I always knew that I was going to write a book about my experience with simple, personal videos at BombBomb, but I was never clear on the intended audience or exact topic. Telling the story of a software company with which I’ve experienced +15,000% customer growth and +2,000% employee growth would be interesting. But who would it be for? Fans and friends of the company? Aspiring software moguls? It seemed self-indulgent and presumptuous to write that book.
Then, I hit my 6-year anniversary as a full-time team member, was struck with how far we’d come as a community, and published this blog post in October 2017.
The post was a declaration. An ownership claim. A planted flag.
The “relationships through video” movement is our movement – one we’re pioneering with, through, and for our customers. The philosophy and practice of communicating, connecting, and converting more effectively with webcam and smartphone videos in place of plain, typed-out text were created and advanced within our community.
But that avowal was as far as I took it for several months, until I decided to take the ideas in that post, information in hundreds of other blog posts, tips from dozens of webinars and stage presentations, lessons from TEDx and Ignite talks, new research, and various other things I’d learned and shared over the years and … write a book.
As a no-name, first-time author, this was no small undertaking.
Apparently, becoming an author is a common goal, so I thought I’d share some things I learned over the past 18 months from the time I decided to write a book through the first 15,000 copies sold of Rehumanize Your Business, a book I co-authored with my friend Steve Pacinelli.
11 Tips to Write a Book
This list is by no means exhaustive. Steve and I learned so much over the past 18 months – too much to share in a single post.
If you want to write a nonfiction book, these tips may be more relevant than if you want to write fiction.
If you want to write a book, these tips may be more relevant than if you want to have one ghostwritten for you.
Whether you want to get a book published or you want to self-publish, these tips should be equally relevant to you.
If your question isn’t addressed here or you want more detail on any of these stories or ideas, please reach out to me on LinkedIn and I’ll offer what I can!
1: Find Your Motivation
For me, this one was easy. I’ve already described it here in this post. It’s what drives me every day to show up and bring my best to a team, community, and concept I’ve been working with for about a decade.
What we’ve done within our community at BombBomb has changed lives and careers (I know it sounds dramatic, but I’ve heard it dozens of times) by allowing people to be more personal and human in their business communication. More people should know about the opportunity and have help to get started. Organizing all our best stories, ideas, tips, and guidance into one package is a great way to do that.
To write a book, to publish a book, and to sell a book are together a dramatic, uphill battle. Especially for the ignorant (including no-name, first-time authors like me).
If you’re not motivated by and passionate about the material, it’s a losing battle. That motivation and that passion are required to see the project through.
If you’re not motivated by and passionate about the material, why would anyone else be? That ambivalence will come through in the work. Indifference won’t move or transform anyone. And if you’re not looking to create change, why would you bother to write a book?
There are too many books in the world and too many books being released every week to bring one to life that lacks deep, sincere, and powerful motivation.
2: Just Start Writing
This point can’t be overstated or made any more simple: just start writing.
Do have a loose outline. Do know approximately where you’re going and why. But just start writing. You can always cut, paste, rearrange, edit, clean up, and otherwise modify the words … but you can’t edit what isn’t written.
I’d shared the idea of writing a book with Megan, my wife and the most loving and supportive person I know. Naturally, she encouraged me to turn my thoughts into action. So, I just started writing.
The first 10,000 words of Rehumanize Your Business were written between 5am and 6am on weekday mornings and the better part of a Saturday or Sunday each weekend. Owen, our son, noticed the change in my behavior and thought it was cool that I was working toward becoming a no-name, first-time author. This provided further motivation and encouragement; we all want to set a great example for our children and we don’t want to let them down.
Like any process, the writing process is iterative – it’s not perfect from the start and you’ll refine it as you go. You’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t, then do more of the former and less of the latter. But you’ll never know what works – and you’ll never have anything to edit – if you don’t start writing.
3: Talk to Authors and Publishers
Several thousand words into writing, two things became clear:
1 I didn’t know the best way to write a book.
2 I didn’t know the best way to bring a book to market.
So, I did the most logical thing that occurred to me: re-read books written by people I knew, reach out to them, and ask for a conversation about how they wrote their books and brought them to market. I also reached out to a couple of gentlemen who work in publishing.
Everyone said “yes” and everyone was even more generous and informative than I’d hoped. Thanks again to all (especially the ones I failed to include in the acknowledgments of Rehumanize Your Business) …
- Dan Steinman (author of Customer Success)
- Kurt Bartolich (author of You Can’t Ride Two Horses with One Ass)
- Thor Iverson (author of Y2K: Countdown To Launch)
- Chris Smith (author of The Conversion Code and Peoplework)
- Dave Crumby (author of REAL)
- Ryan Dunham (former VP of Sales at Zondervan and David C Cook)
- Andrew Stoddard (Editorial Director at WaterBrook & Multnomah)
I’m not special. I’m not an exceptional networker. I’m not insanely well-connected. If you’re any of these things, you should find this step even easier and more helpful than I did. I just reached out to people with curiosity and sincerity.
