To write a book, adopt GTD

David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach to time and task management is simply unequaled. It is simple, understandable, and do-able. If you are trying to fit your book-writing into your schedule, you owe it to yourself to check him out. Lots of free resources, too. Here’s a piece from his latest email:

Getting Things Done
Image via Wikipedia

LET THE LISTS FALL WHERE THEY MAY

Probably the most universal how-to question for GTD neophytes is this: How do I keep track of all the things that you’re recommending I keep out of my head? What’s the best tool? The answer is pretty simple: however you most effectively can create and review lists.

You will need a good filing system, an inbox and a ubiquitous capture tool, a box for stuff to read, and maybe a tickler file; but for the most part, all you need are lists. But you’ll need several. And they need to be complete. And you’ll need a place to keep them.

For many newbies, the multiple lists they may see in any of our systems can overwhelm them at first glance. More

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Randy Ingermanson on the future of publishing

I love Randy’s writing. He is my favorite writing teacher for fiction. He invented something he called, “The Snowflake MethodRandy Ingermanson,” and even has software to back it up. It matches my structured approach to non-fiction.

I found his recent thoughts on the future of publishing on his blog. I agree with all of them, and many pertain to non-fiction as well as to fiction. Here’s a teaser and a link:

The Future of Publishing

The world of publishing is currently going through massive turmoil. Some people believe that the rise of e-books is going to be the biggest single change in publishing since Gutenberg’s invention of movable type.

I’m not a prophet nor a seer nor clairvoyant. But I do have my eyes open, and in this column, I give you my best predictions for the coming years. They may be right. They may be wrong. Either way, one thing seems certain: Huge changes are coming.

I offer these predictions to suggest ways you might plan for your future. I’m using them to plan for mine.

Prediction #1: E-books Will Surpass P-books Soon

I define a “p-book” to be a book printed on paper. Click here for more

Presented at SF Coach meeting last night

I spoke to the San Francisco Coach Federation monthly meeting last night, at the beautiful Handlery Hotel on Geary in San Francisco. It was a well-organized meeting, and well-attended–I think there were more than 25 in the room. I shared how I came up with my BookProgram method for writing good books quickly.

SF Coach

SF Coach meeting at Handlery in SF

There were lots of excellent questions. People seemed to “get” the idea that structure must precede content, and that content is actually the easy part of writing a book. I spoke about “the diamond is your friend,” mangling a baseball metaphor, but to good effect.

Several people said they’d like to talk about their book with me, so I sent them–and I send you–to http://joelorr.setster.com to make an appointment with me for a free strategy call. (By the way, if you’re tired of having to exchange 4 emails in order to set a phone appointment, I recommend checking Setster.com out. It publishes your calendar, sync’d from Outlook, Gmail, or whatever, showing just blocked periods for your appointments. People can choose from your available slots; you get an email and a text message, and can approve or deny the appointment.)

If you’d like to hear what I said, just click here, fill in the form, and I’ll give you immediate access to the recording. (Click on “continue shopping” after the cart thanks you, and you’ll go directly to the page with the recording.)

Would you like me to speak to your group? Click here to make an appointment to discuss it with me.

Intimacy

That’s the answer given more than two decades ago by Nicholas Negroponte (founder of MIT’s Media Lab and of the “One Laptop per Child” project) to the question, “What’s the next step beyond personal computing?” It came to mind when I read this piece from the New York Times this morning:

Intimate theater

Intimate theater

I attended such a performance in Manhattan in the early seventies, and loved it. Physical touch is important to me, and I experienced the event as being warmly and lovingly embraced, with safety and even propriety.

Not everyone likes to be physically touched. But every reader likes to be touched emotionally by what they read–even if the way into their emotions is through facts and logic.

When I write, I like to think about what my reader would experience as intimacy. Here are some of my thoughts:

  • The reader wants to feel as if the text is addressing them personally, not as part of a mob.
  • The author should come across as human and vulnerable, but without detailed discussions of hemorrhoids or other manifestations of TMI (too much information). Of course, what is and is not TMI will vary by audience.
  • For me, typos and misspellings are jarring. I’ve learned that this is not a universal sentiment, but I nonetheless work hard to eliminate them.
  • I avoid phrases such as “Some of you…,” which address a group of people rather than an individual reader.
  • I experience smart-ass “humor” and cynical statements as turn-offs; your taste may vary.

I strive for intimacy in my writing—appropriate intimacy. What’s appropriate? Clearly, that’s up to you. Lately, I’ve noticed that movie trailers open with a rating caution: “The following preview has been approved for appropriate audiences.” Huh?

You are the author of your book. You choose your audience, by design or default. It’s up to you to decide what’s appropriate. Be bold.

Introducing Mindy Gibbins-Klein: “The Book Midwife™”

When I became a coach, I joined a BNI chapter in Palo Alto. And when I decided to focus on helping people write books, I was struggling to come up with a memorable “elevator pitch” that would encapsulate what I offered. One Wednesday morning, the words just popped out of my mouth, unpremeditated: “I’m Joel Orr, book midwife. You have a book inside you, and it wants to come out; I’m here to help it be born.”

