Deciding to write a book is a bold and always rewarding decision.
Imagine the visibility a great book could get you and your business, the customers it could attract, and other doors it could open. The rewards sound amazing. But the process that produces them can be grueling.
Don’t be fooled by the amount of written content flooding the internet daily and the number of books listed on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing daily. Writing anything well is hard, less a book.
But you can start by finding the right ideas and presenting them excellently. You can create a great outline, set writing goals, and gradually develop a habit that will help you produce a book worth publishing.
And in this post, I’ll show you how to use all of these to take your book from an idea to a manuscript.
How to Write a Business Book: 12 Proven Steps
1. Understand Your Motivation
Writing a book is one of those journeys people easily defer. When you imagine how much time you’d have to sink into the writing process and other demands, it’s easy to get cold feet. To mitigate against this, you’d often hear people try to motivate writers or aspiring writers to take the plunge by saying stuff like, “just do it.”
I don’t advise that you “just do it.” Before clacking away at your keyboard, it’s wise to determine why you want to write in the first place.
You might want to classify your motives for wanting to write your book into two groups: motives that serve your interest and objectives that help others. It’s easy to focus only on goals like “I want to help people build better businesses” or “I want my book to be the go-to marketing resource for small business owners.”
These are great, and we’ll get to them, but it’s crucial that you also look out for yourself and identify a motive that helps you achieve a personal goal.
What personal goals would suffice?
- You can write to position yourself as an authority in your field.
- Your goal could be to increase your visibility.
- Writing a book could be a way to promote your business and get new clients or customers.
- You may write in the hopes of securing more speaking engagements or catching the eyes of industry thought leaders.
- You could be aiming to raise funds.
- And you may just be itching to satisfy a long-standing urge to write on that theme.
- You could be looking to leave a legacy.
Aside from personal goals, you also want to identify what you want your book to help others do or become. This is where objectives like “empowering entrepreneurs with the skills to get their businesses from ideation to launch” come in.
Consider your target audience and what problem you’re looking to solve for them. A good formula is Who + What (problem) + Desired Outcome. For instance, “I want to show entrepreneurs (who) how to raise funds easily (problem) to grow their businesses (desired outcome).”
Motives will help you finetune your approach to writing the book, understand your destination, and find the will to continue in difficult times.
2. Understand Your Audience
You have to approach writing your book as you would a business — you need to discover, understand, and write for a specific audience. Just as it’s easy to build products or set service delivery modalities that are all over the place or aren’t wholly user-centered, you can quickly lose sight of your audience’s needs while writing.
To avoid creating a book that’s author-centered or unfocused, here are some boxes you need to check and keep top of mind:
- Determine your primary audience: And be as narrow as possible – the most common mistake is authors going too broad, thinking they will attract more attention. And they end up attracting less.
“Tech entrepreneurs who are yet to find product market fit but are looking to raise funds” is a better primary audience definition than “entrepreneurs without money.”
- Build an ideal reader persona: Beyond identifying your primary audience, you want to go a step further to write to one person within that audience group. Writing to one person means focusing on a reader persona that embodies the characteristics of your audience segment. You can create a name for your persona to make things more real.
- Figure out your ideal reader’s needs: What specific pain point(s) are you looking to help your readers solve, and why should they care? Then try to anticipate and note the questions readers may have about the subject so you can cover them. Also, identify other critical traits like the type of language most resonating with your audience, the time they have on their hands, and why they will buy your book.
To better understand your audience, skim books similar to the one you plan to write. Join social media communities with your target audience to see what their conversations about your chosen topic look like. Explore every channel that gives you as much information as necessary to plan for a book that speaks directly to your target audience.
3. Create an Outline
An outline is simply a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of what you plan to write. It will give you a big-picture view of your work and help you create a cohesive and organized manuscript. A carefully prepared outline will also help you beat overwhelm, anxiety and procrastination by showing you how to approach your writing in smaller chunks you can quickly tick off.
What does your outline need?
