This post was written by Byron Chen. Byron is a Marine Corps Veteran, a podcaster, an entrepreneur, and the author of Barracks To Boardrooms: Negotiating Your Salary After Serving In The Military. He is a regular contributor to Command Your Business. Check out my latest podcast episode with Byron at the end of the article.
For any entrepreneurs out there considering publishing a book, a word of caution. It IS as difficult as starting your own business. Tons of self doubt, heaps of criticism, and many hours alone, figuring out how you’re going to make it all work. But I suspect like many others out there, writing a book is on your to do list, just like becoming an entrepreneur. And for the truly committed, or slightly mad, there is no option but to finish. So after putting together my first non-fiction book, I wanted to write this to help you figure out how to give yourself the best chance of success. Surprisingly, it’s similar to starting your own business.
Where to start?
When I started out on this self-publishing journey just under a year ago, I had no idea what I was going to write about. I just knew I was going to finish. So how did I start? By googling how to write a book, of course. Let me say that the tools and resources available online nowadays are as good as any education you could get at a traditional institution. You don’t need an MBA to start a business. And you don’t need an MFA to write a book. By the time I was done researching, I had found more than enough resources, including a mastermind group, an online course, and a mentor. All of these are especially important not to overlook. Gone are the days when a writer had to type away in a dark cabin out in the woods. You have support and a wealth of knowledge out there. Take advantage of it.
My next few tips concern writing non-fiction books for the most part. While I believe the tips could apply to fiction, it is not my area of experience. Perhaps with my next book I’ll test the same strategies to see.
So what to write about?
I wanted to write about something where I could add value. Notice, this is very different than writing about an area where I had expertise. That term is given way too much weight. Coming from an entrepreneur’s perspective, I wanted to help others first. If I could solve someone else’s problem, in book form, then I would find success in the people who download and buy my book for helping them. So I looked at my audience. I podcast over at SuccessVets.com, a site where I provide resources to veterans leaving the military. By looking over old blog posts and podcast episodes, I saw that my most commented and shared resources were about salary negotiation. There were other topics that I looked at, of course. But after looking at the competition, I felt that this was the area that I could provide the most value. I had a decent amount of experience in negotiation, I could teach it in a new way, and I had an audience that had been overlooked by other books. So this was the topic that I decided to write about.
My Book MVP
The next entrepreneurial concept I applied to writing this book was quick and constant iteration. I brought in friends and other writers (anybody I could get), to start looking at my writing before a single chapter was completed. I want to make sure that what I was writing was helpful and, of course, readable. Doing this early on, rather than waiting until my manuscript was finished, helped me make key decisions early on in the process. While it was sometimes difficult to hear critical feedback on such a raw product, it helped me define the structure, scope, and even sales strategy for the book.
All throughout the process, I never had a title or cover in mind for the book. The content of the book and how helpful it was would be where people got value. But what caught their attention and held their interest would be the title and cover. These are not writing problems. These are marketing problems. And to understand the market, I had to test. I had a virtual assistant make some mock covers and come up with several catchy titles. I whittled this list down with feedback from people within my network. And then I used Google and Facebook ads to test to a market that didn’t know me, to see which covers and ideas got the most clicks. I figured this would be a good measure of which one was most effective.
Getting the word out on your business is just as critical as building a great business. If nobody knows about it, nobody buys your product or service. This was a mistake I had learned from my other entrepreneurial endeavors, and I was going to try my hardest to make sure I didn’t make this mistake with the book. When I finished writing, I didn’t just launch it and hope for the best. I shifted from writing and editing to a big marketing and sales push. I wrote articles for sites (like this one, which I am extremely grateful for), getting on podcasts for interviews, and garnering press for the book. If I could do it all over, I would have budgeted more time for marketing. There aren’t enough people that you can tell about your projects that you hope to launch successfully.
There were moments throughout the whole process that I wanted to give up. I felt the same self doubts that hit most entrepreneurs. Will my idea work? What am I doing? Who was I to think that I could accomplish this? But I was going to get this book out there. That’s the only true way to validate what I was doing. Come this January, this book is launching, whether I’m ready or not.
Looking back, the process was difficult, overwhelming, and exhilarating. As an entrepreneur, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you’re looking for help with negotiating your salary, check out Barracks To Boardrooms: Negotiating Your Salary After Serving In The Military, launching January 11th. For that week only, it will be available for free download on Amazon.