“One book trumps 800 articles.”
(Steve Slaunwhite, award-winning marketing coach and author)
Everyone wants to write a book. Very few do. The statistics stand as: 80 percent wannabes; 1 percent doers, says Jenkins Group, a Michigan-based publishing services firm. Writing a book can be a daunting task, in time at the very least. Upwards of 725 hours for a non-fiction book in a recent study by Brennan Information Group, a Los Angeles research company. That’s three months of eight-hour days. And the writing, cautions seasoned commercial freelancer and self-publishing author of The Well-Fed Writer series, Peter Bowerman, is the “easy part.”
So, Should You Consider Writing a Book?
Our blog title suggests how our participants will answer – a resounding, unanimous “Yes.”
The primary reason is that a book can be one of your most effective calling cards. It establishes your credibility as almost nothing else can. Certainly not as quickly. Historically, notes Nicola Furlong, a Vancouver Island novelist, interactive storyteller and chocoholic, we’ve conferred great credence to anyone who has had a book published.
Consider the expression, “You wrote the book.” It’s the essence of saying, you are the expert, and clients want to do business with a perceived expert. “Everyone prefers to work with an expert; it reduces the risk for them,” explains Steve Slaunwhite, an award-winning marketing coach and author. “‘You wrote the book,’ they reason, so you must be good at what you do. And when you hold up a book, “you stand out from the 99 percent of writers who didn’t.” As a result, there’s “huge street cred” to writing a book, adds Ed Gandia, co-author of the award-winning book, The Wealthy Freelancer, and founding partner of International Freelancers Academy.
“Now wait,” you may say, “I have no need to bolster my credibility or affirm my expertise. I’ve already amassed an impressive portfolio of other materials — articles, white papers, newsletters, etc.” Sounds perfectly reasonable. Except the credibility we assign a book is not really reasonable, and rises to something emotional. Steve says there is a sense of “sacredness” surrounding it. Right or wrong. He offers this cautionary tale of two writers.
Writer one, with 15 years experience and 800 articles, is considered the expert in his field. But he has no book. Enter writer two. Two years into the same freelance arena, he writes a book that becomes popular in the industry. Almost overnight, he eclipses writer one and becomes THE name on that topic. The morale Steve offers: “A book gives you an unfair advantage – one book trumps 800 articles.”
That unfair advantage can play out like this, according to Steve. A VP of Marketing contacts you on a potential training contract, and asks for a quote. As soon as you’re off the phone, you put a copy of your book in an overnight FedEx with a nice note saying, ‘Great talking to you.’ The book comes across her desk the next morning; you can bet your chances to win that contract have gone right up. That’s even if she never actually reads the book, adds Patricia Anderson who specializes in developing individualized publishing strategies for book authors. “It still sets you apart.”
That proved the case for Nicola. She used her book, Self-Publish Your E-Book in Minutes, in a pitch to a local Victoria college. “It gave me legitimacy as a tangible expression of my expertise, allowed my prospect to ‘sample my wares’. Not just my e-publishing expertise but my ability as a writer.” It really was the closer to a deal that includes instructor pay plus consulting income from 20 percent of those who sign up for her e-pubbing course that has now run full every term for several years.
Workshop opportunities also came to Doreen Pendgracs, award-winning writer, author and public speaker, based on her book, Before You Say Yes… A Guide to the Pleasures & Pitfalls of Volunteer Boards. For many of our other participants, consulting and coaching gigs were their book-writing rewards. And Steve was able to package the content of his book, The Everything Guide to Writing Copy, together with other materials to create a home study program. That program, over a period of about four years, earned him an extra $30,000 to $40,000 per year.
But one book can also spin off more books as for Peter and his Well-Fed series, now up to four books and several “toolkit” companion publications that generate a tidy income stream for their author. “Less than a year from releasing The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Freelance Writer in Six Months or Less, I was making a full-time living from the book.”
There is a downside. This book writing business is not all rosy; a book can be a major commitment. Remember, the up to 725 hours noted above. That may be a bit high, say some of our participants. If your book requires little research — that is, if you’re writing about your area of expertise, something you know a lot about already — you can cut those hours down a lot. Steve carves out a minimum of two hours per day. “On that schedule, I can finish in three to four months.” So perhaps, the time tally is more like 180 to 240 hours. Nonetheless, this is not an enterprise that one embarks upon lightly.
