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Warning: This article is 3977 words. If you want the 7-minute “Book-in-You Extractor,” get it right here. It’s free.

Where Your Message Comes From

“I feel like there’s a book in me, but I’m not a writer.” — Every One of My Clients

So they ask me to write a book for them, but I can’t write everyone’s book. My service is too costly for most. Even if everyone could afford it, I don’t have the time to write even an infinitesimal fraction of the books that should be written.

But in this article, I’m going to show you how to do it yourself. There are plenty of steps to writing a book, but the ones covered in this article are primary.

Do this first.

Many world class entrepreneurs and change agents have a valuable message inside of them, but sadly very few will ever get around to it — mostly because they don’t know how.

That’s a lot of wisdom un-captured. A lot of people that won’t learn what they need to learn.

Here’s a difficult truth: the people whose message could make a huge difference in the world don’t usually see themselves as writers.

I’m talking about the unconventional, get-shit-done types. Does that sound like you?

In the 5 years I’ve been ghostwriting, I’ve discovered that these are the exact people whose wisdom is most needed.

We don’t need more high-minded sermons that are really just a theories when you boil them down. Every day we sit down to a kingly feast of information but a famine of wisdom.

The information-centric people write most of the books and the wise share their wisdom around countless cafes, pub chairs, and fireplaces.

It’s time for this to change. I want folks with practical wisdom to write books that matter to their people.

Does this sound like you? Have you ever felt like there’s a book in you? Have you ever thrown up your hands in despair, thinking you’d never actually write it?

It’s time to dispel this myth that you can’t do it. You can do it, and in this article I’m going to show you how to take the first steps to uncovering and turning your valuable message [wisdom] into a book.

Let’s get one thing clear: It’s not that you can’t write your book. You just don’t know the steps, yet.

You’re not the problem. The problem is the problem.” — Shawn Coyne

I’m your biggest supporter. You can do it. Start here for the first steps, and I’ll share more in later posts.

I know the pain of bearing an untold story and not writing my valuable message. This pain sneaks up on you in moments when you realize that you could be doing so much more in the world. You could be making a broader impact. You could be making more money and serving more people.

I ended up bawling my eyes out on a Shiatsu massage table when I finally realized I had voluntarily gagged myself and kept my message silent.

At that moment I decided I would empower and enable people to spread their valuable message through the written word [more on my shiatsu massage moment below].

You need to share your valuable message. You need to write your book. Not for you. For the people that will benefit from your wisdom.

Now you know why, but you’re probably already asking yourself, “how.” There are several steps. Most people get the first one wrong, which ends up killing their book before it even has a chance.

The first step is to uncover your valuable message. This happens in three parts:

  1. Know Yourself and Your Story
  2. Know Your Reader
  3. Know Your Product [or Service]

You can read all about these below… or if you want the simple 7-minute tool as a PDF download, get it right here FREE.

Step 1: Know Yourself and Your Story

Socrates was just one in a long tradition of Greek thinkers who said, “Know thyself.”

A lot of "knowing thyself" going on in this room.

A lot of “knowing thyself” going on in this room.

Self-knowledge is the ultimate and [perhaps only] form of wisdom. It’s the starting point of every great book and the source of all self-knowledge comes from your story.

“What you’ve overcome is your gift to the world.” — Me [Inspired by Nietzsche]

Think of the most inspirational person you know. Now think about what they’ve overcome.

A good chunk of people say Nelson Mandela.

Mandela overcame about as many obstacles and horrific setbacks as anyone in history. Yet, in true saintly fashion he didn’t become embittered. With his leadership ability and charisma, he could have been a destructive warlord.

He wasn’t.

Mandela led the anti-apartheid movement, but his most enduring message will always be forgiveness — something he only could have learned [and taught] by overcoming injustice.

Let’s think of a more practical example, though.

Tim Ferris’s massive bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek came from what he overcame. In the book, Tim talks about working 80 hours per week, having no life, and being constantly stressed out. Finally, he developed the [now famous] system that freed up his time to travel and live a the lifestyle of his dreams.

He launched the idea of the, “lifestyle entrepreneur,” by turning his valuable message into a great book. More importantly, he helped millions of people.

The starting point for both Mandela and Ferris’s books were their stories [what they’ve overcome], and this needs to be your starting point, too.

The actual reason [below the surface level stuff like money and business] you do what you do is found in your story.

Every. Damn. Time.

Products, services, and messages that aren’t explained by their story tend to suck.

This guy might not be in touch with his story.

This guy might not be in touch with his story.

Here’s the problem: most people had the ‘story power’ beat out of them as kids.

The adults in our life told us to, “stop telling stories,” and 95% of the writing we did in school was in that academic style we all love so much [sarcasm].

They told us over and over again that logical thinking and proofs would be our guiding light throughout life. We believed them.

