Well, it’s not really 132 reasons, but there are a lot of them in this podcast. Ann Sheybani is my writing coach and she’s been enormously helpful in getting my first book out the door, although it’s not quite there yet.
Ann is going to help us understand why it’s important to write your book and why it’s not as daunting as you might think, even for me. You see, I decided my first book should be a parable/novel about a very dysfunctional business family.
She’s incredibly knowledgeable and has been helping me understand the process of good writing. I bet this is something you also would want in your life.
You see, the truth is you do need to write a book, especially if you’re in the knowledge business. In this episode, Ann will walk you through the why’s and hows. Here are some of the things you’ll learn in this episode:
- Stories are the key to a great book.
- Why being an author automatically gives you legitimacy.
- Want to be seen as an expert, write a book.
- Reasons you don’t want your book to be a biography or a textbook.
- Why the most important part of writing a book is planning the book…….and tons of other information.
Narrator: Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful.
Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.
Josh: Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick. And you’re at The Sustainable Business.
Today, our guest is Ann Sheybani. Ann is the author of How to Eat an Elephant which helps you figure out how to write a book. And she is my content editor. She’s been helping me write a book for the last six months or so. And we’re at the last stages of it. And she has been a godsend because without her this book never would have gotten written nor would it be nearly as good as I hope it’s actually going to be.
So, today we’re going to talk a bit about why you might want to have a book even if you’re in a blue-collar business like a plumbing business, or an electrical supply business, or a small manufacturing company, or even a large manufacturing company. Books help you build authority. And customers that you have want authority, and prospects you have also want authority. They want to know that you’re good at what you do. So instead of me just wandering on forever, talking about why you need a book, let’s bring the expert in.
Hey, Ann, how are you today?
Ann: Well, hello, Josh. I’m good, good. I’m so good. Thank you for sharing your platform with me. I really appreciate that. And I am here to deliver really good content to them geared towards your people so thank you for that.
Josh: Cool. Well, I’m glad to have you here. And let’s start off with the obvious question, why do you think people should have a book?
Ann: I’m going to answer that with a story first and foremost because when you tell people a story the whole concept that you want to share with them sticks. So I operate in stories and you should too.
So my husband and I were on top of a mountain in Stowe, Vermont. We were having dinner. And we were discussing his book that was just released. We were talking about where it was going to be, what bookstores, what talks he was going to give.
And while we were having dinner, there was a young woman that was sitting behind us, you know, overhearing our conversation. And when dessert was being served, she sidled up to the table and she said to my husband, “Oh my God, are you an author?” And of course, his chest puffed out and he said, “Why, yes. Yes, of course. I’m an author.”
And she was so excited that she got into a conversation. She wanted to know what the book was about. And the entire time, I’m sitting there fuming because I’m the writer in the family and I’m the one that should be getting all off the attention and all of the, you know, “You’re a writer, you’re so terrific.” She had no idea what the book was about. She had no idea what the genre was, whether it was chicken scratches on a page or if it was the next War and Peace. All she heard is that he was an author.
And it so happened that she was working at a private school. She arranged for him to come in. He got a speaking gig. He gets business through speaking. And in no time flat, he had an opportunity that he would not have had, had he not had a book out in the world. And whether or not it’s fair to simply have the author behind your name – to simply own that, whether or not that’s fair or not, it buys you credibility. It buys you opportunities. And therein lies why you want to have a book out in the world.
Josh: So that makes a lot of sense if you’re in the speaking business or consulting business or even a lawyer or an accountant, I can certainly see that.
Josh: But what about if I’m a manufacturer or I’m a small contractor, or something along that’s more of a traditional business where you don’t really think about those sort of folks writing books.
Ann: You know, I thought about this question. I think it’s a really good question because there are certainly people that I would have a conversation with that I would say, “It’s probably not in your best interest to write a book” because writing a book requires a lot of time. It requires a lot of energy. It requires a lot of focus.