Peter, for example, laments today’s “instant” publishing options that allow one to “get into print with a mouse click.” This, he says, has given people the idea that making money from a book is an easy process. A client story from Nicola illustrates the folly of this misguided belief. She explains that this fellow was totally uninterested in doing even the basic things, like editing, to enhance the quality of his words. Just get them up on the net, he insisted, and fame and fortune here I come. Predictably, that didn’t happen for him.
And it doesn’t for most self-published writers, according to a U.K. 2012 survey. Well, at least the fortune part (no data available on fame!): half of survey respondents earned less than $500 total per book.
So, How Can One Capture Book Writing Benefits But Keep the Bad Stuff to a Minimum?
Book Writing Rule Number One from Ed: you must (and he really means “must,” folks) have a clear goal, a why-am-I-doing-this-book? reason. “Even if you think you’re a very efficient writer, this book is going to soak up hours and hours which you could use towards something else.” So you better know why and where you’re going with it.
Our participants boil it down to two possible reasons. The first, as a labour of love with no expectations for sales or spinoffs. This is not a goal to be scoffed at out of hand; it has validity says Patricia. If this is something you really want to do, she believes it’s always worth the risks (in time and, within reason, in money). “By writing a book, you meet a personal and professional challenge that, in itself, is an achievement and a source of satisfaction.” Nicola echoes this: “Many people just want their book to have a chance to see the light of day.”
The other goal is strategically to generate business. Which could include an expectation of book sales, as it has been for Peter. For him, The Well-Fed Writer was about seeing the potential to make money because he’d noticed a hole in the marketplace.
Other goals might include the following:
▪ Change the direction of your business
▪ Start a new freelance business from scratch
▪ Refresh an existing business
▪ Position towards higher-end prospects
▪ Add a new service offering
Book Writing Rule Number Two. Know your target audience. More specifically, advises Ed, have a crystal clear definition of who they are. He and his co-author, Steve, used this definition for The Wealthy Freelancer — creative freelance professionals who create things, write things or design things for companies for money.
Make sure you are selling to an established market. That’s Ed’s strong recommendation. “You don’t want to be first in anything.” Check out that someone is already catering to this audience. Look for blogs and websites dedicated to that specific group. Don’t be fooled when you find only one blog or one website. You’ve not struck the mother lode. On the contrary, that’s definitely a bad sign.
Book Writing Rule Number Three. Seek advice and help wherever you can; tap all your resources. Take a shortcut and invest, for example, a little reading time on the books of your colleagues. Four of our participants – Ed, Nicola, Peter, and Steve – have ‘written the book’ on many of the subjects in this blog post.
Doreen loves groups on LinkedIn and networking in general. While serving on a national board, she met a publisher who agreed to publish her book on volunteerism. That certainly sped up the normal process of having to pitch an agent or publisher, wait several months for a reply, receive a request for the full proposal and then wait several more months for an answer and the go-ahead to proceed with the project.
What Book Topic/Type Should You Choose?
Link your topic to the type of business you want… Ed offers an illustration. Let’s say you want to use your book to kick start a speaking sideline. Then create a book on one of the core topics you want to speak about.
… But that topic link can be surprisingly “loose”… When Steve set out to write his first book, Start and Run a Copywriting Business, he admits he did it for pure vanity. He laughs, “I had dreams of glory!” So his topic and title were about a subject he wasn’t actually doing. “I wasn’t working with other writers; I was doing corporate copywriting.” But he started to get a lot more of those corporate clients, and better paying ones at that. “They assumed I was an expert and a serious player because I’d written a book with copywriting in the title.” He believes that writing that book, off topic though it really was, has made his career as a copywriter. “It was such a huge credibility builder.”
… And you needn’t be mad for your topic either. Peter is adamant on that. “The idea that you need to be wildly passionate about your book’s subject is, well, plain silly. Have you been wildly passionate about all the jobs you’ve had in your life? Why would you hold book writing to such a high standard? If you enjoy your subject matter, and can see the potential to create a steady income stream that can provide you with the time and space to do what really lights you up, wouldn’t that be enough?”
