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Once while I was doing research on a technical topic an author told me, “Anyone can write a book.” In response to that comment I thought, “Yeh, right! How could anyone write a book if they have never written one?” After thinking about that idea I realized every author who has ever lived had to write his or her first book at some point.
I hope my personal experience will encourage and inspire you too to write a book. I know you can do it! First, allow me to share the story and then I will break it into suggested steps.
A number of years ago a friend of mine was having trouble getting a good job in the electronics field. Tektronix just went through a downsizing that put him out of a job. George had heard that the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) First-Class Radio License would look good on his resume. Since I enjoy pulling information together I suggested that we study for it. One of my greatest passions is finding ways to state difficult things in simple terms that people can understand.
The first thing I found is that the name of the license was being changed to The General Radiotelephone Operator License (GROL). I borrowed or bought all I could find on test preparation. As I went through the material I did my best to organize it and to explain it in easier-to-understand language. I had already learned that “anyone can learn anything” if it is presented in the right way. I found this to be true by teaching my 11-year old daughter, Janette, and 10-year-old son, Steve, the radio technology needed to pass their amateur radio license technician exams.
I started working with George. I presented the materials over and over again until the right “click” happened. He asked so many questions – so many that it was often irritating. However, I found that his questions made me delve deeper into the content and find better and easier ways to present the material. It’s the teacher’s responsibility to say it in a way that’s understandable to the student. For example, if I spoke to George in Spanish or Russian he would not have understood a word of it. I found the same is true while speaking in the person’s native language. I had to keep saying it differently until a match occurred.
We studied daily for 3 or 4 weeks. Finally, the test day arrived. We went together to the testing station in Portland, Oregon. I wanted to take the test with him because I didn’t have the license either.
As I went through the exam I was flabbergasted when I saw a major percentage of “new” material that was in none of the study guides. The vacuum tube information we studied was replaced by transistors and integrated circuit technology questions. Many other topics were updated.
We got our scores. George failed miserably and I passed by the skin of my teeth. My amateur radio background and Air Force electronics training helped me squeak by. We found out that the test was just updated for first time in several years and that 1-2 out of 100 were passing it. After hearing that, George felt a little better.
I quickly wrote down everything I remembered about the new topics. I told George I would research the new information and we would try again.
I went to work doing the same as before – learning about new topics and technologies and presenting them in simpler language until he grasped the information. It sure was gratifying to see the light come on each time he mastered a complicated subject. While George studied the basics I learned about radar technology.
After a few weeks we were ready again. I went with George to take the test. While he took the basic exam I took the “Radar Endorsement” exam.
Although George passed the GROL exam and I passed the Radar Endorsement exam that was not the end. It was the beginning of something else. I had created an information product that was highly valuable to others who wanted to pass that FCC exam. Friends and family encouraged me to put the information together into a book. I recalled what the author said, “Anyone can write a book.”
After privately publishing it at a local print shop I started marketing it to tech schools who I thought made it a practice to help their students pass the exam. The first breakthrough was receiving a letter from an instructor at ITT Technical Institute. He said he had been teaching the material for years to his students and during the last test all of his students failed. He said he was looking for an updated study guide. After purchasing a case of books and trying it out on his new class he was impressed enough to write a foreword to my book. This gave it even more credibility because he was a highly respected instructor and had numerous credentials.
Soon the book was being used by numerous tech schools, Air Force and Coast Guard instructors. At that time someone encouraged me to contact a large publisher – to give it wider exposure. I contacted McGraw Hill Publishers and they quickly agreed to snap it up because of the newness and relevancy of the material. (My negotiation with them could be the topic of another article.) I worked with McGraw Hill for the second, third and forth editions of the General Radiotelephone Operator’s license Study Guide. (Amazon)
So, now I had a popular technical book with a major publisher. It didn’t stop there. One thing led to another. I negotiated with the publisher to allow me to purchase case lots at a major discount. I went to work on an audio program by using recording equipment in my own office. I then contacted a video production company in Portland about doing a video presentation of the material. The result was more viable information products and a mail order company that did quite well. After a few years I sold it and the new owner grossed close to $200,000 per year for several years. And it all started by helping a friend understand “How To” pass a particular exam.
Here are some tips for writing a book:
1. Start with something you know about: I had some background in the field of electronics from the Air Force and from ham radio training. Do you have a specialty? Are you good at doing something?
2. Be passionate about it: I was passionate about helping my friend pass the FCC test and get his license so he could get a better job. Is there something you love to do or talk about? If so, that may be a good place to start.
3. Write a “How To” book: “How-to” books are good sellers especially when they teach others how to do something they may be passionate about. Teaching people how to make more money is always a good topic. Teaching them how to better care for their favorite pet would also be a good topic. Have you ever put in the time to learn how to operate a difficult piece of equipment or to understand a tough computer program? If so, perhaps you could create an information product that tells others how to learn it quicker.
4. Make Difficult Things Easy to Understand: You may have noticed that a lot of “how to” books, tech manuals and instructional manuals are not easy to follow. Find a way to rephrase things in different ways. Practice on friends or kids until you can explain something in a very simple manner. When you do – you have a viable product that others will want.
5. Find people to give you an endorsement, or testimonial or foreword to your book. This gives it credibility.
6. Self-Publish the book: I found that when I approached McGraw Hill I already had a book that was selling. I told them I would like to work with them but I really didn’t need to because I was already selling the book without them. This put me in a much stronger position for negotiating with them for the royalty and case lot discounts.
7. E-Books: When I did my first book e-books were not an option yet. Today, you can publish your book online.
8. Check with search engines regarding the number of searches for the topic you are considering. Look for competition on the Internet. If you find a lot of interest on the subject you may be on the right track.
In summary, “everyone can write a book” because everyone knows something that no one else knows. We all have experiences unique to us. If you start with something you are familiar with and passionate about, make it easy to understand, and make sure there is a demand for it you are very likely to succeed.
At the end of my book’s introduction I wrote:
“GOOD LUCK!. I say “good luck” with some hesitation because I have found that the harder I study, the better is my luck. However, one successful student said “Hard study is only effective if you study the right information.”