Should I Write A Book? Yes: Who, Why & How
85% of Americans in business say they want to write a book. 5% do.
There is no easier way to reach the top 5%.
I’m just wrapping up a book and it’s reminded how awesome it is. My hunch is that you could probably benefit from writing one as well.
James Altucher recently said:
“Every entrepreneur should self-publish a book, because self-publishing is the new business card. If you want to stand out in a world of content, you need to underline your expertise. Publishing a book is not just putting your thoughts on a blog post. It’s an event. It shows your best curated thoughts and it shows customers, clients, investors, friends and lovers what the most important things on your mind are right now.”
Writing a book isn’t what it used to be. You don’t need a publisher (and readers don’t care that you don’t have a penguin on your back cover). You don’t need to spend years researching it. You don’t need to be an “author” (or smoke a pipe or wear a tweed jacket). You don’t need to dedicate your entire life to it. These things are great for some people. Most people who could benefit from writing a book don’t need to go to these extremes though.
Here’s a preview of what we’ll talk about in this post:
- Who should write a book?
- Why should I write a book?
- How can I write a book?
Let’s do the darn thang.
[Note: We’re talking about nonfiction books in this post. Nothing against fiction, I just don’t have as much experience with it and there aren’t quite as many benefits.]
Who Should Write A Book?
Not quite everybody, but pretty damn close. Your competitive advantage is that even though everyone “wants” to write a book nobody actually will.
- The entrepreneur who needs to spread the idea of his company. Sure, blogging about your insights can help us understand that you know what you’re talking about. Every blog post you make is worth 10x more if you’ve written a book. Why? It’s proof that you’ve really thought the thing through. Anyone can stick up a blog post, not many people will think about something enough to write a book about it. Example: Chris Baggot has started and sold multiple companies for billions of dollars. When he built ExactTarget (sold to Salesforce for $2.5 billion) he wrote a book on email marketing.)
- Current business owners who want to increase sales. A book not only positions you as an authority, but elevates your business as well. Not only does a book increase conversions because people trust you more, it can also act as a lead generator. Example: Catrise Austin is a dentist. This is what she said about writing a book: “I would estimate my business has increased 30 to 40 percent as a result of the book,” Austin says. “People trust and support people who appear in the media or are published. I get to reach audiences I never would have had access to without the opportunities this book has given me.” Also, 37Signals/Basecamp.
- Job seekers. Imagine telling a company that you wrote a book on the job you want. That shows an employer everything they need to know about you. (1) You know what the hell you’re talking about and (2) you’re actually interested in the topic and (3) you’re a self-starter.
- Anybody looking for a place to start. Writing a book will help you prepare for your start while starting. It’s a project that you can get to work on now while figuring out what to do next.
- Anyone who feels aimless in life. There are few things that can sharpen your focus, make you more curious, and make you feel like you’re working on something awesome than writing a book. Writing a book should have a definite start and end date so it’s relatively easy to commit to. Writing a book is open enough to not make you feel trapped yet focused enough to get rid of the aimless feeling. Examples: Half the books published on ThoughtCatalog.
- Consultants who want to boost sales. Most high-profile business books you see on the shelf are literally business cards for business consultants that work with massive companies. You don’t need to be a bestseller to get some of the same effect. Writing a book shows that you are on the cutting edge (and, I should mention, makes sure that you do actually know your stuff). Example: All of them! See David Meerman Scott.
- The web designer (or programmer, or any freelancer) that wants to get hired. There are few things that will boost your sales faster than writing a book. Again, show that you know your stuff. Example: Kevin Airgid’s ebook.
- The would-be thought leader/influencer who needs to show the thoughts he’s leading. A book is a declaration that you’re here to lead. That you respect your ideas to compile them outside of a blog post. That you’re not f*#$ing around. Example: Chris Guillebeau’s books all act in this way. Note that they also are massive lead generators for his events and courses (where he actually makes money.)
- The person who wants to leave a legacy. We all want to leave a piece of ourselves behind. We do this in all sorts of ways. Some people leave fortunes, some leave their names on buildings, some leave the feeling of love in hearts all over the place. Writing a book ensures that a piece of you survives your death. Even if only for future generations of your family or for your small audience online. Example: Every memoir, autobiography, or other book where the author cared about the ideas living on.
