Can You Really Write a Book in 3 Months?

Yes! And no.

Since I offer visitors to my website the prospect of a book in 3-6 months, I thought I should address the questions of when, whether, and how it’s possible to produce a full-length book so quickly.

At the recent BACN Publishing Panel, Dr. Bette Daoust said that it takes her 32 hours to write a book. You could hear the gasps of astonishment from the audience. She quickly qualified the statement by pointing out three things:

  1. That time is only for writing, not for research or editing. The research (gathering of relevant articles) may take months, not counting the years of experience that create the author’s expertise.
  2. It takes 32 hours to write the first draft. Few writers actually want their first drafts published.
  3. As the author of 150 books, Dr. Daoust is a practiced writer; first-time authors can expect to spend three times that on their first draft, even if they have all their ducks in a row.

When I was a young, energetic graduate student, I researched and wrote a 300,000 word quasi-historical fantasy adventure novel during our four-month summer break. That’s several times as long as any business book. (In fact, 300,000 words is really too long to be one novel; I decided a few years later, when I got nowhere with publishers, to divide it into two books and add a couple of chapters to the shorter section, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.)

Even though I’m not young and energetic anymore, generating reams of text is not a problem—as long as I know in advance what I want to say.

Start by Proposing

That’s where the research comes in. Whether you’re writing your own book or someone else’s, you have to gather a lot of source material before starting to write. You also have to go through the proposal process, to find out who the book’s intended market is, what the author’s goal for the book is, which books are comparable, etc and so on. I advise even authors who know from the beginning that they’re going to self-publish to write book proposals, because by the time you’ve done all that preparation, actually writing the book is almost an afterthought.

It can take longer to create a good proposal, with its marketing plan, hook, handle, outline, and sample chapters, than it does to write the rest of the book. Again, it depends on how well-prepared you are. Patricia Fry, author of How to Write a Successful Book Proposal in 8 Days or Less, explains the value of book proposals on WBJB Radio and Authors Access.

Source Material

Part of preparing to write—and thus being able to write quickly—is getting your source material together. You might collect relevant magazine articles and web pages over the course of a few months. Make sure you have them where you can get to them, and that you go over them to decide where you want to include them. You should also collect any short articles you’ve published that you want to include or expand on. And if you have illustrations or figures of any kind already picked out, you’ll need to get those together, as well.

If you have recordings of yourself giving presentations and leading workshops, get them transcribed. If you don’t have them, start making them. They’ll save you from reinventing the wheel. You can get a digital recorder for less than $100; for a little more, you can get one that comes bundled with voice-to-text software. (This technology is much better than it used to be, but you’ll still need a human to go over and correct it.) If you want, you can produce your entire first draft by talking rather than writing.

If you’re working with a ghostwriter, s/he will probably record interviews with you, as well as making use of any recordings or transcriptions you already have. It can be useful to hear the original audio as well as having the text to work with, but you’ll almost certainly lose time and money if you ask your ghostwriter to do the transcription. There are specialized services that will do it faster and cheaper if you don’t want to go the software route.

If, instead of planning for a few years to write before you sit down at your keyboard, you get struck by a mental lightning bolt one day and conclude that you need a book now, you can condense your research and preparation period. It may mean some long days at the library and on the Internet, not to mention in front of the microphone, either presenting to an audience or getting interviewed by a writer, but you should be able to manage the research inside a month if you can take time off from your regular business to do so.

Time Off

One reason many authors decide they really don’t need a book in 3 months, or even 6, is the fact that they have businesses to run, or day jobs, which mean they can’t devote long hours to writing. Of course, that’s also one reason to hire a ghostwriter, but as long as you want it to be your book, you have to put time in on it. So you might take a couple of weeks off to fill in the gaps in your research and to do interviews, then hand your source material to the writer.

After that, you can concentrate on your work for the next month while s/he writes the first draft. Then you’ll need at least another week or two off in order to make revisions, unless you don?t require sleep. And so on through as many revisions as the book requires (at least one more).

So that’s at least two months. Once you think of the book as “finished,” you’ll need to give the manuscript, preferably in hard copy, to someone who’s never seen it before. This can be a professional proofreader, or just a friend with an eagle eye and a handy red pen. You’ll be amazed at how many typos and other small errors you, your writer, and the spelling checker missed.

Once you fix those last problems (and the ghostwriter, or even your assistant, can on that part for you), you can turn the book over to the publisher, designer,or book packager. If you’re self-publishing, either via Print on Demand or through a more traditional printer, you need to have someone do the layout and typesetting. It’s best to hire someone who is experienced with book design—both the principles and the software—rather than an all-purpose graphic designer. If you’re working with a traditional publisher, they’ll take care of this part for you. (I can recommend a book designer, if you’re looking for one.)

