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How to Write and Self-Publish a Book in Three Months (With No Experience)

How to Write and Self-Publish a Book in Three Months (With No Experience)

I am an engineer. At school I was always a straight A student in any numerical subject, but got mostly B grades in English. I am ambitious and have a LOT of life goals, but writing a book definitely wasn’t one of them. Then, in 2016, I decided to write a book – and wrote and published one in three months, without a publisher. My book, entitled Marketing for CEOs: Death or Glory in the Digital Age, has received very strong reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, and has won several awards.

A lot of people have asked me how I made that happen, especially because – at the time – I was holding down two CEO jobs on opposite sides of the world (Singapore and Kansas City). So, by popular demand, here are a few tips from my book writing experience to help you write and self-publish your own book:

1. Pick The Right Subject

The subject really matters. It needs to be something that you are both passionate and knowledgeable about. Passion enables you to overcome inertia on all those evenings and weekends when you would rather be doing something else. Knowledge reduces the amount of research you need to do and makes it easy for you to provide expert-level authenticity to the topic. In my case, the subject found me.

In 2015, several CEO friends said to me: “Ben, I am planning to fire my Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). Please help me find a better one.” At first, I would usually just commiserate with him or her over a drink, then I would get back to my day job. However, one day I replied, “I am sure there’s a book out there. I’ll look into it and recommend the best book that defines what marketing should be doing in the digital age.”

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It sounded simple enough. But then I searched for the book on both Google and Amazon. However, I couldn’t find a decent book that offered a clear, compelling proposal for what marketing should be doing in a new world dominated by mobile phones, social media, and big data. It was then that I decided to share my knowledge on the subject and write one myself.

This stimulus for the book also helped me to define my target audience: CEOs, CFOs, and investors who were all keen to understand how intelligent marketing investments can create a competitive advantage and increase company valuations.

2. Start With Writing Down Your Thoughts 

During my early CEO conversations, I had no intention of writing a book, but I did think that I might write the occasional article on digital marketing, the future of marketing, etc. So, I started collating my ideas, thoughts, and inspiration for articles in Evernote. I am a big fan of Evernote, as I could update my thoughts using my laptop, iPad, or mobile phone and it synchronized everything seamlessly.

During 2015, I organized all of these thoughts into 14 sections, which ended up being very closely aligned with the eventual chapters of the book. I then expanded on these thoughts and populated these sections with ideas, statistics, and useful links.

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3. Pay A Ghostwriter In Installments

The act of hiring a ghostwriter is when I started my “clock” for the three-month period for writing the book. Before this, I hadn’t actually decided to write a book. My marketing team got pretty excited when I said, “Maybe I should turn all these notes into a book.” They were thinking about all that event sponsorship money they could save if I would be – as a published author – invited to be a keynote speaker at major conferences for free. So they set about finding a ghostwriter with the right kind of tone and experience to really “get” the subject matter.

Once we found the right person, we structured his compensation as follows:

  1. 25% of total fee: Upfront
  2. 25% of total fee: On delivery of the first draft
  3. 25% of total fee: On being declared “ready for pagination” by me
  4. 25% of total fee: When the book had sold 10,000 copies

The first and second parts above are pretty normal. It was the third part that really put the pressure on me. For me to declare the book “ready for pagination”, that meant I had to read, edit, and polish every single chapter. If the ghostwriter had been paid off after delivering his first draft (as many are), I might have delayed reviewing and editing much longer especially because I was insanely busy at the time. However, the ghostwriter was a great person and I felt guilty at the thought of him not receiving his third and fourth parts of his total payment. That put significant pressure on me to work evenings and weekends – even over Christmas in 2015 – to get the wording into a proper state for pagination.

4. Iterate and Ask For Input

Turning the first draft into something worthy of pagination, illustration, and publishing was a LOT of work. When I read the ghostwriter’s first draft, I initially thought it was 80% ready for print. However, as I went through each chapter more thoroughly, I realized that I needed to put a lot of work into every single chapter. Reading the first draft made me think of better words, phrases, and examples to bring the concepts to life.

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For a handful of chapters, I deleted them and started from scratch. At various stages, I also asked friends and colleagues for input and this led to all sorts of useful input, from big ideas to spotting spelling mistakes. By the time I declared the book “ready for pagination”, I had changed, rewritten, or reworked 80% of each chapter compared to the initial draft.

5. Collaborate In The Cloud

Throughout the process, we used cloud-based software. This allowed easy access to documents and important input from other collaborators as needed. I have already mentioned my early scrawling in Evernote. Then the draft document lived in Google Docs for several weeks (until pagination), allowing trusted proofreaders to suggest improvements or ask questions directly in the document.

6. Use Freelance Sites To Score A Great Illustrator For Less

Finally, we used 99 Designs, a design marketplace, to run an online competition to find an illustrator for the front cover. We were so happy with his work on the front cover that we then asked him to illustrate all the artwork for the book. And all of his illustrations costed us less than $1,000.

Summary

It’s easy to be daunted by the thought of writing a book, to think that it will take forever, or that you will fail without a publisher. However, as I have outlined, it is not only possible, but it is also doable – even with a busy schedule.

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Now I need to try and find the time to incorporate all of the excellent feedback I have received into a new edition of the book.

Featured photo credit: Dunlap Library via dunlaplibrary.org

More by this author

Ben Legg

CEO of Adparlor

How to Write and Self-Publish a Book in Three Months (With No Experience) Why CEOs Run The World

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Last Updated on October 16, 2019

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Do you like making mistakes?

I certainly don’t.

Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

  • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
  • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
  • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
  • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

  1. Point us to something we did not know.
  2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
  3. Deepen our knowledge.
  4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
  5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
  6. Inform us more about our values.
  7. Teach us more about others.
  8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
  9. Show us when someone else has changed.
  10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
  11. Remind us of our humanity.
  12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
  13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
  14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
  15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
  16. Invite us to better choices.
  17. Can teach us how to experiment.
  18. Can reveal a new insight.
  19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
  20. Can serve as a warning.
  21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
  22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
  23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
  24. Remind us how we are like others.
  25. Make us more humble.
  26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
  27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
  28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
  29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
  30. Expose our true feelings.
  31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
  32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
  33. Point us in a more creative direction.
  34. Show us when we are not listening.
  35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
  36. Can create distance with someone else.
  37. Slow us down when we need to.
  38. Can hasten change.
  39. Reveal our blind spots.
  40. Are the invisible made visible.

Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

The secret to handling mistakes is to:

  • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
  • Have an experimental mindset.
  • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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