As you work to stand out from the crowd, your reputation for expertise counts. A well-crafted, informative book, authored by you, can give you the competitive edge. For most small business owners, book authoring isn’t about making money. It’s about sharing knowledge, archiving important lessons, and, for some, making the world a better place. Of course, writing is hard work. But if you’ve been in business a while, you’re used to hard work—and you’ve learned a lot of lessons that are worth sharing.
Here’s a quick guide to writing and publishing.
Begin by brainstorming a list of topics you could write about. Think about what you know, what you’d like to know, what your customers need to know, and what you think the future holds for your field. Narrow the list by sorting through these questions:
* What ideas inspire or fascinate me?
* What ideas do I want associated with my business?
* What ideas position me as a trendsetter in my field?
* What topics do I teach, speak or consult about already?
* What topics do my trusted colleagues find most interesting?
* What research will benefit others in my profession?
* What are the questions my customers regularly ask?
Make a promise
Now, come up with a simple statement of what your readers will gain from your book. For example, a professional networking coach might promise: “My readers will know how to develop a network of colleagues who can help further their career goals.” This is called the book’s mission statement (or, what good the book will do, for whom).
The mission statement keeps struggling authors on track. You can check your ideas and words against the book’s mission and ruthlessly cut what doesn’t fit.
Sketch it out
With the promise in place, it’s time to develop an outline. An outline is similar to a work plan. It includes the steps your readers must follow to reach your promise. Major steps are chapters. Supporting steps are subheads and “sub-subheads.” Many of us dreaded outlines in school, but they do have benefits, such as:
* Forcing you to admit what you know and what you don’t know.
* Exposing the strengths and weaknesses in your logic.
* Helping you to plan and budget your time.
* Enabling you to see your ideas as readers will see them.
Moreover, an outline is essential if you intend to pitch your idea to a publisher or book agent.
When it comes to the work of writing, your outline is a huge help. Select small sections to work on. Start with what you know best and go from there. Set doable goals: one hour a day; 500 words. If you’re self-publishing, your book can be as short as 20,000 words. Simple math can help you figure out how many hours you need to write that first draft.
Prepare and publish
Once you’ve drafted a manuscript, you’ll need substantive editing and copyediting, followed by design, typesetting, proofreading, printing and distribution:
* Substantive editors clarify your logic, tone and voice; they may also rewrite at your request.
* Copyeditors smooth grammar and style, and help check factual details.
* Designers plan the interior look and may design the cover; they may also typeset the book.
* Proofreaders clean up minor errors.
* Printing is the physical manufacturing of the book.
* Distribution is the process of getting it into the hands of customers.
Seek a commercial publisher when your book has larger market potential, as publishers are highly skilled at all of these steps. But if your goal is to create just enough copies to give to clients or conference attendees, self-publishing services such as BookMobile, CreateSpace and iUniverse can guide you through the process of getting your manuscript ready to print.
The bottom line
In my career as an editor, publisher and writer, I’ve helped many consultants and leaders develop nonfiction texts that further their careers. The story is always the same: writing takes work, but the end result is worth it. Knowing that your expertise has benefited others is perhaps the best payoff of all.
By Vince Hyman
Vince Hyman is a St. Paul, Minn.-based writer and editor.