Getting that book out of you

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“So, is it true that everyone has a book in them?”

The questioner and I had met for the first time earlier in the evening. Now we sat across from each other at dinner. Since we’re both Americans we had asked and answered the ritual question, “What do you do?” earlier. So he knew that ghostwriting is one of the ways that I make money and fulfill my life purpose. I said I thought that was generally true that everyone had a book in them.

“Ah,” my new friend said, “So what you do is open the cage so the bird can fly free.”

Well, no. That’s not how it works at all. Writing a book is not much like letting a bird fly free. It’s much more like a manufacturing process that starts with mining a precious ore. It looks like this.

The idea(s)

Pretty much everyone who’s ever read a book has come with an idea for a book they’d like to write. Most of those ideas dissipate in the wind. Some get cursory attention. A few are assayed.

The assay

An assay is “examination and determination as to characteristics (as weight, measure, or quality).” For a book this is an assessment of whether the idea can be turned into a book and, if so, what’s needed.

Why do you want to write this book? How do you expect your life and business to be different after the book is published?

Do you have a passion for the subject? Writing a book (even with a ghostwriter) is a lot of work. You’ll have to change your schedule, put in extra time, and give up some things you like to do. After the book is published your passion should drive promotion and sales for years.

Who will buy this book and why? Are there enough potential readers for you to get the results you want?

If you’re planning to use a traditional publisher, you’ll need a book proposal to excite your agent and the publisher about your book. Writing a proposal will force you to answer the questions about the book’s content and audience, how it’s different from the competition, and why you’re the perfect person to write it.

Refining the material

If the ore (idea) is good it usually needs refining before it will make the core of a good book. That’s where another part of the standard book proposal can help: the detailed outline.

This is where you lay out, chapter by chapter what points you will make and how you will support them with research and stories. Make sure you understand the transitions between ideas within each chapter and between chapters and sections.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to write a zero draft before you write the outline. Writing a zero draft will help you discover what you don’t know.

Forming the final product

This is where we write the book. If we’ve chosen a good idea and planned the project well, the writing should be straightforward. It’s just a bit more complicated than letting a bird out of a cage to fly free.

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