The top 8 questions nonfiction authors ask — and the answers

Authors have questions. Once they start working on a book, the same things seem to come up over and over. So let’s get you some answers.

Is my idea worth writing a book about?

An idea worthy of a whole book should be big enough to have a set of nonobvious consequences. You should have enough evidence to show you are right. And, most important, it needs to be differentiated from other books already out there.

Big, right, new. More on that here.

What should my book’s title be?

It’s not just you. Titles are hard.

The thing to keep in mind is that a great title should be unique and should connect to the topic of the book — but doesn’t need to explain the whole concept. (The subtitle helps with that.)

To surface great title ideas, I recommend a title brainstorm with exactly three people: the author, somebody who’s great with words, and a person who stands in for the target audience.

Don’t crowdsource your title development. You’ll regret it.

How can I get my book published?

It used to be that the only way to get published was to get a deal with a major publisher. But now that most people buy business books online, publishers’ distribution advantage isn’t so crucial anymore.

There are now three basic publishing models.

If you want to work with a traditional publisher, you’ll have to write a proposal and, most likely, get an agent to pitch it to publishers. And if you get a deal, you’ll likely have to wait 15 months or so to get the book in print. On the other hand, you’ll get paid an advance.

If you work with a hybrid publisher, you’ll pay them, likely tens of thousands of dollars. But you’ll get better service and will be able to get the book out in nine months or so.

If you self-publish, you’ll get the book out quickly and cheaply. But you’ll have far less impact and your book will likely be available only on Amazon.

What chapters should I include?

For business books, your first chapter should scare the crap out of people — making the case that if they don’t pay attention to what you’ve written, either bad things may happen or they’ll miss out on something great.

After that, your next chapters should explain your concept, and after that, you can get into the details of how to execute it.

Each chapter should answer a big reader question. You can can plan the chapters with the reader question method.

Do I need an editor?

Yes. All authors have blind spots. A developmental editor will help you see those flaws and explain how to fix them.

Publishers used to do this work, but these days you likely have to hire an editor yourself.

How long does it take to write a book?

That’s one of those “how long is a piece of string” questions. The answer depends on how heavily researched the book is, how well you plan it, and how fast you are at writing.

This analysis suggests a typical effort of 264 hours. You can make a copy of this spreadsheet and do your own estimates.

How can I get past writer’s block?

The cause of writer’s block is attempting to write when you don’t know what to write. If you do that, nothing comes out. It’s painful.

To get past it, plan the topic of each chapter carefully, assemble research, and map out the chapter in a fat outline. Then when it’s time to write, you’ll have all the source material ready and you’ll have cleared all the obstacles out of the way.

How should I plan and execute my book promotion?

The biggest problem authors have with book promotion is just failing to do it. No, your book is not so good that people will just find it.

The time to plan your book promotion is when you’ve handed the book over to the copy editor and it’s still several months from publication.

The basic book promotion principle is to figure out where your target audience hangs out, and then get in front of them by connecting to those outlets.

More answers

I attempted to answer every question an author might have in my comprehensive book for authors. It’s a pretty cheap way to get your questions answered.

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