- A list of chapters: You want to break your main idea into smaller ideas you can explore separately. Your chapters could include steps in a process, key principles, elements of a concept, arguments, etc.
- A thesis statement for each chapter: A thesis statement is a one- or two-sentence summary of the main idea of each chapter. Create this and then order your chapters in a tentative table of contents.
- An in-chapter outline: Next, you want to create an outline for the content in each chapter. Depending on what you’re writing on, the elements for each chapter may vary, but here are examples of chapter elements you can consider:
- Your hook: A short and catchy intro that lays the foundation for what the chapter is about. This intro could be a historical account, personal experience, research findings, or statistics from a study.
- Chapter goal: Here’s where you state how you’ll transition from your hook to the thesis statement for that chapter.
- Key points: Now, you outline all the ideas you want to discuss to establish your thesis statement and order them logically. A summary of each idea will also do.
- Stories: Create a section for all the stories you think you might need in that chapter. This is like your story archive for each chapter so that you can easily insert the anecdotes where they fit when you start writing.
- A chapter round-up: This section should highlight the key takeaway of each chapter so your point sticks.
- Closing: Jot down how you’d like to close each chapter. Conclusion ideas include referencing your hook or telling another story. You can also connect your conclusion with a point that prepares readers for what awaits them in the next chapter.
4. Craft a Great Title
Your title is a vital cog in your book’s metaphorical wheel. It’s easily the face of your book and what potential readers will see. A title is your first opportunity to make an impression, communicate your value, and catch the eye of your readers. It should be concise but informative, memorable, and intriguing.
Although you’ll likely have to rework your title many times before you finally publish, it’s great to have a working title or at least a list of options early on. Here are some ways to brainstorm titles:
- Use a striking phrase from your content or a clever one-word title: opt for options that summarize the book’s concept. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki, and Seth Godin’s Purple Cow are great examples.
- Think of simple but relevant keywords: you don’t necessarily have to coin a new word or pull off a clever wordplay to create a great title. A descriptive title with relevant keywords can also do the trick (and help with online visibility). Think Al Ries and Jack Trout’s The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing or Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.
- Make a promise: this is a surefire way to get a good working title. Think of what your book will help your audience achieve and present it in the most concise way possible. Examples: Think and Grow Rich (Napoleon Hill) and How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie).
5. Create a Fitting Subtitle
In a lineup of 10 non-fiction books, 8 of them will likely have a short sentence below the title that expands on what the book is about; this is the subtitle. Irrespective of what title format you opt for, a clever turn of phrase, a descriptive one word or sentence, your subtitle presents an opportunity further to sell your book’s unique value or main benefit.
Think of the subtitle as your answer to the question, “tell me what your book is about in one sentence.” You either approach this from an informative angle where you spell out precisely what the book is about or add a benefits spin to your answer, including the most significant goal(s) the book will help your readers achieve.
Regardless of your chosen method, ensure your subtitle gives your title context and tells people why they should read your book.
Here are steps to creating a compelling subtitle:
- Ask yourself what your book is about, and write down your answer no matter how long it is.
- Tweak this description, so it distills the core message of your book into one sentence.
- Cut out unnecessary words, be as specific as possible, and replace bland words with more descriptive and precise ones.
Examples of excellent descriptive subtitles are:
- Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t (Jim Collins)
- Zero to One: Notes on Startups and Building the Future (Peter Thiel and Blake Masters)
- Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras).
- The E Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About it (Michael E. Gerber)
To create a benefit-focused subtitle, think of that one thing you want your readers to get out of your book. If you’re finding it hard to narrow down the central theme of your book, do this:
- List as many benefits of your book as possible
- Identify the most striking three to four benefits
- Ask what significant result these benefits tie into
Here are some examples of great benefit-focused subtitles:
- Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (Nir Eyal)
- Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine (Mike Michalowicz)
- Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable (Seth Godin)
6. Set up Your Writing Space
Deciding where to write will come down to your preference. Moreover, the nature of your work or other circumstances could make it tricky for you to nail down a specific writing spot. You don’t have to get hung up on creating a writing sanctuary; just be sure always to find a spot that helps you focus and enhances productivity.