Mindy Gibbins-Klein

I loved the image, and so did my BNI friends. It was sticky and evocative. And having attended a live birth in my youth, it resonated with my feelings on helping an actual human being into the world (as I had on January 5, 1975).

I began to use the “book midwife” term to promote myself–by inserting it in my email signature. Shortly thereafter, I received a warm and polite note from Mindy Gibbins-Klein. She’s been “The Book Midwife” since 2002, and has actually registered the trademark for it in both the UK and the US. She asked that I not refer to myself in that way, and I responded that I would stop doing so.

What I did not immediately understand was that calling myself a “book midwife”–quotes, no caps, no “the”–might also weaken her claim to her intellectual property, because it could lead to the phrase becoming generic. Now I know better.

As a coach of aspiring authors, I am very sensitive to such issues, and fully support Mindy’s position on this matter.

So I thought it would be appropriate for me to state publicly: If it’s “The Book Midwife” you’re looking for, that would be Mindy. From what I’ve learned about her products and services, they are first-rate. I encourage you to go to her site and sign up for her inspirational emails.

If your market is “everybody,” it’s nobody

I heard a coach say to another coach at our Silicon Valley Coach Federation meeting last night, “I tried to word my website copy so as not to exclude anyone who might become a client,” she said. The other coach replied, “Bad idea. Think of it like this: If you needed knee surgery, would you prefer to see a surgeon who does heart surgery, brain surgery, knee surgery, and plastic surgery? Or one who only does knees? You need to focus narrowly, so that your potential clients will see you as an expert in the domain that is of interest to them.”

It’s the same with your book. You must address it to SOMEone, not to everyone. If you attempt to reach everyone, nobody will see themselves addressed by the book.

So, yeah, you need to choose your niche carefully. If you choose one that is too small, you will have difficulty building your business.

One powerful set of tools for use in finding your niche are the ones used by Internet marketers for keyword research. Some of the best of these are free, like Google’s keyword tool. Use it to find out what keywords match the topics in which you are interested, and how many searches there are for them. That will give you an idea of the size of your market.

And within your niche, find out what the greatest areas of “pain” are. What are the problems to which most members of the target market are seeking solutions? Visit forums and blogs that focus on your niche topic, and learn what people are most interested in. Focus your book on your chosen niche, and address the problems of the niche in its title. That will help your audience find its way to you.

You are an expert; your clients are seeking your expertise. You can’t be a general expert.

Writing collaboratively

I’ve heard more than one account of friends who set out to write a book together–and lose their friendship. This won’t happen to you if:

  • You write alone, or
  • You have clear boundaries in the collaboration, and
  • You observe the boundaries assiduously.

Whether you have read my book, heard me speak on my method, or just been a reader of this blog, you know the essence of “The Simple Secret To Writing A Non-Fiction Book In 30 Days, At 1 Hour A Day!”: Structure first, then content.

Sounds simple, I know. But it is not something most people are used to doing, and they don’t know why it might be important when undertaking to write a book. The metaphor I usually use is the building of a house: You don’t start with a trip to the lumberyard. If you do that, you will wind up with a yard full of stuff, and no idea as to how to assemble it into a house.

You start a house with a trip to an architect, who creates a plan. The plan makes its way into the hands of a builder, who uses it to create a list of materials. Then, after the materials have been acquired, a foundation is prepared and a frame built. That becomes the skeleton of the house.

It’s the same with a book. If you create your “framework”–your outline–first, it’s easy to write your book. If you don’t–well, good luck. You’ll need it if you hope to get a book done.

Creating the framework has an additional benefit: It makes the delicate process of collaborative writing practical. It does so by creating boundaries.

You see, once your framework is complete, all the book’s pieces–its chapters and subchapters–are defined and named. So if two people are to work collaboratively on a book, they should:

  • Structure the book together, at least at the table-of-contents level.
  • Then they can split the chapters between them, and each create the list of subchapters for his or her own chapters,
  • Or structure the whole thing together, and split the subchapters up.

The place where many collaborations bog down is at the level of paragraphs. By dividing up subchapters and chapters, that opportunity for failure is avoided.

You and your partner may choose to identify yourselves as the respective authors of different parts of book. Or you may choose to have an editor “Homogenize” your distinct writing styles into a consistent “voice.” Either can work.

Structure makes collaboration possible.

What’s your platform?

As a result of a teleseminar I gave yesterday, my calendar has been full of strategy calls with people who want to write or market a book and need questions answered or help. (If you want to book such a free call with me, click here.)

I’ve been amazed how many of the people I’ve spoken with have a well-established platform for marketing their book and other products. What’s a platform? It is a collection of ways in which you already have contact with a significant audience–frequent presentations; a newsletter; on-line or newspaper or magazine columns; and so on. If you contact a literary agent or a publisher, they are sure to ask about your platform. Do you have one? What is it?

