What is the Second Thing to Focus on after I Sign the Contract?
In the last post we discussed the importance of meeting with your editor to establish certain things about the book up front: to make sure the outline is on target, the rest of the book architecture works (elements like use of call-out quotes, end of chapter summaries, etc.), the approach and focus of the book is appropriate, and to establish a mutually beneficial timeline and a method of operation, e.g. will the author submit book chapter-by-chapter, in chapter clusters, or just as a final book?
What happens next is just as important. Once you meet with the editor, share a meal, and bid goodbye, then there is a whole new set of priorities that takes center stage. In this posting, we will deal with the research part of the process:
* Research: Most business books, especially good ones, have something new to say that is based on new and original research. This can include interviews with key people related to your book or secondary research that you would find in articles, online, or at the library. The best business books are based on original and counter-intuitive research from extensive multi-year studies involving tens of thousands (or many more) participants. Books such as Now Discover Your Strengths by Buckingham and Clifton (Free Press, 2001) is an example of such a book. Some books are built on the backs of decades of research based on one’s reporting career. A great example of this is Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense, the New York Times bestseller by David Cay Johnston (Portfolio, 2008). Johnston spent more than four decades revealing the shocking relationship between government officials and certain private sector entities—as the rich got richer…and you know the rest.
Most business books, even many of the good ones, are not based on that amount of research and don’t need to be. I have written six books and most were based on either a handful of interviews and/or a great deal of online and library research. The six-year research study involving a team of two dozen research people is more the exception than the rule. However, the best business book breaks new ground and therefore always reveals information or conclusions based on fresh and previously unpublished research.
This does not mean that the more “mundane” research can’t be incredibly helpful.
For example, one invaluable research tool that helps me immeasurably is Amazon.com. The function “Search Inside the Book” played a major role in helping me to pinpoint a portion of the quotes, ideas, and concepts featured in Inside Drucker’s Brain. However, there are no real short-cuts. What I mean is that before I used that function I took detailed notes from about two dozen of Drucker’s most prominent works. If I needed more data on a particular topic, I was able to go back to that book, key in “Search Inside the Book” and type in whatever topic or phrase or concept I was working on (e.g. build on strength, know what to abandon, etc.).
Since business books are based on whatever fountain of resesarch you are able to compile, this is a critial and work-intensive part of the book-writing experience. I recall many, middle-of-the-night sessions when I could not sleep and worked from 2-6 am. While I never fell asleep on my laptop, I came close (if you do fall asleep you know you are on the right track!). This was often the most tedious and painstaking part of the process, but know from the outset that how well one does this separates the fair books from the truly good ones. Ultimately, for me, the writing part was easier than the research part. But that’s me and every individual writer is different.
Of course, for the Drucker book, actually meeting with him at his home for a full day interview was, by far, the highlight of my book researching career.
More on what to do after you sign the contract next week!