Articles - 13th December 2019

What I learnt from writing my own book, and how I did it

Words by Lucy Werner
Illustration by Jon McCormack

No matter who I talk to, everyone seems to have a dream about writing a book. And when it comes to business books, every business owner’s ears prick up when I say I am writing a business book, with lots of questions on how I did it. I was very lucky in how I got my book deal and I’m going to share my learnings on the whole process. But before I go into the what and how’s, I would like to begin with the why. 

 

My why? 

I wanted to pivot my business away from a traditional agency model and back into a lean freelance model. Scaling up with other freelancers if a big project I liked appeared, but day-to-day focusing on supporting as many other freelancers, small business owners, entrepreneurs and startups to learn how to do DIY PR for themselves and changing my service offering to give me more flexibility with one small person and a second on the horizon. 

Problem was, no-one knew who I was, particularly in my target market, so my book was a double whammy for me. Firstly, it was a way to help me reach a new audience and show them I knew my stuff and promoting my own book would act as a calling card for how I can walk my own talk when it comes to publicity, therefore providing a living example of how my audience could copy me.

 

Build my audience

So, as mentioned above, I didn’t have a huge audience to speak of. I had worked with over 100 entrepreneurs as part of my own business, but my target market didn’t know who I was. I knew that I had to start implementing an audience growth strategy so that when the book was finally ready, I had someone to sell it to.

I think I definitely underestimated just how much work growing an audience is. And it’s a risk because whilst you nurture your community you are not getting paid. You are hoping it pays off in the long-term but it’s a really long game. 

I did this by overhauling my branding and creating a distinct persona for my socials. I started to pitch to host panels, be a panelist or teach publicity workshops as nothing beats real-life connections in my opinion. I also started showing up on my socials every day giving out tonnes of free advice and insight into my own small biz journey to connect with my audience. 

 

Getting the book deal

I didn’t know the first thing about getting a book deal. When I google business book experts Alison kept coming up top, so I figured she was the gal for me. So I listened to Alison Jones’ Extraordinary Business Book Club Podcast 2018 end of year-round-up. In this episode, Alison gave lots of advice on how to write a book and then plugged her own book proposal course. It meant that after two weeks I would have a book proposal that I could use to send out to publishers. As it turned out, I didn’t have to pitch to publishers, because Alison offered me a publishing contract at the end of the course, but she also tightened my book proposal gave me contact names and addresses of relevant publishers that she thought might take my book if I didn’t want to go with her. Essentially, you either need an agent or you need a tight proposal.

What your book proposal should include could be a whole article in itself but mine included a synopsis, a glimpse at the market to show what was similar, who my target audience was and how mine was different. How I planned to market the book was also a key part of the document and in fact, Alison later told me, it was my launch strategy that made her want to commission me. 

 

Ask for help for now and for later

I might be a publicity expert, but I had never marketed a business book before and I knew that you needed to hit bestseller status on Amazon if you wanted your book to come up in organic searches and generate broader kudos and sales. Amazon can make or break new authors by recommending them/putting them up higher in the search algorithm. And you don’t want all your pre-sales to hit in one go. It’s a heady balance of some pre-sales and then you need sales to flood in on the week of launch. I recruited a crew of people online, simply by asking for help. They are the launch team that are going to help me spread assets/push people to buy in launch week to help me hit bestseller status. 

 

Time and organisation 

I had an A4 pad with dividers where every idea I had about the book, be it for marketing, contributors, guest blog posts, endorsers, whatever it was went into that notepad. 

I also have two spreadsheets I couldn’t live without:

  1. For the marketing and publicity, I have a spreadsheet that documents all the coverage/events/podcasts that have come up to promote the book. It has a list of all the pending opportunities and their status. It is also a contact list of everyone I’ve pitched to, as well as my list of support crew. 
  2. The other spreadsheet was every single section of my book broken down by how many words it would be, who I would invite to contribute in that section and is a complete map of what the end book would look like. Again. I’d be lost without it.

 

The writing processes

Actually sitting down and writing it was almost the easiest part, especially when I had done all the mapping out work as mentioned above. I have spent at least one day a week working on the book for the whole of this year, I was “lucky” that I was due to give birth smack back in the middle of the year as it was a fixed deadline that I couldn’t move so had to finish my first draft. After this, a developing editor gives you feedback on how to sharpen and restructure and I had a month to rewrite with these suggestions. Then, you have a copy editor come and check any queries, typos, flag any legal issues and I had to seek approval from the 50 contributors who had snippets in the book. There were a few final rounds of final proofing that meant I sort of hated even looking at it by the end. Even now, I can’t bear to actually look inside for fear of finding a mistake. 

The biggest learning I’ve had from the whole experience is just how much time it would take, and I don’t just mean writing it. I mean even to grow my own profile to support the book is hard work. I’ve been doing a lot of book promotion on maternity leave and people keep saying to me “Gosh you are doing so much” but I’m not actually getting paid, it’s not “real” work. Writing guest posts, appearing at events, turning up for podcasts, it is very time-consuming. I spent one day a week writing the book and the equivalent of two days a week doing promotion ready for next year for the last three months.  My maternity leave meant that I had already banked to not be working ‘In’ my business and for me that was the perfect time to work ‘On’ the book and my broader business.

The subscriber numbers have rocketed, the social media audience has swollen but right now I’m sat in the middle of the see-saw hoping it will tip up for me in 2020 and it remains to be seen if that gamble has paid off. The signs are looking good though, I’ve already had offers of paid work for writing and lecturing which is exactly what I wanted the book to help me do. Let’s just see if I can actually help anyone hype themselves.

Lucy Werner is author of Hype Yourself: A no-nonsense DIY PR toolkit for small businesses is available to purchase now for £14.99. Official publishing day is January 9th. She is also the founder of The Wern, a PR & design consultancy for startups. 

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