You know that you want to write a book.
You know that you know enough to write a book.
What you don’t know is how to actually write a book.
Well, that’s where I come in.
I love reading business books. I love writing business books. I love ghostwriting other people’s business books.
It might sound strange, I know. Most people I know hate reading business books. In fact, Forbes editor Rich Karlgaard once wrote,
“Most business books are big fat bores, except for those that are skinny bores–those trite little tomes involving whales and cheese and lessons learned from kindergarten. Unless I know the author personally, I won’t read a business book. If I do know the sucker, I like to drop the book on the pavement–in his presence–and back my car over it. I spent too many years reading such piffle, underlining and highlighting “salient” points, taking notes and promptly forgetting everything I’d read within a week. Lessons from business books never stick.”
But business books don’t have to be awful.
In fact…they can be amazing.
I’ve had the privilege to have a hand in books like these that have seriously affected people’s lives:
By Daniel on January 17, 2018
Format: Kindle Edition
This is one of the most inspiring business books I’ve ever read and a particularly good read for women – of any age, race, or profession. No matter where your life has sat on the spectrum of oppression – from free of discrimination to thoroughly oppressed and ridiculed – you will find a story or nugget of truth that somehow resembles your experience of life as a woman. Dr. Patti Fletcher has a soul ignited with the fire of her mission: to pave the way toward gender equity so our daughters and granddaughters can have an easier road. Not only is her story and interviews with others inspiring, but also Fletcher truly equips you with the guiding tools you need to better understand the world of business so you can conquer it. All in all, this book earns five stars from me, and I hope to follow Fletcher’s work in the future and continue to see what barriers she can tear down for the benefit of others.
By IGF on January 17, 2018
Format: Kindle Edition
What a great read! Fletcher gives us a fascinating glimpse into women’s career trajectories with this and inspirational quotes along the way. She clearly knows her stuff: research and data (hers and others’) are in abundance and provide the foundation for the book, but she keeps the narrative moving so briskly that if never gets dry or academic. On the contrary, Disrupters is a practical handbook for women looking to take their next professional step – whatever that may be.
I love the way Fletcher interviews real women entrepreneurs; she shoots straight from the hip and gets no-holds-barred answers. How often do we get front row seats to female executive’s who work lives, their failures and successes and lessons learned, all in one place?? If you want to be inspired and excited to “break the mood”, read Disruptors. You’ll be swept up in the energy, cantor, and feminist voice!
By Graham Abraham on March 17, 2018
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned I am an introvert. It wasn’t until I read “The Introvert’s Edge” that I realised here was the reason I had not beed successful in my live previous attempts at business. It wasn’t something from my deep dark past after all. I simply sucked at sales. After reading Matthew’s book – several times, and speaking with him, finally I had a way forward. Ideas began to spring forth, my mind began to churn around stories – a vital part of the introvert’s sales arsenal. The Frankendraft (borrowed) of my sales script, NOT someone else’s, was coming into being. If like me, you’re an introvert and think…..? You cannot sell, get this book! Get the audio version as well. Listen to it wherever you go. I do. It will totally change your perspective on your supposed non-ability to sell.
February 27, 2018
Effective leadership saves lives and prevents environmental damage by giving captains and shipping executives the tools they need to manage men and women who work at sea… and this book is chock full of quality leadership tools and principles. The IMO should require a book be carried aboard every-ship and should be carried in the libraries of every shipping company. -Captain John Konrad, Author of Fire on the Horizon: The Untold Story go the Gulf Oil Disaster
These are business books we’re talking about here.
Yes, business books can be life changing.
Now: what about yours?
Let’s Make a Dent in the Universe
With age comes wisdom. These days, I feel I understand what Jobs meant. There is so much to do in the world, so much to change, so much to make better…at some point, it seems overwhelming. How can one person truly hope to change anything?
Changing the world does seem impossible. But making a dent in it somewhere…that seems like something somebody could do.
That’s the kind of business book you want to write.
You want more than just “a 21st-century business card,” as so many have taken to calling business books.
While it would be great if it became a New York Times bestseller, you’re not in it for the money.
(Which is a good thing, because you’re not going to be making much from book royalties.)
While it’d be cool to see some of your experiences captured on paper, you’re not looking to write a legacy book.
