Monthly Archives: September 2007

Am I Ready to Write a Book?

In the course of coaching about a hundred people every year, this is a question I hear often. And I always appreciate the people who ask. Some people hold the view that you have to be the #1 expert in your field to write a book – nothing less than knowing it all will do. Others assume that expertise is not that important, as long as you are true to your own experience.

Each extreme has problems. No, you don’t have to be the absolute expert with all the answers. In fact, the book writing and creating process will force you to think more deeply about what you know, question it, and come up with new and different ways of thinking. It will help you clarify your own ideas about established ways of thinking, and this can sometime lead to real breakthroughs. If you think you know all the answers, you are less likely to question the norm and your book may suffer as a result.

But on the other hand, you do have to have enough education or experience to write beyond your own, necessarily limited perspective. And we have to be clear on what we know well enough to advise others and what we have yet to learn. Then we have to have the discipline to write a book on the narrow subject area or go out and learn what we need to in order to write a broader book.

Writing a nonfiction book is a significant undertaking. Here are the top six prerequisites that will make the journey a lot more rewarding and fun for the aspiring author:

1. Significant expertise in a topic area. This expertise can be gained through formal education or lots of experience in an area with lots of different people and situations. They don’t allow an individual to become a licensed therapist without both formal education and many hours of counseling various types of people. My advice is pay your dues – attend seminars, workshops classes and make sure you have a clear understanding of the basics, the traditions in your field. Then, if you have a new way, a more helpful way of looking at the world, try these out yourself by giving your own classes, workshops and with your own clients.

2. A viewpoint on that topic. Why write a book unless you have a new perspective to share? It doesn’t have to be a new earth-shattering theory or revelation, but give us some reason to read your book instead of what is already out there.

3. Stories of real people beyond just you and your family. If your ideas are true and they work, then we want to hear stories of people who had problems and had them solved by working with you or utilizing your suggestions. If you are “for real” then you won’t have any trouble giving us examples. Just because something worked for you doesn’t begin to mean that it will work for a large cross section of people. Test your ideas before writing a book. Make sure they stand up to the test of real life. By doing that, you will start to accumulate real stories of people who said, “What a difference you made in my life!”

4. The ability to clearly communicate these ideas in writing. We don’t learn to write books in school (at least most of us don’t) so you should not be embarrassed that everyone else can do this and you can’t. But do your best to assess your ability and get the help you need at the level you need it. If writing just isn’t your thing at all, you may want to work with a ghostwriter. If you know what you want to say but have trouble getting it organized, you may want to work with a substantive editor. If you’ve got most of that down but aren’t sure of your grammare, you may want to work with a copyeditor. At a minimum, it is important to have your work reviewed by people who know what makes a good book. And you want to subject your thoughts to peer and audience reviews. It is better to know before you publish that you’ve been able to clearly communicate what you wanted to, and that it reaches its intended audience.

5. A willingness to persist and do the hard work of thinking, rewriting, rewriting and rewriting. Writing a book is hard. Really hard. You begin thinking you have a clear direction and somewhere in the middle you begin to doubt both that you have the stamina to do it and that you have any idea what you are talking about. The process is supposed to feel that way. If you didn’t feel that way, I would know you weren’t digging deep enough and questioning everything you know. Great books require a lot of soul-searching. We owe that to the audience.

6. An audience who is willing to pay to get your help in solving their problems. People buy nonfiction books, for the most part, because they are in pain. They want your help. They buy your book because you’ve convinced them – by your cover, the expertise in your bio, their reaction to what they know about you – that you can help them. Is there an audience for what you know and are going to write about? Do you have the experience, the knowledge and the ability to communicate openly to help them?

I work with many people who are writing second books, hoping to get it right this time. They knew they were missing one or more of these prerequisites the first time, but were determined to do it anyway. Slow down, think it through and make this the book you want to be remembered for.