3: What will you publish?
In episode 3 of The Right Book Project podcast, Sue and Dave discuss how to begin turning your book idea into a reality, the questions you need to ask and answer to finally get your project off the ground and what type of book might be right for you.
Learn about the different types of book; discover the hidden tax on eBooks; understand the big advantages and added kudos of printed books and hear how getting under the skin of WHAT you want to publish and what it will look like will help you create a more viable, useful, professional and relevant end product.
with thanks to Dave Harries of CommunicateTV: www.communicatetv.co.uk
Dave Harries: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Right Book Project, a Right Book Company radio production. You’re listening to episode 3. My name is Dave Harries and I’m here with my co-presenter, Sue Richardson, to explore the whys and wherefores of book publishing and how writing a book can enhance your business and personal profile. Sue’s a publishing expert, who’s been in the book business for many years and has written her own book – The Authority Guide to Publishing Your Business Book. She’s the director of SRA books and The Right Book Company and has helped hundreds of professionals, entrepreneurs, experts and thought leaders boost their businesses and profiles with game-changing books. This podcast is all about you, don’t forget that, and it’s about your journey to writing a book. So, please get involved by joining our Facebook group, The Right Book Project, or tweet @therightbookco. You’ll find notes, links, recordings and transcripts of these podcasts on therightbookcompany.com. So, welcome Sue, how are you?
Sue Richardson: [00:00:57] I’m very well, thank you, Dave.
Dave Harries: [00:00:59] Excellent. Well, in episode 1 we talked about the very important ‘why’ of writing; in episode 2 we talked about ‘who’; and in episode 3 we’re going to talk about the ‘what’. Because ‘what’ is also very important. Now, I know when you were talking to me about this earlier, you said it was very important you start with ‘why’. And we did. So, that’s good. And of course, it’s very important that you identify your reader, the ‘who’. So, we did that as episode 2, that made sense. But with ‘what’ you sort of seem to imply that ‘what’ is sort of interchangeable in a way, in terms of the order you do things, with ‘how’ as well. But we are going to leave ‘how’ until episode 4. So, we are going to concentrate on ‘what’, but we might stray into a little bit of ‘how’ here. I suppose that’s what I’m saying here, making excuses before we start. So, what do you mean, what do we mean by ‘what’?
Sue Richardson: [00:01:52] What do we mean by ‘what’? Well, I suppose this is…and I think actually, it’s really interesting; I’m glad you started that way, reminding everybody of where we started, because it’s so important to me that that’s where one starts, if you like. Because a lot of people start with ‘what’. They don’t start with ‘why’ or ‘who’, they start with ‘what’. And I think quite often that…okay, it’s understandable, you know. You think, you wake up one morning you think: I’ve got a great idea for a book! And off you go. The ‘what’: here’s my book. I’m doing it. It’s fantastic. I’m so clever, I’ve got all this stuff in my head and here it goes. And I’m going to splurge it all out and there’s my book! And I meet an awful lot of people who start with ‘what’. And actually, you can come unstuck quite quickly that way, I think, because if you don’t know what it is you want to achieve, and you don’t know who it is that you’re writing for, it’s actually really hard to write a successful book. So, when you get to the ‘what’, that’s because it’s fallen out, if you like, of that work that you’ve done on the ‘why’ and the ‘who’ in my view.
Dave Harries: [00:03:17] So, in other words the ‘what’ should be a lot easier if you’ve done the ‘why’ and the ‘who’ first.
Sue Richardson: [00:03:21] It should be easier, and it should be better, quite frankly, because there’s a reason for you to do it. And there’s a reason for somebody else to want it. It moves out of a vanity project into a business case, if you like.
Dave Harries: [00:03:39] I suppose if you start with ‘what’ as well, the danger is you will, well as you said earlier you come unstuck, because you’ll end up with something and then you’ll think: well actually, I don’t know who it’s for and I don’t know why I’m doing it. And yes, I’ve done it, but it doesn’t have that foundation. It’s like building a house without digging the foundations first.
Sue Richardson: [00:03:59] Exactly! Absolutely! Couldn’t put it better myself. So, your house will definitely fall down if it doesn’t have those early excavations done and the stones are not put in place. So, absolutely, couldn’t put it better. So, the ‘what’ must come out of those foundations in order to be strong and in order to be successful.
Dave Harries: [00:04:32] Good. Okay. Well I think we’ve made that point very well now. That, yes, we’re on episode 3 and it’s ‘what’, but we would urge you to listen to episode 1 and 2 first, because the ‘why’ and the ‘who’ are really, really important to underpin the ‘what’. But, having established that, what are the aspects of ‘what’ that we need to consider?
Sue Richardson: [00:04:56] Okay. So, let’s have a think about this. So, the aspects of…what kind of book is it? Is it a printed book? Nowadays, there are options to create book products that aren’t even printed books.
