So you have a book idea. Now it’s time to actually starting writing your book, which can be quite an undertaking—especially if you’ve never done it before. Here’s Pat with that important question to get us started on how to actually write the book.
Why publish a book in the first place?
You should never publish a book just because you can, because publishing a book is not an easy task. You should have a clear purpose in mind, not only for the topic of the book, but also for its reason to exist in relation to your brand and your overall goals.
The best way to figure out the purpose of your book is to visualize what it might look like within your brand. Imagine that it’s already published. What would it help you do? Is the book meant for generating leads? Building authority in a niche? Are you publishing it just to make money?
There are a lot of reasons to write and publish a book, but if you’re not clear on what those reasons are for you, you’re going to lose your excitement for it, especially when you get to the tough parts of the writing and the publishing.
If you need help discovering your reasons for writing a book, ask yourself these three questions:
- What is my book about?
- Who is it for?
- What do I want readers to feel or do when they finish my book?
For me, Will It Fly? was not published primarily to make money. For the most part, authors don’t make money directly from their books, although that’s not impossible as Nathan Barry shared in Session 75 of the SPI Podcast.
I wrote and published Will It Fly? for two equally important reasons:
- more exposure
- more control
Let me explain…
If generating the most immediate income from this work was the goal, I would have either sold the book directly on my own site and charged a lot more (à la Nathan Barry), or created an online course instead.
Getting the book in the hands of people who have not yet been exposed to me or the SPI brand was more important to me, and self-publishing a book to use Amazon’s algorithms is the mechanism for doing just that. This is a long-term game plan, and I’m hoping Will It Fly? becomes a great first impression—a pleasant start to a life-long relationship I have with new readers, subscribers, and customers.
Additionally, since starting SPI, I’d been generating most of my income from affiliate marketing and redirecting people to other people’s stuff. In order to make the most impact, and also keep people interacting with my brand, I had to start creating my own stuff, and it all started with this book. Will It Fly? lead to courses and other SPI branded material, and with that I’m able control the conversation I have with my audience, and the experience they have throughout their business journey.
Control is also part of the reason I wanted to self-publish the book, instead of going with a traditional publisher, despite traditional publishers reaching out and wanting to work with me. As I mentioned in the introduction for this guide, although there are a lot of pros that come with working with a traditional publisher (i.e. an advance and distribution in physical book stores), I would also give up some control over things like creative direction and content. Since most authors end up doing a lot of their own marketing anyway, I knew that self-publishing was the right choice—at least this time around.
With that choice, however, that means it’s more work for me to get everything done and executed properly on my own. But it’s great because I now know how it all works, and I can share what I’ve learned with you.
How to Know What to Write About?
Obviously, the topic of the book you choose to write is an important one. First, you want to write about something that will serve your target audience, of course. Combine that with the knowledge you have and the research you will do, and you’ve got a potential topic for a book.
But an idea alone isn’t enough. Is there a way to validate a book topic before writing it?
Since Will It Fly? was all about idea validation, I knew I could (in a very meta way) validate the idea of my book before writing it. The idea first came after hearing the same question coming directly from my target audience over and over again. Through emails and voicemails coming from AskPat.com, the number one question people asked was:
“How do I know if the idea I have is one that will pay off?”
After you all planted this seed in my head and I started to research this topic, I conducted a survey that confirmed this once again. For those answers from people who had yet to start a business, the number one struggle they faced was figuring out what niche to get into, and the fear of something not working out:
Even those who have started a business shared that they struggle with some of the same thoughts around their business idea:
After this, it was time to make sure that this was indeed a topic of interest for people, one that they would pay to learn more about.
I reached out to thirty people on my email list, at random, got on a Skype call with them, pitched the idea for the book (being honest that the book wasn’t even finished yet), and I asked them to pay $10 to my PayPal account if they would buy it.
Of the thirty people I reached out to, I was able to speak to about twenty of them, and out of those twenty, ten people paid me money. That’s how I knew the book idea was going to work.
There are other ways to validate a book idea. I haven’t done these myself, but I have seen other authors do these two things with great results:
- Write a guest post about the book topic on another site and gauge the reaction. This is a great approach, especially if you don’t have an audience of your own yet.
- Write a mini-version of the book and give it away for free, potentially turning it into a lead magnet for your email list. See what the reaction is like from there, and then turn it into a published book if people want more. This is what Michael Hyatt did for his book launch for Living Forward, which went on to become a bestseller.
Publishing a book is a big task, so it’s best to spend a little bit of time upfront to make sure it’s something your audience wants to read first.
Time To Write
Now that you have identified your why for writing and publishing a book, and a topic that your audience will want to read, you can’t do anything else until you of course have . . . a book. Book writing is something that used to be a constant struggle for me. Read on to learn about the process I used to write over 36,000 words in the first two weeks of 2015—and that I’ve been using ever since with great success. I’m also going to give you one tool that is saving me so much time and helping me achieve up to 180 words per minute.
