For many people, “having a book” is one of the defining aspects of thought leadership. Even in an age of Twitter and Instagram, there’s something about being the author of a book that moves you to another level. This is because:
- Knowing enough about your subject to fill the pages of a book is a testament to your understanding of your topic (one of the points I made in blog post #64, “Why publishing a book gives you and edge in winning business”.
- Having the tenacity and determination to get your ideas out of your brain and onto a printed page is commendable – many people would like to have a book, and you actually made it happen!
- Attracting the interest of a book publisher isn’t easy – it takes someone with already-established credibility to get a publisher to take a chance on your ideas (of course, commercial publishing isn’t your only option – see blog post #63 for more on the four options for book publishing).
So maybe you have an idea in the back of your mind, or a few files of text on your hard drive, or a notebook full of ideas. And you may be stuck there. In this post, I’ll describe some of the methods I’ve used to move my five books from idea to page.
1. Commission a cover design
Right now, your book is in the mental space called “maybe sometime.” It’s a big project, it doesn’t pay money right now, and it’s not something you can actually see. So, turn it into something visible.
Commission a cover. Yes, pick a graphic artist and pay hard money, right now, for them to design the cover for your book. This means you’ll first have to come up with the title, even if it’s just a working title you may change as your book evolves.
While you’re at it, write the blurb that will go on the back cover of your book – the glowing description about who the book is for, and how they’ll benefit from reading it. Think of your ideal reader and how much they’ll appreciate your ideas, and then put that down in text form. To do this, take a look through some of the books on your shelf, and see what they have – and imitate the style of those you like the most.
One key point – be sure that your cover design provides space for the title of the book down the spine in between the back and front cover. This matters, because only books over a certain page count are thick enough to have the title down the spine (it depends on factors such as the publisher, the binding method and the type of paper). But YOUR book will be thick enough for a title on the spine, right?
When you get the cover back from your designer (and note: the back cover will appear on the left, the front on the right, with the spine down the middle) you must have that printed out in color, and fix it to the wall over your desk. That will be a constant reminder to you to put time into pushing your book forward.
Sure, you can go to a site like Canva and develop your own cover design. But it won’t be the same. A book with a cover you designed yourself looks like a book with a cover you designed yourself. It won’t be something that attracts you and makes you want to turn that book into reality.
But by spending real money on a professional design, you’re starting the process of investing in the book-development process – so your book is that much closer to being real.
2. Write your Table of Contents
The second step is much like the “cover” idea – you sit down and write out your book’s Table of Contents. Not just a list of topics you want to cover. Start with the “Preface” and maybe a section, “How to use this book.”
Then, write out each of the topics you want to cover in the book – just get them written. I suggest you plan for about ten chapters. Then, put some effort into rewriting those topics so that they have some zing! and liveliness!! and attractiveness. Make them intriguing – something you’d like to read yourself.
In doing this, start with the viewpoint of your ideal reader. If you’re doing your book largely to demonstrate credibility to the people you want as clients, think of the issues that they want to.
I suggest that you invest some time in formatting your Table of Contents so it looks like something that will appear in your book. Don’t forget to add an Index at the end of your book – these are actually really easy to assemble with current publishing tools. The main benefit is to show you that your book will be weighty and influential enough to be worth indexing.
3. Tell all your friends
One way to put a bit of healthy pressure on yourself is to tell your friends, colleagues, clients, family members and other people in your life, that you’re writing a book. You might ask them their thoughts on your topic, on your title, and on what they’d like to see in your book. But just find a way to casually drop it into your conversations.
But if you want your book to actually happen, go one step further and say that you plan to have the text (in book terms, it’s called a “manuscript”) completed by a certain time, maybe six months from now. And as the months go by and as your “manuscript” file gets longer, be sure to tell those people how you’re doing.
The people who actually care about you will be encouraging. The people who are envious of you for doing something that they’ve only thought about, will be eager to see you fail in your endeavor. In any case, peer pressure is a wonderful thing when it’s in a good cause – specifically, getting your book from idea to reality.
A friend of mine took her book cover and then splashed that out around her social media – her way to put a stake in the sand and say, “I’m going to get this finished.”
4. Make it easy to capture your ideas as you have them
You need to find a way to grab your ideas for your book, when you have them. Otherwise, you’ll lose them.
So, think about what works for you. It could mean carrying around a paper notepad to take notes when an idea occurs to you. Or, have a recording device (I use the iTalk function on my iPhone – there’s almost certainly an equivalent function on what you use, possibly as an app you’ll need to download).
Some people use Evernote so that they can capture ideas when they’re using their computer, smartphone or tablet. Then, it’s in the same place.