Dave Harries: [00:05:13] So, just an e-book or something.
Sue Richardson: [00:05:14] Exactly. Now, in reality, interestingly enough, an e-book isn’t really a book. Some people don’t realise this, but for tax reasons, e-books; there is VAT on e-books. It may be kind of disguised by the e-book platforms but there is VAT e-books. And the reason for that is that they are actually classified as software. You don’t own a book when you buy an e-book, you basically buy a licence to have that content on your reader, or computer or whatever. So, it’s not technically a book at all, but it is the same content as a book.
Dave Harries: [00:05:57] That is fascinating actually, because I’d never thought of that, that it’s not a book unless it’s on a piece of paper, as it were. But I also think there’s another thing about e-books as well, which kind of goes to the heart of a lot of what we talked about in episode 1 and 2, about the ‘why’ and the ‘who’, because we talked about the fact that one of the great ‘whys’ is this, sort of, credibility thing that comes with publishing a book. I don’t know that that would exist to quite the same extent, if you didn’t have that physical thing that you could, kind of, show people. Maybe I’m just being a bit old-fashioned about that, I don’t know, but I love the book itself; the physical construct of a book, and to me that is part of the credibility of saying: I’m an author, I’m an expert, I know how to do this stuff. You know, look here’s the proof. Rather than just pointing at a screen, I can hold up my book. What do you think about that?
Sue Richardson: [00:06:55] I have to say that I think you’re right, I think you’re right. It is a bit of a personal thing. I was on a panel with other speakers not so long ago, one very successfully self-published author, who had print books and he had them with him; and another speaker, [a] fabulous guy, but, absolutely, he pulled out of his bag, while we were on the panel, his Kindle. And he waved it at the audience and he said: I have, you know, X-thousand books in here, and that’s all I need. And, you know, massive respect to him. He really does believe that it’s not necessary these days to have a printed book. I don’t agree. I think what you’ve just said, you’ve put your finger on it again, as I said, I think there is something around the credibility. It’s not just about old-fashionedness and the fact that we love print books. It goes a bit deeper than that. I think it is actually to do with the fact that it’s a curating thing, to an extent. Now, self-publishing has burst open, it’s broken down a lot of barriers, and this is how, you know, you mentioned we may stray slightly into the ‘how’ here, we will be looking at this in more detail in, I believe, the next episode. But essentially, it’s around the fact that, if you now go onto Amazon, you can stick your book, whatever that means to you, onto Kindle and have a book published tomorrow. And that book could be anything. It could be the book that you woke up this morning going: Eureka! I’ve got the greatest idea for a book. And then you’ve sat down and spent the day writing it. It could be that. Or it could be something you have spent the last six months considering, thinking about your ‘why’ thinking about your ‘who’. Looking at how it’s going to help you develop your business. All of those things. The people out there in the world, who need the information that you have to offer, are not going to know the difference between what you’ve done with great care and passion, and what somebody else might have done, literally because they could, because they had a spare day. So, for me the difficulty is around that curating part. That there is an awful lot of information now available online. A lot of available digital information. And every book that we publish, we always do a digital version of it. And I think it’s incredibly important, because people can choose, then, to digest the content in the way that suits them. But there’s a difference between creating a book that’s purely in digital form and that is a digital version of a printed book. And there’s something about the printed book, the kudos, if you like, the credibility, the fact that it is a tangible product that somebody can buy for X pounds, or X dollars, whatever it is, that is seen, therefore, as something which has real value.
Dave Harries: [00:10:27] And I think this is all supported by the fact that the demise of the traditional book has not come about, or it certainly hasn’t come about yet, and it has been predicted for some time. But, in fact, real books sell better now than, I think, they have ever done. I think Amazon sells a lot of, not just Amazon, but to use an example, they sell a lot of real books. And yes, of course, people want to have stuff on their Kindle to read on the beach, and all that sort of thing, and that makes sense. But yeah, it’s having the ability to buy that real book that I think is very important. And there is something, I mean, we’re sitting in your office here surrounded by books, mostly books that you yourself have been involved in the publishing of. But it’s a lovely thing, actually, to see these books around us. And you can pick them up and flick through them and think: mmm yeah, do I want to read that; in a way you simply can’t do with a digital version. So, let’s put our cards on the table. We like real books.
Sue Richardson: [00:11:32] We love real books!
Dave Harries: [00:11:33] And we’ve got nothing against e-books; I’ve read e-books myself on my phone, and all that sort of thing, but we still love real books. So, to get back to the ‘what’, the point of episode 3 here, you know, yes, there’s a decision to be made about whether it’s an e-book or a physical book. But in terms of that credibility-building and the boosting of the profile; and all the things that we’ve talked about in the first two episodes and the whole reason for these podcasts really, then I think, it’s our view, if I’m interpreting this correctly, that we’re looking at a real book here and, of course there will be an e-book version of it. Good. OK. So, once we’ve made that decision, and clearly there are implications which we’ll come to in the next episode about publishing and all that sort of stuff. But there are other aspects to the ‘what’, aren’t there? Like, as well as, once you’ve decided to publish a real book, then there’s design and what it looks like, and all those sorts of things, I guess, that you’ve got to think about. So, who makes those decisions normally in the process about what a book looks like?
