Award-winning author, Richard Newton has been writing books since 2004. His aim while writing has been to find answers to questions that aroused his curiosity. Richard’s non-fiction books have been translated into 17 languages so far and cover a wide ground from project management to managing change and freelancing as a consultant. In this interview, he shares his learnings in writing.


N: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I wanted to start with, how did you start writing…what was your journey in creating a book, an author platform…

R: My journey was certainly not to create an author platform…that kind of happened.

I always wanted to write. It’s been a lifelong dream… I tend to think of myself more as a writer than other things; although it’s a passion more than anything else. I wanted to write. I had dabbled a bit in writing novels and things like that and it never really came anywhere. One day I realized, “I don’t think I’m ever going to write that novel, but I could write a book about professional stuff because I know this stuff really well.”

I made an observation at work and I thought that it (the observation) was really interesting. It prompted me to ask myself a question and when I asked myself that question I thought, “Well, you know what, the answer to this question could be a book.” I played around with that idea and wrote a book.

I did it completely the wrong way from what the publishers tell you. For non-fiction at least, a publisher wants to see a proposal, not a completed book. It’s the proposal they accept and agree to a contract based on it.

Then I spoke to a friend and asked him if he knew anybody in publishing. Somebody suggested somebody and somebody said, “No, I’m the wrong person but you might want to try this person.”

I sent them a proposal and they came back to me in about three days saying that it was the best proposal they had seen in months and offering to publish my book!

So it was a bit of a lucky break and a good start. I got lucky but I also had a clear idea of what I wanted to write about and I think it was interesting or it was interesting at that time whether now 20 years later, it still is interesting, is a different thing


N: So you started with an observation or something that you were thinking about at that time

R: Yeah! I’ll tell you the observation it’s not really interesting to anybody unless you’re in the field of project management, but it will give you an idea. So my core professional domain is project management, (at that time) I had a team of about 40 project managers working for me and they all had different sorts of project management qualifications. I realized there was absolutely no correlation between the qualifications they had and knowing how good they were as project managers.

That was the observation and that led to the question, “If it’s not the qualifications that make people good at project management then what makes a good project manager?”

That’s a subtly different question from, “What’s good project management?” because it’s not about project management, it’s about the person.

I thought that was an interesting question.

I found it interesting and I started to make observations. I observed the people who I thought were really good project managers and watched what they did, how they behaved and I observed people who were not so good and watched what they did and how they behaved. This way, I started to pull some threads together and I wrote my first book. It did pretty well for me.

So that was the process and since then it’s just been an ongoing journey. Still generally… a book starts with an observation of some sort and that tends to lead to a question of some sort.


N: That’s very interesting because, in a backwards sort of way, you hit the nail on the head. Usually, people start by having lots of knowledge about something and then they don’t know what to focus on, whereas you started with the focus…

R: Yes. I had two advantages even though I don’t think I’m naturally a good writer. I’ve learned the actual art of crafting words through hard work but I did have two things— I’m very structured and I’m very good at seeing patterns in things.

It wasn’t difficult for me to take a whole series of ideas and say, “Okay, how do I theme this into some coherent whole rather than just a bleeeh of words.”

I often talk to people about books and to most of them I have to say, “Okay stop! Stop! Stop! It’s too much.”

But they say that we’ve got to write a hundred thousand words.

I say, “No, you’ve got enough.”

So that’s just a natural streak in me and it was lucky that I could do that and I think (creating) the structure has forced me to learn how to write.


N: Interesting… Another thing that I have observed when I work with clients as a book coach is that after we find the focus and they start writing, they find it a challenge to slow down the process from point A to point Z…in between the steps you have to explain some things, put in some dialogue, some incident, anecdote or whatever
R: All I can tell you for me, and again I’m writing predominantly non-fiction, I do write some fiction but that’s purely for

Richard Newton

personal pleasure, but with non-fiction books one of the things I do is that I resist writing for a while.

So when I have an idea which I think is good, I force myself not to write anything for a while. I just let the ideas mull. I make loads of notes, structure them and also keep some aside because they’re not part of the book (they might be a step too far).

