The typical nonfiction book opens with a story to grab your interest and entice you into the pages that follow. You’ll find many stories in this book. But right now, let’s focus on the story that only you can tell: yours.
Why did you pick up this book? Maybe you want to write a book for business reasons. You’ve seen the impact that a book has on someone else’s career. Perhaps you want to contribute to your field, to be a thought leader and to make a difference by sharing ideas that are important to you. Perhaps your life experiences could offer important insights for others.
Many of us live on the cusp of doing something meaningful, without ever taking action. We wait or deflect responsibility, assuming that someone more expert than us will speak up. You’re reading this book because you don’t want to wait any longer.
Why not act on that desire now?
This book is about using a sense of a purpose—the difference you want to make—to inspire, guide, and inform the process of writing a book at every step. It’s about starting with the positive impact you want to have for your readers, and then working your way to that point. Your purpose can be large or small, global or unique to your industry or interests. The key is to focus on the value your book delivers to its readers. By doing that, you will discover the lasting value of writing a book.
You may have heard of the term servant leadership—a philosophy whose main goal is for leaders to serve those they lead. Not all leaders are servant leaders, of course. But wouldn’t you rather work for someone who embraced that principle?
This book is about servant authorship—serving the needs of your core readers.
Not all authors are servant authors. But wouldn’t you rather read a nonfiction book or memoir by an author who follows this principle? Who puts your needs, as a reader, ahead of their needs for career advancement?
Yep, me too.
Writing to serve others sounds altruistic, but as I worked on this book I discovered that it was an effective strategy, not only for myself, but for others. A sense of purpose gives you a guidepost for making difficult decisions, like what to include and what to leave out. It keeps you going when the work is arduous or the end seems far away. And it supports your actions during the long phase of authorship that extend beyond publication day—everything you do to get the ideas out into the world.
Don’t just take my word for this. Throughout these pages you’ll find insights from dozens of authors of books ranging from business-oriented topics to highly personal ones and everything in between. In every case, these writers focused throughout on the difference they could make for their readers through their writing and related work.
I don’t want to imply that the authors I interviewed have no ambition for their books or their careers. On the contrary, they understand that the more value they provide the world, the more value they create in their own lives. Many are well-known in their specific fields but are far from being household names. I wanted to share stories that you may not have heard of, and to highlight achievements on a scale that doesn’t seem out of reach for someone still hoping to write a first book.
In addition to those interviews, more than four hundred nonfiction authors responded to a short survey about why they wrote, or planned to write, and whether the results of publishing a book lived up to their expectations.
To understand motivations for writing a book, the survey asked people to choose all their reasons from a list I supplied. These were the options:
•Personal goal: I’ve always wanted to write a book
•Business goal: I want to build my business
•Career goal: I want to make myself more marketable
•Fame and fortune: I’d like to be a best-selling author
•Personal fulfillment: I really want to share this story/idea
•Purpose: I want to serve others with what I know
Then, it asked them to pick one, with the thought that having already sorted through all of them made them think more carefully.
Nearly half of the respondents had written books about business or career advice, so you might think that business goals would top the list. But the most common reason was that of “Purpose” I want to serve others…” More than three-quarters (78 percent) chose purpose as one of their motivators, and about 40 percent picked it as their primary reason for writing. (The next-highest primary reason was “Personal fulfillment” at 18 percent.) Many of the write-in entries in the “other” category aligned with a sense of purpose, so the actual percentage in that category is higher.
The Purpose of This Book
I’m writing this book with the hope of inspiring people like you—people who have an idea they want to share, who have valuable experiences and insights, or who have a contribution to make through writing.
Maybe writing a book has been a lifelong goal. That’s part of my author story. Growing up in a home filled with books and reading, becoming an author seemed like a dream career. Yet I spent decades not acting on this dream.
Even though I was a professional writer, I didn’t have a large “platform” or a well-known name. I spent most of my career writing in other people’s voices: the voice of the brand or of corporate executives. My clients valued me, but to the rest of the world I was unknown.
When I finally got up the courage to undertake writing a book, it was partly because I had a message to get out into the world about my industry (marketing, at that time), and partly to fulfill that lifelong dream. The experience was transformative. I discovered that I enjoyed writing books, and most of all loved the fact that the books had an impact on people—that they made a difference. That’s a powerful realization.
Like many of the authors I interviewed for this book, I had no grand plan. I made plenty of mistakes, experimented, and let my interests draw me into writing more books. It’s been incredibly fun. But I waited all those years, awash in misconceptions about being an author. I wish I’d known years ago what I know now—and will share with you in this book.
Back to your story. You may have many reasons for wanting to write a book, including the simple one of fulfilling a life-long dream. I suggest you also tap into the larger sense of purpose. Using the exercises and approaches in the chapters that follow, try servant authorship and see if it takes you to the finish line and beyond.
Using This Book to Develop Your Book
This book offers a guide to the entire process, from crystallizing your concept and envisioning the end result to expanding your message beyond the book. It is divided into four parts reflecting the major phases of the author journey.
Part One: The Difference You Make: Before you write a single word of your draft, you’ll need to get past your inner gatekeepers. As you decide on your larger purpose, you will clarify your objectives, explore your expertise, and gain confidence in your authority as a writer. Even if you are farther along in your own story, visit the chapters in Part One to guide the rest of your path.
Part Two: Make Your Plan: As you plan, research, and prepare to write, revisit your broader purpose to guide decisions about what belongs in the book and what doesn’t, and where to extend your expertise through research.
Part Three, Get the Words Out: Writing and revising the book takes significant effort; serving others gives you the motivation to keep going. These chapters also cover the critical phases of revising the book, seeking feedback, and approaching publication day.
Part Four, Spread the Word: Once the book is out in the world, your audience’s needs will guide you as you begin the seemingly never-ending task of spreading the word about the book. Even as you work to serve others, you will discover that the benefits ripple back to you. Books written from a deep sense of purpose tend to be life-changing, though not always in the ways you anticipate.
The nonfiction author survey I conducted included questions about how well the experience of publishing a book met their expectations. Nearly all the published authors reported that publishing a book met or exceeded both personal and professional goals and expectations.
“I have never met any authors who were sorry they wrote their book. I have only met authors who were sorry they didn’t write it sooner.”
Are you waiting for a clear sign, the perfectly formed book idea, or the ideal time to get started? That’s not usually how it works with writing books. People often write despite their situations, not because of them. The clarity, confidence, and commitment you need emerges from the work rather than preceding it.
Let’s begin now.