From Inspiration to Publication – What It Takes to Write a Business Book

By Alan Brew

Many people think about writing a business book. Some attempt it, but very few actually get to the point of holding a copy in their hands. Our guest on this episode is Rob Meyerson – one of those few. Rob is a brand strategist, namer, podcaster, founder of Heirloom, the brand strategy and identity agency, and a best-selling author.

Rob spoke with Alan Brew about what it really takes to write a book, deciding how to get published, preparing for and promoting your work, and dealing with the comments from those you know, and most you don’t.


Episode Transcript

Welcome to Expert Opinion, the BrandingBusiness forum, where leaders share their views, insights and experiences from the world of B2B branding. And now here’s your host.

Alan: Our guest today is Rob Meyerson, founder of Heirloom, the brand strategy and identity agency and author of Brand Naming, a recently published business book. Rob, welcome to Expert Opinion.

Rob: Hi Alan. Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Alan: My pleasure, Rob. First, let me congratulate you on becoming an author. It is by no means, a mean achievement. And you have my undying admiration. Many people think about writing a business book, including me and some actually attempt it, but very few get to a point of holding a real copy in their hands. So many congratulations Rob.

Rob: Thank you very much.

Alan: For all the aspiring authors out there, let’s focus on what it actually takes to become a published author of a business book. At a high level, what are the big lessons looking back on your experience as a first time writer?

Rob: I think you need to carve out time for it and approach it like any other very large problem, which is breaking it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. I did some early research into average page counts for business books and things like that and tried to get a sense of how long this thing was going to be. It is definitely the longest thing that I’ve written. So long that you can sort of get lost in it. We can get to this, but I found that I was accidentally using the same example in chapter 10, that I had used in chapter two and so needed to come up with ways of dealing with that issue. One thing I also did is I downloaded some software called Scrivener. It’s one of the favorite pieces of software of authors I suppose, which just helped me keep things organized.

Originally, I was working in Word or a Google Doc and it just became untenable because the text was so long. I did that and I agreed with my wife that Wednesday nights, she would help out more with the kids and that I could basically just lock myself in my office and make as much progress as I could with writing. And I tried to take the approach of just write, write, write, and don’t pay attention to whether it’s any good at first and then come back and fix things and edit later.

Alan: So you had a nice domestic arrangement to give you encouragement. That’s an accommodating partner.

Rob: Yes. I was very lucky to have that.

Alan: The title of your book, Rob, is Brand Naming. And it’s a classic how-to book on the actual art and science of generating names and finding names for products, businesses, and services. But I wonder to what extent people might think you’re doing yourself out of business by giving the game away? Any sort of thoughts about that?

Rob: Yeah. It’s funny you say that because one of my favorite reviews of the book, the reviewer said, they liked the book, but they’re not sure how many new clients I’ll get from it because I’ve just told everybody exactly how to name something themselves. And I talked to the author of the review and she said she was nervous writing that because she thought it might upset me, but I actually loved it. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve seen in a review of the book. Because that was the goal. It was to very plainly explain everything that I do so that people can try to do it themselves. It’s not true that it’s going to take clients away from me because I suspect that many people will look at the book, they’ll read through in gory detail, everything that we do as professional namers and think to themselves, “Well, God, I don’t want to do all of that. I’d rather hire a professional.”

I was very confident writing this that I should just explain exactly what I do, not try to obscure anything and be confident that if people read it, they would still be interested in hiring someone like me to do the work potentially. And I’ve become a little jaded, I think, reading other business books and especially in this world of branding. I feel like there’s a trend of people trying to make it seem like it’s magic and not wanting to explain what they do. And certainly, there is some creativity involved, which is very hard to explain in a step by step way. But I just think there should be more how-to content out there, more clear explanation of how people do what they do and less of this black box mysterious approach of really sort of not wanting to give anything away.

Alan: I understand. But still there’s no substitute part of experience and talent, and you can’t put that in a book.

