Writing a Book: Why writing an okay book isn’t okay

Feb 6, 2018 | Writing A Book

The call started out fine. The man I was talking to was interested in getting some help to write a book that would boost both his reputation and his consulting fees. He checked out my website and looked at a couple of the books I’d helped others write, and he wanted to talk about working together to get his book done.

I was about two sentences into my outline of the process and the time commitment required to write a great book when he interrupted me.

“I don’t need all that,” he said, “all I need is something to get my name out there. I don’t need a great book, just an okay book.”

At that point, I knew that the man on the other end of the line and I would not be able to work together productively. He wanted something done quickly and something that was just “okay.” I want to work with people willing to try to write a great book. There are no shortcuts for that. And there are reasons why an okay book is not going to be okay for anyone.

Book Publishing Has Changed a Lot

When I wrote my first business book, back in 1972, just being an author was a credential that inspired respect. The companies we now call “legacy publishers” were selective about who they worked with, and they enforced rigorous standards on the quality and editing of their products.

That was still true 20 years later, but it’s not true anymore. The number of new book titles every year has exploded. The number of titles increased 400 percent between 2010 and 2016. Today, over a million titles hit the market. Market forces are one reason that it’s a bad idea to create a book that’s just okay.

An Okay Book Can’t Compete

With millions of titles out there, the competition is greater than ever. Not only that, your book and all the other books for sale will be subjected to a level of scrutiny that wasn’t even possible 20 years ago.

Once upon a time, a few reviewers were all there was to influence the book-buying public. Today, a host of real readers evaluate every book that shows up on Amazon. You won’t just get star ratings, either. Readers will add their comments. And, Amazon will indicate who actually bought the book, so you can compare their reviews to the ones by the folks who got free copies.

The reality is that if you write an okay book, people are likely to know that it’s just okay and what’s wrong with it. That leads to the second problem with a book that’s just okay.

Your Okay Book Will Live Forever

Before there was digital publishing and before there was Amazon, books went out of print. If you wrote a book that was nothing special, it disappeared from the shelves and from readers’ consciousness in under a year. A couple of years later, people had forgotten your okay book. So, you could recover, write a great book this time, and reap the rewards.

Today, an okay book, or a bad book, may be worse than no book at all. Because the book won’t ever go out of print, people will use it to gauge your competence and knowledge for years, even if you publish something more recent. A potential consulting client will probably do an author search on Amazon and discover that book that was just okay.

Bottom Line

Make no mistake, it takes a lot of work and significant time commitment to write a great business book. You don’t have to do that, but if you write an okay book, you must live with the consequences. You’re likely to have a book that doesn’t gain traction in the marketplace, rendering your investment of time and money and writing it as a failure. And, whether your book is great or okay or bad, people will use it to judge your competence for years to come.