Mark Malatesta is a former literary agent turned author coach. His writers have gotten six-figure book deals, been on the New York Times bestseller list, and been published with houses such as Random House, Scholastic, and Thomas Nelson.
Notable authors Mark has helped get literary agents include Nelson Johnson, author of Boardwalk Empire, adapted for HBO and produced by Martin Scorsese for HBO; Leslie Lehr, author of A Boob’s Life: How America’s Obsession Shaped Me―and You, now being developed as a TV series by Salma Hayek for HBO Max; and Scott LeRette, author of The Unbreakable Boy (Thomas Nelson), adapted for feature film with Lionsgate starring Zachary Levi, Amy Acker, and Patricia Heaton.
Prescriptive nonfiction authors Mark Malatesta has helped to get agents include Amy Jo Goddard (Woman on Fire, Penguin Books), Soo Peer (The Essential Diversity Mindset, Red Wheel/Weiser), Natalie Neelan (Rebel at Work, Diversion Books), Duane Petersen (Transforming Project Management, McGraw Hill), Deepa Kannan (How to Sleep Better, Harper Collins), and Mardell Hill (Intestinal Health, Rowman & Littlefield).
Mark has written feature articles for publications such as the Guide to Literary Agents and Publishers Weekly Book Publishing Almanac, and a column for WritersDigest.com. He’s also delivered keynote addresses and seminars at some of the most prominent writers’ conferences in the United States. Click here to learn more about Mark Malatesta and click here to see Reviews of Mark Malatesta.
7 Mistakes Normally Intelligent Entrepreneurs & Business Owners Make…When Writing a Nonfiction Book
Ingrid Elfver: Hello, Superstar! This is Ingrid Elfver (Your Celebrity Coach) with former literary agent Mark Malatesta, recording my monthly Interviews with Experts call, designed to help you become more of a celebrity in your industry. The title of today’s call is: “Shockingly Stupid 7 Mistakes Normally Intelligent Entrepreneurs & Business Owners Make…When Writing a Nonfiction Book.”
Today’s special guest expert, Mark Malatesta, will be joining me here in just a moment. Mark is going to share some of his best insider secrets to make sure your nonfiction book (or book idea) is going to do what you want for your business.
Specifically, you’re going to learn:
- How to write a book likely to get published by a real publisher (like Random House) and become a legitimate New York Times bestseller (instead of just an Amazon bestseller, etc.)
- How to choose the best book topic and structure to boost your business
- How to get paid to write your book (in addition to getting a publisher advance)
- How to avoid the stumbling blocks that keep authors from finishing their book
- How to avoid unnecessary mistakes that result in wasted time and headaches
- What a book can do for your business (which is probably a lot more than you realize)
- A special offer from Mark that you won’t want to miss
But first, I want to give Mark a proper introduction.
Mark Malatesta is Founder and CEO of The Bestselling Author and Literary Agent Undercover, the only company in the world focused (exclusively) on helping writers get top literary agents (so they can also get top publishers and major book deals, and actually make a living writing books).
Mark is a former literary agent who’s helped fiction and nonfiction writers launch their publishing careers…like thriller writer Jim Brown (24/7, published by Random House), award-winning young adult author Carol Plum-Ucci (The Body of Christopher Creed, published by Harcourt), nonfiction self-help author Aggie Jordan (The Marriage Plan, published by Doubleday-Broadway), and New York Times bestselling gift book author Harry Harrison, Jr. (Father to Daughter, published by Workman).
Other houses Mark has gotten author authors contracts with include Simon & Schuster, St. Martin’s, Hyperion, Prentice-Hall, Workman, Andrews-McMeel, Entrepreneur, Barron’s, Amacom, and many more…resulting in millions of books being sold, as well as works being picked up for TV, stage, and feature film (with companies like Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks). Mark’s authors have gotten 6-figure advances, been licensed in more than 30 countries, and won countless national and international awards and honors.
Mark Malatesta also spent several years as the Marketing & Licensing Manager of Blue Mountain Arts (the book and gift publisher that invented e-greetings, then sold their e-card division for close to $1 billion at the height of the dot com bubble). Mark has negotiated distribution and licensing deals with top book buyers around the world at events like Book Expo America (BEA), the London Book Fair, and the Frankfurt Book Fair. But his favorite part of working in publishing has always been finding (and developing) new authors.
Mark has written feature articles for publications like the Guide to Literary Agents, and a column for WritersDigest.com. He’s also delivered keynote addresses and seminars at some of the most prominent writers’ conferences in the United States and abroad. From my heart to yours, Mark, I want to welcome you. I also want to disclose that you are my husband and business partner. So, if we sound familiar with each other I don’t want anyone [listening] to get worried. We’re legally married! (laughter) I want to welcome you, Mark.
Mark Malatesta with Ingrid Elfver – Nonfiction Authors – Pt 2
Mark Malatesta: (laughter) Thank you. I’m glad you said that, because now it will make sense. There is a little part of me that was hoping you wouldn’t make it through that long complicated title I threw out there but surprisingly you did it. I thought we’d be able to laugh about it, but you did it perfectly.
Ingrid Elfver: You were purposefully trying to throw me for a loop?
Mark Malatesta: No, but it was a good title, and…
Ingrid Elfver: (laughter) It’s really good. So, we’re going to talk about the shockingly stupid mistakes that normally intelligent entrepreneurs and business owners make when writing a nonfiction book make. And there’s one thing missing from your bio, which is how you became an agent. Will you tell that story?
