Should you write your book right now? How do you know if you’re ready to write your book? What should you do if you are—or aren’t—going to get serious about this book thing? And how can you be totally cool with your decision, whatever it is? Here are three questions to help you know if you’re ready to write your book now, and some advice on what to do next.
Heads-up: This isn’t a quick, surface-level, repeating-what-everyone-else-on-the-internet-says post. This shit goes deep because I really want to help you find an answer that feels good. I’m not here to say you must write your book. Writing a book is an awesome thing and it is not the only awesome thing you can do with your time.
I don’t know if you should write the book that’s weighing on your heart. But I know how to help you get to the right answer for you, for right now.
And when you find peace with this decision—either way—it will feel so damn good. Okay, go grab a cuppa tea, get comfy, and let’s figure this book thing out once and for all.
Writing a book can be brilliant for business
Let’s start with why you feel drawn to write a book for your business. You probably understand what a game-changer it can be. A book can:
Demonstrate your knowledge and passion,
Help you become an authority in your niche,
Get you speaking gigs and media coverage,
Share your message with a bigger audience,
Help people know, like and trust you, and
Let folks try you out before investing in your bigger offer.
And here’s the thing that’s harder to quantify…
For many, writing a book is a dream goal. It’s something that just tugs on the heart strings. You feel inexplicably and irresistibly drawn to do it.
But writing a good book ain’t easy
Writing and publishing a book takes a lot of time, energy, and brain power. If you’ve ever stared down the blinking cursor on a blank page, you know this.
And it’s not a fast win. It’s easy to get frustrated that marketing doesn’t provide a faster return on investment, and books are waaaay slower.
You’re busy trying to build your business, get clients in the door, spend time with the kiddos, have your mom round for dinner like you said you’d do three weeks ago, and do all the other things life throws at you. So although you might feel drawn to share your knowledge in a book, it can be hard to know if it’s worth the time commitment.
You know there are a million other things you could spend your time on, but if I get you—and I think I do—you don’t want to live with regrets. You don’t want to reach the end of your days and regret never writing the book that’s in your heart.
I’m write books for a living and, obviously, I love books. Here’s a shot of me and my beloved bookshelves:
(This is not me and my bookshelves. I am not that graceful.)
I’m a huge fan of folks sharing their knowledge and passion through a book. I believe writing a good book is one of the most generous contributions you can make to this world.
But I love a balanced life
As much as I value books, there are other things I care about, including:
* Creating a profitable and fun business,
* Having time to build a fort out of sofa cushions with my son,
* Not feeling bad when I spend the evening watching American Idol instead of hunched over my laptop.
I truly believe writing a book is a brilliant thing to do. The question is: Is it a brilliant thing for you to do right now? Or should you go serve clients, build a sofa fort, and binge watch American Idol?
There is no right answer
There is no right or wrong answer here. Writing a book is a noble act and it is not the only noble thing you can do with your time. So the goal here is not to convince you to write your book.
It’s to empower you stop thinking about writing a book…
And wishing you were writing…
And beating up on yourself for not writing…
And feeling like a failure because you’re not doing the thing you want to be doing.
Instead, you can make an informed decision that feels really good.
When Amy Porterfield said no
Let me tell you about an email conversation I had with Amy Porterfield earlier this year. Yes, the actual Amy Porterfield emailed me and it was not as awesome as you might think.
If you don’t know her, Amy Porterfield is a Big Deal in the online marketing world. She has a great podcast about online marketing. She’s extremely good at what she does.
Earlier this year she launched Digital Course Academy, an online course to help people create and sell online courses. It’s so meta.
I have always loved the idea of online courses. The thought of creating something once and selling it over and over again is really enticing, so I seriously considered enrolling in Amy Porterfield’s course when she announced the doors were open.
(You can tell she’s a Big Deal because I can only write about her using her full name. That is the universal sign of superstardom.)
But… I didn’t know what my writing course should look like. Doh.
Right now I work one-on-one with clients and I haven’t quite codified what I do with them. There’s a little bit of magic that happens when I work with clients that I haven’t yet demystified.
So I emailed Amy Porterfield and asked if her program would guide me through that process of codifying what I do so I can teach it to others.
She told me no.
She told me not to take her course yet.
She told me to go away, do more one-on-one work with clients, and wait to create a course until I’ve figured it out. She said I wasn’t ready yet.
What I really wanted
That was kind of a bummer. If I’m really, really honest, I think I wanted to be told I’m good enough as I am to start creating a course now. I wanted to hear that I’m enough already. That I can figure it out as I go and it will be okay.
And the truth is that I am enough.
I can figure things out as I go.
But I still shouldn’t put the cart in front of the horse.