I always say to people, that you’ve got to have three things to write books- you’ve got to have an idea, you need to be able to write more or less and you really need a lot of perseverance. Unless you’ve got those three things, don’t bother because it will be a real pain.

You don’t have to be able to write brilliantly.

You can learn to write, your idea has to be interesting and you can even refine it but you definitely need to have perseverance.


N: How did you get that perseverance, I’m assuming you were working a day job too?

R: I’m generally quite a high-energy person. I’ve been working full time, written my books, done an additional degree and a master’s in my spare time so I’m just one of those people who likes to be busy. I like to do things. I like to use my brain.

I don’t think I could take six months off and go to a log cabin to write a book. That just wouldn’t work for me. I almost need the pressure of other things going on around me and writing my ideas in snatched bits of time on a notepad that I carry in my pocket actually works better than dedicated time.

That’s just me I’m sure it’s not true for everyone.

Of course, when I really start writing I need some dedicated time.

I can do more work, the more pressured I am but different people, different ways.


N: Yes, I hear you there because I need to work on at least two different projects at one time.

R: Yeah


N: Just one thought in your head all the time is not exciting enough…

R: It’s not and there’s an odd thing that happens when I have a book on the go somehow I see a lot of the rest of the ordinary world stuff through the eyes of that book.

Things will come into my life which will make me think that that’s a great metaphor/example for what I’m writing on, or I hear people talking and think that the set of words they used there is exactly what I want for the book.

So it’s good to be doing other things because the book puts lenses on your eyes which help you see a lot of things that are ordinarily going on in your life and work differently. It can form really useful material for your book.

Like when you buy a new car thinking nobody else has got this car and then you drive down the road and you start thinking everybody’s got one of these cars because now you suddenly start seeing them everywhere! It’s a bit like that with a book.

I start on an idea and then suddenly I see the idea everywhere. It’s actually quite exciting! I find it quite exciting and the only thing that comes with this is the fear everybody else must see this idea because I can’t be the only one seeing anything original…and then you find that no one else is seeing it!


N: Yes…no one sees it! You wrote a book it got a good review and then you started your next book so slowly writing became a habit…I am assuming your author platform grew very organically.  

R: I think there was a period for about 10-15 years when I was publishing a book every year or so. I think it grew on that but I’ve had a good relationship with publishers who knew I’m a reliable writer, so they would use me again.

I guess the only drawback in that if I were recommending this to everybody was that they shouldn’t necessarily do what I’ve done because I’ve written on a number of different things. I think sometimes people get a little bit confused about who you are as an author if you want a real author platform especially if you want it associated with your other work. Then it’s sometimes better to write on fewer things than I have done but I wanted to write and the author platform came second in my scheme of things.


N: The idea of the author platform has grown in the past few years because people started using them to go on speaking gigs, podcasts and becoming experts in certain fields, like you’ve become an expert in consultancy

R: That’s been always the big theme in my life although I’m a project manager, it’s always been in a consultancy context. I spent a number of years in consultancy and I’ve been an independent consultant for about 20 years now.

I like to write about what I know. Consultancy struck me as an area to write in. There were a lot of terrible books about consultancy, frankly let’s be honest there are a lot of terrible consultants and if you look at a lot of the books on consultancy they are kind of brash and talk about how you make loads of money and all that sort of stuff.

I wanted to write a book about how one actually has a good interaction with a client and provides value to clients. I thought that was an interesting thing to write about and that book did quite well.

Then I thought there are quite a lot of people like me who don’t work for big firms who are independent consultants so what does an independent consultant do, how to become an independent consultant in a way that’s not about becoming a multi-millionaire but doing what I’ve done—I have a pleasant lifestyle, I  do the work I want to do and I have the time to write books. I think it’s a nice way of living a life without getting too stressed. I can say I’ve got a lifestyle here some people would like so let’s write about it.

I know people have done it even better than me so I can go and talk to them and ask, “How did you do it?” That creates something interesting for people to read about.

When I started I didn’t think that this would be interesting. But in the modern world the idea that you can work for yourself and still get the benefits that go with big firms (because most of my clients are large corporates) without the baggage of actually being an employee, is appealing to most people. So I wrote a book on it.