Mark Malatesta: I’ll give the short version because I want to make sure we get through all the mistakes. You know this but everyone else doesn’t. I majored in psychology and communications, and about one-and-a-half years out of college, like a lot of people fresh out of school, to be honest, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, except I knew I loved psychology and wanted to be a writer. But there aren’t that many jobs as writers when you want to be a book author. You have to figure out something to do in the meantime, so I did that for a little while. I was a trainer and teacher, doing crisis intervention for people who work with folks who have developmental disabilities. But I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do long-term.
Eventually I got burned out on that, climbing the ladder, and I realized I was going to be stuck for a long time, so I just quit and went and wrote for six months. I was determined to become a bestselling author in six months and quickly found out (I can hear everybody laughing), I quickly found out that doesn’t happen overnight or in six months, and I figured I needed to do something to pay the bills. That’s when I saw a little ad in a newspaper in Florida from a guy who had a new startup literary agency. He was going to go off and do other things and he wanted somebody to run the agency. That’s basically how I got my foot in the door to the wild world of publishing.
Ingrid Elfver: That’s fantastic…
Mark Malatesta: It’s one of those opportunities that comes along once in a lifetime, you know it’s going to change your life, and it did for me.
Ingrid Elfver: In what way?
Mark Malatesta: Oh, wow, that’s…
Ingrid Elfver: A hard question. How did it change to the way you apply it today? I’m curious.
Mark Malatesta: It’s a great question. If I hadn’t had that opportunity, I’d probably be like a gazillion other writers out there who’ve lost hope or never got enough confidence to go ahead and follow through with their writing and do what they wanted to do. Once you’re an insider and know what goes on, you pull back the curtain and realize it’s not that big of a mystery, you get a lot of confidence. It’s no longer, “Can I do this?” It’s a matter of when and how and, of course, I can do it because now I know how it works.
I’m really glad you asked that because that’s really the driving force behind what I’m doing now with this new business. Aside from my own writing, I really love sharing that with other writers who aren’t going to spend the next ten years as a literary agent or working in publishing to learn what I learned.
Ingrid Elfver: On a personal note, you have an incredible gift and talent helping authors discover or figure out their book idea. I call you Mr. Big Idea because you literally have new ideas 24 hours a day. We’ve been married now ten years and that’s never changed. You have this incredible ability to find gold in people, help position them, and come up with high-concept books that are very different. You also have the knowledge of how to write query letters that any agent will look at and want a manuscript. I don’t know if you’re going to share that. It’s powerful what you’ve been through and what you’re doing today. Let’s get into the seven mistakes nonfiction authors make. What’s the first one?
Mark Malatesta with Ingrid Elfver – Nonfiction Authors – Pt 3
Mark Malatesta: I’ll give you the first one, but I’ll add in one thing because you made me think of something. I want to make sure everybody understands that even if they listened to some things before on how to get published, I’m excited about this call because it’s specifically for entrepreneurs and business owners. You and I, Ingrid, have a unique perspective because you do business and celebrity coaching to help people build a business and brand.
All my background, or a lot of it, is in publishing, and most authors who are entrepreneurs and business owners have a little disconnect between the part of them that’s the business owner and the part that’s the author. These mistakes are for those people. If you’re an entrepreneur or business owner, there are extra things you have to think about than someone who isn’t a business owner who’s just writing novels or only writes nonfiction books but doesn’t have or want to have a related business.
Ingrid Elfver: So those are the things you’re going to share, or do I have to ask you what are the things?
Mark Malatesta: No…
Ingrid Elfver: You know me, I’m going to find new questions. (laughter)
Mark Malatesta: (laughter) I hope so. All right so #1 of the 7 Shockingly Stupid Mistakes That Normally Intelligent Entrepreneurs and Business Owners Make When Writing a Nonfiction Book is…I’m calling it…fantasy writing. I don’t mean the Fantasy genre like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and things like that, but fantasy writing in the sense that…I know you’re going to say, “Amen, Brother to this…most entrepreneurs and business owners have unrealistic expectations about what a book is going to do for them and their business.
Now the second I say that, I have to pause and say, “Everybody take a breath. I’m not that guy you might have met at a writer’s conference or on the web who’s saying all that negative stuff. I’m the last person who will say that. So, you can write your books and get published and you can have delusions of grandeur in a good way and believe that way, but you also have to have some sense of reality…
Ingrid Elfver: Really? (laughter)
Mark Malatesta: (laughter) I accept that, and it’s a good way to avoid massive disappointment. Everybody is marketing the easy-done-for-you thing, right? Even though it might technically be possible to write your book in a weekend, get a top literary agent the following Monday, get a 6-figure book deal from Random House two weeks later, and end up on the New York Times best seller list six months after that…the odds are, I’d say, something like 1 in 5.7 million that it’s actually going to happen to you that way. Unfortunately, there’s always some great story in the media of the exception.
Ingrid Elfver: I just heard hearts breaking everywhere. I heard the sound. (laughter)
Mark Malatesta: (laughter) Well, yes, and that’s why I prefaced it with, “Its totally doable and you can go as big as possible.” It’s just that we do have to mix in a dash of reality with the big dreams. So I just wanted to get that out of the way. I believe in all those things, but don’t bank on it because that’s irresponsible. So many people, you know this, it’s like building any business, how many people go into massive debt or make the wrong decisions and neglect things that are important because they want to believe and they put too much weight on what might happen.
