Polls suggest that over 80 percent of Americans want to write a book, but only a small percentage of them actually do. That being said, book publishing is on the rise. Self publishing is easier than ever, and Amazon offers an amazing marketplace to sell books.
A few days ago I launched a new book called The Essential Associate: Step Up, Stand Out, and Rise to the Top as a Young Lawyer. It’s a book that provides my take on what is required to succeed as a young associate in the practice of law and the business of law in today’s competitive environment, and also includes the insights of dozens of top lawyers, general counsel at Fortune 500 companies, and leading consultants to the legal industry whom I interviewed as part of the research for the book.
With the experience fresh in my head, I wanted to share some thoughts about the process. Perhaps you have a book inside you waiting to come out, but don’t know what the next step is. A good place to start is evaluating whether you have the time, energy, and capacity to devote to the book writing process. It’s a huge undertaking that shouldn’t be entered into lightly. A book can be a wonderful marketing tool that sets you up for success as a lawyer, but there are many ways to market a legal practice. It’s important to have a clear-eyed understanding of what writing and publishing a book entails so that you can determine whether it’s a good investment given your limited time.
Here are 10 issues that lawyers (or any aspiring author) should consider before diving in to write a book.
1. It’s going to take a year. Even if you decide to self publish, plan for the book writing and publishing process to take a year. There are three phases to the writing process: (i) research, (ii) writing, and (iii) editing. In my experience, the research phase takes a month or two, writing the first draft takes at least two months, and the editing (which is the most important part of the process) and proofreading process requires three months. Once the writing is complete, there’s cover and graphic design, book layout, printing, and setting up marketing assets related to the book. All of this takes time. It takes even longer if you decide to go the traditional publishing route. Most traditionally published books take 18 months to 2 years to come to market. I’ve heard some self published authors suggest that a book can take as little as 90 days. That may be true, but there’s a big difference between a book, and a good book. If you’re writing a book to raise your profile and establish yourself in your field of practice, plan to put the time in to write a book worth reading. This often takes a year or more.
2. Build a platform. Unless you’re writing a book solely for the purpose of giving it away like a business card, and you have no expectation of actually selling any copies, you need build a platform so that you can market and sell the book to your audience. This is true whether you’re self publishing or traditionally publishing your book. One of the biggest misconceptions in book publishing is that authors write and publishers sell. It falls on authors to market their books if they want them to sell. In fact, unless an author is otherwise well known, it’s very hard to get a book deal these days unless you have a large email list and significant social media following. A platform is typically built through content marketing, be it writing a blog, hosting a podcast, creating videos online, or otherwise getting thought leadership in front of an audience. This takes time and consistent effort, so if you want to be able to launch your book to a big email list, then you need to start building your platform well in advance of writing your book.
3. Find Your niche. Just as it’s critical to define a niche to build a successful legal practice, you must define a niche audience for your book. No book is for everyone. A book needs to be of intense interest to a narrow (although narrow does not necessarily mean small) group of people. In the case of my book, I rejected any notion of writing a book about, for example, “how to a be a successful lawyer.” The nuances and intricacies involved in every stage of a lawyer’s career are too unique to be able to write a book that would be of relevance to any lawyer if I tried to write it for every lawyer. Instead, I focused on what matters to young lawyers in the first few years of practice. Lawyers at this stage of their careers are similarly situated and they face common challenges. By focusing on a niche, I was able to speak directly to a distinct and discrete group of people. If you decide to write a book, you should do this too.
4. Work with professionals. Just because you are a competent lawyer, doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to handle all aspects of writing and publishing a book without help from a team. If you’re working with a traditional publisher, there will be a team in place to help you with things like editing, proofreading, and designing the book. Even if this is the case, it’s still a good idea to assemble a team of people you trust to read the book in draft form and provide you with feedback. If you’re self publishing, it’s essential to assemble your own team. Hire a professional editor, proofreader, and graphic designer to help make your book a polished product. Expect to spend at least $1,500. It will be a worthwhile investment to make sure your book achieves its purpose—which is to establish your reputation as a leader in your field.
