How do I write a business book? Eight simple steps

How do I write a business book? Eight simple steps to follow

Granted, how best to write a business book is a topic that deserves more than a couple thousand words in a blog post, but in this post I hope to give you, Mr. or Ms. Business Owner, eight simple steps to follow to write your own business book.

Step one: Choose your topic

This step seems like it should be the easiest, right? You know what you do, and you know what you’re expert in, so choosing a topic for your book should be a cinch. And yet, many people struggle when it comes to choosing exactly what topic to write about in their book.

Sometimes it’s a matter of too many topics—many that don’t all fit neatly together—to choose from. In other cases, it’s not knowing how narrow or broad of a topic to write about. For instance, do you write about sales in general, or do you write about one aspect of sales? A case could be made for both topics, but one is definitely broader than the other.

My advice: choose a slant that someone has not written about before, and keep your topics more narrow than broad. Again, using the example of writing a book on sales, many, many books have been written about sales and the overall sales process. But maybe it’s time someone drilled deeper on a particular aspect of sales, like building the sales relationship. Just my two cents, of course.

My last tip here is key. Take as much time as you need to choose and map our your topic, but don′t let choosing your topic derail your book project. Because as you write your book, your topic may change just a little, and that’s okay. Part of the secret to writing a book is to get started and break ground on your book project, as it were, before you lose interest and momentum.

Step two: Understand your motivation and audience

Almost at the same time as you choose your topic and narrow it down appropriately, you need to think about why you’re writing your book and, even more importantly, who your audience is.

Motivation. Most people I talk to who want to write business books do it first because they want to help others, to pass along their wisdom and share their mistakes and missteps, hoping to make the way easier for those who follow them.

You may also want to write a business book to make money, which is fine. You should know, however, that most books don′t become bestsellers and that most business book authors monetize their business books through two main ways: paid speaking opportunities, and business leads generated by their book. Both of these ways could have their own blog post, so I won′t go into more here, but as you write your book, be aware of how others can use it to solve their problems, and that way you will write a book that could fit into speaking opportunities or help you generate business.

Audience. It′s likely that your audience will be others in business, maybe even the same business as yourself, but it never hurts to think long and hard about who your audience is. Be specific: are they male, female, younger, older, still working, about to retire, just starting out? What position do they hold? Are they employees of a large company? Or, do they own their own business? Or maybe they are harried executives in the same industry as you. Again, knowing who your target audience is will help you write a better book, and it will make writing your book easier, too. It will also help tremendously should you decide to publish your business book traditionally (rather than self-publish), because agents and publishers won't even look at a book proposal unless you have defined your primary and secondary audiences. I talk about how to write a book proposal in another blog post, so that is a discussion for another time.

Step three: Draft an outline

If you ever spent a day in primary school in an English class, you were probably taught to put together an outline before writing something. While this is still great advice, the good news is that you don’t have to use a Harvard outline when you plan your book. In other words, you don’t have to use Roman numerals I, II, III, etc., followed by A, B, C, and all that. You can just start out by listing the general topics you’d like to cover, and under them list the subtopics that are part of those broader topics. As you draft  your outline, you will also want to jot down stories (or parts of them) to recall to use to explain ideas or topics in your book.

Spend as much time as you need to do this and don′t rush, but keep at it and maybe even get some feedback from a trusted business associate, loved one, or friend. 

Once you have listed everything you want to write about and have put it in a logical order, give it a few days, and then look at it again. Make a few more changes if you need, but then you can get going, writing to fill in the points and topics you have listed.

I have two tips here.

First, you don′t have to write your book in the order the topics appear on the outline. Just like how Hollywood shoots movies out of order, you can also write whatever part of your book is in the forefront of your mind first. Of course, if you′d prefer to write your book in the order the topics are listed, that′s okay too.

And second, it’s okay if your topics change a little as you write your book—it′s natural and to be expected. Still, don’t try to write a book without having put together an outline first.

My last tip here not to rush but also to keep moving. Spend a week or two or three on your outline, but set a deadline. I say this only because the main enemy to finishing writing a book is lost momentum, so keep your momentum going by setting a small deadline to finish your outline and then holding yourself to that deadline.

Step four: Establish and stick to a writing schedule

Maybe you can′t or don′t want to write daily, but you do need to write frequently and on a regular basis. So, set a schedule that sets aside time periodically (i.e., every day, every other day, or maybe three times a week, etc.) at a time period in your day when you won′t be interrupted, and then hold yourself to that periodic writing schedule. Remember, the more frequently you write, the sooner you will finish your book.

Now, you may miss a day here or there, but strive to stick to your schedule. Again, the great killer of book authoring is lost momentum, and you can′t establish and maintain your momentum if you never get going or if you keep taking breaks.

