NOTE: This article was written a decade ago. The approach still works just fine, however there are newer and better tools that might be available for layout, transcription, or editing. I tried to note these in a few sections.
I realize that book publishing does not directly relate to innovation. But I have had so many conversations with people about this in recent weeks that I decided to write an article about it.
This article is nearly 3,000 words in length. As you will see, if I double (or triple) the length, this article could become a book.
It seems as though everyone wants to write a book. Well, actually everyone wants to publish a book. Few people want to write one. Unfortunately, most people don’t know where to start and therefore become undermotivated or overwhelmed. The result? Good intentions; no book.
But what if you could have a bookstore quality paperback in your hands in two weeks? And what if you didn’t have to do much writing?
Here’s a technique you can use to publish a non-fiction book in a fortnight. I recently wrote a book in a few days and had a published version in one week.
To do this, you must use a print-on-demand self-publisher and not a traditional publisher.
Business books work best with the method. Fiction requires an entirely different approach.
Before you get started, there is one question you must answer…
WHY DO YOU WANT TO WRITE A BOOK?
This is the question most people fail to ask. They don’t think about what they want to achieve with their writing. Your objectives will define your approach.
Why do you want to write this book? I could write an entire article just on this one question. But instead, I’ll give you 3 common reasons people want to write (in addition to just wanting to see their name in print or to share their ideas with the world).
You want to be rich and famous: If this is your objective, then you may want to look elsewhere. Only 1,000 out of 172,000 books published each year sell over 50,000 copies. Very few authors become rich and famous because of their books. In fact, most of the big selling authors were rich and famous before they published their book. So if fame and fortune are your goals, don’t waste your time writing a book.
You want to establish your credibility: If this is your objective, then “traditional” publishing (e.g., Harper Collins, Doubleday, McGraw-Hill, and Wiley) may be the best approach. These publishers reject 98% of the books submitted to them, so a book by them has a stamp of approval. In addition, they handle all distribution, getting your books in the stores. My first two books were published by McGraw-Hill and Wiley. My objective was to focus on building my reputation. Many of my first clients were those who read 24/7 Innovation. If you don’t have a commercially published book, then you may want to consider this path first.
You want to boost you existing business: Do you already have a business with an established client base? If so, then my approach might be just what you need. My Little Book of Big Innovation Ideas (no longer in print as it was replaced by Best Practices Are Stupid which was published by Penguin) is my best marketing brochure possible. It skips all of the traditional sales fluff and goes straight to the meat. The book contains 80 tips for creating a culture of innovation in just 100 pages, so clients can quickly learn my content. And yes, it does generate some extra direct income.
PRINT-ON-DEMAND (POD) PUBLISHING
Even if you want to establish your credibility via a traditional publisher, you have one challenge: getting a publisher.
Publishing is a bit of a Catch 22. Authors who are not published are most interested in traditional publishers, yet the publishers only want people who already have a following. Traditional publishers are less interested in the content of your book. They want to know how many copies you will sell. “Platform” is a big word in the industry. If you don’t have a large following, you may not get a book deal.
But that aside, there are other downsides to traditional publishing.
Traditional publishing is notoriously slow. My first book took nearly 1 year from the time I signed the contract until the book was in stores. Then, the book remained unchanged for 3 years until the rights reverted back to me. That means, that the content was 4 years old by the time we were ready to re-write.
In contrast, print-on-demand publishing allows you to have 100% up-to-date content. My “Little Book of BIG Innovation Ideas” is printed on demand. In the past year, we have updated the content 10 times (and sold tens of thousands of copies). Whenever we get new ideas, we are able to incorporate them into the latest version of the book. An added bonus is the ability to customize each printing. For example, I put a company’s logo and a message from the CEO on the inside of the book or cover.
Another advantage to print on demand is the cost per book. Even with author discounts, you are lucky to get copies for $10 (“24/7 Innovation” cost me $15 per copy). This makes it too expensive for many companies to order in bulk (the only way I sell my “Little Book”). I charge my clients only $7.50 per book and I still make a nice profit.
Finally, a potentially important advantage to POD is the fact that you retain all of the rights. You can reprint your content in any form you want: workbooks, audio books, eBooks, flash cards, or training manuals. You are somewhat limited when you work with traditional publishers as they require you to sign over most of the rights.
WRITING AND PUBLISHING YOUR BOOK
If you’ve gotten this far, then you are interested in writing a book. And you are probably interested in learning a bit more about the 2-week book approach. If you want to be published by a traditional publisher, you will find many good books on the topic. One book that is very popular is Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers. I won’t address traditional publishing any further here.
