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Thought Leaders: Think Before You Start Writing That Book

Quite some time ago, I wrote a blog for the Bloom Group entitled “So You Want to Write a Book.” In that blog I sketched out the benefits to thought leaders (or people who wanted to be thought of as thought leaders) of having a book to one’s name, and then proceeded to go into the mechanics of how to write a proposal, here, and how to find a good agent, here.

I also noted at that beginning of that first blog that “writing a book is terribly hard work. It takes time, concentration, and energy – three things often in short supply.”

The more time I spend in the thought leadership world, the clearer it becomes to me that there’s a fourth factor in short supply: original, novel and useful ideas, supported by research, case studies and data.

Consequently, instead of encouraging people to write books, I am now (for the most part) discouraging them when they don’t have the necessaries described above.

I’ve written a couple of books myself, and I’ve written proposals for several more. And the Bloom Group has helped guide people through the whole process, and successfully, too. For example, we assisted Rob Sher with “Mighty Midsized Companies,” here.

But believe me, “terribly hard work” is a mild way of describing the endeavor. Writing a good proposal – one that will convince an editor that your chosen topic is worth a book and that you personally have the smarts, skill and dedication to deliver a manuscript – will take at least several months. Writing the book after your proposal has been accepted will take at least a year of hard work – some of the hardest work you’ll ever do. And even if you can find and hire someone (like the Bloom Group) to help you, it will still consume hundreds of hours of your time – time that presumably could be spent more profitably on your day job.

So before you go down that tricky, tiring road – with no guarantee that it will produce a positive return on your investment – visit this decision tree and ask yourself:

  • Do I have an idea that no one else has already written about? Book editors are generally not interested in twice-told tales and just because you believe your point of view is dewy-fresh doesn’t mean it is. Check the literature to be sure.
  • Does my idea require hundreds of pages and tens of thousands of words to explain? If it doesn’t (and most ideas are not so complex), perhaps you should consider writing an article, not a book.
  • Do I have the time to write tens of thousands of words, or the money to hire someone to write them for me? Most people I know are pretty busy, and I cannot overemphasize how time-consuming writing a book can be. And not only is hiring someone to do it for you fairly expensive, it will still not relieve you of the responsibility for supplying the examples and data that will make your case and satisfy your editor and presumptive readers. And that’s before you invest time in vetting what your writer has done.
  • Am I willing to market my book? Publishers don’t devote large budgets to advertising unless your name is Kim Kardashian and your selfies are amazing. If you want people to buy and read your book, you will need to promote it yourself, as I explained here. That will take more time and more money. (To be fair, even if you’re not Kim Kardashian, hitting the road to promote your book will undoubtedly raise your profile, as it did Rob Sher’s. The question to ask yourself is whether you’re the type of person who enjoys the meeting-and-greeting.)
  • Do I need a book to validate me? There is an undeniable romance to authorship. Who wouldn’t like to be known as Jane Fabulous, author of “A Stunningly Perceptive Theory of Everything”? Authors are feted and respected. People ask for their autographs. But if you’re going to be able to persevere during the arduous grind of writing a book, you’re going to need more motivation than feeding your ego will supply. The ego is a hungry, impatient little bugger and the rewards that a book may bring you are always down the road a piece, never right there on the plate in front of you where your ego wants them to be.

So before you start that book, think once, think twice, and then try forgetting about it. See how that feels. It may feel very good indeed.