Book by Committee

As a book coach who works with many authors every year, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend that is reducing both the originality of books as well as making it harder to get books started and finished.  Unfortunately, I find this trend to be exclusively with women aspiring authors.

Would-be authors are finding many and varied places to ask others for their opinions regarding their best options.  While this might seem like a good idea on the surface, the result is confusion, lack of focus and doubt about what might be a terrific idea for a book.

While well-meaning, other people don’t generally have a good understanding of what makes for a great book and what helps books sell.  Asking people who know less than you do about your topic, passion and other books on the market does little to clarify the issue.  Ask ten different people for their opinions and you get ten different answers.

New authors are naturally scared about making mistakes and wasting a lot of time and money on a book that does little for their careers or the audience they wish to attract.  It stands to reason that when you are in doubt that you will ask the people you trust.

There are so many places now to find new opinions.  Here is a brief list from my own clients:

  • Mastermind groups
  • Writing groups
  • Professional association meetings
  • Girlfriends/family
  • Multiple book coaches
  • Therapists
  • Self-discovery retreats
  • Business /life coaches

In most cases these are paid professionals.  You have paid for opinions, so you get opinions, right or wrong. It isn’t just the fact that you’ve asked multiple groups for their opinions, it is also how you frame the issue. Groups tend to focus on:

  • Speed to market (What can I get done in a hurry so I have a product to sell at an upcoming event or on my web site? )
  • Quick profitability (What can I do to attract new clients since I need new income fast?
  • Playing it safe (I don’t have a lot of money or time so what should I do that won’t take much of either?)

The natural result is book by committee.  If you write a book at all.  Fear keeps you dipping just a toe in the water and asking others if the water is too hot.

There are only two people/groups that count in writing a book – you and your audience.  All the groups in the world don’t matter at all. No guru has the formula book success.

And I hope this goes without saying…if it sounds too good to be true, it is.  A book in eight days? Guaranteed success in sales?  Are you kidding me?

What most opinions do is introduce fear and doubt.  If you don’t want to write a book, getting multiple opinions is a great way to stop yourself from doing it.

In addition to creating doubt, you are also reducing the time you have for writing the book.  The more groups you attend, the less time you are spending at home writing.

Here is your challenge:  To improve the connection between your ideas/viewpoint/passion and the needs of the target reader.  If you want to get the opinions of groups, go talk to groups of your target readers.  Those are the opinions that count.

You should do this at particular points in the writing/publishing process.  The right time/way to ask for target audience opinion:

  • Before you begin writing, speak to target audience groups and get their reactions to your ideas.  Do they get it and are the excited about the new perspective your ideas give them?  What questions do they ask – what more information do they want? Continue this process with a blog so you establish an ongoing connection between you and your target readers.
  • As you are working on the book, get target reader opinions on your title, book cover and web site.  You can use virtual focus groups or surveys to do this.
  • Do a peer and audience review when the book is finished in draft form.  Ask specific questions and give assignments to members of your peer group who have the expertise and members of your target audience who have the need for what you wrote.  Find out what worked and what didn’t and what else they want to know.
  • Once the book is substantially completed, you can ask anyone and everyone for ideas for marketing the book – great sources of publicity, groups to market to, bloggers and interviewers who might be interested in your topic.

Be true to yourself and your audience.  If multiple opinions have confused you, I suggest you stop asking for opinions and if you can’t do that, stop attending meetings where you are likely to get opinions.  If you’ve ever asked for someone’s opinion about your book, you can expect they will probably follow up with you every time you see them to see if you have taken their advice.

Learn to say, “I’m working on a new book and I’d love to share some ideas with you when I’m further along in the process.”   Find the courage to bravely explore your topic deepening your target audience connection by spending time with your clients or potential clients.  Those are the people who already see you as an established and confident expert. My guess is that you already know what you want to write about and how.  Don’t let fear keep you from your best ideas that you intuitively know are the right areas to explore for you and your clients.  This will take a lot of work. You will need to dig deep.  Know that the rewards are there for those who jump in with both feet.

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  • Julie Trelstad  On March 8, 2010 at 9:00 am

    The same books-by-committee is happening everyday in big publishing companies as well as to independent authors. Book publishing, by it’s nature is a very conservative industry. Every book is a gamble, and publishers look under every rock for affirmation that the book they are planning to publish is enough like another book that’s already been successful. The problem is that leads to lots of look-alikes and knock-offs (you see them in every front-of-store display). Bravo to authors who dare to be original and break new ground!

  • Roger C. Parker  On March 9, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Dear Jan:
    This is a helpful and wonderful post. You clearly outline the issues.

    From the perspective of a 30+ published nonfiction titles it is a shame that so much energy has to be expended to overcome publisher resistance to new ideas. Even though the rewards of innovation can be so high.

    About 13 years ago, I saw a tiny little filler item in PC Week that Microsoft was going to bundle Word, Excel, Access, and Publisher into a single CD and sell it as Microsoft Office.

    I immediately, that evening, submitted a proposal for Microsoft Office for Windows for Dummies. It took 6 months for the proposal to be accepted, because “there’s no track record for books about integrated software!”

    That was true, of course, but there wasn’t any integrated software programs at the time!

    Anyway, I encourage everyone facing books-by-committee, a wonderful term, by the way, to move forward and make their case in as many different ways as possible.

    Once a new category has been created, it’s hard for the original book to be dislodged. So, the rewards are there!


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