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Write It Yourself

There's still a market for CEO-tells-all -- if you know how to approach it.
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Iacocca did it, and he runs a company that the federal government had to bail out. Akio Morita, the chairman of Sony, did it too, as did An Wang of Wang Laboratories and Roger Enrico of Pepsico. But how long has it been since those guys did anything other than go to Business Roundtable meetings? Surely, publishers are waiting for you to tell the real story of life in today's corporate jungle.

Well, maybe. The bad news for would-be authors is that bookstores are currently glutted with business books, especially all those biographies and autobiographies that have appeared within the past few months. The good news is that while the market is tougher, it is not dead. You can still get published, so long as you have something to distinguish yourself from the pack. And though a big name is still the surest ticket, celebrity can be regional as well as national. Simon and Schuster may never have heard of you -- but if you are well known in the South, maybe Peachtree Publishers Ltd., in Atlanta, has.

"If you don't have a name, a gimmick will help," says literary agent Martha Millard. A title like What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School can help get you noticed by an editor, she adds. One sure way not to get noticed is sending a blind letter to a publishing house. Instead, look in the acknowledgements of a business book you liked. The editor is sure to be mentioned. Write him or her a letter, outlining what you intend to say in your book, and then follow it up with a phone call. You'll know you're making progress if you're invited out to eat. In publishing, as in Hollywood, most deals are done at lunch.

If writing doesn't come naturally, think about finding a ghost. Like Casper, they are usually friendly, and a ghostwriter will help you produce readable prose. The easiest way to find one? Call up the author of a national magazine piece you enjoyed. But if you work with a ghost, be prepared to spend a long time getting to know one another, and more time than you imagine -- possibly up to two years -- working to put the thing together. Says Albin Moscow, who has helped everyone from Richard Nixon to William Paley write books: "Most people have no idea of the difference between reading a 300-page book and writing one. It is like the difference between driving 50 miles and walking it. When you hike 50 miles, you feel it."

Last updated: Jan 1, 1987

PAUL B. BROWN | Columnist

Best-selling author (and Inc. magazine columnist) Paul B. Brown's latest book, Own Your Future, has just been published. Brown's blog appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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