Susan & I are back to help you get your book written and out there engaging your audience.
In this show we discuss why less is more and how in most cases a shorter book has many advantages over a larger book. Whether that is the likelihood of someone reading it, the opportunity to add value by delivering more content later or just the easier proposition in writing a shorter book.
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Transcript - Book More Show 007
Stuart: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the Book More Show. You've got the A-Team back today. It's myself here with Susan. Susan, how is it going?
Susan: Fabulous. Excited to be here.
Stuart: Good stuff. Today, picking up on a couple of questions that we have in the Q,A last week, today, I thought we'd go into more depth about the length of someone's book and the target market. If you haven't had the chance yet, go back and listen to last week's show. We covered 4 or 5 questions that had been sent in from people who are either writing books at the moment or thinking about writing books. A couple of the first ones were around, "I know a couple of colleagues who have written books. They're all quite long. It seems like a onerous task to get to, so how long does my book need to be?"
Then lifting off the back of that, we were talking about, say, single target market and the job of work of the book. That led us into how narrow is too narrow, or conversely, how broad is too broad. I think those 2 questions should make for a good show today. "What makes for a good length of book? How much do I need to write when I'm looking at addressing a single target market to really be in tune with the audience? How narrow is ... I don't know when I'm being narrow or specific enough." I think that's going to be a good show today, talking about that.
Susan: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, let's start by chatting about typically how long the 90-Minute Books are. It's actually a pretty simple formula for how long you can probably expect your book to be. I always tell the authors, Stuart, that when you talk for an hour and someone records that conversation, it generally turns out to be between 8,000 and 10,000 words. Depending on how fast someone talks, there is some variability, and then when you transcribe that and turn it into a book, it turns out to be about 40 to 45 pages, give or take.
Then generally, interestingly enough, what takes one hour to talk takes someone 2 hours to read. Generally speaking, a 50-page book, most people can read between 20 to 25 pages in an hour, so it'll take someone 2 hours to read your book, which really is most of all the attention span you're going to get from your target audience in one go. Someone is not going to sit down and read a 6-hour book. They're just not going to do it, but often times you can get them to commit to an hour and a half if they're interested in the topic.
That, to me, I think most people would agree, if they could be in front of their potential client for 2 hours, they have a good chance of converting them, and so think of the book as that. You're getting in front of them for a solid 2 hours where it's your thoughts, your best practices, your knowledge, your expertise coming through via the book into that potential client's mind. They get to know you. They get to like you. They get to appreciate you. They're thankful for the information because this is a real problem they're having. I think to me, the 40-, 45-, 50-page book is perfect because it is readable in a one-time sitting, and then hopefully, if we did our job right, they could take that next step with you.
Stuart: Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of it's not so much going into it with a particular target in mind of how big it needs to be, but just having a mindfulness or an awareness of how it's received at the other end. It needs to be compelling enough to take people from the promise of the title, why it was that it got people to raise their hand in the first place, through to a call-to-action, the the next step towards the end of the book. I think it's a perfect breakdown of the numbers there into ... For those people who aren't aware, the way that we get the content for authors that we work with in the 90-Minute Book process is to record that content, and then we aim to keep the books relatively conversational to make them more accessible.
Just as Susan said, that imagine you're sat in front of a person for an hour and a half, having that personality come across that warmth, come across the knowledge of the subject, not just a cold, dry textbook. That's another reason why recordings work very well for that type of content. An hour's worth of recording translating into an hour and a half to 2 hours worth of their attention, it's really unlikely that you're going to get ... I know from my own point of view, I've bought so many books where there's the expectation I'm going to read every word of it and may sit down and begin with those intentions, but once it's been put down once or certainly twice, the likelihood of it getting picked up again is pretty slim.
I think the other reason that it's a ... Another way of thinking about it is that it's a nice introduction to a subject. As we said before, there's always more that can be talked about, so the risk of going too broad or too wide, trying to get too much content in that to begin with, is you don't really give anywhere to go. It creates an overhead for you as the person writing the book to be able to fill that amount of time. It doesn't necessarily give the opportunity to allow people to raise their hands as interested, requesting more, being further interested in something.
