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.”
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.
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:
- 25% of total fee: Upfront
- 25% of total fee: On delivery of the first draft
- 25% of total fee: On being declared “ready for pagination” by me
- 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.
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.
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.
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