by Jacqui Pretty – Grammar Factory
One of the biggest mistakes aspiring authors make when writing their book is not committing to one type of book.
What do I mean by this? Great nonfiction books come in all shapes and sizes, and small business owners usually write one of the following:
- The how to book
- The thought leadership book
- The interview book
- The memoir
While all of these can work well, many entrepreneurs just start writing without thinking about the type of book they want to write. They start with a bit on their story, write five chapters that cover five steps, add some interviews, and hope for the best.
When it comes to editing, this will either result in:
- A very confused editor who doesn’t know what you want to achieve, so only does a more sophisticated spell check rather than reviewing your content and structure; or
- An editor who edits your book to fit one of the four book types, resulting in any content that isn’t relevant to that book type being cut (we had one case where a client’s word count dropped by 45%).
So which should you choose?
All four book types can work, but some may be more suited to you than others.
1. The how to book
Often structured as X steps to achieve a certain result, in a how to book you teach your readers how to do something using your unique process. If you own a service-based business and work with one-on-one clients or groups, this will probably be a good choice for you as you will already have a process you take your clients through to achieve a certain result. (Warning – you may not realise you have a process at first. But look deeper and you’ll find the common threads that exist for every client – this is the beginning of your step-by-step process.)
Some examples from my clients include Property Prosperity by Miriam Sandkuhler, which goes through seven steps to investing like an expert or Secret Mums’ Business by Angela Counsel, which takes mums in business through six steps to create balance in their lives. Some how to books with a slightly different structure include Elizabeth Gillam’s Would You Like Profits with That? and Adam Hobill’s Nail It!, which take their readers through broader processes that take place in phases (e.g. Nail It!, which gives you the ins and outs of building a home, takes readers through the Idea Stage, through to the Design, Quote and Build Stages), and each phase is broken up into areas or steps.
2. The thought leadership book
Rather than taking readers through a process to achieve a certain result, this book is more persuasive, focussing on making your case for something you believe in. This can work well for entrepreneurs who:
- Have a highly customised process that can’t easily be broken into steps
- Have a highly involved process with many steps that happen at the same time, so they are difficult to explain in a sequence (this often happens with very large corporate projects)
- Work in a field that isn’t widely understood or accepted
These books generally start by focusing on the problem in the industry, and then what the author’s solution can do to solve it, and the bulk of the content in these books comes from anecdotes and case studies.
To give a client example, Warren Otter’s Crank it up is a cross between a thought leadership book and a how to book – while it touches on the process of acquiring and merging with a new company, the bulk of the book focuses on making the case for mergers and acquisitions once a company has reached maturity. Another example of this type of book is Lissa Rankin’s Mind over medicine, which makes the case for the power of the mind to heal our bodies.
3. The interview book
The bulk of the content in this type of book comes from interviews, which all relate to a certain topic. This type of book works well if you want to collate a number of views on a certain subject, but you aren’t pushing any strong idea, like in a thought leadership book. The challenge with interview books is filling in content between the interviews to link them together in a cohesive story.
One example of an interview book is Monique Bayer’s Devouring Melbourne. Monique Bayer’s company Walk Melbourne does foodie walking tours of Melbourne, and Devouring Melbourne is about celebrating some of the food secrets she uncovers on these tours. While the book goes into the history of some of the different cuisines you’ll find in Melbourne, the bulk of the content comes from interviews with the owners of the various establishments she frequents, sharing their own food journeys.
4. The memoir
The memoir sounds pretty self-explanatory – it’s just you telling your story, isn’t it? Yes, it is telling your story, but you need to do it in a way that people will want to read. This means you can simply write a chronology of your life – you need to be clear on a single message you want to share, and focus on one main journey in your life that communicates that message.
One great memoir is Llew Dowley’s Crazy Mummy Syndrome, which shares her story of post natal depression, from trying for her first child to raising $10,000 for Black Dog Institute. Because Llew focused on this single part of her life, rather than her life in general, she ended up with a truly powerful narrative.
Regardless of which book type you choose, the key thing is to pick one type and stick with it – you can’t change your mind halfway through and expect a great result. If you do change your mind and think a different type of book would be better for your business, often it’s better to start again than to try to mould your old content into a new shape.
Mixing and matching
Now I know what you’re thinking, can’t I include my story in a how to book? or can’t I use interviews in a thought leadership book?
Yes, sometimes content can cross genres. However, the difference is how it’s used. While you might have chapters detailing a particular life experience in your memoir, in your how to book it would be a short example used as evidence to illustrate a certain point, rather than going into the same level of depth. Either way, you need to commit to one type of book.
Not sure where to start?
If you aren’t sure which book type will work for you, the best place to start is with some brainstorming or a mind map.
First, write down your general topic and then turn it into a sentence that fits each book type. For example, if your topic is health and fitness, your how to sentence might be ‘how to lose 20kg and double your energy’. Your why sentence might be ‘the cost of illness – why it’s so important to look at your health now’. Your memoir sentence might be ‘how losing 20kg changed my life’.
Then, brainstorm each of these ideas. The one that sparks the most ideas and where you have the most knowledge to share is the book you should be writing.