Marc Hedlund at the O’Reilly Radar has an inspiring post today, Entrepreneurial Proverbs, which has great application to any author thinking about writing a non-fiction book as well.
That makes sense because in many ways writing a book is similar to creating your own start-up. His entire post is worth reading in this vein but I’ll recast a few comments for authors.
Pay attention to the idea that won’t leave you alone. Great advice for authors, and taken from Paul Hawken’s highly recommended Growing a Business. Find an idea that won’t let you sleep at night.
If you keep your secrets from the market, the market will keep its secrets from you. Too many prospective authors believe they have an entirely unique idea that maybe agents or publishers will steal wholesale from them. It’s just not true, agents and publishers are bombarded with a huge number of proposals on a daily basis and your up front request for an nda probably won’t help your cause. The idea and the execution are both key and if you’re afraid to talk to anyone for fear of losing your idea, you’ll never see it realized.
Your ideas will get better the more you know about business. For publishing this is true in the extreme, your ideas will get better the more you know about publishing. I’ve seen too many proposals that tell me “this book will sell great if you shelve it at the cash register” without any appreciation at all for what it takes ($$$) to be shelved next to the cash register. It’s critical that you understand as well as possible not only your reader, but where they will buy your book, why they will buy your book, and how the channel works. Sure, your agent may (and should) fill in some of the details here for you, but a solid appreciation and knowledge of how and where books are sold is critical to your ultimate success and even governs the flavor of your pitch.
Build the simplest thing possible. Here’s advice that I’ve ignored many times myself to my own peril and it goes right back to the last point, if you don’t know where and how your book is going to be shelved you’re at a huge disadvantage. Combining genres is tough in this business and while certainly some books break out, you’re going to have a hard time if your book doesn’t really belong specifically in humor or travel. Narrow it down, solve a unique problem or question and be specific about your audience.
That’s just a snapshot, I’m sure readers can find many more gems of wisdom in Marc’s post.