I was coming to the end of a long ghostwriting project looking for a new one. So, as usual, I announced my availability here and on my social networks. Once again, I offered a free hour of consultation to anyone thinking of writing a book.
There was greater response than there has been since before the pandemic. Perhaps, people have had more time thinking about such projects, giving me even more reason to be hopeful about the coming Post-Pandemic Era.
But some things have not changed. As has previously been the case, nearly everyone I talked with was stuck on just how to get started. This did not surprise me.
Getting started on a book project is difficult. Such projects have many moving parts: The effort can strain heart, mind, time, budget, and relationships. Not only do you have to produce about 60,000 words but you also must manage a team of editors, proofreaders, designers, index writers, and occasional fact checkers. You have details to manage and deadlines to meet. Sometimes it feels like you are juggling with only one hand.
My solution is something I call the Expanded Table of Contents (ETOC). I doubt I was the first to use an ETOC or even to coin the term. But I am certain that had I not started, I would not have succeeded in writing and ghostwriting 10 books.
In 2005, I partnered up with a fellow blogging enthusiast. We had an idea for a book that would eventually be called Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers.
We were given six months to complete the 75,000-word book: We were jubilant and announced this big news on our respective blogs, generating considerable attention and we basked in it. All that was left to do was to actually start writing. If we didn’t make the deadline, we would forfeit most of our advance.
We got the first advance checks and the clock started ticking. That was when just about everything started to go wrong. We were both successful bloggers and I guess we had figured that writing a book was like writing a very long blog, but it turned out to be nothing like that.
It was more like assembling a massive jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces had to not only fit together but be placed in a specific sequence.
It felt like our toes were at the base of a very steep mountain, crisscrossed by many trails, but to meet our deadline we had to figure out the shortest, safest route to the top.
As the clock ticked, my partner and I bickered over using his blog voice or mine, whether our audience was bloggers or business decision makers. We disagreed on who should be interviewed: we argued long and passionately, and the clock just kept ticking.
I would write a chapter, ignore my partner’s edits, and send it off to the editor. My partner would send his own version and ask the editor to decide whose is better.
Two months whizzed by and we remained stuck. Our arguments had become more heated, and then our editor quit. He told us we needed a marriage counselor more than an editor. We asked him to give us a little time before we told the publisher, only to learn the publisher already knew.
Two hours later, our publisher was on the phone coldly laying down new rules. He gave us two weeks to finish the first chapter, or he would personally fly down and supervise us in a locked room.
He would decide all disputes between us. If that didn’t work, he would pull the plug, the project would be canceled, and we would forfeit 75 percent of our advance.
The next day our publisher and I had a more conciliatory chat. I admitted that we just didn’t know how to get started and we had been unable to develop a process. That’s when he suggested we take the Table of Contents (TOC) we had submitted in our proposal and expand upon it. Under each chapter heading I should flesh out what the contents of it would be and why they were important.
And so I did. Thus, I wrote my first Expanded Table of Contents (ETOC).
Trail to Summit
The ETOC allowed my partner and me to focus and immediately pieces of the puzzle clicked into place. We nailed that first chapter in five days and Naked Conversations was completed four months later with several hours to spare on our deadline.
The experience was transformational for us both. I went on to a successful writing career. I use an ETOC in all my long ghostwriting projects and have recommended it many times to other authors as well as those who aspire to be authors. Very often I get thanked for my suggestion.
If you are thinking about writing a book I recommend you try starting by developing an ETOC. Go through several rounds of revisions. Show it to your loved ones or other friends.
Do this before entering into a financial relationship with a ghostwriter and you are likely to save significantly on our fees and we will be more likely to want to work with you because you are demonstrating a professionalism that we value.
You are also likely to get you book to market in less time as well.
Getting started is simple: just put a blank page on your screen. Then write:
- Target Audience. Quite simply, who it is you want to reach and go for the high end of that market segment. If you say the book is for CEOs it will appeal to anyone who aspires to be a CEO, but if you say it’s for midlevel managers, no CEOs are likely to read it. Deciding on your target audience is not just a marketing ploy. It determines both your voice and your content. It helps you tell your reader what she or he wants to find out.
- Reader Promise. If you expect people to spend money and time on your book you must promise they’ll walk away knowing something valuable. As author, every sentence in your book should contribute in some way to fulfilling your Reader Promise. Colorful anecdotes that do not address the Reader Promise become rabbit holes where confused readers get lost.
- Foreword. Who are the most famous influencers on your chosen topic? Try to get one to write your foreword. Use the ETOC to let them know what the book is about.
- Introduction. This is your sales pitch for why members of your target audience should read your book and where you state your Reader Promise. What will readers walk away knowing that they don’t already know? Will this new knowledge make them, taller, thinner, and sexier? If you can instill a sense of urgency into it, that will help.
- The Chapters. List all the chapter titles as they will appear in the TOC that will appear in the book. The expand it to include:
- The chapter’s key point (just one).
- How this chapter helps fulfill your Reader Promise
- 3-5 sentences on what you’ll cover in this chapter
Keep in mind that the ETOC is a private, strategic document. It should be devoid of marketing and jargon. It’s ultimate value is focus: I know it helps me write better books in shorter time and thus reduce what I—or another ghostwriter would charge you.
I sometimes get asked why I offer a free hour of consultation to anyone with a book idea. I tell them I am practicing Lethal Generosity, Contextual Technology and the Competitive Edge, a book I wrote in 2015.
My key point was that if you treat customers better than competitors do, you will gain their loyalty and make it difficult and expensive for your competitors to butt in.
My free consultations are my personal Lethal Generosity tactics. Perhaps you will eventually engage me, or perhaps not. Finding out whether or not we are a good match early will save us both time. Perhaps you’ll never write a book but will recommend me to someone who is.
Even if none of this happens the experience of talking with someone who may someday need my services makes me smarter about the people who will engage with me.
So, I confess: I give away some free time because the financial ROI on my time pays off many times over. To sweeten the deal, I just shared with you my views on the ERTOC and that in itself may be valuable to you.