How to Write a Must-Read Business Book: The Crucial Role of Focusing on the Reader, with Editor & Publishing Strategist, AJ Harper: Podcast Transcript

Ludo Millar
Hello, and welcome to the Qualified Tutor Podcast, the podcast that brings you the latest in the world of tutoring EdTech and education and hopefully inspires in us a big change that each and every one of us is capable of.

Qualified Tutor is an industry-leading tutor training organisation and an online tutoring community for 1000s of tutors around the world. This podcast is the voice of this community, where we aim to hear from tutors, teachers, entrepreneurs, coaches, business experts, students, tutor printers, and more from the world of tutoring about what inspires them every day, how they can help tutors like you and what they’ve learned about tutoring along the way.

The question is, what will you learn today?


Ludo Millar 1:14
Hello, and welcome to the 118th episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. My name is Ludo Millar, the host of this podcast. Welcome back to regular listeners. Welcome to any of you for whom this is your first time listening to the Qualified Tutor Podcast. And of course a huge welcome to today’s guest AJ Harper. AJ, welcome to the Qualified Tutor Podcast.

AJ Harper 2:30
Thank you so much for having me.

Ludo Millar 2:34
Listeners of ours, as you know, we have a great deal of respect and admiration for a certain Mike Michalowicz, the entrepreneurial coach, motivational speaker and author of many of the best business books out there really, so much so that we’ve invited him onto the podcast to speak to you not once, not twice, but three separate times. And Mike himself has said that there is no one else he trusts more to develop his content than AJ Harper. High praise indeed and deserved recognition for one of the finest author coaches and developmental editors there is out there, regularly cited by many of the top authors in business as the reason for their success. AJ has spent a career mastering the art of creating a narrative arc through writing that connects writer with reader and fine tuning that content to produce a publishing strategy that preserves that bestseller label year after year. Now AJ’s philosophy is, and this is perhaps a secret to some perhaps some, this is inextricably tied into Qualified Tutor and Julia Silver’s upcoming book Tutoring is Not Plan B, AJ and Julia have been working together for a long time now. And the features of AJ, her bestselling style can be found throughout the book, even though it’s only draft form. So that book will be coming out soon. And I’m going to say now get ready to listen back to this episode, when it does come out to pick up on some of the subtleties from AJ that you might have missed the first time around.

Now, AJ, just before we get into this conversation, you have a book of your own that was released this year. Do you not? Do you mind telling us a little bit more about that book?

AJ Harper 4:34
Sure, happy to. It’s called Write a Must-Read and it’s a long time coming. It’s based on 17 years in publishing and it’s a book I thought I’d never write. But I decided to write because my workshop students, Julia is an alum of my workshop, where I had such great results. That was since I knew I could teach what I had done on my own for years, I decided that I wanted to make it available to as many people as possible so that, you know, even if you didn’t have the money for a course, or even the money to buy the book, you could check it out from the library and learn these skills. So it was really important to me to make it available to more people. And so the book came out on May 24th and it’s available wherever books are sold.

Ludo Millar 5:25
And if there’s one reason, AJ, one reason why someone listening to this now should go and pick up a copy of Write a Must-Read, what is that reason?

AJ Harper 5:34
Well, you know, my mission is to help people write better books, the books that they envision. I’m hoping to change the conversation a little bit in publishing, where we’re not focused on speed. But we’re focused on creating quality books. And I think that the main reason you should go get the book is because there is this myth that we need to have a certain level of talent or ability to write a must-read book. And you do need a team of editors to help you out. But what you really need, what cuts through that talent factor doesn’t make it easy, irrelevant, but it’s less relevant is focusing on your reader. So in the book, I teach how the same frameworks that Julia learned, and it helps you to get past that big question mark of is my idea good enough? And am I good enough to write it? So if you have those questions, where you’re feeling like, ‘I think I want to write a book, but I don’t think I can write a good one’, or ‘I’m not sure if my idea is good enough’, this book will give you the confidence and tools to be able to pull it off.

Ludo Millar 6:45
That’s a pretty good elevator pitch [LAUGHS]. Now I’m sure you’re well versed in the works of Simon Sinek. And regular listeners will know we refer back to Simon’s work often at the start of episodes just to get a sense of our guests and that the question that we tend to frame that with is around your why. So AJ, could you tell us a little bit more about what your why is and how you came to live that?