A book is such a huge undertaking. It’s really funny, because I can write a blog post—3,000 or 4,000 words—in just a few hours, but when it comes to writing a book, I struggle a lot. That’s why I have a couple unwritten books just sitting on my computer, in Scrivener, which is the tool I use to help write books. It’s a great tool—the reason those books weren’t finished is that because I just couldn’t do it.
I remember sitting for hours. I would block out four or five hours of time during the day, just sit in front of my computer and come out of that with an extra 300 words for four hours of work. It was completely defeating—and I know a lot of you can relate to this. I know a lot of you also, like me, feel you have a book in you—maybe even many books in you. So I’m going to show you a book-writing technique that has changed my life in terms of productivity. I used it to write my book Will It Fly?, and within the first couple of weeks of 2015, I cranked out 36,000 words.
Using Post-it Notes to “Brain-Dump” Your Book’s Topics
I’ve adopted this technique from a lot of other people’s strategies and tips for writing books, and it’s involving something that a lot of other people have used before: Post-it Notes. I love Post-it Notes, because you can write on them and move them around. They’re small, but not so small that you have to squint to see them. So they’re perfect. I’m going to show you how to mind-map your next book using Post-it Notes, and how you can achieve incredible words per minute in terms of the rate at which you write your book.
The first step is to get some Post-it Notes. Make sure to get a bunch of different colors. I like the smaller ones, because you’re just going to write one or two words on them. Then you want to pick a color—and just start writing. Start with anything that comes to mind involving your book, put it down, one idea per Post-it, and stick it to the surface that you’re working on, whether it’s a desk or a whiteboard.
To demonstrate this, I’ll use a sample topic. Something I always talk about on the blog is fly fishing, and it’s something I know a little bit about. Using the example of fly fishing, I’ll show you how I can start to put together my hypothetical book and once you start to put all your ideas onto the board that you’re working on with Post-it Notes, you can move things around. Then the chapters and subchapters start to form, which help to create what becomes your outline.
So, fly fishing. I pick a color and place it in the middle to label my central idea, so I pick a pink note and write “fly fishing” on it. With this process, you write anything that comes to mind; there are no rules here. You can always throw things out, but you don’t want to stop yourself. This is the creative process. You don’t want to edit in your head. You just want to put things out there, and later on you can edit.
I’ve got “fly fishing.” Next, what is involved with fly fishing? I’m brainstorming anything and everything I can think of related to fly fishing and writing each one down on a separate Post-It. Things like:
- Casting techniques
Again, write down anything that comes to mind. You want to put the stuff that’s in your brain down on paper, because then you won’t have to think about it anymore. You can focus on organizing later, but we’re not there yet. So what else for fly fishing?
- Lake fishing or lake fly fishing
- Tying flies
Keep asking yourself, what else comes to mind? And usually one topic will spark another.
- How to dry things off after you’re done
- Trout fishing
- Bass fishing
- Fly fishing for kids
- Destination areas
- Where in the water
- Catch and release
- Fish finders
- Wading boots
I know a little about fly fishing, but I’m not a fly fisherman. You’ll obviously know a little bit more about the topic you’re working on, so you should be able to fill up your work surface pretty easily. When I was writing my last book, the table was completely filled with notes.
You can see the idea here is that there’s no particular order to how the sub-topics emerge, and nothing is off-limits. You just want to get down as much as you can so that you have plenty of ideas to work with. The order and organizing comes next.
Start to Create Some Order
At this point, you should have a whole board or desk full of Post-it Notes. Next, you want to start looking at all of them so you can start to tie them together. Pull them off and start moving them to different places, organizing them in groups that make sense to you. You’ll see that your brain will just start to organize them. Again, it’s nice that it’s all here for you because then it’s much easier to move things around.
For example, I can put “jackets” and “wading boots” together. “Equipment” and “clothing” are the top-level categories. Then I have “reels” and “rods” and “flies” with equipment. Then I have behavioral topics like “etiquette” and maybe “casting techniques” together. I have “oceans,” “lakes,” and “streams” grouped. “Snacks,” which is something to bring, so maybe that’s grouped with equipment.
“Safety”—I can put that with behavior. “Destinations”—that can go with “oceans,” “lakes,” and “streams.” “Fish finders”—that’s another piece of equipment. “Casting techniques”—now I see that’s its own thing, because there’s probably a whole array of different kinds of casting techniques.
“Kids.” You can take them with you on these destinations, so maybe we’ll have one for “kid-friendly.” Now I can clearly see four different sections, maybe five, because of “casting techniques.” Then I start to create a hierarchy, so I can see: “equipment,” “clothing,” and then stuff to “bring with you” when you go, and a separate section for “fishing-related equipment” that you’ll need before you go out. Already, I can see a chapters and subchapters coming together.
