Writing and publishing a book is an important goal for many CEOs, and it's no secret why.
Publishing a successful and well-written book can raise your visibility and garner you positive media coverage for your company, product, or service. It lends authority and credibility. And publishing a book can even tangibly help your business in that it can serve as a tool for both recruitment and sales. In this sense, a published book is like the ultimate business card.
But CEOs with literary aspirations would be wise to consider this fact: book writing isn't for everyone.
In fact, if you're thinking about writing and publishing a book, it's important to ask yourself a few questions before you dive into the process, just to ensure you're not setting yourself up for failure or disappointment. Here are some of the key ones to think about.
1: Why am I writing a book?
If you answered, "To make lots of money," then writing a book likely isn't for you.
In short, the chances of you from publishing one book are extremely slim. A vast majority of writers who publish books through traditional means barely break even on their advance - which, most of the time, is a loan, not a payment - and the indie market is notoriously competitive. Only a handful of books, published either independently or traditionally, make meaningful amounts of money in any given year - a low number considering that thousands of books are published each year.
It's better, instead, if your aim is smaller and more measurable, like taking your business or life in a new direction, getting onto some podcasts to share your message, or attracting a handful of qualified clients.
That said, CEOs write for a variety of different reasons that aren't monetary. Some write to advance a social cause. This is often the case with retired executives embracing an opportunity to focus their time on an issue that holds deep philanthropic resonance for them.
Others write purely to provide value for the reader. Jack Welch, who ran General Electric from 1981 to 2001, shared the history of his time at the helm in his book Straight From The Gut, offering remarkable insight in the process. Howard D. Schultz, chairman and CEO of Starbucks, designed his book, Pour Your Heart Into It, as something of a textbook for aspiring CEOs. It's full of actionable lessons that business leaders can implement into their work right away, like the importance of prioritizing quality, instilling discovery in customers, and cultivating loyalty.
Ultimately, each of these CEOs had worked out exactly why they wanted to write a book before they started. This is key to success, as it allows you to purposefully identify what you're working toward, and whether that goal is realistic or genuine.
2: Why are you the best person to write this book?
This question is equally important as the preceding one. It amounts, essentially, to a marketing question: what about you makes you the most compelling and marketable author for this topic or idea?
Are you an expert in the topic? Have you conducted interesting and essential research on it? Are you telling a story that you're intimately familiar with or overly passionate about? You're more likely to write an engaging book that you can convincingly and effectively promote if you are.
Will you be totally unable to write an intriguing or compelling book if you're not an expert on the subject, or if you're not initially passionate about the topic? Not necessarily. But writing books is difficult, and this level of interest or insight will make the process easier. It will also increase your credibility with readers - and that, when it comes to selling your book, is critical.
3: Am I prepared for the writing process?
Many CEOs, somewhat unfortunately, underestimate exactly how hard writing a book is. There are a variety of challenges, including:
- Time. Writing is a hard-won skill, accrued through daily practice and diligence. To write a book, you'll need to write every day, multiple hours a day, for many months.
- Humility. Many CEOs fancy themselves better writers than they actually are. The truth is, most business leaders are great communicators, but giving a good speech or writing a great memo isn't the same thing as writing a book.
- Planning. Whether you're writing a novel or a work of nonfiction, the effectiveness of your book writing process - whether or not it takes you years or months to complete your book - hinges on planning. Many new authors just dive in, but this is a mistake. You need to outline, storyboard, and map out the logical trajectory of the writing before you start writing - and this is hard. The first step is identifying your key ideas. When I wrote my book, The End, Now What?, I distilled the concept down to three key ideas that I wanted to flesh out succinctly. They guided me throughout the writing process:
- Writing, publishing and selling a book is a personal and unique journey. Like snowflakes, no two projects are alike.
- Self publishing is like being the CEO of your own personal publishing company: you have the responsibility and freedom to make every decision.
- With every book there are six critical decision points that will determine its success.
4: How do you plan to publish this book?
Of course, the publishing logistics are important to consider, too.
Namely, you need to decide if you're going to publish through a traditional publishing house, or if you're going to go the self-publishing route through a company like . If you're planning to seek out a traditional publisher, you'll need to take time to find an agent and write a book proposal. And you'll need to be prepared to send out query letters and attend meetings before you write more than the first chapter or two. Plus, you have to research who you're going to approach--quite a project in itself.
If you decide to go the self-publishing route, then you can go ahead and write your book, but you'll have more work to do at the back end. Make sure you're familiar enough with and that you're prepared to be flexible, you may set out on one route and find the other is a better fit for you and your business.
At the end of the day, if you're a CEO and you think you might want to write a book, before you dive into the process, ask yourself and seriously think about the questions above.
If after that critical self-reflection, you've determined that, yes, you are committed to writing a book, here are a few key pieces of advice to remember as you proceed through your journey:
- Commit to it. Writing a book is no different than preparing and executing on a product roadmap, except it's your own personal product. Make this into a business goal.
- Remove your ego. Every book is going to receive some criticism. Enter into the process knowing that your writing will not please everyone.
- Identify who your target audience is. Simply saying that your potential readers are "everyone" is a recipe for disastrous results. Visualize the people who will most benefit from your thoughts, words, and ideas.
- Don't be afraid to get help. Whether to write it, edit it, publish it, or promote it, there's no shame in hiring experienced pros to produce a great book.
- Don't skimp on an editor. It's the same advice I give every single author. CEOs have a lot riding on the final product, and editing is an investment with the best possible ROI.
There's more, of course, but this should give you a workable place to start. Now good luck!
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