5 helpful questions to ask before writing a book

5 helpful questions to ask before writing a book

Every business owner has wondered “should I write a book?” at some point. Now that self-publishing has made bringing a book into the world way more accessible, any business owner can write a book. Some experts say that every business owner must write a book. And the benefits a great book can bring to a stable, profitable business are impossible to ignore. So at first blush, I’d agree that most business owners should write books at some point.

But there’s a big difference between knowing you want to write a book someday and knowing that it’s the right thing for you and your biz right this second.

Really, the question of “should I write a book?” actually boils down to “should I write a book right now?” And this is where many business authors get confused.

On the one hand, most self-publishing “gurus” teach that yes, of course you should write the book right now! Start before you’re ready! Leap and the net will appear! Build the plane as you fly it! (Conveniently, arguments like these also get you into the guru’s program, course or mastermind right away, so they can get your money right away. Coincidence? I wouldn’t bet on it.)

On the other hand, a book is likely a totally new enterprise for you and your business. It’s new territory, unfamiliar work, and an area of knowledge where suddenly you’re not the expert anymore. It’s no wonder you may be thinking “am I really ready for this right now?”

The good news is, even if you aren’t ready to write a book right this minute (or this month, or even this year), you’re probably more ready than you think.

Here are five helpful questions that can help you know if you and your business are ready for a book.

  1. Do I have an audience?

Writing a book is a great confidence booster. It feels great to be a published author! But just having a book won’t help grow your business if no one’s reading it. So before you write, you need to consider whether anyone will read the book you want to write.

And while doing Amazon searches to find other books in your field or industry can help you gauge whether there’s interest in your topic in the first place, that’s no guarantee that any of the people browsing the Kindle Store will want to read your book.

Why? Because they’re not in your audience. They’re in Amazon’s audience. This is a big reason that trying to become an Amazon bestseller is such a crapshoot. Even if you get hundreds or thousands of free downloads on your launch day, most of those people are buying because Amazon told them about something new and free, not because they know and trust you.

Relying on that kind of attention to make your book successful (let alone grow your business) is a fool’s gamble. If “the Amazon Kindle Store” is the only audience you can come up with for your book, you’re not ready to write the book yet.

An audience is a group of people who (1) have already bought into you, your message, and your business, and (2) gather in a space that you at least partially control. Examples of audiences you may have include:

  • Subscribers to your email list
  • Your pipeline of prospective clients or customers
  • Past clients or customers you’ve already served or are currently serving
  • Members of a Facebook group that you run
  • Followers of your podcast, YouTube channel, or social media presence
  • Attendees at events you host
  • Companies where you run training sessions
  • Physical audiences at events where you speak from stage

These people have bought into you at some level already, by working with you or subscribing to your content or giving you their time and attention. They’ve also placed themselves in a space that you (and often only you) control, whether that’s a contract relationship or a curated learning space or a dedicated event where you have their full attention. This means that they’ve already told you they want what you have to give them.

The good news is that if you have a six-figure business (or are on your way to having one), you probably already have an audience — simply because it’s hard to build a stable, profitable business without one. So for many biz owners, this question has an easy answer. If you have an audience, you have a reason to write a book.

The even better news is that depending on how your business works, how big your audience is might not matter all that much. I’ve seen six-figure businesses with audiences of only a few hundred people double their revenue in under three years by writing a great book for those audiences.

But what if you don’t have an audience yet?

Well, it is possible to write the book anyway and then use it to build an audience. In that situation, the book becomes a very detailed lead magnet and/or business card, which you give away for free in return for people signing up for your email list or otherwise joining your controlled space. That can be a potentially workable strategy for a business book.

But because writing a book is a major investment of time, money and effort, I’d think carefully about whether all that work would be worthwhile just for an opt-in. A better option would be to take 6–12 months to focus on building up your audience in other ways (content marketing, networking, speaking, etc.). THEN write the book as a value add for that audience.

Speaking of strategy, the next helpful question is…

2. Do I have a clear strategy for using this book to grow my business?

Here’s how a lot of self-publishing gurus talk about book strategy these days: publish the book, make the book an Amazon bestseller, watch the clients and speaking gigs and money roll in.