One important point: you will probably make less money from the book than you will from the services/products you sell as a result of the book. You are not writing “War and Peace.” You are writing a marketing piece that contains lots of content (no sales fluff). And it has to be good enough that people will want to buy it, yet inexpensive enough that you are happy to give it away. A double sided glossy color 8.5 x 11 brochure can cost you the same as a 100 page book. The book is much better marketing in my opinion.
I have boiled the approach down to 8 easy steps. Again, a lot more can be written on this topic (and I might just do so in the future). But this should give you enough to get started.
Step #1: Get Clear on the Content and Format
Here are some important thoughts for your 2-week book:
- Your book should provide the reader insights into your area of expertise. You want to share the breadth of your experience, but not necessarily the depth. The key is, you must already be an expert and should be able to talk about your topic for at least an hour. Two hours is better.
- We want to create a book that is concise and easily digestible. The final length will be under 100 pages. 50 to 75 pages is also fine. See below for some thoughts on word count and length.
- Identify an overarching framework. Most business books have some type of framework that can be incorporated into the book. This can serve as the table of contents or at least guide the development process.
My latest book is about my Personality Poker. There is a process to playing the game. And there is an approach to interpreting the results. This together serves as my framework. My objective of the book is to explain the approach from start to finish, while providing some deep insights for the reader. (Actually, I have two new books since this was published – Best Practices are Stupid and Invisible Solutions®)
To give you a sense of size, the poker book is about 75 pages at 4.5” x 6.5” and has 10,000 words. [NOTE: This was for the first version. I have since added more content and hired a professional book designer to redo the book. Obviously this adds more expense. UPDATE: In 2010 the self-published version of the book was replaced by a version publishing by Penguin]
In contrast, “24/7 Innovation” is 80,000 words and is 300 pages at 6” x 9”. The “Little Book” is 100 pages at 5.5” x 8.5” is 20,000 words. I am not suggesting that you create this type of book from scratch. Both of these took me quite a while to write. Although 24/7 Innovation is longer, sometimes it takes more time to create a powerful, yet concise book.
Step #2: Record a Speech or Workshop
This is the step where most of the content is generated. Many of us, especially in the professional services area, give presentations, do training, and facilitate workshops. Buy yourself a digital recorder and record a session. It’s that simple.
For example, I recently conducted a 45 minute Innovation Personality Poker session. Beforehand I put a small digital recorder (when I wrote this article, I used the Olympus WS-300M, but now I just use my phone) in my pocket with a microphone attached to my lapel. When I was done, I downloaded the MP3 file to my computer and edited out any of the pieces that were not relevant (I use Audacity – free audio editing software). The edited version was 30 minutes in length.
If you don’t give speeches, maybe you can record a workshop. Or maybe you just record a conversation with someone where you describe your approach. Doing is better than discussing. The key is, don’t do it alone. You must record a session where you are interacting with one or more other people.
Step #3: Transcribe Your Audio
This is the simple, yet most expensive step. You can of course do it on your own if money is an issue. Or you can use a 3rd party that charges approximately 1 cent a word. I’ve use internettranscribers.com and have been very happy with the results. But my favorite transcription service is now Speech Pad as their interface is super easy. If you Google transcription services you can find them for as little as $30 per hour of audio.
(2022 update: ok, the world of transcription has changed and improved! There are so many options. If you want a human, Rev.com is a good one. Otter.ai is a nice computer-generated transcription service. Descript also does this, although it is really more for audio/video editing. Another to consider is VEED.IO which can do subtitles and has a free version so you can give it a try.)
My 30 minute poker transcript was a little under 4,000 words and cost under $40 (with Internet Trancribers). To get to 10,000 words, I added quite a bit of extra text that went beyond my standard speech.
If you record a 2 hour conversation/workshop, you might end up with 90 minutes of usable content. This would translate to a little more than 10,000 words, which is perfect. Your cost would be under $100 for the transcription (maybe as little as $40 for 90 minutes). The AI generated transcriptions will cost you a lot less, but may increase the amount of editing you need to do.
Step #4: Choose Your Book Format and Paste in Your Transcript
This part requires a little creativity on your part. Go to a book store and find books that have a similar layout to what you want. There is no right or wrong approach. For this book, the content is more important than the layout. The nice thing is, you can refine the layout with future printings.