I could say more here, but establishing and setting a schedule is just a matter of being disciplined. So, just do it.

Step five: Edit and get feedback

After you finish a chapter, let it sit for a bit before reading it. If you know someone with some editing skills or who is an actual editor, who has volunteered to help you, show it to them so they can make some suggestions and corrections. Don′t expect perfection in your first draft. But do expect to make changes and revise.

Again, it′s important to maintain momentum as you write, so try to avoid getting bogged down by making too many edits as you write. Just get a first draft of a chapter out before making any changes to it.

For this aspect of writing your book, you may want to hire an editing or writing professional to help you. Either way, make sure to edit your drafts, but don′t let your editing process derail your writing process.

Step six: Choose your publishing method

After you′ve taken your book through at least two drafts and are happy with what you have, you can start to think about how you want to publish your book.

I′ve written about this elsewhere in my blog, but your two main options are 1) self-publishing, and 2) traditional publishing.

Self-publishing. With self-publishing, you pretty much retain total control over your book and its contents. For instance, you choose your title and your cover art, and you set the sale price of your book (and usually get to keep all proceeds from the books you sell). What you don′t get with self-publishing is access to the wide distribution network of a traditional publisher or the cachet of having your book published traditionally. You also have to pay for every book you print.

Traditional publishing. With traditional publishing, you don′t usually choose your title or cover art, and you aren′t in total control of your book′s contents. You also have to find an agent first (to represent you in your search for a publisher), and you have to wait until a publisher shows interest in your book. Agents and publishers also typically require that you write a book proposal before they will even look at your book. Writing a book proposal adds to your effort (and cost if you hire someone to help you, which I highly recommend doing because writing a book proposal is a complex chore). With traditional publishing, however, your book has the (albeit slim) chance of becoming a bestseller. Again, I′ve written about both of these options and book proposals in more detail in my other blog posts.

Step seven: Create a compelling title (and subtitle)

If you are self-publishing your book, as most of you will likely do, you need to choose a title and possibly a subtitle for your book.

This task is generally one of the last tasks you need to do. By this point, you have probably already chosen a working title for your book. If that title still seems good and best describes your book and its contents, then keep it. Otherwise, you can brainstorm or look to others for title suggestions. I feel that a title should be clever but also descriptive. In other words, potential readers shouldn’t have to guess as to what your book is about. And if you choose a clever title, then use your subtitle to explain what your book is actually about.

Step eight: Launch your business book

If you’re self-publishing (and this applies to publishing traditionally too), you need to get the word out that you have written and published a book. Because what good is a book, even a well-written one, if no one knows it exists?

Make announcements in all of your social media platforms, tell all your friends, send out a mass email to everyone you know, and run print or digital ads if you have the budget and inclination.

You may also want to look into hiring a public relations person to run a small PR campaign to publicize your book. A good PR professional can get print articles run about you and your book and may even get you interviews on local TV news programs.

A few more matters to consider when writing a business book

Below are a few more aspects of writing your business book that you may have questions about.

How many chapters should a business book have?

There is no magical number of chapters that a business book should have. Generally, nonfiction book chapters tend to run between 3000 and 5000 words, but they can also go longer—or shorter. Just make sure that each chapter covers one main topic, and if you start covering multiple large topics in the same chapter, you probably need to turn it into more than one chapter.

How many pages is a business book?

Many self-published business books run between 120 and 150 pages, using a typically-sized 9-inch by 7-inch paperback book. In a book of that size, most pages contain about 250 words or so, but that amount can vary depending on the book’s size and the size of the typeface used.

Traditionally-published business books tend to be longer—often 200 pages to 300 pages or more—but even there some best-selling business books have been fairly short. One example that comes to mind is the bestselling One-Minute Manager, which was around 112 pages long.  

Can I write my own book and sell it?

Answer: you sure can. That is the essence of self-publishing. When you self-publish, you write your book, and then you hire a company to typeset, print, and help you place it—or give you copies to place, sell, or give away.

There is no law saying that you have to use a traditional publisher to write and publish your book.

How many pages is 50,000 words?

In North America and in the US in particular, a 50,000-word book will be about 200 pages long.

What is the ideal word count for a business book?

While there is no ideal word count for a business book, many smaller, business-book-only publishers put out business books that run between 35,000 and 45,000 words long. But again, your book may differ, because it’s up to you how long you want it to be.

How long is too long for a business book?

For traditionally-published books, it’s a safe bet not to write a book longer than 90,000 words when writing nonfiction, because many traditionally-published business books run longer than self-published ones; thus, the length can range anywhere from 60,000 to 90,000 words.

Still have questions about writing your business book? I’m happy to help, even if you just want to chat. Just fill out the contact form below:

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