Originally published on November 14, 2013 @ 7:49 am
Whenever a new client approaches me about ghostwriting a book for them, one of the first things I ask them is “great, what's the book about?”
And to this day, it still amazes me how seldom they actually know the answer to this question.
Truth be told, it makes complete sense. Everywhere you look on the Internet these days, someone somewhere is telling business owners to write and publish a book to further their career:
- Build their authority,
- Establish themselves as an expert,
- Market themselves for speaking gigs and media exposure,
- And, ultimately, make more money (just not off the books).
The fact of the matter is, writing a book is one of the best ways to secure each of these things. But a lot of business owners think it will be easy:
“I'll just write a book about what I do – my story.”
And then they get to me, and I completely burst their bubble because, guess what, unless you're a celebrity – no one cares about your story.
It's harsh, but true.
No one is going to buy a business book or a marketing book because of your story. They buy a book because they want something out of it: higher sales, better focus, learning a new skill.
And then, inevitably, people get stuck. Once they realize that they can't expect a book about their life story to do much for them, they don't know what else to write about. So they end up bouncing from one idea to another to another.
So, here is the exact process I use to help them come up with a solid book idea.
What Should you Write About?
Step One: Get the Notion that You're Writing a Book out of Your Head
Yes, you're going to write a book. But “writing a book” is not the objective — it's a task. And focusing on a task as if it was the objective will keep you stuck because it brings up far too any questions:
- Am I good enough to write a book?
- Will people buy my book?
- Why should people buy my book?
- Do I have enough to say to write a whole book?
Way too many questions that just lead to limiting beliefs, fears, and eventually paralysis.
So, no – you are not setting out to write a book. You are setting out to do something much, much better.
Step Two: Define your Objectives
What is it that you want to get out of this book? And, more importantly, what is it that you want your audience to get out of this book?
This is important because this is going to serve as the answer to your question “if I'm not writing a book, then what am I doing” that you asked a couple seconds ago.
So, first the objectives for yourself: What do you want to get out of this book? Think about two or even three years into the future – sometime after your book has been published – and picture what's changed in your life as a result of this book. Are you speaking at more engagements? Has your business finally taken off? Are you getting invited to speak on television or in the media?
These are going to be completely selfish – and that's okay. The important thing here is that you map out that goal for yourself because it's going to play a major role in how you position and market the book later.
Next, what do you want your audience to get out of this book? This is maybe the most important piece of brainstorming that you will do for this book – what are they going to learn? How is their life going to change?
This is where you define the exact need(s) your audience has and the exact feeling they'll have once your book resolves those needs. And it looks something like this:
I want my readers to feel [emotion] to [outcome or benefit].
- I want my reader to feel empowered to build their own business.
- I want me reader to feel supported to take their life back after a divorce.
- I want my reader to feel relieved that they aren't alone in struggling to take care of their special needs child (you may have to tweak the sentence just a bit to make it fit).
Keep just one feeling and outcome per sentence, but you can have more than one.
So, instead of writing a book, you are going to help your audience feel X to accomplish Y.
You're just going to use the book to do that.
Step Three: Define what your Audience wants to Read About
This is another step that tends to get a lot of nonfiction writers stuck because they want to write all about the things that their audience needs, but not necessarily things their audience wants.
For example, I had one client that was so focused that her audience needed marketing strategy that she completely missed the part that her audience wanted sales.
And if you're not offering what the audience wants, they aren't going to get what they need from you.
Now, you may find that some of these will also be listed in your objectives, and that's great. That will mean that what you want is aligned with what your audience wants on those points, which will make outlining and writing much easier. But don't feel like you have to be limited to your objectives.
Step Four: Think About the Twitter Share
Most of the time, by the time my clients get through Step Three, they know exactly what they want to write about. So they take those objectives and audience wants and start putting them together into a mission statement that solidifies their book idea.
But, every once in a while, I'll have a client who still can't focus in on an idea for their book. And in those cases, I tell them to try to define “The Twitter Share.”
Twitter is filled with people asking about and recommending books in short, easy-to-consume, 280-characters-long sentences.
So, imagine your ideal reader has a friend who just asked Twitter about a book to solve their need, and your ideal reader knows your book has the answer to that need. How would they describe it to their friend?
I'll tell you what they won't do… They won't say “this author talks about how she started her business from scratch and became a millionaire.”
If someone asked you for a book recommendation, and you came back with that, no one's taking that recommendation, right? No – because it doesn't have anything to do with the problem they are looking for the solution to.
However, a sane person might say something like “Check out this book. I learned some copywriting tricks that nearly tripled my sales in a month.”
Short, to the point, and focuses on what the reader got out of the book and believes their friend will also get out of the book.
Because, as readers, that's what we do. We aren't sharing your story – we're sharing what we got out of it.
So, think about what that Twitter Share will be: what's that primary lesson your target reader is going to tell someone in 1-2 sentences that will convince them to read your book?
Now you have the perfect book idea.
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