In contrast, create a tight tie between your book topic and your expertise. Don’t stray from that path. Counsels Patricia: “If your strength is in motivating employees, write about that and resist the urge to dispense Dr. Phil-style self-help.” Both Nicola and Peter believe that the expertise path is not about shouting, ‘I’m an expert’. It’s about being down a path that most others haven’t, and having learned a lot that would be of use to some other people. That is what is of real value to your readers.
Isn’t it really important to make your book different? You can’t, says Patricia. “Anyone who thinks his/her topic is entirely original has not done enough research on the market.” Fortunately, she adds that the best you can really do is to provide a fresh twist. And that, even more fortunately, insists Steve, is enough. “Your book doesn’t have to be different. What you do have to have is a difference.” It’s a big mistake that writers make, he contends, when they say, ‘Hey, does the world need another copywriting book?’ “Don’t let that stop you. Every year new cookbooks, for example, come on the market and some become best sellers.”
He points to his current book project as an example. It’s a prospecting book and there are lots of books on that topic. “So my book isn’t different.” But he’s writing, not to salespeople as the other books are, but to people like you and me. “I’m writing to self-employed professionals who don’t want to cold call; they want a gentler approach that gets results. That’s my difference.”
And from Peter, some specific actions to help you discover that “difference.” Read reviews for similar books on Amazon. Go to bookstores, search the Internet. Doing this helped Peter realize that most books on self-publishing focused on the process, not the profits, so that became the difference for The Well-Fed Self-Publisher. TWFSP, he says, “is a big case study on how I “turned one book into a full-time living” (the promise of his subtitle).
Are There Ways to Make the Actual Writing Work Better, Go Faster?
Having a systematic way of writing, says Steve, can cut the workload right down. A lesson he learned while writing a Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting a Web-Based Business from a writer who’d written 15 of these guides. Once the chapters are outlined, this other writer advised, create a list of questions for each chapter that a reader would have about that chapter, typically 8 to 12 questions. Then answer those questions, tidying up at the end. Steve adapted by breaking his chapters into small sections; and then writing each individual section.
Patricia also offers a way to manage research if your book requires a great deal. Chunk it and don’t let yourself get bogged down. Begin by doing just enough general research to be able to lay down a chapter outline and your first chapter or an introduction. Then backtrack and do any additional research on an as-required, chapter-by-chapter basis. But she adds that the bottom line (sorry about the pun) is a matter of setting aside time and sticking to that. Translated, “Apply seat of pants to seat of chair!”
Publishing (And Producing) Your Book
Pricewaterhouse Cooper 2012 research projects that, by 2016, electronic self-published books will make up 50 percent of the U.S. market. So, is there any reason to go the traditional publisher route anymore, given the definite negatives of this option? You often give away a lot of control for too little in return. The traditional publishers expect their less “glamorous” authors to assume pretty much all of the marketing responsibilities, including the costs. And although they do offer full production, such as editing and design, you’ve virtually no say in how that’s done. Which Doreen unfortunately discovered can mean loss of sales on top of loss of control. Dundurn Press’s choice of an inappropriate cover for her Before You Say Yes volunteer board book, and placing the book in the business section where her audience wouldn’t look made for mediocre sales despite the fact that the book received very good reviews.
Even given her experience, Doreen believes it may be advantageous for an author to have at least one book published by a traditional publisher. “It may give that author authenticity in the eyes of the publishing world,” she explains. “Some people and even some professional associations consider self-published authors to be of a lesser status. Even today the Writers Union of Canada will not admit self-published authors, although they are looking at possibly extending the criteria to do so.” Patricia points to the main pro of conventional publishing: access to distribution channels, like bookstores, that a self-publisher cannot tap. And Ed recommends the traditional route if your book goal is towards high-end consulting and speaking.
For self-(or electronic) publishing, how do you sort out, and then decide among, all the options?
And options there are aplenty. That, though, is a topic worthy of more than a portion of this post. The main point here is do acquaint yourself with these and do practice due diligence, it’s a caveat emptor world. Otherwise, we’d like to offer in this post a list that we believe is a bit beyond the typical self-publishing questions which can be answered easily elsewhere.
