Portland: What inspired you to write Write Your Book in a Flash?
Dan Janal: I operated a very successful publicity business for 20 years but was growing bored and was facing a lot of competition. I needed a new challenge. I realized I had a gift for writing books—I had written more than ten books, six of them published by Wiley. I was an award-winning daily newspaper reporter and business news editor, so I knew how to read other peoples’ writing, see what works, what doesn’t, and improve it.
So I decided to write a book about how to write a book to give myself credibility and to show my process.
Portland: Who did you envision when you wrote Write Your Book in a Flash?
Dan Janal: I wrote Write Your Book in a Flash for coaches, consultants, speakers, and business owners who want to stand out from their competitors. Let’s face it. We all have very similar backgrounds. We all went to good schools, have good degrees, worked with good clients, achieved good results, and yadda, yadda, yadda. We all look the same to prospects. So how do you stand out? With a book.
When you’re the only one in your category who has a book, you get hired. That’s what happened to me after I wrote my first book, How to Publicize High Tech Products and Services. I had a terrific track record in high tech PR, and I’d speak at the Software Publishers Association conferences to find new clients. Prospects liked me, but they liked the other PR people too. So we all wasted so much time writing proposals and following up! After I wrote the book, people hired me on the spot. No more proposals!
Tips for writing a high-quality book quicklyTweet This
Portland: What are some tips to keep in mind for aspiring authors who want to write a high-quality book quickly?
Dan Janal: I’ll focus my answer on business owners and professional service providers who use the book as a prospecting tool. The only reason people read a book is to solve a problem. So you need to find the kinds of problems your ideal client has, and show them how you solved those problems for your clients. That way, they get to know, like, and trust you so that they will hire you. I like to find eight problems and write about them in eight chapters.
Portland: Actually, what does writing a book “in a flash” mean?
Dan Janal: “Flash” means a different number to different people. On my podcast, I interviewed one thought leader who spent two years interviewing people and wrote several first drafts before he said he “refined his thinking” to the point where he was comfortable with the work. His father was a university professor, so for him, two years to write was a book was a flash!
Another person I interviewed wrote her book in a weekend. She locked herself into a hotel room and wrote and wrote and wrote! It can be done.
I’m aware of other books and courses that promise to write a book in a weekend, or in seven days, or an afternoon. It all depends on your work ethic, your depth of knowledge, and the kind of book your audience wants to read.
Portland: You encourage readers to set realistic goals, like writing 15 minutes a day. Can you really write a book quickly if you’re only putting in 15 minutes a day? Or is that a foundation to expand upon?
Dan Janal: Doing the first sit-up is the hardest. But if you can do one, then you can do two. Then three. Then you have the momentum to keep going until you burn out. That’s what I was getting at when I said if you can spend 15 minutes a day writing, you’ll write a book in four months.
Here’s the math that makes this work. If you can write 250 words in 15 minutes, you’ll have written 20,000 words in 80 days. To put that in perspective, a blog post or an article is 250 words. Anyone can do that. And if you can’t, then you should hire a ghostwriter.
I don’t tell people to stop at 15 minutes! If they have momentum, then keep on writing. I’m amazed at my writing. I’ll sit down with an idea, and as I write, the idea takes shape and flows in directions I hadn’t thought of. The creative juices start to flow when you begin to write. But you need to take the first step.
And yes, 20,000 words is the goal for a simple business book today. Longer books might intimidate readers. People have short attention spans today.
Since I wrote the book, I’ve seen the 15-minute exercise used by music teachers as well. They say, they’d rather a student practice 15 minutes a day, every day, then have them practice for one hour once a week.
Portland: You say a simple book could take as little as eight hours to write. What kind of book would that be and how might it be written that quickly? Is that for a first draft?
Dan Janal: I identify five types of books—although there could be more, in retrospect.
At the easier-to-write end of books are books filled with quotes—either yours or from famous people. You can write this in just a few hours. I’ve seen MANY motivational speakers write these kinds of books and sell them at their presentations and websites.
You can also create a book from your previously written content: blog posts, articles, transcripts from speeches, podcasts, and interviews.
They are all good. The point is to write the book that helps you achieve your goal.
Portland: You say writers who complain of writer’s block are fooling themselves. What do you mean by that?
Dan Janal: If you do enough research and if you have an outline, you’ll never be at a loss for words. Content marketers create editorial calendars so they know what to write about for an entire year. If you have writer’s block, do more research and you won’t have writer’s block.
Portland: What’s one of the best ways to overcome the limiting beliefs that keep aspiring authors from writing their books?
Dan Janal: I go into great detail about this topic in a chapter in my book and a white paper on my website.
