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Entries in Book writing (7)


Doctor, You Should Write A Book...Or Should You?

Doctors Book WritingAs a physician, there are many good reasons to write a book that draws upon your expertise. 

For example, physician authors I've had the pleasure of working with have:

- Developed their keynote speaking opportunities

- Secured large increases in research funding for their projects

- Grown their practices (even when that may not have been their goal!)

- Shifted their one-on-one practice to one that is based on offering courses, teleseminars, information products or other models that have given them more freedom in how they use their time

- Landed on national TV and become sought after for their expertise--both by media and conference planners.

And much more.

But should you really write a book? Not necessarily. Only if you can answer "yes" to the following 5 questions:

  • You have a new perspective, fresh voice, something new to offer, proven system, compelling success stories or address an audience that has not been served well by other books.
  • You're committed to put time aside consistently to get the writing done.
  • You're interested in writing--even if you don't think you're a great writer, you don't dread it!
  • You're willing to learn something about the industry and get input from experts (more on this in a moment)
  • You're willing to actually promote the book--whether through a blog, online course, speaking or some other venue--and you'll need to start building your following before the book is even published--often before you even get a book deal.

If you do decide to write a book, where do you start? My top recommendation is the CME publishing course through Harvard Medical School. There, you'll get a sense of the specifics required--from how to write a book proposal to how to write for a trade audience  to how to develop your following. You'll also have the opportunity to meet top agents and publishers looking for books on health-related subjects. As faculty these folks are not just there to hear your pitch but also to help you formulate your book concept. You'll also meet course director, Julie Silver, MD, as well as professionals who can help you get the pieces that may be missing in your background--whether it's help with learning to write better and editing your manuscript, formulating the book concept or developing an online following.

If you're even thinking of writing a book, I highly recommend this immersion into the book writing and publishing world, March 14-16 in Boston, MA. See you there?


Heal Yourself By Writing Your Memoir

What happens when you have to turn in your white coat for a johnny? 

It's not easy to go from being the doctor to being the patient.  But, sooner or later, everyone faces illness.  In my specialty, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R), we have a saying that "good health is a temporary condition."

I met Kim Allison, MD when she came to the Harvard Publishing course.  Kim had just finished going through treatment for Stage 3 breast cancer.  Ostensibly, she came to the course to hone her writing skills and to figure out how to publish her memoir.  However, I suspect that  she really came to the course to heal.  Healer, heal thyself.

Kim is the director of breast pathology at the University of Washington Medical Center--a difficult job for a breast cancer survivor to return to.  In her new memoir Red Sunshine, she describes what it was like to go from being a doctor to a patient and back to a doctor again. 

Kim writes, "...our stories connect us to a common core and can give us comfort that at least we are not alone in the experience.  Everyone has a story to tell.  This is mine."

Bravo, Kim, for writing your story and encourage others to heal!  What is your story?


An Interview With Physician & Author Ken Cohn

A Conversation With Physician-Author Ken Cohn

Ken Cohn first came to my publishing course many years ago. Eager to learn everything he could about writing and publishing his ideas, he soaked up the information and shook as many hands as possible. Today, he's a successful surgeon, consultant and author with a new book out titled "Getting It Done: Experienced Healthcare Leaders Reveal Field-Tested Strategies for Clinical and Financial Success". 

When did you start writing and publishing?

Although I had published scientific articles, my first systematic approach to writing and publishing occurred in 2003 when I took the SEAK course on nonfiction writing.  That course helped understand the principles of market-driven writing, of striving to meet and exceed the needs of my readers.  Before, I had viewed writing as a product of scientific investigation.

Why did you write your first book? 

In 2004, I received a call from the editor of Health Administration Press, the publishing arm of the American College of Healthcare Executives.  She said that she was working on a series of books for busy healthcare executives and asked me if I thought that the material from my 2-day seminar, Practical Strategies for Engaging Physicians, could fit into an Executive Essentials format.  When I said that I believed so, she warned me, “Just because you have published articles does not mean that it will be easy.  Writing a book is different.”

My first book, "Better Communication for Better Care: Mastering Physician-Administrator Collaboration", was published March 2005.  Comments from healthcare leaders gave rise to my 2nd book, "Collaborate for Success! Breakthrough Strategies for Engaging Physicians, Nurses, and Hospital Executives", which was published September 2006.  After publication, my editor bragged, “I launched you!”

How has writing and publishing helped you with your work mission?

