The 20 Questions Strategy For Book Writing
Do you know a lot of information but can’t seem to get focussed enough to write a book? This is one of my biggest problems. I start trying to write down everything that I think is important and before long I’m looking at pages of information that are as overwhelming as what is in my head.
This problem never gets in the way when someone comes up and asks me for help! When that happens, I can zero in on my audience and give the information that is necessary to answer their questions.
A visitor to this website recently asked me a few simple questions and I ended up writing a 780 word mini-article in response (rendered in 12 point Arial type on a 5.5″ x 8.5″ page – that’s 4 solid pages of text!) This lead me to my ‘ah ha!’ moment. (I’m sure I didn’t invent this, it just finally sunk into my brain.)
The 20 Questions Book Writing System
This idea couldn’t be any simpler. Recruit one or more people who would benefit from the book you want to write. Ask them to provide you with 20 questions on your topic that they have always wanted answered. Steer them to ask big picture questions rather than detailed ones.
When you get the questions back, sort them into a sequence that makes sense to you. If a question is too narrow, try to make it more general and group together related topics into sections. This list is the chapter structure of your book. Now it is time to get to work.
Answer each question with a 5 or 6 page response that is directed toward your audience. You are on your way to a first draft of your book. I recommend creating your document in the same physical format as you envision for the final format. I have a 5x8_book_template in Microsoft Word format that you can download and use as a basis for your project.
Give your answers back to the people who provided the questions and have them review your responses. Ask them to give notes about anything that is unclear or extraneous.
Revise your first draft using the notes you get back from your question team and then start looking for experts in your field to submit chapters to for professional feedback. (Do not send them the whole text, just the chapters that are focussed on their specific expertise.) These are also the people you will want to approach for promotional blurbs for your book cover, front matter, and promotional materials. (Thanks go to Dan Poynter for this strategy.)
Revise your book using the notes provided by your subject matter experts. This draft should be a fairly well developed manuscript. At this stage it is a good idea to hire a professional editor to edit your book for spelling, grammer, consistency, and style. You may chose to go it alone, but a good editor will give your work a level of polish that is hard to do by yourself. If you don’t know any editors, a service like The Proofreaders can help you locate one.
Next Stop, The Printing Press
Once you have your manuscript is done, it is time to decide how to publish your book. You can create an e-book, submit it to publishing houses and agents, or go the self-publishing route. (If you want to pursue a traditional publisher, you should consider submitting your chapter outline – the list of 20 questions – and a sample chapter earlier in the process. If they want the book, this may be enough to get a contract.)
There are lots of layout and design issues to consider before your work is complete, but you have a book now!
I have been wanting to write a book on video lighting for independent movies for a while now. I asked a good friend, who is planning his own movie project right now, to help me with my 20 questions. I’m also soliciting questions on my indie film blog too! I expect this to be a useful strategy in my writing endeavors.