Wednesday, January 9, 2019

25 Rules for Writing a Book

1. Pick a topic that is bigger than you are capable of handling, something like the history of entrepreneurship in America.

2. Choose the wrong architecture for the book.  This is important because, while you think you're going to Mars, you'll actually be heading for Uranus.

3. Do lots of time-consuming primary research that you will throw away later.

4. Stop a year into the research process to write another book about, say, the history of modern air conditioning.

5. Realize that some of what you learned writing the other book could be used for the book you were already writing, but in the middle section.  So, research and write the middle section of your book.  And, as you put the cart before the horse, carefully maintain the wrong architecture.


6. Now research and write the first section of the book.

7. After writing the first section, realize that it's better than the second section, so rewrite the second section.  Be sure to maintain the wrong architecture.

8. Stop everything again and co-author a third book, this one about food waste and climate change.

9. Continue your first book.  Try to remember what you were working on.

10. Send parts of your book to a few friends and business school associates.  They will hate it.  One asks, "What's the promise to the reader?"

11.  Google "promise to the reader."   Stop blogging.  Stop returning phone calls.  Eat only bread and water.  Pretend you are launching a company and you just discovered that the customer hates your product.

12.  Read about Vietnam.  Decide that you are now mired in a personal Vietnam.

13. Go to a New Year's party and accidentally meet a fantastic freelance editor.  Begin a rewrite of the first two sections with her help. Be amazed when some of the text turns into English.  Stop using so many semicolons.  And adjectives.  And adverbs. Adopt the Oxford comma.  Decide, like Nixon, that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

14. Be sure to maintain the wrong book architecture.

15. Begin the third section, which is no longer historical but involves interviewing living entrepreneurs.  Find interesting stories and then cold-contact the entrepreneur using the worst networking tool known to humanity, LinkedIn.  (About half will respond, the good half.)  Tell them you do not have a publisher yet and this all may be a waste of time, but ask if you could you please interview them.  About half of the half agree, the good quarter.

16. Finish the hat, which is now 650 pages.

17. Begin shopping the manuscript to publishers.  Hear: "Why on earth would you write 650 pages without a contract?"  Hear: "Business readers don't read long books." Hear: "If your name is Stephen King or David McCullough, we'll look at 650 pages.  Otherwise, come back when it's at 300."

18. Find an enlightened, empathetic publisher who says, "Wow, you have two books: a history book with business stuff, and a business book with history stuff.  Which do you want to publish?"  They recommend the latter.

19.  Smartly choose the latter, a book written for entrepreneurs with lots of interesting business history. Make a new promise to the reader.  Realize that the promise means you need a whole other architecture for the book.  Realize you have written 300 pages that you don't need.  Realize you have two years of research that you may never use.  Go birding for a few days.  Take a picture of a Snowy Owl.  Feel slightly better.



20.  With the help of a second great editor, rearchitect and rewrite the book.  Decide that you will repurpose all deleted sections on a new website you are going to build to support the book.

21. Google "repurpose."

22. Get stuck in the first hour trying to build a Wordpress web site.

23. Choose a title for your twice interrupted, thrice rewritten, newly rearchitected and freshly repromised-to-the-reader book, a title worthy of an internet search engine: A Nation of Entrepreneurs: Innovation and Community in America from the Cotton Gin to Hamilton.  Assume, like everything else about the book, that this title might change.

24. Target fall 2019 for release. Again, assume this might change.

25. Blog a list of 25 rules for writing a book.  Go birding.