She knew her course could help immeasurably if I was ready to go there and that I’d be wasting my time to try and create a course before I was really ready to do so.
Making it harder
The same is true of writing your book. If you’re not really ready yet, it will be harder. You could figure it out. It wouldn’t be impossible but it would be harder.
You would be pushing against the tide.
You’d be putting your cart in front of the horse.
You’d be spending your time on something that’s not well-suited to where you’re at, and you’d have less time to do the things that would really get you traction in your business.
So that brings us back to how do you know if you’re ready?
A reasonable business activity
Amy Porterfield asked me one question to help me discover if I was ready to create a course. I don’t remember her exact words (and I deleted the email in a huff), but she wanted to know,
Can you codify what you do with a client and have others repeat it on their own?
My answer was no.
From that question, I came to understand (once I got over the huff) that creating a course would not be a reasonable business activity at this stage of my career.
That doesn’t mean I can’t play with the idea in my spare time, but if I want to be a responsible, successful business owner, I won’t invest my time into creating a course right now. I’ll save that for down the road.
I found freedom in that. It’s not that I’ll never create a course. I just know that I need to focus on other things to grow my business right now.
Three questions to know if you’re ready to write a book
Amy Porterfield asked one question that helped me realize I wasn’t ready to create a course.
Now, I have three questions to help you decide if you’re ready to write your book without pushing against the tide or putting the cart before the horse.
Three questions because I’m three times better than Amy Porterfield.
Just kidding. She is a real deal genius.
Three questions because that’s what’s required with this specific issue. I’ll tell you what the three questions are. Then we’ll look at each in more detail. Then we’ll talk about what to do when you’ve answered those questions.
Question 1 is: Do you know the theme of your story?
Question 2 is: Will others benefit from your theme?
Question 3 is: Do you understand how a book will fit into your business?
Okay, let’s dive deeper.
Question 1: Do you know the theme of your story?
Most people who want to write a book are triggered to do because they want to share their story or something they’ve learned. That’s most obvious in memoir but even pure self-help books come from what the author has learned from their own experiences.
So how does theme come into play?
The theme of your story is the take-away lesson from your experiences.
What’s the point of you book? Why are you even writing it? That’s your theme.
Here are some examples of theme:
Dare to Lead by Brene Brown - To be a great leader, you have to choose courage over comfort.
War of Art by Steven Pressfield - Resistance is an enemy you must do battle with.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert - Develop a relationship with your creativity and you can create magic.
(And because I have a two-year-old) Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki - There is a painless way to potty train and you don’t have to fear it.
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling - Brave people can defeat evil.
Now here’s where it gets interesting…
Some might argue that the theme of Harry Potter is actually that muggles and mud bloods and magical people are all equal. It’s about equality.
Others would say the theme is about friendship. The stories show how friendship can help you overcome the biggest obstacles.
People interpret stories in different ways and that’s okay. You just have to know what your primary theme is for you.
Why does theme matter?
If you can’t identify your theme, you don’t have enough clarity on your experiences to share them with others in a helpful way.
You need perspective on your story before others will understand when you write about it.
See if you can write out your theme in two sentences. Just two sentences.
If you can’t do this after, say, a week of thought, you’re likely not ready to write your book yet.
This isn’t the end of the world! You can find perspective on your experiences through writing, meditation, journaling, therapy, and bitching about life with friends while drinking too much red wine.
But you’re going to have a hard time structuring and writing a good book if you don’t find clarity on your theme.
That's question one: Do you know the theme of your story?
Question 2: Will your ideal clients benefit from your theme?
Last year I worked with a client who initially thought her theme was, “My dad is an asshole.”
That was very true. Her dad really was a piece of work. But it didn’t help anyone (other than her) to write a book about that.
Eventually, she realized there was something else motivating her to write. She didn’t just want to tell the world about her asshole dad. She wanted to encourage other young women who were raised by not-very-good parents to rise above their childhood experiences.
And, as a business coach working with young women, that was a message her ideal clients benefitted from hearing.
Now, let’s imagine she didn’t figure out that her ideal clients could benefit from her story.
She could still write her book. It would be cathartic, but it wouldn’t be a sound business move.
The number one way to build your business is to help people. To be of service to your ideal clients. If a book doesn’t serve the people you want to help, it’s not a smart business move.
So when you’ve identified your theme, you need to have a frank conversation with yourself and ask if that theme will benefit your ideal clients.
If not, then go ahead and write for catharsis. Journal. Write a book just to get it out of you.
But that’s not a business book. That’s writing for a hobby. Totally awesome, but not a smart way to spend your work hours.
So question one was: Do you know the theme of your story?
Question two is: Will your ideal clients benefit from your theme?
Question 3: Do you understand how your book will fit into your business?
