted they were a bit behind schedule.
->Tip #9: Find a good review team
Honest friends make good reviewers. They’re willing to lend a hand, and they’ll tell you when you might have egg on your face. Pulizzi assessed his personal network to find knowledgeable and honest people in the publishing industry to critique his book. They were happy to offer free critiques. He mentioned them in the book’s acknowledgments.
The trusted colleagues looked at the book for two weeks and helped identify content with the following issues:
o Confusing or lacked flow
o Needed more research
o Was inaccurate
o Needed more explanation
->Tip #10: Hire a good copy editor
Pulizzi went straight to a copy editor he had known for years. But you might not have that luxury, so make sure to get references. The person will be responsible for turning your draft into publishable material.
Pulizzi’s editor created a style guide for the book and found many inconsistencies. “We basically had her take the book and make it sing. She added tons of changes and made it all consistent.”
Editing is labor intensive. It requires being an advisor and a contributor as well. Expect to pay at least $2,000 for a book of about 200 to 250 pages.
->Tip #11: Find expert reviews
Expert praise for your book lends credibility and spawns sales. Make sure to give reviewers enough time to read and digest the content. This can be tricky because the book has to be mostly written before it can be reviewed, and it cannot be published without the reviews.
Pulizzi sent rough copies to seven reviewers and gave them 2 1/2 weeks to respond. Most of them replied on time; a few were a week or two late. “During that whole time, we were designing the book. So that’s kind of how we did it from a timing standpoint,” he says.
->Tip #12: Know when to quit
You could write and research a book forever, Pulizzi says. The key is to balance the content with the deadline. One or two extra details that will blow a deadline aren’t worth the trouble. Extend a deadline only if the book has a major flaw.
For example, Pulizzi’s book addresses social media, but not as much as he would like. However, his deadline was too close to dive deeper into the topic. “You come to a point where you say, ‘We have to stop here.’ And if we have more things to say, that can be a different book or another product, because you could literally go on forever.”
Links related to this article:
Special Report: Authors – How to Get Your Business Book Published
Content Marketing Today
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