Many people say they have a book inside them, but few actually take the time to write it. Writing a book is a great way to build a personal brand and authority and make a name for yourself. But it takes a lot of work to write a book. So why even do it?
This week, I caught up with Anna David, a New York Times best-selling author of not one but eight different books.
She also runs a company, Legacy Launch Pad Publishing. Her company helps people build authority and, in some cases, reach The New York Times bestseller list.
Anna made the point that whether you're writing a book or working with a ghostwriter, asking yourself a few questions before starting on page one is helpful. For example:
That's an exercise I undertook a couple of years ago when I started writing and self-publishing books. Once I understood what the book was about, it immediately gave me some constraints to work within.
In this episode, we discuss the following:
Resources:Support the show
Anna: Figure out what success is. For me, when I just launched On Good Authority, I decided that my idea of success was that I wanted to create a book where people I knew who ran masterminds in communities of entrepreneurs would want to give copies of it to their members. I've had three masterminds do that, and the people from those masterminds are already reaching out to me. It is reaching the exact people I wanted to reach. That's success to me.
Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan: Many people say they have a book inside of them, but few of them actually take time to write it. Some of them even ask people for help. Hi there. My name is Bryan Collins, and welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast. Writing a book is a great way of building a personal brand, perhaps building authority, and making a name for yourself. But it's quite hard to write a book. So why even do it?
This week, I caught up with Anna David who is a New York Times best-selling author of not one but eight different books. She also runs a company, Legacy Launch Pad Publishing. Her company helps people build authority and, in some cases, reach The New York Times bestseller list. My key takeaway from talking to Anna is that whether you're writing a book yourself or perhaps working with a ghost writer, it's helpful to ask yourself a couple of short questions before you start on page one. What is my book about? Who is my book for? And what does success look like? This is an exercise that I undertook a couple of years ago when I started writing and self-publishing books. Once I understood what the book was about, it immediately gave me some constraints to work within. Because anything else is just basically journaling.
Next up, it's helpful to understand your ideal reader. Because then, you can use words and terms and phrases that they understand. It's also a lot easier to write something if you feel like you're creating it for a friend. Finally, it's helpful to spend a few moments considering what success looks like. It could be monetary success. Perhaps you want to increase your book royalties, or perhaps just earn a nice little side income from Amazon, or perhaps you want to build a name for yourself and use your book as a type of calling card or a business card. That's an approach many nonfiction authors take. Perhaps success for you simply means writing your book, that is getting your story or idea out of your head and onto the blank page. Understanding what success looks like in advance will help you persevere when you find that writing a book is going to take more than a few weeks or even a few months. These are all topics or themes we'll get into in this week's interview with Anna.
I hope you'll enjoy it. If you do, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store. Don't forget to share the show with another writer or another friend who you think would enjoy this topic. That's because your reviews and more shares do help listeners find this show. Also, if you're interested in some more advice about the craft of writing, I've been focused lately on building a channel on YouTube. So if you want to visit the YouTube channel, it's becomeawriter.tv. That will take you straight over to my channel where I'm reviewing the latest writing apps, AI software, and also talking about some great books to read and write. So please do check out the channel. Now let's go over to this week's interview with Anna.
Bryan: My guest today is Anna David. She is The New York Times bestselling author of eight books, and also the Founder of Legacy Launch Pad Publishing. Welcome to the show, Anna.
Anna: Thanks for having me here.
Bryan: Anna, you have a fascinating writing journey. Could you give the listeners a flavor for how you started writing, I suppose, not one but eight bestselling books before you set up your company?
Anna: Well, they weren't all best sellers, to be frank. But my writing career started in the '90s. I actually majored in creative writing of all useless things. I never thought I would use it. It was just a very easy thing to major in. Then I graduated in 1992. I went to New York, and I worked at magazines. That was when the magazine business was this big thing. And it remained a big thing for about 10 years. I made a fantastic living writing for Cosmo and Redbook and Playboy and Vanity Fair and Esquire, Marie Claire and Women's Health. It was really fun and really exactly what I wanted to be doing. Now, at that time, magazine writers were kind of what influencers are today, where we had all this power. I had agents coming to me and saying, "Hey, if you ever want to do a book, I'd love to represent you." I had been toying, I had been working on a book. I, like many people, had many aborted attempts. It's sort of like, I'm going to write a book but I didn't know what I was doing.