There’s a technology component of self-published books, print and digital, that requires additional author time/cost considerations over books traditionally printed. You’ll need to convert your book file and you have to host any e-books somewhere so they can be sold. Consider tackling the learning curve on some of the technology, suggests Nicola. “Learning how to format and upload files for e-publishing is fairly straightforward.” The average person really can manage it and may be where you want to spend a little time, allowing you to save money for what should, according to Nicola and our other participants, be left to the professionals, like editing and cover design.
Do it yourself, yes, but don’t do it all by yourself. Take advantage of the free (or almost) resources offered by others who’ve been down this path before. Like several of our participants. And tap into your networks, as Doreen has done with her LinkedIn groups and professional associations. Then selectively seek out professionals to ensure the quality of your book. More on this below under cost.
Consider offering your readers the option of electronic AND print formats. There is still a lot of the buying public who wants a book they can hold. According to Pricewaterhouse Cooper research, e-books account for 20 percent of the market today. That leaves 80 percent of your readers who prefer print. Consider also this statistic: 40 percent of Amazon.com buyers opt for the more expensive print-on-demand (POD) paperback version of a title that’s available in both electronic and print formats.
The cost. Two key concepts here. What are you willing and able to do yourself? And more importantly, what should you not do yourself if you are serious about the quality of your book and about its sales? It’s a matter of using your expertise and that of others optimally to create the best product possible. Some points our participants offer:
Don’t let cost be your main consideration. That should be achieving your book’s goal. And the research and our participants affirm that, to achieve your book’s potential, you must spend money on making it look like it’s not a self-published document. A recent U.K. survey of self-published writers shows a clear link between earnings and the amount of help an author is willing to contract out. Self-publishers who received help with copy-editing and proofreading made 13 percent more than the average; help with their cover design increased earnings by an additional 34 percent.
At the very least, our participants stress, put some real money into hiring a professional editor and designer. Steve adds, “Don’t hire just a proofreader but someone with book editing experience who knows how to develop a book beyond the mechanics of typos and grammatical gaffes. And get someone who has designed book covers before.” Ed takes this idea even further, noting that it can be counterproductive to create a cheap book. “I frankly wouldn’t go through this book exercise at all if you’re not willing to spend the money.”
It can sometimes boil down, though, to your opportunity cost, notes Nicola. For example, on the technology side you may not have the couple of hundred dollars to pay someone like her but you may have several dozen hours to figure it out yourself. She continues with an idea to both keep your costs down and yet create a 95 percent exceptional product.
Gather material you’ve already produced that showcases your expertise. White papers or case studies work well here. Package these, along with an introduction and a sum-up, into a small book. “Take an expression of your expertise. Then, create a good, but quick and inexpensive, way to make that expertise tangible through the credibility offered by a book.” Ed sees this approach as a solid way to keep the quality up and the costs down. “The fact that it is a book, and it looks good, that’s the credibility builder.”
Then Market, Market, Market
Here again, the writer’s dilemma is too many options, which way to go. And again, our participants offer their best ideas.
Write a good book. That’s Peter’s “most powerful marketing strategy of them all” — create a best-in-class book that’s well produced. With all other marketing efforts, you can’t be sure of the outcome. But creating a superior product is the one part of the process over which you have total control. Create a crappy book, though, and you can be sure the outcome won’t be good.
Get in front of your audience, suggests Steve. Don’t think of all the options for marketing; think of going where your target readers go. Some examples: “Is there a blogger who’s very popular with your book’s audience? Try to be a guest blogger. Do they read a particular magazine? Contact the editor to get interviewed.”
This from Patricia, who explains that being a guest blogger on an established blog can, in some situations, be better use of your book promotion time than setting up your own blog.
Do only a few things but do a lot of those few things. Peter says he uses the same kind of “gatekeeper” techniques that Steve recommends. That way, he reduces his marketing efforts to “One Big Targeted Job”, rather than a “laundry list of energy- and focus-diffusing tasks.” And he focuses on “demand-building exercises” that drive his audience to his website and to where his books are on Amazon.com. He points to the 120 plus reviews he has on Amazon, most of them five stars. He says he does something “laughably simple” to make that happen. “Every time someone emails me to tell me how much they’ve enjoyed my book, I thank them and ask if they’d mind writing a review on Amazon.”
