How do you write a business book? Part 2: Making consistent progress every month


by Karen Newcombe

For Part 1 of How Do You Write a Business Book?, click here. 

At the end of our previous article, Sal DiFonzo (Managing Director, FMI Corporation) and I  had a large amount of already written material (articles and reports that Sal contributed to or wrote) sorted and placed into the outline. By late February, Sal and I were ready to start adding more content. He wrote a great first chapter that's full of energy and challenging ideas to introduce the concepts and process that the rest of the book will cover in depth. 

The materials we inserted into the outline had been chopped up into paragraphs and sections to match the positions we needed them in, but that created some repetition of ideas and sections of text. Since this content had all come from other projects, it needed some work:

  1. Remove or resolve duplicated ideas and text.
  2. Smooth out transitions between texts from different documents, so they become of a piece.
  3. Reword the text to freshen it and update the information and ideas.
  4. Expand the content substantially and create a coherent structure. This book is not a compilation of related articles, it is a focused whole that explains the process of creating a structured incentive compensation plan step-by-step. None of the articles we used cover this specific portion of the material, but they did save us some time in creating the supporting structure, versus writing every word from scratch. 
  5. Review for adherence to The Chicago Manual of Style.

Writing is not a linear process. You have to work on what you can do at the time, without worrying about whether the previous section is perfectly finished. Perfection is your enemy during your first draft. The primary goal during your first draft is to get all your ideas down. What writers call the messy first draft can feel just that way, disorderly and incomplete, but it's much more important to capture all the ideas and concepts in one place. Once the entire rough draft of the book in hand, then is the time to revise, expand, and polish, usually several times over.  

A change of schedule–we need it three months early! 

As we began expanding the text, Sal hit an extremely busy period in his consulting work, and was on the road for the better part of two months. Long days working with clients and living out of hotels made for difficult writing conditions. While he was occupied, I spent time finding the repetitions in the text, smoothing out the transitions and doing much of the rewording. 

I also pulled the manuscript into Word and began to set it up for eventual publication, using one of the Amazon CreateSpace interior templates. This was an early point in the process to be doing this–normally I would not start on the layout until the text was completed, but we suddenly had a new challenge facing us.

Our original target date for publishing was December 2014. In April Sal realized that FMI Corporation's All Client Meeting in October would be a great time to introduce the book. That meant cutting an entire quarter of a year from our schedule! We had to move faster, and one of the things I could do while Sal was on the road was to work on the layout. 

On our original schedule we planned to have the manuscript done by the end of October, so we had a month for the publication process, review of proof copies, and final corrections.  Now we are shooting for the end of August as our target date, so these actions can happen in September and books will be available for the October conference. We'll have to remain flexible, but we're going to give it a try! 

Graphics and book cover design

We are working with FMI's internal graphic designer for the book cover, and have supplied the book cover specifications information from Amazon.  Sal looked at the business books in his office for covers that appeal to him, so we have an idea of what he'd like to see. 

I have also gone through the document page by page and identified places where charts and graphs would add to the content. If you work with Amazon CreateSpace and are doing your own layout, you're allowed to insert as many graphics as you want. If you choose to have CreateSpace do the layout for you, you're limited to ten images. Color printing and black-and-white printing are handled somewhat differently. We've chosen black-and-white printing, so all our images will need to be gray scale with a minimum of 300 dpi resolution. 

Brainstorming a book title

Developing a good business book title is tricky. Typically the title conveys at a high level what the book is about and the subtitle or tagline tells more about what the reader can expect to gain.  We talked through a number of ideas over the months, and ended up with this working title: Designing Effective Incentive Compensation Plans: Create a plan that drives strategy, engages employees, and achieves success.  This title says what the book is about (incentive compensation plans) what you'll be able to learn from the book (how to design an effective plan) and the kind of results it will help you achieve (driving company strategy, engaging employees, achieving success).  

The Chicago Manual of Style

Book publishers have a strong preference for The Chicago Manual of Style, so at every turn of this process I am constantly checking the manual for how numbers should be written, how parentheses are handled in different sentence structures, whether or not to italicize common Latin phrases, how the bibliography should be configured, and similar issues of structure and form. 

I will hit this particular aspect of the manuscript rigorously as we get closer to completion; the last thing any author wants is to get emails from readers correcting the book's grammar or style choices.

Next steps

Right now, in June 2014, Sal is writing the most important chapter in the book, the compensation plan design process. At the same time I am working my way through the manuscript word-by-word, editing as I go, to bring the messy first draft up to a stage where we can ask some colleagues for feedback. Our next steps are to get the graphics created and placed, the new chapters inserted and integrated with the rest of the text, and to build the Suggested Reading and other extra materials.  

By mid- to late July we'll be asking the beta readers to review the manuscript, and for colleagues to write cover blurbs. Sal has already lined up a well-known expert on compensation strategy to write the foreword. 

We have a busy couple of months ahead working to finish up the book and hit our deadline.

I'll post another update on our progress  in July. 

Photo credit: the queen of subtle / Foter /CC BY-NC 2.0

232QAWS© Karen L. Newcombe 2016     Email:   Phone: 954-428-5457