Rob: That’s right. I hope that people who read it feel a little more confident naming on their own or hiring someone and sort of knowing what that person is doing. But ultimately, if you really want to have the benefit of an expert, then there’s me and there are many other people quoted throughout the book that are great namers. There are naming agencies. There are many ways to do this. I didn’t feel that documenting it into the book would cannibalize my business at all. Once I found the publisher, it probably took me 18 months to actually get it written and edited all the way out to complete manuscript.

Alan: So Rob, what was the starting point for you? How did you start? Did you have a plan and why a book on brand naming?

Rob: Sure. It started with an outline, as I guess every book should. But I was on a flight from New York to San Francisco and I can’t honestly remember what the impetus was, but I just started writing down my naming process in a Google Doc from start to finish. And I very quickly realized it was potentially the outline for a book. And I remember coming home and telling my wife, “I think I have the outline for a book.” I remember telling her, “I’ve pretty much written the whole thing. It’s in a Google Doc and I just need to sort of flesh out some of the chapters.” That was a very naive statement. I think I had about 5,000 words in the Google Doc and the book is over 40,000. It took a very long time to flesh that out.

That was probably about four or five years ago. I sort of dabbled with it a little over the next few years. I decided to write some chapters as articles, which have been published in other places. Several chapters of the book, you can find online, rough drafts of those essentially that were published as articles elsewhere, which is a nice way to kind of move the book forward, but also see some immediate benefits of it in the meantime. But then I got into trying to find a publisher, which we could talk about. At first, that really delayed things because I put things on hold until I found a publisher, and then it sped things up because I actually had a contract with the deadline in it.

Alan: Wow. The question of a publisher, I mean, in my mind, that’s always the first step, find a publisher, agree an outline, and then get a commission to write the book. In your case, it was the reverse. Did you find that an easy way of doing it, and how did you find a publisher?

Rob: Yeah. Finding a publisher was really hard for me. I think a lot of that is the fact that I was writing a very niche book. Nobody thinks a brand naming book is going to be a bestseller, I don’t think, on the New York Times list. I reached out to a lot of publishers and submitted a lot of proposals. Most of those proposals will ask for either a draft chapter or an outline of the entire book. You don’t have to stick to it, but at least what you think the outline of the whole book will be or both. I needed to have that. I’m glad I had done that already rather than trying to sort of figure it out on the fly. But I reached out to a lot of different publishers, several of them.

And it’s just a mixed bag just like anything else. It’s like looking for a new job. Some people never write back. Some people write back and you get sort of little bit of the way down through the process where maybe you’re revising the proposal based on their feedback or talking to the initial person’s boss, sort of getting escalated through various editors. But ultimately, received an offer from a very small niche publisher called Business Expert Press, which specializes in pretty concise business books that are very pragmatic. They’re just sort of, here’s what you should actually do. There’s not a lot of fluff in these books, which I find to be the most annoying thing about a lot of business books. It’s seemed like a good match for what I was trying to write.

And I liked some of the different details of the proposal that they gave me to partner on this. That’s who I ended up publishing with. But I should say, I’d be remiss to leave out the option of self-publishing, which I also did a lot of research into. And I think that does make sense for a lot of people, but I decided for this first book, at least, and I say that without any plans to write a second book at this point. But I knew that this time, I really wanted a publisher to kind of hold my hand through some of the work that I knew I wasn’t going to want to do all on my own.

Alan: Did they assign you an editor Rob? Did you work with somebody hand in glove, so to speak, to help nurse the book along to a finish date? How did that work?

Rob: No, I wouldn’t say it was hand in glove. It was much more try to get a finished manuscript over to them, and then they’ll start looking at it with editors. I don’t know how unique this is to my publisher versus others. It’s a small operation so much of this may be determined by budget or something like that. But they have an in-house marketing editor or expert. He’s a professor, a marketing professor. He reviewed an early draft of the book and gave sort of substantive feedback on whether he thought anything was missing, whether he thought there were ways to make it clearer or more sort of useful for educators in the event that educators were going to use this book. That was really substantive feedback. And then there were rounds of editing that were more along the lines of copy editing, proofreading, things like that. It went back and forth many times between me and the publisher to get that done.

