Becoming an Author

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Are you a celebrity? If so, you’ll have no problem getting into the speaking business. There are plenty of well-known people that end up on the stages of large conferences, even when they’re not particularly good speakers. As detailed in this post, keynote speakers get paid for one of two things: your ability to deliver a powerful message or your ability to drive registration, or both. If you’re a celebrity, you’ve got the second one in the bag, and that’s enough to get booked.

But what if you’re not a celebrity? Well, you’re going to need something and being an author is a great start. Have you written a book? If not, I suggest you consider doing so. It’s not as difficult as you might think yet there’s no question that people treat you differently once you’ve accomplished the task. Let’s take a look.

When I first started approaching speakers bureaus, I got a very cold reception. I sent out seven packages and followed up on each one with a phone call. The people I spoke with were all polite but also very candid with the facts. Without a book or a good demo video, there was no way they could get me booked.

First, I want to point out the “or a good demo video” part. If you’re not an author but you have a killer demo video, you can definitely make progress in the speaking business. As detailed here LINK, an awesome demo video is the #1 thing you need to get started as a professional speaker. But let’s get back to the book.

Re-Purpose Your Content

I knew what I had to do. I needed to become an author. And it was funny because I had wanted to write a book my whole life and at one point, even wrote out 120 pages of content on a Word document but never pulled it all together. So I pulled that content out and took a look. No good. I had written that stuff back when I was in my early 20s and it definitely reflected the naïve perspectives I had at that time.

In the end, I found an even easier solution. In 2007, I had written and recorded a series of 21 podcasts about small business marketing. Desperate for cash, I later combined those podcasts (each about 20 minutes long) into seven CDs. I sold those CDs at my free speaking engagements.

That was an ah-ha moment for me. The exact same audio content was available on the iTunes Music Store as free podcasts but here I was selling it to different people for $15 per CD. If someone bought all seven, it cost $105. Meanwhile, they could’ve downloaded the exact same thing for free.

What was the learning point? Everybody accesses information differently. The resourceful people search Google and iTunes and YouTube and countless other places for the information they need. And in most cases, they can find it there. Almost all information is available for free somewhere, if you look hard enough. But other people don’t want to waste their time (or are simply less resourceful) and go straight to Amazon to buy the book.

Have Something to Sell

At the beginning, I felt badly about selling the CDs when I knew perfectly well that the information was also available free of charge, but that soon changed. The people who attended my speaking engagements wanted to buy something. It almost didn’t matter what it was. They wanted to take action! Not all of them, obviously, but usually at least 30% of the room wanted to take something home. If I didn’t have anything for them to buy, they would’ve been disappointed.

Seriously. You might not believe that but it’s true. Some people are actually much happier when they have taken a step – even by buying something – towards their goals.

This is an important learning point. You will see this for yourself when you start speaking. Be sure to have something – SOMETHING – to sell. I’m not talking about the expensive coaching programs common in platform speaking circuits. Instead, I’m talking about a CD or a book. If your keynote speech is insightful and impactful, some of your attendees will want to buy something and they will be happier if you have something to offer.

Constructing the Content

Anyway, by re-purposing my content, I was able to engage the resourceful iTunes users while simultaneously having something to sell my speaking audiences. Could I re-purpose the content a third time for a book? Each CD was about one hour long – 60 minutes – and I speak at a rate of approximately 150 words per minute. That meant that each CD was about 9,000 words long, and all seven totaled about 63,000 words. That’s a book! Actually, that’s a pretty big book!!

The plan was simple. Write an introduction and a conclusion, then go through the whole thing to weave in some basic continuity and BANG, I would have my book. And that’s exactly what I did. So I ended up with 21 free podcasts, seven CDs and one book, all with the exact same content. Amazing.

By the way, I was always very up front about the overlap. I never tried to deceive anyone. In some cases, I would even explain exactly what I did to a given audience and people would still want to buy the book at the end, even knowing that they could download the podcasts for free.

People rarely buy a book simply for the information. Instead, they buy the book as a memento of the information. They want something to put on their shelf. They want a reminder of the information you shared. I read about a study once (but don’t remember the source) that claimed that only 19% of book buyers ever actually read the book. It’s only a memento.

Once I finished compiling the chapters along with my new introduction and conclusion, I formatted the recycled content and uploaded it to Lulu (in PDF format) along with a cover graphic (in TIFF format). My job was done. Six weeks later, the book was available on Amazon and I was officially an author.

Becoming an Author

The funny thing about becoming an author is that you only do it once. Whether you write one book or a dozen, you only become an author once. And when you’ve accomplished it, you’re an author for the rest of your life! In a way, writing that first book is the best deal of all. You get a lifetime of benefits for that initial effort. Meanwhile, writing additional books does little to improve your status.

The interesting thing is that people do treat you differently. Arguably, they probably shouldn’t but they do. Now, just to be clear, your friends don’t treat you differently, at least mine didn’t. It’s the people you meet for the first time. When you’re introduced as an author, they immediately treat you differently. They treat you with a certain amount of respect. It’s fun!

Starting from Scratch

I had two different options for slamming out a book on the fly. I could’ve polished the content I wrote in my early 20s but instead decided to repurpose the content on my CDs. But what if I had neither of those options? I soon discovered, while writing what would eventually become my second book, that the task of actually writing a book isn’t as daunting as I thought.