To have this accessible piece of information that's easy for people to consume, it's in a nice format that gives people value, it seems accessible because the length is about right. I think that 45, 55 page range, this is the physical copy we're talking about, obviously, but added in a couple of blank pages at the beginning and end to get the numbers to be an equal number of pages. You've got an introduction there. You maybe were to repeat the call-to-action towards the end. There's usually an imprint page sharing some of the printing details. That then takes you towards 55, 60 pages. We tend to print all of the ... Or, certainly our default model is to print on 8" by 5", or 5" by 8" rather, dimensions.
That weight, that kind of ... I was going to say hand feel, but there's got to be a better term for it. That kind of feel of the book, that weight in hand, really makes it seem valuable without seeming overwhelming. I know that I can get through this in one or 2 sitting, so it's not something that I need to carve out a large proportion of time to get around to reading. That definitely makes it far more likely that I'm going to sit down and read it at least to make the start, and if the content is then compelling and it's leading towards answering a question for people, they're much more likely to get through it and/or take the next step rather than it just be sat on the shelf and not go anywhere.
Susan: I know. A lot of the authors seem to use their book, Stuart, for ... They want to become seen as the expert in their area, and so some authors may feel that a 50-page book doesn't set them apart, if you will, enough. Let's speak to that point. I think our books generally are more lead generation in nature. Meaning, not that having one of our books done with a 50-page book won't set you apart and won't set you up, a lot of times, when people ask to see the 90-Minute Book or if we advertise for the 90-Minute Book, no one says, "Well, wait a minute. I only want it if it's 133 pages or more." In other words, people don't care if it's 20 pages or 200. They really just want the information in the book. They don't necessarily care how long it is.
Stuart: This is the point of quality versus quantity as well. I think just getting to the stage where it's a way of engaging with someone has to be of a certain size really detracts from the content. There is a ... I tried to quote it in last week's show and I forgot to look up what the actual quote was, but it's something a well-known writer replied to someone saying something along the lines of, "Apologies for the length of this reply. I didn't have time to make it more concise."
That idea that the words on the page are more important than how many words were on the page is really quite key to this. If you want it to be a textbook, then it has to be a certain size. If you want it to be an introduction to a subject, then it doesn't necessarily need to be the same piece. If you want something that's just designed to entertain people, if you want to write a novel, then there's an expectation that it's a certain size, but again, if the value in what you're doing in writing a book is to start a conversation, then the length of it becomes almost secondary. It needs to be compelling enough to answer the question, but it doesn't need to be ... You're not trying to break tables with this when you drop it on someone's desk.
It's very much about answering one particular question as comprehensively as possible. Now if that takes you 150 pages, then that's great. It's job well done. It's still answering that one particular point. We'd perhaps argue going forward that you might want to narrow down the target market a little bit so you don't have quite so much of a job to do, but if it does take that much to comprehensively answer something, then, okay. In some industries, that might be worthwhile, but I think for the 90% of people out there who are thinking about creating a book as a lead generation piece, then creating that overhead, creating that rod for your own back, to create something that's that big with no quantifiable upside is definitely missing the point. Really, you're going to cause yourself some challenges in getting that out of the door.
Susan: That's true. A lot of times, I've talked to some authors who have told me that they wrote a bigger book, Stuart, previously to coming on board with our program, and what they found was they would often give this 200-page book to a potential client and then follow up with them potentially 4 weeks later or however the time frames work, or they would tell the client, "When you're done reading the book, give me a call. I'd love to meet with you." That kind of thing.
One guy told me that he met someone like 8 months later in an event, and he's like, "Oh, you never called me back." He's like, "Yeah, I never finished your book." In other words, he's like, "I've done the bigger book, and in a way, it was hampering my ability to connect with that client." Sometimes the authors come to me, and I've had one author say, "You know, Susan, I wrote a bigger book and I literally had a client look me in the eye and say, 'Well, why do I need to hire you? Everything I need to know is in the book.'" There's something to be said for that.
I think that there is a science and art to putting enough in the book so they get value, so that they feel like they've learned something, that they understand a problem better, but at the end of the day, most of the topics we do books on, they really do need further help. Very rarely do we get someone that gives you everything in one go. I don't even think in a full book you can give someone everything they need to know about a problem that they're having. At the end of the day, people need help. Even on the 90-Minute Book, we give you the formula for doing a book and you could go off on your own and do your own book, and we know 95% of the people that read that book are going to need help even though we've given you the step-by-step for the most part.
I think that's the same across the board for every book we do, that even though you've given them the keys to the kingdom, they're going to need your help, most of the people reading the book. You could tell them how to retire early. They're still going to need help. You could tell them what they need to know to turn their sales team around and turn their leaders, but at the end of the day, it's very rare that someone could pick up a book, read a book no matter how long it is, and have an aha moment where they turn on a dime and now are living their lives very differently.
