Want to Write a Business Book…Write a Paper First

Having written a book on marketing and nurtured other nonfiction books from concept to shelf, I have learned much. Clearly, there are tangible and personally rewarding reasons to write a book. They establish you as a thought leader. Business books are proven to boost awareness, establish leads, and help close sales. Books are a ton of work but pay back in many ways.

It is a shame that the majority of them should never have been written.

There is an overwhelming amount of substandard work out there and more every day due to self-publishing and assisted self-publishing. I am not talking about books that have typos, horrendous grammar, and downright awful writing. My issue is with books that lack premise or have lazily and greedily repackaged what is commonly known and previously published. This happens across the nonfiction spectrum, from business books to self-help to the how-to varieties.

I have read over 500 marketing books and the law of diminishing returns kicked in 480 books ago. Further, when I was Chief Marketing Officer at DDB Worldwide, many colleagues were interested in writing to boost their personal brand. The global advertising agency had over 12,000 employees, so I expected waterfalls of thought leadership.

Whenever approached with a book idea, I asked my colleague to first write a paper on the topic. This happened over 30 times and no one ever completed the task. Once, to bolster our marketing and corporate university content, I put a call out for papers and articles. Out of 12,000 people in over 90 countries, I received 6. This proved to me that, not only is writing difficult, it is having something meaningful to say and interesting to share that are the key qualifiers.

That is why I still advocate writing a paper in advance of a book. This is more than a query letter for publishers or an introduction to the topic. It is the book in paper length. Speaking of length, I recommend penning it in the 2,000 to 3,000-word range. Once written, share as widely as possible. Tap your network, hit social media, strive to get it placed somewhere. Do not be afraid the idea will be stolen. Getting it out there proves provenance and provides evidence that there is a viable book. 

Here is why a paper works:

Ensures a Relevant Topic

The paper is a beta of the book. Reaction to the premise and topic will be invaluable. It may take you in new and unexpected directions. It will confirm if you are onto something that is new and needed.

Establishes an Audience

While many nonfiction books are ego efforts, with little concern for sales or even impact, a paper will tell you if there is an audience for your book. And the best books have a distinct audience in mind. A nonfiction book is a marketing campaign that calls for smart segmentation. Reaction to the paper hones audience identification.

Verifies You as Author

Every one of us has piles of ideas. The paper will prove that you are the one to credibly and authentically tackle the subject. My interests and curiosity have me chasing tons of different topics. That does not mean I am a polymath. I graze a lot so cannot claim depth of knowledge. I am interested in how bridges are engineered but could never write on the topic. My bridges would collapse. Your paper may too but it will save you from unnecessarily investing in a book.

Tests Writing Skills

There are three reasons people do not write books. A big one is the time it takes, another is the cost. The third is quite practical. They have something to say but their skills as a writer are lacking. This should not be discouraging, the vast majority of nonfiction books are ghostwritten. I am currently reading Robert Igers’, A Ride of a Lifetime. It is a brilliant collaboration between the Disney executive and a ghostwriter. A ghostwriter can seem expensive but will ultimately save time, money, grief and produce a better book.

Provides Marketing Education

Promoting the paper is a great test for how you will be called on to promote the book. Authors do not sit back and wait to hit the bestseller list. You will be your own Chief Marketing Officer of the book. A paper will allow you to experiment with media placement, social media promotion, podcasts, and much more.

Validates Ultimate Publishing

If the paper takes off, you will have a fantastic case to take to publishers for a book. Did the paper get published? Did people share, comment and contact you? Were you asked on podcasts or got yourself on them? Did media pick it up? Evidence of this kind will help you land a great publishing partner or agent.

Restaurants have soft launches, new products are tested by focus groups, and theater productions hold dress rehearsals. You end up with something better as a result. A paper in advance of a book does that and more. It will not only produce a better book, it tells you if the book should be written at all.

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