To quote Francis Bacon, “Writing maketh an exact man.”  Writing has helped me clarify principles of healthcare collaboration, especially its implementation.  It has also brought me into contact with truly dedicated healthcare leaders throughout the US, which has lead to numerous opportunities to speak and consult on challenging issues.  John Eggen, who taught me about book marketing, states that the words “author” and “authority” have the same root.  Especially with the rise in Internet searches, writing a book establishes one as someone who has mastered a body of knowledge.  I recommend writing to all physicians who are considering career transitions.  One can begin by writing essays in a blog and seeing how the writing evolves.

Why did you publish your new book?

"Getting It Done" is a compilation of 16 heroes’ journeys about healthcare professionals who broke down barriers to improve care for their communities.  For example, Dr. Jeff Fried is a medical ICU director who felt that too many people were dying from overwhelming bacterial infection, or sepsis.  By working with healthcare professionals at his hospital to improve diagnosis and institute earlier treatment, he cut the death rate from sepsis by over 50%, without changing or adding a single drug.  Over 200 lives have been saved over the past 5 years as a result of his work.

I have worked in 41 states in the US.  As I traveled around the country and witnessed triumphs like Dr. Fried’s, I became convinced that their results, which were published in journals like Critical Care Medicine, needed to be included in a book which healthcare leaders would read.    

For more information (including chapter summaries) about Dr. Cohn's new book, "Getting It Done: Experienced Healthcare Leaders Reveal Field-Tested Strategies for Clinical and Financial Success", visit


Go the F**k to Sleep: A Bestselling Book

If you read the June 20, 2011 issue of Publisher's Weekly, you'd have seen that the #1 hardcover nonfiction bestseller is a book titled Go the F**k to Sleep.  Why is that?

Well, there are a lot of things that create a bestselling book.  The author's connections and media presence (this is called "platform"), the book's content, key opportunities for exposure and sometimes dumb luck. 

Another thing that makes a book a bestseller is that it "resonates" with people.  This is probably a key factor in Go the F**k to Sleep's success.  The book is about what some parents refer to as "the witching hour."  That time of night when you are exhausted and so are your kids.  But, instead of calmly ending the evening on a peaceful note, chaos ensues.  Night after night.  Until, at some point, your kids grow up...or at least grow mature enough to enjoy a peaceful end to the day. 

Time magazine's review of Go the F**k to Sleep reported that the "deliciously vulgar treatment of the dreaded bedtime hour went viral".

What I think is important about the success of this book is not the content, but the fact that it has touched on a topic that really resonates with people.  Books that do this--regardless of whether they are a memoir, self-help guide, or any other genre--have the potential to break out and become a bestseller.


Should I Self Publish Or Look For A Traditional Publisher?

The most frequent question I hear from aspiring authors is, "Should I self-publish or traditionally publish?"

Which publishing option will better suit your needs? If you don’t answer this question when you begin writing your book, you may end up doing a great deal of extra work. Authors who intend to self-publish can simply write their book, but those who intend to traditionally publish need to write a book proposal first, particularly for a nonfiction book.

A book proposal can take almost as much work as writing your book–and the time and resources you put into writing a great proposal can make the difference between no publisher and finding a publisher, or between a small advance (maybe $3,000) to a much larger advance (low- to mid-five-figures and up).

So, how do you make that important decision?

1. To interest a publisher, you almost always need a platform (think big: a following of tens of thousands of people or even hundreds of thousands is ideal). You may reach these folks through the your blog, high profile blogs like Psychology Today, WebMD or the Huffington Post, an e-mail list, your newsletter, public speaking, radio, TV, a print column, or a variety of ways, but you need a strong following to interest publishers nowadays. If you don’t have one, are you willing to create one now, before you pitch your proposal? If not, self-publish this first book.

2. If your story or subject is unbelievably compelling, it’s possible that an agent and publisher may see the media potential and be interested without a current following–but not terribly likely. And they will most likely still want you to develop a following or platform before publishing.

3. Okay, let’s say you have a following, should you definitely traditionally publish? Not necessarily. Assess your situation: look at time, money and other important needs to determine whether to self-publish or seek a traditional publisher. For starters, take these things into consideration:

  • The biggest benefit of a traditional publisher is their distribution channels: they will get your books into book stores (ideally).
    • It’s easier to get publicity as an author on major TV, radio and in national print publications if your book is traditionally published. Usually, at the upper echelons of media coverage, it’s hard to get publicity for a self-published book (but not impossible).
    • A traditional publisher does lend credibility to your book.
    • A traditional publisher has experience with book covers, layout, editing (some publishers do more editing than others), marketing and other aspects of publishing–you’ll have to learn many of these things, or find a qualified professional, if you self-publish–and you’ll need to beware of people who are not that competent.
  • If your goal is to build your business and use the book as a multi-dimensional business card, you’ll want to self publish.
    • You’ll make more money per book self-publishing.
    • You’ll have more control self-publishing.
    • Any mistakes can be corrected faster by self-publishing.
    • You’ll have your book much faster, generally at least two years faster, if you self-publish.

