Tuesday, 8 June 2010

How to write a business book: constructing the layout

At the moment I'm helping a client organise material she already has written in various forms.  Her book is aimed at people who own their business but are new to running a business and people who are given a role in business but haven't done it before or want to upgrade their skills.

Sorry I can't be more precise about the exact topic but it's confidential.  But there are some general principles I thought it might be helpful to lay out.

You know what you're writing about but your reader doesn't

This is a problem I see all the time.  We tend to write our books from our perspective.

That won't do because someone who picks up your book may be many steps behind where you are.  I know it may seem like a chore but you have to approach this from a beginner's mind if that is the kind of book you're writing.

If you are writing an advanced primer of some kind then fine.  But even there you have to make clear where your baseline is.  What are you assuming they already know? 

Terms of reference if you like.  Because I can guarantee if you don't make it clear, someone will have an issue with it.

When I worked as a librarian, I taught new staff how to manage our book issuing system, part of which was based on alphabetical order.  Simple you might think. 

Not so.  You wouldn't believe how many queries people have about alphabetical order.

So it's never as easy as ABC.  Assume you know nothing about your subject and start again.

You may process information in a different way from others

Have you ever noticed how people read out phone numbers or read them back to you?  Some break them down into blocks of 2 or 3.  Others read them straight through.

We all have a unique way of absorbing and processing what we see or hear.

What that means for you as a writer is that you have to provide different ways of absorbing information.

One way I like to offer as a suggestion is the basic talk structure.
Tell them what you're going to tell them.
Tell them.
Tell them what you told them.

In a chapter you can break this up by creating summaries at the beginning or end or create action plans that underline what you said. Too much material on a page without white space is difficult to absorb.

Material you've written before can be adapted

People who want to write books often have written other material.  Articles, blog entries, course material.

There's no point in reinventing the wheel if you already have many of the spokes there.  It's a matter of finding some structure that connects them together.

Yesterday we had a breakthrough because I offered her a way of working through the processes in the subject.  It's often difficult for you if you're inside your subject.  An objective view is always helpful.

As soon as she heard my suggestion, she understood how she could 'borrow' material already available in her writing elsewhere to drop into the proposed layout.

AHA moment.  I love it when I help people find one.  Now she'll make faster progress because she's not struggling thinking she has to start over again for the book.

So if you want to write a book and have no idea where to begin, look what you've already done.  You may be pleasantly surprised about how fast you can turn it into a book format.

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