Writing a Book: It doesn’t have to be a big book

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When Keith hailed me, as I was out walking Toto the Terrierist, I assumed he wanted to chat about something in the neighborhood. I was wrong.

Keith is recently retired from a long and successful career. He was thinking about writing a book to share some things he learned along the way. He downloaded my whitepaper on what it takes to create and publish a business book. That’s what he wanted to chat about. Keith wants to write a book, but he doesn’t want to put in the time and effort necessary to write a big book. He just wants to share a few, well-focused ideas.

Keith wants to write something that will help consumers in the industry where he spent his entire working life. In that industry, consumers often negotiate with companies. They’re at a big disadvantage. Not only are they not knowledgeable about the industry itself, they rarely negotiate on big stakes issues.

Since he’s retired, Keith has found himself negotiating for friends. He thinks he’s got something to tell other consumers. The question is, “Can he create a short book about what he knows?”

Books Don’t Have to Be Big Anymore

For years before the internet and digital publishing, I sold short, single-topic “special reports” by mail order. Back then, you had to develop an expertise in short-run printing and direct-response marketing to make money doing that. It wasn’t easy or quick. Today, it’s much easier.

Three things have happened. First, the book industry is producing shorter books than ever. Some of that is a result of the incredible rise in self-publishing, but business books generally are getting shorter. Second, the internet and world wide web make it possible to sell single-purpose topics effectively with far less effort and investment than was the case with mail order. And, third, digital publishing has put the publishing process within easy reach of anyone who wants to invest the time and energy.

Keith wanted to know what he’d have to do to publish a short book on negotiating in his industry. Here’s what I told him.

Some Things Haven’t Changed

You still need to write a good book. It might be 15,000 words long instead of 60,000 words, but it must be well-written. Remember, your book represents you forever once you’ve released it to the world. You want to make a good impression.

There’s also a business reason to write a good book. You may decide you want to write another book. If you do, your reputation as an author will be in play. How you write matters.

The basic process for writing a short book is the same as for writing a long book. You’ll need to go through several drafts. You should have a professional edit. A decent cover will be important, too.

That’s different from when I did my mail-order books. People didn’t see the book before they bought one of them. They bought it based on a promise that was rendered entirely in words. Today, when much of your marketing will involve the web, a good cover is important.

The Digital Age Changes Some Things

The need for a professional-looking cover is just one of the things that the digital age has changed. You now have digital options which never existed a quarter-century ago.

You can create and sell your single-topic book in PDF format or as an e-book.

If you’ve got a blog or a website that gets many visitors, you can test the reception of your book by putting it there in PDF form. When you think you’ve got a winner, you can proceed with creating a regular e-book that you can sell through online channels like Amazon. And, if you choose, you can add a physical book version, probably as a print-on-demand book.

A Word About Topics

There’s an awful lot of information on the web and on specialty sites like YouTube. If your topic is something that can be handled in a three-minute YouTube video, like how to turn off the water line to your house, it probably doesn’t need a book. It might be a much longer topic, such as something like “How to Save Money on Your Water Bill.” In that case, there’s probably a website or two, and they may offer a free whitepaper. Your topic needs to be big enough that people can’t find information easily online.

Bottom Line

You don’t have to write a 200-page book anymore. You can write something on a single, narrow topic that helps readers solve a common problem or answer a common question that’s important to them. You still must write good book, just not so many words. And, your marketing options continue to widen.

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