Alan: I wonder, just in reflection Rob, to an earlier point, how many books have been conceived on the flight from New York to San Francisco? Probably more than we know.

Rob: Exactly. Yeah. It’s one thing I do miss about business travel. Although it’s nice to not have had to do as much of it, is that time on the plane to just kind of zone out and think, and sometimes get some project done that’s been on hold for a long time.

Alan: So there’ll be valuable time we’ve been deprived of during the lockdown. But it’s coming back I gather. Rob, you mentioned-

Rob: It seems like maybe another chance to write another book after all.

Alan: You are on your next flight. What’s your second book going to be about?

Rob: No comment. I don’t want to promise anything.

Alan: Rob, you mentioned a few moments ago, self-publishing. And there’s always, as far as I understand it, a bit of a negative aura or connotation to self-publishing, sometimes called vanity books. Any thoughts on the pros and cons of that?

Rob: Yeah. I mean, to oversimplify the biggest pros and cons, self-publishing, yes, there’s a little bit of a stigma associated with it. I think that is much diminished over the past decade or so in that a lot of very respectable authors and books are self-publishing. The biggest benefit of course is, you get a much larger percentage of the sales of each book. Having a publisher, you get a measly percentage of each book sale. It’s very, very hard to write a book with a publisher and actually plan on making a lot of money from it. Well, certainly with a niche business book like I’ve written. Those are kind of the pros and cons big picture. Also, the publisher helps with some pieces that I didn’t want to have to manage, creating an index, some of the copy editing, things like that.

And also, just the sort of printing and distribution. Of course, Amazon can do some of that for you now. There are also what are called hybrid publishers that seem to strike a balance between self-publishing and kind of the old school publishing approach. And they’re all different and they sort of mix up those pros and cons in different ways. Maybe you get a slightly larger cut of the royalties, but you have to take on a little bit more of the promotional work yourself or something like that. It’s an interesting space right now. Again, for me, I really wanted to not have to worry about much of anything except writing the book this time. I feel like I’ve seen a lot of what at the publisher does. And so if I were to write another book, I might self-publish with a little more confidence that I could handle some of the pieces that they took on for me.

Alan: Very interesting insight. I think a lot of people may have thought about self-publishing and changed their mind because, as you said, is somewhat or there used to be a stigma attached to. But that’s an interesting insight. Thank you, Rob. The subject of brand naming, for you, it was an obvious choice and you partly did it because that’s your business. What was the approach to the book itself? Give us an outline of the book, Rob. What’s the content of the book and how did you kind of organize it?

Rob: Yeah. There are a few other books on naming, so it wasn’t that I was writing the first ever book focused on this. But what I really wanted to do, and I think this tracks with other things I’ve written and with the podcast that I’ve hosted, I really wanted to get into the details and at the most practical level, explain how it’s done. There is not a whole lot of theory or philosophy around naming. Of course, I include chapters at the beginning about, what makes a good name, just explaining different types of brand names. I sort of get that in at the front, in the first three chapters, first two or three chapters, but then it really dives into the process. How a naming project is run by professional namers from the beginning to the end. Every step that’s taken, with details on how to do it yourself, or even sometimes when you should consider outsourcing it to somebody else and what that looks like.

And I also give examples throughout. I devised a hypothetical naming brief, at least very loosely, that I could then give examples to make sure that it was clear when I said, here’s what I would do next. In the process, I could then give examples that would hopefully make it easier to understand. And that was something that I had not seen done in other naming books, of which there were only one or two anyway. And I also just felt like it’s something that I wished I had been able to access 15 years ago when I started doing naming projects. To an earlier question that I think I left unanswered, that was sort of the reason for writing the book. It’s just something I wish I had and something that I couldn’t really understand why nobody had bothered to write it down yet. It just seemed like such an obvious thing to document and such a helpful thing to have documented.

