I’m going to start a series of blogs on writing, selling, and marketing a business book.  A book is still the ticket to a successful public speaking career – and a bestseller the ticket to a very successful public speaking career – so those serious about public speaking need to embrace the magic, mystery, and heartbreak of the book world. 

Let me make that first point clear.  There are other ways into a successful public speaking career, such as becoming a celebrity.  Captain Sully was speaking for profit and glory shortly after he landed that plane in the cold waters off Manhattan.  The next thing he did was write a book, in order to sustain that career.  Brad Pitt could get all the speaking gigs he wants, without ever writing a book, but he’s presumably having more fun and making more money doing his movie thing. 

The rest of us have to write a book, if we want to speak in public to anything more glorious and profitable than the local Lion’s Club.  The reasons for this are complicated, but they have to do with the nature of the speaking biz.  The people who hire speakers dread a disaster.  Risk reduction is the bread of life for them, and if you hire someone who has written a book, that gives you cover.  “She has written a book,” still has some cachet for meeting planners trying to recover from a bad speech. 

Does that make sense?  A little, I suppose, but let me warn you about something:  little else in the book world makes sense.  But by the time we’re done with this series, I promise you that you will understand the whole Alice-in-Wonderland universe of books – not the Tim Burton Alice, which is a drama, but the Lewis Carroll one, which is a magical mystery tour through an alternate universe. 

OK.  So what’s step one?  Step one, and this is really, really important, is to pick a subject that you’re passionate about.  The typical book experience, from idea to launch party, takes 2 years or more.  And then the book, with your name on it, gets put into the Library of Congress, forever.  So make it something you care about. 

It’s also helpful to know something about the subject, but it’s not essential.  You’re going to have to do some research, most likely, in any case, so you don’t really have to know much more about your subject beforehand than, say, Dan Brown did about the Vatican before he wrote The DaVinci Code. 

But the most important thing to start with is passion, because if you embark on this adventure, you will find yourself scratching your head on a regular basis, saying, “But that makes no sense!  Why would they do it that way?”  Only passion will get you through the idiotic, broken, desperate world of book publishing. 

Ready for step two?  Step two is an essential conceptual shift.  Most writer wannabes think that the be-all and end-all of the whole book thing is that moment when you hold the first copy sent to you by the publisher.  The newly published and printed book is the Holy Grail at the end of your quest, right? 
Wrong.  Your work has only begun.  It’s now up to you to make sure that your book lives on for more than 15 minutes.  To do that, you have to market the book, and that is a job just as big, just as daunting, and in some ways more mysterious, than writing the book.

So calibrate your expectations right at the beginning.  If you want to write a book, you’re not just writing the book.  You’re also selling and marketing the book.  More about each of these later, but for now, do the mental re-calibration. 

The book process begins before you start writing the book and ends long after it is published. 

On to step three in the next blog. 


  1. Nick, this series of posts couldn’t have come at a better time, because I am, in fact, in the middle of writing my very first book. I’m thrilled that you are so generous with your experience and expertise, and I’ll look forward to every post. Thank you so much!

  2. Hi, Heather —
    Great to hear from you. This series of blogs is my way of giving everyone a little insider knowledge on the mysteries of the book business. It’s not a world to enter unarmed! If you’re writing a book now, pay particular attention to the next blog….

  3. Nick –
    This was a really great post to see, thanks.
    I am at a version of step 2 I suppose and I am not sure what to do. I self-published a reference book for people who want to find green building information resources. With the help of a researcher (and I needed help – this project started as internal research until people kept asking if I would share the information, and it threatened to take over the green building directory I am developing online! Helping facilitate conversations and green building peer reviews is my top goal, but helping people find resources and save a silly amount of Googling I have already done fits in, too ), we listed 900 places to go to learn about the industry. I raised the funds to print an edition of the book in 08 to give out at a major industry trade event called Greenbuild, and people were so receptive. at the 09 event, people kept asking where the updated copy was. While that was nice, this is a big effort for someone who knows nothing about publishing.
    Ok, that all sounds nice. But now what? I clearly need help to get this work out there and keep it alive. I would love the opportunity to expand the content and republish with some timely articles by industry experts. Your point on marketing and further development is well taken. Everyone says I need to get a publisher, but this id a reference tool and not a Dan Brown book! Is there a way to find the right people to help develop this and keep doing the main thing I do?
    Thanks for any thoughts!
    Allison Friedman
    Rate It Green

  4. Hi, Allison –
    Thanks for your comment and query. You’re in a great place to begin a campaign that would result in a published book (if you have the energy and time). You’ve clearly got some groundswell interest. So what you need to do is to solidify and extend that community. Begin by reaching out to them and enlisting their help! Anyone who agrees to contribute a “timely article by (an) industry expert” will become an advocate and help you in growing your platform.
    At the same time, you need a proposal that’s aimed at the right people and says the right things. The reference book industry is a special one; there are certain publishers that specialize in them, and they can be quite profitable if done right.
    Armed with a platform and a proposal, you’re ready to start selling, along the lines I’ve described. It’s not a simple or easy journey, but I hope you take it. It sounds like a cool, useful book.
    Good luck!

  5. Great article, I always keep myself looking for new tips and ways on how to improve my writing and one of my favorite mentor on learning how to write a book is Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

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