Ingrid Elfver: I see this over and over again with clients who even got published, and I’ve had a couple of clients who told me later, after the fact, “Maybe my book came too early, and it wasn’t my true topic.” Does that make sense? Later they realized, I did all that work and it didn’t produce the result I wanted. None of you guys know this, but I worked with Mark at his literary agency and used to read all the submissions. I’d go with him to the writer’s conferences and spoke them, too, so I have a lot of knowledge in the publishing world also. Not as much as Mark, but I know a lot. So when someone starts talking about their book being the second coming…
Mark Malatesta: It’s true.
Mark Malatesta with Ingrid Elfver – Nonfiction Authors – Pt 4
Ingrid Elfver: It’s like this ta-da kind of thing and the book is going to be it. A lot of times, yes, the book is going to be the most amazing part of your business, but it also needs to be the right thing…and it needs to be integrated into your business correctly, so I’m in total agreement with you. I’ll stop ranting…
Mark Malatesta: No, we have time for that. And yes, it’s so seductive, the idea of a book and being a published author. It’s tempting as a business owner if you really love writing, and I don’t know some people don’t. They never sit their butt in a chair, but a lot of people love the idea of sitting in a room alone and playing with their thoughts and writing, where nobody is bothering them and they get to create whatever kind of world they want. The problem is if that’s all you do and you’re drawn to that cocoon and you start neglecting the other parts of your business, like clients and marketing your actual business that’s real and making money right now, that’s dangerous.
Ingrid Elfver: It’s true.
Mark Malatesta: I’m going to do an article on this and one of the things, notes I’ve jotted down for it, I have kind of a quote: “Writing is no different than getting healthy, getting rich, growing spiritually, or getting high search engine rankings on Google. It all takes time.”
Ingrid Elfver: I love it.
Mark Malatesta: You can do it all and dream big and go big and get a 6-figure book contract. I’ve done it, gotten an author on the New York Times bestseller list, but some of it takes time and you have to pace yourself and be real.
Ingrid Elfver: Yes, we’re not saying it can’t be done…it just has to be done in the right way so you can get the most of it.
Mark Malatesta: Exactly.
Ingrid Elfver: Excellent.
Mark Malatesta: Are you ready for #2?
Ingrid Elfver: I am!
Mark Malatesta: Okay. I know you’ll have a lot to say about this one too. Mistake #2 is thinking your book is your business instead of part of your business.
Ingrid Elfver: I like that. You know I like that.
Mark Malatesta: Writing is such a personal profession or identity thing or persona, right? You can’t think of yourself as an author, you have to think of yourself as an expert. If you think of yourself as an author you’re going to get stuck and limited with streams of income. If you think of yourself as an expert and entrepreneur, and books are just one piece of your business, you’ll do better and it will help you with Mistake #1 that we just talked about.
If you’re thinking of yourself as an author first and an entrepreneur second, or not at all, you’re thinking small. For example, most authors, even the most successful ones, this is what a lot of new authors don’t realize, is even the most successful author’s leverage their expertise that allowed them to become authors in the first place, via multiple streams of income.
So, some examples, take your pick, anybody who is a successful expert/author, they have lots of other streams of income. It might be product development and sales, like info products, live training and events, coaching and consulting services like group coaching or one-on-one coaching, a membership website, licensing content…
Ingrid Elfver: Wait, Mark, I’m going to make a million dollars on my book so I don’t need all that! (laughter)
Mark Malatesta with Ingrid Elfver – Nonfiction Authors – Pt 5
Mark Malatesta: We covered that in fantasy writing a moment ago I thought. (laughter)
Ingrid Elfver: I’m just saying… (laughter)
Mark Malatesta: There was a reason that was number one. It’s true, and I’m not going to reveal names, but some of my authors have done quite well. You could make a case that they could just live off their books. But it’s like you think about it and okay, so what if you’re making $80,000 or $120,000 a year on your book, is that really enough? Can you keep up that pace if you want to help put your kids through college? Or if someone gets sick? Or when you retire will you have lifestyle and security you want?
Ingrid Elfver: It’s only for so many years, too. You have to keep writing hits after hits.
Mark Malatesta: Right, and you can’t bank on that either. The good thing is, especially for nonfiction authors who are entrepreneurs or business owners, usually the books we’re talking about are based on the author’s expertise, so it’s easy to leverage some of that content into some of those other things. Here are just a few more: a syndicated column, speaking and appearances (everyone knows that one), radio and/or TV, and joint ventures with other entrepreneurs and business owners. You’ve helped some of your clients who are authors do that.
Ingrid Elfver: Yes! I realized that I’ve had many clients who are also authors. It’s interesting, I work on the business and marketing part and the X-Factor, but it all goes hand in hand. I think it can be managed when it’s all done right, just gorgeous, all of it.
Mark Malatesta: Absolutely.
Ingrid Elfver: But I haven’t seen it that often.
Mark Malatesta: Right. I should have said early on that if some of this seems familiar to you, just hold onto your chair, because I promise a few of these things you will have never heard before, and they can literally save you hundreds or thousands of hours. I know some of the stuff we’re covering right now might seem obvious, but there’s more to come.
