Write a business book

Overview

For those coming out of a corporate career or professional life, writing a business book can be an exciting and high-yield way to leverage your career experience and expertise. With the newfound time afforded by retirement, authoring a book becomes a realistic possibility. And the benefits are many: It can open a range of new professional opportunities while providing a platform through which you can reflect on your career experiences and insights. A business book can show your talents, ways of thinking, and unique experiences that shaped your career and life, while creating a legacy that can be shared with family, colleagues, friends, and others. It can focus on your entire career, or a particular period. Writing can be hard work. The good news is you don’t have to do it alone—there are many resources and professionals who can help you. Whether you have decided to write a business book, or are considering it, the information on these pages will help provide insight and clarity.

Am I right for this?

10 yes/no questions to help you determine if this is a good direction for you

Do I have a career-related story or angle that would be compelling and engaging to others?

Have others ever encouraged me to write a book?

Is leaving a legacy important to me?

Do I enjoy writing or telling stories?

Do I think I have enough material for a book?

Is it easy for me to be transparent about my professional experiences?

Have I overcome challenges during my career that I am willing to share?

Am I willing to dig deep into my experiences and share them in ways that would be interesting to others?

Am I willing to invest the time, money, energy and effort required to author a book?

Do I have, or can I create, a workspace where I can be uninterrupted, inspired and productive?

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If you answer six or more “yes,” this is probably a good direction to pursue.

Possible topics for your business book

  • Overcoming internal politics
  • Launching new products
  • Dealing with ethics gaps
  • Bad bosses
  • Enabling sustainability
  • Championing diversity
  • Navigating the pandemic
  • Globalization/breaking down cultural barriers
  • Driving profitability
  • Crisis management
  • Other areas in which you were involved or have developed an expertise

Some of the best-selling business books of our time

  • Atomic Habits by James Clear
  • Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
  • Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
  • Grit by Angela Duckworth
  • Stand Out by Dorie Clark 
  • Think Again by Adam Grant
  • The e-Myth by Michael Gerber
  • The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout
  • The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
  • Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne
  • Traction by Gino Wickman

Leading business book publishers

  • Wiley
  • Penguin Random House
  • McGraw Hill Professional
  • FT Press
  • Harvard Business Review
  • Harper Collins Leadership
  • Crown Publishing
  • Entrepreneur Press
  • Career Press
  • Barrett-Koehler

Ways to publish your business book

  • Print (paperback and hardcover) via mainstream publisher, self-publishing, or hybrid publisher (fee-based publication and marketing package)  
  • eBook/Kindle
  • Audible

Places that business books are sold

  • Amazon
  • Other online sites
  • National retail (Barnes & Noble, Target, Waterstones (Europe))
  • Publishers’ sites
  • Local community/independent bookstores
  • Airport bookstores
  • Direct to consumer
  • Bulk copies to companies, associations and conferences
  • Book distributors (Ingram)

Q&A

Here are questions and answers that address common issues and concerns for those interested in becoming an author.

Question

What are the pluses and minuses of writing a business book?

Answer

Writing a book can be an all-consuming activity bringing with it both risks and rewards. These may include:

Upsides:
  • Therapeutic value of reflecting on your professional life
  • Provides a permanent record of your thoughts and experiences in your own voice
  • Personal satisfaction in accomplishing a challenge
  • Credibility and authority of being an author
Downsides:
  • Time consuming
  • Can be a lonely and isolating pursuit without a collaborative partner
  • Fear of failure if no one likes or buys the book
  • Saturated market in certain topics
  • Difficulty of marketing to wide audience
Question

How long does it typically take to write a book?

Answer

Like so many other activities, it depends on how much time you are able to devote to the project, and how many resources you engage in the process. A good guide is to plan at least one year from concept to final manuscript.

Question

What are the steps and stages of writing and publishing a book?

