Last year, I published my first book (Clarity Wins, via the Amazon platform). I’ve since been asked by a number of budding authors about the experience, and any advice I might have (especially for non-fiction/business books).
So, here’s my first piece of advice. Begin with a big P out there in the world. And a compelling P in your own mind and experience.
What’s the PROBLEM
The first P is the Problem that you have recognized and want to address. People don’t buy books just to accumulate useless information (well, some do, but that’s a different kind of problem…). No, your readers (especially in business) want to improve something, fix something, take advantage of something. There’s a problem, and they’re looking for a smart person with answers.
Every company starts by addressing a problem in the marketplace. Every great sales pitch addresses a customer problem. Every good business book should be attacking a problem. Not 55 problems. A big problem. Keep it focused.
The best problems to go after are fairly self-evident – as soon as you articulate it, your listeners/readers/customers are nodding their heads. And, the problems you want to attack are costly. Money is being lost, or not being made, and people will part with their money to buy a book to try to fix it. Problems open wallets.
Problems open wallets.
I start out Clarity Wins with a huge problem – the difficulty of getting heard, and being differentiated, in a noisy marketplace. In this case, I’ve addressed an almost universal business problem, but many books aim at narrowly defined issues for more tailored audiences. Whoever you audience is, within the first few pages of the book, they should be nodding their heads, feeling like a sage person understands them…which makes them eager to read more.
For instance, Jay Acunzo, in his fine book Break the Wheel, is operating from this premise of a major problem: The “best practices” you’re looking at may not be best at all (for you). If we want the best results for our business, we can’t settle for the mediocrity of other people’s best practices. And he tells a vivid story about coffee in the first chapter to get you hooked!
ADVICE: Write a rough outline of a compelling first chapter, (Josh Bernoff calls this the “scare-the-crap-out-of-you” chapter!) that doesn’t go into the solution (yet), but paints a simple, vivid picture of the problem. Then, condense the idea down to one or two sentences and run it past a few smart people you know. If they “get it” immediately, you’re onto something big.
What’s your POV (Point Of View)
If we’re going to be good writers and problem-solvers, we need to be coming issues from a distinct point of view. That means we’re not rattling off a bunch of dry statistics and sterile facts in order to fill pages. We actually have something to say. A compelling perspective, and some kind of solution to the problem.
A lot of my clients are in the biopharma industry. This highly-regulated industry does not encourage any POV except whatever the Medical/Legal Dept. has deemed safe to say. You can imagine how that approach would create an engaging book!
Actually, what you’re saying in your book should not be entirely “safe.” You’re not conforming to the norm. You’re advancing a new approach. Otherwise, why are you even writing a book?
Your POV reflects a fundamental shift in your convictions, that you want your readers to also take. You believe. You practice. You have to share.
Your POV reflects a fundamental shift in your convictions, that you want your readers to also take.
My POV in Clarity Wins is that it’s much smarter, given the marketplace problem, to employ a strategy of enabling referrals (based on clear and compelling messaging) as opposed to joining in the noise-fest of traditional sales and marketing approaches.
What is the POV taken by Marcus Sheridan in his book They Ask, You Answer? Simple: the more information we make available to potential customers in our networked world, the more likely they will be to trust us and do business with us. The shift? Stop being so guarded and proprietary about information people are already looking for – help them find it!
ADVICE: Identify, in a single sentence, what is your unique message – your compelling approach, perspective, or practice that you have put into play in your own experience, and that you know (through the validation of others) actually works.
In short, write your book because you’re passionate about something real. The source of your authority is that you’ve latched on to some problem that other people can readily recognize, and that you’ve done something about it that is successful and transferable.
“Of the making of many books, there is no end,” said the wise king in the book of Ecclesiastes. This is especially true today. With your two Ps in place, you have the hope of creating a book that actually brings value to your audience. And that topic – identifying your audience – will be the subject of my next post about authoring.
This is a pretty good start.
Your readers may not be all that amazed to learn there are a few other things that come after that . . .
You did most of them well.