AJ Harper 7:17
You know, I think as a ghostwriter, I was a ghostwriter for 10 years, and my specialty is what I teach now, which is prescriptive nonfiction, or personal and professional development, books, business, spirituality, relationships, health, any sort of self improvement or business improvement. And I just noticed a pattern of people just trying to get books out as fast as they could. But then the problem was, the dreams they had for those books, the work that they put into them could not support the dreams they had. And there was just a lot of heartbreak, also a lot of heartbreak in terms of getting misinformation about what the world of publishing is really about. And I think anytime that we can demystify that process, it becomes easier to take it on and we can make good decisions.

So my why is to elevate it, you know, elevate this pursuit of getting a book done so that we’re not just getting it done, we’re actually putting something magic out into the world. I mean, [my] book, my life’s work is in that book. And you can go to any library and get somebody’s life’s work, or what they worked on for years and can check it out for free. Or if you have the cash, you can get it for a few bucks. And that’s wonderful. And it should be taken with great care, right, putting that book out into the world.

So I’m hoping that people will take on the quality factor, that that will become very important. But also I want to give real information about publishing so that hearts aren’t broken. Because we’re leading people down a path of this is easy and fast. And here’s a template and a formula and all you have to do is this but we’re putting art out into the world and it’s not as simple as that. So if we are well informed people who take the charge for quality seriously, then I think more dreams can come true and fewer hearts [can be] broken and that’s my personal why.


Julia Silver
Okay, let’s go …

Ludo Millar
Welcome everyone to this, the 11am event on Monday 24th January at the Love Tutoring Festival.


Okay, here we go.

Jack Simmonds
So, the first prize that we are going to give away today is … number nine! I need an extra monitor. That’s what I need …


Ludo Millar
So welcome to the 2pm keynote at the Love Tutoring Festival Day 2, Tuesday 25th of January, 2pm UK time where many of us here are based. Our speaker today is Michael Bungay Stanier, who is a, as you can see here, Wall Street Journal bestselling author on coaching.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Maybe I hand it back to Ludo as a kind of ‘what needs to be said’ to wrap us up here.

Ludo Millar
Well, Michael, you’ve made my job very simple. There doesn’t really need to be much more said, that was world class.

Yes. For those of you wondering, those were just a few highlights from the incredible Love Tutoring Festival 2 that took place at the end of January of this year 2022. The big news from Qualified Tutor and the Love Tutoring Festival team is that … we’re BACK!

From Monday 27th June to Friday 1st July, the Love Tutoring Festival 3 will return. The focus of this festival is on alignment and new beginnings. The festival will have a slightly different feel to it but all of the main tenets will still be there. A host of amazing speakers, including world renowned leaders in education, such as Craig Barton, will be joining us for a festival of fanfare, of training and of connection. Those are the values which hold the Love Tutoring Festival together and those are the values that we want you to come and take part in over the week of the festival.

Head to to find out more and book your ticket today.


Ludo Millar 12:01
Now, Julia is clearly someone who’s bought into that why that you’ve just talked about yourself, and Julia has loved working with you through the book, you know, I get excited calls, anytime of the day about a session she’s just had with you and how she’s just managed to blast through a really good draft chapter. And Julia is well known in the tutoring industry for the phrase ‘Tutoring is Not Plan B’ but credits you, AJ, with the invention of this phrase. I wanted to see if you could give listeners a bit of a sense of what that phrase means to you and how you think this book might change the world of tutoring.

AJ Harper 12:42
Well, first of all, she credits me but it’s just a process. I didn’t actually come up with it. I helped her discover it. And it’s what she always believed. I think it’s what I call a ‘core message’, by the way. So she followed my advice as well. And she started talking about it way before the book was done. And now she’s speaking about it. This is now- she’s known for this. But that’s really her value system that she already had. It’s not like I said, ‘Hey, what if you said this?’. She actually came to that on her own following the frameworks and I helped her solidify it. So credit to Julia.

But the reason that it’s so cool is because I think a core message for any good book should be transformational on its own. It is very difficult to get to it. And I really put Julia through her paces. But what happens is when you get it right, then it becomes transformational when people hear it, even if they haven’t read the book yet. And I don’t know what you’re all experiencing, but she’s told us that people really resonated with hearing that and understood it usually comes back to the reader and what they’re feeling and who they are and what needs to shift. So when you think of a core message, whether it’s for your business or for a book, you want one that really makes people go, ‘Oh, I have to switch the way I think about this, in order to get the things I want’. And so Tutoring is Not Plan B is Julia’s heart, it’s what she believes, her philosophy. But it also speaks to your tutoring community of people who maybe need a reframe because society or people in their world are teaching them that tutoring is Plan B, then that affects how you conduct your business, how you feel about it, whether you stay in it, what you charge, and by making the shift to say ‘No, it’s not. It’s not plan B’. Now you’re holding yourself differently, making plans differently, building your business differently and that’s the power of that message before she’s even finished the book. She completely brought that out and that’s the beauty of a truly transformational core message that people remember.