Sometimes people assume that a traditional publisher will handle all the publicity and marketing for your book. Wrong. Either route, self-publishing or traditional, you will be responsible for marketing and promoting your book.

"What about e-books?" you may ask. We'll save that for another post...but certainly e-books are a viable option nowadays--depending again on your goals.

Please share your experiences with publishing--including any pros, cons or cautionary tales. And, of course, ask your questions...


Do You Listen When You Write?

Every time you write a blog, speech, article, pitch or anything else, do you listen to your audience? 

What I mean by this is: Do you put yourself in the position of being the listener, rather than the writer?  This is one "trick" that helps tremendously when you want people to read something.  Here's why.


Many people turn to writing as a form of communication, because they have a message that they want to convey.  So, they say it in written form.  If this was done orally, it would translate into "speaking" rather than "listening", of course.  But, as a writer, you want to be thinking about your listeners (or readers).  If you were speaking, then you'd guage their response by watching attentive facial expressions (or signs of boredom). 

As a writer, you don't get this kind of feedback, so before you finish writing your piece, it's a really good idea to "listen" to it the way that a reader would.  Does it sound the way that you intend?  Does it hold your attention?  Is it the right length, the proper tone, and so on?

Some writers write and some both write and listen.  The ones that do the latter, tend to reach their intended audience better.


Writing An Introduction Or Chapter 1: What To Say & How To Say It?

Are you writing--or thinking of writing--a book or article for the general public? Have you thought about how to begin?

One of the biggest mistakes I see in the first draft of a nonfiction / how-to book is that writers often either start out by providing too much background to readers or they don't provide enough--and just launch into advice. What your readers really want to know is whether you can help them with their problems. And they want to feel they can trust you.

Whether you are writing a book or an article, your initial words offer an opportunity for you to forge a connection with your readers and present yourself as an authority on your subject.

A successful introduction motivates your readers to read on and provides a sense of what readers can expect from the rest of your book or article. If you feel overwhelmed by how you can provide all that in your introduction, don’t worry—if you think like your reader, you should find the job much easier to accomplish.

In the introduction your reader is trying to find out:

  1. “Will this book help me solve my particular problem, challenge or goal?”
  2. “What kind of results can I expect to get by reading this article, self-help book or how-to book?” Or “What kind of experience might I expect in reading this piece?”
  3. “Does the author have some kind of system to help me and is it something I can easily learn, use and incorporate into my life?”
  4. “Will this article or book be enjoyable to read? Is it entertaining? Moving? Approachable and informational?”

Your reader also wants to know about you:

  1. “Has this author helped many people? And what are his/her credentials?”
  2. “ What kinds of results have other people gotten with the author’s system or work?”
  3. “Do I like this author? Do I relate to him or her?”
  4.  “Most importantly: Do I trust this author?”

Your introduction should:

  1. Motivate your readers to invest their time (and perhaps money) in the article or book
  2. Inspire your readers to envision what they might get out of the piece
  3. Begin to develop a relationship between you and your readers
  4. Help readers understand how the book or article will help them
  5. Tell readers how to get the most out of the book (less necessary in an article)

Starting on page one, you want your writing to come alive for readers: show your readers through by providing details and actions that help readers draw conclusions. When you tell (“He wasn’t taking well to treatment.” “Jane loves her doctor.” “The side-effects bothered her.”), you’re not making your story real for your reader. You are blandly telling information. This format makes the article or book two dimensional. When you use the five senses to show your reader, the information pops off the page. Be sure to fill your introduction with plenty of stories that make your points and your readers will become engaged.

While I talk about an introduction for a book, you may prefer to skip the introduction and start with chapter 1. After all, some readers skip introductions because they expect the meat of the book starting with the first chapter. So, feel free to start your book at chapter 1 if you have such concerns.

Leave a comment and let’s hear from you:

  • Have any questions on writing an engaging introduction or first chapter?
  • Any tips you’d offer others on writing an introduction?
  • Want to share something you did with your article or book’s first chapter?
  • Or a writing challenge you’re experiencing right now?

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