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So you want to write a book. Don't (yet)

There’s something in the air, and I suspect it’ll stick around. It seems like an inordinate number of people are deciding that now is the time to write a book. Not just any book, but THE book. You know, the one that’s been writing itself in the back of your mind for decades. The one your friends have been coaxing out of you. The one that’s currently an unorganized mess of Microsoft Word files or handwritten notes.

In the past few months, book aspirations have been divulged to me by colleagues, clients, and, last week, a server at a downtown restaurant. She wasn’t even my server. To all of them I say, do it. Maybe. Consider three things first.

1. Know thyself

What is your motivation? Does this book really need to exist? Maybe you have must-share lessons learned from overcoming a major challenge. Maybe you’ve amassed useful knowledge or perfected some solution others could use. Or, maybe it’s a pure business imperative: Books still carry a certain gravitas that can be just the thing for marketers looking for instant authority.

None of these motivations is inherently more valid than another. But, before you impose your book onto the world, be sure you understand why. It’s OK if the writing process itself helps you come to that understanding, but clarity must come at some point. The proof is in the pages, and your readers will be harsh judges if they have to work too hard to figure out what you’re trying to tell them.

2. Know thine audience

Why would somebody else read the thing? As much of an investment as it takes to write your book, there’s also a hefty investment on your reader’s part. In a Snapchat WhatsApp world, it’s not enough that you showed up to share. Your readers, whether they’re aware or not, seek some kind of change when they pick up your book. They want new perspective, insights, capabilities, or superpowers. They want to feel or know something new and valuable.

So, develop as clear a picture as possible of whom you’re writing for. A company history, for example, might be a great marketing piece for potential customers, or a rallying point for a growing or changing staff. Could it be an audience of one? I recently encouraged somebody writing a persuasive book to write for just one person in his life who espoused the attitudes he wants to help change. Know whom you’re writing to, and it will be easier to decide what to put in, and what to leave out.

3. Find the drama

I have a library of slim volumes written by people I know and even love. Some were great reads. Others … I’ll never know if they managed to get interesting. Where the authors (I think) intended a deep exploration, I experienced a slog through a swamp of anecdotes and details. No story ever materialized, so they lost me.

Look, this is why reality TV has so many writers and producers on staff. Human beings need heroes and villains and plot twists. We need plots, at least. We want to read about bad days and bad choices. You don’t have to bear your soul, but do spill some guts on the page. At the same time, you’ll likely have to exclude several details to create a comfortable pace for your readers. Here’s how to decide: When you think of a detail that makes you uncomfortable, write it down. If it’s on your LinkedIn or Facebook profile, leave it out.

Your motivations, your audience, and the need for drama are starting points and will come up at every stage of the process. If you’ve still got a book in you after wrestling with these prerequisites, give it a go. Also, see them as guides rather than constraints. They’re not meant to stifle your voice, but ensure your story is heard loud and clear.

No book? Do this.

If you can’t work out your motivation, audience, and story but still need to share, here are some alternatives.

  1. Your material might make an engaging 30-minute talk.

  2. Long-form magazine articles remain popular, and they’re easy to share.

  3. A multimedia microsite lets you boost fewer words with images and more.

  4. Shows designed to last only a handful of episodes are increasingly popular.

  5. Enough said.


This article originally appeared in the Upstate Business Journal.


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