April 10, 2016

Speaker & Writer Tips

Don’t Write a Book Without Passing These Three Tests

One of the things that I love about speaking and being recognized as an author is that people will come up to me after I speak and ask about the process of writing a book.

I love it because it gives me the opportunity to help others pursue what may be the most important thing that I’ve ever done in my life – but probably not for the reasons you think.

And I always tell future authors that they should be able to pass three important litmus tests before they even think about getting started.

When my first book, The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change, was published at the end of 2012, it truly changed my life. The very first call I received after the book was published was a request to speak at a conference in The Netherlands. That led to a series of calls with requests to speak all over the world – all because of my book.

In addition, the book and the speaking engagements led to some fundamental changes in our business and even in how I viewed myself. I now introduce myself as “an author and speaker” before I talk about my work with The Institute for Digital Transformation. And The Institute itself has been transformed into a media and content company based on my own personal transformation.

But while all of that has been dramatic, fulfilling and, well, darn right amazing. None of those are actually the reasons that I encourage others to write a book.

I Would Have Done It Even If No One Read It

Whenever someone approaches me about writing a book, I tell them the same thing that I’ll tell you here.

When I had finished writing the book, but before it had actually been published, someone asked me if I thought it was going to be worth it. What if, they asked, no one bought it?

I told them that I didn’t care. I explained that the act of writing the book, by itself, had helped me grow and develop as a professional and as a person more than anything else had in my entire life. It forced me to confront my true beliefs and to crystalize my thoughts in a way that finally made them make sense to me.

Of course, I had poured my heart and soul into the book, so yes, I wanted people to buy it and read it. But the real value in writing the book was not the accolades or the speaking engagements or even the sales to which it might lead. No, the value in writing the book was in the process of writing it itself. And for that reason, I ultimately didn’t care if anyone bought it or read it. It had already been worth all of the time that I had invested.

And so my advice to almost anyone who has even an inkling of writing a book is to do it. Right now. Don’t wait for the perfect time. Make a commitment to yourself to get it done and just do it.

But before you set out to write that book, or if you’re not quite sure if you’re ready, I have three “litmus tests” that you must pass before you begin this journey:

Are You Doing It For the Right Reasons?

In my view, there is only one reason to write a book: because you have a story to tell or a message that you believe must be heard. I don’t believe that you can truly write it for any other reason. If you’re writing a book because you’re a speaker (or want to be) and feel that you MUST have a book, or because you think it will be a great sales tool, or because you just want to think of yourself as an author, it won’t work.

Don’t mistake my enthusiasm for the process of writing a book as a statement that writing a book is easy. Writing a book is a lot of very hard, and often very frustrating work. It takes commitment and diligence. And it takes a tough skin to have people tear it apart through the editorial process. The only way that you’re going to make it through this process is by doing it for the right reasons. You have to believe in your message and the need for it to be told enough to propel yourself through all of the muck of actually getting it out there.

Are You Willing to Challenge Yourself?

A lot of people think of writing a book from a retrospective point of view. What I mean is that they think that they are going to write a book about what they have already experienced and about what they already know. They believe that they are simply documenting their experiences and expertise.

Of course, you should have a strong experiential and expertise basis for writing your book. But there’s a fundamental problem with this approach. You already know everything that you know. So the act of simply writing it down is actually pretty boring. At least if you’re anything like me, what really gets your juices flowing is exploring and learning new things. Why should writing your book be devoid of the very things that stimulate you?

I believe that if you simply write the things that you already know, you will rapidly become bored with the writing process and the result will be a book that is flat, dry and boring. You must instead be willing to challenge yourself in the process of writing your book. When I wrote my first book, it led me to doing a ton of research, to interviewing a bunch of executives and to reading ten or twelve other books – just to figure out what I really wanted to say and share. And it led to a very different book than the one I set out to write.

When you push yourself, challenge your own beliefs and engage in the process of learning and exploring WHILE you’re writing your book, you will naturally exude a sense of wonderment and excitement in your writing. Your readers will feel it and your book will be that much better for it.

Can You Focus on How You Will Change Your Readers (and Yourself)?

The greatest risk to writing an interesting, engaging and ultimately successful book is your own ego. It is easy to fall into the trap that your book is all about sharing your vast knowledge and expertise with the world. But the truth is that information is now a commodity (see Google) and is getting easier to access every day. The key to the success of your book is not the information that it contains, but rather the change that it imparts upon your reader. You must be willing to let go of any self-aggrandizing notions and make your book exclusively about the change that you want to help your reader realize in their own life. And the easiest way to do this is to start with yourself.

This may seem counterintuitive, but I believe that you should see your book almost as a message to yourself. Set out to explore what is happening around you. Apply the benefit of your experience and expertise and then ask yourself what it is that YOU should be changing about yourself or how you operate or the decisions that you make to respond to the changes you’re seeing so that you’ll be better off in the end. And then share that journey with your readers.

Taking this approach has two major benefits. First, it ensures that you will be providing a significant amount of value to your readers. You will be helping them understand what is happening and the changes that they need to make to benefit from them. Second, you will impart a degree of authenticity and empathy that can only come from enjoying a journey together.

If you can pass these three litmus tests, then I am confident that you will be successful in writing your book and getting the same value out of the process that I did. Of course, there are a lot of decisions and mechanics that you’ll need to address to actually make this a reality. One of which is deciding how you are going to get published – this post from Michael Hyatt is a great place to start on that front. But if you pass these three litmus tests, I think that you are at the beginning of what will be an amazing journey for both you and your future readers!

I want to know what you think about this. If you’re an author, are there other tests that you might add to this list? If you’re a prospective author, what is holding you back from getting started?


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