Build a paper file and an electronic file, maybe in the Cloud so you can always access it. When you come across printed articles that might be interesting for your readers, tear them out and put them into a file that lives on your desk. And have an online file that lives on your desktop. Take screen grabs, download PDFs, and put them into the file.
This is one benefit to developing your Table of Contents – you can drop those ideas into the file for each chapter.
5. Gather up your spoken words
For many people, writing is a chore. It’s painful. They’d much rather talk. So, talk. Into a recording device (like, your phone). Just prepare an outline of what you’d like to discuss, and then let the words flow.
From there, you have three options:
- Transcribe your own words as a starting point for your manuscript
- Hire a person to transcribe your ideas. You can easily find a transcriber who can do this cost-effectively. I work with a transcriber in Cairo (Egypt, not Illinois), who I found on the worksharing site Upwork. I just create the recording, convert the audio file to an MP3 file (easy when you know how, and YouTube can show you), and put it on Dropbox. She picks it up from there and I get a Word file with the transcription by email.
- Use transcription software – I’m told it’s getting better, but then this always seems to me to be “the technology of the future, and always will be.” Maybe you’ve had amazing results from transcription software – I’d love to hear about it.
And don’t ignore the times when you’re already speaking. If you conduct a workshop, give a speech, or conduct a class, be sure to wear a recording device and a lapel microphone, so you can get your ideas down in an audio recording. Then, use one of the three methods above to convert that recording to text.
6. Set aside time each week to work on your book
If you don’t do it, it won’t get done. And that takes time. So, set aside time each week to work on your book.
I find that putting several one-hour writing sessions onto my weekly to-do list is the best way to make it happened for me. Maybe for you too. Or, it could be that you’re best to set aside a “meeting” with yourself for a time to write. This might work best for you if you take steps like turning off your email program, maybe turning off your phone. Maybe go to a particular place – a rented office, maybe, or a coffee shop – as being a place where you can focus on writing.
This works even better if you’re working with a ghost-writer who is taking your ideas down and converting them to words on a page. There’s no shame in using a ghost-writer, any more than there is in having someone else prepare your income taxes or fix your car. If you don’t have those skills, and don’t want to build them, you are entirely free to outsource that work. Just be sure that the manuscript actually contains your ideas, expressed in your way.
But having a ghost helps you get your book done – partly because you’re spared what may be the painful task of writing, and because the ghost will be in your face on a regular basis, to interview you for your book. Post #73, “Get the help you need to build your thought leadership profile” will tell you about the various kinds of support you can get.
7. Blog your book
My first book, published in 2001, was basically a compilation of articles I’d written. Subsequent books are mostly the original manuscript, with the addition of content from blogs and articles I’ve done. The next book will be an update, with blog content added.
You can do the same. Turn your gargantuan project of publishing a book, into something more bite-sized, by turning your blog into installments of your book. To do this, take your Table of Contents, and then think of blog posts you can write on each of those topics. Maybe drill down into your topic in depth through a series of posts, written in a way that they flow into each other, to form a chapter.
Just do the math. A respectable book – one with a title down its spine – with substantial heft is at least 40,000 words. If your blog posts are 2,000 words (as this one is), that means 20 blog posts you can combine to form your book.
8. Start with bite-sized products
Another way to make your book project manageable is to issue smaller publications along the way. These could be in the form of:
- A white paper that you can format appropriately and have published on your website
- An academic or professional paper published through a journal
- An e-book you publish on a site such as Kindle
These ‘part-way’ products can build interest in your eventually-published book, and can also be a good way to reality-check your ideas with your peers.
9. Commission some co-contributors
Peer pressure can be a good thing. If there are fellow professionals whose insights would be appreciated by your readers, bring them in as co-contributors. Assure them that they’ll get a chance to spread their ideas and get noticed by people they want to notice them.
More to the point, these co-contributors will want to know when they can expect your book to be published, so they can see their words in print. This means you’ll have to name a date. That’s a good thing – because if you choose wisely, your co-contributors will put on the pressure for you to make the book happen.
10. Interview people you can’t disappoint
As well as co-contributors, you can use the occasion of writing your book to get a chance to interview some people you wouldn’t normally have a chance to talk with. This is because writing a book is a substantial, praiseworthy, respectable endeavor. So, you’ll likely have a chance to interview quite a few people you seriously will not want to disappoint by not getting around to finishing your book.
So, as with co-contributors, interviewees can push you towards actually getting the book done and in to your publisher.
What helps you get through your book-writing process? Please share any ideas you have, in the comments section. Looking forward to hearing from you.