Ludo Millar 15:03
So, obviously, AJ, you help people write books. And part of that is creating, clearly a stage of that process is helping them find the core message. But what does having a core message, what impact can that have as the public face of someone’s brand? Whether you write a book or not, do you think of core messages is the fundamental part of building your brand anyway?

AJ Harper 15:31
I do, I do. I think I’ve had many students say that the work they did in that fundamentals, you know, we have these fundamental pieces we need for a book before we start writing it, core message is one, and that once they got clarity around those fundamentals, it changed their whole business because they were able to refine their marketing and their focus. And that’s not what I teach, necessarily, but it’s a bonus of that happening. Anytime you have clarity around who you serve, which is the first step and one of the fundamentals is knowing who your reader is. So for business, it would be who you serve, your message to them that’s transformational, right, the core message, the main thing, not all the things you’re going to talk about, but the thing you really wholeheartedly believe that if they would just understand this one thing, that things could change, things could be better, and they could get what they want. Having that changes all your conversations, makes it easier for you to communicate, makes it easier for you to market your business and also helps you decide if you want to take on different projects or not, because maybe it doesn’t fit with that reader in that message. And the third is promise, having a promise you can actually deliver. That’s vital for any business as it is for the book.

Ludo Millar 16:46
So going a little bit deeper on that thread then, AJ, clearly as someone who has combined authorship with building your own brand, your own business over the years, what do you think authorship and writing books as a sub sector of business, but as its own kind of industry, what can that tell us about how we build our brands in today’s world?

AJ Harper 17:15
Well, I mean, that the promise base is essential. Because if you’re promising something that can’t be achieved, and you’re only going to end up with disappointed people. But also I think it works like this, when it comes to a book and it can work in business to the signing, what is the promise you can deliver within the confines of the pages? So if it was for tutoring, what can you deliver within the time period you’re supposed to be tutoring, right? What’s actually manageable? Maybe that’s a set series of tutoring sessions, or maybe it’s during a school year. But making it really clear, instead of setting a goal that seems pie in the sky, right? So it’s managing those expectations.

But actually the reverse is true as well. I want to say, I really want to promise this. Maybe you need to modify it and bring it down. But maybe instead you need to rise up to it. So if you wanted to say, ‘I want to promise this thing, but I don’t know if I can’, first ask yourself, ‘Well, what do I have to do that then elevates you in the process and in the book?’. It’s deciding, ‘Okay, hold on what other stories, content research, action steps, exercises, whatever, what else do I need to do to actually deliver on the promise’, now you have a better book because you challenged yourself. So it’s both sides, it’s managing expectations, so you can deliver, but also challenging yourself to see if you could maybe deliver this other thing. What could you do? And as teachers? That’s a great question, because you’re always solving those problems about how to reach people. So I think that’s a good way to look at it for your business as well.

Ludo Millar 19:00
Yeah. So you’ve worked with a lot of big authors who manage their own businesses as well. At what stage do you tend to work with a business owner in their authorship journey? Is there a particular point where authorship becomes part of a person’s business?

AJ Harper 19:25
Yes, I think it’s once you have that clear distinction about what you do versus what other people do. And very often, it’s when you also have a tested framework or process or message of some kind that you already have. You could have shown that this thing works, whatever you do. That’s the point where you can start authorship. You don’t have to be a certain income level. You don’t have to be a speaker. You don’t have to be the best person in your industry by some strange standard. You just have to be able to say, this is what I know to be true and I can show you because of these experiences, and I know this works, you don’t want to write a book, at least that prescriptive nonfiction – a memoire is really different, right, that [can be done] anytime you want. But if you’re trying to help somebody, change something, go from where they are to where they want to be with the help of your book, you have to know that what you’re telling them actually works and isn’t just a nice idea.

Ludo Millar 20:30
So turning to your book then, as a small case study, AJ, why did you feel that now was the time to write a book that took your intended audience for Write a Must-Read, your latest book, why was now the time to write that book? Why was now the time to take people from where they were before to where they are after reading the book?