- People who don’t know what to do. (1) Writing a book will make you go through things that will help you find what you do want to do. (2) It’s a great way to test-drive a type of working without a super-long commitment (you can write a book in a month or less if you really want). (3) No matter what you end up doing after writing the book, you will have created something of value that you can point to the rest of your life. Example: You’d be surprised by how many books out there are in this category. David Meerman Scott began writing because he didn’t know what to do next.
- The person who feels like they know nothing. If you feel like you don’t deserve to write a book then you (maybe more than anybody) need to. Not only will writing a book prove to you do know something, it will also force you to learn a ton.
- Anyone who wants to become an authority/expert. When you’re done you’ll have proof that you are an authority. More importantly, you will become an authority in the process of writing it.
Why Should I Write A Book?
We touched on a bunch of benefits above but boy oh boy are you in for a treat. You’ll notice some overlaps with the “Who” section but these are universal benefits, divorced from just your specific goal.
“The best way to become acquainted with a subject is to write a book about it.” – Benjamin Disraeli
- Establishes you as an authority which…
- Increases trust which…
- Increases sales.
- (By the way, you actually become an authority which is the benefit that really lasts.)
- Sets you apart from people who just write blog posts. This is true even if you compile a bunch of blog posts into an ebook.
- Instant boost in earning power. This is true especially for consultants and coaches but is just as true for anyone else.
- Creates massive amounts of focused content as a byproduct. When you write a book you will end up with tons of content that you can repurpose for use on your blog, for guest-posts, in slide-shares, videos, infographics, anything. As content marketing becomes more important this becomes a huge benefit.
- You create culture instead of just consuming it. The shift from being primarily a consumer to primarily a creator is huge. Writing a book is one of the most definite ways you can make the switch.
- You master one of the three most important skills for the machine economy: connecting with humans. I can’t overstate the importance of this one. When you write a book you are forced to consider how to effectively communicate to others. We are writing all day every day to each other. You should see some of the emails I get from StartupBros readers… they are totally incomprehensible. I feel bad because these people are stuck in life but it’s so obvious why: they can’t even write a decent email! Communication is necessary to do anything in life, the smoother your communication, the more opportunities you have. Think about it, how will you get hired if you can’t communicate why you should be hired? How will you get a significant other if you can’t communicate with them? How can you sell a product if you can’t communicate to someone why they should buy it?! If you’re stuck, mastering communication might be the best path to getting unstuck.
- It’s easier to get people to give you money. The entrepreneur who’s written a book may find it easier to raise money for his startup. The coach who’s written a book will find people more eager to pay him. The salesman who’s written a book will find people trusting him more, and therefore more willing to give him money.
- Blast your personal brand to the next level. There are few things you can do for your personal brand that are as straightforward and powerful as writing a book.
- It acts as a bridge for the wantrepreneur to becoming an entrepreneur. You’ve been thinking about this thing forever. For whatever reason, you haven’t started. Sit down and put all your ideas down.
- It can launch your “traditional” writing career. Publishers basically aren’t going to talk to you unless you’ve already published a book and you’ve got some readers. Don’t wait for permission; just write your damn book. (Oh, by the time a publisher knocks on your door you may not have any use for them anyway.)
- Gives you access to a different level of networking.
- Gives you immediate access to blogs, podcasts, speaking platforms, and other publicity you wouldn’t have been considered for before. If you’re trying to get leads from other people’s platforms you can skip the slog through the small guys if you release a book.
- Creates curiosity (and just makes life better in general). When you write regularly you see everything as fodder for writing. You begin to connect the ideas you’re writing about to all sorts of things in the real world. This not only makes the quality of your life better, it also opens you up to opportunities you wouldn’t have seen before.
- Provides a sense of mission/purpose. When you’re writing a book you’ve got a mission. You are working on something that matters. Things that would feel meaningless before suddenly take on a meaning because you can use them in your writing.
- Forces you into successful habits. Writing a book will force you to be (somewhat) organized, consistent, break large tasks into smaller ones, work even though you have no motivation, push through dips, and finish what you started.
- It gives you momentum. When you finish your book you will be hungry for the next project.
- It makes bigger goals seem doable. If you can write a book what else are you capable of? A lot.
- Gets you unstuck. I think I mentioned this before but it’s true. It works. I’ve used it.
- Launch a career (or venture fund, like Y-Combinator). Paul Graham sold his startup, ViaWeb, and was looking for what to do next. He started writing essays (which he compiled into the awesome book Hackers & Painters). These essays got so popular that he decided to give a talk about them to some Stanford students. That talk was so successful that he started a mentoring program. That mentoring program was so successful that Y-Combinator was born.