Ingrid Elfver: Good, are we on Secret #3?
Mark Malatesta: I think so. So #3, this is where we get into meatier stuff. Mistake #3 is not being clear about what you want your book to do for you and your business. You tell me if you’ve seen this with your clients, Ingrid. A lot of people know they’re passionate about a topic or they get relatively clear about a book they could write, but they don’t take it far enough and think a few more steps ahead and think, “What do I really want this book to do for me and my business?” They don’t have a clear plan? That’s where the big gap is right? They’re like, “I just have to focus on writing the book and getting the agent and the agent is going to get the publisher and then they magic will happen. Suddenly, I’m going to be a millionaire and be on Oprah and have a million people on my mailing list and end of story.”
Ingrid Elfver: I think as an entrepreneurial author, we don’t have the time, so we have to think smarter and not create this illusion around what a book can do, but think of it as a really amazing business card. One that creates credibility and positions you as an expert…I’m probably saying things you were going to be sharing. It’s really important that you think of these things as an author so you don’t waste all this time. It’s called procrastination, by the way, from my perspective. You don’t want to procrastinate, so start thinking the way you’re talking.
Mark Malatesta with Ingrid Elfver – Nonfiction Authors – Pt 6
Mark Malatesta: Yes, it’s a little bit of shortsightedness and unfortunately and you have a long list of these people who just don’t understand what a book can or can’t do for them. So they write a book but it doesn’t…I mean it does some things for them…but it doesn’t do nearly what they hoped. The more aware you are of all the different things a book can do for you, then you can be more precise designing a book to do those exact things. You mentioned a few here are some of the things that a book can do for you. Some people want all of them and some just want a few, but the more awareness you have the more likely your book will actually do these things.
Some people laugh at this, but some authors don’t need the money. Some are in it for an ego boost or personal fulfillment. A book can be a fancy or elaborate business card. You can write a book that you want it simply to generate leads for your other products and/or services, and there’s a big difference between a book designed to do that and a book that’s designed to be a money maker in itself. They’re two very different things.
Some people want fans. Some people want their book to be a valuable freebie, not for people they don’t know but for their existing clients and/or customers. Credibility and trust with leads and existing customers. Some people are doing it as a gift to help with customer or client retention. Some people want a book because it’s way to share their brilliant ideas and demonstrate their intellect. If you have trying to get new clients you can share what you’ve done with existing clients in that book to help your business.
Of course, some authors want to get on a bestseller list and some want to win awards or stand out from their competition. Here’s a huge one people might not think of, but you and I have run into this, Ingrid… another reason to write a book is you find yourself saying things or writing them in emails and articles over and over again because clients or leads need to hear them. In a book you can just say them once, definitively, and save yourself a lot of time.
More reasons include exposure and publicity, getting more attention from the media…and this is one of my favorites…so your husband, wife, children or business partners will stop talking about you writing your book. More speaking opportunities is a huge one, and increased speaking fees. And, one of the biggest ones is what a lot of business owners are hoping a book can do for them, and it really can if they do it right, is that a book can be the beginning of an author’s transition from business owner who’s on the treadmill, stuck in the grind, to becoming more of a public figure. That’s a huge one.
Maybe day to day you’re doing lots of administrative stuff, lots of one-on-one consulting working with clients, but you know if your books were to hit the right way you could step out of that at some point and spend more time writing and speaking. So kind of that fantasy we talked about in the beginning.
Ingrid Elfver: My position is…why not be a celebrity? If you do this correctly you can write your book, position yourself as a celebrity, and get a lot more publicity and exposure and get a lot of people talking about you. But it has to be on brand, it has to be authentic, and it has to be the right message.
Mark Malatesta: Right. So the ones I went through are kind of obvious…here are some of the more interesting parts.
Ingrid Elfver: Are we still on #3?
Mark Malatesta: Yes we’re still on #3.
Ingrid Elfver: Okay I was just making sure.
Mark Malatesta with Ingrid Elfver – Nonfiction Authors – Pt 7
Mark Malatesta: Once you’re really clear about what you want your book to do for you and your business, at that point you’re able to ask yourself some really good questions to help you design and develop a book that will do that. Here are a few of those questions: What is the purpose of the book from the reader’s point of view? Is it going to solve a pain, problem, or predicament? What should you include and leave out? Most entrepreneurs and business owners put way too much information in their first book and almost everyone is guilty of this, even novelists. They put 2-3 books worth of stuff in one because they’re just getting it all out and then they have to figure out how to edit it so they’re not trying to do too much.
What should the format and structure be? How should the book be organized? Would the book benefit from photos, illustrations or line drawings? Should you include examples or case studies? If so, should they be real life examples that demonstrate the value you’ve delivered to your clients? What reading level should you write at? Should you include stories? Should you use humor? Would you benefit by sharing anything personal in your writing? Again, depending on the purpose of your book, what you want your readers to think and feel is going to affect these things.
What kind of tone should you use? Should the book be academic or more accessible and mainstream? Do you need to use any special jargon or terms and/or define any terms in your book? What genre or category would your book best fit into? This is a huge one. Most business owners just think or say, “Oh business section,” and I’m like, “Well what part of the business section? Is it general business? Is it marketing? Is it for entrepreneurs? There are a lot of categories within that.”
