By Joe Pulizzi published August 25, 2012

11 Keys to Writing a Book when You Have Absolutely No Time to Write a Book

I’ve co-authored two books (“Get Content Get Customers and “Managing Content Marketing“) and I can honestly say that they were two of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my quest to grow our business. That aside, we are starting to see many more brands begin to publish their own books (just in the last month, I’ve received books authored by executives from Constant Contact and Marketo).

Why? A book is perhaps the ultimate piece of content marketing that can position you or your company as a leading expert in your industry. The problem is that it’s incredibly hard to do, and very time consuming (which is why we are holding a workshop at Content Marketing World dedicated to how a brand can publish a book). It’s also why we launched the Content Marketing Institute book division to help authors with great ideas get their books published.

If you are convinced a book is the way to go for either yourself or your business, here are 11 key steps to writing and publishing a book when you have absolutely no time to write or publish a book.

1. Find a co-author

This may not seem like a sound strategy to most, but finding another body takes 50 percent of the workload from you. When Newt Barrett (my co-author on “Get Content Get Customers”) and I first spoke about writing a book, we were actually both in the process of starting our own individual books. As our conversation continued, it seemed obvious that our topics were so similar that it might make sense to team up.

A couple notes, if you decide to go in this direction:

  • First, pick someone who has a vested interest in your customer base or industry, but is not competitive.
  • Second, make sure you trust that person with your life. Newt and I worked together at Penton Media, Inc. for years and were friends, so no issue there. The same situation happened with Robert Rose, my co-author on “Managing Content Marketing.

But, even with that, we created a thorough partnership agreement through a business attorney. Even family members split sometimes, so we wanted to make sure that if issues arose that we differed on, the agreement spelled out a solution.

The final point to the co-author arrangement is that we each had expertise in different areas, which really helped. Both Newt and Robert brought expertise to the table that I knew nothing about. Once we completed the table of contents, we could each work on our areas independently, hit key dates, and continue to always move forward.

2. Keep a production schedule — and stick to it

As you may be aware, most people that start writing a book never finish it. Part of the reason may be that there are no hard dates to keep their eye on. I have a big white board in my office with the key book dates written in blue marker. Every morning I would see those dates, and it would spur me to get working. It really made a difference.

3. Before you start, create the table of contents

Creating the table of contents for your book is like your business plan. Understand full well that the original table of contents you create will look nothing like what you end up with, but you need the TOC in order to start and finish the book. Here’s the real importance of the table of contents: If you just start writing, how will you know if you are making progress? If you write 100 pages, is that almost all of the book or only 25 percent of the book? How do you know when to stop and move to the next section? Seems obvious, but I know quite a few people who just started to write with no idea where they were going. Needless to say, those people still have not completed their books — and they most likely never will.

4. Work the financials and publishing plan from the beginning

Newt and I had the budget complete, and were well into finalizing the self-publishing details with our partner, Lightning Source, within the first month. We received quotes for the design, the copywriting, knew what our break-even point would be, and both agreed to the financial terms. But more than anything, it made the process real and manageable. Writing a book is such a labor-intensive project, that you need as many tangible things as possible to keep you going.

5. Find a review team and a great copywriter

The GCGC draft was sent to two people: Mike Azzara and David Drickhamer. They were simply fantastic. Their feedback uncovered some key gaps in our methodology, and we were able to develop a much better book with their honest, expert opinions. Also, our copywriter, Lisa Murton Beets, is one of the best (Lisa now runs all of CMI Books). She really brought it all together. So don’t think that you can write a book completely sheltered from the outside world. Find a team of reviewers and a copywriter that you can trust. Makes all the difference in the world.

6. Expert reviewers help you qualify and pitch the book… use them

We approached a number of marketing and publishing experts in the field for book reviews. This does two things:

  • First, you’ll know if you have a bad book if they don’t want to give you a review. Fortunately, all but one of our reviewers made the date in time for publishing.
  • Second, the “praise for” section of your book is a wonderful way to market the product. I don’t know about you, but I almost always read the testimonials before purchasing a book. They’re priceless. We were overwhelmed with their reviews, and will be leveraging them for our marketing efforts.

7. Develop a system to write during off-hours

If you have a real job and are not a full-time author, writing during the day is almost impossible — most of my writing was done between 10 pm and 2 am. Find what time suits you best, but probably not during regular work hours. Paul Roetzer, author of the fantastic book “The Marketing Agency Blueprint (also a workshop at Content Marketing World), took a sabbatical from work to accomplish most of the writing for the book.

8. Tell people you are writing a book

This keeps you honest. Tell as many people as you can. Heck, even share it on Facebook. They will start to ask you how the book is going (especially to see if you are one of those people who never finish a book). Use this as motivation to actually complete your book. There’s nothing better than showing a copy of your book to friends when many of them never thought you could do it. Ha.

9. Determine a core selling strategy (if you can) before you start writing

Part of our strategy for GCGC was to sell bulk copies to custom publishers and other organizations that would benefit from giving the book to their customers. Up-front bulk sales to other businesses may be a lot easier for you than selling individual copies. Using both would be the ultimate goal, but if one falls through, you have the other. This minimizes your risk. For MCM, Robert and I used our email lists and “Chief Content Officer magazine to get the word out about the book, in addition to our blogs. Find a strategy that makes sense to you so you can get off to a running start.

10. Stop somewhere and realize that perfection is unattainable

We could have kept writing both books forever if we wanted to. At some point, you have to draw a line in the sand and publish it. As soon as you finish it there will be some new research, some new story, or some new perspective that you should have covered. Don’t worry about it… just use it for your next book.

11. Start blogging first

This was what I learned from esteemed author and marketing strategist Rohit Bhargava“The benefit of being a blogger before writing a book is that my writing was “in shape” when I started my book. As a result, I feel like I was able to write much faster and make my points much more quickly. For anyone considering writing a book, I would highly suggest starting to blog at the very least so that you can start to flex your writing muscles in a consistent way. And you get the side benefit of starting to build your platform online, too.”

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Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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