Then we would rush home and spend every spare moment immersed in the living stories we played out with our friends or absorbing untold hours of story on TV, in movies, or in books.

There’s a natural born storyteller in every person.

But hey there’s a natural born hunter in every person, too, and I don’t see most people eating wildebeest steak for dinner. Storytelling is just one of the many of our natural abilities that have atrophied.

So, how do you reawaken the storyteller within so you can uncover your valuable message?

It starts by getting very clear on three simple parts of your story:

  • The Foundation [Setting and Character] — Who are you? Where did you start?
  • The Battle or Journey [Plot and Conflict] — What are the major turning points along the way? How did they change you?
  • The Solution [Resolution] — What did you create to give away as a result?


Countless studies have now confirmed that we primarily view the world and our lives as a story. We don’t often think logically. Our minds subconsciously filter every experience into story. We constantly self-edit our own story.

Your readers each tell themselves a story. Your job is to insert your message into the story they’re already telling themselves. By sharing important parts of your own story, you will create a shared connection.

When you do this you become virtual friends with your reader and they begin to accept and believe in your ‘why.’ We’re all looking for reasons to believe someone. Hands down the greatest credibility piece is having been through the battles.

Your story is the window for readers to peer into your “why”. Research shows that we empathetically transplant ourselves into stories and experience. When Jenny dies in Forrest Gump, it feels like the love of our own life dies. When Luke Skywalker blows up the Death Star in Star Wars, it’s as though we’ve defeated the evil empire ourselves.

In a non-fiction book, once reader and writer have connected through story the natural question the reader will ask is, “What’s next?” And you, as the author, will respond, “xyz if you do as I teach.”

The teaching part of your book is the where the reader sees the possibility to edit their own future story in a positive way.

Your readers say, “The future will look like X if I do as the author teaches me.”

CAVEAT: I’m not suggesting you bore people to death with the trivialities of your every day life. Your book is for your reader, not you. Below,  I’ll teach you how to walk the fine line between telling your own story and oversharing.

Let’s look at a real life example of how uncovering story made all the difference. My client, Philip McKernan, is a master of story. If you don’t know Philip, you should. He’s one of North America’s top coaches and speakers. He delivers life-changing retreat experiences and talks all around the world, helping people uncover more of themselves.

Philip co-founded one of Ireland’s top coffee companies before age 30 and was an international real estate investor by 32.

But when he speaks, these accomplishments aren’t “bragging points.” They’re more like low points of disconnection from his purpose.

It’s his deeper story that resonates with the thousands of people he’s inspired and changed.

So let’s look at Philip’s three story elements:

  • The Foundation — Philip grew up in the intensely Catholic city of Dublin, Ireland with two older brothers and loving parents.
  • The Journey — Philip was dyslexic, and the old-school educational environment of his youth did not recognize his unique talents. He struggled to read, and as a result grew up believing there was something fundamentally wrong with him. His confidence hit rock bottom early and he began layering on masks. Ultimately these led him to sales, founding a coffee company, real estate investing, and other diversions. Meanwhile, at his core he wanted to work directly with people to help them uncover their own truth.
  • The Solution — Out of his struggle Philip created his incredible talks, mentorship programs, and one-of-a-kind retreat experiences.

He’s the perfect example of creating a gift for the world in his overcoming. Take it from someone whose life has been profoundly changed by working with Philip. Remember the Shiatsu massage table? Philip’s the bastard [he’s Irish, so that’s a term of endearment] that got me to that place, finally ready for change.

Because he understood his own story, he had the wisdom to challenge me and improve my life.

This is what’s possible for you, too.

Eventually, we used the formula I’m sharing in this post to extract the message for his book Rich on Paper, Poor on Life.

Love this book.

Love this book.

Now it’s your turn. Get clear on your story with the “Book-in-You Extractor.” Then come back and take the next two steps to uncovering your valuable message.


Step 2. Know Your Reader

Remember how I warned you about walking that fine line between storytelling and oversharing?

Your reader is the reason. Let’s get metaphorical for a moment, shall we?

Imagine you’ve just built a brand new home. You’d be so thrilled to have friends over. They would ask tons of questions about your new home. You’d show them around and talk about the features and details.

The new home excitement might even carry the conversation that entire night, but chances are you’ll move on to talk about something else within 30-60 minutes.

Now imagine that same friend comes over the next day and you insist on giving them the tour again. Afterwards you sit down and you continue to talk about your home.

“Isn’t it amazing?”

“But one of the lights is flickering.”

“The faucets are shiny, aren’t they?”

“The closet is simply fab.”

Boring. Rude. Self-centered.

Unless your friend is an interior designer or architect, he’ll only be interested for the first hour or so of the first visit. Your friend wants to discuss their life, too.

Your book is like your new home.

