While new media may be all the rage, writing a book is still one of the best marketing tools around.
"A book starts with an idea," says Rob Basso, author of The Everyday Entrepreneur (Wiley, 2011). "So, before you start writing, you need to determine how good this idea is and if it can sell." And, while writing a book may end up being the hardest thing you've ever done, it's also sure to be one of the most rewarding. For instance, penning a book can help spread the word about your business or lend you more credibility if you're looking to become an authority on an industry or subject matter.
Here's a step-by-step guide for telling your story:
1. Test your idea by blogging or writing short articles.
Before you sketch out 200 pages of copy, see if there's interest in your idea. Write an article or two for a relevant website or magazine, says Ariane de Bonvoisin, author of several books, including The First 30 Days (HarperOne, 2008) and What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Writing a Book (Ariane Media, 2012).
"This will give you a quick indication of the interest in your topic, what comments you get, etc," says de Bonvoisin. "A fantastic article can help launch a book, a conversation, even a brand and get tremendous early press," she adds. "This can then get interest from publishers."
2. Commit time to writing.
Once you've decided you're ready to write a book, budget your time. Some founders suggest using weekends as prime writing time so you're not distracted from your startup. Begin by writing an outline that will ultimately end up as a 100-page proposal that you'll use to entice a publisher to partner with you in bringing your book to market. "Think about what works best for you," suggests Meredith Liepelt, a brand strategist who has self-published two books with another coming out this spring. "You may need to take yourself to a café and work on it all weekend, for several weekends in a row."
3. Create a realistic timeline.
Instead of promising yourself you'll finish your book in six months, make sure your timetable is workable. And don't forget to include the time it will take to write your proposal, which includes sample chapters that show off your crispest writing style.
Then, once the book is written, you'll need to spend time marketing it. "You have to be willing to promote your book, and that can take just as long or longer than it took to write it," says Karen Murphy, a senior editor at Jossey-Bass, an imprint of John Wiley & Sons, who specializes in business books. "This means blogging about it, speaking about it, doing social-media campaigns, growing your platforms and putting your time and energy behind it."
4. Broaden your scope.
In this crowded market of books, yours needs to stand out. Write it towards the universal, not the specifics of the business/startup, suggests de Bonvoisin. "Make it about something other than the business itself, for example, the team, finding money, the challenges, the leadership, the mistakes, the origin of the idea at the start, the fears, the humanity behind the business," she says. The goal: To make the book appeal to not only the intellect of the readers but, especially, their emotions.
How to do this? "Make it personal. Be open, be vulnerable, be relatable, be someone likable, be conversational. Write like you are an equal to your reader," she adds. "This will broaden your audience reach far beyond just being a business book."
5. Don't retreat to your cave.
During the writing process, talk to as many people as possible about your book. In fact, consider giving a speech about some of the content you plan to include in it. Whatever you do, don't keep your book to yourself until it's all done, de Bonvoisin advises. "Let people give you feedback and get their advice," she says. "One rule for writers is ‘writing is re-writing' so be prepared for that, too."
6. Prepare for bumps in the road.
Let's say you've committed to finishing your book in six months and you've gotten derailed along the way due to your day job of running your company. Don't panic if you have to rework your deadlines. "You're going to face challenges throughout the book-writing process," Liepelt says. "It's absolutely acceptable to make a new plan and set new deadlines for when you'll complete your chapters."
7. Find a publisher, or not.
While everyone wants to be published by a big-name imprint, fact is, you may have to go it alone. Before you give up, though, ask around. "Talk to colleagues, friends and consider posting a call to action on your social-media platforms that you're looking to be connected to a publisher or book agent," Basso suggests.
Still, never underestimate the power of self-publishing. "By self-publishing, you get to control all aspects of your book," says Liepelt. "You're the one coming up with the content, and you don't have to write a proposal and find a publisher." And even if you did go through a publisher, you'd have to market your own book anyway, she adds. One caveat: You'll have to find someone to edit your book. "No one can edit their own work," says Liepelt.
8. Keep your image at heart.
Keep in mind that your book reflects the image you want to present to the world. "In many cases this will be the first thing that a potential customer sees when being introduced to you and your company," says Adam J. Salviani, Director of Perimedes Publishing in New York City. "Just as in interviews, it's important to make a good impression right away." So, make sure the first few chapters are fast paced, informative and fun. "Of course, over the greater part of the book, it's imperative to be concise and entertaining when possible, without compromising your message," Salviani adds.
What other book writing tips would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments section below.
Lambeth Hochwald is a freelance journalist, whose stories have appeared in magazines such as Coastal Living, O The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple and Redbook. She is also an adjunct professor at NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.