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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 August 16, 2018

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

The same old motivational secrets don’t really motivate you after you’ve read them for the tenth time, do they?

How about a unique spin on things?

These 16 productivity secrets of successful people will make you reevaluate your approach to your home, work, and creative lives. Learn from these highly successful people, turn these little things they do into your daily habits and you’ll get closer to success.

1. Empty your mind.

It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

Emptying your mind when you have so much to remember seems like you’re just begging to forget something. Instead, this gives you a clean slate so you’re not still thinking about last week’s tasks.

Clear your mind and then start thinking only about what you need to do immediately, and then today. Tasks that need to be accomplished later in the week can wait.

Here’s a guide to help you empty your mind and think sharper:

How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

2. Keep certain days clear.

Some companies are scheduling “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which means, funnily enough, that no one can hold a meeting on a Wednesday. This gives workers a full day to work on their own tasks, without getting sidetracked by other duties or pointless meetings.

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This can work in your personal life too, for example if you need to restrict Facebook access or limit phone calls.

3. Prioritize your work.

Don’t think every task is created equal! Some tasks aren’t as important as others, or might take less time.

Try to sort your tasks every day and see what can be done quickly and efficiently. Get these out of the way so you have more free time and brain power to focus on what is more important.

Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to prioritize works, take a look at it here:

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

4. Chop up your time.

Many successful business leaders chop their time up into fifteen-minute intervals. This means they work on tasks for a quarter of an hour at a time, or schedule meetings for only fifteen minutes. It makes each hour seem four times as long, which leads to more productivity!

5. Have a thinking position.

Truman Capote claimed he couldn’t think unless he was laying down. Proust did this as well, while Stravinsky would stand on his head!

What works for others may not work for you. Try to find a spot and position that is perfect for you to brainstorm or come up with ideas.

6. Pick three to five things you must do that day.

To Do lists can get overwhelming very quickly. Instead of making a never-ending list of everything you can think of that needs to be done, make daily lists that include just three to five things.

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Make sure they’re things that need to be done that day, so you don’t keep putting them off.

7. Don’t try to do too much.

OK, so I just told you to work every day, and now I’m telling you to not do too much? It might sound like conflicting advice, but not doing too much means not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t say yes to every work project or social engagement and find yourself in way over your head.

8. Have a daily action plan.

Don’t limit yourself to a to-do list! Take ten minutes every morning to map out a daily action plan. It’s a place to not only write what needs to be done that day, but also to prioritize what will bring the biggest reward, what will take the longest, and what goals will be accomplished.

Leave room for a “brain dump,” where you can scribble down anything else that’s on your mind.

9. Do your most dreaded project first.

Getting your most dreaded task over with first means you’ll have the rest of the day free for anything and everything else. This also means that you won’t be constantly putting off the worst of your projects, making it even harder to start on it later.

10. Follow the “Two-Minute Rule.”

The “Two-Minute Rule” was made famous by David Allen. It’s simple – if a new task comes in and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then. Putting it off just adds to your to-do list and will make the task seem more monumental later.

11. Have a place devoted to work.

If you work in an office, it’s no problem to say that your cubicle desk is where you work every day.

But if you work from home, make sure you have a certain area specifically for work. You don’t want files spread out all over the dinner table, and you don’t want to feel like you’re not working just because you’re relaxing on the couch.

Agatha Christie never wrote at her desk, she wrote wherever she could sit down. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Thomas Wolfe, at 6’6″ tall, used the top of his refrigerator as a desk. Richard Wright wrote on a park bench, rain or shine.

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Have a space where, when you go there, you know you’re going to work. Maybe it’s a cafe downstairs, the library, or a meeting room. Whenever and wherever works for you, do your works there.

12. Find your golden hour.

You don’t have to stick to a “typical” 9–5 schedule!

Novelist Anne Rice slept during the day and wrote at night to avoid distractions. Writer Jerzy Kosinski slept eight hours a day, but never all at once. He’d wake in the morning, work, sleep four hours in the afternoon, then work more that evening.

Your golden hour is the time when you’re at your peak. You’re alert, ready to be productive, and intent on crossing things off your to-do list.

Once you find your best time, protect it with all your might. Make sure you’re always free to do your best uninterrupted work at this time.

13. Pretend you’re on an airplane.

It might not be possible to lock everyone out of your office to get some peace and quiet, but you can eliminate some distractions.

By pretending you’re on an airplane, you can act like your internet access is limited, you’re not able to get something from your bookcase, and you can’t make countless phone calls.

Eliminating these distractions will help you focus on your most important tasks and get them done without interruption.

14. Never stop.

Writers Anthony Trollope and Henry James started writing their next books as soon as they finished their current work in progress.

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Stephen King writes every day of the year, and holds himself accountable for 2,000 words a day! Mark Twain wrote every day, and then read his day’s work aloud to his family to get their feedback.

There’s something to be said about working nonstop, and putting out continuous work instead of taking a break. It’s just a momentum that will push you go further./

15. Be in tune with your body.

Your mind and body will get tired of a task after ninety minutes to two hours focused on it. Keep this in mind as you assign projects to yourself throughout the day, and take breaks to ensure that you won’t get burned out.

16. Try different methods.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on index cards. This made it easy to rearrange sentences, paragraphs, and chapters by shuffling the cards around.

It does sound easier, and more fun, than copying and pasting in Word! Once Nabokov liked the arrangement, his wife typed them into a single manuscript.

Same for you, don’t give up and think that it’s impossible for you to be productive when one method fails. Try different methods until you find what works perfectly for you.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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