And yet, if you are at a stage in your business where you would like to be seen as an expert in your field, if you’re positioning yourself in your organization, if you’re angling to have a larger role, let’s say, in a plumbing organization, to be seen as the expert there. If you have a target market– we’ll use the example of plumbers. If you would like to be the go-to plumber for people in high-end homes in your area. The yuppies, for instance, in your area. Having a book out there will set you apart because if you are speaking directly to that market, if you understand what these people are looking for, what their typical problems are, how you would speak to them, you will definitely set yourself apart.
If you are just out there. You’re getting referral business. You’re getting customers from the electrician who’s subcontracting out. If you’re feeding your business that way and you’re fine, I would say, “You don’t necessarily want to be investing the energy and the time to write a book. But if you want to be seen as the expert in trade organizations, in publications, if you’re angling to take it to the next level, in your business, or to attract a very well-defined market in your current business, that’s when you’d want to sit down and write a book, for sure.
Josh: So I’m going to bet that if I’m a plumber, or an electrician, or a manufacturer I don’t need to write a book that’s 300 pages or even 200 pages or—
Josh: Even 100 pages. Probably a 75-page book would be enough.
Ann: Yup. I’ll speak to that because I think you’re absolutely right. A lot of people who come to me and they want to write a book, they tend to go two ways. (1) They want to write an autobiography, telling their entire life story about how they got to where they are. And I’ve had people come to me, they have– no lies, 700 pages and they’re trying to create this very tightly woven narrative. And it’s usually a complete and utter failure because those things are— as you know, from writing a narrative, they’re hard to create.
The other thing people want to do is they want to create this comprehensive textbook. If we’re going to use the example of a plumber, they want to write everything they know about plumbing because, in their mind, they’re thinking that if you show people the extent of your knowledge, if you throw all your wrenches in the toolbox, people are going to be impressed. And likely what you do is you overwhelm people.
So if you were putting together a 75-page book, you might be thinking in terms of, “Okay, what are the common problems that my customers face? All right, they’ve got clogged sinks. They have toilets that are overflowing. All of a sudden they’ve got to replace S-shaped fittings or what not.” If you write a 75-page book about four common problems that your typical clients face and you give them little how-to’s – how they can do it on their own, and when they actually can’t – how to spot when it’s not a do-it-yourself fix, but when you want to have an expert in. You’re doing a couple of things. (1) You are making it readable. You’re keeping the scope very manageable not just for your reader but for yourself. And (2) you are creating trust and credibility for yourself. You’re giving away free information. You’re addressing really common problems. You’re saying, “Yeah, there are instances where you can do this stuff on your own. And here’s where doing it on your own is going to end up costing you so much pain and so much money. This is where you want bring in a professional.”
Well, guess who they’re going to come to know when they figure out, “Ooh, this is where I actually need to bring in a professional.” They bring you in. because of your generosity with telling them how to go about fixing it. And (2) you’ve just written it down. You’ve demonstrated credibility. You’ve demonstrated your expertise. And you’re the natural choice. You are the person they will go to. Even if you charge twice as much as their current plumber, they will go to you.
Josh: So that makes a lot of sense. So let’s make a little bit of pivot here. Let’s talk about the process of writing a book. So if I want to write a book, what do I need to do first, second, third and fourth?
Ann: First thing you need to do is identify the big problem – the single biggest problem your people come to you for. What is the big thing that, let’s say, 75% of your clients come to you? What is the big result that you give them? What is the problem? What is your solution?
Josh: So should that big problem be something that’s like one sentence long, a paragraph long, or a page long?
Ann: Here’s what we do. We ramble on. Well, here, first of all, people come to me— if we’re going to use the plumber. And I’m no plumber so know, let me ramble and forgive me for my ignorance.
