Why I’m writing a book no one will buy

I have no idea if anyone will ever buy the book I'm working on right now. This is entirely my own doing. And you know what? I'm fine with that.

There's a right way and a wrong way to find book topics. The right way involves picking an audience, then studying that audience to discover what they're struggling with, what pains and fears they have that you can help soothe. It involves hanging out where they hang out, learning their lingo, understanding how they think so you can connect with them on an emotional level. You pick the audience and let them tell you what you should write about.

The wrong way is simpler and requires less time. You just think about it for a while, and then you get an idea, and you write about it. You release your book and it shoots to the top of the best seller lists. Or, much more likely, you find that no one else really cares about the topic the way you do, or maybe that you decided to focus on the wrong part of the topic. In that case, nobody buys your book, and you become a starving artist.

I know this, yet I consciously chose to use option 2 for my current book project. Why, why, why would I do such a thing?

In a word, practice.

The book I'm writing right now is an offshoot of a larger book that I'm working on titled Sublime Productivity. The smaller book focuses on one aspect of working with Sublime Text: writing your own plugins.

It's not a completely made up topic, as I've seen some chatter among Sublime developers about the lack of documentation on the topic. Still, I didn't settle on this topic after hours of intensive audience research. And it'll only interest a subset of my audience—the really hardcore Sublime fans who want to roll up their sleeves and write their own plugins.

I'd originally intended for this book to be a chapter in my existing book, but I decided to spin it off into a standalone project so that I use it as a practice book.

What do I mean by practice book?

I'm committed to self publishing as the foundation of my future business. Since it's key to the future I envision for myself, I'm using this book as a chance to focus on the process of producing books. It's a big experiment, a three-month-long learning experience to help me answer the question, How can I efficiently produce books while maintaining my full-time job?

To succeed at self publishing, I'll need to master a whole range of skills, ranging from finding marketable ideas, to researching and writing the book, to building a sales funnel and marketing my books.

But the bottle neck for me right now is that middle part—creating the books. I've proven that I can find a profitable book idea. There are lots of well known, effective strategies and tactics that I can draw on to help me market my books.

It's that darn middle part that I need to work on. I need to learn to crank out books on a regular basis, preferably one per quarter or so. It's the missing part of the equation.

So I'm writing a practice book. I'm ignoring the audience research and marketing aspects of the process for the time being and focusing entirely on the content creation process.

I'm exploring questions like:

  • What is the most efficient way for me to research a book?
  • Do I really need an outline before I start, and if so, how thorough should it be before I start to write?
  • What formulas and conventions can I adopt to speed up my work? Are there tried-and-true ways to organize a book that will save me some effort while outlining?
  • What is a reasonable production rate for me to shoot for, given the constraints on my time and energy? What's a good daily word count goal? What should I shoot for each week?

This is a drill, a chance to isolate the process of writing a book and hone it as a skill.

In the excellent book 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, author Rachel Aaron claims that it takes five books to really become an efficient author.

That makes sense to me, and I want to get through those five books as quickly as possible. This book, and probably the next several to come, are just a warm up.

More practice books to come.