Interview With Author, Editor & Ghostwriter James M. Ranson
Thursday, November 1, 2018
Don’t Write A Crappy Book!!
1. James, what inspired you to pen Don’t Write A Crappy Book!? Well, I’ve been working with business authors for 4 years now, and I noticed a big hole in the whole process. These authors - brilliant, talented business people - kept on making some of the same mistakes over and over again, and those mistakes were getting in the way of the results they were looking for in their businesses. The worst part was that most of the time they didn’t even know they were making them. And the book “gurus” they enlisted to help make their books great often overlooked or even encouraged many of those mistakes. Frankly, I got so sick of that that I couldn’t NOT write this book. There was just too great a need to name these totally preventable mistakes and provide clear guidance on how to avoid and counter them.
2. You highlight 17 mistakes that will kill a business book. How do some savvy authorpreneurs avoid them? Well, the shameless plug answer is that the savviest of authorpreneurs avoid those mistakes by reading my book! But in all seriousness, the best way to avoid those mistakes is to educate yourself on what they are. And like I said, a lot of the resources out there are NOT teaching these mistakes or how to avoid them. One of the biggest, sexiest examples of this is the directive to write your book as fast and cheap as possible. So be very careful who you listen to--and especially who you pay--for book creation advice. All these programs and so-called experts out there promising you substantial results with a book you write in 30 days, a week, even a weekend, and then spend little or no money on good editing or design - they’re not setting you up for the success that you want. If you’re at all familiar with principles of project management, you know that something can be quick, cheap, or good, but you only get to pick two at a time. So if you’re going for quick and cheap, don’t expect the end product to be very good. Just letting go of THAT idea, that you can write a great book fast and cheap, will do wonders to save your business book from certain death. And that’s just one mistake to learn about, one shark in the waters to avoid. Go out of your way to find resources and people who care about quality books, not just flashy Amazon bestsellers or high-churn get-published-quick schemes, and learn your book strategies and tactics from them.
3. How can writers connect their book to their readership? First, tell stories! Stories can literally make or break your book. This goes just as much for non-fiction writing as it does for fiction, by the way. Non-fiction books with no stories are the things people joke about reading to put themselves to sleep on sleepless nights, and you do NOT want that book to be yours! Not only do stories keep the reader engaged and able to absorb the information being transmitted, but they create that much-needed connection between author and reader. And second, understand that people are not reading your book to learn about you, they’re reading it to learn about themselves. So you’ve got to have a connection to your readers - you’ve got to know who they are, what they care about, and what they want and need. Once you know who they are and how they’re hurting, you can tell stories that they specifically relate to and give them guidance that solves their individual problems. Otherwise, you’ll just be talking about yourself on page 150 when your reader couldn’t get past page 15.
4. Why do you encourage authors to talk about their book while they’re still writing it? It’s an easy way to do marketing and writing at the same time, so you’re not thinking about them as two separate things that you have to strategize and plan for independently of each other. It also allows you to connect with your audience before your book comes out, and can get them ready and as excited about your book as you are about it. And it’s an easy way to get into a marketing mindset. Oftentimes book marketing can feel like a really unfamiliar thing, like you’re trying to speak in a different language, or you’re trying to take on a task that you haven’t been trained to do, and this tactic helps you approach the marketing in a way that doesn’t feel like that. It enables you to take the idea of book marketing from feeling like, this is a big scary thing that I have to do but don’t know how to do, to feeling more like ok, maybe I don’t know how to do everything, but I know how to talk about things I’m excited about, and I’m really excited about this book! It’s a much easier and more natural approach to the whole process.
5. Why do authors have to have a good editor? Editors help you say what you want to say better than you could say it yourself. They take your precious words and make them clearer, more consistent, and more commanding. And they help you fix the mistakes you will make in the writing process--and you will make some (whether you read my book or not). I’ll let you in on a secret: I made at least two of the mistakes I address in my book while I was writing it. And my editors caught them and helped me fix them, because I was too close to my own writing to see where I’d gotten messed up. I won’t sugar-coat this: you aren’t as good a writer as you think you are. No writer is, myself included. If you don’t want to end up writing a crappy book, you’ve got to have a good editor on your side.