Sue Richardson: [00:12:35] Yeah well, I suppose that comes back to also thinking about those first two questions as well. The ‘why’ and the ‘who’. So what’s your purpose for the book? Who is it for? [That] will definitely have some bearing on what the book looks like, and what the style of the book is. You know, and actually, I suppose, even before thinking about design and the look of a book, it’s like…a big question I get asked is, how long is a book these days? You know, what is the standard length? Now, I absolutely can tell you that, 10 years ago we would have all gone around saying that a business book was a particular length. You know, you would expect a business book to be at least 60,000 words. And that would be that. Ten years has gone by and the world has changed dramatically, so much so, that our Authority Guide series, for instance, of which there are 20 now, they are less than 20,000 words and they are concise, practical. And I’m not here to sell the Authority Guides, but the point about the Authority Guides, is that that market has now opened up to us completely, because people want quick solutions to problems that they face in business. They just want to be told in this concise and as attention-grabbing, if you like, way because we are all so distracted by so much information and we are so time poor, that now reading a 60,000-word business book is a real commitment, whereas 10 years ago, we did it all the time. So, I’m not saying that there’s no space for the 60,000-ers. Don’t get me wrong. There’s still space for that. And that might be right for your book, without any doubt. But what I’m saying is that there’s now a wide range of possibilities in terms of what a book looks like, what a book could be. It could be a short 96-page Authority Guide, or it could be a much longer affair. But it depends on your ‘why’ and your ‘who’, and all of those things.
Dave Harries: [00:14:59] And what about, going back to, maybe not so much the length of the book, but the look, the design of it. Because you see books that are sort of, I suppose, you might loosely describe as coffee-table books, as opposed to bedside books, if that’s a good distinction. You know, in other words, smaller versus larger formats, regardless of the number of words. And obviously, I guess, in a coffee-table book, there’s perhaps more opportunity for lovely pictures, and things like that, displayed in a large format, than perhaps in a traditional, small paperback. So, again, presumably that comes back to where you’re aiming the book and who is the audience. The ‘who’.
Sue Richardson: [00:15:36] You know, I think one useful way of thinking about it is, kind of, what’s the job description for the book really. You know, what do you want the book to do? I just started working with a wonderful woman who, she’s a doctor, but she’s basically looks after people’s skin. She’s an amazing skincare doctor. But she has a clinic in London, and she sees people to help them just make their skin beautiful, and that sort of thing. And so, I think she’s called an aesthetic doctor, but she doesn’t use surgery. And she’s written a fabulous coffee-table book, which is called Bathtime. So, it’s all about the whole history of bathing and what people have put in baths over the years to make their skin soft and supple and beautiful. And she’s got, you know, recipes in there, gorgeous photography. You know, it’s going to be the most sumptuous beautiful coffee-table style book; and this will be something that’s perfectly positioned for her Knightsbridge clinic. It’s, you know, it’s ideal to give a sense of luxury and gorgeousness. But actually, it’s got loads of really great information in there that shows her to be the expert that she is in her field. So, everyone will be different. You know, for some, for me my little 18,000 words Authority Guide to Publishing a Business Book; no pictures, really to speak of, just as much information as I can get in a concise space is what was required. For Dr. Kubicka, it’s actually a whole different ball game. So yes, it could be anything in between those two as well.
Dave Harries: [00:17:25] I’m fascinated by the idea of a book about bathing and, it’s awful, but into my mind, came the sort of books that my girls had when they were very little, that you could actually take into the bath, these, sort of waterproof books.
Sue Richardson: [00:17:37] Hey, there’s an idea!
Dave Harries: [00:17:38] I’m wondering whether she should publish it in that form.
Sue Richardson: [00:17:40] Perhaps she should.
Dave Harries: [00:17:42] They could only get about four pages in, but at least you can read it in the bath. That does sound like a nice book. And another thing, after we’ve decided on our format and our number of words and all that sort of thing, then there’s the issue of tone and language, presumably, and we touched on that in our ‘who’ episode, in episode 2. But, talk to me a little bit about that and the importance of it when you’re making these ‘what’ decisions.