Then I got sober in the year 2000. Up when I was about four years sober, I thought, God, getting sober is the most interesting thing in the world. Recovery is nothing like what people think it is. I should write a book about that. I wrote a book. I said yes to one of the agents who was after me. She sold the book to my top publisher. I thought, oh my god, this is just— when something great happens, I don't know what it's like for you. But I think oh, finally. I don't think, oh, this is my lucky break. I think, well, the world has finally given me what I deserve. My life is just going to be like this from now on.
There was a bidding war. Then there was a huge scandal at that publishing company, and the publisher was fired. HarperCollins dissolved the company. My pride and joy, my first book Party Girl was released with nobody behind it. HarperCollins kept giving me book deals and book deals, but they were tiny deals. The books never sold well. Then even when I had a book I did with Simon & Schuster hit the New York Times bestseller list, I could barely afford the cab fare to go to the party. That's how much publishing had broken. When I realized how broken publishing was, that's when I started.
Bryan: So you've gravitated a lot towards writing nonfiction over the years. For example, one of your books is called Make Your Mess, which is a type of memoir. You also have a book about authority as well.
Anna: Yes, On Good Authority is the book I released recently. I try to release a book every year because I have a company where we release 12 to 15 books a year. And I can't know what the latest and greatest ways to release a book are unless I'm doing it myself. I can't test out my team, unless I'm seeing it from that perspective.
And so my book On Good Authority is based on — I have a podcast called On Good Authority, where I interview authors and entrepreneurs about how to launch a book that will build your business. I've had Robert Greene and Chris Voss and these incredible authors on it. I took the content of those interviews and made it into a book. I took my very best parts of that. It was very meta, because I used the podcast to inform the book. Then I used all the tips those experts have given me to launch my book. It's really all about how the best way to build authority today is with a book. I will say it's like, nobody cares where I went to college or that I went to college. But everybody cares that I have a book. A book really is the new degree. And experience. I like to learn things from people who have experienced rather than people who have studied a topic.
Bryan: It does. You mentioned previously that you have a degree or a college qualification in creative writing. I suppose a common question new writers have is, do they need to do writing in university or college? I would say no. It's better to go and get real-world experience, or perhaps write online or try and build a platform online instead. It sounds like some of the interviewees on your podcast would probably have echoed that line of thinking.
Anna: Yeah, and I echo that line of thinking, and I have the degree in it. Honestly, I was a bit of a screw up back then. So it just sounded easy. That's why I did it. But I'm not sure there's anything more useless to major in than creative writing. Back then, you couldn't really major in — I went to a liberal arts school. So it's sort of like you couldn't major in anything that would actually be useful to your life. I don't feel sorry for people who go and get graduate degrees, MFAs in creative writing. But I'm confused by it. Why would you go and spend more money on learning to write when you can just write and try to make money from that?
Bryan: Yeah, a few years ago — well, I suppose a good, few years ago now, I did consider doing an MFA in creative writing. My takeaway was that it's not really going to give me anything that I couldn't just learn to reading books about the craft and then later to writing online. Perhaps an MFA or some sort of program in creative writing is good for connecting with other writers and getting feedback on your work. But I would say you can get a lot of that now these days anyway. So it's a little bit unnecessary. Just to go back to your topic of building authority, does a writer, or does a creative, or suppose your typical client, do they need a book to build authority? Surely, there are easier ways than opening up Microsoft Word and trying to produce 60,000 or 70,000 words on a topic. I'm finding that it's not going to take three months. It could take 12 months.
Anna: Yeah, the statistic is that the first-time author, it takes 300 hours. I always say if you're not writing every day all day, somebody who is writing all day, every day in a decade is going to do a better job of writing your book. A lot of our clients, our typical client, we do all the interviews. We do all the ghost writing. We do everything. Then about half of our clients come to us with completed books. "Completed" because to a non-writer or a non-editor, they're completed. But we look at it and we're like, oh, my God. This needs so much work. For some reason, there's something about writing a book where you and I don't go rushing into hospitals with scalpels saying, "Oh, I'm going to perform surgery. I have no training as a doctor. I have no experience." But everybody thinks they can write a book. It's what we're talking about. It's what makes a good writer is someone who writes.