There's usually a coaching or an add-on or some service that you provide beyond the book that the reader really needs, and that's the whole point of these books. It's to start the conversation. It's not to give them everything you've ever learned about a topic. You don't want to overwhelm them. I think that's actually a real problem with a longer book, or can be, is that you overwhelm the reader and then they don't do anything. At least with a simpler, shorter book, Stuart, there's a chance that they're going to feel complete at the end of that book and know that, "Wow, I really do need help, and she seems to know what she's talking about. I'm going to give her a call."
Stuart: I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of overwhelm because, as you say, a book with the best intentions, if you wanted to make it the most comprehensive piece out there on too broad a subject, it turns into a very weighty piece of information. Not only is the overhead then on the person expected to read all of that which, as you said there, is very unlikely to happen in all but the most engaged educators, but you also create the problem of then as you're writing it, you need to write it with a coherent theme or story running all the way through this long book. Once you accept, as you said, that it's unlikely that even if you do write a very large book, it's still not going to give people all of the answers, there's still always going to be a next step. Almost specifically, when we're talking about engagement or lead generation or business books, you absolutely want there to be a next step.
Understanding that, and then drawing in the scope of the book to answer that one specific question, relatively narrow but valuable, so go deep rather than wide, then you can draw a line under it in a more sensible way that isn't going to create a huge overhead to create. It's going to be easy for the people to consume. They're not going to feel like they've been bait-and-switched into the only option is to give you a call because the way that you position the book, you'll position it in such a way that it's answering just one question and obviously there's other things that people would want to know rather than positioning it as this is the answer to this whole industry and then what's actually inside isn't as comprehensive as you hope.
Starting that relationship off on the best foot, giving someone a valuable answer, if it's only 50 pages, then 50 pages is the right length. That's the amount that answers the question as fully as possible. There person is left feeling great. They've had all of their questions answered. Some of the other information that you might have, perhaps you've written 3/4 of a bigger book already, but take some of that additional information and then offer it to people as a follow up. Once they've opted in to receive a copy of the book or they've bought a physical copy of the book, have a way for them to request then that follow-on information.
The people who are then interested in it will raise their hand as being further interested. You can then work more closely with those people who have raised their hand. A better use of your time. A better use of their time. You've got the book out there collecting leads in the same amount of time that it would take someone else to think about the outline, let alone have them create it and get it out there. I think it's quality versus quantity, understanding what it's there for, and then making it the appropriate size is definitely the way to think about it rather than trying to hit a minimum page count because you're thinking about it in terms of a book deal for a novel or something like that.
Susan: Well, it's funny. We have a saying here at the 90-Minute Books. "A bigger book doesn't necessarily make the boat go faster." What we mean by that is, hey, if you can get someone to download your book, read it, and contact you with a 40-page book, why would you want to write a 120-page book if the whole point is them to get to raise their hand to say, "I'd like more help"? Maybe, and just maybe, that 120-page book gets in the way of that because they never get to the end, or they feel overwhelmed, or something else gets in the way between the time they start it and finish it. There's just too much time that's gone by, and now they have a different problem they're trying to solve. That kind of thing.
I also think that most of the authors that come to us that want a bigger book, Stuart, I always suggest to them, and this seems to have gone over well, "Let's just take a part of that bigger book and at least get that down on paper and turn it into one of these thinner books and see how it lands with your clientele. Hand it to a few clients. Get some feedback." The reason is, is rather than go spend all that time and energy writing a bigger book that maybe or maybe not that your market even wants, why not do a test book and get feedback on it?
If you really do feel like, "Hey, I need to put all these other elements in the book," you could add to the book. Once you have a completed book, even if it is on the 40- to 50-page size, adding a chapter on a topic that maybe you just do a presentation on and now you want to put that as a new chapter in the book, no problem. If you want to do a whole second book and make it a series of books, so it's a series of "smaller books", fine. Then maybe after doing 3 or 4 of these, Stuart, compile it into one big book.
Now it's interesting, Stuart, I've told this idea and talked to a whole bunch of guys into starting with a smaller, simpler book, saying that if they wanted to later come back and make it bigger, we'd work with them on it and/or we would do a second book and then combine the 2 into one bigger book. No one's ever come back. They've never come back and said, "Hey ..." What I'd take away from that is either they just got so busy from the success of the book or they do realize, "Hey, this works. Why do I need ..."
