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.”

Want more content marketing inspiration? Download our ultimate eBook with 100 content marketing examples.

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.

Other posts by Joe Pulizzi

  • Raquel Richardson

    These are all great tips. I’m writing a book now and have made myself meetings on my calendar to write and I’ve shared the book with a handful of people. This is a hard process and every trick someone can play to keep taking that next step is vital.

    I hadn’t thought about the reviews yet since I still feel the weight of the writing process, and this post served as a good reminder to continuing the work after the book is done, too. Thanks!

  • Barry Feldman

    Hot stuff. Been stalling for far too long myself, as you know. I shall put this plan in action, I think.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Do it!

  • cherylpickett

    The tip to tell others is a good one. Like you said, if you keep it all under wraps, not much accountability that way. Another tip to stay motivated would be to reward yourself for reaching small goals along the way. Being done is certainly party worthy, but picking a few other points, key milestones or not and celebrating small victories can go a long way to help you see that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

  • Paul Roetzer

    Awesome advice, Joe! I wrote The Marketing Agency Blueprint (70,000 words) in 87 days, following many of the tips you provided above. In my case, the book proposal with a detailed 10-chapter outline came first, and once approved by the publisher (Wiley), it became the foundation for the production schedule.

    While i continued to come to the office most days (with the exception of a few working trips in between), I would often seclude myself for 3-4 hours at a time during regular business days, and 8-10 hours on weekends.

    I was blessed with an amazing team that stepped up to run PR 20/20 while I focused on the book, and also had an internal committee of four who did “concept edits” of each chapter as I finished them. They woud compile their edits/thoughts into a single Word doc with track changes, and flag any major issues for me.

    In the end, we spent approximately 460 hours writing and editing the book. It was the most intense thing I’ve ever done professionally, but well worth the time and effort.

    Thanks again for a great post!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks for the additional advice Paul…great stuff and an amazing roadmap to producing the book. You are correct…all authors need help along the way. Having a team that works with you is critical.

  • Debbie Williams

    This couldn’t have come at a btter time Joe (as I sit in my office on a Sunday afternoon working on Chapter 1 of our book!). We finally took the plunge and are working on our first book too, but, as you noted, realized quickly it is not something that can be completely done during regular business hours. This is great advice for anyone writing, or thinking about writing, a book, and most we’ve learned first hand, very quickly! I agree that telling people you’re doing it is essential too.. because then you really have to! 🙂 A BIG THANKS to CMI Books for taking on our project too! 🙂 See you at CMWorld! Brands In Glass Houses, How Transparent Storytelling Helps Brands Compete in Win – Coming early 2013!

  • disputblog

    Thank you, Joe for this. I’d like to do it, but so many questions and maybe I lack some bravery to just do it. For me the dillema is also, should I do it in English or for a small Slovenian market. And so many others. But it’s been at the back of my mind for so long and time just passes by. You probably haven’t had any experience with writers whose English is not their mother tongue. I suppose this means an investment in proofreading? Cheers, N.

  • Tim Brennan

    Great tips Joe. One thing that I did was put a post on my blog with a countdown timer that said when the book was going to be released. We also wanted to get the book out before Christmas, and decided to launch on my birthday so I can give the book out to my list for free as a “birthday present” (it is a kindle eBook, so we are planning to use the free days strategies). Having this hard deadline, and telling all of my list that we are making the book will make it a reality. I also got a co-author (which helps a lot), and created a job on 99designs for a cover, then had people on my list vote for which cover they liked best (which they loved). Creating all these conditions makes the “commitment and consistency” impossible for the book not to be made.

  • Sofia

    you got your point in here,well-explained.
    and i agree that writing a book isn’t that easy at all but you just have a strong determination and just believe in yourself..and your tips is a big help.
    how to write a book