The Quest for Writing Efficiency
One thing that makes business writing hard for most people to fit into their days is that it is creative work. As such, it takes some time and space, and doesn’t accommodate itself neatly into your schedule.
Journalists and professional writers develop the ability to write to a deadline, in specific blocks of time. But that takes years of practice. So where does that leave the “lay person” — the manager, the marketing professional, the accountant, the consultant?
I look for ways to make writing more efficient.
I try to systematize the bits that can and should be replicated, without squeezing out the essential spark of creative life needed to animate any piece of writing. It is this search for efficiency — and many years as a management consultant — that make me a fan of sturdy frameworks and detailed templates.
What is the difference? I picture the framework as an overall organizing structure on which to hang your thoughts. A good framework directs your attention to the key dimensions of your task or problem, ensuring you consider the necessary stuff and leave nothing obvious out.
For example, most business readers are familiar with Michael Porter’s 5 Forces framework. We accept that a sound starting point for understanding the competitive dynamics in an industry is to look at 1. the threat of new entrants, 2. the threat of substitute products or services, 3. the bargaining power of buyers, 4. the bargaining power of suppliers, and 5. the intensity of competitive rivalry.
A template drills down to the next level of detail, adding content, formatting, examples, etc. that can be modified and adapted to your particular situation. Consulting firms try to distill as much as possible of their intellectual property into templates, which are then used across multiple projects.
When applied carelessly, the result is the reviled “cookie cutter consulting”. But when used well, templates prevent consultants from burning through budget on low-value activities, and free them to focus on the unique and tricky aspects of a client’s situation.
In any case, a good framework or template is a time-saver because it distills hours, if not years, of research and experience so you don’t have to do it!
Book Proposal Project
Which brings me to why this is on my mind today …. I’m at the beginning of a big writing project — helping a friend and consulting colleague turn his long-running series of Harvard.org business blogs into a book.
We will have a lot to work through in the coming weeks. Who is the audience, and why would they care? How to synthesize, reframe, and add value, so this is not just another fragmented collection of blog posts? How to organize and make sense of 250+ pieces of writing?
So I am grateful for one thing I do not have to think about: how to structure the book proposal! Why not? Because Linda Sivertsen and Danielle LaPorte have pooled their years of experience and created the framework and templates for me, published as Your Big, Beautiful Book Plan.
Book Proposal Framework
I came across an earlier iteration of this work years ago, at one of Linda’s delicious proposal writing retreats in Carmel, CA. It has been refined and strengthened over time. Their book proposal outline provides an excellent framework for my work today. As they have very generously shared it online, I can include it here.
According to the gurus, if you want your book proposal to be bullet-proof, here’s how to structure it:
- The Cover Page
- Hook Page
- Proposal Table of Contents
- About the Author / the Co-Author / Ghostwriter / Featured Contributors
- Chapter Summaries / Abstract
- Market: Primary Audience, Secondary Audience, Special Sales
- Competition / Peers
- PR + Media: Strategy, TV & Radio, Print Media: Newspapers / Magazines, Media Contacts, Media Angles / Hooks, Multi-Media, Email Lists / Alliances, Personal Book Orders, Publicist
- Speaking / Seminars / Workshops: Schedule, Fees / Bureaus, Topics, Testimonials, Back-of-the-Room Sales
- Testimonials / Endorsements / Advance Praise: Client Quotes, Speaking Letters of Recommendation, Celebrity of Expert-in-Your-Field Raves, Bookstore / Special Venue Support
- Online Presence / Website: Domain names, Blog, vlog + podcast components, Services Offered, Monthly Traffic Stats, Reader Profile Stats, Access Codes / Special Programs, Newsletters /E-Magazines, Retail Goods
- Book Specifics: Title, Cover, Design, Format
- Spin-Off Books & Products
- Legal Issues
- Delivery of the Manuscript
- Philanthropy + Charity: Proceeds, Alliances / Cross Promotion
- Appendices / Attachments:
- Sample chapters
- Press Clippings
- Speaking Schedule
from Danielle LaPorte and Linda Sivertsen, in My Big, Beautiful Book Plan
Voilà! A step-by-step guide to the work my writing partner and I need to do. We have saved hours of search and discussion about what to include — and months of frustrating back-and-forth with agents and publishers.
So think about it. What is your top business writing project right now? And what framework can you use to provide the strongest foundation?
References and Resources
Michael Porter’s 5 Forces framework
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