In short, you need to identify which belief is limiting you. There are three kinds of limiting beliefs: internal (i.e., imposter syndrome, not smart enough), skill-based (i.e., don’t write well, don’t know grammar), or excuse based (i.e., marketplace is too crowded, don’t have enough time). You need to show why those beliefs are not true (i.e., I am smart enough. I have ten years of experience!), or get help to overcome them, (i.e., hire a ghostwriter if you don’t have skills or time).
Creating a “Fool-Proof Positioning Statement”Tweet This
Portland: You mention a “Fool-Proof Positioning Statement.” What is that and why do you need one before writing a book?
Dan Janal: A positioning statement keeps you clear on your goals. Too many writers start with the idea that “my book is for everyone.” That’s a problem! You aren’t focused. Your intended reader won’t see you as offering anything unique for them because the book is for “everyone.” I could go on a rant about this! You need to know who your ideal reader is and how they will benefit. Those thoughts will keep you focused so you don’t waste time.
A positioning statement tells you and the readers what your book is about, who it will help and how it will help them. For example:
“Write Your Book in a Flash” is a writing guide book that shows business owners how to write a book quickly so they can get more clients.
You’ve probably seen examples like that in an elevator pitch.
You’ll notice this follows a formula:
“Product” is a category that helps “primary audience” achieve primary benefit.
If you don’t tell people it is a book, then they won’t know! They might think it is a movie, or a course, or a speech title. When you follow this formula, people usually understand your product, what it does, and how it helps.
What makes my positioning statement “Fool-Proof” is the second line—which no one else teaches!
It goes like this:
Unlike other “category,” my “product” has “key differentiating feature.”
This line tells people how your book or service is different from any other. How many times have your heard someone give their spiel and you think to yourself, “Yes, you and 100 other people I know do the same thing.” They subconsciously are asking, “What makes you different?”
In my case, “Unlike other book writing guides, Flash has dozens of easy-to-fill-in-the-blanks worksheets to make writing easy.”
I could have said, “Written by an award-winning journalist,” or “author of 12 books that have been translated into six languages,” or any other statement to boost my credibility.
The other thing that makes this fool-proof is that the formula works for almost any product, in any language. I’ve taught this formula around the world for the past 30 years. So you might have seen someone do a derivative of my work.
How Important Is An Outline?Tweet This
Portland: Can you talk about the importance of an outline and how it helps writers write faster?
Dan Janal: If you have an outline, you’ll never run out of ideas to write about and you’ll never have writer’s block. An outline keeps you focused. One thing I love about outlines is that it is full of challenging tasks and easy tasks. We all have days when we can take on the world and days when it is hard to get started. On those days, I look at the outline and say, “I can tackle this pesky case study,” or “Today’s the day I scour the web for clever quotes to start the chapters on an inspirational note.” Readers don’t care if you wrote the book from chapter 1 to chapter 10 in order. They know you wrote a complete book. So write the book according to your biorhythms. Having an outline means you won’t struggle to decide what to write about.
Portland: You shared an interesting tip on using Google to help with the creation of chapter titles. Can you describe it?
Dan Janal: Google has an “autofill” function. That means you can start typing a word—slowly—and Google will suggest endings. For example type, “Florida man” and you’ll see a lot of funny links! This tactic works with business and personal topics as well. Sometimes you’ll find ideas and connections you hadn’t thought of, which can expand your thinking.
Portland: I assume you took your own advice when you wrote Write Your Book in a Flash. How long did it take you to complete the book? How many drafts were there?
Dan Janal: Sorry, I don’t remember how long it took to write! Maybe six months? I did keep track of daily word counts, which was an excellent motivator for me. I wrote one draft, but I’m not the norm. Remember, I’m a former daily newspaper reporter who wrote three full stories a day, every day, for four years—from scratch! I’m a pro, not the norm.
Everyone Needs an EditorTweet This
Portland: Did you hire an editor? If so, what did you look for in an editor?
Dan Janal: My publisher hired editors. Everyone needs an editor. You can’t spot your typos. Brains are wired to see what you want to see. My worst typos are usually in the first sentence. Sometimes, the first word. And I don’t see them! Ugh!
Portland: Did you have any challenges when writing Write Your Book in a Flash and how did you overcome them?
Dan Janal: I thought I’d write ten chapters, which I advocate in my book. But the book swelled to 21 chapters—all of them needed. I realized that the outline is not set in stone. It is a flexible guide that grows or changes direction as you get deeper and deeper into the subject matter. When I coach my book writing clients, I ask them to start with a 10-chapter outline and add more chapters as needed. Most people love this flexibility. People need a starting point.
Operationally, the biggest problem I had was renumbering chapters. When you add a chapter you need to renumber every chapter that follows—and update any references you made, i.e., “As we discussed in chapter 4” now becomes chapter 5. Or even worse, chapter 16. That happens a lot! I started using a placeholder (x) instead of numbers. When I finished the first draft, I updated the numbers.