So yeah, the plumbing is, I’ve just bought a Victorian house. For some reason, I tend to do a lot of work in Victorian houses. And the plumbing is really old school. It’s the straight up and down or it’s the S-curve plumbing in the toilet. And I’ve been told that I need to switch this out.
So the biggest problem people would have is they are living in an older house, probably a Victorian house. And they are terrified that they have to change out all of their plumbing. And they don’t know how much it’d cost. They don’t know what they can do on their own or what they’re going to need an expert’s help in. And I go in. And I help determine what is the cheapest way to fix most of their plumbing without having to overhaul everything.
So I’m going to ramble a bit but I would break it down into one paragraph. By the time we’re finishing up, I would define the problem in one paragraph. But more than anything, I would be looking for stories to share regarding people that I’ve already helped. Tom and Mary, they were in their 30s. They bought their first Victorian house. They were in love with the shape of the building. They thought, “Oh my God, how cool to have an old house,” until it came time to having to fix the thing up.
So you want to define your problem – the big problem that you would like to be known for in the industry, for having a solution for, to the extent that you can narrow that down. Do you work with other things? Do you help in other regards? Absolutely. But to the extent that you can clarify that big problem most of the people come to you with in a paragraph. And then to the extent that you can come up with a list of even four stories about individuals with names, with their setup, and how the problem presented for them, and what you did to save the day for them. You’ve identified two big elements to telling your story.
Josh: So let me just ask you a question here. So you’ve mentioned stories a couple times.
Ann: Yeah. Yeah.
Josh: Why is it that stories are so important when you write a book, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction?
Ann: You remember sitting in college and reading textbooks. And textbooks are loaded with concepts because in school we have to study concepts, we have to be able regurgitate concepts. But if you are anything like me, if you took an economics course, for instance, you could read about two pages at a time, right?
Josh: I was a little weird. I could actually read it for hours but that’s beside the point.
Ann: Could you? I mean, maybe because I was a chemistry major and I there’s no way I should’ve been a chemistry major. But my eyes would roll onto the back of my head. I loved psychology because you’d always get case studies. But the human mind, the way our minds work and it’s been studied scientifically, is that in order for a concept to stick. A concept really needs to be housed within a story where you are describing an individual. You’re not talking about you’re wearing a white shirt and a bowtie. You don’t need that. But we need the sense that you’re talking about a specific person or a specific type of person.
When you get too generalized or when you are simply talking about concept— I mean, you and I could talk about narrative arc right now and I can describe precisely what a narrative arc is. But until I explain how that looks for you, Josh, who’s writing a book, what it looks like when you’ve actually created a narrative arc, what it looks like when you haven’t exactly established that, what kind of trouble arises? If I don’t put it into a personal context, it’s much harder for that stuff to stick.
And, yeah, it’s not like you have to write your autobiography. It’s not that you have to write about your personal problems. It’s not that you have to write and confess, do the father confessor thing, in a book. But you do have to establish a sense of people – real people who are dealing with the problem that you fix. Otherwise, it’s just a lot harder for it to work.
Even the best how-to’s will include a large sense of some housewife getting the wrench out from underneath her kitchen sink and unscrewing a bolt, and then having the water spray up into her face and flood the floor. Suddenly, you are placing your reader in a situation that they can immediately relate to. And without it, it makes for hard reading. It just does. It will go in one ear and out the other.
Josh: Okay. So I get that we need to have stories and we need to have an overarching message that the book has.
Josh: I’m sitting down in front of a blank sheet of paper and I’ve got to produce 40,000, 50,000 or 60,000 words.
Josh: What do I do to make that transition from the blank page to 40,000 words easy?
Ann: So here’s the trick, the subtitle of my book is “How to write a book in bite size steps” because to sit down and think that you’ve got to produce 75 pages even. Most people are aiming for 200 pages.
Let’s say you’re going to write a short. And a short is a book that’s anywhere from 40 pages to 75 or 80 pages. And by the way, they’re very valuable. They are real books. And they are very appealing, particularly in the type of markets that you deal in, Josh. You know, we don’t need a 200-page book on plumbing. We just don’t.