Answer

Authoring a book and getting it published is very much a project management activity. The main elements include the following, although depending on whether you self-publish or use a publishing company:

  • Recruiting a ghostwriter or other collaborator if desired and to gain momentum
  • Developing the outline for your story
  • Researching your story with outside resources as needed
  • Conducting interviews with persons important to your story
  • Authoring the content
  • Revising and polishing the content to ensure clarity and story flow
  • Proofreading / copy editing
  • Determining how you will publish the book – self or publishing company
  • Planning and implementing promotional strategy for launching and marketing the book
Question

What are the ways I can publish my book, and what are their advantages and disadvantages?

Answer

There are three major channels through which you can get your book published and out to the market.

Traditional book publisher:

Advantage: Credibility of the publisher’s imprimatur. Publisher takes care of the heavy lifting related to editing, production, distribution. Ready access to distribution channels and potential speaker bureaus.

Disadvantage: May require proposal.Less control over design. Sharing of revenue. Can take long time to find a publisher who will accept your proposal. It may take up to two years to actually have the book printed after a contract is signed.

Self-publish:

Advantage: You own the copyright of your material. You control all aspects of design and marketing. The independent distributor handles details to print, store and make book available for sale via booksellers, book clubs, libraries, etc. You may have print books in hand within two months.

Disadvantage: You pay up front for all services.

Hybrid publisher:

Advantage: Provides an all-in-one system for authors who have a manuscript ready to publish. Guarantees some placement in social media and traditional media.

Disadvantage: You are required to pay for a design and marketing package that may not reach global channels or target readership.

Question

How fully baked does my concept for a book have to be?

Answer

If you want to go the major publisher route, you need a very clear idea of your book’s purpose, focus and content. A major publisher will also want to know what your plan is to promote and market the book. If you self-publish, you have lots of room to develop your content as you go. Depending on your intention you may want to enlist the services of an editor, ghostwriter or publishing consultant.

Question

What kind of resources are available to help me, and what do they do?

Answer

If you want to work with one of the major publishers such as Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, or Macmillan, etc., you will need a literary agent. Literary agents find you a publisher, handle legal and financial details. Agents get a percentage of what you earn from your book. In approaching a major publisher, you will likely also need a proposal writer to help get your book concept accepted by the publisher.

A ghostwriter is someone who will write your book for a fee, while allowing you to be the author. Ghostwriters handle most of the research and writing, while you get the credit. The decision to hire a ghostwriter depends upon your organizing, writing, editing, and proofreading skills and how much time you have to devote to the process.

A publishing consultant will guide you through all steps of creating and bringing your book to market. In some cases they will also edit your book. The publishing consultant is not a literary agent and will not get you a contract with a major publisher but will simplify the process.

Question

Can I expect my book to cost me money or make me money?

Answer

If you want to go the major publisher route, you need a very clear idea of your book’s purpose, focus and content. A major publisher will also want to know what your plan is to promote and market the book. If you self-publish, you have lots of room to develop your content as you go. Depending on your intention you may want to enlist the services of an editor, ghostwriter or publishing consultant.

Option Evaluator

Assess this option against the following eight criteria:

Option Evaluator Graphic

Additional resources

Next steps:

Step 1

Determine if it makes sense for you to begin writing a book, based on the “Is this Right for Me” section.

Step 2

Create an informal statement of what your book is intended to cover and what impact you want to have on your readers.

Step 3

Assess the competitive landscape to see if there are other books of a similar nature.

Step 4

Share and discuss your book concept with trusted friends, colleagues and others to validate the idea and get preliminary feedback.

Step 5

Decide if you want to write the book yourself or hire a ghostwriter.

Step 6

Create an outline of book chapter by chapter.

Step 7

Research the various publishing options and decide how you want the book to be published.  

  • If major publishing house, find a qualified proposal writer.
  • If independently published, consider engaging a publishing consultant.
  • If you use Kindle Direct Publishing, set up your account.
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