A Real-Life Example

It took me 60 hours to do the first draft of a client’s book, using her blog posts as raw material; that would be just about exactly a month for me if I were working on it “full time.” But I wasn�t working on it full time, and neither was she. She actually started writing the blog in August of 2005 and concluding in October of 2006. Writing the blog posts took her roughly 1-2 hours apiece.

I started collecting and organizing the blog posts at the end of 2005 and finished the first draft in June of 2007. A lot of what both of us did during that process was eliminate duplication. She’d made several points in more than one blog post, and we needed to consolidate all that material. If she’d written all of them at once, it would have been easier for her to remember what she’d already covered—but impossible for her to do any work for her clients.

She then put in 6 hours a day reviewing and revising that first draft, and sent it back to me on July 8th, 2007. It took only until July 15th (less than 12 hours of actual billed time) for me to read over the second draft, make corrections, and send back the third draft.

Now the publisher, who is also acting as proofreader, is asking for a number of changes in the details, so it may be a few more weeks before the book goes to press. (When it does, I’ll be sure to announce it here so that you can buy it.)

The Bottom Line

My total time on this project, including some research, was 78 hours. My client’s time was probably double that, or more. (Since she wasn’t billing it out, she didn’t track it.) Spread over the course of 18 months, it was a manageable task and a manageable expense. The book, at 110,000 words, is on the longer side; you can get away with half that for a business book, if you can say what you need to say.

If we hadn’t taken breaks in between working on the book, we might have spent fewer total hours on it due to the momentum of staying immersed in the material.

Nevertheless, 78 hours is a fairly quick job. My client saved herself money by investing so much time on the project herself. A typical ghostwriting project, which involves quite a lot of interviewing and research time as well as the writing and revising, can easily take 200 hours. Any collection of source material is going to need consolidating. Writing someone else’s book can be more time-consuming than writing your own, and sometimes revising a client’s first draft also takes longer than just writing it yourself.

But if I do the math on 200 hours, that’s still only 4 months, beginning to end, if I work on that book to the exclusion of everything else. And my client might need one week off each of those months to devote to the book, and another couple of weeks after my job is done to handle issues of publishing and printing.

Marketing time, of course, is something else entirely. But as the person whose name is on the book, you’re the one who has to do most of the marketing.

Writing and Publishing for Consultants Recording

The Writing and Publishing for Consultants panel at the July meeting of the Bay Area Consultants Network was a great success. You can download the handout with links to publishing resources from the BACN website.

Here is the list of questions addressed by panelists Patricia Coate, Dr. Bette Daoust, and Karen Pierce Gonzalez (with a few interjections from moderator Sallie Goetsch (Yours Truly), and some help from the audience):

  • Why publish at all? What’s in it for consultants?
  • What’s the most important thing consultants need to know about publishing?
  • What are the different options for publishing a book and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
  • Traditional (large) publisher
  • Self-Publishing
  • Print on Demand (POD)
    • How much should I plan on spending on…
      • Writing & Editing
      • Design/Layout/Printing
      • Marketing
    • What kind of help can I get with writing and publishing a book?
      • Help with writing
      • Editing, proofreading, formatting
      • Marketing and selling
    • How do you get your articles published in print magazines and trade journals?
    • What’s the best way to write and publish articles online for lead generation?
    • How do you create and use white papers?
    • How much can you re-use your material?
    • How do you track article placement?
    • Where do I find interesting, relevant topics to write about? Does my material have to be original?

We recorded the entire panel, and you can click to play below or download the MP3 file to put on your portable media player. The recording is just over an hour long—not nearly time enough!

Publishing for Consultants Panel on July 27th

I’ll be moderating a panel on Writing and Publishing for Consultants at the July 27th meeting of the Bay Area Consultants Network. This will be a real challenge, as there’s so much to say about publishing and so little time to say it in, but I’ve been working hard with the panelists to coordinate the questions and answers so that we can address important issues regarding book publishing, online article marketing, writing for print publications, creating and using white papers, and more. And we’re putting together a great collection of links to more information about topics we can’t cover in detail.

The morning starts bright and early at 7:30 and concludes at 10:00. You get a hot breakfast, plenty of coffee, and some networking time to help you wake up before we launch into the publishing panel. Then hang out and relax on the lovely grounds of the McInnis Park Golf Center afterwards.

Grab all the details and register on the BACN website.

And yes, I do plan to record it, but that’s never as good as being there.