For non-fiction authors and editors, getting a book from the idea stage to the working project stage is a herculean task. This reminds me of something X Prize founder Peter Diamandis told me a few years ago about startups: "Each step in the journey has it's own distance, some farther than others. The biggest step for any new venture is the leap from zero to one. Get there, and going from two to eight will seem like a short series of hops in comparison."
This observation transfers to our world. A business book, for example, is a startup. There's a boatload of work to get it ready for public consumption. There's a short runway for it to take off from before it's abandoned by the publisher for the next plane coming out of the hangar.
But if you stall at the 'idea for a book' stage, you will #fail.
This is the agony of many agents and editors, trying to coax a book out of famous people, business success stories or those with inspiring stories. It's one thing to get people excited about your book in conversation, quite harder to achieve traction, leading to a torrent of words. I've published four books, and through the process, learned a great deal from my agents at Dupree Miller about getting from zero to one. Additionally, for Net Minds Select, I'm working with six authors as a producer, giving me even more experience at tackling this challenge. I recommend the following process:
Not every speech transfers to a good book. Not every topic that you think is hot is right for your expertise. Just because you have a passion to 'report on it and offer advice' doesn't mean it is going to be accepted by media, readers and the community as valuable.
First, ask yourself: Why would people have an emotional reaction to this book? What are you willing to reveal or dredge up that will provoke? If you are writing business, consider what startup guru Nathan Furr advises in his book, Nail It Then Scale It: "Solve a shark bite, not a paper cut." Just because there's no other book out there that deals with your problem, if it's not significant, no one will care about it. Regardless of your sub-genre, you must create something that people have a sense of pride promoting. As Jan Miller often told me, "your book has to work, long after you take the gas off the [promotional] pedal."
Next, ask yourself: Why am I the best person to write this book? Just because you are willing to and consider yourself a good Google-Sleuth, doesn't mean you are the expert that should write the book on the subject. Your book needs to reflect on your experiences, proprietary knowledge and some remarkable accomplishments or failures you've been a vital part of. If you want to write a leadership book, you'd better be a leader of an organization most people have heard of OR you teaching it at Stanford business school. Later, when you are pitching this book to media, influencers and outlets – they will 'get' your book concept. Otherwise, your pitch will not sing. You'll fail the 'why him?' test, and they will take a pass on your book.
After these first two steps, you might likely reconsider your idea for a book. To borrow an well-worn literary piece of advice: Write what you know. So ask yourself, what have I done and learned from that people would care about enough to tell all their friends? Now you have an idea!
The Elevator-Pitch is so 1985. No one has that much time now to listen to your pitch. In our social-media culture, your pitch needs to fit into a Facebook update.
Here's a Net Minds Select example: "Famous rock drummer is writing a book how he overcame performance anxiety when asked to appear on national television or stadium shows with little preparation. He's interviewed brain surgeons, entrepreneurs, actors and athletes – finding techniques that all share. If you ever have high-stakes moments in life, this book is for you."
Now we have a working vision for the project that's both credible and interesting to an addressable market.
This is a big moment for a book idea. When you come up with that single line title for your project, it's a living-breathing thing. For the above example, we considered several titles for the book, and did so very early in the process. When Nerve Breakers was suggested as the title, we all got it right away. Sounded great, looked great on paper, was snappy and even described the author (and the brave people he interviewed.) It added urgency to the whole project.
I've learned through experience that when you are in the market for a dog, and you visit the home to preview the puppies, if someone in the family gives a candidate a name – you are taking the dog home! This is how it works for your book too, once you have a title that sings, you become attached to it and excited about it's potential.
(Note: Later, you'll craft a sub-title, called sales copy by publishers. This will tell readers what the book promises. Example: My first book was titled Love Is the Killer App and subtitled How To Win Business And Influence Friends.)
A great non-fiction book builds on itself and culminates at the end with a complete solution and a little twist to keep the reader honest. Too many books in our genre have a strong introduction, then pad their way to the publisher's required word count (often way too long for the sake of price point). This means that you have to be very thoughtful about how the argument will be built or the story will be told.
If you are writing an advice book from self-help to business, start with a simple outline: Premise and Promise, Idea One, which leads to Idea Two and Ends with Final Idea For Maximum Success. For Nerve Breakers, the order is different: Author's story, including a preview of his winning ways. Interviews with fellow Nerve Breakers. Final essay, tying all of them together into his final point of view.
Once you have this outline (A, sub point 1, etc.), you can break the book down into smaller parts. But that process (going from One to Four in your project) will be explored in a future post.
Tim is a bestselling author and former Yahoo! executive with a mission to disrupt the traditional publishing and self-publishing industries and share knowledge with authors looking to publish and market high-quality books.Follow @sanderssays
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