That said, if you have the chance to set up a writing space, here are some points you may want to pay attention to:
- Select a distraction-free space either in a part of the house or office or dedicate a spare room to writing.
- Choose comfortable furniture: find a comfy chair and a desk. You may want to go for one of those ergonomic chairs if you’re looking to splash the cash.
- Get appropriate lighting: set your desk close to a window where you can use natural light in the daytime if you can. For nighttime, get lamps that emit warm colors.
- Declutter your writing space regularly (if that’s your thing)
You can also have multiple writing spaces. A change in scenery is always good for the mind, so apart from your designated home or office spot, you can choose a nice diner or coffee shop, a library, museum, or even a park. Above all, always be ready to jot down ideas when they hit you.
7. Get Your Writing Tools in Order
Writing tools can easily slip under the radar, but they matter. A poor worker might blame his tools, but even an excellent workman needs suitable implements to stay consistently productive.
The tools you use here depend on whether you prefer to scribble your drafts with pens and pencils, a keyboard, or both. Generally, here are some of the materials you’ll need:
- A PC or a Mac computer
- Printing paper
- Cork or bulletin boards
- Pens, pencils, and pencil holders
If you want to go beyond Microsoft Word, there are writing software you can explore that will improve your writing process and output.
- Scrivener: Great for writing, outlining, viewing research and notes, and organizing your writing.
- Google docs: An excellent collaborative tool that will help with the editing process when you bring on an editor.
- Ulysses: A distraction-free writing software for Mac users that includes most of the functions found in Scrivener. Here’s a comparison between Scrivener and Ulysses if you’re trying to decide between them.
- Grammarly: Grammarly helps with suggesting edits for grammar, punctuation, tone, sentence structure, and even word choice. It integrates with Microsoft Word and Google Docs.
- ProWriting Aid: it’s similar to Grammarly as it offers writing, style, and grammar suggestions as you write and integrates with writing software like Google Docs, Microsoft Word, and Scrivener.
- Hemingway Editor: Similar to the first two, only that it focuses more on writing style by highlighting complex and passive sentences and suggesting edits to improve readability.
- Freedom: Lets you avoid online distractions by temporarily blocking social media, specific apps, and websites on your devices.
- Todoist: A convenient tasks manager with features that allow you to break down your tasks into smaller bits and tick them off.
- Noizio: Offers background sounds scientifically proven to help people focus and be more productive.
8. Set Writing Goals
Goals are a surefire way to keep yourself accountable and motivated. You need to adopt a big-picture view while setting your goals; to do that; you need a deadline. This is when you hope to finish at least your first draft.
You can set deadlines for each chapter while considering your overall expected completion date.
Using your deadlines, approach each segment of your book with any of these three forms of writing goals:
- Word-count goals: You approach each writing session with a target word count in mind.
- Time-based goals: For these, you choose the duration of each writing session. It’s most effective if you’ve gauged how long it takes to write a particular number of words. Be sure you’re maximizing the time for each session, as time spent writing can quickly become a vanity metric if you aren’t making real progress.
- Task-based goals: You can aim to complete a specific part or some aspects of your book in each writing session.
These tips should help you maximize the goal-setting process:
- Set only realistic goals
- Document both long-term and short-term goals
- Ensure your goals are measurable
- Track your progress, identify shortcomings, and review your writing process
- Keep yourself accountable by prioritizing your goals
9. Create a Schedule and Form a Writing Habit
The point of setting goals is to ensure you are making steady progress towards completing your book. But the thing is, goals alone cannot drive you to complete your book, at least not in the way you think.
Your system or routine is the biggest influence on your progress. In the words of James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, “you do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
Your writing goals are the things you wish to do, whereas your routines are what you do. You need to find a way to create routines that move you closer to your goals; otherwise, all you’ll have are articulate aims and an unfinished book.
So how do you create a writing routine?
