10 Things I Learned Writing a Book

My first book comes out tomorrow (June 22). It’s been a fun process to write it and quite a learning experience. Here are a few lessons learned:

1. Writing is a skill that can be improved. No one is ever going to be able to learn how to become the next Bill Shakespeare, but I’ve found writing is something that can be improved upon through practice. In high school and college, I hated writing papers. It turns out I just wasn’t writing about topics that interested me. Ever since I started this blog I’ve learned to love the writing process. I still don’t consider myself a writer, but more of a learner through writing. It’s now part of my daily routine and it’s served as a huge educational tool for me. My rate of learning has increased exponentially because I write.

2. The best way to improve your writing skills is by reading. The more I write the more I am interested in learning. You have to find your own voice as a writer, but I’ve found that reading the work of others you respect is a great way to learn how to become a better writer. And it’s not only finding great finance voices that has helped. I find reading fiction is more important from the standpoint of understanding how really great writers operate.

3. Marketing yourself is important. Writing a book is the easy part. Selling it is much harder. When I was contacted by my publishers on the prospect of writing a book, it wasn’t just an idea I had to pitch to them. I had to sell myself, my blog, my message and my audience in terms of what kind of book sales I could drive for them.

I was never much of a self-promotional kind of person. Whenever I would write a cover letter and resume in past job searches, my brother would always remind me that I needed to sell myself and my accomplishments more. It’s something I’ve had to work on over the years. Some people think any type of sales tactics are shady, but no one’s going to sell yourself better than you are.

4. Amazon is the gatekeeper in the book business. I learned a lot about how the publishing industry functions throughout this process. One of the more surprising takeaways was just how much power Amazon has in the book business. Not only did I have to make a sale to my publishers, but Amazon had to sign off on the book as well to show they were comfortable selling it.

5. Self-publishing will continue to gain in prominence. There are many ways in which using a well-known book publisher can be an advantage. My publisher is Bloomberg, who is the finance arm of John Wiley & Sons. It helps to have those names attached to the project. But it’s still a very slow process. From the time I was contacted until the release date of the book it’s been well over a year. For many it can take 2-3 years from start to finish.

With self-publishing (also, through Amazon) you don’t need anyone to sign off on your book. Anyone can write one and get it published. Self-publishing gives an author more control and allows them to get their material into their reader’s hands much quicker. You’re on your own from an editorial, design and marketing perspective, but my guess is we’ll see a continued push into self-publishing, even from more established writers who would like more control over the process.

6. People are willing to help and share advice if you ask. I reached out to a handful of authors who have written some of my favorite books over the years. I was pleasantly surprised to get some lengthy, very helpful advice from these titans of the financial advice-giving business. I’m amazed by how willing people were to share their experiences and offer guidance along the way. I don’t know that I could have written the book I did without some help.

7. You have to be willing to tell your own story. One of the best pieces of advice I received was to make the book my own — to find my own voice and tell personal stories. So that’s what I did and I’m really happy with how it turned out. (The other piece of advice I received right off the bat was don’t think that you’re special just because you got a book deal, a useful humility check.)

8. Being well-read is a huge advantage. The majority of the research for the book didn’t start after I signed my contract. It began well over a decade ago when I read my first investment book — The Intelligent Investor — along with everything else I’ve read or researched since then. I’m convinced that being well-read and understanding yourself is more important than being blessed with above average intelligence for most things in life and business.

9. Apparently there’s not much of a market for books that cater to average investors. My publishers told me at the outset that average investors simply don’t buy investing books, so I should focus more on the professional crowd or more sophisticated investors. My goal here has always been to explain the complexities of finance in a way that anyone can understand them. Really my book is about making better financial decisions, which is something that I believe investors of all levels can benefit from. This book isn’t restricted to one group. I tried to make it appealing to a wide audience, no matter how you invest.

10. Life is always surprising. My book comes out tomorrow. I can’t tell you how crazy that sentence would have sounded to me just a few short years ago. I never set out to write a book. I didn’t really even think anyone would read this blog when I first started out. I’ve had a few people tell me over the past year or so that I basically came out of nowhere in our little niche financial blogging community. No one is more surprised by this than me. I’ve met and interacted with a lot of really smart and interesting people because of it. I am extremely appreciative of all of the people who read my blog and blown away at times by the feedback I receive.

