3 Years and 60,000 gallons of coffee later, I just published my first book: A non-fiction book called Rocket Fuel for Careers. Here are the top 10 lessons I’ve Iearned in the process. Hopefully, this will save you some time and effort.
1. Outline, Outline, Outline
Probably the biggest mistake I made when I first started was not creating an outline. I literally just started writing. While creatively that was probably a good idea, structurally it took much longer to finish the book because I ended up with a lot more editing and rewriting at the back end. Even just a very rough chapter outline will cut months from your timeline. Don’t skip that step.
2. Make your first draft a decent one
A lot of advice I received about the first draft said: “Your first draft should be junk. Just write, don't think, just throw words on the page” I followed that advice .. and it created a lot of problems later. It caused unnecessary and frustrating extra work and lengthened the whole process. Yes, you shouldn’t focus on editing when you first write, but your first draft should at least be decent. Don’t lose momentum by editing but write a version that makes sense and carries weight.
3. Hook, Line, and Sinker
The competition for your reader’s attention is insanely competitive. In the highly stimulated world, we live in, you have milliseconds to capture and hold someone’s attention. Everything you do should be designed to grab (hook) and hold your potential reader’s attention. The cover graphic should be enticing, the title should be catchy, the subtitle should generate curiosity, your introduction should hook them into chapter 1 and on and on with every page. Trust me, it’s not easy, but it’s critical.
4. Divide and Conquer
Don’t be afraid to split your book. My book is primarily focused on career professionals looking to grow their careers by developing the critical soft skills required to do so. When I realized at one point that I had strayed down a rabbit hole down into the leadership topic, I split the book into two books. One focused on individual contributors and one focused on leadership. By splitting your book if required, you will be much more targeted with your audience and much more successful than trying to be all things to all readers.
Based on the feedback I’ve received so far, the personal stories and anecdotes I included are a great hit. Make it personal. The readers want to connect with you as a writer. They want to feel like you are talking directly to them. As if you are in their living room having a conversation. Be authentic, be vulnerable, be real, be you.
6. Putting it down
Every time someone puts your book down it’s an opportunity NOT to pick it back up again. The greatest danger here is your chapter endings. Your chapter endings need to make it as difficult as possible to put the book down. Creating enticing chapter endings that tease or lead into the next chapter is a nice way to keep the reader from putting down your book.
7. Inspiration and Perspiration
I can vouch for the fact that writing a book is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. It is hard work. There will be many times that you will not feel like writing and where the “romance” of writing a book will disappear. That’s when you need to call on your grit and determination and just grind it out. My book took about 3.5 years to finish and if I were more disciplined, I could probably have done it in 2 years. Taking long breaks will kill your momentum. Even if you write one paragraph per day, keep writing.
8. Multiple perspectives
I used three different editors and they all gave me very different feedback. Looking back now, I’m really glad I did. The feedback I received ended up creating a much more well-rounded product than if I had gone with a single editor. Even if you chose to go with a single editor, use Beta readers, friends, or family to give you extra perspectives. You will receive some good feedback and some bad. Keep the good and discard the bad, but get as many perspectives as possible.
9. Community support
Once I started writing, I “suddenly” discovered other writers everywhere. Funny how that works. Connecting with other writers really helped overcome the creative struggles, the frustration, the fear, and the loneliness of writing a book. The writing community provided the inspiration to keep going when the going got tough. Being an author is not something most of your friends or family may understand. Find a community that does and plugin.
10. If a tree falls in a forest ...
If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to hear it, did it make a sound? If you publish a book without marketing, is anyone going to buy it? Maybe a few accidentals, but when you’re writing, think about how you’re going to market your book. Especially in the non-fiction space, the name and credibility of the author makes all the difference. In my case, the speaking, coaching, and training sides of my business all contribute toward book marketing and the book contributes to the marketing of those areas. It's a fortuitous circle. Be sure you have a marketing strategy when you start.
A final word of encouragement. Yes, it was a struggle and at times, and sometimes incredibly painful, but I can promise you that once you hold your published book in your hand for the first time, it is all worth it. And once you hear how your work has changed lives, you will never look back.
Best of luck!