Are you writing the wrong book?: The 8th Cardinal Writing Waste™
In my hand-painted 1970 Mark II Mini, I raced up the on-ramp of the Spaghetti Junction. This complicated, massively intertwined, knot of motorway, arterial city roads, and slip roads swooping over, around and under canals, rivers and train tracks in the heart of Birmingham would be the ultimate test for any driver. I had my pass certificate and the obsolete driver’s Learner plate on the passenger seat beside me. I was 18, with the rest of the day off work and free to drive anywhere I wanted, alone! In my mind I was zipping through the streets of Turin with the “The Self Preservation Society” as soundtrack.
It was only when I was assimilated in the streaming, bumper to bumper, fast moving traffic that I noticed the fuel gauge was on empty. Of course, it didn’t mean I had no fuel, I was curving steeply uphill over the Grand Union Canal, it could just be the fault of the inglorious British Leyland engineering in my almost 20 year old car. Just to be safe I thought I’d get off the motorway and find a petrol station. I looked over to the passenger seat. It was almost empty too – no bag, no purse, just the wetly signed driver’s license and red L-plate. I had no money, no fuel and I was travelling rapidly away from safety into a maze of concrete confusion.
The further I went the more trapped I felt. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t turn around. I had to keep going with the flow, to the wrong destination. My excitement at passing my driver’s test on the first go was completely extinguished. All happy thoughts had departed as I berated myself for my stupidity.
I got to the next exit junction, made the turn, and put my foot down, before realising I’d accidentally got back on the motorway – I was confused, lost and I was still heading in the wrong direction, but faster.
If only I’d taken time to think about where I wanted to go, what I needed to take and check that I had everything I needed and was well-equipped before I set off on my first solo adventure, I might have got to where I wanted go a little faster. Certainly with less drama!
This final waste is the worst of all, and is most likely a cause of the previous wastes. If you fix this one, you get to the root cause of your writing waste!
Writing Waste 8. Writing the wrong book
Most people writing a non-fiction business book are writing the wrong book for the wrong audience. They are heading in the wrong direction, wasting their precious time and frequently money (if they’re using a ‘done for them’ writing service) on a book that no one will read and won’t get them their desired outcome.
How can I say that? I’ve ghostwritten, published, coached and rescued hundreds of books for hundreds of business people, and by far the biggest problems I’ve seen are that the entrepreneur or business owner wants to write (or has written) a book that:
- Has no audience, or a vague audience (“Anyone who wants to read my book”)
- Won’t help the writer get more business (“I’ll make money selling books”)
- Is muddled, confused, lost in space (“I’ll just tell them what I know”)
- Won’t help the reader get what they need either! (“They need to hire me”)
So, what should you do?
If you don’t know your reader, their pains, their desire for movement from where they are now to where they need to be, then you can’t write the right book. When you write the wrong book you waste your time and theirs. Your book will disappear into the sea of unread, (or perhaps unfinished), ego trips that litter the virtual shelves of Amazon. When you are writing the wrong book you lose confidence in your ability, you perfect procrastination, wait for permission and inspiration, whilst consuming other people’s work and your life.
My cardinal writer’s rule: first know the reader, then write the book. This rule applies for whatever you are writing – a blog post, an article, a speech, a book, a thesis. You are writing for a reader, not you!
Why are you writing (a book) in the first place?
Expert business owners and entrepreneurs have been told that they need a book to help them raise their profile, get more business, elevate themselves in crowded market places and position themselves as thought leaders.
The tendency, and trap, is to emulate an author you admire, model their style and the way their book is built. Whilst this isn’t a completely bad idea (modeling success is of course a smart move) there are some problems. You don’t know what their goals are for the book, how they will measure success. You also don’t know what got left out, what didn’t make the cut, how many iterations the book you have in your hands went through. You see the final product, not the process.
Fundamentally, you have to decide who you are writing for, the benefits they’ll get from reading your book and how the book will help you and your business. If you get this wrong, or don’t even consider the questions, you’ll write a crap book that no one will read, waste your time, your money and miss out on opportunities.
Let’s consider the implications of writing a bad book…
You might have already written a book, or be in the muddy throes, thrashing out those last few chapters and when you’ve finished your draft you have a few options. If you know it’s not great or you need help, you will probably:
- Pay someone plenty of cash to rescue it — I know, it’s my bread and butter work.
- Pay someone to rewrite it — basically starting again. I know about that too, that’s my jam.
- Procrastinate, go round in circles, ask your friends to read it and give feedback, add a few more charts, wait a year, get bored and go and do something else.
- Pay to publish anyway! Risk ruining your reputation, waste more money, fall out of love with your creation…
If you are writing, have written or are thinking of writing a business book, stop! Don’t go any further until you have tested your book against these proven (by me!) questions.
Answer two simple questions
- What’s in it for the reader?
- What’s in it for you?
If you are writing a business book then your book has a job to do. You aren’t writing it for fun.
How to fix writing the wrong book
To make sure you’re heading in the right direction, and writing the right book follow this simple process.
- THINK: Capture your thoughts – then evaluate and decide which ones you think are important. Capture their thoughts by searching on Quora, interacting with your audience, reviewing your current work and clients. You may have to do this a few times. It’s not a once only think and it is done process.
- CHECK: Organise your ideas into some sort of coherent, understandable format (a book title & subtitle, an outline, bullet points), then TEST with your audience. Does your book idea help them fulfill their wants (and needs)? Find out what they really think.
- WRITE: Write some of your ideas as articles, develop the premise and your arguments, write a chapter or two. Write another chapter. Write a lot, write some more. Remember to edit for sanity and grammar. Then write some more.
- SHIP: Get your writing out there fast and often. Consider them gifts to the reader – if you have something valuable to share then you need to ship it! Don’t keep it all on your computer because it’s not perfect yet. Don’t hold on to your best ideas in case someone steals them. SHIP, today, tomorrow, yesterday (after you’ve invented the time machine and saved me from the Spaghetti Junction). This is the only way you’ll get real feedback – feedback makes you a better writer.
Then do it all again.
Solution: Stop writing right now.
Take the time to understand your reader: capture their thoughts and yours. Work out how you can help them fulfill their reason for being: organise your ideas. Test your brilliant book idea: ask them. Write easily without waste, edit, produce and ship a book that will make a difference to their life and yours.
Stop: Think. Check. Write. Ship.
PS: You might be wondering how I escaped from Spaghetti Junction purgatory. Well, that’s what dads (and coaches) are for – saving your arse when you get lost.