- Choose a time or specific times and a place where you’ll write each day: You can write this down as what James Clear calls an “implementation intention,”; a statement of where and when you’ll do something. Studies show that implementation intentions increase the likelihood that we’ll stick to our goals as, over time, the time and place outlined become cues that prompt us to do the intended activity.
- Practice habit stacking: this is another of James Clear’s routine-building tips. It’s pinning a new habit onto an existing one such that the old patterns become the prompt for the new one. If you take a cup of coffee every morning, you can say that you’ll write for two hours after getting your caffeine fix.
Two things to note with habit stacking:
- Ensure that the preexisting habit you’re stacking your writing routine takes place at a time when you can write successfully. If you’re a morning person, it would be counterproductive to stack your writing schedule on an activity you typically do at night.
- The established habit should happen with the same frequency you’re hoping to write. If you want to write daily, tag your writing goals with something you do daily.
- Use Temptation bundling: Still on James Clear’s tips for creating a habit. Temptation bundling is making an activity you enjoy doing the reward for an activity you need to do, which is writing. If you love catching up on sports news in the morning, make that a reward for writing for, say, an hour. Over time, you’ll likely create a habit–reward relationship that will motivate you to stick to your writing schedule.
10. Write Your First Draft
With your writing goals and schedule locked down, dig your feet into the sand and produce your first draft.
The outline you created earlier will come in handy. Writing should feel more like filling in missing elements and expanding on the points you noted in your outline.
While writing, you may get new ideas. You can choose to note them down in the appropriate section or explore them immediately.
Be sure to write in your voice. This is the unique element that makes your writing yours. It combines your word choice, sentence structures, expressions, punctuation, etc. Let it flow freely.
Note that now’s not the time to concern yourself with how great your writing is or if your sentences are coming off right (sentences hardly do that the first time). The goal of the first draft isn’t for you to be bogged down by the writing–editing loop; it’s to get your content out as quickly as possible. Editing comes later.
11. Edit Your First Draft
While you have the option of hiring an editor, we advise that you self-edit your work at least once before shipping it off to an editor.
Approach editing from different angles to ensure effectiveness and reduce overwhelm. Start with a big-picture approach that lets you review the structure of your ideas and chapters. Dive deep to see chunks of your work you can move around to create a more cohesive and coherent narrative.
Next, you want to move to a more in-depth editing process. Go to paragraph and sentence levels, cross out unnecessary words and clarify your ideas. Focus on each idea and ensure you’ve communicated it clearly. Take it out if an idea doesn’t contribute meaningfully to your topic.
A good editing hack is to read your work aloud. It will help you pick out sentences that just don’t sound right or words that feel out of place.
12. Get Feedback from Beta Readers
Apart from working with an editor, you can also share your manuscript with beta readers for feedback. Consider these points when selecting beta readers:
- Choose people experienced in your field and those similar to your target audience. The first group can vet your writing for its value and accuracy, while the second can point out unclear explanations and give feedback on how helpful your writing is.
- Explain the type of feedback you require from them: spell out the metrics you’d have them measure your work by if necessary. Your list could include clarity, simplicity, relevance, practicality, etc.
- Give them all they need: your readers may have different preferences when consuming content. Provide your manuscript in the format that they prefer. It also wouldn’t hurt to offer a little something to show appreciation; gift cards and shopping vouchers are great options.
Your Words Can Go Where You Can’t
The great thing about writing is that it can spread like wildfire and stick around for a long time like bubble gum beneath a desk if it’s good. Books written decades ago are still being studied diligently because of their timeless relevance. You can write books like these too.
We understand the writing process can sound daunting. And hiring a ghostwriter doesn’t exactly make it any easier. Plus, traditional ghostwriters tend to struggle to capture your voice.
We have a trademarked process called Enhanced Ghostwriting to avoid these sorts of issues. With enhanced ghostwriting, you go through a three-step creation process that ensures:
- The book is written in your voice
- The book includes your experience and relevant examples that speak to your target audience
- Each chapter provides practical and valuable information to the readers
Don’t let the writing process hold you back. It’s time to share those ideas with the world.