If you like my blog posts, I think you’ll like the book even more. I’m really happy with how it turned out. Here’s a link to a page I created for the book with more information: My Book. You can find it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.



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Discussions found on the web
  1. Roadmap2Retire commented on Jun 21

    Congrats on the book, Ben.

    Writing a book has been one of my goals and your post has been encouraging. I struggle with self promotion as well…and something that I need to work on and improve.

    I wish you the best in the launch and the sales.

    • Ben commented on Jun 21

      Thanks a lot. Check out some of the tools through Amazon’s self-publishing page. It sounds very intuitive and easy to work with.

  2. Keith G commented on Jun 21

    Congrats Ben. I’m looking forward to reading it. Now the question for me between today and tomorrow, Kindle or hardcover??? I’m leaning toward the hardback.

    • Ben commented on Jun 21

      It’s funny, I thought more people would have switched over to Kindle at this point but the majority of people I’ve talked to have said they still prefer the hard cover.

  3. Rajesh Sehgal commented on Jun 21

    Many congratulations, Ben. I’m looking forward to your work 🙂

    • Ben commented on Jun 21

      Thank you.

  4. RobotandFrank commented on Jun 22

    Hi Ben, congratulations.

    “6. People are willing to help and share advice if you ask. I reached out to a handful of authors who have written some of my favorite books over the years. I was pleasantly surprised to get some lengthy, very helpful advice from these titans of the financial advice-giving business. I’m amazed by how willing people were to share their experiences and offer guidance along the way. I don’t know that I could have written the book I did without some help.”

    Could you possibly do a blog post on Point 6 above. What you learnt from who, if you can’t pen their names, at least share the experiences/guidances with Mr Anonymous A, B, C etc. Would be great 🙂

    • Ben commented on Jun 22

      That’s a really good idea. I’ll try to put something together. I re-visit some of the advice on a regular basis.

  5. Clark Herring commented on Jun 22

    Good luck. Your blog continues to be in my top 3. I will be buying this tomorrow. My purchase will be a Kindle. over the years my wife and I have amassed a collection of over 3000 hardback books. She and I both love to read and love books. However Once I got my first iPad in 2011 I quite buying hardback books. Indeed since then I have purchased fewer than 5 hardback books. and yes I am 58. I wonder what teh age distribution looks like ebooks versus hardback.

    • Ben commented on Jun 22

      I’ve always been a hardcover guy myself but I’ve been slowly transitioning to Kindle as well. It’s much easier for travel and it’s cheaper when buying new books. It would be interesting to separate them out by age. I’m sure Amazon has some good data on this (which of course they’ll never share).

  6. Peter Lazaroff, CFA commented on Jun 22

    Congratulations on publishing! I already purchased it for my Kindle and I’m looking forward to reading it. If it is half as good as the blog, it will be a winner.

    • Ben commented on Jun 22

      Thank you. I tried to stay true to the blog’s theme so hopefully you’ll enjoy.

  7. Mark Massey commented on Jun 22

    Just ordered the hardback. I look forward to reading it.

    • Ben commented on Jun 22

      Thanks Mark. I appreciate it.

  8. Solar Revolution | Vestact's – Quirk with quark commented on Jun 24

    […] a great way to grow your own knowledge base and to share what you have learnt, with others – 10 Things I Learned Writing a Book. The article is well worth the read, even if you just look at the headings for each […]

  9. Financial-Fitness commented on Jun 24

    I will buy and look forward to reading. And this post offers great advice, applicable to more than just writing a book. Especially #6. It’s nice to see that experts (in any field) are willing to help new entrants rather than view them as competition. Best of luck!

    • Ben commented on Jun 24

      Thanks. Good point on competition. Something most don’t realize is that teaching or sharing advice is something nearly everyone loves to do. You just have to ask.

  10. Tom Varga commented on Jun 26

    I am buying your book as soon as it is available on Amazon.ca. It will be the next book I read…….and I’ve got a long list to go through. Already on my wish list! Ben, you deserve much success and thanks for the terrific advice on your blog.

    • Ben commented on Jul 01

      Thanks Tom. Much appreciated.