Monday, June 07, 2010

First Steps: Starting up a book writing project

I have recently begun working on my new management book project. Translating Tempo! into English is my top priority, but the new book will be based on  interviews to a large extent, and I do not want to pass up good opportunities when I get them. I expect to do several interviews in parallel with working on the Tempo! translation.

I won't go into the topic of the new book, but you might find it interesting how I go about working on it.

When I began thinking about a new book I started with the question:

  • "Who am I writing for?"

Once I had an answer to that, I followed up with:

  • "What is the most useful topic I could write about, considering my audience?"

In this particular case, once I had the answer to the first question, the answer to the second question was pretty much a given.

When I wrote Tempo! I discovered first-hand that writing a book is an excellent way to get in touch with people, especially if you are a bit reclusive, like me. If you write about something people care about, they will be interested, and they will help. I decided to build on that: Ask a number of managers how they have dealt with the topic I wish to cover. Write their stories. Tie back to the tools and techniques in Tempo! if and when it is useful to the reader.

With Tempo! I wrote an outline very early. This project is a bit different: I began by putting together a series of interview questions. I will go to Oslo in a couple of days, partly to discuss an outline with a friend, but I do expect that the answers I get while doing the interviews will determine the structure of the book to a large extent. Therefore I want to keep the structure at least somewhat fluid for now.

On the other hand, I want to keep the structure of the interviews the same throughout the project in order to get comparable answers from the interviewees.

I began working on the interview questions in FreeMind. FreeMind is great for jotting down ideas and structuring them. I intend to use FreeMind for the outline too. I used TextMate and Lout to write and format Tempo!, and I might stick to that combination. (I am looking for alternatives, because I want a work flow that enables me to publish ebooks in ePub format, i.e. for the iPad, with a minimum of extra work. I haven't found a good solution yet, unless I decide to bite the bullet and set up an XML authoring/publishing system.)

Thanks to a BNI referral I got a chance to make an interview with an interesting C-level executive last week. I started off by showing him all of my questions. The intent was to minimize the element of surprise. Surprises are good for birthdays, not so good when you want someone to relax and open up.

The last question I had prepared was about anonymity: May I publish the name of the interviewee? A picture? The name of the organization?

My interviewee gave me a preliminary permission to use his name, the company name, and to use a picture of him in the book. Once I have written the section about him in the book, I will mail it too him and, I hope, get a final permission.

I was careful to make the point that I would respect a desire to be anonymous. Sometimes when people are interviewed they tell a little bit more than they want the world to know. It is important to make sure people can feel safe talking to me.

I used my iPhone to record the interview. I write rather slowly, and recording the interview allows me to focus on the person I interview without worrying about missing anything important.

During the interview I tried to steer as little as possible. I asked the person I interviewed to expand on some subjects, and once or twice I made comparisons with my own experience, or some reference to a book. This worked very well. My interviewee spoke freely, and stayed on track.

Being able to stay on track is pretty important to successful C-level executives, so while i am glad it worked so well, I am not surprised.

After the interview I promised to keep in touch, and I will.

On the way back to my writing den, a café in central Gothenburg, I listened to the interview on the iPhone. Everything had worked like a charm. I had tested using the iPhone as a recorder before the interview, but it was nice to hear that I had a usable recording of the interview.

The photos I took went straight into iPhoto. I do like the facial recognition capabilities and the ability to organize photos by faces. Tempo! had over a hundred illustrations. I expect the new book to have plenty of illustrations too.

I made a write-up containing a brief biography of my interviewee, a brief list of interesting topics covered, and a summary of the interview itself. The summary has time stamps so I will be able to find the right spot in the recording easily.

I made the write-up in Pages. I normally do not want to use word processors for anything related to writing books, but in this case it might prove convenient: I intend to buy an iPad when it is released in Sweden, and use that during the interviews. I'll try to use Pages on the iPad to make the initial interview write-ups. It will be interesting to see how that works out.

In case you are wondering (though I realize you probably do not): I prefer document processors, like FrameMaker, XMetaL, and other heavy-duty tools, for writing books. I haven't found a good document processor that runs natively on my Mac though. InDesign and QuarkXpress don't cut it: No citation support. Quark does not even have ePub support yet.

In all, I couldn't have gotten a better start with the interview: I met an interesting interviewee, and I got material I believe will be very useful to the book. Better yet, I will be able to link some of it back to topics discussed and tools described in Tempo!

Next step: I have a short list of people I want to interview. I need to expand the list a bit. Some of the people I want to interview I know. There is a short list of people I want to interview because I have heard they are very good at what they do. Mostly, I will find interviewees by asking people I know whether they know a really good manager that might be interested in being interviewed. (Unless you happen to be Sir Richard Branson, Ricardo Semler, or maybe Steve Jobs, please do not tell me I ought to interview you. I want to interview leaders and managers that other people, especially people working for them, consider to be great.)

I want the book to appeal to an English-speaking audience, so I have decided to interview as many people as I can from English-speaking countries. This means I will either have to interview people via Skype (or similar), or do a lot of traveling.

Once I have enough material I will begin to organize it using tools I describe in Tempo!: Crawford Slip indexing techniques, a Current Reality Tree, and a Future Reality Tree. This will form the basis for writing the rest of the book.

I will write more about this project. If you are interested, stay tuned.

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