I recently fulfilled a dream that’s been on my bucket list since I was a kid: to publish a book.
Moreover, I published two of them at the same time. More on that in a moment.
Today, I’m taking stock of that journey—from concept to paperbacks in hand—and answering three questions that I’m now being asked all the time:
Why did you write a book? (And, why two?)
How did you make it happen? (Especially two!)
And was it worth it?
I’ll preface my answers by saying that writing a book is a very personal experience. If you choose to write a book, your reasons and experience will be unique to you.
However, I hope this post nudges someone, somewhere off the fence.
Whatever your motivation might be, get clear about it before you start.
Writing a book is not for the faint of heart. It’s a months-long slog that will overwhelm and dispirit you as often as it excites and rewards you.
If you lack clear and definite purpose, you are likely to join the long list of people who give up before completing their book.
For me, this is not about selling books to make money. That’s a fool’s errand
For me, this is not about selling books to make money. That’s a fool’s errand.
Two-thirds of newly published books sell less than 1,000 copies in the first year—see stats in the comment to this Substack post submitted by Kristen McLean, a publishing industry analyst at NPD BookScan.
If I manage to sell a few books, which is certainly an aspiration, the reward will come from knowing that people are interested in—and hopefully benefiting from—my work.
More importantly, writing a book allows me to accomplish two things:
(1) Check it off my bucket list.
(2) Create a totem, showcasing my expertise and boosting my credibility as a coach.
Don’t underestimate the power of chasing a dream. As a little kid, I made little books with scrap paper and a stapler as soon as I learned to write.
Even though “anyone can publish a book these days”, seeing my name on the spine of a paperback and on the pages of Amazon is incredibly fulfilling.
And, yes, I’m doing this to boost my business creds.
As I’ll discuss in a moment, the act of writing a book can boost your expertise. So, while I’m the same coach today as I was when I started writing the book, the content of my coaching has improved.
What really matters is how potential clients react when they see that a coach has written a book.
Human psychology is wonderfully predictable, which means it can be gamed.
There are dozens of books, videos, and courses that offer tips on how to write a book.
Many of the non-fiction guides are super-formulaic, designed to help busy professionals deliver the minimum viable product with minimum expenditure of effort.
That’s not me. If I was going to write a book, I wanted it to be of real value to the reader. And I was willing to invest way more than the minimum effort.
The writing community speaks about two types of authors: the Planners and the Pantsers
The writing community speaks about two types of authors: the Planners and the Pantsers.
As the name implies, Planners are those who spend time organizing their ideas and formulating the structure of their book before writing the actual manuscript.
Pantsers, in contrast, fly by the seat of their pants, writing the manuscript first, seeing where it takes them, and organizing it later.
No surprise, this British engineer is a Planner.
I spent time thinking about what my book should cover and how to approach the subject.
I reflected on the many and varied projects I’ve led and how content marketing factored into them.
As I began assembling ideas and grouping them into themes, I researched key topics to find additional information that complemented my experience and strengthened the content of my book.
As mentioned earlier, this had the fortuitous side effect of making my coaching better, too.
I shaped the material into a content marketing framework—something that I originally thought would frame the book itself and which led to this eponymous blog.
Then I created bullet lists of the key points I wanted to cover within each topic.
Armed with this detailed plan, I decided I was ready to write.
Experienced writers are sanguine people. They understand that whatever you write, it’s going to need a lot of editing and revising before it’s worth reading.
They’re fond of calling this the Shitty First Draft.
Creating your SFD is all about getting words onto paper—physical or digital.
Complete a SFD and you’re well on your way to writing a book.
Some people prefer to write in pencil in a composition notebook. Others reach for a mechanical typewriter.
There are software tools designed specifically for researching and writing manuscripts—of which Scrivener is probably the most well-known.
I chose to write in Microsoft Word because I didn’t see enough value in learning a new tool and I felt sufficiently comfortable managing my research notes and partial drafts across multiple Word documents.
Importantly, I chose to write it all by myself.
If your goal is to make money by selling as many copies as you can, employing a ghostwriter could make sense. Their writing skills and acumen will outweigh any gap that emerges between your personal style and the finished product.
