So You Want to Write a Business Book

Publishing a business book is an opportunity to burnish your professional reputation. It’s worth doing well.

So you want to write a business book - Douglas Magazine Aug/Sept 2023

No, it’s not vain. It’s not posturing. It’s not redundant and yes, while another author has probably covered a similar topic, nobody has told the story in quite the same way as you will. 

A book highlights your expertise, gives readers tools to solve a problem and takes readers one step further toward the world we’d all like to see. And aside from promotion, it opens up the opportunity for additional revenue streams. Here’s how to start. 

Get clear on your why

If you recognize your motivations in any of the following, writing a book may be your logical next step:

  • I want to leave the corporate world and start my own business.
  • A book helps me get speaking and podcast engagements, thereby broadening my (company’s) reach.
  • It’ll strengthen my reputation as a leader in my field.

Get clear on what you want to say

A book isn’t just a place to share tips, it’s a way to take people on a journey from their current challenges to a better place. A challenge where you yourself may have been a little stuck. A well-written book lays out the steps for what’s called a transformation journey. A satisfying journey is what makes a reader press your book into other people’s hands.

Readers are always looking for great ideas for how to approach their work more efficiently and effectively. We’ve all benefited from the great thinking coming out of business books over the years, from Brené Brown (six bestselling books worth reading) to Yvon Chouinard (climber, environmentalist and founder of Patagonia). 

But note: In books, just like in business, specificity sells. The leadership market is very competitive right now — Book Launchers CEO Julie Broad used the word “flooded” on a recent state-of-the-industry update — so you need a clear, tight niche. Find the angle that no one else is talking about.

Take yourself seriously

There are as many steps in writing a book as there are in building a house: establishing a strong foundation, setting up a robust organizational framework, adding meat to the bones, refining the details. A book also requires marketing and distribution, making it an arguably more complex task.

Add to that the fact that your name is on the front cover, an underscore to your reputation. You deserve to get it right.

Decide how you’re going to publish

You’ve got three options: traditional, self and hybrid publishing. Industry expert Jane Friedman breaks each down in her annual Key Publishing Paths blog post, but here’s a quick rundown:

Self publishing gets you to market fastest, as you control the timelines. You write the book, hire an editor and hire out design, proofreading, typesetting, printing and distribution. Many editors and designers know production experts, so ask for referrals. 

You retain all profits after production, printing and marketing costs. You are responsible for organizing distribution, usually via Ingram and Amazon. If you choose to distribute yourself, you’ll be pre-purchasing inventory and handling shipping. 

In hybrid publishing, you pay an outside firm to handle production, from editing your manuscript to helping with marketing and getting you on podcasts. Book Launchers is one such company, as is Tellwell. Both offer free how-to advice. 

Like all of publishing, this field is in flux. The sudden closure in late May of Scribe Media — a well-established publishing-services firm — startled the industry. Do your due diligence because costs vary enormously, along with editorial quality.

Traditional publishing offers that seductive stamp of legitimacy paired with a generally smoother path to publication. Publishers handle everything related to editorial, production, distribution and rights. The tradeoff here is in profit: You’ll take home maybe 10 to 15 per cent of the list price on each book.

Your manuscript needs to be turnkey to secure an agent and a publishing deal these days. Due to continued erosion of margins in the industry, publishers typically can’t provide authors the same level of editorial and marketing attention they used to, especially first-time authors. While publishers yearn to take risks on amazing ideas — after all, they’re creative types themselves — the hard reality is that in today’s climate they’re looking for sure bets. Niche your idea hard, write well and build a clear pitch.

Invest appropriately in your project

If your book is meant to grow your business — and of course it is — add a line item to your budget and view it as an investment. Writing a book is a significant opportunity to establish your professional reputation, and it’s worth setting aside the time and resources to do this well. 

Seek assistance with those parts that feel out of reach. If you truly don’t want to write your own book, hire a ghostwriter — but be prepared to spend a lot of time with them to get the story right. Whether you write it yourself or pay someone else, the fact remains: A book will demand your time.

If you want the pride and integrity of having written your message yourself but you’re overwhelmed at all the steps, hire a book coach. A book coach will help you determine a focused niche, build a solid framework, keep you moving, provide a sounding board for your thinking and work with you through revisions. Many book coaches can guide you through self-publishing or pitching agents.

Prepare to market your book

The days of publisher-backed book tours are largely behind us. Once your book launches, your publisher is on to the next thing. So regardless of whether your book gets picked up or you publish it yourself, driving its success is pretty much up to you.

Start developing your platform early, before your book hits the shelves, so people are excited about it. Use your contact list. Leverage social media. Write articles on Medium, or if you have the appetite to create a series, publish on Substack. Research 100 podcasts that speak to your ideal reader and ask to be a guest — or hire a company that specializes in podcast booking. Fire up ChatGPT and ask it for the top 10 ideas for marketing a business book. The web fairly bristles with tips and ideas.

Publishing agency Scribe Media asks three questions of every budding author before they put pen to paper. “What do you want your book to accomplish? Who do you need the book to reach? Why will that group of people care about what’s in your book?” Strong, aligned answers to those questions are the foundation of a successful title.•

Alex Van Tol writes and consults for leadership development organizations, entrepreneurs and SMEs. She has long been aware that life unfolds exactly as you ask it to.