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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 April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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