It was a question of authenticity. The words needed to be mine
For me, it was a question of authenticity. To truly be representative of my coaching—both substance and style—the book needed to sound like me. The words needed to be mine.
And so, I wrote.
I joined phrases to make paragraphs, linked paragraphs to make sections, and arranged sections into chapters. Slowly but surely, it began to flow.
I tried to write for at least one hour each day, irrespective of how many words that effort produced. Time, I discovered, is a much better metric than word count—especially on days when the words are struggling to emerge.
I’m fortunate to work for myself, so I could shape writing into my schedule. Nevertheless, it took many evening and weekend hours to keep up with my productivity target.
The closer I got to finishing my checklist, the more intensely I worked.
Some sections were harder than others, but I pushed through, remembering that finishing my SFD was more important than writing everything perfectly.
Then, one day, it was done. I had made it from beginning to end. I had about 77,000 words down on paper.
So, I put it away.
This is a very important step in the process.
Completing the SFD was an exhausting experience. I felt dirty, humbled, and scarred. I wasn’t sure this thing should ever see the light of day—or that I wanted to expend an ounce of additional energy on making it better.
Three weeks later, I was raring to go. My batteries were recharged, the hangover from excessive writing had subsided, and I was proud of my ugly baby.
I went through it again from end to end, engaging in a round of revisions and corrections.
It’s amazing how much your writing can change from one end of a 77,000-word document to the other. And no matter how strongly you might believe in proper grammar and the Oxford comma, it’s amazing how many mistakes still creep in.
After a couple of passes and some meaningful rewrites, it was time to get help.
I’d done as much as I could to write something deserving of the title “book”.
What I needed next was a professional who would treat my work with respect but tell me exactly how it should be changed to make it worth publishing.
I joined the Nonfiction Authors Association and tapped into their recommended resources to find candidate editors.
After shortlisting eight, I reached out to six, and set up Zoom meetings with the three who responded most favorably to my project.
Enlisting someone to help bring your dream project to fruition is a difficult and intensely personal thing. In many ways, they become a stepparent to the book child you are raising.
I chose to work with the wonderful Molly Gage at Modern Writing Services, whose personality, enthusiasm, clarity of thought and communication, and careful balancing of respect for my wishes against producing the most readable book were all vital ingredients in the final product.
Things got serious in a hurry.
Molly’s developmental edit—the part that examines and improves the structure and flow of the manuscript—identified a fundamental issue.
As we diagnosed and discussed the situation, it became clear that I had written material for two distinct audiences—business leaders who must set content marketing strategy, such as CEOs, and the marketing leaders tasked with operationalizing those strategies.
To keep an audience engaged, a book must speak to them from cover to cover
To keep an audience engaged, a book must speak to them from cover to cover.
Finding themselves alternately experiencing content that was more and less relevant would be discouraging to my readers. They would probably put the book down and not finish it.
My book was not singular; my books were Siamese twins.
Rather than finding this news disheartening, it felt as though the sun had come out from behind a cloud.
It explained many of the struggles I had faced in trying to make the manuscript flow.
Now I had a new decision to make: Should I perform the separation surgery myself, or enlist Molly’s help?
Recommitting myself to authenticity, I decided DIY surgery was the way to go.
Armed with a new set of objectives—primarily, creating separate manuscripts for two different audiences while minimizing overlap between them—I set to work.
My conclusion? Rewriting is hard.
I encountered a lot more mental baggage editing my own words than I do when I’m editing someone else’s work.
Even though I stuck to my Planner personality and followed a process of separation and reconstruction, it was tough to let go of things I had barely finished assembling.
I found it much easier to write for the CEO (business leader) audience than the marketing leader, presumably because I’ve spent more time in the former seat than the latter.
I found it harder to make the sections flow than I had when it was one volume.
Time and again, I fell into the trap of over-explaining things that an established CEO or marketing leader would already know.
I eventually sent two new manuscripts back to Molly.
The first, which became Content Marketing: Mission Critical, for CEOs, was undoubtedly stronger than the second, which became Content Marketing: Making the Magic Happen, for marketing leaders, but I knew it was time to engage her help once more.