Our clients tend to be high-level entrepreneurs who are doing business. And so I always say everyone may have a book in them, but not everybody should write them. So yes. When somebody says to me, "I just want to do a book because I want to help people," I say go volunteer. Because that is a much easier way to help people than doing a book. If somebody says, "I want to build authority. I've been spending all this money on Facebook ads and publicists who don't do anything. I just want to become the leader in my field. I want everyone to know what it is that I know, that I'm an expert in this," then it's well worth it to do a book.
Bryan: So do you find a lot of your clients tend to be business owners or entrepreneurs?
Anna: They're pretty much all, when I started — because I'm so open about my recovery, I'm 22 years sober, I wrote a bunch of books about addiction, a lot of the people that came to us were people who wanted to do memoirs about their addiction and recovery. There's a lot of people.
Bryan: Which is a genre in itself.
Anna: Yeah, allegedly, I invented it — the 'quit lit' genre. But yeah, that's definitely become a thing. It was really what happened to me with that. So my first book, Party Girl, as I said, it was disastrous when it came out. It didn't sell well. But as soon as it came out, CNN and NBC and all this Today Show is calling me and asking me to come on as an addiction expert. I'm like, what are you talking about? An expert? I just wrote a book about it. They're like, "yeah, that makes you an expert." And so I thought that was sort of an accident, what happened to me, how my book made me into an expert. Then it was my clients that taught me, no, this is a situation that can be applied towards any business. If someone is a true expert, if you have spent years building a business in creating your type of widget or whatever it is, and there are a lot of other widget creators out there that you see that are in the public square dominating the conversation and you think you should be there, you should do a book.
Bryan: It's interesting that you said your clients often approached you because they want to become known as an expert or build authority. I mean, surely, if somebody could build authority through their brand or perhaps through their company, what's a book really going to do for your clients that some of the dozens of other opportunities available to them won't do?
Anna: Well, what is a comparable opportunity, do you think?
Bryan: Well, for example, somebody could be an influencer on Instagram, let's say, or perhaps they have a YouTube channel that's getting thousands of views, or perhaps their company is selling a lot of products and services that people love.
Anna: Here's what I would say. We may watch influencers, but I wouldn't say we have a lot of respect for them. Authors is like one of the last bastions of something that we all respect. Also, you can decide, "Hey, I want to have a YouTube channel. I want to get all these views. I want to be on Instagram and get all these views." But you can't make that happen. If you hire a company to do a book, you are guaranteeing that result. I just don't think there's any better way to build authority.
Bryan: So when your clients hire you to help them launch a successful book and the book is a success, what are they typically looking for next? Is it to land public speaking gigs, or is it online courses? Is it just to raise the profile of their business?
Anna: Great question. First of all, I think it's define what success is. Because I had six book launches that were miserable, that I consider to be failures — even the one that became the New York Times bestseller. Now I only have successful books, because I've decided what success means to me. I never checked my book sales. I do not care. Success, to me, I always say I'd rather have 100 people who are going to have their lives changed and possibly hire me as a result of reading my book than 10,000 people who won't really care.
Figure out what success is. For me, when I just launched On Good Authority, I decided that my idea of success was that I wanted to create a book where people I knew who ran masterminds in communities of entrepreneurs would want to give copies of it to their members. I've had three masterminds do that, and the people from those masterminds are already reaching out to me. It is reaching the exact people I wanted to reach. That's success to me.
Every client has a different — some comments say, "I want to be a speaker." That is absolutely possible. In any time that someone, booking speaker, is looking at two people, they're going to pick the person with the book over the person who doesn't have the book. But it's not like you write a book and there's a line of event bookers outside your door waiting to sign you up. It's still work. The best candidate for a book is somebody who has a company that sells a high-end service, whether that's coaching, or consulting, or service. We have courses, absolutely. I've had people on my podcast. I had somebody named Mike Phoenix come on. He talked about how a book led to a $7.5 million business because the book led to a live event which led to a product, which led to an in-person event and so on and so on.
Bryan: Wow. That is certainly a good definition of success. When you're working with your clients and you're listening to their, I suppose, goals or aspirations, I'm sure many of them say, "I want to be on the New York Times bestselling list. Help me get there." What strategies or tactics are working today for your clients to reach a list like that?
Anna: Usually, if they say that, I say you're probably not the right client for us because we're not focused on things like that, in getting on the list. To get to the New York Times list, what it is, is I know people who've hit the list selling 5,000 copies. It is about what's being released that week, and how many copies are you selling against that?
