January 30, 2017
Want to publish a book? Start by asking yourself these questions
There’s a question I get asked, if not daily, then certainly several times each week. “I want to write a book. Can you help me?” Or, a variation on that: “We want to write a book about our brand. Do you do that?” Sometimes, it’s an executive looking to hire a ghostwriter to tell the story of a business that’s been around for fifty or 100 years. Other times, individuals want to pass on business and life lessons they’ve learned in order to help enrich the careers and lives of others. One client of ours, Hamish McKenzie, published a book that explained in detail his process for creating successful pitches that ensure you win business way more often than you lose.
Typically, when I get that question up top – “Can you help me?” – I respond with a series of questions. The first one is this:
Are you looking to pitch this book to an established book publisher or is this something you want to self-publish for a specific business audience?
If you are interested in trying to get your book in the marketplace through an established publisher (Random House, HarperCollins and so forth), then my first recommendation is to not start by hiring a ghostwriter to write a complete manuscript. Hiring a writer to produce an entire book-length manuscript is a sizeable investment (more on that later), so we usually recommend that clients start with a book proposal and one or two sample chapters. This still requires a moderate investment but it’s a fraction of that for a complete manuscript . And with this proposal, clients can gauge what interest publishers have in their idea before deciding to invest more fully in the project.
For those who want to go the self-publishing route, it’s often faster but does come with more of an up-front investment.
In this case, we often start with a series of important questions for the client:
What is the timeline for the project? Is there a specific occasion or anniversary date the book needs to be ready for?
What kind of research does the project require? How many people need to be interviewed? Is there any other kind of information that needs to be obtained?
Will the book contain photography? Any other types or art or illustration? Charts or graphs? Worksheets?
How long will the book be? (Not all self-published books are the full length of a typical book. Some are half that length.)
What is the audience for the book?
How will the book be sold? Will it be given as a gift? Will it be sold at company events or ones at which the client is speaking? Will it be sold as an e-book? Will printed copies be available for mail-order distribution? If printed copies are desired, what size? What kind of paper? Hard cover or soft cover?
Answers to these questions, and possibly others, go into calculating the cost of each project. Factors considered will be writing, editing, design, printing, binding and, if necessary, distribution. And while the financial investment required can surprise some people, it makes sense if you look at a fictitious example.
Let’s say Company X wants to publish a book celebrating fifty years in business. In addition to other research, a writer will need to conduct extensive interviews with at least two-dozen people: owners, employees, former employees, clients and possibly even suppliers. Next, the writer will need to put together a detailed outline for the book, along with a sample chapter.
Once the client approves both of those, the writer then embarks on a complete first full draft. This will take months. How many months depends on the nature of the project. Conceivably, the client is looking at hiring a writer for six months or longer.
Once the client has reviewed the draft, made revisions and approved the final manuscript, the final phase – design and printing – begins. Our design team is involved from the very beginning on most self-published projects, but once the final manuscript has been approved is when they really start to roll up their sleeves. Cover options are designed and the pages are laid out. Hamish McKenzie’s Pitch is an excellent example of what the final product can look like.
And when it’s out there, the return of the financial and time investments become apparent. In part, a book can be thought of as a very elaborate and compelling business card that helps you network while bringing in new business. For Hamish McKenzie, there’s no question that it had that desired affect. Hamish’s book launch in New York City garnered coverage in The National Post, he was profiled in enRoute, and excerpts were published on Canadian Business’s PROFITguide.com and Entrepreneur.com. Meanwhile, the rebrand of Hamish’s pitch consultancy has attracted new business leads and invitations to speak in front of audiences in the hundreds.
In the end, the investment a self-published book requires is not something everyone is immediately prepared to make. In a number of cases, we have suggested that clients consider publishing a series of blog posts as a way of communicating their message. A professionally written blog can serve as excellent on-brand, narrative-driven content. And, after a while, it can even work as a stepping stone to a book.
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