6 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Writing A Business Book

You've got a great entrepreneurial story. But before you start putting pen to paper, there are a few things to consider.
Freelance Writer and editor, Self-employed
September 13, 2011

As an entrepreneur, you are an expert in your field and most likely have a fantastic story about how you got to where you are, the trials and successes experienced along the way and your advice for others. So why not write the next best selling business book?

You could be the next Jim Collins, Richard Branson, or Guy Kawasaki—traveling the world, speaking (for thousands a pop) about your expertise and inadvertently publicizing your primary business. Millions of dollars, here you come!

But before putting pen to paper, there are a few things to know and not all of them are encouraging. First, the publishing industry is ruthless. It can be difficult to get a book off the ground, let alone on the New York Times’ Best Seller list. Second, not all authors make boatloads of cash. Some, in fact, don’t make a dime.

On the flipside, writing a book can be incredibly gratifying—just ask Barbara Weltman, founder of a New York-based small business consulting firm, and author of more than 100 books, including J.K. Lasser’s Small Business Taxes 2011: Your Complete Guide to a Better Bottom Line.

“It is pretty neat to have your book published. There is nothing like knowing the Library of Congress will have it in there forever—it kind of makes you immortal—that said, you just have to go into it with your eyes wide open,” she says.

Here are six eye-opening questions to ask yourself before diving into the process.

1. Do you have something new to say? 

One quick search on Amazon reveals thousands of business books—so how do you know if your topic is interesting enough for others to read? “You need to have information that isn’t already out there, maybe you cracked a code or have an incredibly compelling story,” says Weltman.

First, write one paragraph that details what your book will be about, suggests Mark Stevens, founder and CEO of MSCO, a marketing firm in Rye Brook, New York, and author of Your Company Sucks: It’s Time to Declare War on Yourself.

Next, bounce the idea off trusted friends.

“Craft an elevator pitch and nonchalantly ask a few friends—who you know will give you an honest answer—what they think, then look at their genuine responses,” says Erika Andersen, founder of Proteus International, a business coaching company in New York City, and author of Growing Great Employees: Turning Ordinary People into Extraordinary Performers.

2. Are you passionate enough to dedicate the time?

Every time Stevens finishes a book, he promises himself that it will be his last—not for a lack of ideas, but for the dedication of time.

“If you want to get something off your chest, write a blog—just know that writing a book is a job and you need to schedule time to write. For me, it’s an hour and a half every weekday morning—I know that that is the right time for me,” he says.

3. Do you have a platform?

Publishers are concerned with selling as many books as possible, so you are more likely to score a book deal if you already have readers in place (i.e. blog followers, loyal business customers).

“They want a guarantee that your book will sell through your connections, whether that is through viewers on a TV show you produce, or customers in your store,” says Andersen. 

4. Do you have connections in the publishing industry?

No? Fear not. “Talk to your network. There may be someone you know that can open a door into the publishing world—if you know another author, ask them to connect your with their agent,” says Stevens.

Agents are almost always necessary for first-time writers. Generally speaking, the early-stage book process goes something like this: Come up with a great idea, write a proposal, find an agent that likes your work, wait for your agent to convince a publisher to offer you a book deal.

If a connection cannot be made within your network, get on Google and search for agents that specialize in the type of book you’d like to write. Contact them and send over your proposal. 

5. Are you a good writer?

Not sure? Take a class, suggests Andersen. “Almost every town has a community college that offers a writing class. Take it and get some feedback,” she says.

But even if you’re the next Ernest Hemingway, consider this: Writing is a “long slog,” as Andersen says, so you need to love it. If you don’t, consider hiring a ghostwriter. These are professional writers versed in producing books for executives and/or celebrities who can put your words on the page in a cohesive manner. Check out the Association of Ghostwriters to find a topnotch ghostwriter in your area.

6. Do you have time to promote your book?

Thanks to the economic downturn, publishing houses don’t have a lot of money these days and book promotion departments have been some of the hardest hit. What does this mean for authors?

“You have to be the CEO of your own book; you have to drive it forward, raise its profile, and at times, hire your own publicist—publishers are not going to take you on a book tour anymore, in most cases, the marketing is up to you,” says Andersen.

Freelance Writer and editor, Self-employed