Two years ago this fall, I officially became an author, publishing a business book about leadership presence. I went into the process knowing next to nothing about book publishing, having spent my career as an entrepreneur and a consultant. I’ve learned a lot over these past years, and made some mistakes along the way, as I shared here.
Many people have a book in them just waiting to get out. But a far greater number of would-be authors are fence sitters, perpetually cogitating on the idea of writing a book at all. With so much effort involved, many wonder is it worth it? Can the average author make money from it? Is it an efficient way to promote a business?
So I’m writing this article for the folks who are “living in the question” as we say in coaching. Here are some key considerations before you go down the long path to book publishing.
#1 Make sure you love the topic.
I had no idea how important this point would be — even years after a book is written. Of course it’s helpful during the writing process if you feel energized about your topic. But after the book comes out, you will likely spend years talking about it, and this continues in a self-propagating way. You do a book talk, then someone hires you to speak to their company, leading to a series of workshops there, and so on.
Not to mention the Groundhog Day cocktail question, “so what made you decide to write a book?”
You don’t just write your book, promote it for awhile, then go back to your day job.
After you write the book, you’ll be even more associated with the topic to a wider universe of people. Your business and/or career will be shaped around it. Thankfully, that worked for me because I feel so strongly about the topic — but it was more luck than design.
Finally, I’ve seen authors spend big bucks on publicity campaigns for books that fade quickly, and others whose shoestring books take off organically and become bestsellers. Many books do neither and sell slowly and steadily over time. While marketing strategy (and dollars) help, there’s a huge element of timing and luck involved.
If you believe in your topic, you can take the attitude of doing your best, then detaching from the outcome because it’s simply good information to have put out in the world. You can make yourself crazy watching and managing sales figures. It’s far better to have a higher purpose.
#2 You have to be ready for self-promotion.
I ran a PR firm for 10 years, and even I was surprised at the sheer amount of promotion that goes into a book effort. Yes, your publisher will help some, and an independent publicist if you choose to hire one. But the one doing the talking — with reporters, on webinars, in speeches, on social media — is YOU. And again, this doesn’t go on for three months, it lasts indefinitely. I still do some element of book promotion every single day.
Back to point #1, it’s a whole lot easier if you genuinely feel passionate about the topic, and can focus on promoting the ideas rather than just yourself, as I discussed here.
#3 You’ll be doing 90% of the marketing.
A common complaint about traditional publishing is that authors have to do the bulk of the work promoting their own books. With the industry in such a state of change, marketing staffs have been cut, and publishers have to make strategic decisions about how many resources to put into the books that are coming out in any given year. This means for a first time author, you will likely not get much, unless you’re the likes of Sheryl Sandberg.
I found that my publisher was able to offer a good bit of support, and still does, but I was also realistic about it. They have numerous books coming out at any given time, and appreciate authors who are willing to put in their own effort. I knew that the most I could do on social media, and on my own, would amplify my publisher’s efforts.
This is all to say you should be prepared to take the lead on marketing, and work with your publisher to fill in around those efforts.
#4 You should be willing to go global.
One of the most rewarding aspect of having a book in the world, is that literally, it gets read around the world. I’ve gotten requests to come speak and offer services all over the map. Back to that learning curve, perhaps I should have expected this, but I am still surprised at the reach a published book provides. I anticipated that it would help with my current clients and market, but it has opened up so many possibilities beyond that.
Especially with social media, we are truly in a global connected society. When you write a book, you should consider that you’re going national and global, and get ready to have your passport stamped. Conversely, if you’re not willing or able to travel, you may want to think twice.
#5 Be open to connecting.
To me, this has been the most personally satisfying aspect — the meaningful connections that get made. Your thoughts get read by tens of thousands, and the interviews and blogs you do go viral. Well beyond your actual book sales, your ideas in the book spread. And people reach out to you, in emails, Twitter, Facebook , and in person.
You should know this is coming, and expect to be generous with your thoughts and your time. Many authors love to write because they are introverts, who don’t need as much social stimulation. But your readers feel as if they know you, and want to connect and get your advice. My advice is to be prepared and to embrace it. And look at it as a privilege.
#6 Be thoughtful about what time you can dedicate, or it will take you over.
As you can probably gather from all of the above, having a published book takes a considerable amount of time. It’s like having a second full-time job the first year, and a part-time job thereafter. There’s an infinite amount of work you could do, but your time is finite. It’s important to think of your entire career, and life, and where you want a book to fit into it.
Truthfully, I feel like I am still trying to find this balance! There’s always more I could be doing, and want to be doing. (Keeping the web site updated alone is a thorn in my side.) But I have gotten more mindful of the activities that have the best ROI. Webinars, blogs, Twitter and workshops have become my mainstays — while it’s tough to speak for free anymore. You find your groove, eventually. But with hindsight, I could have benefitted by being more strategic on the front end.
Today, with some perspective, I can say that publishing a book is one of the highlights of my career. I’m excitedly nervous (or nervously excited) about doing it again. Regardless, I’ll be starting with Tip #1 — finding a topic I’m passionate about.
Have some book publishing advice to share? I’d love to hear it here or @kristihedges.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. Find her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.
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