You want a book that will inform, inspire, and influence. You want more than just a run-of-the-mill business book–you want a book that could change someone’s life.
You’ve Found a Ghostwriter Who Actually Enjoys (Loves?) the Craft of Business Books
There are some people out there satisfied with taking a bunch of their blog posts, dumping them into one big document, getting a $5 cover, throwing it up on Amazon, and, “Wow, look at me: I’ve got a business book!”
I don’t diminish their accomplishment. It takes courage to do that. And if they play their cards right, they can leverage their publication into some great opportunities.
This is not that kind of company.
I have business authors on my shelves whose books have stood the test of time.
These are business classics, not just because they contain great ideas, but because the authors cared about what they were creating. They crafted something wonderful–something that would last.
And they have.
That’s the kind of book you want to write.
You’re Smart. You Can Write. We’re All Busy.
Here’s the Real Reason You Haven’t Written Your Book Yet.
Knowing enough to write a book isn’t usually my authors’ challenge (though some of them have their own doubts). In fact, one of the first things I have to do is help my authors see that they’re actually wrestling with two or even three books. In fact, we often have to decide which one to write first!
I’ll bet you’re probably a decent writer. Perhaps even an accomplished one. Most of my authors are. They’ve written doctoral dissertations, federal legal opinions, award-winning articles, industry-leading trade publications, economic forecasts, and even other business books.
Clearly, writing isn’t the main reason they come to me.
It’s not time, either. Sure, they’re busy. They have seven-, eight-, and nine-figure businesses doing work with the likes of the International Monetary Fund, NASA, Apple, JPL, Tesla, Apple, Amazon, GE, Pixar, Lucas Arts, the Red Cross, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Salesforce, the DoD, Mars, EY, McKinsey, Commerz Bank, Cisco, SAP, Facebook, Google, and Reddit. “Busy” doesn’t begin to describe their days.
They don’t come to me because they “don’t have time to write it.”
How Do You Get Your Book Out of Your Head and Onto Paper?!
“Tom” (not his real name, of course) is a perfect example of the business leaders who come to me. He runs a boutique consulting firm whose analysts work with some of the biggest companies on the Fortune 500.
When we first spoke, he said, “Derek, I know how to write. I write all the time. Reports, white papers, analysis findings, training summaries—you name it. But when it comes to writing this @&%! book, I just sit there looking at the screen. It’s like my mind just goes blank.”
He was honestly relieved when I told him that he’s in the same boat as virtually every other business author I’ve worked with.
Tom’s first problem: he tried to write his book the hard way
When first-time writers sit down at the keyboard, they try to go from blank screen to final product. They envision a hardbound book with a gorgeous cover and thick, print-worthy paper. They see themselves cracking it open for the first time and inhaling that new-book smell. The pages flutter open to the beginning: “Chapter I.”
They go through the book in their fantasy world, hearing their brilliance come through the words on every page. They impart sage wisdom and the crucial learning that their readers need and want.
Then they open their eyes, look at the computer screen, and have no idea where to start.
How ironic: you know enough to write a book…but how do you actually write it?!
Here’s something even more maddening I’ve discovered: you don’t begin writing a book by actually writing the book
They try to create a finished product from the start.
The process of creation is inherently chaotic. Professional artists know this. That’s why painters create sketches and sculptors create models (a maquette or bozzetto) before creating the full-scale work of art.
While business books may not be on the same level as the Mona Lisa, the creative process is the same: sometimes you just have to start somewhere before you can figure out where you’re going.
The great thing about writing (vs. painting and sculpting) is that you can easily edit your work.
(Kind of hard to put marble back on after chiseling.)
Instead of trying to create the perfect book from the beginning, Tom should have just written something—anything—to get going. He could always come back and change it later.
But the feeling that he had to get it right from the very beginning paralyzed him, like it does with everybody else.
(Don’t try to stare the page down; it doesn’t blink.)
The second problem Tom faced was that, unbeknownst to him, he was wrestling with two books at the same!
This is also pretty common among my authors. They know so much that they usually have enough material for two or even three different books.
When they try to write “the book,” they get frustrated and confused: “Should this go in here or not? I want to say this…but I want to say that, too! Why is this so hard!?”
