Imagine a friend asks you round for dinner. You arrive with your bottle of wine, looking forward to the evening ahead, but when you enter the kitchen you see a pile of raw ingredients piled up on the table.
‘Maybe they’re running late,’ you think, as you secretly resign yourself to filling up on breadsticks.
‘Dig in!’ your friend says. ‘I thought I’d skip the cooking bit and just give you these. It’s only what we’d have been eating anyway.’
Um, well, kind of. But it’s not exactly what you had in mind, is it?
Cooking a meal is like writing a book
When you first sit down to write a non fiction book, your head’s fizzing with all the things you want to say. Pearls of wisdom. Lessons learned. Actions your readers must take.
It’s understandable – there’s a lot to put across. But what you’re in danger of is thinking about the ingredients and not the meal.
Here’s what I mean.
Suppose you’re a business finance consultant who helps small companies make the most of their financial assets. You’re writing a book for small company directors with the aim of enhancing your credibility and gaining more attention for your consultancy.
To achieve this aim, you’re aware that your book needs to give your readers solid, actionable advice that will make a concrete difference to their businesses in the short term. Once they’ve seen the proof of the pudding, you’re hopeful that they’ll ask you for one-to-one advice.
So what will you say in your book? What are the points that you’ll make? These are your ‘ingredients’.
I’m not a finance expert so I’m taking a guess here, but I imagine that they might include the following:
- Tax planning
- Investment strategy
- Cost reduction
- Pay and reward
- Product pricing
And within each of these ingredients would be multiple sub-ingredients. For instance, tax planning might include sales forecasting, end-of-year planning, book-keeping, tax havens, and other elements. Again, I’m making this up because I’m pretty clueless about this stuff, but you get the idea.
The point is that you have a myriad of ingredients to include, but they’re still piled up on the table. You don’t yet have a ‘meal’.
Create a recipe
What many first-time authors do once they have their ingredients is to toss them into the pan and hope they magically produce a successful result.
As you’ll know if you’ve ever tried this, it’s rarely a good idea. You might be lucky and create the perfect book, but I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a risky strategy.
Instead, you need to work out how the points you want to make can be best put across. This means deciding what order they should go in and how they should be combined with one another.
So rather than writing down whatever comes to mind first, do some planning. It will save you hours of cutting and pasting later, or even throwing food in the bin.
All you need at first is a series of bullet points to remind you about what to write – nothing more.
Decide the order
Next you need to decide what order to add your ingredients in. Begin with where your readers are at now.
What’s the conversation they’re having with themselves about the big problem your book solves? How do they see it in their terms? Here are some examples:
- They never have enough cash available for them to grow their businesses
- They’re always caught out by the size of their annual tax return
- They suspect they’re being ripped off by their suppliers
- They know they could make more money, but don’t know how
This will dictate which point you make first. It will be the first ingredient to go into the pan.
For instance, if they see their issue as never having enough money to invest, this indicates a poor cashflow. What could be the reasons? These reasons will indicate the order the next few points should go in.
After that, based on what your readers now know, what are the subsequent learnings for them? What would make sense for them to understand next?
Carry on like this until you have a skeleton of all your points, broken up into main subject areas.
Review the results
Put your ingredients to one side and let them marinate overnight. Then take a fresh look and see if anything needs to change.
Ask yourself: does the flow of teachings make sense for your readers, given where they started from? Is there a consistent logic to what you’re putting across? Are you jumping around, backwards and forwards, or are you progressing steadily from one point to another?
When you’re happy, you’re ready to put everything into the pan in the correct order, cooking each item until it’s ready to be joined by another. When you’re finished, you’ll have a delicious meal that will be a million times more enjoyable than a bunch of raw ingredients randomly thrown together.
Not only that, but it will be digestible.
In other words (and in case you haven’t worked out the parallels), your book will be all the more engaging and easy to understand if you combine its component parts in a way that makes sense for your readers.
Ginny Carter is a bestselling ghostwriter of over 20 books, a book coach, and an award-winning author in her own right. Her guide to writing a standout business book, Your Business Your Book, takes you through the process of planning, writing and promoting your own book.