It would be rude not to show them around, but to be a truly caring friend you need to move on quickly and address their specific concerns.

Your message is only valuable insofar as it helps, moves, or improves your readers’ lives.

How do you improve someone’s life? You start by understanding it. For some people an improvement would be getting access to clean running water. For another it would be showing them a way to quiet their mind. For yet another, a Maserati may be required.

If you try to improve the Maserati person’s life with clean water you would miss the point.

Knowing who needs the Maserati and who needs fresh water can be discovered through observation and thinking.

[Note: From this point on I’ll be using the word, “product,” a lot . Every time I say “product” you can think of it to mean, ‘the thing you do’. It could be a service, a way to raise money better, an idea, a non-profit, or something else. It’s whatever you’ve already been doing that’s valuable and makes an impact.]

The starting point to getting to know your reader are the people you’ve already served. Their lives have already been improved by you and your product. The same people you’ve served in the real world are the exact people you’ll be serving in the virtual world [inside the pages of your book].

Take a moment to write down the 3 best clients you’ve ever had. These three people will be your reference point to get to know your ideal reader.

Got them?

Okay, now focus on three areas to get to know your reader better.

  • The Past — Who was your client in the past? What do their own stories have in common? What in their journey led them to the present. What about their past indicates they need your message?
  • The Present — What problem do they currently face? What fears does their present self have? What do they want? What do they want to avoid? How does this situation make them feel?
  • The Future — What will their future self be like if they read your message and apply the lessons? What pain will they feel if they don’t apply your lessons?

Jim Sheils, runs a niche business called Board Meetings International [along with his business partner, Brian Scrone]. Their valuable message [and mission] is to improve quality connection in entrepreneur families.

Board Meetings offers a one-of-a-kind retreat experience that enables families to achieve this incredible goal. But they’ve also created a tool that entrepreneur families can use at home. It’s called “The Family Board Meeting.”

The idea is simple: every 3 months, each parent spends half day alone with each child. They do a fun activity of the child’s choosing, with no electronics, and a focused discussion at the end. It’s magic for creating quality connection between parent and child.

This tool is the basis for a short book I helped Jim write [Also called The Family Board Meeting]

A Book That Knows Its Audience Intimately.

A Book That Knows Its Audience Intimately.

So, how did we get to know Jim’s readers to develop his valuable message?

  • The Past — Jim’s ideal reader is an already successful entrepreneur. His or her unique ability to grow a business has been both a blessing and a curse. In the relentless drive to succeed, he or she has struggled to balance family life and felt the pain of disconnection.
  • The Present — As they sit down to read Jim’s book, these entrepreneurs are ready for change. They have made a conscious or subconscious decision to face and address the problem of family disconnection. Their fear is a life of disconnection from their kids, a life where their kids go on to remember their parents as unreachable and distant. They fear losing out on what’s truly important in life. They aspire to a long life of connection with an incredible family.
  • The Future — Jim’s readers see a deeply connected future relationship with their kids. They see themselves as proactive parents, learning to connect deeply with their kids. They see their future self as more self-aware, happier, and more relaxed. They imagine their kids coming to them for wisdom and advice.

Jim’s book solved his readers’ problem. He showed them what the past looked like, how they likely felt in the present, and what the future would be like after applying the valuable lessons taught in his book.

He even shared the relevant parts of his own story to make a connection with his reader and demonstrate how he’s earned the right to teach this lesson. He didn’t overshare his story, though. He told enough to make the connection and then focused on solving his readers’ problems.

Jim knew his ideal reader well, and the results spoke for themselves. Thousands read his book, and several top entrepreneurs thought it was so powerful they decided to share it with their powerful networks. He’s made a ton of high-ticket sales as a result of this book because he knew, understood, and wrote for his reader.

So far we’ve talked about knowing ourselves and knowing our readers.

There’s one more piece to this valuable message puzzle, and it has everything to do with building bridges.

Yes, there’s another building analogy coming.

Step 3: Know Your Product

Remember step 1? I asked you to get in touch with your story, including the solution you came to after experiencing the conflict and struggle.

Next, I asked you to know your ideal reader by thinking inside the hearts and minds of the people you’ve already helped.

Now we’ll focus on your product, which brings your valuable message together.

But it can’t just be any product. Your own story and your understanding of your client have led to only one possible outcome: you produced a unique solution to a unique problem.

This unique solution is a bridge between a present version of your reader and his or her future version.

Your reader is the person that would hire you to solve their problem if time or money were no object. But time and money are both objects, so the next best thing is to teach people how to do the thing you normally do for them.

By the way, I’ve never heard of an entrepreneur getting less business by giving away high value knowledge. Giving it away has the opposite effect.

You’re providing your valuable message to empower them to solve their problem, in case they can’t hire you [or if they want to do it themselves].