N: That’s wonderful! How many books have you written so far?

R: I always find that a really hard question to answer because it really depends on what you call a book. I have five little ebooks which I think count as books but I don’t usually count them as books. If you count them, I think it’s 19 and if you don’t count them it’s 14.

Even then within those books, there are second editions and I’m just about to do a third edition of one of the books. So it’s quite a few.

N: How many books a year?

R: I’ve been writing over 20 years so I would say you can probably average one a year although the reality is some years it’s been none and some it’s been two. There have been ups and downs and I think a couple of times I’ve done two a year but probably in retrospect one is enough.


N: That’s an amazing rate to have for writing and publishing because publishing takes another six to eight months at least. Have always worked with traditional publishers?

R: All my non-fiction books are through traditional publishers and that’s worked for me. There are pros and cons and I think when I started self-publishing really wasn’t a viable option, not if you wanted to be taken seriously. I think it is more viable now, but I’ve got a relationship with publishers. All my non-fiction books have gone through publishers and are in multiple formats— all are in physical and ebook formats, one of them is an audiobook and a number of them have been translated into different languages. Translations are less common now because maybe more and more people are comfortable reading in English but 20 years ago…I’ve certainly got books in 10 or 11 different languages and I can point to a book in about 17 languages!


N: What are your learnings as a writer

R: I think I have learned a process for writing a book. When you start out, it’s a bit hit-and-miss but you can learn that there is a structured way of writing a book. I have learned that the best way for me to write a book, once I’ve done all my pre-work which we talked about, is literally to start at the beginning and write to the end.

Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t get to chapter five and realize I’ve missed a load of stuff in chapter two. That happens all the time, but I found when I started I just wrote bits all over the place. Now I don’t do that. I just write in an ordered structure and it gets done. So I’ve learned that.

I think the other thing you learn fairly quickly while working with publishers is that they don’t want to see your book, they want to see a proposal. They publish based on a proposal. Of course, they will look at the book in the end but I think a lot of people go out and write a book and then seek a publisher yet experienced authors know that in non-fiction you don’t write the book if you want to get published by a publisher. You write enough of the book that you know what it is and then write a proposal. Only when you’ve got a proposal, if you want it to be published, write the book because you may never get an offer. So it’s not worth doing if you want to go down that route.

The third thing I’ve learned is don’t expect to understand the topic until you’ve written it. The process of writing is a learning experience in itself and actually a lot of the value is in the learning you get. I think a lot of people think that writing a book takes a lot of time and I’ll earn X as a consultant in those hours whereas I’ll only earn a fraction of that as a writer. That’s possibly true but you’ll be a better consultant for writing because you’ll really understand the topic if you force yourself to write it all down. I’m not saying there aren’t other ways you can become a better consultant. I’m sure there are but writing in itself really forces you because you’re essentially trying to explain something to somebody else. If you think of professional books as a way of explaining something you’ll learn and the learning experience can be really good. There are things I understand now that I would have never understood unless I’d written them down.

Another learning is don’t get hurt when somebody edits your word. We all get a bit sensitive. You just have to thicken up your skin and expect to get lots of red ink on your writing.


N: Yes, that’s my number one advice to people, “When you get your edited book please sit down with a glass of wine because it’s not going to be easy.”

R: No, it will hurt a lot. I think when you get to be a professional writer you know that it just goes with a domain.

My wife read my first books and she wanted me to be successful so she was really, really hard and I found that extremely challenging but it’s been good for me. She’s made me a good writer because she was so demanding.


N: Wonderful you worked through it!

R: Yeah we had a few arguments I went off in a huff a few times!


N: Well, a good walk always helps. So we’ve spoken about the process of writing and one thing I also noticed as a writer is that writing is not linear it’s very chaotic. But you have to start with a structure, especially for a non-fiction book fiction book, and then keep coming back to it because you will always get new ideas

R: Yes I agree that a structure’s a help.


N: And the more you write, the deeper clarity about what you want to write

R: I would agree with that and there are certain things that a publisher might ask you to write on. I might just say no to them because they’re just not for me, not because it’s not interesting.