- Launch a career, Part II. Tim Ferriss was sick of working his ass off building up a supplement company. He was making okay money. He freaked out and cut his workweek down to 2 hours using productivity hacks. He gave a talk about how he did that to Princeton students. The talk went so well that he wrote The 4-Hour Workweek. That book did so well that he became the silicon valley, lifestyle-design, whatever-hacker guy. Now people don’t stop throwing money at him.
- Launch a career, Part III. Are you seeing the pattern here? If you put your ideas down they can lead to massive opportunities. You can’t see what those opportunities are. (Paul Graham didn’t start out thinking he would redefine the Venture Capital industry and Tim Ferriss didn’t release his book planning on being “The Grandfather of Lifestyle Design”.) The point is that releasing a book allows possibilities to emerge in your life that would never have existed before.
- Oh yeah, you’ll help people. Contrary to popular belief, this is actually a benefit to you. After we can pay for life and eat Chipotle and pay for books and movie tickets (I’m projecting, clearly) life gets better in direct relation to how much you make other people’s lives better. Writing is literally allowing other people into your mind. Maybe you can make them believe in themselves again. You can make them feel less lonely. You can help them make more money. You can help them be a little happier. You can help them not be bored. You can help in so many ways.
- You’ll discover benefits I haven’t dreamed of. These are all just benefits that I’ve experienced and witnessed. I didn’t even mean to get to “Z” but I couldn’t stop thinking of benefits. Your experience is your own and I guarantee that you find something even more awesome when you write your book.
What more could you possibly want!?
And now for the How!
How Do I Write A Book?
A Note on Famous Habits
I’m not sure exactly how you’ll write a book but I’m exactly sure that it won’t be like anybody else. Let’s talk about writing environments, tools, and drugs first. Then we’ll get into the vastly more practical part: how you can start writing your book.
- Place. Stephen King wrote part of Carrie sitting on laundry machine. Maya Angelou had a motel room she wrote in every day. Nietzsche wrote in a notebook he carried on day-long walks. Woody Allen has written on the same type writer at the same desk in the same corner of his house for fifty years. Some people are consistent, some are sporadic. Some people like coffee shops, some like libraries. The thing that beginning writers don’t get is this: it doesn’t matter. If you think you need a certain place to write then you probably won’t. You’ve got to be able to get words out no matter where you are. It might be worth setting up a place that you go to write but don’t be a slave to it.
- Drugs. Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote drunk until realizing that was actually a bad idea. Kevin Smith writes while blazed. Carl Sagan did some of that as well. Ayn Rand wrote a ton of Atlas Shrugged on amphetamines. Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road on Benzedrine. Writers are notorious for sucking down unreal amounts of coffee. I’m not going to lie, coffee will help your creativity. I have a hunch it just makes your more excited about ideas that are already there. Either way, it’s never a good idea to be dependent on anything. The vast majority of successful writers don’t need any drug. They just sit down and do the hard work. Steven King was an alcoholic for a while, then a coke-addict, then he burnt out. His writing got worse rather than better. For decades he’s sat down and pumped out 2,000 words without the assistance of any drug.
- Inspiration. Writers often talk about being visited by the “muses”. They will also tell you that muses only show up after putting in a whole lot of hours without them. The act of creating is the only way to consistently be inspired.
- Tools. Somebody who doesn’t actually want to sit down and write will agonize over the proper tool to use. I mentioned earlier that Woody Allen has been using the same typewriter for 50 years… and he produces about a movie a year. The tools don’t matter, writing matters. That being said, I just started using Scrivener for writing books and it’s been pretty great. If you don’t have that then I’d just use Word or Google Docs for now.
Now for the how-to-how-to.
Really, there’s only one thing that matters:
Define Your Goal for the Book
You can break down the book writing process like a movie production: there is pre-production (getting your idea, outlining, setting your goals, foundation for marketing, etc), production (writing, editing, rewriting, writing), and post-production (design, cover, typography, publishing, marketing, etc.) We are going to focus on pre-production here and then dip lightly into production and post-production.
(For more information on how to write better check out our Ultimate Writing Guide for Entrepreneurs.)
