The opportunity cost of not writing a book

Throes of Creation by Leonid Pasternak

If you’ve considered writing a book, you have a choice to make. You can get to work on the book, or you can put it off — perhaps forever.

Writing a book will potentially establish you as a leading thinker in your space, and get your ideas out in the space of public discussion where everyone can talk about them. The question you should ask is not, “Should I write a book?” It is, “If I don’t write a book, what else will I do instead?”

Here are some things you might do with the time you don’t spend writing a book:

  • Solicit and serve more clients. You can use your usual marketing methods — like advertising, email marketing, and content marketing — to reach and try to close potential clients. If you do a good job, this will generate positive word of mouth. Of course, that is likely to take many months, of not years, to pay off. In the meantime, you’ll have to hustle just as hard and and compete with everyone else on the same basis. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to raise your prices very fast.
  • Post more content. You can take the ideas you would put into a book and post them as blog posts, videos, or podcast episodes, and the promote them on social media. You can do your best to get the word out about them. But unless that content is awesomely viral, there are limits on how many people it will reach.
  • Solicit more speaking engagements. Many potential authors are public speakers. They tend to get hired because people hear them speak at other events, sometimes giving free speeches. Many great speakers get popular this way. Of course, that depends on how good a public speaker you are — and whether your ideas stand out from the crowd of other speakers.
  • Spend time on yourself or your family. If you don’t write a book, you could have more nights and weekends free. You’ll have more time take a hike, meet with friends, go to the kid’s soccer game, or take your sweetheart to the movies. Somehow, though, a lot of people don’t take advantage of these opportunities — life just seems to crowd in and soak up the time.

If you do write a book, what will you gain?

I’ve been writing this as if it’s an either/or kind of choice — more time spent writing a book means less time for other things. But as an author, I can tell you it’s not quite so clear-cut.

If you write a book, you need to do research. What you find in that research can often boost your understanding of your business, your success with clients, or the quality of your speeches.

If you write a book, you need to sharpen your ideas. Sharper, clearer, more well-defined and well-supported ideas are useful immediately in your work and in speeches, even before the book is published.

Writing a book often makes you excited and happy about what you’re doing, which can improve your personal relationships and productivity. Excited people get more done and are often happier with their personal lives.

To be fair, writing a book and promoting it can be expensive. Authors in my nonfiction author survey typically spent at least $3,000 on creating the book and $10,000 to promote it. Those who used hybrid publishers had to pony up another $25,000 or so. That’s money you could use on other marketing.

But consider the benefits of the power of your ideas and your own confidence you get while working on the book, and the ability to generate more visibility, attract more clients, and gain more speaking engagements as author after the book is published.

An encouraging 87% of authors in my survey who published a book agreed it was a good idea. It helped take their visibility and their business to a new level.

So the real question is: do you want to keep plugging away at what you are doing now?

Of do you want to see if the time spent working on a book can take things up a notch?

That’s a more realistic way to think about the choice you have.

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