You are highly unlikely to make a million bucks from book sales.
Nielsen BookScan’s stats show that only about 250 books each year reach 100,000 copies sold.
In fact, the best estimates reckon that the average non-fiction book these days sells less than 250 copies a year and less than 2,000 copies in its lifetime.
The wonderful things that happen around writing books happen around the book.
It’s when the book gets you opportunities to speak at conferences around the world, putting you in front of hundreds or thousands of people who need to hear your message and getting you a huge chunk of income from being paid to speak.
It’s when the book gives someone the confidence to invest thousands of dollars in working one-on-one with you.
It’s when your book gets you a profile in a local news segment, which could be picked up by national media and lead to a bunch of hits on your website and email signups—warm leads eager to hear more of your message.
So if you want writing your book to be a sound investment of your time, you need to understand how it will fit into your overarching business strategy.
Don’t plan on making your revenue goals through book sales.
If you just need to make more money, up your marketing game and keep working one-on-one with clients. That’s a faster track to bring in dollars.
But if you have a vision for how a book can fit into your business strategy, that’s when it becomes a smart move.
Let’s get clear
Let’s recap and get clear on the three questions that will help you decide if you’re ready to write your book now:
Question 1. Do you know the theme of your story.
Question 2. Will your ideal client benefit from your theme?
Question 3. Do you understand how a book will fit into your business?
A reward for reading this far
You’ve read this far and your reward (other than getting clear on whether you should write a book right now) is… drumroll please… a bonus question!
I know. Exactly what you wanted, right.
There’s a bonus because I know that even if you answered yes to those three questions, you might still feel unsettled about all this stuff. That’s okay. Here’s the next question to ask yourself:
Do you want to do this now?
You might have the knowledge and strategy to make writing a book right now a solid idea, but it’s okay if you would rather prioritize other things in your life.
If you answered yes to the other questions, I want you to take a beat, get quiet, and do a gut check while you ask this question.
A good tip for gut checks
I find gut checks really hard. Sometimes I feel afraid of doing a new thing and I can’t figure out if I’m squirmy just because it’s new, or if it feels off because it’s not something I really want. I’ve been burned before by misidentifying the fear and going too far down the wrong path.
Then my favorite business coach, Jenny Shih, described a way of distinguishing the healthy fear of something new and exciting from the gross fear of something you really ought to steer clear of. It’s a small idea but I find it so helpful. I think she got it from Martha Beck. It goes like this…
Imagine you’re standing on a diving board above a beautiful, crystal clear pool, and you’re about to jump off. It feels scary but kind of exhilarating.
Now imagine you’re standing on that same diving board but below you is a pool of slimy, smelly sewage. It feels scary and gross.
The first scenario is scary and exhilarating. It’s a good sign. The second is scary and gross. It’s a signal to get the eff off the diving board and run away.
So how does writing a book feel to you? Which pool are you standing over?
You don’t have to decide now, but I want you to take some time to get quiet think about this in the next week.
I’m not ready but I still feeling the pull
If you think this stuff through and decide you’re not ready to write a book for your business, great! That’s an informed and smart decision that frees you up to focus on other things.
And if you still feel the desire to write, recognize that. The two states can exist together. You can still honor that pull to the page. Just be aware that it’s not a smart business strategy for you right now.
Write as a hobby. Hobbies are brilliant! Schedule writing into your life outside of business hours. Enjoy writing to discover the theme of your story and how that theme helps your ideal client. Or just indulge and play with words.
Enjoy the hobby for what it is.
I’m ready but it feels gross
If you answered yes to the three main questions but, deep down, the idea makes you feels gross, that’s okay. We don’t have time to do everything and writing a book is not the only noble thing you can do with your days.
Just because you’ve dreamed of writing a book forever doesn’t mean you must dream of it forever more.
I’m giving you permission to let yourself off the hook and ditch the dream if that’s what needs to happen. It’s okay to do that.
I’m ready. Now what?
If you’ve decided you’re ready to write a book for your business, congratulations! Now I want to give you a kick up the butt to get on with it.
It might still be scary, but it’s exhilarating-scary, right? And being clear on the three questions above gives you a brilliant head start on the writing process. You’re already miles ahead of most folks who think about writing a book.
Deciding to do this and having the answers to these questions doesn’t mean it will be easy to write your book, but it should make you feel empowered.
You can get going safe in the knowledge that you are ready for this. You won’t be pushing against the tide. There’s no putting the cart before the horse. Your horse is way out in front!
You are a grown-ass adult who has chosen to put your talents, time, and energy towards writing a book and sharing your knowledge. And you know how this project will convey a clear theme, benefit your ideal clients, and fit into your business.
So add writing time to your schedule and go do it. Now.