6. Why do you tell writers to let go of perfectionism? Perfectionism slows you down. When you get bogged down in feeling like you can’t submit your text to your editor until it’s “perfect,” you’ll never finish! Perfect doesn’t exist, and the more time you waste trying to get it there when it’s already pretty great, the less available you are to do the work that you’re writing this book to support. Let the editor help you take it those final yards; that’s what they’re here to do. I have a love-hate relationship with the concept of “done is better than perfect.” I think most book gurus take it way too far and sacrifice the quality of your book on the altar of just getting it published already. But there’s one (and only one) time where that idea is 100% on target: with your first draft. The job of your first draft is to suck as much as possible, so that you and your editor can improve it as much as possible. Of course, you want to put your very best into it, but no matter how much you do that, it’s still going to be a shitty first draft. So the faster you just get it done, the sooner you and your editor can start making it better.
7. Why are there so many crappy books in the marketplace? Well, we already talked about the overarching prevalence of authors making these mistakes that they don’t know they’re making, like trying to write a book as fast and cheap as possible or not telling stories. But I think the biggest reason authors inadvertently write crappy books is that they lose sight of writing a book that they’re really, truly proud of. They sacrifice the quality of the end result, their book, in the name of just getting it out there, often before their business is even ready to support a book. If you insist on writing your book when you’re in survival mode - you know, living paycheck to paycheck, painfully aware of every last penny that goes out or comes in - you won’t have any money to invest into the support you need to make it great, and you’ll ultimately write a book that doesn’t represent your business well. A lot of books in the marketplace today came into being exactly like that, so they were crappy before their authors even got started writing them. If the authors had been willing to wait a year or two, build up their business further, and take their time, they’d have written a high-quality book that represented them perfectly. Which would you be more proud of, a product you rushed through before you were ready, or a product you took the time to make truly excellent?
8. What advice do you have for struggling writers? First, if you find yourself struggling while you’re writing your book, go back to your outline. And if you haven’t written one, do that! I interviewed 26 other book professionals for this book, and the #1 mistake every single one of them said authors make without realizing it is that they don’t use an outline when they write. That blew my mind! I knew it would be toward the top of the list, but I had no idea it would be first. But it makes sense. People often ask me about writer’s block, and I have to say that I thankfully don’t experience it very often, which I totally ascribe to the practice of creating and writing from a detailed, straightforward outline. I mean, it tells you what to write next! And if you don’t feel, for whatever reason, like writing the next part, you can easily jump around to a section you do feel like writing, without losing the overall structure and flow. An outline actually goes a long way toward lessening the struggle for writers.
And second, don’t be afraid (or too proud) to ask for help. Book professionals like me and some of my friends, who care deeply about helping entrepreneurs write high-quality books, do exist--and we’d love to hear from you. We start where you finish, so the combination of your business skills and our writing or coaching or editing skills will create something stronger and better and more powerful than either of us could have done alone. We’re here to partner with you. Let us help you through the struggle.
9. Where do you see the future of book publishing heading? Hopefully in the direction of people writing more high quality books that really represent their businesses, brands and messages in the most positive, professional, and proud light that they can! I know there are a lot of voices in the book publishing industry right now who are on the opposite end of that spectrum, who are very much for the quick and cheap side of things, and there’s been a market for those people. There probably always will be on some level. But I’m very hopeful that the future of publishing, the future of self-publishing, and frankly the future of writing in general is going to start to swing back in the other direction, to the idea that if you’re going to write something, it needs to be the best that you can make it. If you’re going to put a book out there that’s going to represent you or your business, it needs to be a good book first. That’s my mission, that’s what I’m here to help people do, and I’m very hopeful that that’s where things will be going in the next five to ten years.
To learn more about James and The Master Wordsmith, please see: jamesranson.com. For more information about his book, see: https://amzn.to/2DzSNUB.
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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent. This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America and participated in a PR panel at the Sarah Lawrence College Writers Institute Conference.