Once we go through my discovery process, we identified the two books, then picked which one he needed to write now and which one he could write later.
As a side note, let me say this (and hear me well):
Business authors of the world:
You have permission to write more than one book.
So many business professionals try to cram everything they know into one book and it just comes out a jumbled mess. Don’t be that guy.
I tried to do with my own book in The Business Book Bible. Eventually, I found my sanity and cleaved off the material for what eventually became Why Ghostwriters Write It Better (forthcoming).
By focusing on writing business books—instead of how to write a business and how to work with a business book ghostwriter—each of the respective works was more focused, more relevant to their respective audiences, and stronger for the resulting editing.
Pick the book you need to write first, and shelve all the other material for another day.
Who Are You Writing For?
The #1 question you have to answer as a business author:
“Who is my one reader?”
I can’t stress it enough: this is the most critical issue you have to decide on.
Everything—from the title to the content to the font choice—hinges on the answer to that question.
The scary thing is: I have yet to work with an author who knew the answer.
They thought they were writing for one audience, but after we got down into the weeds, we realized that their content, their message, their focus, their tone was all aimed at someone else.
In Tom’s case, his book was ostensibly written for middle managers, but after digging into his material, I pointed out that it was really for front-line employees. That is, one step below who he thought he was writing for.
Another author had a slightly different twist on this problem. When Dr. Karin Stumpf came to me, she intended to write a management book for her consulting clients. About four months into the project, I said, “Karin, after all the conversations we’ve had…I really think you’re writing a leadership book here”—a subtle but distinct difference.
After a few rounds of discussions and some deep thought, she came to the same conclusion. We retooled the manuscript, worked in some new material, and voila!: Leading Business Change was published by Productivity Press (an imprint of academic publisher Taylor & Francis).
So how do I magically navigate all these authors’ challenges?
How do I sift and sort through years of experience, all their stories, all their ideas for the masterpiece to emerge with a clean manuscript?
Is it some sort of superpower? The ghost equivalent of x-ray vision?
I’m good (okay, if I’m being completely honest, I’m really good) at extracting abstract principles and processes from a mountain of transcribed confusion.
Also, I write really
But even with those capabilities, the first couple of books I ghosted were like pulling teeth. (Thank goodness I had—and have—wonderful authors who’re committed to creating a great book, no matter what it takes.)
No, it took me a couple of early clients and a lot of analysis before I stumbled upon my easy and natural 5-step process for writing business books.
My Easy and Natural 5-Step Process For Writing Books
That is, they would talk and talk and talk—with me thoughtfully listening and prompting as necessary—while we explored one idea or chased an idea down the rabbit hole. I’d then send all those audio files to my transcriptionist in Kansas.
At the end of a few weeks’ worth of conversations, I’d have a mountain of raw material to work from. The bones of their book were there before me (literally in black and white) but not in any particular order.
This is where I did my magic. I printed everything out and went through the pile of papers, sifting and sorting, stacking and restacking, looking for themes, hidden gems, overlooked points, uncovered threads of logic, and unconnected cause-and-effect until I emerged from the mess bearing “the Blueprint”: the working document that identified:
- the One Reader (and maybe the hidden audience)
- the Real Problem
- the authority angle
- the theme and book hook
- the author’s unique branding buzzwords
- how to position the book upfront
- how to end with a natural call-to-action
- how to subtly yet substantially establish the author’s credentials
- how to align the book with the author’s larger life and business plans
- how to win the trust of the reader
(In case you’re counting, that’s just Step 2.)
Only after we’d done all our homework and figured out what we’re writing and to whom we’re writing did we actually start writing.
That’s when we move on to Step 3
This is where I ghosted the first chapter, sent it to Tom, let him read it, got on the phone, got his feedback, went through everything he liked and didn’t like, everything that sounded like him or not, all the new stories and ideas that reading the chapter spurred, etc., etc., etc.
I collected all his feedback and then ghosted chapter two. Then we did it all over again.
With each chapter’s feedback, I got a better sense of Tom’s voice. He got better clarity on what he really wanted to say. We both got a better feel for how the book was shaping up.
But don’t imagine that this was a glorious time where the heavens opened, the angels sang, and a light shined down from above.