A solid and broad platform is the key to immediate volume sales of your book. One person I spoke with has a continuous stream of corporate presentations on the very topic about which he is writing. I pointed out to him that most of his corporate clients are likely to want a copy of his book for each member of the audience; this could double his revenue from a single engagement! He agreed.

If you already have an established platform, think how you might take advantage of it to promote your book. If you don’t yet have one, consider investing time and energy into the creation of an appropriate one; it will both greatly increase the volume of your book sales, and enhance your market presence for your professional services.

Arielle Ford says in the Huffington Post:

“I don’t buy authors, I don’t buy books, I buy platforms.” – #1 Self-Help Publisher in the world

One of the biggest mistakes authors make is thinking that they have to first write a book or the book proposal and then go out and look for a publisher. In reality, the biggest thing you need to do before you approach a publisher is to build your platform.

You want to be able to say to any publisher, “I have 3,000 names in my e-mail database. I’ve have been a guest speaker on 10 radio shows. I have done 20 paid speeches, and I am scheduled for four weekend workshops. Here is my list of upcoming speeches, the interviews I have done and my press kit.”

The reason you want to be able to tell a publisher all of this is because the only question they really have for you is, “Who is going to buy your book?” If you have something important to say and you are on to something that’s really great, you still aren’t ready to be an author until you have a platform.

Pay attention.

Are you clustering?

I keep coming back to the power of clustering in this blog because I keep meeting people who once learned how to cluster and then never used it.

Part of an H0 scale model railroad layout
Image via Wikipedia

Our Creator did not provide our brain with an index. As a result, we usually don’t know what we know on any particular topic. “Do you know anything about electric trains?” “No. Well, wait–I had a Lionel set when I was 10. It had three tracks. I remember seeing some other kinds in my neighborhood hobby store–I think they were HO scale and NN scale. Oh, yeah, and…” 20 minutes later, you realize you do know something about electric trains. And given more time, you’d discover more.

Neuroscientists are making great strides in understanding how we remember stuff, but it is still mysterious in many ways. Without understanding how it all works, clustering gives us access to our knowledge so that we can make a list of what we know and don’t know about any topic.

This is useful at many phases of the book-writing process. You can cluster a title for your book; a subtitle; chapters; subchapters; and more. And before you talk to your book coach, you can cluster the topics you want to be sure to cover.

Cluster what to say in your presentation. What to tell people about on your web page. What you should pick up at the supermarket.

Clustering is a mining tool, to let you get at the riches you have stored in your mind. Gabriele Rico devotes an entire book to it:Writing the Natural Way. Highly recommended.

How do you cluster? Here’s a description from the blog of writer Dustin Wax.

Here’s the basic idea:
1.    Write a word in the middle of a sheet of paper.
2.    Circle it.
3.    Write down the first word or phrase that comes to mind and circle it.
4.    Draw a line connecting the second circle to the first.
5.    Repeat. As you write and circle new words and phrases, draw lines back to the last word, the central word, or other words that seem connected. Don’t worry about how they’re connected — the goal is to let your right-brain do its thing, which is to see patterns; later, the left-brain will take over and put the nature of those relationships into words.
6.    When you’ve filled the page, or just feel like you’ve done enough (a sign of what Rico calls a “felt-shift”), go back through what you’ve written down. Cross out words and phrases that seem irrelevant, and begin to impose some order by numbering individual bubbles or clusters. Here is where your right-brain is working in tandem with your left-brain, producing what is essentially an outline. At this point, you can either transfer your numbered clusters to a proper outline or simply begin writing in the order you’ve numbered the clusters.

Try it!

Color

Not in the printing; in the writing.

Colorless writing is boring. In his blog, journalist (The Economist) and teacher Andreas Kluth writes:

Color has to be in support of something. And that something has to be an idea, a thought, a story. The mistake many writers make is to list details. Lists are boring; we use them to go shopping. Details are boring, unless they illuminate some meaning. It does not have to be epic. It can be quirky, amusing, moving, insightful, whatever. But there has to be a there there.

So the trick is to find substance, and then to take away details so that only a few splashes of light and color remain, which then filter out the entire sensual world around the reader and deliver him to that one place that you, the writer, have in mind for him. In terms of thought process, it may be the opposite of what my students were doing, and what I used to do.

I can find no better illustration than Rembrandt. You are drawn deep into this man. If I asked you, you would say that there is so much color in this painting, so much light. Only then would you notice that most of the canvas is dark, that very little of it is … in color. (Click here to see what he’s talking about.)

Thanks, Andreas. That works for non-fiction books, as well as for journalism. You want to take your reader on a journey, but it must be purposeful. I was once on a flight from the east coast to California, and the pilot took us down for a view of the Grand Canyon, because the day was beautiful. The view was fantastic, but I learned later that the pilot was severely reprimanded for departing from the flight plan. Several passengers, it seems, felt they had been taken for a ride they did not ask or pay for. Your readers deserve to get where you promised to take them, too.

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