One of my current ghostwriting clients has a unique solution that will help thousands [and maybe millions] of Canadians solve their retirement problem.

The problem? Most Canadians are house rich and retirement cash poor. His company solves this problem every day with a unique solution which turns them from house rich into cash rich.

His book is a bridge between these middle to upper class Canadians with home equity but no retirement plan. They see that the math doesn’t add up for retirement.

They’re not looking for a solution for, “how to retire rich.” They need a more specific solution that addresses the combination of house rich and retirement cash poor in Canada.

My client’s real world product [it’s actually a service] solves this problem every day with a specific formula. He has helped thousands, and now he’s writing a book that will further enable readers to solve this problem on their own.

He’s building a bridge between his clients’ present problem and future success.

Believe it or not, some small minded entrepreneurs resist doing this because they believe nobody will hire them once their solution is out in the world.

Can I let you in on a little secret?

This never happens. Quite the opposite. The people who can afford your product or service will still hire you to do it. Scratch that. A lot more of those who can afford your product or service will hire you. And you’ll create new clients where none existed before.

If you had the choice, would you hire the guy or gal that literally wrote the book on the topic? Or someone else?

Your book is your unique product told in a long conversation [furnished with great stories, examples, and case studies.]

Here’s the crazy thing: there are a lot of world class entrepreneur [wannabe] authors who still don’t understand the role their product must play in their book.

People [even sharp, successful entrepreneurs] still get romantic about books.

They picture readers strolling the streets of Paris with a baguette under one arm and their book under the other, then settling into a park bench and wistfully contemplating life as they read their book.

Your readers probably won't be sitting here with your book in hand.

Your readers probably won’t be sitting here with your book in hand.

Let me shatter that misconception. You’re not Hemingway.

You’re writing a non-fiction book that will teach a specific lesson to a specific kind of person. Picture them reading your book on a red eye flight or putting their kids to bed before settling in to learn your book’s lesson.

Your reader wants to achieve a practical result from reading your book.

This means you need to know your unique product and how it creates a bridge between the present day reader and his or her future.

You need to know your product story and how it will become part of your reader’s story. And you need to know the stories that will demonstrate this change.

Follow these three steps to know your product story:

  • The Bridge Architecture — How it helps them. What type of product is it? What problem does it fix? What fears does it diminish? What dreams does it make come true? How do people feel when they use it? How will they feel if they don’t use it?
  • Success Stories — These stories will become an anchor of your book. What ideal outcome did past clients experience because of your product? What did your client feel before using your product? What did they feel after? Consider surface-level achievements [making more money, losing weight, etc.] and deeper-level reasons [happiness, fulfillment, energetic health, becoming a better parent, etc.]
  • Failure Stories — Now flip it around. How did people feel when they didn’t use your product? What pain did they feel? What practical failures [lost money] did they experience? What emotional failures did they have [sadness, anger, etc.]

By helping your readers see your product as a bridge and identifying successes and failures, they’ll gain an intimate understanding of your product. They’ll understand why they need to use your product and implement your lesson.

They’ll imagine a better version of their future selves.

This is why you need to know your product. It’s the bridge to a better future for your reader.

This is Your Shiatsu Massage Table Moment

In planes, trains, hotel rooms, and offices everywhere world-class entrepreneurs and authors are sitting down with a book idea and a notebook — at this moment. They want to develop their idea into a book. But they struggle to to think through their valuable message.

Most of them will throw up their arms in frustration because they don’t understand this simple formula. Thus, most of their considerable wisdom will slip through their hands un-captured.

They don’t understand the essence of their valuable message. But you understand the essence of yours.

It’s up to you to grab this moment.

Okay, so you might not break down in tears [like I did on the massage table] when you finally realize it’s time to turn your valuable message into a book that will change the world.

This may or may not be you.

This may or may not be you.

It happened to me as a bolt of self-knowledge on my shiatsu massage table. I was wasting my gift by working in a career that didn’t serve anyone.

Your “Shiatsu Massage Table Moment™” might be different than mine, but I’m convinced the content is always the same. It’s the moment of change.

Let this moment be your personal shiatsu massage table — the turning point where you decide to serve the world by sharing your valuable message.

You have a roadmap.

Move the needle from A to B.


That was a long article, wasn’t it? If you want the [far simpler] first step, download the “Book-In-You Extractor” here. It’s free.

Zander Robertson headshots - 2015 (1 of 9)Hey! I’m Zander, and I’ve ghostwritten more than 20 books for major publishing houses and self-publishers. I’m also editor-in-chief of the ManTalks blog. When I’m not writing I help others uncover their own stories through a process I call a “story extraction,” and get writing through my coaching programs. I believe the world turns on powerful, raw, and true stories. Book a call with me to uncover your own story and to get writing now.

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