5. Outline. You’ll save yourself lots of time and headaches if you go through the process of developing a robust outline for your book. Start by defining your audience and coming up with the core idea of your book. Then create the chapters of the book and bullet points describing what will go in each chapter. This will help your book have structure, and allow you to see where you need to fill in gaps through research. Some fiction authors refuse to outline because they want to see “where the story takes them.” If you’re writing business non-fiction, this is a really bad idea. Without an outline, you’ll almost certainly find yourself in a position of needing to significantly restructure your book after the first draft is complete (if you even get that far).
6. Plan your launch and marketing strategy well in advance. Books don’t sell themselves. Launch day is not the time to figure out how to get your book in front of your audience. Just as you need to start building your platform well in advance of writing your book, you need to plan the launch of your book months before the launch itself. For example, several months ago, I took steps to assemble a “launch team” consisting of individuals who are helping me to spread the word about my book. I created a dedicated website to help market the book. I obtained “blurbs” from leading lawyers who read advance copies of the book to help demonstrate “social proof” and testimony from others that my book is worth reading. I lined up podcast interviews and guest post opportunities on other websites and blogs. These things take time. You need to create momentum from the start, and the start is not the time to be figuring out a marketing strategy. It’s still way too early to tell how my book will ultimately do—that will be based on whether it’s perceived as something valuable—but it has gained some early traction. I’m happy to report that on the day after it’s launch, The Essential Associate hit #1 in my category on Amazon.
7. Block time. As a busy lawyer, you won’t find time to finish your book unless you block time on your calendar to work on it. Set aside time every day and establish a word count goal for yourself. To get my first draft done, I worked on my book from 5 to 7 a.m., Monday through Friday, and tried to get 1,000 words done each day. If you can set a similar schedule for yourself, you’ll have a 60,000 word first draft done in three months.
8. Understand that the last 10 percent is 90 percent. As with most projects, it’s exciting to get started writing a book, but it quickly becomes a hard slog. Momentum, motivation, and the discipline to keep pushing forward wane the longer a book project drags on. It’s easy to get stuck when you think you’re 90 percent done, because when you get to that point you realize that in many ways you’re just getting started. By 90 percent you’ll be sick of looking at your manuscript. You won’t be able to bear one more edit or proofread. This is the time to dig in and not give up. As Jim Rohn once said, “Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day.”
9. Let it go. On a related note, don’t allow perfectionism to stop you from releasing your book. Your book will never be perfect. You can always turn one more edit. But done is always better than perfect.
10. Have fun! As author Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” Writing a book is a hard grind. But it’s also deeply satisfying, and can be lots of fun. Book research creates opportunities to interact with people you would never have otherwise had the opportunity to speak with. You’ll learn new skills and have new experiences along the way. You’ll certainly become a better writer. Most of all, you’ll derive great satisfaction from accomplishing something difficult, and improving other people’s lives in the process.
If you’re thinking about writing a book, I say: Go for it! It’s a rewarding experience, and a book is a valuable asset for marketing a legal practice. There are few better ways to distinguish yourself when competing with other lawyers for a piece of business than to be able to say, “I wrote the book on it.”
If you’d like to discuss the pros and cons of writing a book, I’d be happy to have a discussion with you. I am also available for hire if you’re looking for a consultant and/or accountability coach to help you through the process. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-432-0287 to talk through your idea.
Could you use a bit of help in defining your target market, and positioning yourself as an expert with clients, potential clients and referral sources within a niche?
I am currently accepting applications to my Elite Lawyer Coaching program, which involves one-on-one strategic consulting and coaching to help lawyers set and reach their business goals in 2018. If you’re interested in dramatically growing your practice this year, contact me at 313.432.0287 or email@example.com to set up a free consultation to discuss how we can work together to define clear goals, create a specific plan of action, and ensure accountability as you work toward achieving your objectives. Let’s chat soon, as I only have a few slots remaining for new applicants. Also, please check out my new book, The Essential Associate, which is now available for purchase.