Let’s start at the very beginning… and no, I don’t mean the writing.
This is Part 1 of a 3-part series.
Every good book starts with a plan. Scratch that. Every good book starts with an idea! But once you have the idea—BEFORE YOU PUT PEN TO PAPER—you need a plan. The plan is what’s going to hold you (and your idea) together through the many rounds of revisions, edits, and changes.
Before I lose all the I’m-just-gonna-wing-it folks, let’s define what I mean by a plan. I’m not suggesting you map out every single page of your book (you can’t, sorry planners). The plan is more of a north star, your guiding light when the path becomes unclear. Your plan is the heart behind your book.
Defining Your Purpose
As authors, we tend to spend more time thinking about how much we like the idea, and less time exploring why the idea is so meaningful to us, what it’s about, and why it matters. Why you care about this particular book idea (or topic) tells us a lot about you as an author. Your passions or your purpose. The answer to this question may even give us as clue as to what your point is in writing this book. What’s your argument? What are you trying to convince us of? Why do you care?
Your purpose in writing this book, as well as your passion for the topic will guide you through the rest of the planning phase. Consider it the north star of your writing. Your guiding light. Your purpose will direct your decisions in everything from which publishing path you choose, to which genre you choose to write in. Yes, but which publishing path is right for me? Which one should I choose? There is no magic answer. As a coach, I take my clients through the checklist below and help them make those decisions based on why they are writing the book in the first place. Your hopes and dreams for this book usually hold clues as to which publishing pathway is the best fit for you and your book. That’s why it’s so important to know your purpose and make a plan before you start writing.
Your Unique Plan
The plan for your book is more than a set of action steps for how you will write your book (although that’s important too!). Your plan will include your reason for or purpose in writing this book, what your reader will experience through your book or as a result of your book, and your goals as an author (what you hope to accomplish through this book). That sounds a bit like a formula, doesn’t it? Your purpose + topic/desired reader outcome ÷ author goals. But what does that formula equate to, exactly? What are we solving for? I would argue that we are solving for your definition of success.
So what is your definition of success? What does success look like to you? That is the magic question, isn’t it? Use my formula to solve for success by answering the questions below.
- Why are you writing this book? Why is this topic so meaningful to you? Please don’t tell me it’s because you’ve always wanted to write a book, or because your friends and family have been telling you to write a book for years. That’s not really what I’m asking. Look below the surface. Dig deep. Why do you care? Why are you passionate about this topic? Here’s an example: I want to share my story about XXX to help others know they aren’t alone, or to show others how they can find XXX.
- What is your book about? And why does it matter? Why should we care? Can you tell me in just a few sentences? Summarizing topics your passionate about is difficult for most of us, but the more concise you are, the more clarity you’ll have on your subject.
- Who is your book for? What are his/her deepest fears, or deepest longings? What is their struggle and how does your book help them? Try to think more about their psychographics and less about their demographics. Connect the dots between how you can help them and why they should care. It’s not uncommon to find you’re presenting a solution to people who aren’t aware they have a problem. This will not result in book sales, by the way! Here’s an example: I’m writing a book to young single moms to help them XXX, except my solution assumes they have the time and resources (and desire) to follow a twelve-step program that they really aren’t interested in, nor have the time to do.
- What are your goals as an author? What do you hope to do with this book? I find this is the question most authors struggle with. Here are a few different things to consider: Do you want to raise awareness around yourself as an author or around your topic (become an authority on a subject, start a speaking career, etc.); sell books; or increases engagement (book signings, online community, speaking engagements, etc.)? You need to be doing each as an author, but typically one will be more important to you than the others.
Examples of a Plan
Now that you’ve worked through the questions, let’s revisit our formula along with some examples. Your purpose + topic/desired reader outcome ÷ author goals = your personal definition of success.
- Sandra wants to write a business book on leadership in the post-Covid, work-from-home world. She hopes her book will be a tool to empower readers to become between leaders when most/all of their interactions are digital. It’s designed to be a quick read, full of tips, tricks, and solutions which the busy leader can easily use. As an industry leader and speaker, she has a large network of other leaders who would benefit from and likely purchase this book. She hopes to sell a lot of books and use the book as a launch pad for her new online support community for leaders in the digital age.
Sandra is a good candidate for self-publishing for a few reasons: It’s a hot topic. She doesn’t have the time it takes to traditionally publish. She already has a platform* and is connected with her target audience. She is interested with interacting with her target audience online and likely has the tools to do this. *You need to work on platform whether you publish traditionally or on your own.
- David wants to write a book to raise awareness around the work he and his nonprofit are doing in South America. He often speaks at large galas and events and has a good amount of support. His book will highlight the story of the groups he is working with—a topic that is just beginning to gain national recognition. He hopes his book will open more doors for speaking engagements, establish himself as an expert on the topic, and increases awareness around the topic and the work of the nonprofit.
David is a good candidate for traditional or hybrid-publishing for a few reasons: His topic is just beginning to garner mainstream attention and can withstand a longer publishing lead time. He and his nonprofit have an established platform (read: book-buying audience). Traditional and hybrid publishing will offer wider distribution opportunities which is what he wants. He can work with his publisher’s marketing team* to work with his established speaking opportunities. *Please note: While publishers can help with marketing, do not expect them to market the book for you. They are looking to partner with authors who have the ability to market themselves.
You’ll note in the examples above, I did not include the answer to their passionate why or their purpose. I also did not address the connection between why they are writing the book and the deepest desires of their idea reader. Including yours will bring even more clarity. My examples are simply to show you how the answers to these questions will help inform and direct both your publishing path, how you write the book, and what type (genre) of book you decide to write. But we’ll talk more about that in the next installment.
So what’s the plan for you book?