THE BLOG
10/28/2014 04:14 pm ET Updated Dec 28, 2014

Should You Write a Book for Your Business? Five Tips From a Ghostwriter

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Go to the business section in your library or at any bookstore--quite a few books there, right? Thirty years ago, that massive section was only one-fifth as large. Business books are, well, a brisk business today. More and more, establishing your credibility, platform, and expanding your potential for revenue means writing a book. Some (very few, actually) are able to turn their book into a business, successfully marketing their experience and brand in a tidy e-book or paperback. So how hard can it be?

Maybe you're thinking about writing a book for your business. Maybe you've gotten some good war stories over the years, or you want to package your unique marketing plan, leadership strategies, or entrepreneurial wisdom. If so, fantastic! But before you start hammering out your book and promoting it on your website, you might want to think about a few things first.

1. Can you write? Yes? Great, that means you're either exceptional or a liar.

However, maybe you're the type of person who has all sorts of good ideas, but just can't get them down on paper. Or, like most busy professionals, you can't dedicate four hours exclusively to writing every day for the next six to twelve months. If that's the case, you're going to be using a ghostwriter.

Feels like cheating? Look again at that business section in the library or bookstore. Chances are, many of those authors had "help" from a ghostwriter. Sometimes, a ghostwriter will be credited as an "editor" or "with," but most of the time, someone else put words to paper, organized, edited, and proofread the "author's" material. Not to worry, though, using a ghostwriter means you're in good company. Ted Sorensen ghosted much of J.F.K.'s Profiles in Courage, and next time you're singing "A Boy Named Sue," you're actually singing a song by Shel Silverstein.

2. What's it worth to you? Let's say the toilet is leaking and you need a plumber, stat. After calling a couple of plumbers, you are overwhelmed--everyone tells you that this is going to cost at least several hundred dollars! You decide to call one more plumber, who says that she can do it for $10.

If you aren't completely out of your mind, this should seem pretty suspicious to you. Ten bucks may sound like a great deal, but plumbing and writing are not that different: you get what you pay for. When you start looking for a writer, there will be no shortage of people who will say that they can write you a full-length book for a pittance. But writing is a professional service, and any writer worth his or her salt is going to charge professional prices.

Look at it another way--a good book, done well, can take your business to the next level. Want bigger clients? Want to be recognized as a leader in your industry? Then treat your book as an investment, just like you would your employees, technology, and office space.

3. Do you have enough to write about? You've got great ideas and a unique perspective, but is it enough for a book?

That depends. The best way to determine this is to sketch out what you want to say. How many chapters will there be? What is the purpose of your book? What should readers get out of this? What will you cover in each chapter?

If you're struggling to get at least ten chapters outlined, you may want to reconsider. Granted, there are ways to "fluff" out content--you can get snippets of interviews from other industry leaders, include interesting case studies, or use a really big font (just kidding). But no matter what, a good book should deliver good content to your readers, and readers can usually tell when a book is a worth the price or a rip-off.

4. Are you tough enough? Just like a cheap writer, beware the fast writer. The same writers who are willing to write your book for next-to-nothing are also likely to promise you that they can deliver a full-length book in two weeks.

Lies. Writing is not a 100-yard dash. It's a marathon. Generally speaking, a book takes at least four months to write, sometimes the better part of a year. Good writing takes time; ideas need time to develop, mistakes need to be caught. You will undoubtedly be going over multiple revisions with your writer, which takes even more time.

A good writing project should be motivated by some urgency. Typically, if you want to get your book out within the next year, that's a good amount of pressure. But like Warren Buffett said, you can't produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant. Books are like babies--they need some time to grow and mature before they have something to say.

5. Does it matter? When I work with clients for speechwriting or writing, I ask them a question--I call it my "Sphinx" question, because it stumps them every time. I ask my clients, "what is the one thing you want to communicate to your audience?" Stunned silence. Even if they have lots of ideas and plenty of content, they almost always struggle to articulate the one, powerful message that makes them unique.

Look again at all those business books on the shelves. Maybe you own quite a few yourself. How are you going to stand out? Are you rehashing the same old stuff, or are you saying something that's new, different, or better than what's been said before?

More importantly, is this book motivated by your vanity, or is it going to serve a purpose? Remember that for most business books, the book itself is not going to make you money--it's the business that it may attract, the professional credibility it will build for you, and the platform it can develop.