A version of this story appeared in Total Annarchy, my fortnightly newsletter that helps you be a better writer, storyteller, marketer. Get it in your inbox; you’ll love it.
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From time to time I answer reader questions. This is one of those times.
<Hoists mailbag onto table. Rummages around. Pulls out reader letter.>*
*Kidding. Of course questions come via email. But “clicked email and pasted here” doesn’t land quite the same, does it?
“How do you know when the time is right to draft your first book? Did you feel overwhelmed by writing about such a competitive topic?” —Sara
Let’s answer the first part of that question with a visualization. (Walk with me…)
You’re wandering through the aisles of a bookstore/clicking around the virtual aisles on Amazon. You eye a certain book tucked on a shelf. A small shock of recognition: The topic. The positioning. You’re staring at the book you wanted to write. But didn’t.
Maybe the title is different, or the jacket. But the gist is the same… and the author’s face isn’t your face.
What’s your gut screaming at you, in that moment? Check one:
___ Eh. My gut isn’t screaming at all. My gut is rational. Non-emotive. Gut assesses the situation. “Welp, this proves it was a good idea,” Gut shrugs. If Gut is spritzed with a perfume of regret, he’s not admitting it. (If Gut were a marketer, he’d be 1000% data-driven. Perhaps head of MOPs.)
___ “*&&@)$*$!!!!,” Gut says. He’s wailing. WAILING. Melting down right there in the aisle.
If you vibe with the latter, start writing.
Not because of jealousy, ego, or resentment that someone else did something you didn’t.
But because you need to honor an idea—your Idea—that has established residency in your head. Idea has moved in, redecorated, added throw pillows, tacked up twinkle lights.
Idea has become so much a part of you that everything you see is through Idea’s lens.
The wailing (WAILING!) is because you didn’t share Idea with the rest of the world. You just let the two of you grow creaky and old together. The two of you finishing each other’s sentences. Like a weird Cult of Two.
The time to write your first book is when you can’t not write it anymore. Because Idea deserves it. And you both know it.
And, by the way, we’re talking about book-writing here… but this advice applies to almost anything worth doing—a new business, a new screenplay, a new career direction.
Fifteen years ago this month, Jack Dorsey posted a sketch to Flickr of an Idea that would become Twitter. He’d drawn his Idea 5 years earlier, he writes. And, increasingly, the Idea slipped into everything he created.
Twitter, Jack says, “was everywhere I looked.”
Yeah… but what about the competition? The other books on the very same topic? There are already one jillion books about… well, everything.
What books? Where?
“There is no competition,” my friend Mitch Joel said recently on Clubhouse. (I loved it so much I wrote it down.) Other books are out there, but they aren’t written by you.
I believe everyone has at least one book in them—one story worth telling to others.
Publish it when… [a checklist]:
☑️ You’re ready to move from writer to author.
>> A writer is a vocation (sometimes a calling). Author is a job.
☑️ You have an audience you’ve built.
>> Your “audience” doesn’t have to fill a football stadium. But it should be at least 99 people who know, like, trust you and want to hear from you. (99 is a little arbitrary, but I picked it because it’s a solid foundation, and it’s doable.)
☑️ Your book solves a problem for a certain person. And you know exactly who that person is.
☑️ You can distill that problem you solve into one sentence.
>> Pro tip: Write the landing page for your book before you write the book. It can help you clarify, focus.
☑️ Whatever you write… you write in a way others can recognize as you.
>> If you cover up your face/name on your book… would others recognize your writing voice?
>> A strong writing voice is your differentiator. Hone it. Nurture it. Grow it. It’ll serve you well in writing anything and everything—from books to blog posts.
☑️ You’re willing to be vulnerable.
It’s scary to put your ideas out there, because it opens you up to criticism. People won’t like what you have to say. Jerks on Goodreads will give you one star just for the fun of it. “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are,” said e.e. cummings.
>> It took me years to truly tap that courage and let it flow—sluggishly at first, then more freely—until you don’t really care what Goodreads thinks. (Usually.)
I’m working through some of these 6 things right now—not with my first book (that was Content Rules, published 10 years ago)—but with my new book.
Maybe that says something about me, but I don’t think so. I think it says something about us all.