It seems as though everyone wants to write a book. Unfortunately, most people don’t know where to start and, therefore, become under-motivated or overwhelmed. The result? Good intentions; no book.
But what if you could have a bookstore quality paperback book in your hands in two weeks? And what if you didn’t have to do much writing? Here’s a technique that I used to publish a nonfiction book in a fortnight, and sold tens of thousands of copies.
Why do you want to write a book?
It is important to start here. It’s a question many people fail to ask themselves. They don’t think about what they want to achieve with their writing. And they should, because the objectives will define the approach. I’ll give you three common reasons people want to write (in addition to just wanting to see their name in print or to share their ideas with the world).
1. You want to be rich and famous. If this is your objective, you may want to look elsewhere. Only 1,000 out of 172,000 books published each year sell over 50,000 copies. Very few authors become wealthy from books sales. In fact, most top-selling authors were rich and famous before they published their book.
2. You want to establish your credibility. If this is your objective, then using traditional publishers (e.g., Penguin, Harper Collins, McGraw-Hill, Wiley, etc.) may be the best approach. These publishers reject 98 percent of the books submitted to them, so getting your book published by them is like getting a stamp of approval; it’s automatically credible. In addition, these publishers handle all distribution, so you don’t have to worry about getting your books into stores yourself. If you’ve never before published a book, and credibility is your objective, then you may want to consider this path first.
3. You want to boost you existing business. Do you already have a business with an established client base? A book can be great marketing material. Instead of pushing your business, it teaches readers (and potential customers) what you know. And yes, it can generate some extra income, too.
Print-on-demand (POD) publishing
Even if you want to establish your credibility via a traditional publisher, you have one challenge: getting a publisher. Publishing is a bit of a Catch 22. Authors who are not published are most interested in traditional publishers, yet publishers want only those people who already have a following.
Also, traditional publishing can be notoriously slow, and your content could very well be dated by the time your book gets released. In contrast, print-on-demand publishing allows you to have 100 percent up-to-date content, since you have the opportunity to update the content before each printing.
Another advantage of POD is the cost per book. Even with author discounts, you are lucky to get copies for $10. This makes it too expensive for many companies to order in bulk.
Finally, a potentially important advantage to POD is the fact that you retain all of the rights. You can reprint your content in any form you want: workbooks, audio books, eBooks, flash cards or training manuals. You are somewhat limited when you work with traditional publishers as they require you to sign over most of the rights.
Writing and publishing your book
You will probably make less money from your book than you will from the services or products you sell as a result of the book. However, the book still has to be good enough for people to want it, yet inexpensive enough for you to be able to give it away.
I have boiled the approach down to eight easy steps. Although a lot more can be written on the subject, this should give you enough to get started.
Step 1: Get clear on the content and format
Here are some important things to consider for your two-week book.
- Your book should provide the reader with insights on your area of expertise. You want to share the breadth of your experience, but not necessarily the depth. The key is, you must already be an expert and should be able to talk about your topic for at least an hour. Two hours is better.
- Create a book that is concise and easily digestible. The final length should be under 100 pages. Fifty to 75 pages is fine.
- Identify an overarching framework. Most business books have some type of framework that’s incorporated into the book. It can serve either as the table of contents or, at the very least, can guide the development process.
Step 2: Record a speech or workshop
This is the step where most of the content is generated. Many of us, especially in the professional services area, give presentations, do training and facilitate workshops. Buy yourself a digital recorder and record a session. It’s that simple.
If you don’t give speeches, you can record a workshop. Or you can simply record a conversation with someone where you describe your approach. Doing is better than discussing. The key is, don’t do it alone. You must record a session where you interact with one or more other people.
Step 3: Transcribe your audio
This is the simplest, yet most expensive step. You can of course do it on your own if money is an issue. Or you can use a third party that charges approximately 1 cent per word. If you record a two hour conversation or workshop, you might end up with 90 minutes of usable content. This would translate to a little more than 10,000 words, which is perfect. Your cost would be under $100 for the transcription. And if you go overseas, you can get it done for as little as $40 for 90 minutes (this is what I do).