In the video embedded below, I describe how people need and want to be helpful – and provide more insight into many of the tips here in this blog post. The presentation was the closing session of a two-and-a-half-day video summit called Rehumanize, which was held in Denver just a couple weeks after the book’s release.
4: Create a Writing Plan
I talked with a person who took a couple of years to write a book. I also talked with a person who holed himself up in a room, wrote 12 hours each day, and finished his book in under two weeks. Your experience, like mine, will likely fall in between. The time from starting write (summer) to submitting a manuscript (Thanksgiving) was about five months.
Once I got buy-in from the team at BombBomb, I was able to devote 60-70% of my “work” time to writing. This was very helpful; it would have taken me a year or longer to write a book at the pace I started writing.
I continued to find mornings the most productive time of the day. I’d start early and get at least two or three solid hours of writing in. To avoid distraction and to support longer writing periods, I worked from home during this time and even worked from my parents’ place out of state for a month. The latter was especially helpful because I was on the same time zone as my coauthor, Steve (normally I’m two hours behind).
I kept a spreadsheet with my start and stop times for writing and word counts for each writing period. This helped me maintain awareness of both writing pace and overall progress. Once we locked in our publishing deal (see below), I had a very specific deadline. To get copies by April 2019, I had to submit a completed manuscript before Thanksgiving 2018.
A couple of fun facts here:
1 I tried to submit a 70,000-word manuscript but had to cut 10,000 words out to get it down to 60,000, the maximum our editor would accept. It’s a better book for that substantial edit.
2 To write a book is something important but not urgent. Creating a deadline creates urgency. I recommend it, because we tend to focus on and get done what’s urgent – and especially what’s both urgent and important (more on that in the video embedded above).
5: Write a Proposal
One of the most useful recommendations I picked up when talking with other authors came from Chris Smith, who advised that I write a book proposal sooner than later. He even provided me one he’d successfully used to land his publishing deal for his bestseller, The Conversion Code.
Here’s a general outline:
- Cover Page
- Book Overview
- Overview of the Concept and Why It Should Be a Book
- Who Would Buy and Why (TAM, Demographics, Psychographics)
- Table of Contents
- Comparable Titles
- Background on You, Your Company, and Your Community
- Marketing Plan (with Emphasis on Preorders and Launch)
- Sample Chapter
- Contact Information
We enjoyed the privilege of designers at BombBomb laying out the proposal, which turned out to be 43 pages long. Thanks to Ava Gretzinger and Sarah Wagle, who contributed significantly to the project, including the proposal design, cover designs, internal layout, illustrations, and more. They created a beautiful and tightly branded experience from cover to cover.
You might be thinking: What do I need a proposal for?
For starters, you need it for yourself. Dan Pink, who was kind enough to endorse Rehumanize Your Business (for the story, watch the video embedded above starting at 13:20), is the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of several books. He’s got a multi-book publishing deal and doesn’t need book proposals. But he takes care to write a proposal for every one of his books for the clarity, focus, and intention that the process forces.
In addition, you’ll need it for the people helping you bring your book to market. We used ours to get offers from our two preferred publishers (see tip 6 below). But the creation of the proposal was just as useful as the proposal itself.
You might be wondering: How did you get Dan Pink, someone who likely gets dozens of unsolicited requests every week, to endorse your book?
Easy. I sent a simple, personal webcam video delivered by email that explained why it made sense and how much we’d appreciate it. Clarity and sincerity. And follow up – a bit of persistence. I talk about endorsements in that video embedded above.
6: Consider Your Publishing Options and Go-To-Market Strategy
One thing that will emerge from the process of explicitly stating your purpose for writing a book, who will buy it, why they’ll buy it, and what they’ll learn is the foundation of a go-to-market strategy.
Rehumanize Your Business is about making more of your faceless, digital communication personal and human again to achieve better results and experience more satisfying work. Anyone working in a professional capacity can benefit from its message and takeaways.
Clearly, then, we want this book in as many hands as possible. We want to sell tens of thousands of copies, so our marketing plan needs to reflect and support that.
For my friend Kurt Bartolich, You Can’t Ride Two Horses with One Ass helps clients and prospective clients of GUTS Branding understand his expertise and point of view, especially regarding brand conservation and brand research. His book differentiates him from other branding professionals and sets his working relationships up for success. He doesn’t need or want to produce and sell tens of thousands of copies.
