I write. A lot, obviously (7 books, numerous articles, this blog, white papers, …). As a colleague pointed out, I’m lucky it comes easy. For others, that’s not the case. However, someone recently asked how to get started. As another colleague who just published posted some thoughts on what they learned, I realize it may be appropriate to toss out some thoughts on writing books. (Not least because I’m Editor-in-Chief of LDA Press, which so far has only published my own book, but hope springs eternal… ;)
I know some of the barriers to writing a book, for sure. The overwhelming scope, for one. How do you manage it? Well, like you do all big projects, you break it down. The underlying idea, then an outline, before you ever start writing a chapter or anything. I have a colleague whose supervisor never started writing without first creating a diagram. You really do need to get your idea down. I start with an outline. It won’t stay the same, of course. I’ve moved chunks around, added sections, deleted sections, etc. Not only while creating it, but while writing to it!
Set your expectations appropriately. You should expect it to take months. Not full time, but for practitioners, writing full time isn’t feasible. Certainly for non-fiction. Reward yourself for progress, too. Be easy on yourself! Set small goals: “today, I’ll write section X of chapter Y”. If you don’t make it, it’s ok.
I also have written about what makes a good book. Well-written (that is, easy to read), sensible layout, evidence-based, new perspective. A book shouldn’t be written just to exist, it should have a purpose. You learn a lot from writing a book. JD Dillon, who recently wrote The Modern Learning Ecosystem, documented his learnings. They included that it’s never finished, stories are more fun to write than tech jargon, releasing is harder than writing (depends on how you do it, I’d suggest)., and if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not going far enough. I added: the value of editors/reviewers, creating a structure first, and nicking away a bit at a time.
You probably should not try to write a book as your first project.With speaking, you should speak within your org or to local chapters, before moving to bigger venues. Same with writing. Start small. Blog posts, or newsletter posts within your org or for your local chapter. Like drawing, I suspect, it’s just keep writing! And, importantly, get feedback! Feedback you can trust. It’s clear some folks have never paid attention to how people perceive their writing!
It sounds like a grind, but there are tangible benefits. First, you get known as someone who has an opinion worth hearing! Further, you may be invited to speak, and certainly have a basis to propose speaking. You may be asked to write more. On the other hand, you’re unlikely to get rich from your book. The old adage applies: you make more money giving it away; it’s a better business card!
Do try to get a good editor. In the publishing world, there are usually several. First, there’s your acquisition editor, who works with you to get a viable proposal to get approval. Then there’s your development editor, who works with you to stay on track and develop a clear narrative with useful examples, diagrams, and more. There’ll be copy-editing, of course, and reading initial proofs if formal. Finally, there’s your marketing editor to help get the word out and build sales.
It’s not for everyone. It’s hard. And, again, you need a unique tangible contribution. If you have one, however, don’t miss the opportunity to share it. There are real benefits. Speak and write about it small, first, to ensure it’s viable, but then, look to write it up. I hope this diatribe about writing books makes sense. Hopefully, it’ll inspire some new ones as well.