By Cindy Childress, Regular Columnist.
“I have a great story, and everyone tells me I should write a book, but I don’t know what kind of book it would be.”
Clients would say some version of that sentence to me quite often in my early days of ghostwriting. Most of the conventional advice for concerns like that is, “Start writing and see where the ideas take you,” or “Write what you know.” I don’t disagree with those general principles, but they overlook another huge criteria: what do you want to get out of the experience of being an author?
Defining your author goals of getting your story or ideas “out there” is a huge part of planning to write your book so that it will be well-positioned to achieve those goals. You’ve probably heard of SMART goals, right? (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound).
We think about them a lot as entrepreneurs and small business owners. But, a lot of clients I speak with have heard before that writing is supposed to be something you just sit down and do naturally instead of planning it, and it’s supposed to be almost magical how you leap to instant success.
It’s a shame that these myths persist. That’s not to say that there aren’t examples of people who SEEM to leap from anonymity to fame with a book, but usually that leap comes after years of writing, PR, and putting themselves out there—then, finally they were in the right place at the right time with the right manuscript. James Clear’s first book, Atomic Habits, was an instant New York Times Bestseller, and in his October 25th newsletter, he lays out seven years of groundwork he did to ensure that would be likely to happen. Without his “clear” goal of writing a New York Times Bestseller in 2012, he wouldn’t have been able to work toward it in the strategic way that he did.
I work with my ghostwriting clients to define their goals, and most authors I work with are surprised when we get to that point of the discussion—before talking about what content should be in the book. Here’s why I structure the discussion to put the goals first:
By defining your SMART goals as an author before we discuss what goes inside the cover of your book, I have a better idea of what kind of book you should write to achieve your definition of success for your book. (FYI, this is going to be a big part of my upcoming Write Your Bestseller in Paris retreat in the fall).
Let’s break it down with an example.
Say you want to share your story about overcoming self-sabotage, and now you’re a transformation coach. You’re writing your book for your best clients to attract more people like them, and they are people just like you were at the beginning of your journey: women in their 30s-40s who are holding themselves back from being their authentic selves and going for what they really want in life. You want them to know what you wish you had known sooner so they can get out of their own way.
At this point, many kinds of books, such as Self-Help, Memoir, Journal, and Nonfiction could achieve the above goal. That means it’s still too broad.
The next step is to ask, “What will it take for you to feel that writing and publishing your book was a worthwhile, satisfying project?” And that, my friend, is going to be broken into your SMART goals.
You want to attract more clients, grow your newsletter list, and get more speaking engagements
(This is very good, but needs to be nailed down)
You want to sell out your three-month coaching program for the whole year, triple your list, and speak at least once every month in the first year of the book’s release.
(Much better, and needs to be tied to a plan that’s possible to execute)
Grow your list at monthly speaking engagements, and through a nurture sequence, onboard followers to your three-month coaching program and start a wait-list.
(By taking the three abstract success-markers and telling a narrative with them, you get a better idea of how to build the content legacy you’re creating)
Speak at Chamber of Commerce events, create my own events, promote my book talk to women’s self-help groups and book clubs, and hone in on my Big Idea I want to be known for and consistently show up and speak to that.
(All the above depend on you and your connections, not on a lightning bolt. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t want to be interviewed on The Today Show. It just means if that’s how you measure success, you want to redo this exercise to create bigger goals that could get you on that couch).
Within a year, I want to be able to hold my book in my hand so I can sell it at the annual professional conference.
(This is excellent motivation for you to finish the book on time. When there’s no specific end-goal, book projects tend to get dragged out. Sometimes that’s good because you do get better ideas, but often they just stall out and don’t get picked up again, which is a shame).
With all these success markers defined more clearly, the kind of book this client should write becomes clearer. It’s going to be a book that positions her as the expert. I would encourage her to look at Self-Help. The heart of her story is her own struggle and triumph, as well as turning around and giving a hand-up to the next person behind her with teaching and exercises. Thus, the hero in this story isn’t her—it’s the reader.
While she wants readers to relate to her, she also wants them to see her as someone that can help them, too. If she was only trying to be relatable and build her list, then a memoir would also be a fine option for her, and in that case she would be the hero.
Go through the above exercise for your book idea, or any writing project you’re stuck on or considering to start. As you achieve your goals, keep setting newer, more challenging ones.
Cindy Childress, Ph. D. is a ghostwriter and publishing consultant for coaches and consultants with transformational stories who want to create a legacy in content. As a ghostwriter, three of her books hit Amazon best seller lists in the past two years. Find out more at: