by Guest Blogger, Gary Cohen
1. When should I write?
Some believe in chaining themselves to a desk or computer for X hours a day. They write their way into inspiration. I found this approach produced a great quantity of writing, but the quality was lacking. That’s because bad writing comes from unclear and uninspired thinking. And bad writing isn’t really great preparation for good writing. It can lead to bad habits and circular prose.
My advice: Write when you’re inspired. Let clear thinking and purpose drive your writing. You don’t have to have all the answers in advance—just a specific and compelling question.
For Just Ask Leadership: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions, I wanted to know why exceptional leaders spend so much of their time asking, rather than telling others what to do. I interviewed over 100 leaders about their use of questions—their favorite ones, specific contexts when questions work best or fail, when to tell vs. ask, and the impact of questions on others, with regards to improving vision, ensuring accountability, building unity and cooperation, creating better decisions, and motivating to action. I wound up with no shortage of inspiration. My book, which stands around 40,000 words, was once 150,000 words long.
2. Should I hire a freelance editor?
Writers are often very protective of their words. It’s understandable, especially for experts, who have already learned a lot from studying with and from others. For first-time book authors, however, a collaboration can be extremely valuable. Pros like Jennifer S. Wilkov and Eric Vrooman–a freelancer and former literary agent who helped me produce Just Ask Leadership–can act as sounding boards. They raise questions about scope, intent, organization, and story that you might not have considered. With their support, you’re likely to save time and be much happier with the outcome.
I recommend writing the first draft yourself, so that the finished product sounds like you. It’s hard to retain your voice otherwise. But if you want your writing to resonate with readers, why not converse with a seasoned reader and writer during the drafting process?
3. Should I self-publish or go the more traditional route?
The publishing industry is undergoing significant changes. It’s hard to predict what the landscape will look like in five years, let alone ten or twenty. That said, I am happy that I went the traditional route.
It’s hard to describe the thrill of cracking open the box of books that arrived at my doorstep (with McGraw Hill on the spine) or seeing a New York limo driver holding a sign with my name on it. I’d been in limos before as a business owner, but this was for me, the author. Due to learning differences (relating to poor graphomotor skills, low active working memory, and inattention), I was at a third-grade reading level when I was in the seventh grade. I wasn’t an odds-on favorite to publish a letter to the editor, let alone a book.
Maybe because writing was so difficult for me, I didn’t anticipate how this book would influence my career trajectory. Once I started Just Ask Leadership and began uncovering the relationship between questions and exceptional leadership, business leaders started asking me if I would coach them. Before I knew it, I was speaking to audiences around the world and coaching executives from small entrepreneurial companies (that are not so small anymore) and large Fortune 100 companies (that, I’m proud to say, have managed to stay Fortune 100 companies).
I’ve heard the stories of publishers not supporting authors once the book hits the shelves, but that’s not been my experience. McGraw Hill publisher Mary Glenn and publicist Julia Baxter have been unwavering in their support. It’s hard to imagine the book’s impact would have been nearly as great or gratifying without them or the support of their company.