What Goes Into Writing a Book

27 Jan 2011

After I published the ‘How I managed running a startup and writing a book’ blog 10 days ago, a couple of people asked me what exactly goes into writing a book. Yesterday, being a holiday (Republic Day in India) I thought of penning down my thoughts early in the morning. Hope you find it helpful if you are onto writing something…

You have to nail the theme and scope of the book before you start to do anything. Imagine your book as a business — would you start a business not knowing what services you are going to provide and what you want to achieve? Initially, with so many ideas bouncing around in my head, I had trouble zeroing in on a theme for the book. I wrote down all possible ideas/themes and then asked myself — ‘what do I really want to convey to my audience that could help them with their business’?

The main theme of the book will revolve around how businesses can harness the power of Software As A Service (SaaS), Web 2.0 and on-demand computing to lower cost, increase efficiency and productivity.

You wouldn’t start a business without knowing whom you are selling to. Having a clear idea of your audience will help you set the tone of the chapters. I knew I was not writing a technical book and hence was addressing non-technical entrepreneurs, business owners and professionals — these people would prefer an easy to read book with little or no technical jargon (they have enough jargon at their workplace). These people have heard of Web 2.0, Social Media, Cloud Computing, SaaS but really don’t know how to use them in their business. This book is going to be for them.

This book should be easy to read for people on a trans-atlantic flight.

Build The Plan
Once you have the theme in place you need to plan out the sections and how each section would be broken down into chapters. Your sections/chapters may/will change a bit as you go along but at this stage you need to have an idea of the ‘skeleton’ of the book. Something like a blueprint architects make before building a home.

Imagine this as a game — you need to get to all of those sections before getting your book printed.

Since I was familiar with most of my topics (due to my experience being in the web world and experience with DeskAway) I decided to write my first draft without any research. This was more of a mind dump. I started writing a couple of hours every day and spent more time over the weekends. I only wrote when I was charged up to put down some thoughts. I didn’t force myself to write even if it meant that I wouldn’t write for a few days in a row. Eventually after a few months, I had my first draft ready.

For every piece of content that needed backing I had left a note to myself. I wasn’t worried about filling in facts/numbers/stats — they were easier to fill later on. I also made a note wherever I thought it would be interesting to fill in a case study or a quote.

At this time I had created several projects in DeskAway and assigned some research work to a couple of people who were helping me with collecting statistics and facts simultaneously.

Incremental Improvement
I read and re-read what I had written and made changes to anything that felt out of sync. It is amazing how editing makes you re-think about what you have written and helps you improve upon your earlier version. Today, I have gotten used to reading my writing (blog, website, newsletter or anything other type of communication) at least a few times over a couple of days.

Even with the Web, getting the right examples, numbers, facts was not easy. Google search often brought articles back from 2001–2002 which I couldn’t use. Unless I was looking for historical data, I only used facts from articles within the last year. I bookmarked my research using delicious.

I could get some facts from Gartner, Frost & Sullivan, Springboard and Forrester — but most of their research is paid. I stuck to well-known sites like TechCrunch, Mashable, Time, Wikipedia, NYTimes, USAToday, ZDNet, BusinessWeek, InfoWorld, Wired etc. I was hesitant to take any data off personal blogs — if I did find any I would do a search to see if it had a credible source.

Getting Case studies
I thought of getting case studies from a list of about 50 people from around the world whom I had shortlisted. These people were categorized in a spreadsheet as ‘Web 2.0 Experts’, ‘Consumers of Web 2.0/ Social Media — Business Owners’, ‘SaaS Founders/ Experts’ and ‘Venture Capitalists’.

I collected their email addresses and sent them an email telling them what I was working on and if they could help. About 95% of the people got back to me within a week with a willingness to answer a few questions. I set up email interviews and Skype calls over the next month. I updated the spreadsheet with color codes — Grey — Not responded, Red — Not Interested, Orange — Waiting for response, Green — Got response.

I kept adding to this list as I discovered interesting people on Twitter/ Web during the rest of the months that I was writing. A quick reply on Twitter was so much easier sometimes than getting in touch through traditional means.

Getting the above information was amazing since it gave me multi-dimensional perspective on the book. It seemed that my manuscript was going to have multiple voices. In addition, I was strengthening my case and re-enforcing my theme. It was on my third draft that I peppered my chapters with case studies and quotes.

One weekend I sat and sketched out 20 simple illustrations that could explain 20 concepts visually. This was given to my web designer who sent me back jpeg files that I could include within all my chapters.

I updated statistics atleast 3–4 times and once just before I sent the manuscript to my publishers. At one point my stats read that Twitter daily tweets were in the range of 16 million whereas at the time of my last update it had gone up to 50–60 million per day. Such is the fast-paced life on the Web.

The project was huge with a lot of minor details and the only way (looking back) I completed it was because of meticulous planning and getting the bigger picture in front of me early on. Doesn’t that seem like a mini-snapshot taken from a book call ‘life’? :)

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