Of course, they don’t say it that simply. They spin it to make just being a published author and/or an Amazon bestseller feel like the finish line of an ultramarathon, so everything that supposedly comes afterwards is the reward for finishing, the trophy and prize money and well-earned rest you get after you win the race. And they offer plenty of case studies and testimonials of authors who followed those simple steps and got massive business growth right after their books came out.

But really, does that sound like strategy to you?

There are two big problems with this approach. First, hope is not a strategy. Publishing the book, getting a largely meaningless “bestseller” label slapped on it, and then hoping your business will take off from there isn’t a reliable plan for business growth. Sure, you may get a few speaking gigs or a new client or two when the book first comes out, but real, long-term biz growth doesn’t happen by accident, happenstance, or luck.

And second, most of the people who get immense biz growth after publishing their books are people who already have successful businesses to begin with. Partially because successful biz owners tend to have well-developed audiences (remember question #1), but mostly because stable, profitable businesses get that way through real strategic activity. So it’s second nature for the owners of these businesses to look at writing a book strategically. Beginner biz owners, by contrast, rarely know how to make their businesses really work yet — which is why they tend to fall for the “write a book and hope it grows my business somehow!” approach.

Book strategy is a deep topic that deserves (and will get) its own full post(s) sometime soon. But here are three things every would-be authorpreneur needs to know about it:

  • Selling the book (on Amazon or elsewhere) is not a reliable strategy for biz growth. Unless you have the potential to sell thousands or even hundreds of books a month, for months on end, without discounting your list price more than 20%-30% (and trust me, few authors have this potential without writing dozens of books rather than just one), you will not make much money from book sales.
  • Your book is the means, not the end. It’s a marketing tool for the rest of your business, not the other way around.
  • Business growth happens in three ways: doing more of what you do now, doing it on a bigger scale than you’re doing it now, and charging more money for it than you are now. A book can help you do all three of those things, so start by thinking about how you want to do them and then plug the book into those efforts.

The specifics of your book strategy may take some time to fully develop, and that’s fine. But if you want real business growth from your book, you need to at least have some idea of what the book will do for your biz besides “sell on Amazon.”

3. Can my business afford the investment of creating a book?

A book is like a real estate property. It’s a physical asset that requires up-front investment in quality construction and management in order to provide a strong return over time. A high-quality business book can double your revenue in three years or less. But if you don’t invest in that quality, you’ll end up with a cheap, shoddy, half-assed asset that won’t get you the ROI you’re looking for (if it gets you any ROI at all).

Yes, there’s a lot of advice out there on how to write a book on a budget. Almost all of it is based on an incorrect premise: that you probably won’t make much money from your book, so you’d better not spend too much creating it.

To be fair, this premise holds more than a little truth for fiction books, memoirs, travelogues, and other books that don’t represent and help grow a business. Those kinds of books usually only make money through direct sales on Amazon, which means they rarely make much money to begin with.

But it isn’t true at all for business books! Your business book has staggering potential for revenue growth in the medium and long terms, largely because it has a dozen other ways to make your business money than just through selling copies of itself. If you invest $10,000 in a book and then only try to sell it, you might make $1,000 back. That’s a 90% loss — a bad investment. If you invest $10,000 in a book and then use it to book 10 clients who each pay you $10,000 within the next 3 years, you net 900% profit — a great investment.

Writing a great book can make your business a lot of money, so thinking of it as a low-ROI proposition is just plain wrong. But in order to make it a good enough book to support the ROI you want, you must invest up front in the services that will make it that good: writing coaching/consulting, editing, design, publishing and marketing, all done by people really good at doing those things. And if your business isn’t in a place to do that, you’re probably not ready to write the book yet.

What do I mean by “in a place to do that?” Here are three financial conditions a business needs to meet to be ready to invest in writing and publishing a book:

  • No ongoing business debt. If you’re paying monthly debt servicing fees out of your business operating account, you’re not ready to invest in anything but paying those debts down.
  • Consistent revenue month-to-month. If you have two $20,000 months and ten $2,000 months in a given year, your business isn’t consistent enough to support a book yet.
  • Profit left after operations. If running your biz (and paying your living costs, and paying taxes) takes up every penny you bring in, you’re either spending too much or not making enough to cover the costs of a book.