For my friend Sangram Vajre, ABM is B2B falls somewhere in between the audiences for Rehumanize Your Business and You Can’t Ride Two Horses with One Ass. “This book is not for everybody. I’m not trying to be a New York Times bestseller,” said Sangram in our conversation on The Customer Experience Podcast. There are five to ten thousand people, however, who he knows should read it. If you don’t know what “ABM” or “B2B” stands for, you’re not among them.
Knowing that we wanted to reach tens of thousands of people affected the way we viewed our publishing options. From my conversations with the people named and linked above and from my own research, I narrowed down our preferred routes to 20-year-old hybrid self-publisher Greenleaf Book Group and 200-year-old non-fiction specialist Wiley.
Dan Steinman, author of Customer Success, was kind enough to give me an introduction to Richard Narramore, his editor at Wiley. I reached out to Greenleaf through their online form and had a great conversation with Justin Branch.
Both Wiley and Greenleaf were willing to move forward with Rehumanize Your Business, but we went with the former for two main reasons:
1 No upfront costs (though far less upside in royalties).
2 The Wiley name (several comparable titles and highly relevant to our ideal reader).
Worth restating: A thoughtful and well-developed proposal was critical to landing both publishing opportunities. Whether you use a traditional publisher or self-publisher, they want to know if the idea can sell and if you can sell it; a great proposal communicates both.
Worth noting: No-name, first-time authors get publishing deals with established, traditional publishing companies in part by committing to purchase copies of their own book in order to mitigate the publisher’s risk. There’s no fixed number, but assume it’s played against the anticipated ability for the concept to sell and for the authors to sell it. The less confident they are in your ability to sell it, the more copies you’ll have to buy.
7: Find a Coauthor
This recommendation/demand came from Richard at Wiley and honoring it was the best thing for the book by far.
One of the best ways to sell a book is through public speaking. You can forego speaking fees in favor of the host buying copies of the book and/or you can use the speaking engagement to introduce the topic, establish your authority, and pitch the book. And Wiley wants its titles to sell.
So Richard asked who the most forward-facing BombBomb executive was. Often, the answer he gets is the CEO or the President. That’s why you see so many CEOs and other high-level executives as coauthors on books like ours. At BombBomb, the answer was obvious and immediate … Steve Pacinelli. He’s delivered thousands of presentations over the past dozen years and, as Chief Marketing Officer, he’s intimately familiar with the book’s subject and audience.
We’ve got as close a partnership as two people working 1,700 miles apart can have. Our friendship started a few years before he joined the company and we’ve worked side-by-side daily at BombBomb for five years. Our skill sets, strengths, and perspectives are highly complementary. Bringing him in early as coauthor made the project more fun and made the result much stronger.
During the proposal phase, Steve and I nailed down a detailed outline of the book. After committing to Wiley, Richard made us justify each chapter, helped us sequence them, and then stepped aside and let us run. In a Google Doc, I wrote and wrote and wrote to the outline. Steve was right on my heels with comments in the doc like …
- This story would work well here
- This passage might sound better if you wrote it this way
- Let’s flip these sections around
- Check out this research and use it here
- We’ve gone too long without a practical takeaway
The coauthor partnership has a forest/trees dynamic. I’m deep in the forest – in the word-by-word details. Steve’s flying overhead with a different and necessary perspective – seeing more clearly how it all goes together.
The book would have been more academic and less fun without his voice and ideas; he often served as the reader’s advocate. And he’s a masterful salesperson, so he brought a sensibility and value that would have been sorely lacking.
Another mind. Another voice. Another perspective.
To write a book, you may need another. I know I did.
Having Steve coauthor the book made it easier, more fun, and more successful.
8: Read Your Book Aloud
When it came time to produce the audiobook, I offered a 12-point argument as to why Steve and I should read it. Among the arguments:
- Having an actor read is fundamentally contrary to the spirit of the book.
- A voice actor costs more money than Steve and I do (free!).
- We’ve done thousands of videos, stage presentations, and webinars.
- Steve’s done voice tracking in a studio.
- The book was written first person and should be read that way.
So … we got to read the audiobook of Rehumanize Your Business. I voiced the intro, Chapter 1, and the rest of the odd chapters. Steve voiced Chapter 2 and the rest of the even chapters.
I’d read the book dozens of times. So had Steve. Several other people had read the book; some had read it several times. But you still miss things that reading the book aloud will help you catch.
Reading my sections of the audiobook brought to the fore passages that should have been written better, minor errors like subject/verb disagreements, and other things I wish I’d found months earlier.
