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As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. (Why anyone would want to skin a cat, I have no idea.) The point is, if you want to write a book, there’s more than one way to do that as well.
The most obvious way is to sit down with your introduction or first chapter and start writing.
Once upon a time . . .
It was a dark and stormy night . . .
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times . . .
And you’ll try to write straight through to the end. Let me tell you right now, that is the slowest way to write a book! (And possibly the most frustrating, too.) There will be times you get distracted or bored. And, if you’re like most business people, you’ll try to muscle your way through it with rigid determination. You’ll try to force yourself to finish a certain number of words. Or you’ll sit down at the end of a long workday and try to make yourself write for two hours.
That strategy is a recipe for disaster! You’ll find reasons not to write. Your kids will need attention. All sorts of important emergencies will crop up in your business. And if you do manage to grit your way through writing an entire book, you’ll be exhausted and may not have the energy to see the project all the way through to publication.
Some people really do work better when they write linearly; that is, from page one to “the end”. So try it out, if you must. However, if you find yourself struggling, let yourself off the hook and learn to write in non-linear chunks. Chunking your book into stand-alone sections is a great way to write what you want, when you want. Jump around from chapter three to chapter seven. It’s fine, as long as you’ve created your outline correctly so you don’t get lost.
There’s no law that says you have to write your first draft in order. However, once you’re down to the final edits and revisions, then you really do need to work in order from beginning to end. Work the later drafts in the same order that most readers will consume the information.
Sometimes starting with a blank page, even with a brain-tickling question at the top, is just too daunting. It’s too hard to translate thoughts on a subject from your brain to the computer screen. In this case, the solution might be to pull out your smart phone, or plug a microphone into any recording device, and speak your answers to your outline questions.
Answer each question as if you were talking to a customer over lunch. Then, send the recordings out to a transcriptionist. My favorite transcription service is Rev.com; they’re fast, reliable, and reasonably priced. (Recordings typically only cost about $1 per minute.) Once you get the transcriptions back, you can move straight to the editing stage. It’s almost like you skipped writing altogether.
Do not publish directly from your transcription! I’ve seen people do this, and it’s really embarrassing for them. A transcription is not the same as a book. That’s because people speak differently than they read. Edit the transcription carefully so it flows naturally to the reading eye. If you don’t want to do the editing yourself, outsource it to a professional. Believe me, it’s worth taking the extra time.
This is another great way to write your book in small chunks over time. Simply write up a series of blog posts on a topic and put them together to form a first draft of your book. If you’ve already got the posts written, it’s a little harder to make them fit the question-based outline format. But, as long as they make sense within your framework, you can fudge it a little.
The benefit of blogging a topic before you publish is you get to see how your audience reacts. Did they understand what you were trying to say? Did they have more questions you didn’t think of? Did they bring up an opposing point of view?
Blogging is a great way to test-drive your answers, but it can take significantly longer to get a finished product. If you
already have a blog with a large loyal following, you might want to consider using some of your existing posts and filling in the rest of the book with original content.
Want all the benefits of being an author, but don’t want to write the whole book yourself? Crowdsourcing might be a good option for you. This is a strategy where you get other people to contribute content for a book in return for co-author status, or for a mention somewhere in the book. This is a great way to fill content gaps, bulk up a thin section, or even write the entire book. (Some of the most successful books in history are written this way. Many of them start with Chicken Soup For The_______.)
There are several ways to crowdsource a book. You could get different industry experts to contribute chapters on their own areas of expertise. The best-selling book Social Boom! by Jeffrey Gitomer was written this way. The theme for that book is different ways to use social media in your business. Different social media experts each contributed and received full credit at the front of their respective chapters.
Another way to crowdsource book content is to scour forums and niche websites. The book 1,000 Clever Sewing Shortcuts and Tips: Top-Rated Favorites from Sewing Fans and Master Teachers by Deepika Prakash was written this way. The owner of a popular sewing forum collected hundreds of short tips from her members and put them all into a book. Each contributor had their name published along with their tip.
You could also interview your clients and customers as case studies. Ask how they used your product or service to solve a particular problem. Case studies and testimonials are often used as filler for business books. And they serve another purpose: they pre-sell readers on your wonderful company. A good case study is a third-party endorsement. It’s social proof. And it’s also more pages in your book.
If you want the ultimate shortcut, you can hire a ghostwriter. While this seems like an easy way out of writing, you will still have to do some work. My ghostwriting clients are often surprised by how involved they are, even when they aren’t doing the writing!
A great ghostwriter will do her best to make you sound amazing in your book. That means developing the best
framework for your goals and target audience, getting all the facts straight, and finding your voice. You want a writer who will deliver an excellent book, one you’re proud of and can use to promote your business for years to come. That means you need to have input during the process. Hiring a top quality ghostwriter can mean the difference between years of struggling over your book and just getting it out there working for you as quickly as possible.
Here are a few tips for hiring a great ghostwriter.
1. If they don’t ask you, “What is the goal for this book?” at the beginning of your conversation, run–don’t walk–away from the conversation. A good business ghostwriter understands that you’re writing the book for a particular purpose, whether it’s client acquisition, prestige, status, or some other reason. Understanding your goals is critical to the success of the book.
2. If they don’t ask, “Who is your target audience?” at the beginning of your conversation, again…run–don’t walk–away from the conversation. It’s equally critical that they know who you want to reach with the book.
3. Find out how they plan to write in your voice. An experienced ghostwriter knows how to do this, and can make sure the book sounds just like you wrote it yourself. Every business has its own culture, its own personality and quirks. If your book reads like it was written by a lawyer, and your brand is all about a living a laid-back surfer lifestyle, there will be a major mental disconnect between your readers and your company.
Readers can innately feel it when there’s something wrong. If they try to make a purchase and the vibe is completely different from what they expect, they can come away with a bad vibe. This is especially important if you plan to do any public speaking. Event organizers will read your book and form expectations in their minds. If you deliver something completely different, it could be disastrous for your career.
4. Obtain references and samples. You can ask a potential ghostwriter what they’ve worked on, but understand they may not be allowed to disclose their clients. (We are, after all, ghost writers. We get paid to be invisible.) However, they should be able to point you to references, testimonials, or their own books as proof of their writing ability and style. For example, some of my past clients are happy to speak with my prospects on the phone, but prefer that I don’t advertise that I wrote their books.
5. Find out exactly what work they will do with your book. Most ghostwriters will write the book, go through the first round of editing with you, hand you the manuscript in MS Word, and then you’re on your own!