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So You Want to Write a Business Book? Six Tips for Success

There is evidently one thing that virtually all business people have in common – the desire to write a book about their particular area of expertise.  When I was writing my book and would mention it, I almost always got these two comments, and in this order.  About what?  A reasonable question because most people knew that while my main business has long been sales and service training, I also write music, constantly innovate new behavioral embedding programs for businesses, plus for many years I business-managed glamorous celebrities.

But the second comment I received from just about everybody, unless they had already written a book, was an envious or admiring, Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a book!

If I followed up with, Well, why don’t you?, the main reason given was I can’t possibly find the time.  Which is more than a little ironic, considering that I had just told them my book was about that very thing – how to find time to attend to your own priorities, instead of letting what I call Time Bandits steal it from you.

So if you are dreaming about one day sitting there, holding your own book of advice in your hands, but despairing of ever finding the time, here are six tips for making it happen.

  1. Find the time you need by taking it back from your Time Bandits.

I realize that sounds like a thinly disguised way of getting you to read my book, so be it –but that’s not my reason for this tip.  But if lack of time is the main thing standing between you and realizing your dream, wouldn’t it be helpful to learn how to recover about three to five hours a day that you spend on unproductive, unnecessary interruptions?  Isn’t that just about the amount of time you’d want to devote to writing your book?  I can assure you, you won’t write a good book if you are constantly frustrated by interruptions and anxious about other obligations going unmet.

  1. Secure your uniqueness.

What’s valuable and unique about what you bring to your topic?  You already know how your insights serve you in business and what your competitors say.  But you want a broader view before you start your book, and you want more clarity on exactly what you bring to the reader that others have not – or have not done so in the same way that you would.

So take time to review what’s already out there.  After all, Google says there are about 130 million books out there.  When you see topics that sound like yours, see how those authors presented their ideas.  Try to clarify your message to yourself before you start writing the book.  Try to settle on how you want to present your ideas – highly reasoned, grounded in empirical research, illustrated with anecdotes.  That’s all wide open until you decide.

By the time I started writing my book about interruptions, I knew the topic wasn’t unique, but I also knew my own experience learning to appreciate Quiet Time and teaching people how to communicate and sell gave me a unique angle for expounding afresh on the topic.

  1. Probe the personal for business context

By that I mean, sure, it’s a business book, but we are not divided selves.  We are not purely business people during the work day.  We don’t turn into different persons away from work.  In some fashion, your personal life has heavily informed whatever it is that you do in business, and vice versa.  It can give powerful context to your business insights.  You don’t have to recount every formative event in your life, but when personal matters turn out to be the best way to articulate something valuable you have to say, go for it!  Readers often find such matters interesting, and personal experience makes the business insight more memorable.

You’ll have to find the right balance – it’s different for everybody, no doubt.  For me, I realized midway through writing my book that I was obliged to recount some intensely personal matters that had taught me the first lessons about how to spend my time fruitfully.

  1. Choose good collaborators.

I don’t care how well you know your topic or how good a writer you are.  You need at least one collaborator in writing your book.  You have, after all, only your perspective.  You know how to tell your story to interested parties in your business.  But a book is different – you want it to end up in the hands of total strangers whose motivations you can’t even guess at.  So you need collaborators who bring their own perspective and add it to yours.

Obviously your collaborator needs to be skilled in writing, but they also need to bring what you don’t have.  If your writing is solid but not captivating, you need somebody who can make it so.  If your writing trends toward the anecdotal, you need someone who can cultivate the empirical. If your writing is strictly declarative, make sure your collaborator can help you make it illustrative. Be honest with yourself about what you’re missing so that you find the person who can supply it.

Clarify roles. If you want to write your own book in your own voice and just have a collaborator to refine it, you don’t want someone who tries to rewrite your every word and change your voice.  If, however, you mainly want your insights ghost-written, you don’t want a collaborator who thinks of himself as an editor, not a creator.

Since this is such an important relationship and will make writing the book either a pleasure or a pain, start small to test the relationship.  I chose as my collaborators people whom I had worked with on non-book matters for years, and we still hit rocky patches because book-writing is a whole new venture.  So take your time to get the right team.  You’ll still have arguments – that’s probably good, but you should all be clear on roles and objectives.

  1. Say goodbye to your comfort zone.

I just said it – book-writing is a whole new venture.  There’s no law that says you have to get involved in the myriad areas of expertise that it takes to write, publish, and promote a book, but when it’s your baby, you’ll feel the pressure to take part.  If all you really want to do is get your insights on paper between two covers, you can outsource everything else.  There are plenty of experts around, let me assure you!

But if you outsource it all, you’ll start to feel like you’re losing control of something that matters more to you than it does, frankly, to any of those willing experts.  You’ll wish you had more experience in book design, bookstore display, publishing intricacies, pricing, illustrations, and even fonts, for heaven’s sake.  On and on, you’ll find yourself called upon to make decisions that maybe you haven’t made before.  You’ll be out of your depth and have to ask for advice in ways you haven’t had to ask since you got your first job!

Try to enjoy the journey, and keep recalling why you’re doing it.

  1. Just do it. 

Sorry, but I can’t improve on Nike’s simple slogan.  If it’s your dream to have your insights published in a book bearing your name, get started now.  Don’t wait in the vain hopes that someday you won’t have any other matters vying for your attention, or that one day the words will come effortlessly to your fingertips.

Langston Hughes asked the right question:  What happens to a dream deferred?  We know the answer – nothing good.  Don’t defer yours.

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About Edward G Brown

Edward G. Brown had no time to write this book, which is exactly why he wrote it. Bronx born and bred, he co-founded the #1 firm in culture change management consulting and training for the financial services industry, Cohen Brown Management Group, now in 50 countries and 12 languages. Its past and present clients include…