And so, you want to think in terms of writing in bricks. You want to think in terms of creating a really, really horrific first draft because if you sit down thinking that everything you put on the page has to flow very naturally from one concept into the next concept, if you think that your first paragraph has to be completely readable and perfect which is the perfectionist problem so many of us have, you’re going to immediately stymie yourself. And so, my recommendation is you spend an hour and a half, three times a week, playing with the concept.
And I always encourage people not to be linear. So if we’re going to go to the plumbing metaphor, I might sketch out a short list of things that I want to accomplish. So here is the biggest problem my people face. Here is what my client is, like who they are, what their problem looks like. And I would just put a whole bunch of notes down that I wouldn’t want anybody to read. And then I would say, “Here are the five things that they could fix on their own. “ And then I would say, “This is a step by step of how they would go about doing it.” So I would just make a rough sketch of what I want to cover.
So the next writing session, and I always say work an hour and a half because everybody I work with, including you Josh, are way too busy in their business to be playing this game. They’re way too busy. And so, you’re not going to sit there for three weeks, on the river Seine, writing this. You’re going to be working on it in 1-1/2 to 2-hour pieces because that’s about all the time you have allotted to you.
So I would be looking at one of the problems that I help fix. I would choose one. And then I would start writing a very crappy story about somebody who I worked with that experienced this problem, what it looked like. And by the time you finish it in two hours, it’s going to look terrible. It’s terrible. But the goal is to go through each of these problems, through each of these stories, and then the step by step how to go about fixing it.
And then, when you know you need to bring somebody like me in, you’re only working on one small section. Maybe you’re working on section 4 when you feel like it. Maybe you’re working on section 2. Next is to go in and create the stories, draw out the points but not spend time trying to perfect it, trying to have it read well, or trying to do too much at once. And the goal is to get a crappy first draft on.
Josh: That is absolutely great advice. We are unfortunately out of time.
Ann: Okay. Can I tell you something? You’ve got enough to get going.
Josh: You do have enough to get going. And one thing I want to add to this is that if you’re thinking about writing a book, you’re not going to do this during your regular business hours. You’re going to be doing this on the weekends or at night time when you actually can gather some time and you’re not going to be interrupted. You cannot write a book in 10-minute stretches.
So, Ann, I want to give you a chance to tell people how to contact you because I think you’re great. And if you’re thinking about writing a book, I know that you’ll have a conversation with anybody about that to see if you’re a good match.
Josh: So if somebody wants to find you, how would they do so?
Ann: They’re going to go to my website. And you can reach that at www.annsheybani.com. And that’s A-N-N-S-H-E-Y-B-A-N-I-.com. And you can just reach out to me right through my website.
Josh: Great. That’s a great way to do it.
And if you’re thinking about writing a book, talk to Ann. If you’re thinking about why you should write a book, talk to Ann. And if you’re not thinking about writing a book, talk to Ann and she’ll tell you why you should write a book.
At any write, thanks a lot of listening today. And I also have an offer for you. We have a 1-hour free audio CD. And the audio CD is Success to Sustainability: The Five Things You Need to Do to Create a Sustainable Business. To get it, it’s really easy. You just take out your smartphone. If you’re driving, please don’t do this. But take out your smartphone when you are not driving and text the word SUSTAINABLE to 44222. That’s SUSTAINABLE to 44222. You’ll get a link. And then that link will take you to a page where you give us your name and address, and we mail you the physical audio CD. And if you’re listening to this in your car, you can also listen to the audio CD in your car, assuming your car has an audio CD.
At any rate, thanks so much for being with us today. This is Josh Patrick. You’ve been at The Sustainable Business. And I hope to see you back here really soon.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around 100 years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802‑846‑1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at www.askjoshpatrick.com, or you can send Josh an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.