Make a template in Microsoft Word (or whatever editing package you are comfortable with). Use the “Styles and Formatting” as a way of setting your text, headers, bullets, etc. My books use Times New Roman 10 as the font for text. Headers are Times New Roman 12 bold caps.
Once you have your template created, you can now paste in the text from your transcription. Be sure to paste the text in “unformatted” style so that you pick up the fonts of the template and not those of the transcription.
(2022 update: there are so many ways to do a great layout. For self-published books, I am a huge fan of Vellum. Check it out. Also, for editing, I now use Scrivener as it allows me to organize my thoughts.)
Step #5: Add Headings, Ask Questions and Edit
Now we come to the most time consuming part.
First, try to find logical headings. The more the better, as you can create a content rich table of contents page.
Next, edit the text so that it reads like a book rather than a speech. Although you can hire people to do this, it can be quite expensive. Take your time. So far you only invested a few hours and less than $100. If you do want professional editors, you can use UpWork (formerly eLance) or (I prefer) WordsRU. 10,000 words should cost about $200 for light editing/proofreading. More heavy duty editing is more.
Once you have a reasonable edit, give the book (printed on your inkjet printer) to a friend or colleague. Have them critique it. The objective is not to wordsmith at this point. Rather you want to make sure your friend understands the content. Have him or her write down questions as s/he reads it. Then have a conversation where you answer those questions. Record the conversation. Transcribe the conversation. And then paste in these refinements.
Now you want to finalize the text. Paste in any graphics that will help illustrate your points. If you have a framework, it certainly makes sense to include that. Pictures help improve readability. Lots of white space also makes a book seem less intimidating. And then edit. Proof read. Make sure the text says what you want and is laid out the way you want.
At this point, you should know the page count and the page size. You will need these for the next step.
Step #6: Find a Publisher/Printer
There are literally hundreds of print-on-demand publishers out there. My favorite is Walch Printing. I have printed thousands and thousands of books with them. They have incredible customer service and high quality. And their costs are extremely reasonable. There are no set-up costs (so you can change the cover and/or text with each print run) and the minimum cost is $150 (you can probably get 60 – 70 copies of your book for $150).
The publisher will tell you any of the specifications you need such as book spine size. Each publisher has their own requirements in terms of file formats. Walch needs everything converted to pdf.
Others, like instantpublisher.com can print directly from your MS Word file – and you create the cover using their software. I used Instant Publisher in the past and was happy with their work – they are just a lot more expensive. In fact they are over twice the price of Walch. But they are very convenient because you bypass the next step.
Step #7: Create a Cover and Send to Printer
For some people, this can be a challenge. But for the first version of the book, don’t worry about it. It can be plain and simple with just your name and the title of the book. The key is to make sure the dimensions are correct. You’ll need to know the size of the “spine” in order to do this. Your printer can help you with this.
For example, my “Little Book” is 5.5” x 8.5” and the spine is 0.235”. This means that the final dimensions are 8.5” x 11.235”.
If you need a good and reasonably priced cover designer, my designer is Whitney Campbell. I am thrilled with her work. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively, you could also use UpWork if you want freelancers to bid on your job. They could even create the template for the inside if you wanted. I have also used them in the past for graphic work. You can potentially get some good deals too, as many of the freelancers are from India and Eastern Europe.
Or if you want to go on the cheap, there is always Fiverr, where you can get almost anything done for $5 (or more). Quality will vary!
Once you have everything done, you must prepare the book for the printer. Again, every printer will have their own requirements. If you want to convert the book and cover to pdf and you don’t have Adobe Acrobat, you can try www.pdf995.com. This free software has worked well for me in the past. Of course you can use Adobe software. I’m now a Mac guy so this functionality is built into the operating system
Step #8: Wait Until Your Books Arrive
Now is the most difficult step: waiting for your book to be printed and shipped. Walch sends a proof only a few days after you send in the pdf files, so you don’t have to wait TOO long.
If you followed the process above, less than two weeks will have gone by and a book will be in your hands. If you did the graphics work yourself and used my publisher, you will have spent $200 in total. $100 for transcription services and $100 for your first 50 (or so) copies.
Give this first version to friends and colleagues for comments. Give them as gifts. Wait until the second version (with corrected typos and improved content and graphics) before you decide to sell the book. What to do with your book is a topic for a different article.
If you have service providers you like, certainly post the details as a comment. If you published your own book, please tell me about your experience.
Happy publishing! If you found this article useful, please share it with your aspiring author friends. Thanks!
P.S. I do not get any kick-backs or royalties from the providers I mention. I am only sharing their names so that you can gain from my experience.