Alan: Very interesting Rob. Thank you. Just as out of interest, what kind of reaction have you had? How-to books are popular, but what reaction have you had and from whom? What kind of reader, any pattern there?

Rob: It’s a good question. I mean, the reactions have been very positive. I get a lot of very nice comments on social media. I’ve had people share pictures of the book and highly it to other people, which is really gratifying. It’s been a mix of people who I think know me or know of me through social media and then people that I’ve never met or heard of that have been reading it. It’s been quite international. Probably heavily in the US and Western Europe, but I’ve also had people in Northern Europe, people in the Middle East contact me. Unfortunately, some of them have contacted me and said they’ve had to wait a very long time for the book to be delivered in some of those places.

But still, it’s good to hear that there’s interest in places all over the world. It’s been a good reaction, but I knew going in that there was a relatively small audience for this. The reaction I think has been somewhat small in that I’m not hearing from thousands of people every week, but from the comments that I do get, it’s been very nice, very positive and people saying that it’s useful.

Alan: You mentioned social media, Rob. I was wondering, did you have to commit to a kind of promotional schedule with the publisher? Did they require you to do any interviews or was it entirely up to you and in what role did social media …

Rob: I didn’t have to agree. Well, contractually, I probably did agree to do something along those lines, but they didn’t actually come to me with a lot of things that they wanted me to do. I did, in all of these proposals to different publishers, almost to one, I think they asked you to provide some details about how you plan to promote it or how you might be capable of promoting it. I did provide, in all of those book proposals, how many Twitter followers I have and things like that. Some of those numbers are more impressive than others, but it actually is part of the reason that I delayed writing the book after that initial outline, was that I wanted to build up somewhat more of a following because I knew that it would help with the book once I published it.

I suppose looking back, it was part of a master plan that took a few years to develop. But no, a lot of the promotion, I really spearhead it. The publisher is doing a lot of promotion amongst business schools, reaching out to different schools, different professors with marketing programs and trying to get the book onto the syllabus. But that’s a lengthy process. I did a lot on my own and with a publicist that I hired actually, to try to get articles written and interviews on podcasts and things like that.

Alan: I should imagine too, that social media was your main channel of promotion given the availability of Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, I suppose all those were your go-to in terms of your promotional activity.

Rob: That’s right.

Alan: Rob let’s move on to the actual chore, as you may think of it, as writing the manuscript. You wrote the outline on the flight from New York to San Francisco, but what was involved in actually finishing the manuscript? Did you have a daily discipline? Did you plan to write so many words a day? Stephen, King always ghost for 2000 words a day, but he’s a novelist. I assume you still had to have a routine though. What was your routine?

Rob: I did. I could send you the document I created. I printed out and stuck to the wall next to my desk, a schedule. Because I had the outline, I could list every chapter and even break some of those chapters down into sub components. The outline did change a little bit, which I think is natural. I think once I got towards the end, I realized, oh, I think I need to add a couple of things. But for each of those pieces, I had little check boxes next to them of kind of how much progress I had made. Whether I’d written an initial draft, whether I’d gone through and tried to edit it, take a first pass at edits. And I also had a sort of target total word count. Even though I knew this was unrealistic, I just divided through by the number of chapters and the number of weeks or nights that I had.

I had quantitative goals of how many words to write and would try not to stop until I’d hit those goals. I went through it like that and that helped me quite a bit to get through the first draft and my own first pass of edits. Once all of that was done, I showed it to a couple of confidants, including you and asked for some feedback and made a lot of changes based on that. And all of that was done before I even shared the manuscript with the publisher.

Alan: You mentioned edits and drafts. How much rewriting took place, Rob? Hemingway for example was a notorious perfectionist. He was well known for rewriting much of his work. So much though that he said the only kind of writing is rewriting. How much did you rewrite?