My speaking career was progressing but at an extremely slow pace. I was still speaking exclusively in the free circuit LINK and was scrambling to pay my bills each month. Every morning, while at the gym, I would brainstorm strategies to generate additional revenue. Building an email list was a great option because it would not only allow me to one day sell my own stuff but it would also allow me to promote other people’s products and earn affiliate commissions as a result.

I decided to sign up for an aWeber account and create a 52-week email course that people could subscribe to on my website. Once subscribed, they would receive one email each week for a full year. But did I have to write out all 52 emails before launching the program? No way! I wanted to start as quickly as possible so I did just enough to make it work.

Building an Email List

I created an outline for the entire course, identifying the topic each email would cover. I then wrote out the first two emails and launched the program. I signed up with my own email address right away so I was my own first subscriber. And from that point on, I just had to stay in front of myself to keep the program seamless.

Once confirmed, subscribers would receive the first email right away. The second email would come seven days later and the third would come seven days after that. So I had 13 days to write the third email and was forced to write at least one email every seven days thereafter.

I didn’t follow an even schedule. When I would finally get down to writing the emails, I would pump out five or six of them all at once, allowing me to relax for another month before needing to write more. But eventually, I would have to get back to it and write another batch. I wrote the last email just three days before I was due to receive it. But then, it was finally done. It had taken a full year but I was left with 52 emails and the makings of my second book.

The email course was getting great reviews. The subscribers, although less than I was hoping for, seemed to really love the content. On a number of occasions, I got replies from subscribers suggesting I compile the weekly tips into a book. Yet again, I was about to re-purpose my content. At this point, ironically, the only content I had ever written for the purposes of being a book (the stuff I wrote in my early 20s) was the same content that never made it to that format.

Those 52 weekly email tips became my second book. It was called “Webify Your Business” and had 60 chapters and each one had a step-by-step action guide at the end. The chapters were short because they were all previously emails, and that format was a big hit. People loved the short concise chapters and the to-do lists at the end were perfect.

Create an Outline

The point is that writing a book is a process. In my case, I didn’t realize I was writing a book but the process was the same. I created a detailed outline first and then hammered out the actual writing whenever I had time for it. The outline is, by far, the most important part. Allocate an hour every day for a week and get your topics organized. After that, the writing is fairly easy.

If you’re anything like me, when you first get started, you will only have a few broad topics you’d like to cover. But when you come back to it the next day, you’ll break those larger topics down into a bunch of smaller sub-topics. By the third day, you’ll start moving things around and adding even more details under each heading. And by the end of the week, you’ll end up with a three or four-page outline with every single topic listed in bullet point format.

Writing by the Numbers

When I sit down to write, I can focus for about three hours before my brain turns to jelly. And if I’m writing from a detailed outline, I can usually pump out about 1,000 words per hour, so that’s about 3,000 words per sitting. A solid book has about 60,000 words in it so 20 sittings would do the trick. 20 sittings! That’s not that many. Hypothetically, if you did one session each day from Monday to Friday, you’d be done in a single month!

For me, writing 52 weekly tips (which later became chapters) took an entire year but that’s because it didn’t need to be done any sooner. I didn’t realize at the time that my efforts would eventually become my second book. If I had known that, I would’ve allocated more time to get it done sooner.

If you want to become an author, get your outline done first. It’s a smaller task and will make the rest of the process infinitely easier. Your outline should be at least three or four pages long including detailed breakdowns of every single chapter. Once that’s done, the rest becomes manageable.

One more thing: always give homework! Everybody is happier when you give homework. It’s true. I learned this from my implementation checklists. That was the single best thing I did in the book. People absolutely love the checklists. And sometimes, when they ask me to sign their books, I see that they even put little check marks in the boxes. It’s awesome! So whatever you do, always give your readers homework.

Getting a National Publisher

Finishing the story, Webify Your Business was self-published just like my first book. But it did quite well so I eventually had the opportunity to essentially re-release the book with John Wiley & Sons, Inc., a national publisher. I wanted to use the same title but they wouldn’t allow it, so we ended up with “Marketing Shortcuts for the Self-Employed”.

I deleted six chapters that were out-of-date and added 26 new chapters, mostly about social media. So the new book had a total of 80 chapters! Also, since it had a different title, it looked like I had now written three books when, in fact, I had only written two. And as you now know, neither of those books were written with the intention of writing a book.

Without consciously writing a single book, I had three titles to my name!

I already have plans for my fourth book. The outline is already eight pages long. It still needs to be organized and structured but the basic concept is there. This will be my first deliberate attempt at writing a book (since my 20s, that is) and I can’t wait.

Support Your Speaking Topics

Your books play a major role in your speaking career. The source of your credibility comes directly from your books, but only if the topic is the same or similar. Nobody will hire you as a speaker about leadership if your books are about knitting. Make sure the topic (and title) of your book supports your speaking topics. Ideally, your book title and speaking title should be the same.

Robert “Waldo” Waldman is a professional speaker. His book is called “Never Fly Solo” and his primary speaking topic has the same title. Simon Sinek is another professional speaker. His book is called “Start with Why” and his speaking topic has the same title. From a branding perspective, it really works well.

This also means that you can channel your speaking career in any direction you like, just by writing a new book with the title you’d like to cover. My fourth book will be called “Fail Your Way to Success” and I will launch a matching speaking program at the same time. It will have an inspirational theme and will position me for a broader corporate audience. I’m psyched.

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