Behind the scenes: How to write a business book

how to write a business book

By Mark Schaefer

I just completed a year-long process to bring you a new book. It’s called The Content Code and when it arrives in a few weeks, it will teach you how to ignite your content and your business in a world of overwhelming information density. It is my best book, perhaps my best work of all-time.

This is my fifth book (seventh if you count three editions of The Tao of Twitter) so I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned from this intense process.

How I write a book

The main idea — The most challenging part is coming up with an idea that is truly different and exciting to my readers. In this case, I answered the question we are all fighting through: “I’m working as hard as I can, but my content is buried. How do I break through and succeed?” This is a book that changes the conversation from “create content” to “ignite content” … the first of its kind.

The main idea: “Great content is not the finish line. It is the starting line.”

Outline — Once I had fleshed out the concept, I created an outline in early 2013. This formed the basis for the research I needed to do to answer the question with completeness and authority. I created an Evernote file for each chapter in the outline to collect ideas, resources, people to interview. I ended up with hundreds of paths to pursue but only the best and most relevant made it into the final book.

I employed a part-time intern for a year as a research assistant to flesh out every “to-do” and ended up interviewing about 50 people for the book.

The outline changed dramatically over the last year as the 6-part “code” coalesced from the research. That’s a good thing. I was letting the research write the book, not my pre-conceived outline of what I thought should be in the book!

how to write a business bookThe Wall of Fame — I write the title of each chapter on the top of a large easel page of paper and draw a line down the middle. One side is “to do” and one side is “done.” I create a Post-It note for every resource, idea, and interview that needs to be explored and place it in the “to-do” column. Then I hang all the chapters on my office wall. This way I can see exactly everything that needs to be done in one place.

It’s “old school” but it works extremely well! I can be concurrently working on a “to-do” for chapter 10 even while writing chapter 2. That way, by the time I get there, I have all the pieces in place to begin to write.

The writing begins — There’s no way I can write a book in small segments of time. For a book of 60,000 words I need to concentrate for days at a time. I only had one chance to write the book — over the holiday season when business travel, teaching, and consulting cease. I knew that if I didn’t finish the book by the time my business travel started again I would not complete it this year, so I had to work like a maniac … and I did.

Testing ideasThe Content Code is filled with hundreds of new ideas and the blog was a perfect place to test them before committing them to a book that will live forever. For example, I drew some conclusions about the relationship between search engine optimization and content ignition but wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing something. I wrote a blog post about it to test the waters and everybody seemed to think it made sense — so I had confidence that the idea should be in the book.

Cutting it into a book — The first draft was about 75,000 words — far too long for you busy people! So I cut ruthlessly. I chopped more than 25,000 words out of the book to make sure that every single sentence leads you toward insight, value … and maybe even a little fun! There is no writing, only good re-writing. The book is still longer than I would have liked, but I cut it to the bone. It is 100 percent fluff-free.

What I learned from writing a book

It changed me — I became consumed with this topic — finding every single angle on how we can ignite our content and win in this competitive marketplace. I learned that for most people, the act of sharing content is a very thoughtful, intimate act. We share for intrinsic, emotional reasons. But companies expect us to share their content for economic reasons. That’s a problem, isn’t it? My approach to content marketing was transformed. Yours will be too, I hope.

how to write a business book

Recovering from the book!

Sacrifice — Because I had a limited timeframe to get the book completed, I locked myself in a room and did nothing but research/write for 12 hours a day (or more), every day except Christmas, for almost three months.

My health suffered. I gained weight. Sometimes I wrote for 18 hours until my joints hurt and my eyesight was blurry. I had to maintain complete focus and discipline. The book became a physical and psychological obsession.

I know that sounds terrible and weird, but at least for me, this strenuous commitment was the only path I had to create something unique, entertaining, and extraordinary. Obviously I’m fortunate to have a wife who supports the lunacy. I’m now recovering from the book!

I became an expert on something — I immersed myself in a single topic for a year. As a result, I’m pretty sure there is nobody on earth who knows more about igniting content than me. What I learned will help me become a better teacher, blogger, and business consultant. I basically spent the last year giving myself the equivalent of an advanced degree in content marketing.

The benefits of writing a book

Fuel — The results of the book are already paying off. The innovations in The Content Code have become the fuel that will propel my business for at least the next year. It will be the topic of blog posts, a new speech, classes, workshops, and consulting opportunities. Do you need me to help you ignite your content? Let’s talk.

Intrinsic Reward — I am a teacher in everything I do. My greatest reward is when people tell me that something I wrote or said helped them succeed. This book will help you. I literally cannot wait for you to see it.

Financial reward — Ask any author and they will tell you that you don’t make money from books. The traditional publishing system is … broken, to put it mildly.

So I forged a new path. I have two corporate patrons generously sponsoring this book, Dell and gShift, which allowed me to break the shackles of needing “an advance.” I am self-publishing (and will do so from here on out) so the profits will direct to me, not a corporation. I can use those profits to actually promote the book, something publishers don’t do any more. This topic is worthy of an entirely separate blog post, which I will provide to you down the line.

By now I hope you’re intrigued enough by my writing process to actually be interested in the book, too. It should be out by mid-March and available in most of the world on Amazon, Kindle, and eventually an audio book. Watch this space for news of its release!

Many thanks to all who have been patient with me during this intense writing period! The Content Code: Six essential strategies to ignite your content, your marketing, and your business is here!

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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