Coming Up with a Catchy Title Tweet This
Portland: You stress the importance of a catchy title. How did you come up with yours?
Dan Janal: I thought of the benefit that people wanted: to write a book fast. This is also a top search phrase on Google so that I can get traffic.
The “Paint-by-numbers system” subtitle played into my love of art. Some people get it right away and bond with me. Others don’t have a clue what I’m talking about because they didn’t have a paint-by-numbers kit as a kid. Or they aren’t visual. It is just as important to repel the people who don’t understand you as it is important to bond with the people who do. I also use art themes as part of chapter titles, like “write your masterpiece,” “adding color,” “the art of writing and revising,” “framing your message,” and “final strokes.” That gives the book a theme. I’ve seen other writers use their love of golf or horses to name their book and chapter titles. This idea (which I learned from Sam Horn) gives your book a unique personality.
When I coach my clients, I urge them to tie in their hobbies to their books so readers get a better sense of who they are. One woman who loved dance used chapter titles based on performing arts, like “the audition,” “dress rehearsal,” and “opening night.” Another client who was a scuba diver used his themes and dramatic underwater photography pictures of coral reefs and exotic fish to give a new life to a dull topic—supply chain management. His title was The Art of Scuba Diving and Supply Chain Management, which was an homage to the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a best-seller in the ’70s. You have to admit that will stop his intended readers in their tracks.
Portland: I’m glad to have you clarify this because some people might think “paint-by-number” means it’s cookie cutter, but you method is not that at all—you teach people to write a quality book. How did you choose your publisher?
Dan Janal: I went with TCK Publishing because I knew Tom Corson-Knowles, the publisher. Just by coincidence, I told him I was writing this book and he offered to publish it. His company has an excellent track record. Plus, I wanted to have a partner who could help with marketing. Writing and marketing a book can be lonely. He and his company did an outstanding job!
Portland: What do you most hope readers get out of reading Write Your Book in a Flash?
Dan Janal: Confidence. They can write a book if they follow simple steps to get it done. Yes, writing a book is a big task. You write a book one word at a time. You can get it done.
Portland: What is the value of working with a coach when writing a book?
Dan Janal: When I coach authors, I make a dull book shine. That’s because I see what they don’t see. They are too close to their work and don’t see the proverbial forest for the trees.
I can see sloppy thinking and correct it. I can see sloppy writing and show authors how to write better.
I can see where they bury a terrific story and suggest they move it higher.
I’ve helped authors save themselves from embarrassing mistakes. It takes a village to create a book. Authors shouldn’t think writing a book is a one-person job. You need coaches and editors to make the book better.
Editing Tips for the First DraftTweet This
Portland: Can you share a little bit about the editing process, once a first draft is written?
Dan Janal: Let me answer that from the point of view of a developmental editor working with a non-fiction book.
- Purpose. Does the book accomplish the goal you set out? For example, let’s say you want the book to be a big business card that helps people get to know, like, and trust you so they see you as an expert who leads them from mess to success so they hire you. Well, does the book do that? Do you have stories that show you to be that person? If not, add them.
- Flow. Does the book flow in a logical order? Are similar items in the same chapter, or are they scattered throughout the book? Yes, this happens.
- Next, show the work to a few beta readers to see what they like and what they don’t like. You don’t have to accept all their comments, of course, but you might find insights—good and bad—that you hadn’t expected so you can make your work better. Plus, you’ll pick up testimonials you can use in your marketing materials and Amazon page.
- Third is the writing quality. Developmental editors aren’t copy editors. But I suggest they do what I do for my books. I run all my work through ProWriting Aid, which is like Grammarly on steroids. In addition to the grammar and punctuation checks that you’d expect from Grammarly, PWA adds other tools that search for overused words, wasted words, and dozens of other writing errors, like unclear references and antecedents. One of my clients found 1,000 possible errors in a 25,000-word manuscript! That’s not uncommon. It could take hours to fix these errors, but it is worth it! You’ll have a stronger, more readable book as a result. You’ll still want to work with a copy editor and a proofreader, but they will have less work to do. Plus PWA will find errors that they won’t because PWA sees the big picture.
About Dan Janal
Dan Janal works with business owners who want to elevate their reputations and set themselves apart from their competition by writing a book.
As a book coach, developmental editor and ghostwriter, Dan shapes stories and strategies that can transform a career or business.
Dan has written more than a dozen books that have been translated into six languages. His latest book is Write Your Book in a Flash. He also hosts a podcast, “Write Your Book in a Flash with Dan Janal,” where he interviews business owners who have written books.
He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Northwestern University.
Dan is a former award-winning daily newspaper reporter and business editor. He has interviewed President Gerald Ford and First Lady Barbara Bush.
Really insightful. Thanks.
Thanks, Penni. What’s your biggest takeaway? DO you want to post your positioning statement here for feedback?