What resistance will my readers have about the topic or about me that I might need to include and write about? Should you address that resistance directly or indirectly? How can you use teasers and/or suspense to keep the reader interested? Suspense isn’t just for mysteries. Look at what the media does with the news anchors. Every time they go to commercial, they tease you with something. And even in a “boring” nonfiction business book you want to be doing that to get people to the next page and chapter.
The last one I said already: What do you want the reader to think, feel and do after they’ve finished the book? That’s a huge piece a lot of people don’t think about. They cram a book with a lot of great content, and get it published, but never have their web address in there. Again, I won’t name names, but I know some supremely successful authors who have a half-dozen books out there that they’ve gotten published over the last ten years, and they’ve reached hundreds of thousands of people, and they still have no mailing list. That’s a tragedy to me.
Ingrid Elfver: That’s crazy.
Mark Malatesta: Right. Do you have anything to add?
Ingrid Elfver: No, I think you’re brilliant. Are we getting to Mistake #4?
Mark Malatesta: We are! Mistake #4 is writing the wrong book for you personally.
Ingrid Elfver: I like that.
Mark Malatesta: I’ll do something a little strange here and ask everybody listening to think about their childhood for a moment. Go back to this place in your mind where you were trying on different personas, like different pairs of pants. Maybe one day you’re a doctor, another day you’re a policeman, athlete, speaker, comedian, astronaut, President, and you could have been any of those things. Well, maybe not President, but the idea is that entrepreneurs and business owners are good at tons of things and that’s actually the problem.
You’re probably good at many things and that can get you in trouble. You can be all over the place and write a ton of different books on a ton of different topics. You can have trouble choosing one or choosing the right one or choosing the best one that’s right not just for your business but for you personally, the one you’ll actually stick with and finish…that will have the effect you want it to have. You alluded to that Ingrid: People sometimes write the wrong thing. They realize later on, “Oh, man, I wrote the wrong book, right?
Mark Malatesta with Ingrid Elfver – Nonfiction Authors – Pt 8
Ingrid Elfver: It’s like you can get too clever or think you have to pour it into one big book like a Bible and it can be confusing. By the end you can be so muddied by the message or have so many messages that your clients, customers or readers can’t really get what you’re really saying. The clearer and more authentic you can be, the more successful your book will be. It has to have marketing value and clarity. We can get into how having a good editor is really good too.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
Ingrid Elfver: Some people get so lost. It’s important to stay really focused on how to have the right book versus the wrong book that will kill your business later. I’ve seen it.
Mark Malatesta: Especially for entrepreneurs and business owners because writing is so time-consuming. It’s like you can’t just mess around and write 80,000 words and find out whoops…you just can’t do that. So I have a pretty short list of questions you can ask yourself. Again, we already talked about how to figure out the right book for your business, but this is really how to write the right book for you.
Ask yourself these questions and this is what we’ve been going through with our clients individually and collectively, Ingrid and I, when we’re consulting. What is it you’re best at and most knowledgeable about? Some of these sound like simple questions but a lot of people race past them. They might choose a topic just because it’s hot right now, but is that really what you’re best at and most knowledgeable about?
What have you written before, content and style? This is a huge one. Somebody I was consulting with a short time ago he wanted to write a business book and do it in parable format. There are a lot of books out there like that but I can’t think of a business one right now. It’s more like telling a story and they’re kind of short and the lesson and advice is in the story. I said, “Have you ever written stories like that before, any fiction?” He said, “Well, no.”
“Have you written anything?” I asked. He said yes, lots of standard nonfiction stuff. I’ve written hundreds of white papers and reports and teaching things and curriculums and stuff like that. I was like, “Well, what do you think you’re more likely to have success with? Doing something along those lines which you have a lot of experience, or experimenting with something new?” These sounds simple but people really make silly mistakes.
Another one is what have you written that’s gotten the most positive feedback? A little qualifier, this is for people who aren’t on your payroll and people who don’t need to impress you. So, what have you gotten the most positive feedback about in your writing? Also, what do you enjoy writing most? I know you’ll love that one, Ingrid. Again, writing is so hard and time consuming you better be writing content in a style you enjoy or you’re not going to finish.
Ingrid Elfver: That’s true.
Mark Malatesta: Another question most people don’t think of is what type of writing do you enjoy reading most? A lot of times there’s a disconnect there. We read one thing, one type of book., tons of it, but we want to write something completely different. Another one, you mentioned this a moment ago Ingrid, am I being myself? Am I being authentic when I write or am I trying on again one of these personas that isn’t me? Then, am I writing in a format or structure that capitalizes on my strength?
Again, if your mind works a different way, if you look at novels, for instance, you have some novelists that write really short fast moving chapters and maybe that’s the way their mind works. If they sit down and try to write longer chapters, that go against the way their brain works, they’re going to get frustrated. So if you think in checklists and bullets, maybe your book should have a lot of those. Or if you think in stories or pictures or metaphors then maybe your book includes a lot of those. Does all that make sense. Ingrid?
Ingrid Elfver: Yes it’s good. Let’s get into Mistake #5.
Mark Malatesta with Ingrid Elfver – Nonfiction Authors – Pt 9
Mark Malatesta: Alright. Mistake #5. This is where we start getting into probably the most valuable things people haven’t thought about. #5 is writing in a competitive vacuum. What I mean by that is having zero or more likely limited awareness of similar titles in your genre or category. And I don’t just mean that have been published recently. Let’s say you’re writing a book for first year entrepreneurs and that’s what you do and you coach people on that…what other books are out there right now on that topic? Do you know?