You keep going, and as you keep organizing other chapter topics might emerge. Like, if If I knew a little bit more about fly fishing, I would probably know that there were different flies that I could tie. And that becomes its own chapter to keep filling out. I also know that there are two different kinds of flies, so I’m going to create one for “dry”—those are flies that float—and then “wet.” “Wet” flies—those are the ones that sink. Then within that, I’m going to use a different color to create another level, and put “when to use.” So you can just go deeper and deeper. Then maybe “what to use” based on the type of fish or season.
And you just keep going until you’ve completely exhausted everything you know about your book topic. If you want to watch me going through this process with the fly fishing example, it’s something I cover in this video:
Start the Writing Process
I begin to structure everything, starting at the very top-level. I group things together, and then I start to break things out as it makes sense. This helps me decide what my chapters are, what order everything should be in, what my subchapters are, and my subsections. Then, what I typically do when I start to create this order and start to organize them in a sequential pattern, is start from the top. I pull a group of Post-it Notes and move them over to my computer.
That’s when I start writing about that specific topic. Everything else that’s here over with the Post-It brainstorming project is still there, but I’m not focusing on it, because I’m just writing that one, small section. That’s something I struggle with when writing books. I was envisioning the whole thing, and thinking about every other part of the book and how it was going to relate.
Instead, you’ve got to focus only on that next section. When you do that, it becomes so much more manageable, because as you complete one section at a time and move it aside, then move on to the next, and the next—little by little, you’re chipping away at it. You’re adding more words every single day, and by the end of it, you will have gotten rid of all your Post-it Notes. You start to make progress, and it’s completely motivating.
There’s one more little secret I want to share with you that goes along with this technique, and I’ll talk about that next.
The Technique that Will Dramatically Upgrade Your WPM
You’ve created your Post-it Notes, and you’ve started to see what’s happening in your book in terms of the outline and the chapters, the subchapters, and the subsections within each of those parts. Now it’s time to start writing. Like I said earlier, you’re going to pull out one small section at a time. I might, for example, pull out the sections on how to get involved with “fishing tournaments,” and there’s probably some more hierarchy involved with that topic. I think there are different types of tournaments, so those would go in there as well. Now that you know this is what you’re focusing on—tournaments—you can start writing about it, and your mind is just focused on this topic. Everything else is still there on the table, but you’re only focused on just this one.
Now, for me, writing and actually typing all that out would still be a struggle at this point. Narrowing the topic down into smaller chunks helps me to be a little more focused than I was, but my mind still gets into editing mode whenever I get in front of a computer. It works for blog posts, but when I am writing a book, it just becomes much harder for me mentally. Even though I can try to treat each of these things as a single blog post, I still want to edit along the way, as if I’m crafting it like a blog post that’s going to be published tomorrow.
Now, the very best strategy I know of if you want to upgrade your writing efficiency is to “puke” what’s in your head onto the screen. Basically, you just want to put everything in your brain about your topic onto the page. I know some people who actually take the “delete” button off their keyboard, because they don’t want to let themselves edit, even accidentally. They are just in creative mode. You can edit and move things around later, and you’re probably not going to be using a lot of what you write down, but what comes out when your brain is in creative mode is going to be extremely good for your book.
The problem is that when I’m in editing mode, I’m not letting myself think creatively. I end up stopping myself, because I have to edit this thing and move things around. It’s not what you want to do at this stage. So the big trick I use to overcome this barrier and achieve extremely high word counts per minute is actually an app called Rev. With Rev, I’m not technically writing, as in I’m not typing—I’m dictating my book.
Rev is an app for iPhone and Android. It’s basically an audio recorder, but the cool thing about it is that you can take your audio recording and send it to the people over at Rev, and they will transcribe it for you at $1 per minute. You can even transcribe it yourself or have someone on your team transcribe it for you, but Rev does a really great job. The quality is good, and when it comes back to you a few hours later, it’s all the words you dictated.
So that’s the trick I use to get up to 180 words per minute. It’s how I’ve been able to complete the first brain dump of each of my books. You can’t even really call them drafts, because they’re just everything in my brain about these particular topics, on these Post-it Notes, all dictated. Then I go through the book a second time with a little bit of editing mode in mind, and I can then shape and move things around and craft the stories in a way that makes sense for a book. It’s not going to make sense for a book when it comes from your voice, but you can get so many amazing stories and pieces of your book out through your voice.
So, record it on Rev, transcribe it, and you’ll discover that you have a lot of material to work with. And your book’s going to be finished sooner than you know.
- Figure out your WHY for writing a book.
- Determine a topic that you audience wants to learn about from you.
- Brain dump all of your ideas about your book onto Post-it Notes.
- Move them around, organize them, group them, and sequence them to a point where they come to look like a book in terms of chapters, subchapters, sections within those subchapters, and so on.
- Pull out individual pieces and record yourself talking about those each individual item on your Post-it Notes.
- Get the recording transcribed and begin editing.
- If you don’t want to go the audio recording route, that’s fine; you can write about the topics instead. But having that single Post-it note there to keep you focused is going to help quite a bit.
We’ve covered a lot in this first chapter. So what do you do once you have a draft? Next up, we’ll look at editing your book so that it’s closer to publish-ready.