How to write a book — four steps for organizations

There are plenty of ways to write a book. Here are four steps for an organization.

1. Identify the effect you want to have: “What do we want this book to do? And to or for whom?”

Before a word is written or a title is chosen or a launch date is picked, know first what you want the book to achieve. As important as knowing the goal is knowing the audience(s) you intend to reach.

Here are a few possible goals for a book written by an organization or its leaders. “The book should…”

Introduce us to new prospective customers or markets

Establish or reinforce our reputation in our primary or corollary fields of activity

Refine and extend positive public perceptions about our organization

Act as an antidote to negative public perceptions about us

Substantiate our reputation for a specific strategic attribute (such as innovation, trustworthiness, diversity, stability, and so on)

Create continuity for our organization by enabling new and forthcoming employees and customers understand our origins


2. Gather your stories

Nearly every organization feels that they are, or that they harbor, the “best kept secrets” within their industry. So many groups contain a bank of untold stories in their histories — the kind of longform stories that inevitably result in the unprompted response of “I didn’t know that” among readers or listeners.

The key is substance. You cannot run a marathon in an elevator. These untweetable narratives are more influential than elevator pitches, the lowest common denominator of marketing tactics.

With the decline of print, a book is a luxury good that potentially elevates your stories into collectible status: a signifier of quality and style.

3. Sequence your book

Once you know the effect you want to create, and the stories that are available to tell, next up is the determination of the correct sequence of the stories.

You can call it an outline, but it is the sequence that matters. This is where so many organizations get it wrong at the very outset. Imagine opening up this book:

Chapter 1 – Beginnings

Our company, Bio Concepts, was formed by our founder Margery Kemp in the year…

That sound you hear is the book being slammed shut. No one cares when your company was founded, at least not at the outset. In fact, few people care about chronology at all anymore — except when it is relevant to the specific, immediate story being told.

Sequence does not mean timeline. Sequence in your book means the order in which you tell your stories, no matter how out of historical order they are, as long as they add up to something that rewards the reader.

Think of your book as a movie: you can flashback and flash forward as often as you like, as long as you manage not to confuse the reader. Thread the needle with ascending relevance, not the order of occurrence. When stories are properly sequenced, they feel emotionally more satisfying and are intellectually more enlightening than when they are presented as calendar items. Clarity is always more important than chronology.

A note about emphasis: While you are sequencing your stories, identify and sketch out those which deserve the most in-depth and detailed treatments, and which deserve only to be lightly covered or skimmable. The story sequence is right time to plot the visual aspect of your book. Perhaps certain stories deserve charts or tables or photographs — now is the time to map these out and see how they relate to everything else in the book’s master sequence.

4. Write the book, or get a ghostwriter

Many organizations are led by people whose writing is often excellent, because leadership is partially a function of creatively using language to achieve goals.

The problem, of course, is that both leadership and writing consume vast amounts of mutually exclusive time. The solution is to find a ghostwriter whose capabilities are in tune with your organization’s unique qualities — someone with a strong sensitivity to your constituencies.

Talk to me.

Additional items to consider

When you’re looking for a ghostwriter

Marketing power through organizational memory

Books published in 2017: Exponent(50) and The Chicago Community Trust: a history of its development 1962–2015



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