No, as you read earlier, the act of creation is necessarily chaotic.
By the time we were finished, this first draft of the manuscript was anything but pretty. There were paragraphs bolted on in odd places, sentences sticking out here and there unnaturally, and stories stitched into places they had no business being.
That’s why I call this step “Frankendraft”—writing a book is less about painting the Mona Lisa and more about bringing Frankenstein to life.
Next, We Have to Make Frankendraft Pretty
As I revised or even rewrote all his material, I also edited it.
Every chapter, every paragraph, every line, every word.Not to check for typos (I hire proofreaders for that) but to make sure the the words flowed…that we folded a whole paragraph into a single sentence…that the words were powerful, compelling, and clear.
Have you ever edited yourself and found that just by moving one sentence around, the meaning of an entire paragraph became clearer? Have you proofread your own work and discovered that changing just one word changed the entire tone of the sentence?
That’s what real editing is about. Not just that the content is there and that it makes sense, but that it’s presented as powerfully and clearly as humanly possible.
That’s another challenge most first-time business authors face when they sit down to write: they get so hung up on presenting their content that they become paralyzed. A great ghostwriter knows that it’s going to sound rough in the beginning.
The poetry of prose comes not from great writing but from great editing.
After the major overhaul of the manuscript, I gave the manuscript to Tom to read over as well as share with a few select people: namely, his spouse and chief consultant.(Again, in case you’ve lost count, that’s only Step 4.)
Ghostwriting a Book
Having his wife and right-hand man read the manuscript did three things:
- It gave us a fresh pair of eyes to see what we’d become blind to after working with the manuscript for so long: some things that were obvious to us but not so to someone reading it cold.
- It gave Tom the confidence that we had created something great together. Doubt plagues every author, whether they work with a ghostwriter or not. Getting the seal of approval from his two most trusted sources made Tom breath easy and gave him the confidence that he was about to release something great into the world (instead of having to wait until his first reader came back to him with feedback).
- It gave me the creative space to step away from the manuscript for a couple of weeks so that I could come back to it with a somewhat fresh pair of eyes.
After getting the tweaks and tidbits back from his trusted readers, Tom and I put our heads together and decided what to change, what to delete, and what to bolster.
I made the changes, went through the whole manuscript again—editing yet again as I went—and then…
…we still weren’t finished.
No, after making all those changes, the manuscript had to go through yet another round of editing: proofreading.
You see, it is physiologically impossible to proofread your own work. It’s why you can read and re-read an email five times and still never catch a glaring typo. It’s not because you weren’t paying attention; it’s because your mind showed you what you expected to see.
I’m a professional writer. I know the rules of grammar. I know the Chicago Manual of Style. Despite my country upbringing and Southern accent, I do know correct English.
(By the way, there’s not really such a thing as “correct” English, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
Despite that, I’m still chagrined when my proofreader finds 3rd-grade mistakes in my copy.
That’s why you always—always—get a proofreader.
And then, if you’re really smart…you get another.
It’s why the major publishing houses put their authors’ manuscripts through two, three, or even four rounds of proofreading by separate, fresh proofreaders. I do the same.
That’s right. I like my author’s book to go through two independent proofreaders after I’m through with it.
Why Write a Business Thought Leadership Book?
Even though they’re shelved alongside business books, they really deserve their own genre.
You see, other books are primarily written as commercial products, just like iPads or suits or soup.
A customer buys it and, if they like it, they buy more of the same.
With other kinds of authors, they write a book, a reader buys it, and then the author writes another one and their readers buy the new book.
Thought leaders look at authoring differently.
A business author doesn’t count on their book’s sales; they count on what the book sells.
They know that they’re not going to recoup their investment in writing a book. While they’d love to sell a million copies—or at least break-even—that would just be the icing on the cake.
The real benefit in writing a thought leadership book is all the other things it does for their business.
In the study of business authors “The Business Impact of Writing a Book” conducted by Wellesley Hills Group (and cited by Forbes, Bloomberg, and BusinessWeek), the researchers found:
96% [of business authors ] said they did realize a significant positive impact on their businesses from writing a book and would recommend the practice. Most of them, however, said that the indirect benefits—generating more leads, closing more deals, charging higher fees, and getting better speaking engagements—far outweighed the direct benefits of book publishing.