The first thing to do is decide on your goal for writing the book. Books can serve a lot of different purposes and it’s good to know what you want your book to do before you make it. Some possible goals:
- Increase authority and establish yourself as a thought-leader. This, for first time authors, is often the most effective goal to set. If you’re trying to close more sales, enter a new industry, get hired, start coaching or consulting business, increase your company’s position in an industry, or find a new direction this will probably be your goal. You will be able to show what you know while you increase your knowledge base. What will you do with your new position of authority? Sell something? Lead something? Contribute to larger platforms?
- Make money. Books are almost always better at making money indirectly than directly. A consultant might happily lose money getting a book to the best seller list (you can guarantee this for about $200,000) because they understand that the sales that follow will more than pay for the promotion. A web designer that has written a book isn’t questioned about whether or not he’s an expert. That being said, you can make a decent chunk of money selling ebooks. Steven Scott is making upwards of $60,000 a month selling $1-$4 ebooks that he writes in a month or less (he is now taking 6-8 weeks to bump up the quality and depth of books he releases). The important part of this: the book is only the beginning, you’d be amazed at the opportunities that follow.
- Raise awareness for a cause. Maybe you’re passionate about a certain cause. Writing a book is a great way to spread the ideas you think are important. Books carry more weight than individual blogs. Writing a book will boost every other form idea you spread (social media, blogs, etc).
- Launch a writing career. If you want to be a writer then self-publishing is the best strategy out there. You’ve got to be an “authorpreneur” now. No publishing house is going to discover you or anything like that. The tools to publish are free, we’re just waiting for you to write your book.
- Launch a business. This is especially true for coaching and consulting businesses.
- For yourself. Maybe you just want to write a book. You’re not trying to build your career with it. You just want to prove that you can do it.
- Help people. This should be part of the plan regardless.
- Learn something in depth.
- Any goal you can think of. There’s no wrong goal. The important thing is having an aim for the project. Everything you do in the process of creating the book will be guided by this aim. The topic, title, cover design, writing style, and the way you market it will all be determined by what you want your readers to get from the book.
This helps you start with the end in mind (even if the end is still uncertain). It helps you see who you want to think what.
Speaking of “what”, what are you going to bring in the world with your book?
Decide on the Type of Book You’re Writing
Here are some possible types of value you can deliver with your book:
- New information. Or information presented in a new way. (Examples: Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan, Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, and pop-psyche books.)
- Entertain them. You can scare them or make them happy or make them cry. All good books are entertaining, some focus on it as the primary goal. (Examples: Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, E. L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey…)
- Hope. You can show them brighter possibilities. (Example: Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart.)
- A feeling of not being alone. Showing people that other people have been where they are and made it through is powerful. (Example: Most non-technical books fit into this category.)
- History. This can also be recent history, like what happened in the marketing industry in the last five years and where are we now? (Examples: Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me, I’m Lying, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit.)
- Guidebook. A guide to getting something specific. This might range from a textbook to a New Age self-help book. (Examples: Seneca’s Letters to a Stoic, Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work, Taleb’s Antifragile.)
Actually Writing the Freaking Thing
We are going to skip over the stages of verifying market size, choosing a topic, and building a marketing campaign into your book in this post because that process will be different depending on what you’re goal is for your book.
If there is no right way to eat a Reese’s then there certainly isn’t one right way to write a book. After spending enough time writing you will find your own best practices. What I’m offering here is a general guide for things to try starting out. If you find they don’t work for you, discard them quick. The only thing that matters is that you actually finish your book. (For our purposes, it would be nice to write it in under 10 years. Under 2 months is even better.)
1. Figure out what you know and what you need to know.
Without any outside resources start writing down everything you know about the thing you’re writing. Write it down even if it doesn’t seem obvious right away, it popped up for a reason!
I’m always surprised by how much I actually know when I do this. You have probably naturally done a lot of research while living, reading, and living in general. Maybe you’ll remember an article or author to reference, just make a note and go back later.
As you do this you will notice that there are some chapters that you could write without referencing anything else. Other areas may seem totally foreign. Actually, more than anything you may notice the gaps in your knowledge and feel “holy crap I know nothing, I have no business writing this book”. That’s the voice you tell to shut up and just keep writing. Those gaps are what will drive your research. No author has full knowledge of something when they go into writing a book. Often they start writing the book just because they want an excuse to research more about it!
After half an hour or so you will begin to see patterns emerging. Nothing is concrete, you’re just finding your way around. That being said, you’ll probably find yourself writing chapter headings and sub headings, you’ll start grouping things into a blurry version of an outline.
2. Research (specific and general).
First go fill all the small gaps you identified. Facts, statistics, quotes, and other well-defined pieces of information.
