5 productive first steps for your next book

Photo: tableatny

Are you contemplating starting the journey to writing a new book? It’s intimidating, I know.

If you have some idea of what you want to write, here are five steps you can take to move that idea forward.

1 Talk to smart people

Who do you know that’s knowledgeable about your topic? If you’re writing about AI, maybe that’s your CIO, your former boss, your friend in venture capital, or your college professor. If you’re writing about investing, it might be your college roommate who’s now an executive in an investing firm.

Go to a conference and connect with people in your field. Shoot the breeze in the bar with some smart friends. Talk to vendors, approach expert speakers, listen carefully to panels.

Don’t be afraid to reach out further. If a friend of a friend is a well-known expert on the topic, set up an informational interview, with a plan to publish your interview on a trade magazine site or include it in your podcast.

Talking to smart people will create sparks in your brain. You’ll find out if your idea is already common — or why most people won’t even consider it. You might discover a new twist on your original concept that’s unique and surprising. At this stage, you’re far more likely to advance your idea than to have it stolen — because it’s not yet worth stealing.

Do it now. Reach out to five experts. Complete two or three of those interviews in the next month.

2 Track down stories

Gathering case studies is one of the hardest parts of assembling a non-fiction book. They typically take weeks and weeks to line up. But they’re one part of the book you can work on even if your idea isn’t fully formed.

Track down stories by reviewing stories in news or trade media on your topic, talking to friends, interviewing clients, or just paying close attention in your everyday life.

Now reach out to set up interviews. Your job is to find out what happened, then write it down as a narration.

Stories don’t just engage readers. They engage writers as well. When you listen to stories, you’ll get new perspectives on your idea.

Do it now. Find five potential case study subjects and reach out. Complete and write up two or three of those interviews in the next month.

3 Figure out what people are already saying

A great idea must be simple, big, right, and new. Of these, the hardest is “new.” You’ll find that most of your great ideas were already discovered by somebody else.

Don’t get discouraged. Ideas are everywhere. You just need to find a way to differentiate yours.

The first step here is web research. Lots of web research. Find out what people are saying about your topic. Create a document full of other people’s ideas (and your takes on them). Describe how they are either wrong, too limited, or coming at the idea from the wrong perspective.

If somebody has your exact idea — what could you add that would take that idea further?

Pay close attention to other books on your topic. Buy them. Read or scan them. What do they say — and how do they bear on your idea? Put those perspectives in your idea file, too.

Do it now. Buy five books on your topic. Spend four hours in two separate sessions doing web research. Commit to having a differentiated version of your idea within a month.

4 Do an idea development brainstorm

One way to move your idea along is to spend dedicated time on an idea development brainstorm.

Recruit two other people. One should be in your target audience. The other should have strong language or idea skills. Spend 90 minutes together, in person or virtually. And commit to come out the other end with a “treatment” for your book and, ideally, a title and subtitle.

If you’re missing that language/idea expert, reach out to me.

Do it now. Schedule an idea brainstorm with trusted partners in the next two weeks.

5 Write with abandon

Attempting to write when you don’t know what to say is usually wasteful and frustrating.

But writing is one way to get ideas out of your head.

So imagine a member of the target audience sitting on the next barstool. “What are you thinking about?” they ask. “Well, listen,” you say. And then you write down whatever comes into your mind . . . freewriting, not slowing down, not worrying about the logical order of what you’re trying to say, but just venting.

Don’t imagine that what you write will get into your book. But do believe that somewhere in what you write will be concepts that help move your idea along.

Do it now. Block off 90 minutes in your schedule. Turn off your phone’s alerts. And the sit down and start typing.

Do it now

If you don’t start, you’ll never finish.

And if you start by trying to write Chapter 1, you’ll get discouraged. You’re not there yet.

These five tasks will move your idea long.

And when a friend asks, “How’s your book going?”, you can respond “I started to work these five things . . . and I’m making serious progress.”

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