I think if you want to be a writer in the beginning you might be more willing to do anything whereas you have to accept there are loads of things to write on. So focus on the stuff that you’re going to be motivated about and which you can add value to or do in a good way.


N: Thanks. That’s some great advice. Another  I want to talk to you about, which I think you’ve not had to deal with was getting reviews and testimonials

R: Oh no I do have to deal with them. If you publish a book nowadays, your publisher will generally ask you to go and find people to review the book, go and find people who they can send a copy to, people who will write a review for Amazon or something like that, an open honest review. There’s nothing nefarious going on and sometimes reviewers don’t like the book but you need to get involved in all that. But I think when you are with publishers you probably do it a bit less than if you were doing it yourself (self-publishing).


N: Since you’ve been writing over the years have you noticed that the way publishers worked with you has changed

R: I think publishers are different now so they’re probably a bit more focused on getting to the end result. They’re a bit more I think fixed and so they are less flexible. The contracts are a bit different. I think that has changed. I also think the level of resources that publishers had has shrunk significantly.


N: How have the contracts changed?

R: The contracts are more rigid and the publishers are more interested in keeping more of the copyright for themselves rather than letting you maintain the copyright. When I began it was never really a debate, you’d say it’s my copyright and they would say yes. Nowadays you always have a big fight about who owns the copyright and all that sort of stuff. So more and more publishers basically want you to produce a product which is theirs and they can do as they choose with it. I think this has changed because the economics of writing has changed and because you know when I wrote basically a publisher was interested in producing a book nowadays they’re interested in the content. They want to use the content in different ways in different formats, in different media, if they can. But if you argue your case, you can still get a good contract.


N: I want to understand something here, if they take a copyright on your book you can’t put your content in different places?

R: No, it’s theirs. I mean you can with their permission and they tend to be reasonably easy about it. There will generally be clauses that will say ‘If we want a second edition, you’ll write it on demand or we’ll get somebody else to do it,’ whereas if you own the copyright you can decide whether you want or don’t want to do a second edition.

Now to be fair I’ve never had a difficult relationship with it. I’ve never had a relationship where a publisher forced me to do something I didn’t want to do. But you know the terms of the contract are more onerous in the contract than they are in reality of being enforced.

For example foreign rights. Twenty years ago publishers never took the foreign rights. I was happy for the publisher to have the foreign rights because they would go and get translations but nowadays they won’t even offer them to you. They will want worldwide rights. Now if you’re a really famous author that’s different. The publishers want to maximize the amount of money they’re going to make from the book and that’s not just greed on their part, it is because the economics are pushing them that way because they make less and less money on books. You know the economics for a publisher selling over Amazon for example are very different than the economics for selling through independent Bookshops.


N: The economics for everybody has changed.

R: Absolutely.


N: Do you see you see yourself moving into other things after writing? Like do you see yourself using your books as a platform for anything?<

R: I don’t know. I think I’ve probably done what I’m going to do with the books.

What I generally see myself doing is getting old and I’m comfortable with it. I’ve had a great time writing books. I kind of admire people who make something else out of their books but I did what I wanted to do and I got what I wanted from it.

If I can get something else from it maybe I will but there are other things I want to do in life too. So you’ve just got to find the path that’s right for you.

I’m really pleased I wrote the books that I wrote.

I’m really pleased I had the time for writing and I will continue to write but probably in different ways.

I’m less worried about publication nowadays. I write every day but a lot of it is just personal discovery as much as anything else.


N: You write in a journal?

R: I have a journal I write in every day


N: Generally the first thing I do in the morning before I start writing is to write in a journal because it just gets everything out of the brain, and then you can concentrate

R: Absolutely. There’s a lot to be said for that for that


N: Any other practices you have

R: I’ll give one tip.

I always listen to people talking about writer’s block. Of course, there are times we find writing harder than others but I think you can always write.

What I always say to people is that if you really think you’ve got writer’s block then write about what it feels like to have writer’s block. If you do that, it gets you writing! So you can always write about something.


N: Wonderful tip and thank you so much Richard for this insightful interview.

Hello there!

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