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Getting your book from idea to printed page

Professional firms that benefit most from publishing a book are those wanting to stake a claim to a particular area of knowledge. Because of the amount of work (and diverted billable hours) involved in producing a book, it is important to pick an area that the firm really, really wants to be known for.

Some business professionals have a clear idea of how to organize their ideas into chapters and subheadings, and then start to populate those sub-headings with their ideas. Some of them can write quickly enough, and well enough, to make this a good use of their time. Some even have the tenacity to stick to the project and get it done in a reasonable time, working around their billable work and other priorities.

Most business professionals don’t meet those criteria. This can mean finding them the professional support that they need, and this can come in several ways. From the most intensive to least:

Hire a ghost-writer

This is a professional writer, easily recruited through agencies and freelance organizations. This person will interview your designated author or authors and work with any material that they already have written, and prepare a draft text for the author to review and edit. Done a chapter at a time, the ghost prepares the text of the book, using the terms and style of the author, and bringing the author’s personality across.

What does this cost? Rates are all over the place, but if I say a low end of US$10,000 for a competent ghost to do a reasonable-length book, that will provide an idea. If that sounds like a lot, consider how many hours it would take the named author of the book to generate the copy -- which would be time diverted from billable work for clients, mentoring juniors … or attending their child’s Little League game -- maybe even sleeping.
 
Then, consider if that book was the determining factor in bring in even a small job to the firm -- which may well be north of $10K, and result in a long-term relationship.

Transcribe a recording

Some business professionals feel more comfortable talking than they do writing. So have them talk, with a purpose. They need first of all to develop an outline for each chapter or section of the book -- the topics that need to be covered -- and then the author sits in a quiet room with an electronic recording device, and talks.

The recording then gets transcribed, in one of two ways.

While voice-to-text transcription programs are getting better all the time, they still need time to learn the speaker’s way of talking, and it may be necessary to make corrections to the transcription until the program learns how to work with the speaker. There may be specialized terminology that poses difficulty for the transcription program as well. But particularly if they use voice-to-text in other contexts, such as writing articles or blog posts, this is a good option.

The other transcription method involves the human touch. Dictaphone-wielding business executives used to hand microcassette tapes to their secretaries, back in the Mad Men era. Now, it’s done with digital recorders, with the files compressed to a standard such as MP3, and the files are accessed by Dropbox or other service. The ‘secretaries’ may be in India, the Philippines or some other country. The transcribers then send back their documents by e-mail to be reviewed and proof-read, and payment is by PayPal.

This has the benefit of providing good, safe work for people in parts of the world where good, safe workplaces are rare, and the need to earn income is great.

One author or several?

Books with multiple authors -- anthologies, in some cases -- have long been a literary staple. They give the reader multiple views on a subject, matching the expertise of each author.

Multiple-author books help professional firms produce a book without undue burden on any one member of the firm, as well as providing that multi-perspective benefit. If a firm wants to focus on a subject such as sustainable design, for example, it could provide a chapter by several different members, each providing their view on an aspect of sustainability.

Having a ghost-writer can help make this happen in a timely way, as well as ensure a unified voice and design to each chapter.

Writing a book is a major undertaking, particularly given the pressures on senior staff to bring in new projects, supervise projects and mentor juniors. But it can help a firm stand out to be able to say to a prospect, “Here’s a copy of a book we wrote on dealing with the issues you’re facing.”

Carl Friesen

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