Surprisingly a ton of people don’t know because they’re so busy and they know they’re an expert. They know they have great content that’s valuable and they know they can organize it and make a book that has really rich content. The problem is there might be 20 other people who did the same thing. If you want to impress an agent and publisher, you need to have awareness and know what’s been published in your category in the last 10 years. How has it changed? What is the origin of your genre or category? What were the first books published on this topic? How has the industry changed since then? What are the trends?
Ingrid Elfver: I really think if you do the research correctly, you’ll write a better book because you’ll understand what you’re up against and who you are and what makes you different. So many people are afraid to look at the competition. They think, I’m going to write the wrong book or their work will influence mine. I thought like that as a writer, “Oh, I can’t read those books because then I’m going to copy.”
But you need to read them and be aware and start finding out what you’re going to do that’s going to catch an agent’s eyes that will let you differentiate your work and help a publisher see why they should publish you. My favorite query letters to read were always those written by writers who had done their homework. I got the sense they actually knew what they were doing, and that’s when I would put those submissions in front of you.
Mark Malatesta: It’s amazing. So Mistake #5 is writing in a competitive vacuum. The opposite of that is what I call “writing in context.” What that means is you’ve read or at least you researched enough books in your genre or category that you can have a reasonably intelligent conversation about those things. About what’s hot in your category right now, about how things have evolved over the last decade, about the origins of your genre or category. Here’s one most people don’t realize and you really have to know your stuff to do this: Talk about the general rules or guidelines of your genre or category.
If you’re writing a book for first-year entrepreneurs, you should know enough about the ones out there to say what most of those books have in common. They’re structured this way, they tell stories or they don’t, they use case studies or they don’t, they have quick start checklists or they don’t. You kind of know what the deal is. You should also know some of the greatest successes and failures in your genre or category.
Ingrid Elfver: Right, it’s powerful.
Mark Malatesta: Again, this is really and the great thing about this call is we’re talking to people in business and they get this in other parts of their business…like you never put out a product or something without having done this research. But when writing, the rationality switch in the brain sometimes gets flipped off, becomes the businessperson start thinking they’re doing a creative personal thing and they cocoon themselves.
Mark Malatesta with Ingrid Elfver – Nonfiction Authors – Pt 10
Ingrid Elfver: Yep. So, stop being afraid and get educated?
Mark Malatesta: Right, and realize it’s not an option. You have to do it. You said a couple of these things, Ingrid. If you haven’t done this stuff, don’t feel bad about it because there are good reasons for making this mistake. Number one, a lot of authors don’t realize how much competition there is. That’s the kiss of death. When I would do pitch meetings with writers at conferences and they’d be pitching me on their project I’d ask, “What are some similar books? Give me some things out there that are like what you’re doing so I can get an idea.” If they told me here’s nothing like their book and nothing like it has ever been done, I’d think, Uh-oh that’s the sign of the uneducated writer.
Ingrid Elfver: To me, it was always a sign they weren’t going to be a good writer or a good, published author long-term because they were too afraid. I always looked at it as an author needs to really know their genre, understand what makes them different, and get to this place where they really understand marketing and all these other parts. But there are just so many bits to all this that if you don’t, if you’re going to be naïve, be naïve in your voice but not about other writers around you and other books in your genre.
Mark Malatesta: Right. Here’s a few of the other reasons we fall into this trap and we all do it. None of us wants to think about our competition. We don’t even want to believe we have competition, right? It takes everything we have within us to believe we can write a book in the first place let alone think…
Ingrid Elfver: Isn’t it also that we want to think we’re unique, that we came up with this idea and no one else can have that idea? I think that’s why we’re naïve, which is normal, but just do your research.
Mark Malatesta: Yes.
Ingrid Elfver: So, what was your next thing?
Mark Malatesta: Then next one is you fancy yourself as a writer, thought leader, visionary, creative expert, teacher, trainer, coach or consultant but not a researcher. You have to put on that hat. And another one, you mentioned this, Ingrid, you want to be original and not be influenced by other things. Unfortunately, doing market research is usually something nobody tells most writers about. They have to learn it the hard way, and that usually means a bunch of rejections. But that’s working backwards. You get a bunch of rejections and then try to figure out why. It’s better to do this stuff up front.
So here’s the solution. Do a little bit of brainstorming about the content and format of the book you want to write, but then do your homework. Look for similar titles online and that’s the easiest part. Step 1 is Google and Amazon. Number two is go to some bookstores and they’re all disappearing right now but there are some still left. Go to a library and talk to a librarian and you’ll be amazed how much some librarians know and how much they’re willing to help you.
Tell them you’re an author in your category but have no clue of when books started being published on the topic or what are some of the biggest influences in your category are. They can tell you in five seconds. Then look at magazines and other publications in your trade. It’s really easy. It’s sad that there are so many authors who write solid books but they don’t do their research and so they didn’t create something special enough.
That might really be the difference between getting published or not or getting published really well and having a huge book that changes your business and your life or just getting a decent deal and selling 5,000 copies.
Mark Malatesta with Ingrid Elfver – Nonfiction Authors – Pt 11
Ingrid Elfver: So many writers think their book will speak for itself. That’s not good enough. You need the other stuff together too: the positioning, differentiation, voice. It’s all these different things. Then you can get the best agent and publishing deal. Show up and write the best book you can. There are so many different parts. If you’re uneducated and don’t know this you can stumble when this should be the most fantastic experience as an entrepreneur because you can really, really put some incredible things out there.