Stuart: It's not going to make you go any faster.
Susan: It really isn't. I know I have had guys insist that their book needed to be a certain size. I told them, "Great, but we're never going to get that big book done in one go, so let's just chunk it down in bite-size pieces so that you can get it done. We'll help you. Then you can always come back and add those missing chapters later," but getting the whole formula for the book, getting the title, getting the cover, getting the subtitle all dialed in, getting the introduction, that's actually the bigger part of the book. The actual content from the author's point view, it's just more content from their brain. It's not that difficult. It's all the other pieces that they fall apart on, but we can help them with that.
Stuart: Absolutely. I think that's a great point, isn't it? The fact that this isn't a one-shot deal. We're talking about self-publishing and then helping as many people as possible get their books out there. Whether they do it themselves or whether they use us or one of the other services out there, but to have something that isn't going through one of the big publishing houses, this isn't a one-shot deal. We're not talking about a minimum print run of 100,000 books, and therefore, what is there on Day 1 is there on Day 501 because it's too difficult to change.
This can be, if it makes the boat go faster, this can be a living document that's updated. I really love the idea of, "Here's the start. Let's get it out there in this first version, and let's adapt based on feedback." It's the minimum viable product type approach of, "Here's Version 1. Let's get it out there as quick as possible, and then pivot or change or add based on the real-world feedback," rather than a cycle of endless analysis of what it should be and never actually getting out there in the first place.
There was ... Again, I think I mentioned ... Did I? I can't remember. I might have mentioned it last week, but Dean and I were talking about best sellers. There was a article going around in February, March this year of what it takes to be a best-selling author. Someone had written a book, self-published it. It was actually just a cover, and the content was ... There was nothing in the content, it was blank, but because they had tricked the algorithms into making it a best seller of a particular category, then they could, with the same amount of credibility as everyone else, say, "I'm a best-selling author," but actually, there were zero words in there at all.
I think it was done, or it certainly turned into afterwards, a demonstration of the kind of ... A lot of people called it, "The scam of the best-seller." I don't know if I'd go that far, but it certainly highlights that the content is separate from whether it engages people on the outside. Now a lot of that example may well be it just turned into a bit of a meme and then got its own traction, but the whole point of the content just needs to be compelling enough to do the job of the work of helping people get to the next stage, not a particular size or a weight or a content. There's no minimum. There's no maximum. It just needs to do its job in the most efficient and effective way possible.
It bridges into a slightly different topic. We talk about single target market a lot and how ideally your book should aim and talk to that single target market, and then if there's another single target market, then it's another book. Your comment about having the series of books really made me think about that. I'm back in the UK at the moment, and on the bookshelf here, there's a couple of books out from years ago which are the short guide to some things. I think I have here ... I've got The Very Short Guide to Classics and The Short Guides to the European Union. These are books that are published by a big publishing house. They're really quite short introductions to huge topics, but they're just primer type books. There's a series of about 20 of them, and they look nicely lined up on the shelf next to each other, but each one of those books ...
Susan: There you go.
Stuart: Exactly. This is exactly what other publishing houses do. They understand that the job of work of this particular book is to do something. If people can bridge that into their own business, they can understand that the job of work of addressing this one particular audience is to get them to the next step in that particular funnel, and then just to the side of it, there might be the next funnel, and then next to that, there might be the next funnel. Whether that's 5 funnels that address all of your business or 55, it doesn't really matter. Starting with one and having one dialed into that group is much more likely that you're at least going to get one out of the door and you're not going to sit back and worry about trying to create the big book that addresses all 5 of them all at once.
Susan: Yeah, if the authors or potential authors listening to this want to go to 90minutebooks.com/gallery, we actually have dozens and dozens of pictures of the books that we've done. I just want to highlight a couple of them just to give the scope of what we're talking about. There's an author that did a book with us called Gene McManus, and he did a book called the Lifetime Financial Solution. Sounds actually pretty big, "Lifetime Financial Solution," but when you actually break it down, it's 10 questions you must answer before retirement. I'd tell you what. If I'm someone approaching retirement, I'm going to want to read this book. I don't necessarily want a big book that talks about how the government creates inflation rates. You know what I mean?
