Derek Sivers

Write Useful Books - by Rob Fitzpatrick

Write Useful Books - by Rob Fitzpatrick

ISBN: 1919621601
Date read: 2022-09-25
How strongly I recommend it: 9/10
(See my list of 320+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

How to write a non-fiction book so useful to people that they recommend it to others. A great step-by-step methodology from someone experienced, who’s done it successfully a few times already.

my notes

The goal of book marketing is to stop needing to do it.
Investing loads of time into active, hands-on marketing is unlikely to sell enough copies per hour to return a meaningful income.
Invest 100% of your effort into creating the most useful book possible - testing it with real readers at every step - so you can treat marketing as an afterthought.

Why are you writing?
* Beginnings - to explore, plant a flag, and build a reputation in an interesting space where you intend to remain
* Closure - to capture the lessons learned from some stage of life, allowing you to move on
* Impact - to spread important knowledge beyond your direct reach
* Curiosity - to spend the time researching, wrestling with, and deeply understanding an irresistible topic

Writing is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

Divide nonfiction books into two categories by their purpose to the reader:
Pleasure-givers (“interesting”, “fascinating”, “beautiful”)
Problem-solvers (“useful”, “actionable”, “clarifying”)

Nearly all of the advice you’ve ever heard about “writing a book” is actually about writing a pleasure-giving book, and is at best irrelevant and often harmful when applied to a problem-solving book.

Make a clear promise and put it on the cover.

To find the right words to clearly and concisely describe your book’s promise, try it out in conversation.
Describe the book in just one or two sentences.
Then shut up and listen to them completely misinterpret and misunderstand what you’re trying to do.
Each time you try describing it to someone, you’ll get a little bit closer.
Once people are immediately getting it - without requiring you to clarify or correct anything substantial - then you’ll know you’ve found the words.
Put them on your cover.

Nobody recommends the second-best solution. So you need to become the best.
When someone decides to buy and read your book, what are they trying to achieve or accomplish with it? Why are they bothering?
After finishing it, what’s different in their life, work, or worldview?

What does your ideal reader already know and believe?
If they already know the basics, then you can skip those.
Who is your book not for and what is it not doing?

A book’s organic growth will live or die based on its recommendation loop.

Test and iterate on your book’s underlying scope and structure without worrying about its words, and without needing to rewrite anything larger than a table of contents.
Verify and improve your scope.
Refine your table of contents and iterate on the book’s underlying education design and structure.

Don’t ask for opinions about your book idea (“So what do you think?”). That is just fishing for compliments.
Listening - a friendly exploration of the reader’s experiences, worldview, and decision-making:
You’ve been dealing with X recently, right?
Would you mind talking me through what you did and how it went?
How did you decide to do it that way?
What else did you try?
What did you give up on or find unhelpful?
Where did you search for help or guidance?
What were the most frustrating moments?
How did you eventually get over them?
Did you read any books or blogs about it?
Why (or why not)?
Which ones were helpful and which were a waste? Why?
What’s still worrying or blocking you?
Are you doing anything about it, or is it not that big of a deal?
These sorts of conversations are not about pitching (or even describing) your book idea.
You want insights into their life, not opinions about your idea.

Decribing your book suggests that you’ve already figured out the details (which discourages big-picture feedback).

Become the book and teach its contents to your future readers.
By helping them through the process yourself, you’ll learn what they need, and in what order.
You’ll figure out which examples resonate and which exercises work.
Volunteer to give them free, expert guidance about an outcome that they care about.
Instead of attempting to believe that your advice is worth sharing, go out and prove that it is by helping real people and seeing if it works.

Record the first draft as audio and use an AI transcription service.

If I don’t do my writing first thing, then I don’t do my writing.

Readers will feel engaged and rewarded so long as it regularly delivers the next piece of whatever they were promised on the cover.

Arrange the content around the learner’s goals.

Read it all every day from the start, correcting as you go along.
Then go on from where you stopped the day before.
When it gets so long that you can’t do this every day, read back two or three chapters each day.
Then each week read it all from the start.
That’s how you make it all of one piece.

Re-read your draft like it’s your worst enemy’s magnum opus and your job is to expose its every tragic flaw.

Beta readers are neither paid professionals nor kindhearted friends.
They are actual, honest-to-god readers who want what you’re creating so badly that they’re willing to endure an early, awkward, broken manuscript just to get it.

Beta reading begins after the third-ish draft, but before any sort of professional editing.
If you’re using a developmental editor, they’ll get involved while beta reading is still happening, offering an expert perspective to complement the feedback from your readers.

Run at least two full iterations of beta reading, which should take one to four months.
Continue iterating and improving until your beta readers have shown you that you’re finished.

Once you’re ready for beta readers, copy/export the manuscript into a cloud-hosted tool with live commenting.
Allow people to comment/suggest, but not edit.
We built a tool specifically for better beta reading called Help This Book. <>

I can rarely predict which specific parts of a book will be most valued or enjoyed.
But once the best bits have been identified, I can easily go through the rest of the manuscript and add more moments like them.
Identify where readers are quietly giving up and abandoning the book.

Follow up to see whether the book actually worked.

Launch is a year, not a day.

Amazon: tipping point of credibility at around 20-40 reviews, so it’s worth going out of your way to encourage (authentic) reviews until reaching that number.
Amazon description: explicitly list the book’s promise and benefits to their life, at least five paragraphs.
Use visual callouts (like headers, lists, and bold text) to grab the eye and allow for skimming.
A hidden “flag” gets thrown within Amazon’s systems after a book has received organic purchases for five days in a row.

Start by picking the book’s five most compelling learning outcomes.

Whenever a reader asks a question, instead of sending an email reply, I record the answer as a public video on my YouTube channel and send them a link.
It doubles as a permanent piece of content to help build my fledgling audience.