Your book is your legacy, that’s how I think. Not only will it get you more clients and customers and loyal fans and give you credibility and position you as a celebrity, but you’re leaving a legacy to your family and children. What’s so cool with books is they stay there for a while and if it’s a good book it will stay there much longer and it won’t go out of print. So do that part and I think that’s doing the homework, but let’s get to Mistake #6. I want to make sure we have time to get all of them.
Mark Malatesta: Yep, and they’re just going to keep getting better and better now, and you’ll see they’re building on each other.
Ingrid Elfver: I can’t wait.
Mark Malatesta: Mistake #6, this is building off this last one…once you’ve done your research you won’t make this mistake. #6 is your book lacking a high-concept premise or hook. I’m not going to spend a ton of time on this because I there’s a long article on my blog about this so people can go and learn all about this and get tons of examples.
High concept is, I’m thinking on the fly here, the kind of thing…you can have a high-concept title or premise or format for your book, it’s just something that makes people, when they hear or see it, they absolutely have to pay attention and keep looking and digging deeper to see what’s next. I can give you some examples and this is the biggest mistake for some pitches.
For example, we were talking about the first-year entrepreneur book. If you’re writing that and there are already 20 books out there on that topic, and you don’t have anything new or a new hook, that won’t work. But let’s come up with one, Ingrid, you’re going to have to help me. Let’s say you’re coaching someone and they want to do a book for first-year entrepreneurs. What is maybe a niche or one group of people that are entrepreneurs? Instead of all entrepreneurs what’s one niche that maybe we can pick?
Ingrid Elfver: What about an alternative coach…
Mark Malatesta: Yes, something like that and suddenly you don’t have to do that much different in your book. You just have to speak a little more to one audience and add some extra content for them and suddenly you might have the only book on the topic and be the definitive authority rather than…
Ingrid Elfver: I think it’s brilliant. If you can really find that message and their pain and what their problems are…that book will do much better for you then if you’re just trying to hit everybody.
Mark Malatesta: Yes. I’ll give a bunch of before and after titles and this is probably the best way to explain this in a short time where people can see right away: boring, been there and done that titles and then oh my gosh titles. Here are the before and afters.
Before is How To Find Your Soul Mate. Boring, been there, seen it and done it. High-concept twist on that is The Marriage Plan: How To Meet and Marry Your Soul Mate in One Year Or Less. The “one year or less” is the high-concept part and what actually got this book sold to Doubleday Broadway. If the author didn’t have that hook, it probably wouldn’t have happened. There wasn’t that much different in the book but it was a novel idea.
She was a successful businesswoman and this was the idea of, “Okay, love is no longer a maybe. I’m going to treat love like a business and I’m going to make a plan, and in one year or less I’m going to be married.” Is that going to get your attention? Yes! You might be skeptical but you’re definitely going to look to see more if you’re interested. She got tons of media and licensing in other countries because of it.
Here is another one and we’ll stick with the relationship theme. Here is the boring, predictable cliché book: Everything You Need To Know for Your Divorce. Again, I guarantee there’s a book with that exact title on a bookshelf somewhere. Now here’s one with a twist and this is a real book, called The Amicable Divorce. It’s written by a divorced couple that wrote it together and they’re promoting the book together on how to have a friendly divorce, one that’s not mean and bitter. Totally high concept and they’re getting tons of publicity. Again, is most of the content in the book the same as any other divorce book? Absolutely, but that 10 to 20% that’s different based on that high-concept idea can make you sell a gazillion books and get lots of attention. How are we doing Ingrid?
Ingrid Elfver: We’re doing good.
Mark Malatesta with Ingrid Elfver – Nonfiction Authors – Pt 12
Mark Malatesta: Okay. I’ll do one more. You can probably go to any bookstore or online and Google, “family dinner cookbook.” You’ll probably find 53 titles and none that stand out. Then there are a couple, I know you’re familiar with these, Ingrid, because you love watching The Food Network. 30 Minute Meals by Rachel Ray is high-concept. $10 Dinners with Melissa d’Arabian and so two totally high concept things…
Ingrid Elfver: Well, they took, I mean for Rachel Ray, they took it to a daily show which is pretty amazing.
Mark Malatesta: Right, based on that concept…that’s why they did it.
Ingrid Elfver: Yes, she had such a clarity. So it really can… So many authors will tell me if I write a really limiting book then I’m not going to become big. I’m like, “No, that’s not true. The clearer you are, the better you are. The more books you’re going to sell and the more of an expert you’ll be and the more publicity you’ll get and so it’s brilliant. Are we on #7 now?
Mark Malatesta: Almost. I have one parting note on high concept which is this: It’s all about being clever and having a big idea but at the same time it has to be authentic. The stuff we talked about where the book has to be right for your business and has to be true to who you are and what you’re really knowledgeable about and enjoy. It can’t just be high concept in a way that doesn’t fit those things. It has to come out of that real place.
Ingrid Elfver: Absolutely. I mean I’m a big fan of being all of you, and then what I call the X-Factor, being high-concept and I hope everybody reads your article because I think high concept is something many people misunderstand. It’s such an important part. Alright, so let’s get to Mistake #7.
