If you’re struggling to put all your knowledge into one book, ask yourself if your book might be two books. In this post, I’ll discuss several ways to determine if you’ve got one book or the start of a series. But first…
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Sometimes new authors-to-be hit overwhelm because they just can’t get their arms around all the material—there’s too much. There might be a very simple reason for that: Your book might be two books.
While you want your book to cover a topic as completely as possible, there are times when a topic might be better divided into two or more shorter books. The trend today is towards short books and, especially in nonfiction or business books, people want their information in a “grab and go” format. As a writer, this pains me. As a marketer, I listen to what the market wants. (Then I eat chocolate and mourn the state of the world today.)
What are some of the reasons a book should be split?
Content for Different Experience Levels
The simplest and most obvious example of when you should split your book is when you have content that is aimed at beginners, more advanced people, and experts. (Or different age levels.) You can divide the book into three sections (and many authors do), but the expert level people are not going to want to wade through stuff they already know or more to the point, they don’t want to pay for what they don’t need. Expert level material may only serve to confuse and frustrate the beginners and semi-advanced readers. Or, it could inspire them. But there’s a good chance the beginners will not make it all the way through to the expert material. The last third of the book is wasted on them.
That can be okay. I own plenty of books that start with the basics and take you through expert level. I tend to read books from start to finish, but many people don’t. They pick and choose what chapters to read, skim or skip sections that don’t pertain to them, and use books as a reference. In nonfiction and particularly with business books, most people don’t want to waste time reading material they don’t need. If you find your book has expanded to the size of War and Peace, look for a place that provides a natural break and split the book there.
Two or More Target Audiences
Many businesses have more than one product line or provide a variety of services. Just as you should use different marketing campaigns to reach segmented target audiences, you can customize your book for the various people or businesses you serve.
I’m going to cut right to the chase on this one: Chicken Soup Books. If your eyes just rolled back in your head, I feel you. Chicken Soup for Soul, the Teenage Soul, the Recovering Soul, the Dog Lover’s Soul, the Kid’s Soul, the PreTeen Soul, Grandma’s Soul… It’s endless. But if you want to find a large variety of different niche markets, check out their Amazon page. These people know how to target and niche.
Basically, your book may cover a topic that requires different approaches based on the target market’s needs. While the Chicken Soup franchise has niched down and expanded based on age and occupation (with our four legged friends thrown in for good measure), a business book on winning government contracts might have separate approaches based on whether the reader is a small or large company, minority owned, solopreneur, or a mix of these. Winning Government Contracts for Women might be one book; Winning Government Contracts for Manufacturing Firms is another.
If you have completely separate target markets, consider customizing the material specifically for each target market. It helps your prospective client find you (you are targeting more specifically) and it also creates a more helpful book for your reader.
Two or More Types of Books
There are some books that tell the author’s story and how their philosophy or methods came about before getting into the nuts and bolts of how to apply whatever they are teaching. Sometimes this is done because the two sections by themselves don’t comprise enough material to fill a book. In those instances, keeping everything in one book is necessary.
Many times, the back story can apply in more than one situation. Every Rich Dad book gives Kiyosaki’s back story: It’s the premise of his expertise. But then he shows how that premise can be applied in different circumstances, whether it’s personal finance or stock market investing, or real estate investing, career guidance, or teaching your kids about money. Some of his books are how to apply these principles, some are inspirational, some are his personal take on things.
Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People gave both the background and the “how to” apply the principles. The original 7 Habits was published in 1989 as was his book, Principle Centered Leadership. The subtitle to 7 Habits is Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. It is known as both a self-development book and a business book. The other is obviously a business book. Both books talk about synergy and continual learning. Both talk about self-growth. Is there some overlap? Of course, But they are two different books on two separate subjects. There is often “extra” information, additional research, stuff that just doesn’t fit into the original book that can be used for a second book.
Covey added a “Personal Workbook” to be used alongside 7 Habits. There’s also a “guided journal.” If you’re writing a principles book or a self development book, you can easily add a workbook or guided journal to help people apply your teaching. (And yes, just like Chicken Soup and the Rich Dad franchise, he and the publisher added some very specific targeting once 7 Habits showed the potential to become a goliath franchise.)
Some parable books have a section where the author extracts the teachings from the story line and creates a more “just the facts” companion section. I don’t see any need to split that into two books. What I do see happening more and more is a principles and/or how-to book that has been successfully developed into a parable book. This is a smart marketing move because people (in general) are more story-oriented and the parable book can capture a second audience, one that didn’t find a straight nonfiction book appealing. Bob Burg’s book, Endless Referrals eventually became the foundation for his very successful Go Giver series co-authored with John David Mann.
A Subtopic that Deserves More In-Depth Treatment
Many subtopics in books have the capacity to become books themselves. There are cookbooks that cover everything from appetizers through desserts and the cocktails that could be served alongside each dish. But there are also cookbooks that only focus on desserts (yay!) or appetizers or recipes for “game day get-togethers.” Or only focus on a certain small appliance: air fryers, convection ovens, woks.
Stephen Covey took one of his 7 Habits, First Things First and turned it into its own book. In my book, The 8 Step Marketing Plan, I talk about using lead magnets to build your email list. But that book doesn’t focus on lead magnets; a lead magnet is just one marketing strategy. However, everyone in business needs some sort of list of prospects and clients, so I have a book specifically on lead magnets (More Leads, Less Work): what they are, how to create them, how to deploy them. (Yes, that was a totally shameless plug.)
If your first book is an overview of a topic, it is ripe for spinning off two or more in-depth books. Do you think your first book should be layers deep? Maybe it should. Think about your reader and what your reader wants. They may only want a general background. Some may not want all the details of how to do something—they may well decide to hire you to help them or even do it for them. They may have a general interest but not a passion for the topic. Or, you may be targeting a readership that is at a high level and wants to know all the ins and outs of the topic. Go deep. And there may still be spin off opportunities because one book can’t go deep on every possible aspect of a topic. It may not be necessary to go deep on a topic for the overall purpose of a book. Part of the author’s job is to curate and prioritize material for the reader.
And Then There’s Catching the Author Bug
I have had several clients catch the Author Bug after completing and publishing their first book. (One client is on his third book.)
The problem with writing a book, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, is that somewhere during the process you have a fantastic idea for another book. Or you have a fantastic idea that, try as you may, doesn’t really fit into the book you’re currently writing.
That’s terrific. You’ve caught the bug. Think about this: If one book gives you credibility and authority, what will two books do? Three? Each book that you write increases your visibility and gives you more credibility. While you may think, “I don’t have time to write one book, much less three” when you have the bug, you make the time. (I have a video on how to find time here.)
If you’re having trouble finishing your book, particularly if you’re “lost in the weeds,” consider splitting it into two shorter books. They may be companion pieces or they could stand on their own. Either way, your book might be two books. Don’t sell yourself short. And, if you’re really struggling, schedule a consultation with me. An experienced set of eyes can save you weeks of floundering. And let me know if you “discover” you have a second book!