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

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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 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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