Susan: This guy talks in very, very easy-to-understand street language. "Here's what you need to know before you approach retirement." I think that is a gift to his clients or potential clients because in a very quick amount of time, he gets them to see areas maybe that they're doing great in, "But, ooh, jeez, not so great over here. Maybe I ought to go and talk to him."
Another one, "What's Next After Dental School?" A dentist came to us and he wanted to write a book because a lot of dentists, they go into the work because, Stuart, they like the practice of dental care, but they're just not business owners. They're not good business owners. In fact, they don't want the hassle of running a business, so they get out and they have all the student loan debt and it's a big problem, and then you'd start making money, but there's a whole bunch of, "Well, do you go into solo practice? Do you join a group? What kind of group do you join?" He basically just called it, "The 8 Must Haves Every New Dentist Should Know Before They Make a Costly Mistake."
I don't know, if I'm a dentist and out of dental school, I want to read this book, and if I have questions or problems, of course his team is available to sit down with the potential dentist and chat with them about what their goals and ambitions are and how their team can maybe work with them. You can see that they're sometimes big topics, but they're chunked down. It's not everything about running your own dental practice, that's a different kind of book, but now we're going to the pain of it. "What does that new dentist that gets out of dental school, what do they need to know," versus, "Here's how you set up a practice." That's a different kind of book than what he's doing here. I think it's super sexy.
Stuart: Valuable and targeted.
Stuart: You can imagine that for both of those books, the guys could have written books that were 5 times as long and not made the boat go any faster at all, and sticking with that analogy, it wouldn't have made any difference to how it's received. People would have been less likely to read it at all. Both of those books, I've seen the content on those both of those books, and it's compelling. Like you said, it's easy to understand. It's very obviously positioned as, "This is the start of the conversation." Particularly the financial one, there's 50 more things that we would need to discuss to actually go into the depths of the plan, but there's no way that can be done in a book. Even if the book was 50 times as long, it still wouldn't have covered all of the questions and we'd still need to meet.
This is an easy, accessible way to answer a couple of those top level questions and start the conversation rather than trying to be convincing and convince someone that you're the best person to work with because you're using all of this technical language and you're trying to show how clever you are. It's just an easy way to start the conversation and draw people in. It doesn't have to be 5 times the size to really get across the same amount of message and compel someone to raise their hand to take the next step rather than just keep beating them over the head with more and more information…
Susan: Absolutely. Think about ... Sorry. If you think about, real quick, Stuart, the target audience for some of these people, if you're trying to get in front of a busy CEO, someone that's running their own company, I could promise you, they're very rarely going to sit down and read a 200-page book on what you have to offer. On some level, these are calling cards. They're really trust-building exercises. I think a potential client that is busy, that doesn't have a lot of time, would appreciate the time of you taking this content and simplifying it to them in an easy-to-read book so they can get it in an instant, feel like they could have a conversation about it, and at the end of the day, they realize they're going to need help. Well, who are they going to call? Some random stranger or the person that just gave them a lot of great information?
Stuart: I think that's a great place to draw a line onto this rather than doing the risk of us beating people out there and making it a 50-minute podcast rather than a 30-minute podcast, so sticking to the message, I think that's a great place to end. It does really honour their time. It gives someone the condensed, the concise information, the right information at the right time before then leading into a further conversation. Yeah, it really is a great way of looking at it.
Whether or not people choose to work with us or want to do this by themselves, I think just keeping that mindset front of mind when thinking about the breadth of the content is really going to help them get something out there. Just as you said, if people want to add to it later, if they want to do a second book later, if they want to do 5 books and then consolidate them all because they want to use that bigger piece in a different context, we should definitely do a podcast in the future talking about the context of books as well.
Actually, I'll put it in the show notes of this episode. If people want to go to 90minutebooks.com/podcast, then we've got all of the episodes there. I'll include books that I did recently with Nadine Haupt as part of her webinar series that she was doing, and that talks, again, about how to dial in a single target market, how to make sure that your content isn't going too far off track, how to make it more likely that you'll get it finished and get it out there. Whether or not people will work with us or choose to do it themselves, I think remembering that less is more is going to be a way of people being much more likely to get it done and get it out there. I'll make sure that's in the show notes of this. As I said, if you go to 90minutebooks.com/podcast, and this will be /007 because we're on Episode 7 now, head over there and check out some of the show notes.
Susan: Awesome. Thank you, Stuart. Always a pleasure.
Stuart: Thanks, Susan. Looking forward to catching you next time.