Surveys consistently show that between 80 and 90% of people want to write a book.
I love this. I honestly think everyone should write a book.
Yes, literally everyone.
With one caveat: people should only write their book when they’re ready to write a good book.
So what makes a good book? It’s a very simple and straightforward definition:
A good book is one that provides value to both the author and the reader.
The problem is that very few people understand what it means for a book to provide value to both authors and readers. They either only focus on why the book will help them, or they only think about the reader and not about themselves.
There are three basic questions you need to ask yourself before you sit down to write your book:
1) Why are you writing your book, and what’s in it for you?
2) Who’s your book for, and what’s in it for them?
3) How will you write and publish your book?
That’s what this blog post is for: to walk through each question and help you understand how to answer it, so you know if you’re ready to write a good book.
Question 1: Why are you writing the book, and what’s in it for you?
This is the first and most important question, the one that ultimately determines everything else: why are you writing a book, and what do you get from it?
We tell our authors to think about the “why” question of writing a book in terms of the objectives they’d like for the book to help them accomplish. This is how we usually frame the question:
Imagine it’s a few years after your book has been published. What’s the book helped you to accomplish that made the effort worthwhile?
There are many, many answers you could give to this question, and in fact, most authors aren’t always sure of what’s possible. We divide the big range of possibilities into three buckets to help authors understand what’s possible:
A book is a great way to build your brand and market yourself in many different ways: establishing authority, increasing credibility, raising your visibility and profile, etc. We dive deep into this topic with dozens of examples in this piece.
This is the inevitable result of using a book to market yourself—you get more business. The thing is, there are many different ways a book can drive business, and few authors maximize them. We made a long list of ways to use a book to make money to help you know what’s possible.
This is part of the book that many authors underestimate—until the book comes out.
In fact, if you read through the dozens of author success stories we have, you’ll see that many of them highlight the impact their book had on their readers as the thing they value the most about it—even when the book made the authors millions in actual business revenue.
Authors highlight how the book helped them grow creatively and as a person, how it changed how their family saw them and their legacy, how it impacted other people, and how it helped them reach more people. This piece details how the “intangible” impacts of a book can be so meaningful.
Are There Any “Wrong” Reasons to Write a Book?
Yes and no. Not every possible objective is useful. Some can cause you to write a bad book.
For example, if your objective is to write a New York Times bestseller, then by its nature it forces you to write a broad book that appeals to a lot of people. The problem is that’s very hard to do, and most people don’t have a good book in them that covers a broad topic—but they do have a good book that covers a niche topic. So in this case the objective (hitting the NY Times list) forces them away from the best book in them (a niche book).
This piece outlines the reasons to not write a book, and explains why they don’t work.
What If You Want to Write a Book for Yourself Only?
There are some authors who want to write a personal memoir about their life, which is totally fine. But be clear—that is not only about themselves. They are doing that in order to tell their story, even if only to their friends and family.
Yes, that’s a small audience, but a small audience is still an audience. A small audience is fundamentally different than only writing the book for yourself and no one else.
If you truly want to write a book only for yourself and no one else, let’s call this what it actually is: therapy. A book for no one but yourself has a name: it’s a diary.
I don’t say that in a bad way—you should write in a diary if you want. I journal myself and love it. But there’s no reason to publish a diary as a book.
I think people do this because even in this modern age, a lot of people feel that therapy is, for some reason or another, not valid or appropriate. Or they are afraid of therapy and what it will bring up. So they use the book as a proxy for therapy—a way to get therapy without having to go through actual therapy.
Don’t do that. Use therapy for its purpose, and a book for its purpose. They are different.
That being said, writing a book can be—and usually is—a very therapeutic experience. That is both very common and very valid. You should not avoid putting emotional stuff in your book, assuming that it makes sense. I wrote a piece about how to determine when to put parts of your story in your book.
Question 2: Who’s your book for, and what’s in it for them?
If no one reads your book, then it can’t help you. To ensure you have readers, you must understand both who you’re writing it for and what’s in it for them.
Most authors have a pretty decent idea of who the audience for their book is. It really isn’t more complicated than taking your reason for writing a book (that you just articulated) and then answering the question, “Who must know about my book in order for it to get the results I want?”
For example, if you want to speak at a major oil and gas conference, then your audience is the people who book the speakers for that specific conference (and the attendees). If you want clients for your CTO coaching business, then chief technology officers (and the people who know them) are your audience. If you want to impact the success of young e-commerce entrepreneurs, then your audience are young e-commerce entrepreneurs.
The harder question is why the reader will care. When we work with authors, we help them create a detailed psychographic profile of their primary reader. This process forces the author to really get in the head of their desired reader, understand their problems and their pain, and detail exactly how their book can help the reader.
If you understand precisely why the reader will care about your book, it gives you the map to what the book must be about, and what information it needs to contain.
This piece details the Scribe process for figuring out exactly how to target the right audience.
Question 3: How will you write and publish the book?
Once you’re clear on what you get, and what the reader gets, only then can you start to think about how you will actually write the book.
This boils down to deciding if you will do it entirely by yourself, with some help, or with a lot of help? And what kind of help specifically do you need?
Many authors think that the big question here is deciding between traditional publishing and self-publishing. That’s not really accurate. Very few authors even have a chance at getting a traditional deal. And even among the authors who can get deals, most of them should be self-publishing. This topic is covered in great detail in this blog post on publishing options.
If you’re reading this, chances are (99+%) you will be self-publishing (for example, of the 1200+ authors we’ve worked with, only 11 have been able to get traditional publishing deals).
The question for you is how you will self-publish—will you manage the process totally yourself, or will you outsource the management of the process to a publishing services firm (like Scribe)?
Most people do not want to manage the process themselves—and honestly, they shouldn’t. Writing a book is very hard, and publishing it is detailed and complex. Most authors are better off hiring people to help them (solving this problem is quite literally why we started Scribe).
This post details the steps and prices of each step of publishing if you want to manage it yourself.