Mark Malatesta: Alright, and in my opinion this is the most valuable one, and I shouldn’t be giving it away on this call but…
Ingrid Elfver: Should I stop you?
Mark Malatesta: No.
Ingrid Elfver: We can hang up. (laughter)
Mark Malatesta: (laughter) It’s called Win/Lose Writing. Most people are familiar with the idea of win/win, and this is kind of playing off that. Win/Lose writing means using valuable time you should be using to run your business and make money to write a book instead on speculation, the idea that it will make money for you later. How else do you do it, right? That’s what I call win/win writing. Win/win writing means not wasting one second of your time writing content for a book that you can’t also use somewhere in your business right now to make money. Does that make sense?
Ingrid Elfver: Yes.
Mark Malatesta: Okay, so how do we do it? Let’s say you’re a love coach and you want to write a book for singles to help them find their soulmate. Fine. Here are your 3 choices:
- You can severely neglect your love coaching business and spend most of the next 12 months writing your book with the hope you’ll get a book deal and huge advance that makes your financial gamble worthwhile. That’s win/lose writing and you don’t want to do that.
- You can try and write your book and manage your business at the same time knowing your income is going to decrease every time you sit down to write and stop working on the parts of your business that are paying the bills, right? That’s win/lose writing and it’s not going to work. You’re probably not going to finish the book because you feel like every time you sit down money is going down the drain because it’s not making you money now.
- This is win/win. Spend 1-2 hours every day writing new content for that book you want to write that you can also use right now to make money in other parts of your business. What this means is you’re essentially getting paid to write your book. If you like the sound of that then this is what you should do.
Begin by making a list of the current content needs for your business. What content do you need to create for your business? Is it weekly columns, articles, blog or maybe its tweets and Facebook postings, maybe its videos or quotes? Maybe you do talks and speaking and so speeches, interviews. Maybe you do trainings, checklists and worksheets, information products, audio programs, curriculums for coaching or training programs or even live training and events.
Make a list of all those content needs your business has and then build your book around that. Does that make sense?
Mark Malatesta with Ingrid Elfver – Nonfiction Authors – Pt 13
Ingrid Elfver: This to me is smart. Another way, as an entrepreneur, you don’t have time. I think that creating products, creating all kinds of the workbook with it, audio, there’s so much you can do that you can milk your book correctly and sorry this is the Swede coming out and I don’t know if that sounded quite right but…
Mark Malatesta: Absolutely!
Ingrid Elfver: You need to make sure you get the most out of your work and then leverage it and use it in so many different areas. So when you’re speaking and you really have your message down so people get intrigued and want to buy the book. I think so many entrepreneurs will write the book and move onto the next thing and they don’t use and leverage the book correctly so it can make money in a hundred different more ways.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, it’s a combination then.
Ingrid Elfver: Right, and…
Mark Malatesta: Even if you do write the book you’re conflicted and feeling guilty.
Ingrid Elfver: Right!
Mark Malatesta: So I’ll give one example and then I want to tell people where they can get that article, and I’ll share special offer. Here’s an example and this is where it should really hit home. One thing I want to do is write a book for authors on how to get a literary agent and get published. Ingrid, you know this, I would love nothing more than to drop everything else going on in my life and hole myself up for the next 6 months to a year and write. Man, that would be fun, right? But if I did that, we wouldn’t be able to go out to dinner or do some of the things we want to do…if I neglect absolutely everything else the lights might go off one day.
So, in preparing for this interview, I had to think about this interview. I had to do a win/win interview. I’m a perfectionist, so I couldn’t do this interview unless I could use this content in a lot of other ways. So, here’s what I’m going to do. My preparation for this interview, this call you’re listening to and these are all the ways it will work for me and this is what you should be doing. At the end of this call I’m going to share an offer for my consulting services with everyone and that’s going to bring me some extra clients and so that’s win/win. I’m going to use the MP3 recording of this interview on my website to get more people opting into my mailing list and they’re going to hear that same offer so win/win.
I’m going to turn the 7 mistakes I just talked about into 7 different articles that I’m going to post online, and I’m going to use that content in my weekly column so win/win. I’m going to record a 7 page video series on these same 7 mistakes with slight variations and post them on YouTube and so win/win. I’m going to pull a lot of one-liners and quotes out of this interview and share them on social media.
I’m going to use this interview as a starting point to create a checklist or special report that authors can use when they’re getting ready to write a nonfiction book. I’ll be able to give that to my one on one consulting clients or prospects.
Are you getting the idea?
Ingrid Elfver: Yep.
Mark Malatesta: So, a couple more. I can use a lot of the ideas and/or content from this interview in a future speech. I’ll probably design a coaching program, maybe by myself or with Ingrid around this very content for entrepreneurs thinking about writing a book. And you better believe a lot of this content that you’re listening to will find its way into my book if I ever decide to write it. So I’ll end on this note and make the offer and show the website. If some of this stuff seems clever, I think that’s smart, and that’s that.
Ingrid Elfver: How can people get the article you talked about earlier, and what other resources do you have for authors that you want to share?
Mark Malatesta: Here’s the article link: How to Write a Book that Sells: Understanding High Concept.
Lastly, anyone who wants to learn about scheduling an introductory author coaching/consulting call can learn more at my my Literary Agent Advice page.
Ingrid Elfver: Thank you, gorgeous superstar!