After you’ve filled in all the definite gaps, begin getting gradually wider with your research. A lot of the gaps will be much broader than that. You may need to trace the whole history of some company. Maybe you just need to generally know more about some school of thought.
Then expand slightly broader. Think of other books or movies there are about your topic and go take them in.
The research stage is dangerous. It feels safe and it’s fun to learn so you’ll probably just want to stay there forever.
Set a limit on how much time you’ll take to research and then force yourself to move on.
Honestly the research won’t just stop. I added information to my newest book after the fifth draft. You are constantly taking in information that you will want to work into your book. The idea is that after a certain period your focus will not be on research but on production.
I like to use one huge sheet of paper and then create a kind of detailed table of contents. Usually I’ll transfer that to the computer. A lot of readers love writing ideas on notecards and arranging them into an outline. You make a mindmap online.
The process doesn’t matter. What matters is that you create a document that will always let you know what to write next and makes your research available to you right away.
The better your outline is the faster your draft will happen.
The outline is rarely the final structure of your book though. In the process of writing you may find an awkward transition or that Chapter 2 should actually be Chapter 4.
4. Write your first draft.
This is the step everyone thinks of when they think of writing. If you’ve done your prep work well you will fly through this.
Here are some good rules to get you safely through your first draft:
A. Set a daily word amount to hit. I’d recommend 500 to start. This means that every single day (holidays, weekends, sick days, all days) you write 500 words. One month of this minimum amount will get you to 15,000 words in a month. The magic is that you inevitably writing way more than your 500 word requirements. You will regularly find yourself hitting 1,000 and 1,500 words easily.
B. Hit that minimum limit every single day no matter what. There will days where this feels impossible. It doesn’t matter. You have to hit that limit. No excuse is valid.
C. Write terribly and keep it private. Don’t worry about the quality of your writing, worry about hitting your word count. Don’t let anybody see what you’re writing no matter what. If you try to write well you will feel insecure and get writer’s block and if you let other people see your writing you will feel judged and get writer’s block.
D. Writer’s block isn’t actually a real thing. Everyone can write something all the time. Most of what you write isn’t going to be good. That’s why we edit. You have to write a lot of terrible things to get to the good stuff. It’s just the way it is. I recently watched an interview with an Oscar-winning script writer. He writes 20-30 pages a day and feels lucky if he gets a single usable paragraph out of it! We don’t need to win any Oscars but we do need to be willing to put down words that won’t make the final cut.
E. Write casually. If you try to sound smart you’re going to sound like a jerk. If you try to impress your readers you will repel them. Write like you’re talking to a friend. Your knowledge is going to be obvious if you trust yourself to write plainly. Use little words, not expert-sounding ones. Have a personality. Everyone is writing today and there are about 3 blogs I actually care about reading. People are afraid to be themselves but that’s what the world is begging you for: yourself. You are going to edit this, if you say anything too ridiculous you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get rid of it before the public can see it.
5. Your second draft.
Wait a little while after finishing your rough draft. Congratulations, by the way! Writing a rough draft is tough stuff.
Now it’s time to tighten things up. Get rid of the glaring mistakes. Fix typos.
6. Have a trusted person read it.
This will probably be a friend that you can actually get feedback from. Someone who is in your target audience.
Get their feedback. Actually listen.
7. More drafts.
Go through it again, fix stuff.
Maybe you can stop there. Maybe you’ll need to make another pass.
8. Final draft.
Get that baby in proper form to get published.
It’s squeaky clean. There are no typos.
People can read it because they want to and not just as a favor to you.
There she goes!
But you’ve got to help push her along.
There’s this word being used now “authorpreneur” to describe the fact that authors have to do everything now.
You have to write the book without anyone telling you to.
You have to write the book without an advance
You have to determine the market demand for your book (if you care about it).
You have to edit it (or hire an editor).
You have to design the cover (or hire a designer).
You have to set your own deadline at stick to it (or get in a group who will hold you accountable).
You have to have your own audience to sell your book to (this is true of traditionally published authors as well).
You have to market your own book (this is also true of traditionally published authors).
You have to publish your book on your own. (With Amazon or someone like them, actually.)
You have to do it all. That’s the overwhelming news.
The good news is that all these things aren’t difficult to do anymore. There is free (or cheap) software that puts the power to accomplish all these tasks in your hands. You don’t need the resources of a big company behind you because you have technology.