The Bible has never been on the New York Times bestseller list. There was actually a lawsuit. William Blatty, who wrote the book The Exorcist, had a book called Legion that he knew should have hit the list. I think it hit the list once, and then it fell off. He took them to court. He took the New York Times to court. He said, "My book should have been on the New York Times bestseller list." They admitted in court. Well, it's an editorial decision. This actually isn't based on book sales. So there's nothing you can do to guarantee New York Times best seller, The Wall Street Journal list. There was the USA Today list, but it went away. They disbanded it at the end of 2022.
The Wall Street Journal list is based on actual book sales. A lot of the strategies involve pricing your e-book at $0.99 in the beginning, because you can really push people to buy that, the e-book, when it's $0.99 and incentivize orders. That's how a lot of people hit The Wall Street Journal list. Hitting the number one spot in your category on Amazon is something that we can strategically make it happen. Amazon, as of last week, got rid of — you could put your book in 10 categories, and now it's only three. But when it was 10 categories, it was much easier to get the number one spot.
Bryan: Because you could find more subcategories to target article after. Yeah, they've certainly made a lot of changes to how books are positioned. You need to invest in advertising as well. You mentioned that you've interviewed a number of well-known authors for your podcast, Anna, including Chris Voss who has an excellent book about negotiations, and Robert Greene who's written books like The 48 Laws of Power. Was there any takeaway about building authority that you learned from them, or perhaps anything about the craft of writing that you learned from interviewees like those?
Anna: Well, Chris Voss had a ghostwriter Tahl Raz. He's very open about how amazing Tahl is as a ghost writer. Robert Greene — God, this was so interesting — he said over and over again, don't listen to the muse. It is so self-indulgent for a writer to sit down and think, "Oh, I'm just sharing my brilliant thoughts, and I'm just typing them up." Think about your reader on every page. I think that is advice I know that for six books, I never once thought about my reader. I know I work with people who aren't thinking about their reader. But without readers, you've written a journal.
So if Robert Greene, who sold millions and millions and millions of books, is thinking about his reader on every page, so should every writer. They both said there's no better way to build authority than with a book. Chris said even if the only people who buy it are your mother and your friend, there's still no better business card imaginable. I mean, it really did put Chris Voss on the map — his book Never Split the Difference.
Bryan: Yeah, it's an excellent story to go along with that book, the fact that he was an FBI hostage negotiator. Now he's well-known for that particular topic. How much of your day do you spend working on your own creative projects versus running your business, Anna?
Anna: It's a great question. I would say I enjoy running a business more than I do writing, which people can't believe. Because people think, oh. Sometimes I remind myself of that person and if they got them over in Ireland, that person who usually their nice Jewish parents said you got to be a lawyer, you got to be a doctor. Then at the age of 40, they were like, "Screw this. I want to do something creative." I'm the opposite. They said to me, "You've got to be a lawyer." I said no, I want to be a writer. Then about the age of 40, I was like I'm tired of being broke. What do I do now? I find marketing and business to be just as creative, if not more so than writing.
So the majority of my day, I am actually — my boyfriend and I have a surrogate who's giving birth a month from today. So I've spent the last six months really going, well, what is it that I do every day? Because how can I make it so that my team can manage without me? The reality is I have an amazing team. I'm not doing the writing or the editing. Mostly, what I'm doing is my podcast and my newsletters, getting out there and doing things like this. And so I'm sending that all up. This is the last interview I'm doing. So that it can all be scheduled. But usually, I've written so much. I run out of material. Now that I'm having a kid, I'm like, okay.
Bryan: You will. You certainly will.
Anna: I certainly will.
Bryan: So what's the most important platform for your business these days, apart from obviously creating a book like On Good Authority?
Anna: Platform? Meaning social media platform?
Bryan: Social media or a way of getting in touch with your clients.
Anna: I would say newsletter is always the best thing. I've been really serious about it, and I email every week. But LinkedIn, that site I thought was so stupid to totally ignore for years and years and years. I don't have a big following on LinkedIn. And yet, I've drawn in tons of clients from it. I've also brought in clients from Instagram. People think Instagram is so silly and self-indulgent. My very first client found me because of an Instagram hashtag.
Bryan: Wow. What was the hashtag? Do you remember?