Even those authors still reap these rewards.
Take Marc Levinson’s example from writing The Box, an engrossing history of the metal shipping container. (Yes, engrossing.) In the preface to the paperback edition, he wrote:
Early on in my work…I would proudly tell [people] I was writing a history of the shipping container. The result was invariably stunned silence…Eventually, I stopped talking about the book altogether…The response to the book’s publication in the spring of 2006, then, caught me by surprise…[The] invitations began to arrive. In New York, I shared a platform with architects using containers to design office buildings and portents. In Genoa, I spoke alongside an entrepreneur who turned containers into temporary art galleries, while in Santa Barbara, California, the local museum joined forces with a university to [address] ramifications of the container I have never considered…
That’s the power of a business book.
To Publish or Self-Publish?
Should you go the traditional publishing route or the self-publishing route?
In the old days (circa 1990), there was no question. If you wanted to be a legitimate, serious author, you had to get a legitimate, serious publisher.
Sure, you could print your own book…but it wouldn’t look like a real book.
Self-published books stuck out like sore thumbs and no serious bookstores or retailers would carry them. Self-published authors either handed out their pitiful books to family and friends or sold them out of the trunk of their car.
(The real history of self-publishing is much more engrossing, but that’s the Cliff’s Notes version.)
If you wanted your book to look like a real book, you needed a professional cover designer, a professional typesetter, a professional book printer and binder, professional editors, etc.—and all those professionals were gainfully employed by the industry. They didn’t need (nor were they probably allowed) to take on side-jobs for would-be authors.
Fast-forward to today.
The publishing industry has been turned on its head, many (most?) of those professionals are now subcontractors who can freelance, and the equipment needed to create a professional-looking book can be hired for a fraction of the price.
In other words, the barriers to entry have fallen like the Berlin Wall.
That’s both good and bad.
It’s good for those of us who have niche books whose market is too small for a publisher to justify (like my book, The Business Book Bible: its comparatively small readership can’t justify a full print run). It’s great for those who want to print a book with no interference from the publishing house. It’s great for authors whose books won’t be a commercial success (as many thought leadership books aren’t).
On the other hand, those barriers kept out the riffraff.
To be a published author meant that you had been vetted by a literary agent, an acquisitions editor, a publishing committee, and a host of other publishing professionals. It meant you were legit.
Nowadays, any lonely housewife can publish a cheesy romance novel.
(No offense to housewives or the romance genre. I have friends and loved ones who identify with both.)
Because of that, the overall quality of “published” material has gone down the drain. Self-published authors rush to Amazon believing they’ve written something worthy of sharing with the world…when in reality, it’s only a rough draft that holds the promise of one day being a decent book.
I don’t hold that against them. Nobody wants to believe they have an ugly baby. Unfortunately, they soon find out when nobody shows up at the baby shower.
If you’re not going to go the traditional publishing route, then you have to take on the responsibility of doing all the professional vetting that your publisher would.
On the other hand, you retain full control, all rights to your intellectual property, and you can design your book around your overall marketing platform vs. experiencing all the horror stories I could share with you about traditionally published authors with successful books who have absolutely sworn off publishers (and there’s a very long list).
I don’t advocate for either. Both have their pros and cons.
But basically (and I mean very basically), it boils down to this:
- Traditional publisher: less costs, less control, but greater credibility
- Self-publisher: higher costs, total control, but less credibility
Which is right for you?
The Art and Science of Writing a Business Book
Technology, international tax law, economics, data analytics, change methodology, business-to-business sales—regardless of the subject matter, I translate my authors’ knowledge into a smooth read that informs and intrigues at the same time.
But writing for the reader is only one side of the coin.
The other side is subtly weaving the author into the book, deftly referring to their accomplishments or experience without boasting or seeming self-centered. The goal is to artfully earn the reader’s trust and respect without turning them off or alienating them. People need to connect the ideas they read with a real person behind the words—not some disembodied narrator. For those executives to really listen to Tom, they had to feel like the author was really speaking to them.
Once you win your reader’s confidence, they can let down their defenses. Instead of challenging or arguing with your every assertion, they can relax and settle into a meaningful conversation with you and your ideas. But of course, they won’t do that until they believe you know what you’re talking about. Ergo, you must win their respect and admiration even as you win their trust.