AJ Harper 20:56
Well, I share in the book that when I quit ghostwriting, retired from it, I honestly had no plans to teach anything. But it was Mike Michalowicz who called BS on me and said that I was letting my ego get in the way of helping people because I have this belief, I know what I do. But I can’t teach that thing. I have my own super-mojo, intuitive stuff I do. I can teach that. So once I knew that I could teach it and I had so many books out there in the world from students who absolutely achieved exactly what they wanted with the book, I thought, ‘Okay, let me make this available to folks who can’t afford my class’. Honestly, that was it. I didn’t grow up with very much. And the thought that people had to make me have a certain income level to be able to work with me, like, I’m running a small business, and I like to keep it small. So that’s not going to change. So how can I get this information to people, if I’m not going to be scaling up on my workshop, meaning I’m not going to be doing it for 1000s of people or even hundreds of people. So I just felt, let me get a book out there that even if you don’t have the cash to buy it, you could go to your library and get it, that was just important in my value system. That’s my why now.

Ludo Millar 22:12
Yeah, I think that’s as important a message for other potential or even current authors as any other today. I’m interested to know, AJ, you’ve walked that path from not being an author to being an author, and along the way, also helping hundreds, if not that- is it into the 1000s of people you’ve helped? Tens of 1000s of books out there that you’ve helped to craft and create?

AJ Harper 22:42
Well, not tens of 1000s of books, I’ve definitely worked with more more than 1000 authors, I don’t even know how many. I haven’t written books for all those people just so we’re clear. I’ve had many roles in publishing. But yes, go on. I’d be dead, if there were to tens of 1000s [LAUGHS].

Ludo Millar 23:01
Thank you for reining me in a bit. How then, and you have you’ve talked about this slightly already, but I wanted to focus on this a little bit more: how does someone go from mastering their own business, their own niche, to writing, taking the first steps to writing a book?

AJ Harper 23:24
The first step is to just get clear clarity about your audience. That is number one, and most people don’t realise that clarity, and I’ll talk about that in the talk, that clarity is everything, because it’s what carries you through the entire process, even through marketing, where a lot of authors go wrong is they decide who their reader is and then they kinda, it’s not their fault, they’re not doing anything wrong, but they kind of forget about them once they decide. So it’s about carrying your reader, it’s like taking them as a guide, like Obi Wan Kenobi. And I’m just taking them through the process all the way on the journey and being mindful of them on every page.

So you have to have that clarity before you do anything else. And that is important work. It takes a little bit of time to really get clear, not about the demographics per se, maybe a little bit of demographics. I’m not talking about an avatar. I’m just talking about hearts and minds, really getting clear about who you want to work with, who you want to hang out with for the foreseeable future. And what do they really want and what’s standing in their way. And if you can get that clarity, then that is the beginning of the process.

Ludo Millar 24:40
Well, I think you’ll have made a whole bunch of people listening into this now, cogs turning in the mind of who their audience is making sure that they set aside time to focus on that because as you say, it’s such a fundamental part that people perhaps push past early on.

Just kind of drawing to a close here, AJ, we love to know on this podcast: what’s next for our guests. Now the first thing that’s next and you were alluding to it just then if your listeners are slightly unsure what AJ meant by ‘at the talk’, AJ will be headlining the Tuesday at the upcoming Love Tutoring Festival. So that’s Tuesday 28th June, the pre-lunch slot at 12pm BST, where she will be talking about how to write a must-read business book. So even if writing a book is not on your 2022 agenda, there is so much as she was talking about just about learning about your business and your brand through the process that goes into writing a book. And I think that’s massive. That’s huge. And I think that is the key takeaway that you, our audience, will take from AJ’s session there. So that promises to be a really, really high value session, so that’s what’s coming up next for AJ in QT land. But AJ for you, what’s next for you?

AJ Harper 27:15
Well, I’m continuing to serve my students. So I teach my workshop twice a year. So I have one coming up in the fall. And I have a couple of fun workshops I’m doing over the summer. And then I’m working on Mike’s next book. So you know, keep[ing] him busy with that.

Ludo Millar 27:33
Okay, so Mike will be coming back on for a 4th appearance in, yes, 2023. That’s great. AJ, thank you so, so much for jumping on with us here. As I said, the Love Tutoring Festival is where you can catch AJ next, in the QT sphere. The link to the festival will be in the show notes where you can grab your free ticket to see AJ and a bunch of other ticket options there as well. So that’s not very long at all. That’s starting next week, which will be Monday the 27th of June. So we’re really, really excited for that. But AJ, thank you very much for coming on. I hope you enjoyed talking about what you do. Thank you.

AJ Harper 28:26
Thank you so much.

Ludo Millar 28:28
Thank you very much, and we’ll see you next time.


Ludo Millar

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