If your business meets all three of those criteria, you can feel comfortable investing in creating a high-quality business book. (Most, though not all, businesses I find that can do this have already passed the six-figure mark.) If it almost meets them, or it’s on its way to meeting them within the next year, a book might be worth considering carefully. If it’s nowhere near meeting all three, you’ll be better off waiting to write your book until it does, and in the meantime focusing on fixing the issues that keep it from doing so.

4. Do I have the bandwidth to write this book right now?

Bandwidth is the simplest question to address: does your business give you the flexibility to devote 5–10 hours a week to a side project for several months or not?

Because let’s be real, working on a book is a part-time job. I don’t care how many people say you can write it in 15 minutes a day or a 3-hour block on a Saturday afternoon and be done in just a few weeks — just because a system like that worked for them is no guarantee that it will work for you. Life happens to you when you’re writing a book (sometimes with no warning and with extreme prejudice). Writing tasks take longer than you think they will, especially if writing is new or unfamiliar for you. And you still have your business to run, since I’m betting you can’t just take a few months off to do nothing but write and publish this book.

So if your business has some flexibility to it, so you can set aside a few hours each week to write (not to mention do the thousand and one other things authors need to do during the writing and publishing process), then you’re probably ready to write the book. If not, if you literally spend every waking moment running the biz or if it leaves you so exhausted at the end of the day that all you can do is collapse and binge-watch reruns of Parks and Recreation, then you’re probably not ready yet. Prioritizing getting some help (a VA or OBM, a salesperson, even a business partner) to take some of the work off your hands first is going to be way more helpful for you than trying to write a book immediately.

(Right about now people start asking “well, should I even write the book myself at all?” Working with a ghostwriter is a viable option for a business book…but it isn’t going to save you as much time as you think. Ghostwriters will do the writing for you, but you still have to spend time on the phone with them talking through content, review their work and direct them to make changes, and stay closely involved with the book’s development. Dropping the project in their lap and expecting to get a perfect book back in a month just doesn’t work. So yes, you can do it, but if the only reason you’re doing it is to cram one more thing into an overflowing schedule, I wouldn’t recommend it.)

5. Am I committed to writing not just any book, but a great book?

This is where I part ways with many of my peers in the self-publishing industry.

When you get right down to it, the prevailing teaching for entrepreneur authors today is to write your book as a minimum viable product, something you can do quick and cheap, then use overhyped marketing to make it look flashy and sexy, and MAYBE come back and improve it later if you feel like it or if a bunch of people call you out on how great it isn’t.

And I’m calling BS on that method everywhere I see it.

If you’re a business owner, you know the value of a first impression and the value of good customer communication. Well, your book is your first impression for hundreds of people you’ll never meet, as well as customer communication for the people who already know you. Write a quality book, and you’ll make the first impression you want and draw your close followers even closer. Write a crappy book, and you’ll disappoint your fans and discourage your prospects.

Look, I’m not saying your book is doomed if it isn’t on the level of someone like Ryan Holiday or Brene Brown. And I’m not saying every single thing about the book has to be perfect. A typo or two won’t kill you (though a lot of them might).

But I am saying that if you don’t CARE about making the book the best it can be, everyone who reads it will know you couldn’t be bothered to give them maximum value. And they’ll let you know that they know by not hiring you. Or not booking you to speak. Or not referring you to their network. Or not doing whatever it is you’d like the book to inspire them to do to help grow your business.

So if you are absolutely committed to writing the best damn book you can, whatever it takes, then you’re probably ready to write it. If not, if you’re thinking that a quick-and-dirty version of your message is good enough to represent your business…just don’t write the book at all. It will disappoint everyone, especially you.

These five questions can help you determine whether the answer to “should I write a book?” is “hell yes!” or “not quite yet.”

If you get “yes” answers to all five, then you’re most likely ready for a business book! Huzzah! If you get a “no” to any of them, you know exactly what areas you need to focus on over the next 6–12 months to GET ready.

And if you’d like to get a head start on either writing the book or getting ready for it, I invite you to ! I start work with each one of my authors by helping them be 110% ready to write, whether that means they start working with me right away or a few months down the line.

Writing a great book is a hero’s journey, friends. If you’re the hero, I’m your mentor — which means it’s my job to make sure you get ready to face the journey. So if you’ve read something you like and you want to explore further, . I look forward to speaking with you soon!

The Master Wordsmith(TM). I help six-figure business owners write high-quality books to double their revenue within three years. .

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