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Book Review: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Business Books by Bert Holtje

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If you’re starting out, not as a writer, but as a business person with an idea to express, this book may save you at least a year of effort.

It is not easy to sit down and write a good book. We need the discipline, structure, style, length, voice, pace, and the precious focus which can vanish all too fast. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Business Books is a general guide covering all these elements and more, giving you the background you need to write and publish a successful book.

Aimed at those who want a book to convey their message, lessons learned, strategic thinking, or to beef up one’s resume as an author, the first rule is that you don’t start with a clean desk and a ream of paper. Instead you begin with research and networking to find a suitable publisher and an agent to represent you. The author, Bert Holtje, has written over a dozen books, under his own name, and written as a collaborator or ghostwriter on many other books, and ran a literary agency. He has the credibility to tell you how it’s done.

Being part of The Complete Idiot series, the book is a bit formulaic, but for beginners it’s a practical road map to success as an author. It paints a very realistic picture of the publishing industry and the difficulties any first-time author can expect to encounter.

Beyond learning the industry terminology, this guide will help you think about your writing style, about where ideas come from, and help sort out your publishing choices.

Once you know you have a sound idea, most projects begin by writing a book proposal, and shopping it around to agents. Without an agent, your ability to attract a publisher and get a fair contract is quite limited. And you hope the first book will be a well-done project, widely received, leading to further books.

Chapter Three covers the real issue: the writing. It forces you to stop and consider whether your idea can hold up to a full book. A typical business book runs 50,000 to 120,000 words, perhaps 250 or 300 pages. Does your idea warrant that and do you have what it takes to get it there?

Most writers don’t experience what’s called “writer’s block.” When you’re writing, there might be some frustration along the way, but being blocked is not the biggest problem you’ll encounter. Holtje suggests we banish the term. “As soon as you give something negative a name, you have given yourself an excuse.” So, if you’re working with a good idea, and you know what you want to share with readers, you can remain confident and keep writing.

All new authors will benefit from Chapter Eight on book proposals, and Chapter 18 on working with your editor.

If Chapter 15 on the publishing industry seems daunting, remember there are options in self-publishing and print-on-demand. While most self-published books don’t get national distribution or reviews in mainstream press, it is a viable choice for certain circumstances.

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