How to Become a Successful Author (Even When You Don’t Write like Hemingway)

become an author

Karen Tiber Leland, a marketing executive and recent Ivy Exec webinar host, notes some of the benefits CEOs and other leaders can reap by writing books. A few of these include an increased number of customers, a shorter sales cycle, new partnerships, and more opportunities to develop as a thought leader. 

If you’re considering writing a book, there are lots of good reasons to pursue this interest. Perhaps you’re unhappy with a trend in the industry, and you want to write a book to disrupt it. Or maybe you’re so excited about your particular field of expertise that you want to share it with the world. 

But before setting out to write a book, however, there are few considerations you want to keep in mind. We’ll answer common questions many leaders have before beginning on the book-writing path. 

How long should my book be?

A “book” these days doesn’t have a set word limit. Depending on the size and scope of your ideas, your book could be a digitally-published piece that’s around 6,000 words that could be downloaded from your website. Or, if you have a grander vision, you could aim for a 70,000-word that’s available at your local booksellers. 

It’s a good idea to identify precisely what you want to discuss in your book before mapping out how long you want it to be. 

I’m not a great writer. How can I make my ideas easier to understand?

Many CEOs and leaders either don’t have the interest, energy, or talent to write a book themselves. Instead, they’re more focused on sharing big picture ideas, rather than writing the nitty-gritty, sentence-level content. CEOs often hire ghostwriters. Ghostwriters can take your ideas, your outline, and your content expectations, and spend the time researching, fleshing out, and proofreading these ideas. Then, you can put your seal of approval on the finished content. 

Ghostwriter Shelly Fagan explains: “Most CEOs simply don’t have that block of time in their schedule or the passion for the written word. I have the luxury of research, editing, proofreading, and simply thinking about the topic and how to sell an idea.”

I don’t know how to organize my ideas into a longer work. What can I do?

If part of the appeal of writing a book for you is researching and writing the content, a ghostwriter isn’t your only option for seeking help with your project. 

You could work with a professional editor at many stages in your project. For instance, if you’re not sure how to organize and develop your book, you could seek out the services of a developmental editor, someone who could help you outline your ideas before you start on the first draft. 

Later, once you’ve written a draft and revised it as much as you can by yourself, you could seek out an editor. A book editor will likely send you back structural and content suggestions multiple times. They may also proofread your final manuscript before submission. 

Editor Blake Atwood warns about sending a manuscript to an editor too soon, however. He suggests answering these questions to determine if you’re ready for a book editor to read your manuscript for the first time: 

“Have I done as much as I can to make my manuscript the best I can?

Am I looking for an editor because I’m tired of looking at my manuscript?

Do I have the nagging feeling that something undefinable isn’t quite working in my manuscript?”

Otherwise, if you send the project to the editor too early, you may have more work to do than you expected – and you may grow prematurely tired of your work. 

I’m afraid that I won’t stay motivated long enough to write a book. How can I ask for help and ideas?

If you’re looking for someone who can keep you motivated on all stages of the writing process, a book coach can help. Think of a book coach as a mentor for all stages of the writing process: from tapping into your creativity and ideas, to helping you overcome imposter syndrome, to editing the final manuscript. In between, the book coach can help you with outlining, organization, drafting, and revising.  

How does someone get a book published?

If you’re interested in publishing with a traditional publisher, they will typically request several materials for a non-fiction manuscript like yours. 

So, you should write a book proposal that describes your book, your intended audience, and your predictions about why the book will sell. Jane Friedman, a publishing industry expert, notes, “If a publisher is convinced by your argument, it contracts you and pays you to write the book.”

Make sure that you market yourself as a leader in the industry, too, because, as Friedman says, your status as an expert will make you more appealing to the publisher. 

What if I am interested in controlling the content myself?

There are many benefits of self-publishing your book, as well, especially if you want to maintain control of the content yourself. Self-published books may not sell to a general readership at your local bookstore, but they can develop your presence in your industry and develop your client base. 

David DeWolf and Jessica Hall, founder and leader, respectively, of a software development company, self-published a book called The Product Mindset. Because of this publication, they were able to grow the business and develop new partnerships and acquisitions during the pandemic precisely because of this self-published book. 

Starting Your Book

David Fouse, a strategic communications executive, recommends that CEOs and leaders write books for a number of reasons. Internally, not only do they help you develop a long-term organizational strategy but also unify your team. What’s more, the right book – even if it’s self-published – can “target specific stakeholder audiences that can strengthen [your] company’s platform.”

Writing a book is a worthwhile endeavor to position yourself as a thought leader. If you do have this ambition, the next step is identifying your strengths and weaknesses, making a plan for writing the book alone or with others, and mapping out a publishing route that best fits your vision. 

About the Author

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