That’s the art and science of business books.
Why Some Ego Is a Good Thing:
It’s More Than “Just a Book”
That’s actually a good thing.
If there weren’t, you wouldn’t invest the same amount of pride, passion, and priority in making sure your book represented you, your thoughts, your experience, and your life well.
Even business books are intensely personal, intimate works.
- It’s not a sales brochure that you’ll throw out when it’s a little outdated.
- It’s the cornerstone of your business for the next 5 to 10 years.
- More than that, though, it’s the tangible representation of the past 5, 10, or 20 years of your life.
- It’s something you can hold in your hands to say, “Yes—it’s been worth it.”
Frank Lloyd Wright could point to his buildings. Steve Jobs could point to the iPhone. Roman Polanski can point to Rosemary’s Baby.
But business owners—and especially those who work with intangible ideas—they don’t have those physical representations of their life’s work—
…until they write a book.
It’s more than “just a book.”
The 3 Criteria for Working with a Ghostwriter
In my ebook How Business Authors Work with Ghostwriters, I list the three primary criteria every author and ghostwriter have to go through to figure out if there’s the potential to work together.
- The project fits the ghostwriter
- The ghostwriter fits the budget
- The author fits the ghostwriter
The first and easiest checkpoint is to see if the author’s project is a fit for the ghostwriter.
For example, if you’re looking to write a book on vampire erotica…I am obviously not your man. Business fables, yes. Story-based thought leadership books, absolutely. But novels? I’d have to pass.
Second, you have to ask whether the ghostwriter fits in your budget for the project. I’ve had some wonderful people with great stories.
Alas and alack, I had to pass.
I understand that my fees don’t fit in everyone’s budget. It’s hard to justify hiring a specialized professional for a project unless you expect a substantial return on investment (or are so wealthy that you’re not looking for a return).
But honestly, those are the easy questions.
The harder issue is whether we’re right to work together at all.
When you hire a ghostwriter, you need someone that you “click” with—someone with whom you have a near-instant rapport. If our personalities mesh well together, then we can get past figuring how to work together and get down to the actual work.
When we both enjoy working together on the project, the book reflects it. That enthusiasm, that synchronicity, that—dare I say it—synergy flows into the ink on the page.
Basically, we’ve got to figure out if we like each other enough to spend hours and hours together over the next several months.
- You plan to do it yourself
- You don't feel like you're ready
- "Nobody's interested in reading a whole book about my life"
And you never will.
I have yet to work with an author who knew exactly how their book should read. Some have a better idea than others, but all need help figuring out what to write about and how to present it.
You’d be surprised at how many people you know who would love to know what you know.
But here’s the more important consideration: you should write your book for you.
Taking hours to go over the events of your life, your collected insights and experiences, and turning into something cohesive enough to read is one of the most incredible personal journeys you’ll ever have the privilege to walk.
Do it for yourself, if no one else.
It sounds crazy, I know, but I really do.
You see, before becoming a ghostwriter, my education was in economic development. I believe that the world can be a better place with better economic opportunities. One of the best ways to encourage an economy is through better commerce and business. Naturally, one of the best ways to help business leaders lead better is with great business books.
When I say that I believe business books can change the world…I mean it.
Don’t get me wrong: if you want to put together something quick that you can use in place of a business card, go for it. If collecting your best blog posts into a loosely organized structure is your vision for your book, that’s further than most people get. There is a place for something like that.
But I suspect you’re reading this because you don’t want just another run-of-the-mill business book.
You want an amazing book: something that “puts a dent in the universe,” as Steve Jobs once said. Something that people actually want to read. Something that can change the course of someone’s life or even redefine your industry.
And that is why you care that I love business books: because I see in them what they could be and how they could influence the world for the better.
You care that I love business books because it means I will love your book.
You’ll never get it written if we don’t start writing. It’s easy: all we have to do is set up a call.
You’ll tell me all about your book. I’ll tell you how the process works. We’ll sign on the dotted line and be writing your book before you know it.
Drop me a note, we’ll figure out a time, you’ll get all your questions answered, and we’ll be on our way.
The very best,