Step 4: Choose your book format and paste in your transcript
Go to a book store and find books that have a similar layout to what you want. There is no right or wrong approach. For this book, the content is more important than the layout. The nice thing is, you can refine the layout with future printings.
Make a template in Microsoft Word (or whatever editing software you are comfortable with). Use the “Styles and Formatting” as a way of setting your text, headers, bullets, etc. Once you have your template created, you can paste in the text from your transcription. Be sure to paste the text in an unformatted style so that you pick up the fonts of the template and not those of the transcription.
Step 5: Add headings, ask questions and edit
First, try to find logical headings. The more the better, as you can create a content rich table of contents page.
Next, edit the text so that it reads like a book rather than a speech. Although you can hire people to do this, it can be quite expensive. Take your time. So far you only invested a few hours and less than $100. If you do want professional editors, 10,000 words should cost about $200 to $400 for light editing/proofreading. Extensive editing is more.
Once you have a reasonable edit, give the book (printed on your inkjet printer) to a friend or colleague. Have them critique it. The objective is not to wordsmith at this point. Rather you want to make sure your friend understands the content. Have him or her write down questions as s/he reads it. Then have a conversation where you answer those questions. Record the conversation. Transcribe the conversation. And then paste in these refinements.
Now finalize the text. Paste in graphics that will help illustrate your points. If you have a framework, it certainly makes sense to include that. Pictures help improve readability. I used 99designs.com to create a first graphic, and then I hired the designer to create the rest to my graphics. But to save money, you can do this on your own using PowerPoint or any other graphics editing package.
A lot of white space also makes a book seem less intimidating. And then edit. Proofread. Make sure the text says what you want and is laid out the way you want. If you want something better looking, you can go to eLance.com and have your MS Word document converted into a professional layout for $100 to $150. I did this for one of my self-published books.
At this point, you know the page count and the page size. You will need these for the next step.
Step 6: Find a printer…
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Ok, this may seem like an odd post. Why would anyone want their iPhone to act like a BlackBerry? Well, there are some things that the RIM folks got right.
I switched over to the iPhone 4S a couple of weeks ago, and there are a few features from my old CrackBerry that I miss. I’ve been able to address most of them. Sadly, the blinking red indicator light that told me when I had an email is not doable on the iPhone. But here are three other workarounds that you may find useful/interesting.
Push Mail: I use a regular IMAP email server that does not have push capabilities. I don’t want to bother updating to an Exchange Server or anything like that. But I also don’t want to wait for the iPhone to “fetch” my mail. The solution? An app called “PushMail.” For five bucks, it gives you push notifications, it is amazingly simple to set up and gives you more flexibility than you can even get with the BlackBerry. It is my favorite iPhone app by far.
Music Ring Tones: I like assigning songs as the ring tone for people. One friend might have the theme to South Park while my default is the theme from the James Bond movies. Unfortunately on the iPhone you can’t do that by simply linking the person to the song in your music library. The solution? Create a ringtone in GarageBand. It is incredibly easy to drag a song from iTunes on your computer into GarageBand, select the 30 seconds you want, and then save it as a ring tone. Copy the file into iTunes and synch.
Only Ring for Select People: The BlackBerry has some amazing ring profile capabilities. I could, for example, keep the phone silent, except for some individuals. If I am waiting for an important call but don’t want to be disturbed by anyone else, I could do that on the BlackBerry, but not the iPhone. The solution? Create a blank/silent ring tone. When you want silence, set that ring tone as the default. Then, for those who you want to hear, go into the contact and assign a non-silent ring tone.
I’ve been tinkering around with some other fun things and may post some tips here from time to time.
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The late Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just having enough dots to connect…connect experiences and synthesize new things. The reason creative people are able to do that is that they’ve had more experiences or have thought more about their experiences than other people.”
Or, in my words, in order to innovate, you need to collect and connect the dots.
The other night I decided to make myself some tuna fish. As I started to prepare my meal, I realized that the 18 ounce squeeze bottle of mayo I was about to use had expired six months prior. I guess I don’t use it very often because the bottle was still 90 percent full.
After throwing out my expired food in frustration, I realized that there is a lot to learn from things we routinely do around the home. Here are just three of the lessons I learned from around the house.
Although Costco is one of my favorite stores, I rarely buy perishable items there. As a person who lives alone, I find it difficult to predict how much I will use. Sometimes, as is the case with my mayo, buying the smallest size and paying a premium is better than saving money on larger quantities. Smaller quantities result in less space used, less waste when things aren’t needed and lower costs all around. In business, your best bet is to become masterful at creating small, inexpensive and scalable experiments that give you insights into the real world, not just backroom-based predictions. As you gain new insights and become more confident that a new idea will work (i.e., there is greater predictability), then you can ramp up and go for efficiency.
Sell one, make one
It’s safe to say that one situation no one ever wants to encounter is to be sitting on the toilet and running out of toilet paper. The best solution is to always have a spare roll within reach. When the main roll is finished, the spare role is put into the dispenser and the backup roll is replaced. This is an example of a simple manufacturing technique called “sell one, make one.” To avoid running out of product, companies often produce large quantities of inventory. But as we saw in the “fail cheaply” example above, this can lead to waste. Items that don’t sell need to be liquidated at significant discounts. In the meantime, the inventory takes up space and hurts your cash flow. Instead, if you get your manufacturing process (or your innovation implementation process) efficient enough, you can make one immediately after you sell one—that is, when you sell one, you make one. You will never run out if demand never exceeds your ability to manufacture.
Lather, rinse but don’t repeat
Shampoo bottles are infamous for telling you to lather, rinse and repeat. Perhaps I am one of the few, but I had been following these directions every morning without much consideration. As an experiment, I tried skipping the repeat step. No difference. I even experimented with using less than one pump of shampoo. Same result. Sometimes we take on wasteful activities because we never think to step back and question them. I reduced shampoo usage by 75 percent without any impact on my hair. From my experience, most companies can reduce wasteful activities simply by questioning what has always been done in the past.
Three simple insights, and all were generated from a bottle of mayonnaise.
Want to improve your business? Start by looking around your home. Every day, take an inventory of the innovative products you possess…
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I recently had the great privilege of interviewing Chris Griffiths, the author of a new book on innovation, “GRASP The Solution.” He provides some very interesting perspectives on innovation. Chris is the CEO of ThinkBuzan, the organization behind Mind Mapping. Enjoy!
Most organizations focus their energies on ideas, suggestions, and opinions.
But for innovation to be efficient and focused, you need to ask better questions.
What do you do when you don’t even know what questions to ask?
Run a challenge to find challenges.
That’s what InnoCentive is doing with the support of the Economist and Qualcomm.
Their latest challenge: “Is there an urgent problem in your local community that you think can be solved in 2012? Submit a compelling photo or video taken on a mobile device that captures a solvable problem or need. Help make the world a better place in 2012.”
Those of you who have followed by writings will know that I am not a big fan of “idea platforms.” In fact, in my new book there is a tip called, “Asking for Ideas is a Bad Idea.”
Most companies spend a lot of time gathering ideas. They ask customers, vendors, employees, and crowds: “What do you think we should do?” The reality is, everyone has an opinion or suggestion: “Increase the amount of foam in the lattes we sell.” Sometimes the idea is a solution: “We could do xyz to get more customers in our stores.” From my experience, the ideas you gather do not provide real insights.
But if you have an idea platform, it can still be incredibly useful.
But instead of looking for opinions, suggestions or even solutions, use your crowds to help you ask better questions. Get people to think of that real opportunities. If you are in the retail business, a good submission might be: “Our shopping malls do not attract enough children – in particular those in elementary school. What can we do to get these kids to drag their parents to our mall?” This is not a solution but rather a challenge. If this opportunity is deemed valuable, then you can then use your challenge platform to source solutions.
Use idea platforms to find better questions. This provides a wide range of opportunities that you might not currently see?
Then, when you have good questions, you can use your challenge platforms to find solutions that can be implemented.
P.S. You can learn more about Economist challenge on the InnoCentive website.
As I write this, I am sitting in a Starbucks in London, England. Cars and taxis are zipping by on the street in front of me as I sip my espresso. Although I lived in London for several years, I only drove a car once while there…just once.
There is an exceptional transit system in London, so owning a vehicle isn’t necessary. Thankfully. If it were, I would have been significantly challenged. It’s funny…before moving to England, I had been driving effortlessly for 20 years. But one small difference made it nearly impossible for me to navigate here.
I am of course referring to the right-hand drive cars that are driven on the left-hand side of the road. I felt incapacitated while behind the wheel. I never knew which way to look. I had a hard time judging the edge of the car and kept hitting the rumble strips on the side of the road. And attempting to drive a manual stick-shift vehicle proved to be even more comical.
What I learned was that we quickly pick up habits. After driving for two decades, my skills were on automatic. Thinking was not necessary.
Unfortunately, moving the steering wheel and driving on the “other” side of the road forced me to think. Thinking caused me to choke.
It’s been shown that as athletes get closer to breaking a major record, their performance drops. They begin to “think,” when they otherwise would not. For example, as Barry Bonds approached his record breaking 762nd home run, his home runs per at bat dropped by as much as 90 percent. And what about Tiger Woods? Thinking of his personal situation seems to have thrown him off his game. Why?
When the “thinking” part of the brain—the cerebral cortex—is triggered, it literally chokes off the pathways to the pre-programmed skills that are stored in the cerebellum.
Studies show that 98 percent of 5-year-old children are highly creative, yet by the time they are the age of 25, only 2 percent are. Creativity is a pre-programmed skill. But education and the need to learn skills designed to pass standardized testing, chokes the creativity out of us. Instead of effortless fun and play, we are programmed to focus our thoughts on succeeding, winning or looking good, hampering our natural capabilities. But our innate creative abilities are still there. We just need to find better ways of tapping into them.
What does this have to do with business innovation?
Unfortunately the drive to perform in business is the very thing that inhibits creativity. Despite this truth, businesses will always be driven by metrics designed to monitor performance.
So, as an individual, what can you do to avoid choking your creative potential? The answer is simple: stop thinking.
Have you ever noticed that while taking a shower, you sometimes get creative thoughts? Have you ever had a brilliant insight while falling asleep or when waking up? The relaxing water and restful sleep quiets the judgmental part of the brain allowing your innate creative abilities to emerge. Take advantage of these moments. Keep a notebook by the side of the bed. Or in my case, a waterproof note pad in the shower. When lying in bed, Aristotle reputedly put a brass plate on his chest and held a metal ball above it in his hand. As he fell asleep, the ball would hit the plate waking him. He claimed to have his greatest insights just as he was dozing off.
Consider a company that is in the fragrance business and needs to develop 40 new scents every day. This is a daunting task. One manager I know decided to take his team out to Stonehenge to meditate before embarking on some brainstorming…
Ten years ago today was my last day with Accenture. The day before I had my book launch party for my first book, 24/7 Innovation. October 11, 2001.
I recently found a notebook from about 15 years ago. In it, I found an interesting entry from November 1996. In it, I declared where I wanted to be five years in the future.
At that time, Dr. Michael Hammer, the father of reengineering, was one of the most influential people in the world, and someone I admired.
My declaration was that I wanted to be the Michael Hammer of the next wave – giving speeches, writing books, and traveling the world. Five years later, almost to the day, my first book was published, I became a “professional speaker,” and I started traveling the world. The next wave happened to be “innovation.”
Below is part of what I wrote. It’s amazing to think that one day I had a vision for where I wanted to be and, voila, somehow it materialized.
Here’s hoping that all of your aspirations come true.
My new book, Best Practices Are Stupid, has been all over the news lately. Here’s just a small sample…
Interview on ABC News (click video above)
Interview on CBS Interactive’s BNET (click video above)
There is one principle that I wish companies would learn: customer’s don’t care how your business is structured; they just want it to be easy to work with you. Or as the late, great Dr. Michael Hammer would call it, ETDBW – Easy To Do Business With.
Sadly, so many companies have decided to make it increasingly difficult.
Back in 1997 I co-wrote an article for the Economist Intelligence Unit about the Virtualization of Financial Services. One of the biggest challenges we discussed was “channel integration” – the seamless integration of the web, branches, and ATM (cash) machines. Nearly 15 years later, companies have still not addressed this issue.
All these years later, we still see the same old problem.
Netflix recently announced that it is separating its DVD distribution service in a new business called Qwickster. Not only does the cost go up for consumers, but now you need separate accounts. I can’t imagine a company making it more difficult for customers to do business with them. Subscribers have been leaving in droves. OK, I realize that they are probably positioning their DVD business to be sold off. But in the process, they have significantly de-valued both businesses.
Yesterday I decided to pre-order an iPhone 4S from Verizon Wireless.
I went online, filled out all of the forms, and submitted my order successfully. Or so I thought. Ten minutes later I received an email saying that my order was cancelled and that I needed to call them if I had not requested the order to be cancelled. Given that I am in the UK, this was a bit of a hassle, but not a big deal. I called 3 times and only got voicemail. Admittedly, given the timezone difference, it was quite early there.
I fished around their website and found a place where I could send a message via email. I wrote telling them I did not want my order cancelled.
Not knowing if I would get a response to my email, I continued calling. After about a half dozen tries, I got through to someone who was very helpful. She couldn’t find a reason why my order was cancelled so she put me on hold and called the internet order group. She was told that the order could not be reinstated and that I needed to place a new order. Therefore, the nice woman transferred me to phone sales. I asked the sales agent if they could pull up the order I made previously and just re-enter the information instead of giving it all again over the phone. I was told that it was not possible since all internet orders are handled by a different group.
In the end, I decided it would be easier to place another order via the internet, which I did. I received my order confirmation and did not get a cancellation notice this time. I left my computer feeling like everything had been handled.
A few hours later, I received an email back from customer service in response to the email I sent much several hours earlier. They said, “This order was canceled out of the system because your order was placed from a foreign IP address and our system auto cancels any orders that don’t come from a domestic IP address. Since you were able to call in and speak with our customer protection team, they were able to approve you for service.”
Hmmm, this is a different answer than the one I received when I was on the phone!
The email continued…
“Our records indicate that you placed another order which is currently waiting to be processed by the expected ship date of 10-14-2011. When it’s time to process the payment and ship the equipment, you will be notified via email if there are any issues with the order. If the order completed with no problems, you’ll receive an email with your FedEx tracking information.”
One person tells me the first order was cancelled. But another tells me it will ship. And I also learn that my second order is still being processed which means it may or may not be approved. Basically I don’t know if on October 14th I will receive one iPhone, two iPhones, or maybe none at all.
Clearly, the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.
I wish companies would learn that customers do not care how they are structured. Customers do not think about internet versus phone orders, they just think in terms of orders.
What can you do to make your company ETDBW?
UPDATE: Since writing this blog entry, Netflix killed Qwickster recognizing it was a bad idea. And I also heard back from Verizon Wireless. It appears that my first order was indeed cancelled and not re-initiated, and only the second order is active. Let’s see what actually ships.