Once again, she worked her magic. Each manuscript underwent further developmental editing and changes. Then each was revised at the line level, fixing myriad writing and stylistic errors to produce text that is readable and less bloated.
When it came to the final edit, I exercised a degree of writer’s prerogative. While Molly would have liked to cut more, I insisted on leaving certain material in.
The two books combined contain about 100,000 words. We left another 30,000+ words on the proverbial cutting room floor (although I saved some of those for future use).
Writing a manuscript (or two) does not a published book make.
To get from one to the other requires deciphering and navigating the world of publishing.
Unless you’re a widely recognized expert or have been previously published elsewhere, the chances of landing a debut book contract with one of the Big Five is negligible. It requires finding an agent and having them pitch the book idea to publishers, which can take months or even years.
The publishing houses were (and probably still are) seriously backlogged after COVID. Both production interruptions and supply chain dislocations had pushed their lead times beyond two years at the time I was learning about them.
This left me with two pathways: self-publishing or hybrid.
The self-publishing approach is as simple as signing up for the service—for example, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)—then purchasing an ISBN number and uploading the PDF.
The hybrid approach is akin to traditional publishing but instead produces books that are distributed via print on demand (POD) channels. This includes Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and a network of independent retailers.
I chose the latter. The additional investment would yield a more polished product and make it available to a wider audience, attributes that catered to both my bucket list objective (a.k.a. ego) and that of totemic value.
Having screened several hybrid publisher/distributor companies, I chose BookBaby and began the next leg of my journey.
Whatever gets approved goes to press
Even though I outsourced almost everything, it’s still quite a process, with numerous rounds of review and approval.
Meta data, cover art, internal layout, figures, and the text itself must all be minutely scrutinized and adjusted. Whatever gets approved goes to press.
Then there’s the e-book conversion, which was more complicated than I expected. Maybe I just had a sub-par experience, but it took several rounds of revision to iron out formatting issues that I would expect a professional editor to catch.
And then it was finished.
The files were sent to production, and I had nothing else to do but wait.
Last week, seven boxes arrived at my local UPS store. They were scruffy and dented from the journey but clearly bound in the unmistakable black-and-white BookBaby tape.
Shiny covers. That unmistakable smell. My name in print. It was time for champagne!
According to my computer, I had begun outlining my book on July 20th, 2021.
I received the first 100 copies of my twin books on March 31st, 2023.
That’s a total journey time of 619 days or a little more than 20 months.
For the next 8 weeks, my books will be available for pre-order on Amazon. This is something the author does not control—and nor is the price, or any discounts that Amazon might choose to offer.
If you’re a devotee to the Prime cult of Bezos, I’d be delighted to see you purchase and review the books here.
However, if you’d like to support independent publishing, receive your copies sooner (typically within 4 days), and access discount coupons, go here. To discover the coupon codes, sign up for the MessageUp Newsletter (see below) and check out Edition 49 (April 12th, 2023).
You can also grab the ISBN numbers and order them from your favorite book retailer.
I deeply appreciate everyone who purchases these books for themselves or as gifts, and I hope you find value in the words I’ve written.
Contrary to what was implied in the previous section, my journey is not yet over.
I want to record an audiobook for each volume and plan to read the text myself. This is another bucket list item, widely encouraged by my American friends who insist that they are “suckers for an English accent”!
I will be promoting the books during a series of podcast interviews and launch events—subscribe to the MessageUp newsletter (see below) to receive details as soon as they are confirmed.
Then, it’s time to make this thing I’ve created even more widely accessible by turning it into online learning modules. A whole new journey about which future blog posts will undoubtedly be written. Stay tuned!
Am I never satisfied? On the contrary, I’m very satisfied and that motivates me to do even more.
Will I write another book? Well, why not? I’ve learned a lot going through this process for the first time that will make it easier should I choose to do so again.
Something tells me it’s more likely than not.
Meanwhile, if you’re considering writing a book—especially of the non-fiction variety—and would like to chat about the process, I’d be delighted to help. Grab a slot on my calendar and let’s compare notes.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock