Answer This Before You Start Writing Your Book

If you were going to write a book, what do you need to do before you begin?

The biggest mistake you can make when writing a book is to write the wrong book for the wrong reason. Imagine that… You spend all that time, energy and attention over weeks, months or a year writing a book that doesn’t satisfy the reason you wanted to write a book in the first place.

When you go on holiday, you don’t just hop in your car and start driving. You need to take the time to consider where you want to go and the best way to get there.

Likewise, to write the right book for the right reason, you don’t just start writing. You need to take the time to consider where you want to go and the best way to get there. Déjà vu?

Before you start writing your book you need to answer these two questions.

The Done Game Plan for Authors

The Done Game Plan for Authors

In the previous post, My best 10 tips for writing a book for the first time, I asked the question: What do the world’s best athletes do before they run out onto the field?

They create a Game Plan. In other words, they sit down and think about how they’re going to win. To win with your book, you need a game plan too.

There are four parts to a good game plan. You need to answer:

  1. How do you win?
  2. How are you going to keep score?
  3. What are the rules of the game?
  4. What actions do you need to take to win?

In this post, part one of a four-part series, we’ll focus on how you win with your book. And there are two key questions you must answer.

How to Write a Winning Book

When you play ten-pin bowling you win when you knock down more pins than your opponent.

When you play golf, the aim is the opposite. The player who has the fewest shots – who scores the lowest, wins.

When you’re cooking a recipe you found in your favourite cookbook, you win when it tastes great and looks something like the picture in the book.

Five ways to win with your book

How do you win in writing your book? Is it about…

  • Finishing your 3-million-word manuscript?
  • Having the biggest, fattest and heaviest book, you’ve ever felt in your hands?
  • Having over 5000 people at your book launch?
  • Selling enough books to beat The Bible and become the best-selling book of all time? (Wikipedia list of best-selling books of all time)
  • Or is it about something else?

In sports, there are always two things you want to win. The first one is to win this week’s game. The second is to win the ultimate game – the world championship, the premiership, the Superbowl.

But you can’t do one without the other. If you don’t win this week’s game, you might not even make the playoffs to be eligible for the Superbowl. The same applies to your book.

The Best Reason to Write Your Book

In the post, The best reasons to write a book right now, I concluded with a story about disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong. Spoiler Alert. I suggested the best reason to write your book is not about the book at all.

Think about that for a moment. The best reason to write your book is not about your book. It’s what your book can provide for you.

I’m currently writing a book called The Ideas Architect Bible. My intention is not to sell a single copy of the book. That sounds crazy, doesn’t it? (That may change but that’s my current thinking.)

The Secret to Breaking a Board – and why Authors need to learn it

Many years ago, I did a training program where the course leader had us punch through a wooden board. The piece of timber was an inch thick – 25 millimetres. I didn’t think I could do it. I thought it was more likely that I’d break my hand than the board.

But then the course leader told us the secret. The key is not to hit the wooden board. It’s to hit through the board.

Hitting the board is like writing your book. It will get you so far. But if you want to hit a home run and win with your book, you must hit through the book to something on the other side.

This is the first question you must answer before you start writing your book.

  • What’s on the other side?
  • What’s the deeper reason you’re writing your book?
  • What does writing your book enable you to do?

I’m writing my book, The Ideas Architect Bible, to record my legacy. It’s a record of the ideas I’ve developed in helping clients design, build and lead with their ideas. And I want the book to be freely available (free) so I can build an audience and community around ‘ideas architecture’.

[The big question here: Is making the book available free better for attracting the right audience around this book, or am I better off charging to be part of it by selling the book on subscription? To be honest, I’m not sure, right now.]

Hitting through the board
Image from video by Cottonbro Studio:

Question 1: What is your Intention?

The big question here is:

  • Why are you writing your book?
  • What’s your intention for your book?
  • And the best way to answer this is to consider: Where would you like to be in 3-5 years? And how will writing your book help you get there?

You need to answer this question to ensure you write the right book for the right reason.

A Warning for Aspiring Authors

A word of warning here.