Anna: Yes, well, it was about — he said the first book was called — God, how could I forget that — Darren Prince's book. Oh, my God. I am tired. Okay. It's really crazy. He's a sports agent, and he wanted to be a recovery advocate. He came to me and he said, "I want to do a book and become a recovery advocate." I was like, you don't just get to snap your fingers with a book and become a recovery advocate. He's like, "I want to do this." I said, I didn't want to. I don't like ghostwriting. I said I don't want to write a book. And so I got someone else to write it, and we published it. Then the week it came out, he had a six-figure spokesperson deal. He launched his speaking career. Now he's got a nonprofit named after the book. He told me he was searching for addiction recovery hashtags on Instagram. That's how he found me.
Bryan: Impressive. That's a fantastic success story. Wow. When you're working with your clients, is there anything that you say to them apart from what success looks like to help them frame their idea for the book? Or do you have a particular template that you use to write the book?
Anna: Yes, it has to be: my book is for blank so they can blank, so I can blank. It's like my book is for business owners and CEOs who want to build authority through a book so I can teach them and attract them as clientele. Because our service is extremely expensive. We won't take on clients that I don't think can earn back 10 to 100 times what they make. People think it's crass. They're like, "You talk too much about making money from a book." It's like, well, yeah, put on your own oxygen mask first. Helping people, it's not mutually exclusive. You can help people, and you can still make a great living. You should be paid for your time writing.
Bryan: Yeah, and it's particularly hard to earn money from just one book. I've interviewed a lot of authors over the years. What I found the most successful if they are fiction writers is — I'm presuming you don't work with fiction writers — they have a huge back catalogue. So it's not like they were an overnight success. If they're nonfiction, it's because they have a business, or they have a public speaking gig, or they have a course or consulting. In other words, they're not relying on royalties from Amazon or from their book publisher to pay the bills. I mean, a single book isn't really going to do that for most clients.
When you're working with your clients, do you find that they are amenable to your team writing the book? Or do they like to be more hands on and say, "No, chapter one needs to be phrased like this"?
Anna: It can be a struggle. I do think, when it comes to books, people — particularly very successful people who are out there in the world who might have egos — they're scared because they're in unknown territory. Because they've been reading books since they were little kids, and they don't really realize they're scared. The way the fear comes out is with control is with, oh, I gave this to six of my friends. They think this, this and this. So we have definitely learned from our more challenging clients how to handle that. I would say our favorite clients just go, "You're the experts. I hired you." When someone comes to us and says, "I want someone to write the book with me," don't hire us. Because either you hand it to us and we fix it, or we write it from the beginning. But in many ways, it's harder to fix what's broken than it is to just start from scratch.
Bryan: How long does the whole process take from when you start working with the client to when the book is published?
Anna: It should be six months. The reason it'll get delayed is usually our clients. Because they're busy, and it becomes sidelined. It's not a priority. But when I first started my second book we did, we did it in six weeks because we didn't have other clients. Now we've got a whole slate of books that we're releasing. So it's like if they were our only client, we could do it quickly. But usually, it should be six to eight months.
Bryan: It makes sense. I feel like the takeaway here for our listeners is that even if they're writing the book themselves, it's helpful to figure out who the book is for, what it's about, and how it's going to help the author with their career as well. So to set a goal for your book. Perhaps the goal is not just to do with royalties.
Anna: Yeah, and really, I would say get really clear when you think about who your book is for. Maybe you just want to picture one person.
Bryan: Your ideal reader. It could be a friend, or a family member, or a spouse, or perhaps just an actual reader like you've mentioned, who's been in touch with you.
Anna: Yeah, that's what I do.
Bryan: I do that as well. Anna, where can listeners go if they want to learn more about you, read your writing or your services?
Anna: Well, if they want that formula that we talked about, my book is for blank, even though you could just write it down right now, you could just go to bookinasentence.com. We'll send you that, so you can actually work on who your book is for and what you want your reader to do when they're done. Legacy Launch Pad is my company. I'm on social media @annabdavid and all the places.
Bryan: I'll be sure to include the links in the show notes. It was great to talk to you today, Anna. Thank you.
Anna: Thank you so much.
Bryan: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. If you did, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store or sharing the show on Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. More reviews, more ratings, and more shares will help more people find the Become a Writer Today Podcast. And did you know, for just a couple of dollars a month, you could become a Patreon for the show? Visit patreon.com/becomeawritertoday or look for the Support button in the show notes. Your support will help me record, produce, and publish more episodes each month. And if you become a Patreon, I’ll give you my writing books, discounts on writing software and on my writing courses.