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Thinking about writing a business book? Six questions to get you started (review of Tanya Hall’s Ideas, Influence and Income)

Rejection can be good for you. It was for me.

In the fall of 1999, I pitched an idea for column about public relations to the business editor at the Hamilton Spectator.

The editor nixed the idea, predicting there wouldn’t be enough interested readers or interesting topics to sustain it.

And in hindsight, posing as an expert in PR after just six years on the job would’ve been pretentious and potentially career-limiting.

Instead of writing a column, the editor asked if I’d review business books. I left the newsroom with the first of many, many books.

Thanks to my side hustle, I haven’t had to come up with an original idea at work for the past 20 years. I’ve shamelessly borrowed big ideas from more than 500 business books.

I’ve also met some really smart and experienced people over the years who should definitely share their expertise by writing their own book.

book ideasTanya Hall can help. Hall is CEO of Greenleaf Book Group and author of Ideas, Influence and Income.

“Whether you’re an established thought leader or you’re just starting out, a published book is the cornerstone of establishing yourself as an expert,” says Hall.

“Striving to establish yourself as a thought leader shows that you are fully committed to your area of expertise – so much so that you are driven to share your enthusiasm with others.”

Writing and then promoting a book requires a commitment of months, if not years. So here are six questions that Hall asks aspiring authors before they start the journey.

What do you want to write about? “Most authors start with a vague idea, like ‘marketing tactics’ and build from there. Focus on your experience and your successes to get the ball rolling.”

What do you want your book to accomplish? Will it be your calling card for more sales or speaking engagements? Will it raise your profile, reputation and credibility? “Publishing a book is a big investment of your time and money, and clarifying your goals will help ensure that you don’t waste either one.”

Who’s your audience? Are you already talking with them? “Visualize and describe your target reader. Try to get in their minds before you begin writing. What are their pain points? What are they hoping to learn? Where do they get stuck? How can you help them?”.

Why you? Hall recommends doing an honest evaluation of why you’re the best person to write a book on the topic at hand. “Have you worked in the industry for years? Did you pioneer something new? What would be missing if someone else wrote a book on this subject?”

Why now? Is there a demand and need for your expertise and insights? Can you anticipate future pain points and help your readers avoid problems or capitalize on opportunities?

Is a book the best outlet for your idea? Could you sum it up in a guest column, blog post, video, white paper or series of posts to social media? Don’t give readers 30 pages of valuable content and 150 pages of filler. “If you don’t have enough to say to fill a book, think through your audience’s needs and draft some short-form material. Get your work out there in other formats and your voice and content will come together with time.”

Don’t bank on getting rich from book sales alone. Think beyond the book, says Hall.

“A professionally produced book gives you nearly instant credibility and opens doors to other streams of income. For nonfiction authors, the book is an extension of your business or expertise and another tool in your business-marketing tool belt.”

Hall shows how to build your book, build an audience and build a business strategy that ties together ideas, influence and income. If you’ve ever dreamed of being an author, start by reading Hall’s book. And once you’re published, send a copy of your business book my way and I’ll give it a read, a review and shamelessly borrow and share your big idea.

4 WAYS TO IMPROVE THE ODDS OF MY REVIEWING YOUR BUSINESS BOOK:

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  1. Stick to non-fiction. Please don’t write a business fable starring talking animals or an eclectic mix of characters who meet at a breakfast diner every Friday to soak up words of wisdom from an unassuming old-timer who’s secretly a billionaire ex-CEO. Mashing up business concepts with bedtime stories just creates something painfully unreadable.
  2. Been there. Done that. Wrote a book about it. Stick to writing about what you’ve actually done and give us an honest, unvarnished first person account. I’m starting to take a pass on books written by consultants, professional speakers and full-time authors who cherry-pick and string together stories we’ve all heard many times before, with a side of counterintuitive “who would’ve thought that?” research.
  3. Get yourself an editor and publisher. “Most self-published authors work in a vacuum and handle all aspects of the publishing process, from writing to editing, design, marketing, branding and sales,” says Tanya Hall. “It’s a rare person who can handle all of these areas with the professional quality expected by booksellers and readers.” Tanya’s being kind. I’ve yet to read a self-published book that didn’t need serious editing. And yes, we all judge a book by its cover so get yourself a graphic designer and pay accordingly. Cheap is expensive.
  4. Have just one big idea anchoring your book. Can you sum up your book in a single sentence?And format your book so the intro is the executive summary. The meat of the book fleshes out your big idea. And the last chapter sums everything up.

This review ran in the Aug. 17 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. Revoiews are archived at jayrobb.me .

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