Everyone wants to write a book. The myth prevails that anyone can write one. I am here to tell you that that is unequivocally untrue. Most of us cannot write a book. In fact, most of us shouldn’t.
In the last five years, I’ve published twelve books and have been an active part of the indie author community. That means I’ve noticed patterns for people who can – and should – write a book…and those who shouldn’t.
These rules apply to fiction and nonfiction, although the questions are geared more towards nonfiction.
Will it benefit your business?
Writing more books is my second biggest driver of sales (the first is Facebook ads). If your business has nothing to do with books, what do you stand to gain by writing one? Will it build your authority? Will it attract more customers?
Writing a book is a big undertaking, and you need a big audience to make big money. It won’t happen overnight, either. You need to market it (we’ll get to that in a minute.)
For a couple of years, my first nonfiction book, Productivity for Writers, was my most successful book. My fiction only took over when I had four books in the series.
Even now, when productivity isn’t as much of a trend anymore, I still get interview and speaking requests because of that book. Four years after it was published.
So, while you may not always make your ROI back directly from your book, you may make it back in indirect ways, like speaking, interviews, and attracting new clients.
Do you have the time?
Writing a book is an enormous investment. It requires a lot of time, energy, and money to do it successfully.
Most first books don’t make their money back, regardless of how they’re published. My first book is still a loss leader, five years after I published it. The money I earn comes from people reading the other four books in the series.
However, that’s been a huge long-term investment. I published the last book in the series in 2019. I only started making a profit from my books in May of that year. That’s three years after publishing book one.
Can you make money?
Of course, money isn’t everything. If books aren’t your primary business it isn’t as big of a deal if your book is a loss leader.
Books can be a great way to show your knowledge. But so can blog posts. And podcasts. And videos. And they’re a lot easier – and quicker – to put together. You don’t make any money from them, but they’re brilliant content marketing tools if done right (Andrew and Pete do a particularly good job).
Many business owners have published books and gotten new clients from the authority having a book published gives them. So, while the book doesn’t directly make them money, because it shows they know what they’re talking about, it indirectly makes them money.
Can you market it?
Writing a book is only half the work. Marketing is key. Otherwise, you’re publishing into the ether.
Even if you have a mailing list, only about 1-2% of that list will buy your book. Unless your list is huge, it may not be worth it.
Marketing, obviously, takes a lot of time. And convincing people to buy your book over other people’s, when they have a limited attention spans, can be a challenge.
For a successful nonfiction book, you really need to sell what the benefits of reading your book are. Make it clear what problem you’re trying to solve. And damn, writing those blurbs is a pain.
Actually, that’s an understatement.
Writing book blurbs is a copywriting skill that people charge thousands for because it’s so damn hard. Like all forms of writing, it requires practice. If you can’t afford to outsource it, it’s another thing to take up time and energy on your to-do list.
If your book’s cover and blurb don’t accurately represent its topic, or reflect the market it’s in, your book won’t sell and could even damage your business, because it will make it look like you don’t know your audience as well as you think you do.
Does it fit your niche?
If you write about something completely unrelated to your business, how are you going to sell it?
When your book relates to other aspects of your business, it’s easier to promote it.
Say you’re a fitness expert. You write a book on how mindfulness can make you more fit. That fits your niche. A book on mindfulness on its own doesn’t. It’s a subtle difference, but it matters.
Publishing a book that doesn’t fit your niche sends mixed, watered-down messages to your potential readers and clients, which could put them off working with you.
Are you passionate about it?
Readers aren’t dumb. If you publish a book about something you’re not interested in, or that you can’t be bothered to write, it will come across. And they’ll put the book down, never to return.
Readers can be harsh. But they’re also smart. Let your passion shine through and your book will be more fun for them to read, and a more enjoyable project for you to bring to life.
Can you write?
Most people, when they sit down to write anything that isn’t a chat message, go into Essay Writing Mode. They write as if they’re still trying to please a teacher and will get extra marks for using big words and long sentences.
In the real world, the opposite is true.
People want things that are easy to read.
But writing anything that’s easy to read is hard.
As a rule, you want to write something a ten-year-old could read.
Just because someone is educated to degree level, that doesn’t mean they want to work hard translating what you’re saying. All those big words and long sentences take extra brain power to process, which means your prospective reader has less brain power to consider if they like you and want to work with you.
Being accessible makes you more likeable because you’re not trying to exclude anyone. And you don’t sound obnoxious.
Writing in plain English also helps people decide if you’re the right person for them sooner, as they’ll have a better grasp of what kind of person you are and what you do.
If you look at the bestselling fiction and nonfiction, it’s all written in a casual, easy-to-read tone. Anything that’s overly academic is classed as niche, and won’t get you the same level of exposure.
If it’s part of your brand, go for it, but I’d recommend deviating away from everything they taught you in school about writing. Focus on the writing of successful businesses and authors instead. That’s where the real learning will come from.
We’re not taught how to write to make money at school; we’re taught to use writing to show our intelligence. When you leave academia, nobody cares how intelligent you are. They really don’t care if you show it off. Most people will find showing off a turn-off.
They care if you can help them. They also care how you can help them. So show that, and show it in plain English.
In the end…
Writing a book can be great fun. But it isn’t for everyone. A lot of people get put off when they realise it isn’t as easy as it sounds.
You’ve got the planning, the drafting, the redrafting, the structural edits, the line edits, the copy edits, the proofreading, then the publishing. Don’t even get me started on the work involved in publishing.
But it can be rewarding, too. My readers wouldn’t come to me for productivity advice if it wasn’t for Productivity for Writers. They wouldn’t ask for career advice if I hadn’t debunked common writing career myths in Writing Myths. I wouldn’t get half the interview or speaking invitations I do if it wasn’t for my three nonfiction books and my blog, The Writer’s Cookbook.
You have to write something that will appeal to your readers, but which you can also willingly spend the next few months of your life on. That requires passion, knowledge, and the desire to always be learning something new.