I’m often asked “Mike, how do I write a best-selling business book?”
My reply is always the same: “Get a professional to help you.” I then direct them to my good friend Mindy Gibbins-Klein, known as ‘The Book Midwife’.
‘Midwife’ is a good metaphor, as writing a book might well involve 9 months’ labour and considerable pain. Sadly, there are no drugs to ease this pain – or to give you extra inspiration: what worked for Coleridge and Hunter S Thompson probably won’t work for a business book.
The first step is to think through why you’re doing this in the first place. Unless you’re famous, you must be sure you have something fresh to say and have a clear idea of who you want to say it to.
Mindy helps aspiring writers think these issues through. Then there is the actual business of planning the book. She does not believe in the concept of ‘writer’s block’, which she says is a result of inadequate preparation. If you have really prepared your book the words will flow and they will often be pretty good words.
Many people write better than they think they can, she believes. With a lot of planning before they write and a modicum of editing afterwards, they can produce a worthwhile book.
The actual business of publishing has been revolutionised by technology. It is now cheap and
easy to self-publish, and, more importantly, cheap and easy to self-publish well, producing a book that looks and feels professional.
I asked her about the value added by a name brand (our Beermat guides, for example, are published by Random House). Mindy is open-minded about this – the brand does add cachet, but it’s hard to get publishing deals out of these people and the terms are usually not good. And do people care that much about publishing brands, anyway? Hands up all those who know the publisher of The Da Vinci Code… The author is the brand.
Even if you have a major publisher, you still have to promote the book yourself. Big publishers turn out many books a year, and with the best will in the world cannot devote vast resources to publicising an individual book, unless they believe it will be a massive bestseller like the Harry Potter series.
Clearly if you are a speaker you have a big advantage here. You can sell your self-published book from the ‘back of the room’. If you do not have an audience to hand, the task is harder but not impossible. Sell it online. Have promotional postcards made and hand them out – Mindy cites an author who sold 6,000 books this way, which is more than most professionally published business books sell.
You should always get some ‘name’ endorsements to go on the jacket. I don’t mean Z-listers from Big Brother; I mean people who are respected in your area of expertise. This is a very good test of your networking ability, calling in favours from the great and the good, to add credibility to your masterpiece. This is not as difficult as it seems; most people, assuming they like you in the first place, will be flattered to have their name on the cover of your book.
But here’s a top tip: write a wide selection of possible reviews yourself and send them to the VIPs, so they can choose one. This takes away the time and effort in composing something witty and original for a book they are actually unlikely to spend a lot of time reading. Even if your book does not become a bestseller (or even a ‘business bestseller’, which is a much more humble aspiration), it is a fantastic brochure for you and your expertise.
If it does take off, it will turn out to be the best publicity your business ever had. I’m certainly very optimistic. As you may have already worked out, this book itself was developed and delivered under her expert guidance.
Mindy Gibbins-Klein is best known as The Book Midwife and is co-founder of Ecademy Press business publishing. She is an international speaker, writing and publishing strategist and a leading book coach who has helped over 100 experts write and publish their books; many of them gaining bestseller status and significant media attention. www.bookmidwife.com
This article is a chapter from ‘This Is How Yoodoo It’ – a collection of Financial Times columns written by Mike Southon. You can buy this book in hard copy and in Kindle version here: http://tinyurl.com/YoodooBook