Tip: Read your book aloud during the editing process of the written work. It may seem tedious. You may even find it exhausting. But you’ll be glad you did.
9: Create a Sales Launch
No matter how your book is published, you have to sell it. Your publishing partner, like ours, may help with introductions, promotions, or guidance, but you have to sell it. For example, Wiley connected us with Barnes & Noble and with airport bookstores, but the sales effort overall is our responsibility.
Fortunately for us, we have a customer base with tens of thousands of people in it. So, we followed a launch formula we’d used and iterated upon several times to generate more than a million dollars in revenue over the past several years.
The formula goes something like this: release three deep training videos in sequence by email and social over the course of two weeks, then release a fourth video that sells the book. We invested a lot of time and resources into this campaign.
As it turns out, we generated far more preorders for the book when we just told people by email and social that we had a book available for preorder.
We incentivized preordering with packages of bonuses at a variety of quantities: 1 or 2 copies, 3 or 4 copies, 5-9 copies, 10-24 copies, 25-99 copies, 100-499 copies, 500-999 copies, and 1,000 copies.
The two quantities that produced the highest total sales: 1 or 2 copies and 100-499 copies. That said, we had good activity at each level except 500-999. And, yes, we have one person commit to buying 1,000 copies (thanks again, Tom!). To hear that story, check out my conversation with Drift cofounder and CEO David Cancel on The Customer Experience Podcast.
We sold nearly 10,000 copies from preorder through the first week of release (late April 2019).
I’ve not done a great job at sustaining book sales, though (just over 5,000 more copies sold through the end of 2019).
To write a book is one thing. To sell a book is another. Both can be full-time jobs, but most of us don’t have that privilege.
10: Don’t Bet on a Bestseller
We thought we had a pretty good shot at landing on the USA Today or Wall Street Journal bestseller list. It’s a bit of a vanity play, but it also adds some credibility to the project – especially for people who don’t know me, Steve, or BombBomb.
Unfortunately for us, bulk orders are a bit beneath the curators of the bestseller lists. They turn their noses up at bulk purchasing. I get it – it’s more impressive and a stronger market signal to sell 10,000 books to 9,500 people than to 4,500 people. As mentioned above, many of the nearly 10,000 copies of Rehumanize Your Business were bought dozens, hundreds, and even one thousand at a time.
Those bulk orders did land the book at #1 with Porchlight Book Company (formerly 800-CEO-READ) for the opening month of release. They’ve exclusively been running bulk purchasing of business books for decades. The book also landed in the top 20 with Barnes & Noble for the opening week of release.
The game-changer here, though, is Amazon. They update sales information hourly – all day, every day. If you write a book and get it to market, keep an eye on these ranks regularly.
Rehumanize Your Business hit #1 in Amazon Best Sellers in Business Sales, Business Communication, Customer Relations, and a few other categories. It also hit #1 in Amazon Hot New Releases in Sales & Selling, Business Sales, Business Communication, Communication Skills, and several other categories. They’ll tag the book #1 Best Seller or #1 New Release.
Tip: Determine the categories in which your book is performing, keep an eye on them regularly, and screenshot the high-ranking moments (examples below).
11: Ask for Reviews (Again)
A primary advantage of our preorder sales approach is that we collected a list of known purchasers of the book. This allows us to do two specific things:
1 Stop marketing the book to people who’ve already bought it.
2 Have a list of people from whom we could request Amazon reviews.
We’re at 4.8 stars on 65 reviews at the close of 2019. We’re grateful for every single one. Each is a gift. And each is hard-won.
Think about the way you purchase products on Amazon, consider restaurants on Yelp or Google, or look for help on Angie’s List or HomeAdvisor. You’re looking at both the quality and quantity of reviews. It’s important that we continue to push to get it up over 100.
Love it or hate it, Amazon is where hardcovers, digital books, and audiobooks are purchased. For sustained success, develop a plan to collect more and better reviews – starting from day one.
So ask. And ask again (politely). Even people who love you and love your book may need a reminder. And consider being specific: Would you please go to Amazon, click a 4- or 5-start rating, and share two or three things you learned from the book?
This is one of many, many things I could have done better. But, hey, I’m a no-name, first-time author.
Steve and I received so much love, support, help, and guidance over the past 18 months. Thanks again to everyone who supported this effort and who read the book.
If you want to write a book and have questions about the process, leave a comment below and reach out to me on LinkedIn (and add a note to the connection request).
If you’ve already written a book and have some tips to share, leave a comment below and reach out to me on LinkedIn (and add a note to the connection request).
Thanks so much for giving this post a read! I hope you found it helpful.