When you stop and reflect on this question, you might realise that you were going to write the wrong book. That would be good news. I’m sure you’d be glad you caught that before you invested all that time, effort, and energy into that.

You might also realise that writing a book – any book – might not get you there either. Again, that would be good news. I’m sure you’d be glad you caught that before you invested all that time, effort, and energy into that.

Six Examples of Book Writing Intentions

What’s your intention for your book? Is it to:

  • Establish your reputation as a leader in your field
  • Build a community around your ideas
  • Document your experience and expertise
  • Complete your personal PhD project
  • Just so you can tick it off your bucket list (equally valid)
  • Refine your thoughts and clarify your insights

Question 2: What Result will you Produce?

While your Intention is the general direction you want to head, the second key question you need to answer is: What specific and measurable results will you produce?

You must have specific and measurable results so you can clearly know when to keep playing and when to stop.

For instance, running a marathon is precisely 42.195 kilometres in length or 26.2188 miles. If you didn’t measure this out, you wouldn’t know when to stop running.

And you wouldn’t be able to claim that you ran a marathon. Telling your mates at the pub you ran a marathon could impress them. But telling them you ran a long way probably won’t.

For your book writing project, there are two things you need to define results around.

Defining the Qualities of your Book

The Ideas Architect Bible mock-up cover
A rough mock-up of what the cover of my current book The Ideas Architect Bible

The first specific and measurable result you want to create is in defining the physical qualities of the book you are going to write.

You want to describe it in as much detail as possible before you start writing it so you’ll have a good idea of what it will look like when it’s done. This will help you decide how to create it. There’s no point writing 10,000 pages of notes if you’re only going to publish a 20,000-word book.

Nine questions to decide what your book will look like when it’s done

You might include:

  • How many pages or words will your book be when finished?
  • What style or type of book is it? A novel, picture book, poetry, business book, manga comic or a book for children?
  • How big will it be? A4, a trade paperback or a mass-market paperback? Or perhaps a giant atlas size?
  • Will it be a print book, a digital book or both?
  • Are you printing it in black and white, several tones or full colour?
  • Is it going to be 100% words or filled with diagrams and visuals?
  • Are you seeking a publisher or are you self-publishing?
  • Is it going to be hard cover, soft cover or spiral bound?
  • What languages are you going to produce it in?

For me, The Ideas Architect Bible will be designed like my book, Weekly Done. It’s one idea per page. And I’m aiming for 500 ideas or pages in total. Yes, it’s going to be a big fat book. But I’m not going to print it. It’s only going to be available as a digital book.

In the previous post, My best 10 tips for writing a book for the first time, I suggested you create a mock-up of what you want your finished book to look like. This will help make your book feel more real and keep you motivated and inspired for longer.

The Best Way to Define the Impact of Your Book

Killer Client Value Proposition in 3 StepsThe second thing you need to define specific and measurable results around is the impact of your book. For example:

  • Sell 1000 copies
  • Secure ten speaking engagements
  • Gain ten new coaching clients

In my case, I want to create a mailing list of 1000 people who are interested in Ideas Architecture.

These people will have opted-in to the mailing list to receive copies of the book as I write it.

The best way to define what your book will be like and the impact you want it to have is to state your Book Project based on a customer benefit statement. I wrote about here in the post, Create Your Killer Client Value Statement in Three Steps.

The Two Questions You Must Answer

Let’s wrap up here…

The two questions you need to answer before you write your book are:

  1. What is your intention? In other words, what result will writing your book help you achieve?
  2. And what are your results? You want to have specific and measurable results for what your finished book will be like and what impact it will have.

The Lifelong Lesson to Remember

Measure twice, cut once
Photo by Ryno Marais on Unsplash:

On the first day of their apprenticeships, builders and carpenters are taught a life-long lesson.

Measure twice, cut once.

The same applies to your book. The small amount of time you spend answering the two ways you win will help you write the right book for the right reason. And that will help make all the time, energy, and effort you put into your book writing worthwhile.

More Resources to Help You Write a Book

To dig deeper into what it takes to write a book, you might like these three related posts:

What’s your intention for your book? And what will be your specific book results?

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