Should you write a book? Could you write a book? What is involved?
I’ve frequently been asked such questions and the answers are maybe, definitely – and more than you might think. After finishing my 18 book, Aaker on Branding, I thought about the book writing journey and concluded that there are three distinct steps that it includes. Each requires a different set of motivations and skills:
Step 1: The Topic
When I set out to write a book, first I work toward finding an umbrella topic based on a central idea or set of related issues and concepts. To do that, I look at several criteria: It should capture my interest. This may seem obvious, but writing a book takes a serious amount of time and effort. I must enjoy the process of pulling together the concepts and case studies to support my topic in order to make that process worth the effort. It helps to have a higher purpose.
I write books on the subjects of branding and brand management not only for short-term, personal financial gain but also to advance the practice of branding management and to promote brand building as an industry. I should be able to add value to the topic. I attempt to add or refine existing branding concepts, create a new and helpful conceptual model, and be able to provide a useful fresh take on the topic at hand.
My background in advertising, strategy and marketing research were all helpful in writing branding books. There should be a need to write the book. This comes in the form of an audience who will be interested in the book or a gap in the existing literature. My book on building brand portfolios was motivated by the fact that I was watching so many firms fail to create portfolios with clarity, synergy, leverage and energy. There wasn’t a book out there that was successfully identifying and solving for the problem. So, I took matters into my own hands.
Step 2: The Process
Some authors begin with an initial outline and start filling it in, piece by piece. That’s not the path I take. I start by charting out a few of the subject areas, case studies and conceptual models that I know I want to include in my book. It’s always unclear in the beginning how these areas will evolve and how much space I want to devote to them, but I know that they are core aspects of the overall flow. Then comes the extensive research phase.
I look for companion materials in the form of additional concepts, case studies, useful ideas, and relevant empirical research to support my starter list. I use sources such as trade books and journals, business publications, academic research, branding blogs, and even archives of my own previously published work for inspiration. Then, as simple as it sounds, I just start writing. It’s the only way to begin!
I give the really good stuff, the material and ideas that are particularly relevant to the topic, as much space as they need. As the writing of a chapter progresses, I will organically create an organizational device in order to structure the concepts that add value. After I write as much as I can, then comes the fun part. Well, the fun part to me at least – the revising.
Each chapter needs to have its own theme and enough supporting material to be viable and fit the flow of the book. I will typically revise a chapter four or five times, and each revision always results in dramatic improvement. During the revision process I typically focus on creating an engaging and interesting beginning to each chapter as well as ensure that there are truly relevant case studies and supporting evidence to make the flow conversational and natural. The structure and identity of chapters evolve as this process continues.
Through my writing and thinking progress I will reframe, add and combine chapters. That was certainly true with my last book, Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles that Drive Success. The identity of the 20 principles I included, and the order of those principles, was in motion up until the final manuscript was submitted for publication.
Step 3: The Marketing
I start from the well-founded assumption that the publisher will do little to no marketing, except to get the book into bookstores. When I have a budget, I will do some advertising but I have found that it is hard for advertising to break through. It can work for awareness in some cases, depending on the size of your budget, but the amount of books sold and read is hard to track from your typical advertising campaign.
The more effective way is to activate social media. Get people to recognize the books, and more importantly, get them to talk about it. This is easier and more effective when the book has an original, provocative idea that attracts attention – see step 1.
There are a few other marketing devices I use. First, I try to put the book in the hands of as many of my target readers as possible. I do this through giveaways but also through sponsorship, media and classroom partnerships. Here’s my logic: Putting the book in hands of engaged, voracious readers provides these ambassadors with a megaphone through which to promote your book. Their opinion and review is far more compelling to their networks than a short summary listed on a website. Then, I go a bit meta.
I write about the book I wrote! I utilize my personal blog as well as on LinkedIn to introduce and tease out ideas from my book. I also make myself open and accessible to speak at conferences and seminars when I have a book out. Again, my goal in doing this is not so much a vehicle to sell books, but to create advocates for the book.
Finally, I try to enlist thought leaders offline as well as online to become aware of and interested in the book. It’s truly all about the book and brand ambassadors. Writing a book, especially the first draft, can be arduous – there is no doubt about that. But the whole process can be a creative, learning and building journey when the subject matter provides motivation and interest. I assure you, the potential to impact people or even an industry in some cases, is exhilarating.