Start your marketing early. Before the book is published, is what Ed advises. That’s because you don’t want to “go for the ask” of a book review, guest blog or interview until you’ve established relationships. Start low key and add value first for your contact. For example, with a blogger, read the blog and contribute a series of comments, before you make direct contact. Even then, go slowly. Focus on helping them with their efforts. Email with an expansion of your blog post comments. Then, offer to write a guest post. If they have a product or book, promote to your friends and followers. Then “rinse and repeat.”
Sounds as though you’d need years to build up this “platform” of followers. Not so, says Ed. That’s because, contrary to what too many writers believe, you don’t need a massive following to have impact. For The Wealthy Freelancer book, he and his co-authors only had nine months before they signed their book contract. “It’s not the size of the following that matters. It’s how loyal they are.”
Be ready to create buzz. Give your book a big push out of the starting gate. To get your promotional messages to really spread, you have to be creative, notes Ed, as there is so much noise. Consider something like the “real launch” he and his colleagues put together for The Wealthy Freelancer. He recommends a focused period of time (say five days) within a week or so of the book being available, when anyone who buys the book receives something valuable as a bonus. Some ideas on this bonus: a tele-seminar, e-book, a software app, or a course you do over the phone. “We created a lot of buzz, tried to get some critical mass early on.” Or something like the one-day, online Freelancer’s Day conference. “It went viral very quickly,” continues Ed. “We had 12,000 people; it was an idea that captured people’s imagination.” Too grandiose for your budget? “Dial it down then,” is Ed’s solution. Just think out of that box.
Writing a book is a lot of work but Steve speaks for our participants when he says, “it’s never a wrong decision.” Even if it goes nowhere in terms of sales, publishing a book is undeniably self-gratifying. But the potential for business is also considerable. It gives you that special competitive edge and that puts you in line to be shown more of the money.
Patricia Anderson, PhD, a book author, editor, and literary consultant from Vancouver, Canada, works with an international clientele of emerging and mid-career book authors. Her business, Helping You Get Published, offers manuscript assessment, editing, book proposals, queries, market research, book trailers, press releases, and confidential consulting. Find out more at: http://www.helpingyougetpublished.com/
Specializing in moving aspiring commercial writers and self-publishers from overwhelm to mastery, Peter Bowerman is a 20-year veteran commercial freelancer, business coach and the self-publishing author of the multiple-award-winning Well-Fed Writer (on lucrative commercial freelancing; www.wellfedwriter.com) and Well-Fed Self-Publisher (www.wellfedsp.com) titles. Grab a free report at both sites above.
Nicola Furlong pens mystery novels, produces interactive children’s books for the iPad, podcasts about genre writing (The Novel Experience), blogs about and publishes e-books (epubbing.com) and produces promotional book trailers…when she’s not playing hockey, growing blue poppies or eating chocolate fudge. http://nicolafurlong.com/blog/
Ed Gandia is a successful freelance copywriter, author, speaker and coach. His latest book, The Wealthy Freelancer, was named a Top 10 Small Biz Book by Small Business Trends. Ed is the man behind the International Freelancers Day online conference and co-founder of InternationalFreelancersAcademy.com, where he publishes free monthly training.
Doreen Pendgracs has been a member of PWAC since 1997, was the Prairies/North RD from 1999-2003 and is now the national VP. She has been freelancing since 1993 and has written for numerous magazines and websites and co-authored two non-fiction books, one of which is a Canadian bestseller. In 2010, Doreen’s first solo title, “Before You Say Yes… A Guide to the Pleasure & Pitfalls of Volunteer Boards” was published by Dundurn Press. She is currently working on Chocolatour, a book about the best chocolate of the world. http://www.wizardofwords.net
Steve Slaunwhite, is an award-winning marketing coach and author. His books include The Everything Guide to Writing Copy and The Wealthy Freelancer. He is also the creator of the popular Practically Painless Prospecting program. For more information, visit http://www.AskSteve.com.