Rob: A lot, but surely not as much as Hemingway. I didn’t put a lot of pressure on myself. I probably shouldn’t admit this. But I didn’t put a lot of pressure on myself to make it beautifully written or perfectly eloquent. I do take pride in my writing. And if I were ever to try to write a piece of fiction or something like that, I could see myself getting stuck in the perfectionism of getting every word right. I don’t envy novelists trying to get that perfect opening sentence and getting every piece of imagery as perfect as they can. For a business book and a relatively short and pragmatic one like that, I really was just going for clarity, conciseness. I’m sure I wanted it to sound intelligent. I tried not to repeat words or use clichés or anything like that, but I didn’t put a huge amount of pressure on myself to get it perfect.

That said, there’s a lot of rewriting. And I mean, the drafts folder on my desk of just passing it back and forth with the publisher is ridiculous. I mean, just back and forth and back and forth and back and forth with edits. Although, part of that is rewriting and then part of it is down into the nitty gritty of, should a comma go here of, should this be italicized or have quotes around it. That part was definitely a slog and took honestly far longer than I expected it to take. It was months back and forth. With delays where I would send something back and then I’d hear back 10 days later and take another pass at it. It was grueling getting the final draft done.

Alan: Well, congratulations again, Rob. And actually getting it done, it’s, as I said, no mean achievement for anybody, especially somebody who’s working too.

Rob: Thank you.

Alan: I know the pressures on time. And I’m wondering about my last question, Rob. This has been a really seriously interesting conversation. And particularly, for anybody thinking about writing a business book, what is your one big tip you would give to anybody who is seriously considering writing a book?

Rob: I think a really good exercise is putting together one of those proposals for a publisher. I didn’t mention this before, but it did help me hone a little bit what I wanted to do and why. And it forced me to answer some questions that frankly, I should have asked myself earlier, but didn’t. Like, who is the ideal reader for this book? Am I writing it for agency people that want to add a naming service to their business, or am I writing it for client side people who want to hire naming consultants? And I did sort of want to have my cake and eat it, too. Of course, I wanted to be relevant to both those groups and I hope it is. But figuring out kind of, who am I writing to, if I’m thinking of this as a letter to somebody, who is it to. Things like that are really helpful.

Even if you don’t plan on using a publisher, you might download one of their proposal templates and just start doing some of that brainstorming of, who do you want to read this? How is it different? Do the research into the other books out there and how is yours going to be different from them. Why should anybody pick yours up versus one of the other books that’s already out there? Maybe that’s my answer because I’m a brand strategist and it kind of sounds like I’m telling you to do brand strategy for your book, but I do think that’s a really good first step.

Alan: Great tip, Rob, for aspiring authors. Just I’m wondering, to what extent, I know I said last question on the last question, but one last question.

Rob: Sure.

Alan: What kind of impact has the book had on your business? Have you found it beneficial in terms of work, interests in your services? How did that work?

Rob: Yes, it’s difficult sometimes to trace it directly back to the book. But without a doubt, I have received multiple, I would say, many inbound requests as a result of the book. Frankly, some of those are people that I’ve worked with in the past who already were aware of me and might have referred business to me before, but I’m confident that I was on their radar this time around because I was promoting the book and they saw that. But also there have certainly been inbound leads from people who just picked up the book or heard about the book or read one of the articles that I wrote in promoting the book. Some of those are not really qualified leads. They’re people just saying, “Hey, can you name my startup?” And thinking that it will be ridiculously inexpensive. But some of those are real business leads.

And then I would also say, it’s opened up some really interesting opportunities. The part that’s really been fun is, it’s connected me with some other authors. I’m in talks with some of them to partner on projects, whether that’s another book or it’s opened up some teaching opportunities. I’ve taught for Level C, Marty Neumeier series of branding classes. Those kinds of opportunities have been really fun. Some of them are financially rewarding. Some of them are things that I do for free. But all of that has really been some of the most positive outcome I think of the book, is just the opportunity to do these things and have conversations that I wouldn’t otherwise have.

Alan: Wow, very interesting. Rob, we’re running out of time. I just want to thank you again and congratulate you again. I’ve read the book. It is an excellent book. I highly recommend it. The name of the book is Brand Naming, published by Business Expert Press. This is Alan Brew signing off from another edition of Expert Opinion.