Sue Richardson: [00:18:08] Yeah, it’s a question I get asked a lot, you know, people say when it comes to the question of what should I write: what kind of tone should I adopt? What kind of style should I take? I think, again, we said this last time, but we need to be informed by who we’re writing for, very important. But also, to an extent, to remember that your personality needs to shine through. So, you need to get a kind of, a happy place where you don’t want to use an over-academic tone, for instance, with an audience which is primarily not an academic audience. That’s kind of a no-brainer, I know. But, for instance, I know an awful lot of people who are experts in their field who have come from an academic background, and who are very good writers, but maybe all they’ve ever written is of a more academic style. One of the things I believe quite strongly is that, if you’re writing for business owners, business leaders, entrepreneurs, that sort of thing, don’t use lots of, kind of, academic-style devices, like footnotes and that sort of thing, which may feel natural to you because it makes sense to you to do that. But, actually it can interrupt a busy reader, a reader who just wants the information quickly. Most of the time, with a standard business book, footnotes are not necessary. You know, they just get in the way. So, if you’re putting footnotes because you want to refer to other people’s material, great. Just refer to the material and stick all the information that you need into a list at the back of the book. And then people can look it up and they can read further if they want, but they’re not constantly being interrupted by a rather academic slightly, kind of, feel, it might even make your book feel a bit stuffy, when actually it’s not stuffy at all. So, it’s little things like that, about thinking through what’s going to work for you, what might interrupt your reader, what will keep them engaged, is perhaps a better way to look at this.
Dave Harries: [00:20:30] And I suppose another thing…sorry, I interrupted you then, but I suppose another thing is the issue of illustration as well, which is all part of the design thing I know, but presumably some subjects, again and this is very much going to depend on the type of book you’re writing, but like the bath book, for example, (I’m obsessed by the bath book now, I want a copy immediately) but clearly that’s going to have can have lots of lovely illustrations in it. But even a straightforward business book might have some very informative diagrams that help to explain things in a different way, and that sort of thing. So, presumably, it pays to really think about that stuff and perhaps employ the services of a professional illustrator, or somebody like that, to help with this sort of thing.
Sue Richardson: [00:21:11] I think that the point of illustrations is a really good one. I mean, obviously, with the Bathtime book that we were talking about, clearly that’s an enormous part of the brief for that book. So, if that book has a job description which is to be this lovely, luxurious, sumptuous product that’s for sale in a skincare clinic, as well as obviously, promoting the expertise of its author, then that book needs to be gorgeous and sumptuous and have beautiful pictures in it. Sometimes I find that business-book authors are tempted to add lots of illustrations, and when you question them with why they’re doing that, and you really dig deep, it could be that they, perhaps, feel that the writing isn’t enough. And I always say, just check out whether or not any illustrations you’re tempted to put in really do enhance your message. Do they serve your reader, or do they serve your nervousness about your content? Because, quite honestly, a lot of the time, we don’t need so much help. We don’t need as much help as you might think that we need. We need you to write clearly; we need you to write in an engaging fashion; we need you to keep us entertained with good stories. Stories, I think, are more important, in most books, than anything else. But if there is a good reason to have lots of visual content then, great, go for it. But it’s just about what’s appropriate.
Dave Harries: [00:22:52] Because I suppose you could, there’s a danger you might even patronise your audience if you kind of lay it out in, sort of, cartoon-like pictures for three-year-olds type thing and you don’t want to insult anybody’s intelligence.
Sue Richardson: [00:23:06] I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen books around a sensible business subject that I’ve thought: oh, that that could be very useful. And then I have felt really patronised by idiotic cartoons that absolutely do not fit with the content, and are there because, probably, the author really hasn’t got to grips with the fact that, if they had written that book for me, then it would have worked anyway. It would have worked with good stories, with good content. So, illustrate your points with great stories; whether that’s case studies or whether it’s just short stories. Do all of that, rather than draw pictures which may not even be in a style that’s appropriate for your reader.
Dave Harries: [00:23:56] So, I think that illustrates beautifully why the ‘why’ and the ‘who’, the first two stages, that we covered in episode 1 and episode 2 of these podcasts, is so important. Because if you got that right then, hopefully it’ll be pretty obvious to you whether illustrations are appropriate and if they are, what they should be, the style and that sort of thing. Whereas if you start with the ‘what’ and you think: oh, I’m going to draw some nice cartoons, because they’re fun. Then you’re immediately running that danger of getting the tone wrong, patronising your audience, that sort of thing.
Sue Richardson: [00:24:29] Absolutely. Absolutely.
Dave Harries: [00:24:31] Well, that’s a very good note to end on, I think, because that is all we’ve got time for, I’m afraid. So, my thanks to my expert co-presenter, Sue Richardson. You can get lots more help and advice on writing and publishing your book by joining our Facebook group, the Right Book Project, where you can also leave a comment, ask Sue your questions or give us your ideas for future shows. Or why not visit our website at therightbookcompany.com to sign up for one of Sue’s popular webinars or read her blog? We’ll be back in two weeks with episode 4, I think it will be. So, please join us then. And in the meantime, keep writing.